The low scratch of his pen was louder than the voice going up and down and up again with enthusiasm, reigning over the silence in the room.
Baekhyun had met Chanyeol only four times in his life, but if there was one thing he retained from each time the doctor examined his body and mind to make sure nothing was wrong with him, it was that Chanyeol loved his job. He loved helping people, loved reassuring them, and sometimes spoke with scientific words Baekhyun didn’t understand but he was nice. Though, Baekhyun wasn’t sure what he was exactly. He had never tried finding out whether Chanyeol was a doctor, a healer, or a scientist.
Either way, Baekhyun didn’t want to listen to him, couldn’t listen to him. Not when he truly did not need whatever explanation or reassurance Chanyeol was pouring over a room full of ten worried people. Or nine. Baekhyun wasn’t worried. He wasn’t anything in particular, besides very comfortable.
"What’s going to happen to us now?" someone asked somewhere on the front row and Baekhyun quickly glanced up from his notebook to see Chanyeol smiling widely.
It looked a little strained. Baekhyun wondered how many times he had already given the explanation to that question since the beginning of this meeting. Maybe he should’ve paid more attention. He looked back down at his notebook.
"Nothing you need to worry about," Chanyeol replied and Baekhyun didn’t know a voice could sound like a smile but this guy made it possible. Definitely a scientist then. He thickened the dark W he had doodled on the page. "You just need to trust OWO, as always. The Rehabilitation Center will help you in your transition. What you need to worry about for now is you adjusting to the loss of your powers."
Baekhyun pulled his pen away from his doodle, tilted his head at it, and then drew a circle around it. He pulled his hand away again, giving it a long look as Chanyeol started talking about health and a normal life. OWO. If he stared hard enough, it kind of looked like a smiley face. A creepy one, but a smile nonetheless. Baekhyun wondered how that smile would look on him.
"But is there truly no way for us to ever recover our powers? And our job?" someone asked again, a slight tremor in a female voice.
Silence fell over the room. Baekhyun stared at the acronym on his notebook. Organization of the World’s Order. OWO. A fitting acronym for an organization that took care of most happenings in the world, from the course of rivers to the rising and setting of the sun in every different city. He drew the same thing again right to the first smiley face.
"No," Chanyeol said, voice lacking its lightness now. "I’m sorry. You’ll never be able to recover your powers, your body has reached its limits. But you can still find a job! A mundane job. We’ll help you with the integration into normal life."
Two smiley faces. Baekhyun pressed the tip of his pen against his lower lip. Smiles. He still had no idea how they would look on him. He had forgotten. He could try now. He could try putting them on his face. He could now.
The door was suddenly thrown open, cutting Chanyeol off mid-sentence and making him jump in sync with the woman sitting in front of Baekhyun. He stopped doodling and looked to his left where a man was standing, one hand clutching the doorknob, chest heaving, and his eyes heavily lidded. Not enough to conceal the urgency in his eyes, it was only highlighted by the ruffle of his hair and the wrinkles in his clothes. Baekhyun saw him squeeze his eyes shut before he bowed deeply.
"Sorry. I’m a bit late. I’m really sorry," he said, voice deep but sounding stifled, shrunk.
"It’s alright," Chanyeol said when the guy straightened up again. His eyes weren’t closed anymore but he was blinking slowly. He stepped inside and closed the door behind him very slowly. "It takes a while to get used to it," Chanyeol added, gesturing towards the rows of empty seats in front of him.
With a flat smile, the man followed the silent direction and settled on the empty seat next to Baekhyun who looked back down at his doodles and drew another pair of O’s. Not distracted by the disruptions, Chanyeol resumed his speech. Baekhyun should’ve listened. He wondered what was Chanyeol even saying that kept him speaking for half an hour now.
The guy on his right, not the late one but the one who had been staring at Baekhyun’s doodles for a while now, resumed staring. Baekhyun didn’t hear anything from the one on his left and didn’t glance at him either. He drew ugly flowers instead, crowning his OWO faces with them as Chanyeol went on and on about the new apartment they had all been given after being pulled out of the Organization’s apartment complexes. It had been quite the bother to say goodbye to his neighbors two days ago. Baekhyun still hadn’t met his new ones. He wasn’t sure he even had neighbors. Chanyeol’s white scientist coat kept flapping around when he shoved his hands inside but kept moving still, parting the two lapels, bringing them together, parting them again as he spoke .
When he thanked all of them for the effort and the handwork they’d been giving to the Organization and the World for years, Baekhyun heard a snort on his left. He glanced at the guy quickly. Eyelids still heavy but eyebrows knitted, head tilted down, finger tracing circles on the bare surface of a tiny desk before stopping altogether. Displeasure, Baekhyun supposed. Maybe disagreement with Chanyeol’s words. Or bitterness. He knew a lot of people turned bitter and hateful towards the Organization after losing their powers.
Baekhyun shifted on his seat more comfortably and drew different smiley faces. Sharp frowns, streamy tears, embarrassed slits. The guy sitting on his right started doing the same thing and when their eyes met, he gave Baekhyun a smile. Boring, right? were the words he wrote on a corner of his notebook, big enough for Baekhyun to read comfortably. Very, he wrote back next to his own mutant flowers. The guy smiled and looked back down at his blotches of ink. Jaehyun, if Baekhyun remembered correctly from the introductions at the very beginning of the meeting.
It was only a few minutes later that he caught movement from the corner of his eyes, when the glasses that had been tucked into Chanyeol’s breast pocket were now nudged over his nose, as he repeated the explanation about their body’s rejection of the powers. They had all heard it before, during a medical examination. Baekhyun turned to his left and eyes that had been heavily lidded were now closed. He was dozing off, head drooping forward, tilted down more than earlier, index finger stretched while the other fingers of his hand formed a fist. He had probably fallen asleep while drawing invisible circles on the desk.
Baekhyun looked down, pressed the tip of his pencil against a smiley face, and looked at the man again. His lips were parted, pouted a little. Or maybe not. His lips weren’t particularly thin, maybe that was just the natural way they looked. Naturally puckered. Or it could be because of sleep. It looked nice, Baekhyun had never seen someone pouting while sleeping. Baekhyun had never really seen anyone sleeping, not in years at least. He had a nice jaw. It looked smooth. Baekhyun wasn’t sure why. It just looked sharp and then smooth on the path up towards his cheek. A lot of skin. It looked like he had a lot of skin, a wide expanse of skin stretched over a nice jaw.
He hadn't shaved, there was a shadow above his upper lip. That reinforced the feeling that the man had probably not woken up on time for the meeting. It could also explain why he was sleeping now. Baekhyun wondered if Chanyeol would scold him, were he to notice. Chanyeol didn’t look like the strict type. This man looked like the sleeping-in type. With his sleepy lips, and the messy curtain of hair concealing his eyes and the nice jaw. Cute. Baekhyun tried doodling a sleepy face. He was bad at drawing.
Soon, Chanyeol started speaking with finality in his voice. Baekhyun saw the finally that the other guy sitting next to him scribbled and Baekhyun drew a ‘><‘ in reply. The guy snorted. He looked nice. Was nice. They had barely communicated but he didn’t look too unhappy about being here. Baekhyun was glad someone might relate to him. Chanyeol clapped his hands together once in finality and Baekhyun closed his notebook. He turned to the sleepy neighbor and hesitated.
Maybe he should wake him up. If Chanyeol’s boisterous voice hadn’t roused him then there was little chance that anything else would. Chanyeol bid them goodbye with a few more grateful and reassuring words and everyone started moving. Baekhyun looked at Jaehyun — he had confirmed it by asking his name earlier — and he seemed to understand the dilemma since he shrugged in silence.
Baekhyun turned back to the sleeping man and reached towards him with his pen. A few nudge with the tip of it against his shoulder was enough to wake him up with a start. He blinked and then gathered his hands together on the tiny desk, looking around with a disoriented width to his eyes. Baekhyun didn’t look away. The guy closed his eyes again. He had cute eyes. Slumbering eyelids. He looked at Baekhyun for a moment, blinking. Baekhyun looked back, observing. He nodded then and Baekhyun acknowledged the gesture of gratefulness with a nod too.
People started trickling out of the room and Baekhyun stood up, the other following. He turned to Jaehyun who was smiling at him.
"See you on the next meeting," he said and Baekhyun nodded.
"Hopefully it won’t be as boring," he replied, leaning a bit closer and lowering his voice.
"We can just doodle more," Jaehyun chuckled and with a wave of his hand, he walked out of the door.
Sleepy guy followed him out, footsteps much slower, dragging against the floor, back hunched a little bit from the weight of drowsiness.
He stopped in the hallway and looked around, possibly seeking the way to the exit. He only continued walking when a woman got out of the meeting room and walked past him. He followed her. Baekhyun felt the corners of his lips twitching.
Cotton Coffee used to be conveniently placed a few streets away from where Baekhyun lived. Now that he had moved out of his apartment and into another, it was a bit further from his house but not unbearable so. Baekhyun probably needed that additional ten minutes of exercise anyway.
The bell welcomed him with a perky melody, something that was rarely heard in other coffee shops but that the owner insisted on keeping it for that exact reason. It wasn’t really the only difference between this establishment and others, Minseok had opened this place years ago because he loved coffee, not because he had a degree in business management and discovered an opportunity to earn money. That could be felt in every single one of his brews and in the coffee sanctuary itself.
Cushy seats welcomed every single one of Minseok’s patrons, the homeliness of his coffee amplified by the serenity in the pale blue walls. Squishy clouds were painted on them, alongside with individual paintings of landscapes hung here and there amidst the white puffiness like pieces of the sun. A different country and a different emotion each time but always the same warmth. Baekhyun wasn’t sure how paint could look cottony and how landscape could look dreamy but it did.
He spotted Yixing as soon as he entered but the latter was too busy scrolling on his phone to notice him. Not bothered by it, Baekhyun directly stepped to the counter where Minseok greeted him with a smile wider than the ones he gave other customers. Baekhyun had been drinking his coffee for four years now, since the very first day this place had opened. Without needed to take his order, Minseok quickly got to work after Baekhyun paid him and it took an insignificant amount of time for a cup of latte to be given to him. Baekhyun didn’t feel talkative today and Minseok was used to the absence of small talk on some days so he contented himself with smiling at him before Baekhyun carefully walked to Yixing.
He put his cup on the table with a loud thump that made Yixing look up with wide eyes.
"I could rob you right here and you wouldn’t notice," Baekhyun chided him, steady voice pulling a dimple out of Yixing.
"Since you’re so loud, I would definitely notice," Yixing retorted, putting his phone down and grabbing his cup of coffee instead. Iced Americano, as always. Baekhyun still remembered the terrifying flavor of it from that one time Yixing had made him taste it two years ago. And the unnecessarily lengthy amount of time Yixing had spent laughing at him and mimicking the scrunch of his features at the taste.
"Did you get a girlfriend without me knowing?" he interrogated the other, leaning closer and peeking at his phone with narrowed eyes.
Yixing pushed him away with a gentle finger against his forehead and an even gentler laugh. Baekhyun took a sip of his coffee and tasted satisfaction.
"Trust me, the day I finally manage to get a girlfriend, I’ll be screaming it all around," Yixing said around his straw.
"That girlfriend won’t last long then," Baekhyun hummed, voice barely fluctuating with playfulness.
Yixing was used to the subtlety of the tone and gave him an amused grimace.
"Stop jinxing my girlfriend before I even meet her," he reprimanded Baekhyun who reached to pat his hand.
"I’m sure she’ll never let you go after she meets you," he reassured the other, only half joking.
His best friend was quite the catch, after all. Yixing beamed at him, rays of happiness and embarrassment at an equal shine.
"How was the meeting?" Yixing asked just as the door sung a welcome again.
Baekhyun glanced at the middle aged man coming in with a book in hand before looking at Yixing again.
"It was great," he said before stopping and humming. His finger tapped against the rim of his cup. "Well, more than the meeting the fact that I was there was great, actually. Chanyeol is pretty boring when he’s in scientist mode."
"He’s a healer," Yixing corrected him.
"The white blouse and the messy curls are confusing." His finger tapped against the rim quicker. Yixing snorted in agreement before his gaze fell down to the jitter in Baekhyun’s hand.
"You seem really happy about this," he commented and Baekhyun had long stopped trying to figure out how Yixing knew the way he felt most of the times without Baekhyun ever making it obvious. It still amazed him sometimes. And made him feel like he had chosen the right best friend.
"Didn’t you believe me when I told you I was really happy about this?" he questioned, looking at Yixing over the rim of his cup as he took a fulfilling sip.
The white leaf on the surface of the drink had dissipated a while ago but Baekhyun still looked for it on his drink with a quick glance when he put it down. One day, he would convince Minseok to teach him how to do that leaf thing.
Yixing leaned back into his chair, cup following along as he drew from his straw again.
"I thought you were just being casual and reassuring when I accompanied you to the Erasure," he said and Baekhyun didn’t miss the twitch of his lips as they formed that word.
Erasure. It could be a scary word for anyone who worked for the Organization. Getting the powers you were born with erased in the time it took to drink a cup of coffee must be pretty scary. Baekhyun’s body had felt pretty numb on the day following his Erasure, like something was missing or stifled. Not once had he felt scared. Or anything else. A week had passed. He still didn’t feel anything.
"A lot of people did look sad back then," he recalled, laughter from a table on the other side of the room clashing against his words. Yixing’s attentive eyes didn’t leave him. "I just felt relieved. I think I still do now."
It had been liberating. Baekhyun was liberated from a part of himself he had loved for so long.
"I’m glad then," Yixing smiled. Baekhyun didn’t return it. Yixing knew Baekhyun wanted to return it. "You can finally truly live now."
Baekhyun slid his bottom farther back on his chair and leaned forward to press his forearms on the edge of the table. Both hands laced around the warm cup, eyes looking down at his thumbs.
"Why are you talking as if I was dead before?" he asked, glancing at Yixing who didn’t shy away from his gaze.
He pursed his lips and then pressed them together. "You were acting like you were," he said, voice soothing in that same way it always was whenever he thought Baekhyun would get upset.
He never did. Baekhyun couldn’t get upset and certainly not at Yixing. He let out a choked sound, airy and short. It didn’t sound like Yixing’s laugh. It was Baekhyun’s laugh.
"I’ll start living now then. And stop being a zombie," he joked, to which Yixing laughed before it prompted him into talking about that new game he had found.
Baekhyun listened to him talk about it with enthusiasm and even the crazed look of someone capable of staying up all night just to play that game. Baekhyun had never done that, hadn’t played games since he was twelve. It got him too worked up. He liked listening to Yixing talk about all the games he couldn’t play, it made them sound less unreachable.
When Baekhyun talked about Jaehyun, their doodles, and how the Organization’s acronym looked like a smiley face while showing his notebook to him, he didn’t laugh but Yixing did it enough for the two of them. He always did.
They stepped out of the coffee shop together a while later, both of them waving Minseok goodbye. Yixing shoved his hands in the pockets of his jacket and looked up at the sky with a content smile. It was cloudy today, not cold but not too warm either. Baekhyun wasn’t sure whether he’d prefer it to be warmer or cooler. It had never mattered.
"Too bad I can’t ask you to make it sunnier anymore," Yixing said, regret twisting his mouth when he looked back at Baekhyun.
"I never made it sunnier anyway," Baekhyun replied, flattening his voice enough for Yixing to frown at him. His lips twitched in amusement.
"But I could still try my chance. I’m pretty sure you would’ve yielded one day," he asserted, to which Baekhyun huffed and reached to lightly push him on the shoulder. He had an appointment and he’d be late if he lingered with Baekhyun longer.
"I guess now you have to find a girlfriend who has thermal control."
Yixing caught the hidden teasing in his voice and looked extra reluctant as he leaned to hug Baekhyun with one arm. It never worked. If he was that reluctant, he’d just not hug Baekhyun. He patted Yixing’s back the same way he remembered his aunt did to his baby cousin around a decade ago. He even mimicked the cooing sounds and Yixing pulled away with a whine. He ruffled Baekhyun’s hair and neatened his strands again before waving goodbye at him and turning away to walk towards the appointment he hopefully wouldn’t be late to. Baekhyun watched him discreetly look at a crushed flower that had grown on a fissured part of the pavement as he walked past it. The plant perked up at once, its petals growing livelier by the time Yixing was a few steps away.
Yixing healed every single plant he stumbled upon, with no exception. He was good at it. Sometimes, Baekhyun wished he were a flower, just so Yixing would make him the way he was supposed to be again. When he had voiced that out to his best friend mere weeks ago, Yixing had said that he was already a flower. Just a different one.
Baekhyun looked up at the sky then looked back down again. It wasn’t his responsibility anymore.
With a sigh, he walked to the nearest bus stop, regretting the fact that he had left his car at his apartment’s parking lot. Not that he had any other choice, there was no room to park it in front of the coffee shop. The streets weren’t empty, it was a nice day. Baekhyun walked and looked at the colorful variety of plants displayed in front of a florist, a convenience store, a small restaurant, and a bookstore. The place was looking to hire, there was an ad plastered on the door. Baekhyun hadn’t read a book in so long.
The walk was short but the wait for the bus was a little longer. Baekhyun didn’t mind, waiting until the bus came and then sitting at the back of it. The journey felt like a distortion, long and short, speedy and dragged out, wanted and unwanted.
He had visited the columbarium thrice already, this would be his fourth time. Baekhyun had never felt anything more than what he felt in this place. He hated the fact that here, he could feel. Behind the rectangular, small glass door, his father’s picture smiled at him. He was probably delighted that Baekhyun could feel the sorrow of the knowledge that all he would ever see of his father again was pictures.
They had argued a lot about it. The suppressed feelings, a requirement, an obligation unless he wanted the weather to match every single one of his changes of mood instead of what was scheduled for the day. It had taken him a whole year of training to be able to stifle everything and pay attention to nothing but the clouds in the sky and the temperature breezing around him.
Baekhyun had never realized how caged in he was. His father had spent a vast majority of his life trying to tell Baekhyun that he wasn’t living. He had never listened to him. In the end, it took his father’s death and three entire days of atrocious storms and floods in Seoul for Baekhyun to feel again. To realize he should’ve listened. Should’ve realized it sooner. During these three long days, Baekhyun had felt choked up by loss just as much as he felt asphyxiated by the fact that he could feel that loss.
He had almost forgotten that he had a chest in the past fifteen years. Up until his mother had called him and the tremor in her voice weaved cracks in Baekhyun’s chest. And then, it overflowed. With so much abundance that Baekhyun had felt his entire existence reduced to heartache and nothing else. As much as it had felt like agony, it felt like something else. He didn’t remember ever feeling it, not even before he had turned twelve and the Organization had sought his dormant powers. Baekhyun had forgotten how nice it was not to be neutral, unwavering. Now, he knew he would never forget it.
And that was all he had felt. Mourning, loss, wasted times. Nothing else. Even now, he could barely regret the locked and lost years of emotions. But he wanted to. He yearned to feel.
He looked at the small container between pictures of his father and their family. He should talk. He hadn’t talked with his father a lot. He couldn’t talk. It seemed stupid to talk to ashes and pictures.
Baekhyun didn’t talk but he promised. He would taste every emotion he had forgotten and missed. For his father. For himself. He wouldn’t regulate his state of mind, his cravings, his wants, and his needs. He would feel life.
Two days later, Baekhyun was readying himself to drawing more smiley faces and unidentifiable shapes as he walked towards one of the meeting rooms in the Rehabilitation Center.
When he opened the door, it was to a slumped figure, a lolling head, and pouty slumber.
He was early, he hadn’t expected anyone to be in the room and he certainly hadn’t expected this man to be here earlier than him when he had arrived half an hour late to the last meeting. Maybe he had arrived so early to make sure he wouldn’t be late even if he overslept. In the meeting room. That was a funny thought. Baekhyun felt his chest quivering with a puff of air.
Glancing at the time on his phone, he closed the door behind him as quietly as possible. Twenty minutes left before the meeting started. He went to sit right next to the sleeping man, on the same exact seat he had occupied the last time. He froze when the chair scraped against the floor as he sat down and slowly turned to look at the familiar stranger. He hadn’t even budged, head still lolling, lips still jutted out to embrace sleep. He must be a heavy sleeper.
Baekhyun slumped back into his seat and scrutinized him. His hair was long, maybe a bit too long, sweeping over his forehead, fluffy but not messy. The shade of his skin somehow made his skin look smoother. A strong jaw. A wide jaw, Baekhyun thought as his gaze traced a line from the man’s earlobe to his cheek and then down to his jawline. A nice jaw. He was handsome in a pacifying way. Staring at him was calming. After a long while of looking at him, Baekhyun felt the sleep dusted on the man’s features rising up into the air he breathed in. A dream. With the pale blue of his shirt and the way his hands were tucked between his legs, the man looked like a dream. Maybe that was why he looked so entangled with slumber on both occasions Baekhyun had seen him.
He looked away with a startle, realizing that he had been staring for much too long. He blinked and got his notebook out. He didn’t know why bringing in a notebook was advised when Baekhyun was pretty sure no one had written anything useful in it on the last meeting. He grabbed his phone and wrote that thought in a message he sent to Yixing. He was told to do his best to make some friends. Yixing even sent him a small list titled Steps to Making a Friend, with tips, advices on how to look friendly, and examples of conversation starters — Baekhyun noted the absence of the classical weather talk. It wasn’t even a joke. This was such a Yixing thing to do.
By the time Yixing was telling him about his plans for the day, the room was filled with a few more people, less than the last time. Chanyeol entered soon, followed by a tall man dressed in a suit that contrasted with the messiness of Chanyeol’s own clothes and long scientist blouse. Jongsuk, Baekhyun remembered. Chanyeol had said a counselor would attend the next meeting. The two men settled at the desk in front of the rows of seats and Jongsuk rummaged in his bag.
The door opened and Baekhyun recognized his Doodling Buddy. He replied with a nod when Jaehyun smiled at him and moved to sit next to him. Baekhyun looked down at his phone, at the list Yixing made for him and back up at Jaehyun.
"Ready to doodle?" he asked, distorting his tone into as much friendliness as possible.
Jaehyun nodded vigorously. "I actually almost skipped the meeting because I didn’t want to come here just to doodle." He grimaced a little. "But then it would remind me of the times I kept skipping in high school so I wanted to avoid that."
Baekhyun observed him, his creaseless shirt and the neat styling of his hair. "You don’t really look like the kind to skip class in high school," he noted.
Jaehyun laughed quietly, opening up his notebook to a page already full of doodles. His dimple showed when he looked at Baekhyun. People who had dimples were nice, Baekhyun knew from experience — or from Yixing.
"You do look like the kind of person who skipped class a lot though," he said and had it not been for his smile and the hesitant playfulness in his voice, Baekhyun might have taken offense at that.
He didn’t really. He didn’t reply either and Jaehyun didn’t seem to mind, still looking at him although this time he wasn’t smiling but studying. Baekhyun should probably smile here. He didn’t find it in himself to. It was buried too deep down, he wasn’t able to pull it up yet. Maybe he was coming off as weird. People who didn’t smile were intimidating. That was what Yixing had told him once, in the middle of a hug made to comfort Baekhyun who had somewhat managed to make a child cry while they were grocery shopping together. He hadn’t really felt bad about it. He had still appreciated the hug.
He didn’t want to look weird. He grabbed his pen and squeezed it in his hand. He should smile. Say something. Jaehyun was looking at him. Baekhyun would really like Jaehyun to be his first non-Yixing, non-Minseok friend. He dug the tip of his pen into his thumb. Soon, Jaehyun would look away and never talk to him again. Baekhyun should say something, anything to prevent that from happening. He wanted to make a friend. That was a good step to living. He didn’t know how to make a friend. He should look at the list Yixing had sent him.
"What were your powers?" Jaehyun asked then and Baekhyun looked up from his phone, shoulders slackening just a little bit.
"Thermal control," he replied with no hesitation, maybe a bit too quickly, right after Jaehyun was done talking.
The other hummed, nodding a little as comprehension smoothed out his features.
"That explains a lot of things," he said with a quiet hum. Baekhyun tilted his head, prompting Jaehyun to wave the hand that was holding his pen at him. "Don’t worry! I know the effects of thermal control. You don’t have to force yourself to be expressive, I won’t be weirded out by the lack of emotions."
That was a bit too straightforward. Baekhyun liked it. He pressed his lips together and nodded.
"You must be a healer then?" he questioned since that was the most likely reason why Jaehyun was aware of thermal control’s effect on its people. Yixing knew everything about the plants he healed and created so healers must know everything about the people they healed, he figured.
"I was," Jaehyun said just as Chanyeol clapped his hand together once, just like the last time, to indicate the start of the meeting.
Jaehyun gave him a smile as he fell silent and Baekhyun shook his head a little, brandishing his pen like a sword and pulling a chuckle out of who he hoped would be his first new friend. He turned to the man sitting on his other side then and just like last time, he nudged him with the tip of his pen. It took a few tries and an increasing dig into his shoulder but eventually, the man startled away with wide eyes. Nice eyes. Eyelashes that looked drowsy and delicate.
"It’s starting," Baekhyun explained in a whisper, nodding towards Chanyeol who had already started his welcoming speech.
The man glanced at Chanyeol, blinking rapidly. He raised a hand to rub his face with it then, a few times, cheeks dragging under his fingers. His other hand was still tucked between his legs. Baekhyun wondered if he was cold. He kind of looked perfect for one of these scenes in dramas, when the character fell asleep on the couch and the other character covered them with a jacket or a blanket. Baekhyun wasn’t sure he would do that to a stranger but if he weren’t a stranger, maybe he would.
When he looked at Baekhyun again, it was with a faint smile. Sleepily handsome. Handsomely sleepy.
"Thanks," he whispered and Baekhyun nodded before focusing on the doodles he should make.
He only looked up long minutes later when Jongsuk asked people who wanted to get a job to raise their hand. Baekhyun raised it at the same time as Jaehyun and curiously, he glanced to his side, pressing his lips together when he noticed that his other seatmate was raising his hand very low, blinking very slowly. Their eyes met and Baekhyun looked away, raising his hand higher. He did need a job and so did half of the other occupants of the room.
Jongsuk went on to explain that they technically didn’t need a job since the Organization would continue paying them a hefty amount of money every month until the end of their life for the work they had done. It was just a little less than the high salary everyone used to earn but it was still more than enough to live comfortably. A job would just be some kind of hobby at this point, just something to while his time away but he’d take it. He wanted to live a normal life.
Chanyeol soon walked through the rows and passed forms to whoever had raised their hand for a job. Baekhyun took one, returning Chanyeol’s friendly smile with a nod of his head before looking down at the forms. He started filling in his name when he heard Chanyeol speak in a low whisper.
"Jongin," he called out and when Baekhyun turned to his left, he was standing in front of the Sleepy Guy who was once again, sleeping. Jongin. Nice name. For no other reason than the fact that it had a nice-looking owner. Chanyeol reached to shake his shoulder gently. "Jongin," he called out again and this time, Jongin woke up with a startle. Always with a startle.
Baekhyun pressed the tip of his pen against his lower lip, digging it in a little as he watched Jongin blink up at Chanyeol for a few seconds. Surprisingly, Chanyeol didn’t look angry. He was frowning but soft lines formed his features, faintly worried.
"Sorry," Jongin apologized with a strained smile. His hands were tucked between his legs again.
Chanyeol shook his head and put a form down on his desk.
"I know it’s difficult but you’ll get used to it soon. Please try to fight it, falling asleep in random places could be dangerous," he said, more of a warning rather a chiding.
Jongin’s smile widened a little. He was awake but somehow, he still looked dreamy. His hair looked glossy, shining a little under the natural light pouring in from the windows, reaching for his eyelashes. His jaw was still as wide as the last time Baekhyun had seen him. He still had a lot of skin there. A lot of skin. It was a weird way to describe it, maybe. Baekhyun wasn’t really sure how else to describe that sleek expanse of skin.
Chanyeol smiled at him and finally stepped away. Jongin’s gaze fell down to the form, his eyes hooding a little bit. Baekhyun wasn’t sure whether it was because he was looking down or because he was a few breaths away from falling asleep again. He looked nice when he was asleep. Nice. There was a lot of nice things about him. Baekhyun didn’t know what other word he could use to describe someone he had just learned the name of.
He looked back down at his form. He must be close with Chanyeol. Or maybe not. Chanyeol had fussed about Baekhyun on all four occasions Baekhyun had visited him for a check-up. He silently filled in the form, his name, age, place of birth, all kinds of questions concerning his powers and circumstances that led to his Erasure, and personal questions about his likes, dislikes, and skills. He hesitated a little bit on the question about what job he could imagine himself having. In the end, he wrote that it didn’t matter. Nothing in particular attracted him.
Baekhyun noted that Jongin returned his form at the same time as him. He couldn’t take a look at his writing but he had a feeling it would be in soft letters. He wasn’t sure what soft letters looked like exactly but that felt like something that suited this somnolent, nice-jawed Jongin person.
Somnolent Jongin who battled sleep for the remaining of the meeting, his head lulling from time to time as Chanyeol talked and then Jongsuk talked and then Chanyeol again. He never fell asleep though, throwing his head up with a start every time it lowered too much. Baekhyun drew a tiny stick on the corner of his notebook for each time it happened. Six sticks. He linked and cut them into squares after a while and then glanced at what Jaehyun was doing. He was quite good at drawing. Baekhyun couldn’t make out what exactly he was doodling but it looked alright. Much better than the dozens of Z’s Baekhyun filled his page with. Z. Jongin. Cute. For some reason.
Baekhyun tried remembering the last time he had found something cute. Something, that had happened recently. Three days ago, at Cotton Coffee, a little girl had brought in a bunny plushie dressed like a ballet dancer. Cute. Something that he had found cute. Someone, though. Baekhyun couldn’t remember.
When the meeting ended, Jongin was the first one to get out of the room. He hadn’t passed out on his seat. Baekhyun’s gaze followed him out of the room. He stopped outside, right in front of the door. He waited to follow someone towards the exit, just like last time. Baekhyun felt his cheeks quivering faintly.
He looked back at Jaehyun. He wanted a friend. He needed a friend. He asked Jaehyun if he’d like to go grab lunch together. Yixing would probably be proud of Baekhyun for receiving a perky agreement and a comfortable smile in response.
The lively orange of the plastic walls the pojangmacha was made of matched the warm laugh of its owner and her welcoming treatment of her patrons. Or maybe it matched Jaehyun more. Baekhyun hadn’t had lunch with many people besides Yixing in his life but he was sure Jaehyun could be considered as a very kind person.
He didn’t cut Baekhyun off when he talked, looked at him while he listened, ate slowly, and could hold a conversation and switch to another one without problem. The few silence they shared were filled with the slurping of noodles but no awkward silence. Baekhyun learned that Jaehyun had a brother, wanted to get a cat someday, and watched enough dramas to write one himself, probably. Baekhyun didn’t have a lot of himself to share. He didn’t have a lot of himself. But he spoke with no fear or hesitation, sharing things about Yixing, about his power, and what he would like to do now that he had no power left.
"But what do healers do exactly?" he asked during a lull in the conversation, while Jaehyun was contemplating whether to get soju or not. Baekhyun didn’t drink. It would mess with his control over himself. "Are you like doctors or is it different?"
Jaehyun stirred the remaining of his ramyeon with his chopsticks once as he hummed. He still didn’t call out to the owner for a drink.
"Some of us do act like doctors, for humans and members of the Organization alike, but not all of us." He stopped to slurp on his noodles when Baekhyun did so and chewed a little before continuing his answer. "Most of the doctors in the world are human while healers mostly work for the Organization’s battles or members. Otherwise, we’re the ones working on medicine."
"For the whole world?" Baekhyun questioned as laughter and clinking glasses arose from the table behind theirs.
Jaehyun nodded. "Yeah, that and research on illness. Human doctors just take care of the sick, we do the research. I guess we’re kind of like scientists, in a way?" he said, looking to the side and tilting his head a little.
Baekhyun hummed in understanding. He had no idea healers worked on all of that. He had no idea what most of the Organization’s members did, he never really cared about anyone but himself and Yixing. He glanced at his phone, resting besides his bowl on the table. Yixing had replied to his message earlier, telling him not to use his phone while eating with a new friend because it would be rude.
"At least you did stuff," Baekhyun said after raising his bowl and sipping on the soup a little bit. He then pinched noodles between his chopsticks but stabbed them down into the bowl instead of up into his mouth. "All I did was stay home and make sure to control my emotions to avoid fucking up the weather."
"Did you not like it?" Jaehyun asked, looking at him with attentive eyes, an elbow folded on the table, his other hand bringing noodles into his mouth.
Baekhyun tilted his head, gaze following a passerby outside the restaurant.
"I didn’t hate it," he confessed. He hadn’t hated it, at least not until his father passed away. He looked at Jaehyun again. Baekhyun hoped they would be friends. Maybe they were friends now. He should ask Yixing what was the exact point someone turned from stranger to friend. "But after a while, I stopped loving it, I guess. Because all I had was that, you know?"
Jaehyun hummed. "I can only imagine how chaining it must’ve felt," he said softly, no real pity or sadness in his tone but just comprehension. Baekhyun was glad.
Chaining. That was the word. Sitting at home, looking at the sky, not feeling anything. The vast sky above him had chained him down.
"You don’t particularly seem sad about your Erasure, though," he noted, voicing out the first thing that had struck him about Jaehyun on that very first meeting. Finding his ramyeon too salty, he grabbed his glass of water and poured just a little bit into his bowl.
Jaehyun chuckled a little, accompanying the perky sound with a perky shrug of his shoulders.
"I won’t say I’m not sad at all. I am, just a little bit. It’s a part of ourselves that was erased." It was. Baekhyun agreed on that but he also thought that not all parts of an individual were worth mourning over. Jaehyun smiled then, looking down at his ramyeon and stirring it for a second. "At least now I can focus on my girlfriend."
"Oh, you got a girlfriend," Baekhyun said, words elongated as he leaned a little closer and looked at Jaehyun with no particular shift in his expression.
Jaehyun shook his head and gave an abashed laugh at his teasing. Baekhyun was glad Jaehyun could sense without it being too explicit. He had a hard time making his feelings obvious.
"She’s a nurse," he explained, still with that wide smile, softened by shyness but shining with the pride in his eyes. "So we don’t really see each other often since we’re both really busy. But now, I won’t be as busy as before."
"I’m actually surprised you managed to get a girlfriend while working for the Organization."
Yixing had never gotten a girlfriend. He was too busy for that. Jaehyun shrugged and Baekhyun grabbed his bowl and brought it up to his mouth to drink a bit of the soup.
"I was hesitating a little at first," Jaehyun said when Baekhyun put his empty bowl down again. He still had that smile on. Baekhyun wondered if that was the default smile for people who had someone to love. "But then she was really pretty. She is really pretty. I didn’t want to waste my chance and we managed to keep it working until now so we’re alright."
Baekhyun hummed, nodding. He faintly pulled the corners of his lips up when Jaehyun grinned at him. He looked happy. Baekhyun hadn’t felt that in a long while. He didn’t know how to feel that. He wondered if getting a girlfriend would make him feel the way Jaehyun did. Or a boyfriend. Someone. Anyone.
It seemed very unlikely of him to get someone before Yixing got himself a girlfriend. Which was also very unlikely with how busy he was. But Baekhyun wasn’t busy anymore, wasn’t restricted to numbness anymore. Didn’t want to be numb any longer. He never had time for someone other than the weather. Now, he had all the time of the world in his hands. Except he still had no feelings to give to someone. But he would find them. He could have feelings now. He could do a lot of things now.
Jaehyun stared at the owner of the pojangmacha passed by them with a bottle of soju for another table and Baekhyun pressed his lips together. He was too polite to drink alone, seemingly.
In the end, Baekhyun ordered a bottle and two glasses.
A glass was all Baekhyun drank and it wasn’t enough not to make him sigh as soon as he stepped home.
It was empty and messy. The door closed behind him with a safe melody. Not too messy, he just hadn’t unpacked everything and this place was still unfamiliar to him. The only thing he regretted about his Erasure was that a loss of powers and involvement in the Organization, which required him to move out of the apartment complex reserved for its members. Although this apartment was still given to him by the Organization and was slightly smaller than his previous one, it still wasn’t comparable to a place he had lived in for close to ten years. That was why it seemed messy to him. This whole situation was messy.
Yixing had told him not to forget to clean everything up after Baekhyun had messaged him about the success of his new friendship. Jaehyun had given him his number and had shown enthusiasm towards another meal together. Baekhyun had stifled his happiness, out of habit.
With another sigh, he stopped staring around and toed his shoes off, getting to tidy things up a little bit. It didn’t take that long, he just had to half-neatly shove his clothes inside his closet and put the suitcase away. The apartment already had furniture, just like his previous one, and the fridge wasn’t full but Baekhyun would take care of that when it’d become empty.
He dropped to his couch with an additional sigh. He sighed a lot for someone who couldn’t feel. That wasn’t a bad thing. The couch was very comfortable, at least. He burrowed into the back rest and let his fist bounce over the cushiness he was sitting on a few times. He looked around his living room. White walls, black couch, white television set, not much else. It was minimalistic. Empty. The walls were bare, save for one random painting hung above the couch.
Not for the first time, Baekhyun realized he didn’t have a lot of friends. He didn’t have any friends. Yixing was more like a brother at this point. People in movies always put pictures of their friends on the wall of their bedrooms, or any other wall in their house. Baekhyun wondered if that only happened in movies or if real people did that too. He wanted to put pictures on his walls. Maybe it would feel less messy and empty.
He felt his chest constricting a little. He clenched his fists, dug them into the couch, and gritted his teeth, forcing himself to feel that little pinch and let it grow into more. It didn’t. It flickered in him like a malfunctioning light before going off altogether, not even giving Baekhyun the occasion to make out what it was. He hoped it was loneliness.
Bringing his hands up, he rubbed them over his face and cleared his throat. Then, he slid his phone out of his pocket. It took only two rings for his mother to pick up the call.
"Baekhyunnie, you called right on time," her lively voice greeted him, with familiarity. Baekhyun hadn’t loved his parents enough. They had always loved him more than enough. "What should I eat for lunch?"
"You haven’t eaten lunch yet?" Baekhyun said and she heard the reprimand in the flat of his voice.
"It’s still early, only 2. I didn’t know what to eat so I didn’t cook," she justified herself, voice going up at the end of her sentences the way it always did when Baekhyun was nagging at her.
She had once told him that his voice did the same thing whenever she was the one doing the nagging. Baekhyun had never felt it.
"But still, you shouldn’t skip meals, mom," he said softly, although he understood. Eating alone wasn’t fun. Cooking for yourself wasn’t fun.
"Just tell me what I should eat," she dismissed him and he huffed into the phone hard enough for her to groan at the crackling through the line. He slumped back more comfortably into the couch. "I can make haejanguk or bibimbap."
Baekhyun hummed, letting his voice go up and down and drawing laughter out of her.
"Haejanguk," he eventually settled on. That was quicker and easier to make for her.
"Alright," she chirped. "Have you eaten though? Anything other than ramyeon?" she asked with the tone of someone who already had an answer.
Baekhyun could visualize her narrowed eyes and the knowing glint in them, her hands already rolling her sleeves up in a stance that prepared her to jump to the kitchen and wipe out something delicious for him to eat immediately. He pressed his lips together.
"Mom, would you like to move in with me?" he asked, voice soft, weighed down. He’d get rid of that weight one day. He’d free the emotion under it, someday.
She was lonely. He knew it. She was alone now that his father wasn’t there. She didn’t even feel like cooking for herself. Baekhyun knew her. She could cook for him. They could eat together. They could cook together. Make sure that neither of them was lonely. Baekhyun felt lonely, probably.
"Where does that come from so suddenly?" came her delayed answer, a bit dampened.
"I don’t know," he mumbled, a finger digging into his thigh.
"It would be uncomfortable for the both of us. You’re almost thirty."
"I’m only twenty seven," he retorted instantly and she laughed.
"Still, you’ve been living alone for almost ten years. I just want you to enjoy your life now, I don’t want to burden you," she said and Baekhyun knew what she meant. She wanted him to live his life with someone, not with her but not alone either.
"But aren’t you lonely?" he asked as he moved to lay down on the couch. It was a little stiff, after all. Not comfortable enough.
"I’m not!" she said, tone accusing as if Baekhyun had asked a stupid question. "I have friends, unlike you." Baekhyun aired out the beginning of a snort. "And we’re not even that far away from each other. I’m just on the other side of the city."
"Alright then," Baekhyun conceded, fingers fumbling with the hem of his shirt. "You can visit me whenever you want. You know my new address, right?"
She snorted a full sound. "You come visit me if you’re that hungry."
Baekhyun let go of his shirt, hand flopping to his side. "How did you know all I was trying to get out of this conversation was food?"
"I’ve known you my whole life," she boasted and it was wrong. Baekhyun was the one who had known her his whole life.
He didn’t correct her, appreciating the barely familiar stretch of his lower lip into the shrunken shadow of a smile. He widened it, until he felt his cheeks tensing up a bit. Just because he could now. It probably wasn’t a good, natural-looking smile but it was one nonetheless. Baekhyun would remind himself that he could smile now.
She talked to him about the latest gossips going around the neighborhood and the newest recipe she wanted to try out. When Baekhyun told her about his new friend, her voice was a burst of joy into his ears.
By the time they hung up, Baekhyun was even more determined to make himself happy.
"Why did a meeting about emotional state and acceptance feel so draining?" Jaehyun groaned as he stretched his arms over his head.
Baekhyun followed him out of the door, yawning as soon as the light summer breeze caressed his nape. People dressed in formal attire went up and down the stairs leading to OWO’s Rehabilitation Center. No matter how many times Baekhyun doodled that acronym, it still looked like a smiling face.
"Probably because everyone in there was sad," he replied when Jaehyun dropped his arms and looked at him. "Well, except for us. And why did we even get three meetings in the span of a single week?"
He was starting to get tired of listening to Chanyeol’s cheerful advice and his clapping hands that indicated the start and end of every meeting.
"I think they’re squeezing in everything so close just to get rid of us as quickly as possible," Jaehyun snorted, his hand sliding into the pocket of his jacket before sliding out again and moving to his other pocket. Baekhyun wondered how he wasn’t hot dressed like that. It was hot, even if it was barely even ten in the morning.
"Good thing this is the last meeting for now. The next one’s in a week," he said as he watched Jaehyun panic for a second before he seemed to find his phone in the first pocket he had looked in.
"I hope it won’t be as boring as this one," he said as he lit up his phone’s screen for a short moment before looking up at Baekhyun with a smile. "I’m going to meet up with friends and we’ll go get lunch from there later on. Would you like to come with us?"
That was an unexpected offer but not one that Baekhyun didn’t like. They really were friends. Jaehyun’s attentive eyes and his lingering smile could be a sign that he didn’t ask it out of politeness. Baekhyun didn’t know he could make a friend so quickly. He laced his hands together behind himself and extended his arms to stretch a little.
However, he shook his head. Spending time with Jaehyun who knew him and wouldn’t find his lack of smiles rude was one thing, hanging out with strangers who’d find him cold and unfriendly was another.
"It’s really nice of you to ask but I don’t want to intrude," he said, hoping Jaehyun wouldn’t take offense at his refusal.
He didn’t. Instead, he narrowed his eyes at him and twisted his mouth.
"You’re just scared you’ll be the oldest there," he said, the shake of his head speaking of mischief.
Instantly, Baekhyun raised his eyebrows."I’m only twenty seven."
"Almost thirty then," Jaehyun singsonged as he tucked his phone into his pocket and started turning around.
"Rude brat," Baekhyun chided him as he raised a leg, mimicking a kick.
Jaehyun jumped back at once to avoid a strike that wouldn’t come, laughing with his crinkled eyes before jogging down the stairs.
Baekhyun’s shoulders quivered and his features tensed lightly. He stopped the laughter before it could turn into anything more than an airy sound out of his mouth. It was supposed to be cloudy today. He looked up at the sky. He swallowed at the white puffiness of it and looked back down, closing his eyes. It wasn’t sunny. It wasn’t his responsibility anymore. His throat felt constricted, as if the laughter was still stuck somewhere there. He had shackled it in there himself.
When he opened his eyes, a woman walking past him and into the building was giving him a wary look. Baekhyun pulled his phone out and looked down at it to avoid seeming too weird. He typed a quick message to Yixing, asking him if he wanted to have lunch together. He hadn’t seen him in three days. He stared at his own words in the bubble while waiting for an answer that didn’t come and only looked up when he heard the rushed tap of footsteps.
It was Sleepy. Jongin. Running and stopping right in front of the Rehabilitation Center’s polished stairs. His hair wasn’t swept neatly over his forehead but parted in the middle, flopping on either side of his face messily and framing the scrunch of his features. He seemed out of breath. Baekhyun had noticed his absence in the meeting and now, it was obvious that he wasn’t absent but late.
He was dressed in a suit today. Black all around, except for his shirt. Dark all around. He tilted his head up, gaze falling into Baekhyun’s. Dark but still not enough to be a nightmare. Dreamy.
Suddenly, he jogged up the stairs and Baekhyun instinctively took a step back when he noticed the man was heading towards him, in case he would trip and fall over him in the rush that was palpable all over him.
"Hi," was the first breathy word directed to him. "Could you tell me what time it is, please?"
His lips remained parted even when he was done speaking, noisily sucking air in and pushing it out again. He was blinking quickly, hair falling in front of his eyes but not curtaining the agitation in them. Baekhyun glanced down at his hand and clearly saw the watch sitting on the side of his wrist rather than the center of it. Without commenting on it, he lit up his phone.
"It’s sixteen past ten," he informed the other, looking back up at him. He was just a little taller than Baekhyun, still heaving, but not agitated anymore. Instead, he was looking right into Baekhyun’s eyes blankly.
Then, he finally closed his mouth and seemed to take a deep breath in through his nose. His lips still looked pouty but now that he could look at him properly, Baekhyun concluded that it wasn’t a pout but the natural shape of his puffy lips. Nice lips to go along with his nice jaw.
"You’re part of the Rehabilitation sessions, right?"
Baekhyun looked away from the serene pink of Jongin’s mouth and into his eyes instead. They were filled with something else now. Not agitation or blankness. His eyebrows were knitted and he stepped closer to Baekhyun. He remembered Baekhyun. Maybe hope?
"Yeah, I am. Baekhyun," he replied to an unasked question, unsure why. Maybe because it was unfair of him to know the other’s name without it being reciprocated.
"Baekhyun," the other repeated, giving him a quick smile that narrowed his eyes a little bit and brightened them. Another emotion. That was a lot of emotions in such a short span of time. "Jongin," he said then before his teeth bit into his smile and scared it away. "Did I miss it?"
Baekhyun pressed his lips together. This guy really had issues with punctuality. And energy. He was still panting a little.
"Yeah, it ended around five minutes ago," he replied, softening his voice the way he should if he felt bad. He didn’t. But he should.
"Shit," Jongin blurted out almost instantly and Baekhyun raised his eyebrows.
Jongin mimicked him for a short moment before he squeezed his eyes shut and Baekhyun was left to stare at him with an amount of puzzlement he hadn’t felt in a very long time. His eyes opened again and for a moment, widened. He looked around with a frown and then back at Baekhyun again. Realization rounded his mouth.
"Shit," he repeated in a mumble Baekhyun almost didn’t catch. "Right."
And then, he was gone, running past Baekhyun and into the building. Baekhyun stood there for a few blinks and then turned around to look past the glass doors. Only unfamiliar faces were inside and Baekhyun felt like one of those unfamiliar faces when his chest puffed up with a quiet sound. He pushed it out and it fell off his mouth as an awkward but full chuckle.
He stopped and pressed his lips together. Not because he wasn’t supposed to feel, but because it was weird to feel. Unexpected, to laugh for the first time in so long because of a sleepy, lost person whose eyes had filled with around five different emotions in the span of a minute. It was immense. Gigantic. Like an unexplored ocean you could find anything in. Baekhyun wondered if some of these emotions had overflowed into him and eased the laughter out of him.
He shook his head and turned around. He went down the stairs, still thinking about a nice jaw, nice lips, sleepiness, and ocean eyes.
Baekhyun didn’t really like watching the television. He still did it, because there wasn’t really anything else to do in the evening, but he didn’t really gain anything out of it.
He would enjoy it more if he could laugh along the guests on variety shows, cry along heartbroken characters in dramas, and empathize with the news. He switched to a channel that played music videos and put the remote down next to him, on the couch. A cheery melody and prettily dressed girls smiling at him.
He wanted to do something. He didn’t know what to do. Yixing had said he would be working until late at night, providing flowers with necessary energy for their bloom of the next morning. Baekhyun had nothing to do.
He really had nothing to do anymore. No weather to watch, no report to write, no watchfulness to keep on himself. Nothing to do. No purpose anymore. It was only then, that he felt like the Erasure had taken a big part of him away.
He switched the channel to a different variety show, watched an idol who lived alone open his home's doors to the cameras. He watched for a long time. There was a lot of laughter. None from him. When he noticed, his hand slapped against the remote as he grabbed it to switch the television off with a heavy finger. He wasn’t laughing. He could laugh now. He carelessly dropped the remote on the couch again and rubbed his hand over his face, bringing it up to his hair afterwards, pulling on strands and messing them up.
Falling off to lay on his side, he groaned, then froze. Frustration. He groaned again, louder, hoping it would amplify the feeling but it remained faint. Better than nothing. Not as good as laughing but still better than nothing. He stopped making weird sounds and reached for his phone on the coffee table. He sent a quick message to Yixing, announcing his frustration to him and then following it with celebratory emojis of confetti and fireworks.
He had a notification on his mail app and he tapped on it, a cute ‘OWO’ emoji greeting him. He sat up. Not an emoji. An acronym. Baekhyun stared at those three letters and then twisted his lips to try and recreate it, tugging the corners up and jutting his upper lip out at the same time. After an inappropriately long time, he stopped. There was no way a smile could look like an actual ‘W’. He should practice normal smiles instead.
With a sigh, he finally tapped on the mail and carefully read through it. It was the announcement that they had found him a job. As a cashier in a convenience store. It was only a few blocks away from where he lived. Cashier. Convenience store. No enthusiasm. He probably wouldn’t get enthusiastic about it even if he could. That wasn’t a job offer he had expected when he had written on the form that he wanted something that put him in contact with a lot of people.
The interview was in three days. He locked his phone and put it on the table. He’d go tomorrow just to check out the place and familiarize himself with it. His footsteps would probably be draggy tomorrow.
Baekhyun stepped out of the convenience store with a last polite bow to the cashier, sucking on his straw harder when the yogurt refused to come out. He bit into it and pulled it out just a little so it wouldn’t sick to the bottom of the tiny bottle. He sucked again and this time, a nice flavor spread into his mouth.
He gulped it down and pulled his phone out of his pocket with his other hand as he started walking towards no place in particular. It was barely past noon. Baekhyun already wished he could just burrow himself under his blankets and never get out of his bed again. He usually didn’t wish that. He was pretty sure the young girl working at the convenience store felt the same way. Baekhyun had barely spent even five minutes in there but he had seen that all she did was stay on her phone and only look up when someone entered the store or checked out of it.
He kicked a stray stone on his path with the tip of shoe and filled his cheeks with yogurt, gulping it down little by little. He didn’t really want to work there. It was a nice place, clean, had just about as many products as any other convenience store around, but it wasn’t the job Baekhyun wanted. How was he supposed to enjoy his life if he worked in that kind of place?
Turning down a job offer after asking the Organization to find it for him might not be a nice thing to do, however. He wasn’t sure he even had the right to do that. He’d discuss it with Yixing tonight. Maybe not getting a job at all would be better, at this point.
The weather was balmy today, the sky was blue but it wasn’t too hot. They were on a seasonal break, Baekhyun supposed. The Organization liked to alter the weather and give everyone a break from the season from time to time. Baekhyun had never understood why they needed to put fresher days during summer and days that weren’t as cold in winter. He didn’t like mixing in things, he’d prefer an entirely cold winter and an entirely gloomy fall. He walked by two middle aged woman conversing on the side of the street and wondered who had taken over his duty in this city. He’d probably never know. The Organization had stopped updating him about its business after the Erasure.
Soon, the only thing he could suck in through his straw was empty airy sounds and he lowered it from his mouth, looking around for a trashcan to throw it in. There was one a few meters away and he headed towards it, taking his time since he didn’t have anything else to do anyway. He also wanted to enjoy a walk. He had never been able to enjoy the simplest things in life, always too busy controlling his mind and his own internal weather.
He dunked the empty yogurt bottle inside the almost overflowing bin and then tilted his neck to the side to stretch it a little, looking around. There was a bookstore a few meters away, presented in warm brown hues, the words Cozy Book Nook were displayed above the door in swirly, elegant letters. It kind of was a lame name. It was the bookstore Baekhyun had seen the other day, the one with an ad on the door. He hadn’t stepped into a bookstore in forever. He didn’t remember if he had even ever went into one. He made curiosity get a hold of him and push him towards the small establishment tucked into the corner of the street.
The entrance was narrow and directly on his right, there was a counter behind which stood no one but shelves filled with ornate and colorful tea cups and pots. Odd choice of decoration. Without lingering, Baekhyun walked further in and noticed that maybe the name of this place wasn’t that lame. It was pretty accurate, rather cozy although not small at all. Nothing after the entrance hall was narrow. The walls were made of grainy stone, grey with splashes of intricate earthy red here and there. It went along perfectly with the old-looking floor, and the lack of groan whenever Baekhyun took a step forward showed that the floor only looked old.
There was books everywhere, enough of them for Baekhyun to wonder how did this place manage to look so neat while being visibly filled to the brim with stories and imagination. Shelves were pushed against the walls, some of them reaching high up the ceiling, some of them short, reaching around Baekhyun’s chest or hips and leaving room for paintings and posters to decorate the wall above them. There were displays of books placed at random places right in the middle of the room but the way there was enough room for Baekhyun to walk around them without bumping into anything showed that their placement wasn’t random at all. There were a few people around as well, standing in front of the shelves, looking for or already holding a book. Baekhyun had thought this place was hidden enough to be empty.
Stairs were tucked into a corner of the room and Baekhyun headed towards them, hand tracing over the rampart as he took them down. The room they opened into was similar but so different at the same time.
There were even more shelves brimming with even more books but this time, there were warm-colored seats strewn all around, a few people occupying them cozily. The room was cut in half, bordered by a brown carpet that disappeared under dozens of pillows. A young girl was sitting there, typing on her laptop, surrounded by three children who were laying around and slowly turning the pages of their books. There was a door on the other side of the room and Baekhyun knew it would lead to something just as wonderful as what he had seen so far.
This was different from what he thought a bookstore would be like but also so much better than what he had expected. It felt like another city, another country, another world. Just standing here and looking around to the millions of words weaved out of thousands of minds made Baekhyun feel small, in a good way. As if he was small enough to be coddled, hugged, cared for, as if he was young enough for someone to tuck him into bed, swipe his hair away from his eyes, and read him a story. It was entirely silent but it wasn’t empty. It was homely. Enough for him to just know he’d be able to fall asleep were he to lay on the gathering of pillows spread over half of the room. But he didn’t want to sleep. He wanted to stay here and read.
It took him some time to find a book and when he did, he stared at it and wondered if he was even allowed to read a book in a bookstore instead of buying it and going home with it. Then, it seemed stupid to wonder that when he had clearly seen numerous people settled around, gaze buried in-between pages of a novel.
He found a cozy spot amongst the cloud of coziness that was this place, on a corner of the room, against low bookshelves. The armchair was comfortable when he dropped on it and he took a few seconds to just feel it, wiggling and settling in properly. Much more comfortable than his own couch. He pulled his phone out of his pocket and put it down on the tiny round table in front of him, hand then falling on the book resting on his lap. His fingers drummed against the title. To Room Nineteen, it read in big letters but what had caught Baekhyun’s attention was the summary at the back of the book.
He opened it up with careful fingers and pressed the tip of them against the very first page, feeling the dry texture of the paper. He hadn’t touched a book in a while. It felt nice. He was holding someone’s imagination in his hands. A part of someone’s very own world, someone’s mind, someone’s identity.
An unmeasured amount of time later, Baekhyun had slid a little down his seat, head leaned against the backrest, but his attention had still not strayed away from the words he was reading. It was a nice book. There was something almost nostalgic about the main character’s story, a perfect life that Baekhyun dreaded would shatter soon. There was a lot of thoughts, a lot of emotions. It was weird to read about emotions, foreign yet not unpleasant. It made Baekhyun feel emotions too. An emotion. Yearning, to feel all the emotions described. He didn’t stifle it but he couldn’t feel it properly either, too absorbed into the story of a married woman and her worrisome happiness.
It was only what felt like hours later, seconds later, that Baekhyun looked up from his book and at the man who stood before him instead.
"Huh?" was his first reaction after a moment of staring into insistent eyes.
The man smiled, not too big, not too friendly, just polite.
"I was asking if you’d like to drink something," he said, probably repeating something that Baekhyun hadn’t heard.
Baekhyun glanced down at the novel. Page 23. It must not have been too long since he started reading. He looked back up at the stranger. He was dressed neatly, spotless shoes, cuffed black jeans, and an unwrinkled, fully buttoned shirt tucked in. His eyebrows were thick, his hair shaved into a buzzcut.
A little disoriented, Baekhyun straightened his posture and blinked.
"Are you asking me out?"
The nicely dressed stranger blinked once before a snort escaped his lips, quiet but not enough to go unheard.
"No," he said, voice steady even on that tiny word. "I’m just asking you a question I ask to every single one of my customers."
Baekhyun parted his lips. His novel closed, his hand trapped against the page he had been reading. He pressed his lips together again. That was when he noticed that the dark blue of the man’s shirt concealed a small name tag of the same exact color. Kyungsoo.
"Oh," Baekhyun said. The man was still looking at him, smile a little wider now. It didn’t seem to be mockery. Baekhyun hoped it wasn’t mockery. "Sorry, it’s my first time here so I’m kind of unfamiliar with things. Do you sell drinks?" he asked, gaze sliding away from the attentive, possibly amused possible owner of the possible bookstore.
Only then did he see the cup and the teapot resting on the table to his right, where a middle aged man was holding what looked like an encyclopedia.
"We have a little bar set up at the entrance," Kyungsoo said, calling for Baekhyun’s attention again. He wasn’t smiling anymore but he was still standing just as straight in front of him. That explained the tea cups and pots he had seen. How did he even think that someone would use that as decoration? "We mostly sell tea though, no alcoholic beverage or soda or anything like that. I usually ask clients if they want to order something right when they step in but I was probably doing something else when you came and I only noticed you now."
The apology in his voice softened the depth of it. For some reason, his voice suited this place. It sounded just as warm, just as cozy. A perfect voice to read stories to someone on the brink of falling asleep.
What this place was exactly was starting to get a little more confusing with each passing moment but Baekhyun was growing to like it more.
"Thank you then but I won’t stay for long," he still said, dragging the corners of his lips up in the faint attempt of a polite smile. "I’m just looking for something to buy."
Kyungsoo nodded, glancing down at the book on his lap.
"Nice choice," he said with a smile that lightened him. "You don’t have to buy anything, though. This place works as both a library and a bookstore at the same time." He stopped, tilting his head a little and framing his next words in a smile that harmonized his voice. "Though, if you don’t buy it, there’s no guarantee someone else won’t."
"It’s a nice place," Baekhyun said, vaguely gesturing around himself. He didn’t know how he hadn’t noticed this place before. It wasn’t that far from his apartment either. Probably because he never really took a walk before today.
Kyungsoo grinned, cheeks rounding up and cheering his eyes into proud curves.
"Thank you, I’m glad you enjoy it," he said, voice a little quieter now. "Feel free to stay as long as you’d like. We only close at eight."
Baekhyun nodded and with a last smile, Kyungsoo turned around and walked to the man holding the encyclopedia. They conversed for a bit, with the laughs of people who weren’t talking to each other for the first time, and Baekhyun opened his novel again, burrowing himself in the coziness of the story, of his seat, and of this newfound treasury place. He hadn’t read a book since middle school, probably, because it altered his emotions more than watching a movie did. He used to like it, he remembered.
He only left when Kyungsoo came up to him and announced that the place would close in ten minutes.
"What would you do if one of your flowers died?" Baekhyun slurred, finger playing with a leaf that flapped under his touch.
He swirled over himself once, slowly, wobbly, taking in the splashes of green life all around Yixing’s apartment. It was far from being his first visit here but the sheer amount of healthy and beautiful plants, flowers, and decorated pots always amazed him. Yixing was so lucky. His powers gave him friends. Small, cute, green friends who stayed home with him all the time. Baekhyun looked at that particular plant on the other side of the living room that reached up the ceiling and fanned large leaves around the stem. Maybe not all of Yixing’s friends were small.
Turning to Yixing again, Baekhyun tumbled towards him, wailing when his knee dumped against the table and empty cans of beer cluttered together. He looked down at them. It was his first time drinking in years. Not drinking. He had drank a glass of soju with his new dimpled friend Jaehyun. Getting drunk. This was his first time getting drunk. Not in a long time. Ever. Two cans had been enough. Yixing had laughed at him. He was still laughing at him while reaching over the table to pat Baekhyun’s knee.
A smile in his eyes, away from the rest of his features, Baekhyun contoured the table and plopped down next to Yixing on the couch. Or on Yixing. He had a comfortable shoulder. Pillow-shouldered Yixing. Baekhyun’s hand reached to fiddle with the rip on the knee of his jeans.
Yixing was so nice. Getting Baekhyun drunk for the first time ever. Because he could now. He was glad Yixing was his friend. He was glad they had taken classes together in the High Organization School. Such a lame high school name. Baekhyun should’ve skipped more classes.
He shook his head, Yixing groaned. Baekhyun patted his knee to apologize for bumping his head into his chin and then stopped moving. He didn’t want to hurt Yixing. Yixing whose arm fit perfectly around his shoulder. Yixing who was surely Baekhyun’s soulmate. The only soulmate Baekhyun needed. Someone to eat with, cuddle with, watch movies with, walk around with, laugh with. Yixing laughed for Baekhyun. Yixing who had patted his back and told him to think about it well when Baekhyun told him that he didn’t like the job offered to him by the Organization. Yixing who hadn’t replied to his question.
Baekhyun pulled away from him.
"What was my question?" he asked and Yixing looked at him for a blank second.
He couldn’t handle his alcohol well. Baekhyun had had to pick him up once because he had been crying on the bartender’s shoulder about seeing a child ripping a flower off the ground so mercilessly that same day. If he had been able to laugh back then, Baekhyun would’ve laughed.
Now, Yixing wasn’t drunk. He had said he would stay sober and make sure that Baekhyun would get drunk nicely instead. Thinking back on it, Baekhyun kind of wanted to cry now. He hadn’t felt like crying since his father had passed away. He hadn’t cried since middle school.
"What would you do if you one of your plants died?" Yixing said, pulling him out of his mixed thoughts.
He should feel happy because he felt like crying. He should feel sad because he felt like crying. Baekhyun wasn’t sure what he felt. But he felt. He thought so, at least. He wasn’t sure, he couldn’t focus.
He straightened his back, nodded, hummed, nodded again, and blinked the haziness away from his mind.
"Reply to it then," he asked. He already didn’t remember the exact words he had used.
"Well," Yixing said, drawing his word out and suddenly his shoulder looked cottony. Baekhyun dropped his head against it and felt it quiver with a chuckle. One day, his shoulder would quiver with laughter under Yixing’s head too. "They wouldn’t die, of course. They won’t die as long as I’m here."
Baekhyun felt his eyebrows trembling. He forced them into a frown.
"Yeah but what if you lose you powers," he said with wide gestures he could barely even see, trying to get a point across. He wasn’t sure what point but there was a point for sure.
"Oh." Yixing’s fingers squeezed his shoulder. A habit. "I don’t know then, in that case."
He didn’t sound worried, or particularly disturbed. Baekhyun knew the prospect of losing your powers was never considered until you stepped into the Erasure Room.
Bringing a hand up, he hooked two fingers on the collar of his shirt.
"Do you think you’d be just as good with flowers as you are now? Without your powers?"
Yixing hummed. Baekhyun pressed his forehead against his neck, seeking for the vibrations. Yixing hummed for longer, deeper, and Baekhyun’s chest puffed once with a tinkly sound. It turned into two tinkly sounds and then stopped. A longer laugh than usual. Maybe he should drink everyday.
"I don’t think I’d be," Yixing replied and Baekhyun slid to the very edge of his shoulder to look up at him. Dimpled best friend.
"Doesn’t that sadden you?" he mumbled, a bit disturbed by the mere thought of Yixing being unable to heal a flower with a delicate twirl of his finger or a kindhearted glance.
"Why would it?" Yixing asked, looking down at him.
Baekhyun avoided his gaze by pressing his forehead against his neck again. "That you’re nothing but your power now," he whispered the thought out.
He wasn’t sure whether he was talking to Yixing or to the Baekhyun from the past. Baekhyun would like to meet that Baekhyun. Maybe he’d slap him, to see if his features were frozen or not.
"I’m not," Yixing said softly. His fingers squeezed Baekhyun’s shoulder again. Baekhyun’s own fingers naturally found the hole on his jeans and hooked themselves into it, digging between the fabric and Yixing’s knee. "I’m Yixing the Plant Carer now but I can also be just Yixing the Plant Lover."
"What?" Baekhyun mumbled, blinking at his own fingers. He slid them further under the fabric.
"Once I lose my powers," Yixing explained. The vibrations of his voice were serene. "I see what you mean. It’s true that we’re really mostly our powers but it’s something we chose."
"Aren’t you tired of it?" Baekhyun asked in a sigh, feeling exhaustion trying to outweigh Yixing’s hand on him.
"It is tiring but I try my best not to be reduced to this." A tap of Yixing’s finger against the roundness of his shoulder and Baekhyun didn’t feel as tired anymore. "I have friends, normal friends. I go out, I eat, I drink, I live. And once I won’t have powers anymore, I can just learn to take care of flowers with human means."
It sounded so simple. It sounded like Baekhyun had just complicated things for himself. Like he had refused to fight it. Refused to go out, to meet people, to be anything but sunniness and drops of rain.
It didn’t sound like that. It was like that. He knew. That he had shackled himself to his nature and refused to balance things out. He could’ve met more people who’d understand him, could’ve taken more walks, could’ve visited his parents more often. He hadn’t. Because it had felt useless.
When Yixing asked if he wanted to eat strawberries, Baekhyun pulled away from him. He made his voice as loud as possible as he cheered, raising his hands high enough for Yixing to poke the bare skin of his stomach with a grin. He amplified the joy until he felt it shape into the size of a strawberry in him. He twisted his face into a smile that tensed his features. He made Yixing laugh and tried not to stop himself from laughing along. He felt. Just a little bit.
He had locked himself into minimality to leave enough room for his power to develop, for the weather to adapt. He would burst himself out of it too.
The next day found Baekhyun taking another walk around his neighborhood. Cup of coffee in hand, kindly filled to the brim by Minseok’s caring hands, and head buzzing a little, his feet led him to the Cozy Book Nook again.
He didn’t go in. He simply stood there, in front of it. Kyungsoo wasn’t standing on the small bar at the entrance, Baekhyun couldn’t see him behind the glass doors. What he could faultlessly see was the ad still plastered on the door. Looking for a part-timer.
His interview with the convenience store was in two days. Baekhyun felt like if he blinked, he’d already be there, sitting behind that counter, sleeping and only waking up to check out clients. Wasting his days and a life he had barely ever lived. A life he was still barely even living. A job the Organization had found for him.
Baekhyun had already given more than half of his life to them. In exchange, they had given him a purpose. Baekhyun wasn’t sure it had been a fair deal. He wasn’t sure he still wanted to let them dictate his life.
He didn’t. He didn’t have to let them dictate it. Not them, not anyone. It was his life and his emotions. He turned around, back facing the library, and looked up at the sky. An endless expansion of summery blue. Baekhyun didn’t feel the weight of it crushing his shoulders anymore. He didn’t have to.
He didn’t have to suppress anything anymore.
He turned around again, staring into the cheery, printed words on the ad that sought for the emotions buried in him. He wanted to. He wanted it.
He stared and stared and wanted and stared and felt and took a decision.
His feet weren’t as sure of themselves when Baekhyun walked up the stone staircase and stepped into the sleek entrance hall of the Rehabilitation Center. As he watched the elevator count down the floors separating it from him, Baekhyun grew a bit more restless, fingers tapping against his thigh as he stood there and waited for the doors to open.
There were a few people waiting along with him, dressed in formal attire and noisy shoes. The building was disguised as a company and it was pretty fitting. Baekhyun wasn’t sure what kind company it was being passed off as, he didn’t really bother ever checking it out. He never really understood why they had to hide the Organization from the world. It wasn’t like people could disapprove of what kept the world going without it ever falling into natural chaos.
Yixing had messaged him this morning to ask about his hangover and cheer to the decision Baekhyun had taken, assuring him that refusing the job and applying for something he had found on his own shouldn’t be a problem. If Yixing approved then it was a good decision.
The doors opened and Baekhyun stepped inside, tucking himself into a corner, far away from the doors. He wasn’t really nervous. He was just a little bit nervous. He wished he was more nervous.
The walk to Jongsuk’s office was short. His quick footsteps wanted to get this over with quickly. He found the right name plate amongst many doors and stopped, raising his hand to knock.
"Is being on time that hard to do?" a voice arose from the other side, muffled but loud enough for him to hear the words clearly. "Do you hate it that much? All of it? The meetings and now your job? Being a security guard just implies standing there and looking around!"
Baekhyun let his hand drop to his side and stepped away from the door. The voice quietened down but Baekhyun wasn’t sure the irritation it carried had. There seemed to be a lot of it.
He moved to stand on the wall right across from the door, tugging his phone out of his pocket and trying to occupy himself with it. It sounded like he wasn’t the only one who had issues with his job. He hoped Jongsuk wouldn’t raise his voice at him this way, it would be inconvenient. Baekhyun wasn’t going to work at that convenience store and if he had to raise his voice to avoid it, he would. Or at least try. He hadn’t raised his voice in years.
It was barely five minutes and more muffled scolding later that the door opened and Baekhyun looked up into a frown and wide-awake eyes. More than seeing Jongin there, seeing him with no trace of drowsiness came as a surprise. He froze when he met Baekhyun’s gaze before looking away almost instantly. He looked unhappy, with the sour arch of his sighing mouth and the avoidance in his eyes. Baekhyun added disappointment in the ocean of emotions he had seen in those eyes. He closed the door behind himself and walked away.
Baekhyun followed him with his gaze, took in his droopy shoulders and the harshness with which he shoved his hands into his slack’s pockets. He was wearing a suit today too. It looked good on his long legs. Baekhyun wondered if Jongin wouldn’t rather wear pajamas and sleep. He looked back down at his phone.
He waited three minutes before knocking on the door. A muffled, fortunately neutral-sounding voice asked him to come in and when he did, Jongsuk was smiling at him. Baekhyun sat down comfortably.
When he walked out of Jongsuk’s office a short five minutes later, the problem was solved. Turned out Jongsuk didn’t mind people turning on the Organization’s job offers as long as they did it politely and warned them about it before the day the interview was scheduled. It was easier than Baekhyun had thought. Inside the elevator, he caught the tensed arch of his lips upwards.
With a sigh, he stepped out of the building and looked up at the sky. Still blue. He could apply to work on something that suited him more now. He pulled his phone out and messaged Yixing about it. He was happier than Baekhyun felt but Baekhyun didn’t feel completely blank either. He felt light as he looked around, until his gaze landed on someone who definitely looked less happy than Baekhyun probably did. That was a quite amazing thing to achieve.
He told himself that was why his feet decided to bring him towards Jongin this time.
"It’s hard to get used to it, isn’t?" he said quietly as he stood a few steps away from the broodiness leaned against the building’s wall.
From the way he was hunched forward, head tilted down, foot scratching against the ground, it looked like he was carrying its entire weight on his shoulders. He looked up at Baekhyun, slightly delayed. It wasn’t a dimple he showed to Baekhyun, it was the worried slant of eyebrows and agitation in his eyes, but he still looked like someone who could be his friend.
He looked down and away from Baekhyun, swinging his leg forward, the tip of his shiny shoe attempting to rip the ground apart. He seemed too gentle to do that. He pressed his lips together and looked back up at Baekhyun.
"I guess everyone knows I can’t get used to it," he mumbled, raising his hands to rub them over his face. Baekhyun stepped to properly stand in front of him, now sure that his friendship wouldn’t be rejected. "It’s so embarrassing," were the words his hand muffled, not enough for the drag of his words to go unnoticed.
Baekhyun pressed his lips together when Jongin dropped his hands, looking at his feet instead. Droopy shoulders, nice jaw, long legs, shame in his ocean eyes. It kept filling up with so many emotions. Baekhyun took half a step closer. He had yet to see a wave of happiness in there. He wondered how that would look. Not on him, on Jongin.
Yixing always wanted Baekhyun to be happy. Baekhyun wanted Jongin to be his friend so he wanted him to be happy.
"Well, it’s hard not to notice someone who’s always late and sleepy," he said, voice much lighter than the damp summer air around him.
Jongin’s gaze snapped up to him at once, gaze steady and eyebrows raised. Lips parted, wordless. Offense. Ah. Not everyone was Yixing.
"I was teasing you," he scrambled to say, waving a hand in front of him as if that would prevent his possible new friend from possibly hating him. He looked down, voice shrinking. "I sounded serious, maybe, but I wasn’t. I was just joking." He glanced up at Jongin and tried his hardest to smile, hoping the constipated look he had on didn’t make it worse. "I guess it’s hard for me to get used to it too."
Jongin’s eyebrow quirked up before relaxing again as he looked at Baekhyun. He did his best not to look away. Yixing had told him friendships had to be worked on. It had been so easy with Jaehyun.
"What were you?" Jongin eventually asked and Baekhyun hadn’t felt particularly tensed up until then but his features relaxed.
He observed the other. Nice voice. Steady gaze. Not a weirded out look. No avoidance. Hair too long. Gentle. A bit lost. Not sleepy. Baekhyun just wanted another friend.
"I could tell you over a cup of coffee?" he tried, hands lacing together in front of him, arms stretching out.
He didn’t need his hands to ask someone out but apparently his hands still needed the mutual support. He fiddled with the nail on his right index finger. Jongin remained silent for a moment before huffing out a chuckle. A loud sound, a bit deeper than his speaking voice. Not enough to drip happiness into his gaze but enough to lighten it nonetheless. He had a nice smile. Barely even there but eye-catching nonetheless.
"I really need that, don’t I?" he asked, pushing himself away from the wall.
Baekhyun’s lips twitched. It didn’t feel like tensed muscles this time.
Jongin ended up ordering hot chocolate instead of coffee, his hands cradling the cup and the source of the merriment in his smile.
"That won’t help you," Baekhyun commented, his own fingers cold around his iced coffee.
Jongin grimaced at him, scrunching his nose and shaking his head. "I can’t stand coffee," he justified and Baekhyun put his cup down with a soft sound. Jongin hated coffee but had still accepted Baekhyun’s offer to get coffee together.
Maybe the friendship need was mutual.
"Maybe that’s why you’re always so sleepy," Baekhyun said in that tone that always made Yixing roll his eyes at him while smiling.
Jongin looked at him for a short moment, scrutinizing. Before Baekhyun tried to save the situation with another constipated attempt at a smile, he snorted and took a sip of his drink. The slurpy sound was as loud as the one coming from the table behind theirs, where a mother was trying her hardest to get her child not to spill whatever he was drinking.
"I’m always sleepy because they took my powers away," he grumbled, frown back on his face as he stared down at his cup.
He took the lid off and leaned down to blow into the drink that was probably way too hot for a July morning. He did it with a bit too much strength, cheeks puffed up and lips puckered, frown still stuck on his face when he straightened up again. He was glaring at the drink as if it had personally sucked the powers out of him.
Baekhyun hummed a little. Jongin seemed to pout a lot. Baekhyun had associated it to his sleepiness but it just seemed to be something that recurred when he was upset too.
"You were a time traveler, right?" Baekhyun asked, recalling the conversation he had with Yixing about this Sleepy Jongin. Yixing had said that could be the only explanation.
"Yeah." His shoulders slumped with a sigh. "I was."
All Jongin had given him so far, even on their way to the nearest coffee shop, was short replies and small glances. He seemed to be pretty shy for someone so tall. Not that height had anything to do with that. It was just a handsome height. Eye-catching. Yixing was tall and he wasn’t shy.
Baekhyun really needed to work on his social skills and stop comparing everyone to his best friend. It gave him the impression that he never got out of his house. It wasn’t just an impression.
Jongin didn’t say anything else, staring down at the table and sipping on his drink. Baekhyun drew coffee from his straw and looked at him for a bit longer.
"I know a lot of people don’t like suddenly being powerless but you seem particularly disturbed by it," he said, hoping that asking about a subject clearly despised by Jongin wouldn’t push him away.
It didn’t. Instead, Jongin looked at him, head tilted, hair flopping to one side. His hair was really too long. It suited him. Made the silkiness of his strands reflect on his whole being.
"Aren’t you?" he asked, not looking away even when the barista greeted a new customer cheerfully. Jongin seemed to stare right into people’s eyes when he talked to them. Baekhyun wasn’t used to it. He wasn’t repulsed by it either.
He shrugged. "Not really. I actually like it," he said, fingers twirling his straw in the cup.
He watched Jongin’s features melting into a frown.
"Why?" he asked and Baekhyun had expected a weirded out look, incomprehension, or maybe even judgment. But Jongin’s voice was like a fresh breeze as he leaned just a little over the table. Baekhyun saved the look he gave him as a curiosity in his mind.
"I don’t know," he started, a bit unsure. He didn’t want to give his entire life story to someone who still was barely anything more than a stranger. "I just feel more like myself now," was what he settled on.
"More like yourself," Jongin repeated, slow. "You never really liked them, then? The powers."
Baekhyun shook his head. "I did. I really did before but then, I realized it kind of erased me."
And it was quite ironic that he felt less erased after his Erasure.
"Erased?" Jongin question, hot chocolate forgotten in his hands.
He was giving his entire attention to Baekhyun, listening, looking, asking. Baekhyun had never talked about this with anyone but Yixing. It felt just a little wrong, he wasn’t used to it, but at the same time, it felt comfortable. The fact that Yixing wasn’t the only one in this world willing to listen to Baekhyun’s buried thoughts.
"I think," he said before stopping to take a sip of coffee. It prompted Jongin into doing the same thing. Cute. At least he thought so. He didn’t even remember what the standard image associated to cuteness was. Jongin was pretty fitting, for some reason. He watched Baekhyun’s new idea of cute. "I think I erased myself actually. My feelings."
"You had thermal control," Jongin stated more than asked and Baekhyun nodded. Some powers were easy to figure out, especially after the Erasure.
"I couldn’t really feel," he said and it pulled snorted air out of him. It sounded so stupid put like that. As if there was some sort of Feelings Switch. Baekhyun knew there wasn’t."I wasn’t allowed to? I had to stay focused on the weather, had to suppress my personal summers and storms. And many other things. I never realized it until recently."
Jongin hummed, eyebrows slanting upwards. Baekhyun didn’t know what emotion it was in his eyes but it wasn’t unpleasant.
"I guess every power has its bad sides," Jongin sighed, pulling a hum out of Baekhyun. "Maybe some of them don’t even have a single good side," Jongin laughed and Baekhyun could tell it wasn’t a real laugh from the way he was looking down at his cup again, taking a short moment before continuing to speak. "But I really liked my job."
"I can see that," Baekhyun said, voice flat but the smile Jongin gave him far from being anything remotely close to flat or blank. Pride was what stretched his lips and made his cheeks gather into roundness.
"I could travel through time and learn so many things," he gushed, not looking directly at Baekhyun anymore but somewhere on his shoulder instead. Probably right into nostalgia. "I could help humans understand themselves, witness wars break out and come to an end, watch inhumanity evolving, and live the best moments in our world."
He looked so fond, sounded so fond. And it didn’t seem that bad. Compared to Baekhyun’s powers, it didn’t seem that bad at all. There it was. A wave of happiness. If Jongin looked so happy merely recalling his duties and power, then he must’ve had the time of his life before his Erasure.
Envy. Strong enough to startle Baekhyun and prevent him from even attempt suppressing it.
His lips twitched. Jongin glanced down at them. When he looked up into Baekhyun’s eyes again, he was smiling even wider. The corners of his eyes were pretty, crinkled and full with joy.
"It must be hard to be stuck in a single place after traveling through time so much," he said, glancing around as a young woman’s chair scratched against the floor while she stood up and stared gathering her textbooks.
Jongin snorted, drawing Baekhyun’s attention to him again.
"The hardest thing about it is being punctual," he mumbled, letting go of his cup after a sip. His hands disappeared under the table. Tucking them between his legs seemed to be a habit.
Baekhyun looked at him for a blank moment, studying the slope of his nose, the openness of his gaze, and the upset twist of his mouth. Then, it made sense.
"Were you cheating by altering time to be punctual?" he chided the other, eyes narrowed faintly.
Maybe Jongin wasn’t actually shy. He leaned over the table, quirking his shoulders up, the luminescence of his smile raising his eyebrows up.
"That’s the best thing about time traveling," he whispered and that was certainly not the murmur of a shy person.
Baekhyun felt his cheeks rounding with the beginning of a smile. He didn’t know. It usually only happened with Yixing or when something was funny or made him feel happier than he was supposed to be.
"No wonder you’re late everywhere now," he said, shaking his head.
Jongin deflated and Baekhyun should regret his words but he didn’t. Because Jongin looked quite adorable when his lips were upset.
"I just always forget that I can’t alter time anymore," he mumbled, one hand appearing again to let two fingers tap against the rim of his cup. He sighed. "I’ve been late to all my appointments but one in the past two weeks."
He took a sip of his chocolate and Baekhyun took a few of his coffee. Even the sweet, comforting taste of chocolate didn’t wipe off the sadness that made his eyes just a little droopy as he looked down. It made Baekhyun want to buy him a refill. Maybe add whipped cream on top. And sprinkles. A rainbow.
"Isn’t there anyone to help you out?" he asked instead because that was easier and probably less creepy than shoving a drink down someone’s throat to cheer them up just a little bit. "Someone to remind you of your appointments or what time it is? Alarms?"
It was easier with Yixing by his side. It would be easier for Jongin too if he had someone.
"I can’t assess time the same way anymore," he said, still looking down, hair falling over his gaze. Baekhyun knew what he felt. For the first time ever, he knew what the person in front of him felt. Shame. At being dysfunctional. "I’ve distorted it too much for my mind to remember a minute lasts only sixty seconds and not an hour. Alarms don’t work. They don’t make me kick start and think ‘shit, I’m late’."
"Friends?" he tried, pressing his lips together when Jongin snorted.
"They’re all busy time traveling," he said and what Baekhyun heard was that Jongin probably only had friends in his field of work. Old field of work.
Baekhyun sipped at his drink, unsure what to really say. Jongin obviously needed help. Baekhyun was lucky enough for the aftereffects of his powers not to actually influence his daily life much but Jongin was just running around and never on time. He didn’t really know how to help him.
Jongin seemed to recover on his own, however, straightening up with a perky smile and a firm nod.
"But it’s okay!" he said, suddenly much more enthusiast than he had been only a while ago. "I’ll get used to this eventually. I’ll get used to getting to appointments on time and—" He cut himself off and Baekhyun blinked as Jongin looked at him blankly for a moment. He leaned closer again, eyes widened and eyebrows raised. "What time is it?"
Baekhyun put his cup down and grabbed his phone, lighting the screen up.
"Half past ten," he said, looking back at Jongin afterwards. He still looked blank but this time, his lips were parted to amplify the look. Baekhyun pressed his lips together. "When’s your appointment?" he asked, figuring out what the problem was.
It took Jongin a moment to answer. "A quarter to eleven," he said calmly, much too calmly.
"Itaewon," Jongin slowly enunciated.
He needed at least twenty minutes to get to Itaewon from where they were now. A little more depending on whether he took the bus or a taxi.
"You should definitely leave now then, if you want to be on time."
"Shit," was the first thing Jongin said, slow, low, and pretty hollow. Then, he startled, bumping his knee against the table. "Shit," he repeated as he scrambled to get up, hands fumbling with the cup, the table, the chair. "Thank you. It was a nice cup of chocolate. And you were nice too. Thanks. I’ll just go now," he enumerated, words a panicky jumble that reflected on his features.
The chair scraped against the floor when he pushed it under the table neatly. The sound startled Baekhyun. His new friend was leaving.
"Wait," he called out when Jongin turned around and was seemingly ready to bolt out of the door. He turned to Baekhyun again, his hand wiggling in his pocket, probably looking for his phone. Baekhyun parted his lips and remained blank for a second. It seemed to be contagious. He hummed and grabbed his phone, unlocking it. "Do you want to give me your number?" he asked, holding the device out to Jongin who looked down at it with agitated eyes and hair. Messy in front of his gaze.
He grabbed Baekhyun’s phone, drumming his thumbs over it for a bit before giving it back with a wide smile. Then, he seemed to remember that he was late and he whipped around at once and headed towards the door in fussy steps. He pushed it open, waved at Baekhyun, and then started running.
Baekhyun felt like he was running too. Jongin moved a lot. He was fast. Even in his emotions. So many emotions. He looked down at his phone. Lips pressed together, corners tugged towards his cheeks, Baekhyun corrected the ‘Jongni’ on his contacts list to ‘Jongin’ instead.
As it turned out, movies weren’t really a good reference when it came to making decisions in life.
Standing, in front of the Cozy Book Nook, Baekhyun was once again staring at the ad stuck on the front door. He wondered if he should rip it from the door and take it inside with him. That was what people usually did in dramas.
In the end, he sighed and pulled the door open before stepping in. This time, Kyungsoo was sitting behind the counter, looking up as soon as the door opened. There was a light thud, maybe the sound of a book being put down as Baekhyun couldn’t see what he was doing behind the counter, before he stood up, smile welcoming. His shirt was black today, still buttoned all the way up to his neck.
"Do you still accept part-timers?" Baekhyun asked before the other could say anything.
Kyungsoo pursed his lips, looking at him for a second. Baekhyun straightened his back and looked right into his eyes. He wanted to look sure of himself. He wanted this job, in a way he hadn’t wanted anything else in such a long time.
"We do," he eventually said once he was done assessing Baekhyun before nodding towards the door. "The ad is still there. You’ve been staring at for five minutes."
Baekhyun pushed a laugh out. An airy, noisy ha! that could’ve been the beginning of a nervous laugh had Baekhyun been someone else. Kyungsoo smiled at him, the arch of his lips a bit crooked. Amusement. Hopefully not mockery. Baekhyun took a deep breath in. He shouldn’t look weird. He had to get this job.
"Can I apply for the job then?" he asked in the most confident voice he could muster. It sounded too flat even to his own ears.
Kyungsoo’s gaze flitted over him for a moment. Baekhyun should’ve dressed better. Jongin hadn’t judged his choice of clothing earlier. A simple plain white shirt and jeans. No rips. Should he have worn a suit? Kyungsoo was dressed so casually though.
"Sure," Kyungsoo suddenly said, blocking the worries before they could even creep into Baekhyun properly. Then, he looked down and Baekhyun heard pages turning. "You can start tomorrow."
Baekhyun stared at him, words lost. The clicking of a mouse arose between them as Kyungsoo’s arm moved a little.
"That’s all?" Baekhyun asked, putting his hands on the counter and leaning just a little closer to him. "I got the job?"
Kyungsoo looked at him again, smile quiet, amusement loud in his gaze.
"Well, you’re only gonna make tea and shove books into their spot in the shelves. You don’t need a degree for this." He stopped and furrowed his eyebrows. "Though, you could get one. But I don’t have time for that. I need someone to work here."
Bringing a hand up to scratch his jaw, Baekhyun stared at Kyungsoo to figure out whether he was joking or not. His possible new employer. His possible new job. The one he wanted. Suddenly, it almost didn’t seem as appealing anymore.
"But I’ve never worked in a library before," he said, hesitation a hush over his voice.
Kyungsoo raised his eyebrows. "Are you saying you’re unable to do something just because you’ve never tried it before?"
"No. No," Baekhyun quickly said, shaking his head firmly and waving a hand in front of him. He didn’t know how he had even managed to get the first job he had applied for without a proper interview but he wouldn’t lose the occasion either. "I can. I mean, I will. But I just don’t know how? To work here, I mean."
Kyungsoo looked back down and clicked on his mouse more. Baekhyun was starting to wonder what that counter or desk or whatever it was looked like.
"That’s okay. You can just learn and try working here for a week," he said, not looking at Baekhyun but his tone still oddly calming. Maybe it was it slow timbre. "If you’re good, you stay. If you’re not, you can just come back to read books only."
He finally looked at Baekhyun then, smiling. It was more than the polite smile he had given Baekhyun on his first visit here. His lips were pressed together, cheeks gathering into reassuring rounds.
Baekhyun stared at him. "That’s all?" he asked again and this time, Kyungsoo’s snort was a bit louder and his features relaxed into much more intrigue as he looked at Baekhyun.
"That’s really all," he said, slow, clear, leaning a bit closer to Baekhyun as if that would help him believe him. It did. "You start tomorrow at nine. That’s when we open."
Baekhyun stepped away from the counter and quickly bowed at him, muttering a few thank you’s that Kyungsoo answered with laughter. It wasn’t mocking.
When Baekhyun stepped out of the shop, there was tension in his cheeks. He felt them stretching into a weird sensation. It was almost painful. But he couldn’t really feel it. He pressed his lips together but that didn’t dampen their curve. He stood there, lacing his hands together behind him and extending them to stretch out a little, rising on the tip of his toes.
He rolled back onto his heels and looked up to the sky. Had it still been in his responsibility, the blue of it would’ve been much cheerier.
Pushing the door close with his back, Baekhyun balanced heavy bags on his now painful finger and toed his shoes off, leaving them messily on the entrance hall to reach the kitchen as quickly as possible.
The bags cluttered as he put them on the counter and Baekhyun tightened his hands into fists as if that would take the soreness away from his fingers. His mother had given him way too much food this time. But a lot of smiles too, throughout the whole evening, so he didn’t mind having had to carry them all the way from her house to his. He slid a hand inside one of the bags and looked at all the different containers filled with varieties of food. Today had been a good day.
After fitting everything in the fridge and putting away the bags, Baekhyun plopped down on his couch and closed his eyes. He was a little tired. Not in a bad way. Too many good things had happened today. He had seen many people. Jongin in the coffee shop, his new friend. Kyungsoo in the library, his new employer. His mother whom he hadn’t seen since his father’s funerals. He wasn’t used to so many people, so many places, so many emotions.
He opened his eyes again, staring at the television’s black screen. He was bored. He would be bored even if he found something to watch. Why did people have to be outside his house? Yixing was busy too.
With a quiet sigh, he slid his phone out of his pocket. He had felt it vibrating earlier but couldn’t reply when his hands had been busy holding what would feed his stomach for around two weeks. He lit up the screen and stared at it. He wasn’t used to seeing something other than Yixing’s name either. After some time, the screen darkened again and Baekhyun pressed his thumb on the home button to unlock it altogether. Jongin’s name really was in his inbox.
You never told me if you were there to get scolded too yesterday
He read over it twice. He hadn’t expected Jongin to message him first. Baekhyun had sent him a quick message earlier just to give him his number too, but all Jongin had replied with was an emoji. He hadn’t expected this. Hadn’t expected this to make his own shoulders feel less heavy. He had someone to talk to.
No I went there to change my job actually
The reply came a few minutes later, when Baekhyun had yielded to the silence and switched the television on to a random drama.
O h? What was it?
It was supposed to be a cashier in a convenience store
He tapped his forefinger against the side of his phone, right on the lock button without pressing on it as he waited for his message to be read. A minute later, it still wasn’t. He put his phone down and sighed. Jongin wasn’t Yixing. Yixing always replied to Baekhyun right away, unless he was working, and could spend a full hour just messaging back and forth with no break. Jongin was barely even his friend yet.
Standing up, he went to the kitchen to make himself a cup of tea. He hesitated in front of his cupboard, wondering if coffee would taste better at this time of the day. It wouldn’t really so he settled on green tea instead. His fingers played with a strand of hair as he waited for the water to boil and he listened to the emotional music and dialogue billowing out of the living room. He hadn’t listened to music in so long. Baekhyun couldn’t even remember what he used to do to fill his day back when he still had powers. Probably nothing.
Mug in hand, he returned to the living room and settled back down comfortably. He took just a tiny sip of his tea, burning his lips a little but not surprised by it, before putting it down and grabbing his phone instead. A reply had come a minute ago.
And you found another job then?
Yeah I got lucky and applied for a job offer I found myself
It’s in a bookstore/library/tea house
He stared at his own message, head tilted. That was the best way to describe the Cozy Book Nook. The reply came instantly this time.
Only someone who can time travel can work in three different places at the same time
Baekhyun huffed out half a snort, the sound choked but still shuddering in his shoulders.
Not if these three places are gathered into one single spot ;)
Maybe the smiley was too much. He tapped his fingers against his thigh and then his thumbs against the screen again before the message was marked as read.
Did you get to the hairdresser on time?
I did get to the hairdresser
A bit late because of traffic though
And I walked too slowly
He pressed his lips together before chewing on his lower one. This was kind of cute. Panicked Jongin looking around all agitated but still walking at a normal pace. Another message came in before he could debate with himself on whether it would be acceptable to send that thought to someone he had met only very recently.
So I had to wait for half an hour there but still got the haircut!!
Now even if you’re late to places you’ll be late with a nice haircut >.<
I sure hope it’s a good haircut :)
Oh you’re much more expressive by message
Baekhyun wasn’t surprised that he had noticed. It wasn’t something difficult to notice. That was why Baekhyun liked texting more than phone calls. He didn’t sound as hollow by message.
I try my best hehe
The conversation ended there and Baekhyun put his phone down to grab his mug instead. It was a little too cool now. It didn’t matter. Having a new friend made drinking tea and watching a drama much more enjoyable than before.
As it turned out, working in a library wasn’t that difficult. Working in the Cozy Book Nook felt just as calming as reading in there, the only difference was that Baekhyun felt like he had just a little it more control over this otherworldly place. For his first day, he could say that he had worked well.
Kyungsoo had spent the morning touring him around the place over and over again to familiarize him with the three different rooms, showing him the exact demarcations and title of each section. Baekhyun was surprised to find that they even had a section for study books on foreign languages. It was a little difficult to familiarize himself with the library’s computer system, Kyungsoo had to stay by his side whenever a customer asked if they had one specific book, to make sure Baekhyun wouldn’t get lost in the system or give a wrong answer. It would take some time to familiarize himself with that, but it wasn’t impossible either.
The best thing about this was finally knowing what was hidden behind Kyungsoo’s counter. And it was a counter, or rather a fusion between a counter and a desk since the computer was resting there and, with a few centimeters separating them, there was a sink and a kettle. When Baekhyun had asked Kyungsoo if he wasn’t scared of accidentally throwing water at the computer, Kyungsoo had stared at him for a moment before assuring him that if that ever happened, Baekhyun would have to pay for the computer. Baekhyun was extra careful as he made tea or washed empty cups and pots.
There was a huge variety of tea hidden in the cupboard surrounding the display of cups and pots, all contained in safe boxes. Baekhyun had thought that the three boxes of tea he had at home were excessive but here, there was more than ten options and all of them were given a writer’s name on the menu. Baekhyun found it funny that you could ask to drink Shakespeare or Ishiguro.
The customers were all pleasant too, a great part of them seemingly familiar with Kyungsoo who had no problem holding conversations with them about books or any other random subject like the latest baseball match. Baekhyun hoped he’d be able to hold conversations with them too, one day. He could make even more friends here. He also continued reading To Room Nineteen on the lull between two tasks or two customers who wanted to be served something to drink. He’d read more and then, just like Kyungsoo, he’d be able to make recommendations to customers.
After noon and a lunch composed of instant ramyeon spent with Kyungsoo in the tiny staff room opened by a door behind the counter, Baekhyun was putting away books that customers left in the Read Bins scattered around the library. He was maybe a bit too slow, had to pay attention to the number stuck on each book’s spine and find the corresponding sections and then the right alphabetical spot, but so far all the books that Kyungsoo had checked were placed in their right spot so Baekhyun was quite pleased with himself.
Kyungsoo was a nice person to work with as well, he didn’t mind repeating an explanation a few times until Baekhyun got it, gave him encouraging words when needed, and saved him from complicated customers before Baekhyun could get overwhelmed by the fact that he had no answer to their inquiries. They could be friends. He was a calm person, didn’t mind the fact that Baekhyun was much calmer than he was.
He had been staring at the Young Adult Section for a while, a book he didn’t know where to place held in his hands, when he felt his phone vibrating in his pocket. He looked down at said pocket and pursed his lips. Kyungsoo had told him he was allowed to use his phone from time to time as long as it didn’t turn into his favorite thing to do at work and made him neglect his duties.
Pulling it out of his pocket, Baekhyun expected to see Yixing’s name but instead, it was a message from Jongin that lit up at him from the screen.
How much time do I need to go from the coffeeshop we were in yesterday to Myeong-dong?
That wasn’t what Baekhyun had expected either. Maybe a hello or a how are you. But it wasn’t bad either. Jongin was just asking for his help and it wasn’t hard to figure out he had somewhere to be and didn’t want to to be late. Baekhyun typed him a quick reply, asking at what time he had to be there, and then went back to his book.
By the time his phone buzzed again, he was tucking the novel between two others, where he was pretty sure was its rightful spot. He wrote the name of the novel in the small sheet of paper Kyungsoo had given him, where he had put the titles of every book he had put away. He regularly checked if everything Baekhyun had put away was in its right spot. He pulled his phone out again.
Baekhyun glanced at the time on the top of his screen. It was a quarter past two now. If Jongin took the subway, he might get there in fifteen minutes. But the subway could be crowded and Jongin walked pretty slowly, apparently. It was better for him to arrive early rather than late.
You should leave in half an hour then ^^
Half an hour
I’m a pretty good clock
You really are!
Baekhyun pressed his lips together, his free hand tracing the rim of the Read Bin. It was nice to help someone. It made him feel useful. And nice. Helping friends was always good. Yixing helped him a lot. Baekhyun wanted to help his new friend too.
"Isn’t using your phone during work hours prohibited?"
With a startle, Baekhyun turned around, lowering his phone in a hasty gesture. He deflated when his gaze met Yixing’s sparkly one, a bigger spark in his dimple.
"You scared me," he complained, reaching to gently push Yixing’s shoulder in reprimand.
He didn’t even budge, shrugging with an exaggerated gesture.
"You’re welcome," he said before laughing when Baekhyun gave him an empty look that, for once, was on purpose.
He wasn’t wrong. Baekhyun should thank him for startling him. It never happened. Maybe Baekhyun’s mind was starting to loosen up a little bit. He tugged the corners of his lips up.
"What are you doing here?" he asked then, grabbing the last book from the box and looking at the code on the spine. It belonged in this section too.
"I just wanted to visit you on your first day at work," Yixing said before letting out an impressed sound when Baekhyun easily found the novel’s spot and slid it in-between two books. Baekhyun weakly shoved at his shoulder again. "How is it going?" Yixing asked then, grabbing his hand for a second before letting go.
Baekhyun grabbed the now empty bin and shrugged.
"Great," he said, looking down. "I like it." He leaned just a little closer to Yixing then. "Want me to sell you a book?"
Yixing laughed, pushing him away with a careful hand.
"Why are you talking about it as if you were selling vegetables at the market?" he teased Baekhyun who gave him a look and then gestured him to follow along as he started walking. He had to put the bin back in its place. "This place is really nice though. I don’t have time to stay here today but I’ll make sure to come back and make you serve me some tea."
"I’ll do my best to spill the whole pot on you," Baekhyun hummed as they stepped into the store’s third room.
Yixing chuckled at his maybe not so obvious lack of sincerity and Baekhyun patted his arm.
"I came here to ask if you wanted to get dinner with me tonight though," Yixing said, voice a bit lower now since there was more people in this room, settled on actual tables with textbooks and laptops. Most of them were students.
"It depends," Baekhyun said as he put the bin down on its spot at the center of the room. he turned to Yixing then, and crossed his arms over his chest. "Are you paying?"
"You just got a new job, shouldn’t you be the one to pay?" Yixing replied, narrowing his eyes at him.
"I didn’t get my first paycheck yet," Baekhyun retorted in a whisper, unbudging. Yixing narrowed his eyes more, tilting his head to the side, and Baekhyun dropped his act. "But since I love you, I’ll pay for your food too."
"What a kind man," Yixing hummed, nodding with an impressed look as he patted Baekhyun’s shoulder. "But I’ll pay to celebrate your job," he grinned.
Baekhyun pulled him out of the room so they could argue about it better without disturbing the students but in the end, he lost the battle. But at least, he made Yixing laugh a lot so he still considered himself a winner. Kyungsoo even seemed to get along with Yixing, although they exchanged barely a few words. Baekhyun was positive Yixing could get along with just about anyone anyway.
Yixing left then and Baekhyun went back to work, boiling some water for a customer’s tea as Kyungsoo checked out someone’s book. His phone was on the counter and when he noted that it was time, after constant watchfulness over the numbers on his screen, he sent a message to Jongin to ask him if he had left yet, just in case.
The oh shit that he got as an answer, followed by the it’s already been half an hour??? was enough for him to visualize Jongin’s expression, a mix between panic and unawareness.
He kept thinking about it as he brought a pot and a cup to an old woman settled on one of the comfortable seats in the second room of the store. She smiled back at him.
"I can never tell if you get a good or bad message," Yixing said that same night, hands reaching for his napkin so he could wipe away the dark stain left on his chin by the jjajangmyeon’s sauce.
Baekhyun glanced at him for a quick second before typing an emoji and sending it to Jongin. He read over his message again.
Thank you for saving my life again today!!
He knew Jongin was barely even being dramatic about it. Getting to places on time could save your life sometimes. Kyungsoo had made it clear that he really didn’t like people who were late, especially to their job. Baekhyun had blinked at him and nodded, assuring him that he was a very punctual person.
Putting his phone down, he leaned to slurp on his noodles.
"Why?" he asked around a mouthful of food.
Yixing stirred his noodles with his chopsticks, the metal clinking against the bottom of the plate.
"Because you never smile or look sad or angry," he said softly, stopping Baekhyun before he could fill his cheeks with even more food.
He straightened his back, feeling his eyebrows twitch once before relaxing again.
"You know why," he said quietly, grabbing a single noodle between his chopsticks, pulling it out of the jumble before letting it go and doing it all over again until Yixing spoke.
"I know," Yixing sighed and when Baekhyun glanced at him, he was frowning, looking down at his own food. Yixing was probably sadder about Baekhyun’s suppression of his emotions than Baekhyun himself was. He perked up then, offering Baekhyun the cute dot on his cheek. "But I also know that it doesn’t have to be that way anymore. You can feel now."
Baekhyun brought more noodles into his mouth, washing it off with a sip of water afterwards. A waiter passed by them, serving a table at the other side of the room. Baekhyun only spoke when the man passed by them again to head towards the kitchen.
"It’s difficult after having suppressed it for so long," he admitted, something that Yixing had already heard many times since his Erasure. He kept the tips of his chopsticks pressed on the bottom of his plate as he chewed and gulped down. "But I want to feel. I will feel."
"You can’t force yourself or pressure yourself about it, though," Yixing frowned, features twisted into that expression Baekhyun loved so much. A lot of worried lines. An open gaze rendered serious by his worry. He pressed his lips together and mumbled his next words out. "You just gotta stop suppressing… and feel. That sounds easier said than done, doesn’t it?"
Baekhyun leaned over the table, closer, and nodded quite a few times. "It totally does." Yixing let out an embarrassed laugh and Baekhyun watched as he shoved food into his mouth, munching while smiling at Baekhyun. "But it’ll do my best," Baekhyun said, stretching his last words in a stale sound and raising a fist to wave it around in what he hoped looked like encouragement or determination.
Instead, it made him feel stupid and very awkward. He dropped his hand and Yixing stared at him for a second before bursting into laughter, almost at the same time as another customer around them. Encouraged by Yixing’s laughter and the softness in his familiar gaze, Baekhyun tried a smile. Not a Baekhyun Smile. A real smile, one that made him feel like his cheeks were closer to his eyes and his lips were expanding. He felt them wobble a little.
Yixing returned his attempt with a proud simper and filled his glass with more water. Baekhyun felt nice. Not overwhelmingly so, but he’d get there.
Baekhyun had a knack for stepping into Cotton Coffee right when it was empty. That also meant that the coffeeshop started filling in with people as soon as he settled down inside.
Today was no different. Minseok greeted him with his usual smile and since there was no one, he didn’t rush to take Baekhyun’s order.
"I see you dressed less and less in your pajamas nowadays," he noted, shoulders straight as his hands supported his weight on the counter.
Baekhyun shrugged. He did kind of miss getting out of his house in pajamas for less than ten minutes just to get his coffee and then walk right back to his house.
"I’ll wear your favorite next time," he jokingly promised to Minseok who laughed softly and tweaked a little with the checkout machine, as Baekhyun liked to call it, probably setting it up for the new day since the shop had just opened barely five minutes ago.
One day, he’d very much like to play with that machine. He could try to convince Minseok to let him, since he was quite the VIP customer of the shop.
"The Pac-man one?" he asked to which Baekhyun nodded.
It was just a bright blue shirt that Baekhyun wore to bed along with sweatpants. It had varicolored, even brighter rows of that small round mouth that covered its entire front. It was Baekhyun’s favorite too.
"I got a job, though," he informed the other once Minseok gave him his entire attention. "That’s why I’m dressed better."
Minseok pursed his lips and flickering his gaze over him. "I’m not sure about better," he hummed, voice wavy with playfulness. Baekhyun liked that about Minseok. He always joked around with him despite Baekhyun’s lack of reactions. "I’m glad you got a new job though! The last one required you to stay at home all day, right?"
Baekhyun nodded. He had never delved into details about it. He couldn’t really tell Minseok that he controlled the weather, no matter how funny it would’ve been to inform him on those days he cursed the heavy rain or the even heavier heat. Surely, Minseok would’ve blackmailed him into changing the weather by threatening not to serve him coffee anymore.
He parted his lips to give Minseok his order but before he could utter a single sound, the door was thrown open, the usual cheery peal of the bell sounding a bit too harsh. Minseok looked over Baekhyun’s shoulder with wide eyes and Baekhyun followed his sightline, turning around. Messy clothes, nice jaw, parted and puffy lips, droopy eyes, Jongin.
"I’m so sorry I’m late," were the words he rushed out of his mouth, tumbling towards them.
His gaze flickered to Baekhyun and he turned idle for a moment before focusing back on Minseok and rushing to stand next to Baekhyun and bow at him, apologizing a few times more. His hair didn’t flow down in front of his eyes anymore and Baekhyun could clearly see that they were squeezed shut, his features scrunched. Not enough to get rid of the sleepiness obvious in the slowness of his movements and the heaviness of his lids when he straightened up again. His teeth sunk into his lower lip as he looked at Minseok with the most apologetic expression Baekhyun had ever seen. If Jongin started crying now, he was pretty sure even his tears would spill words of regrets.
He had gotten a new haircut. Baekhyun had known and yet, he couldn’t look away from the novelty of it. An undercut that somehow made his nape both neat and very soft-looking, highlighting his jaw even more. A lot of skin. A lot of sharpness. Silky hair left long on top of his head, swept back but still falling over his forehead in a messy coma.
Minseok laughed and Baekhyun finally looked away.
"It’s alright, kid," he said, all gentle voice, gentle gaze, and comforting smile. "Let’s call it First Day Nerves, alright? Just don’t let it happen again," he said and when Baekhyun looked at Jongin again, he was looking down. The amount of shame in his gaze must be heavy. "You can go get changed," Minseok urged him, still as accepting.
Jongin instantly scrambled away, walking through the small opening on the side of the counter and then sliding into the door behind Minseok. It probably led to the staff room. Baekhyun looked back at Minseok when he heard him huff out a last chuckle while shaking his head.
"Does he work here?" he asked, even if it was obvious at this point.
"Yeah, it’s his first day here," Minseok asked before shaking his head. "Anyway, I’ve kept you waiting long enough. What would you like to drink?"
Baekhyun ordered a Hazelnut Coffee and Minseok got to work pretty quickly as he watched him buzz around behind the counter. There was always something entrancing about watching Minseok make him coffee but today, Baekhyun’s gaze flitted to the door as soon as it opened, barely a minute after Jongin had gone in. He was wearing a brown shirt now, with a cloud embroiled on the left side of his chest, surrounding his name. He had put it on messily, the collar was crooked and his hair was even more mussed than it had been earlier.
"Can you check him out? You remember how to do it, right?" Minseok asked Jongin as he built a small hill of whipped cream on Baekhyun’s drink.
"I do," Jongin said with an assertive nod of his head and steady determination in his eyes as he pressed on the machine. Baekhyun pressed his lips together. Cute.
Minseok put his drink down beside Jongin as Baekhyun looked for change in his wallet, before patting Jongin’s shoulder.
"I’ll go count up in the reserve. I’ll come back when I hear the bell," he said and after Jongin nodded at him with the same apologetic slant of his eyebrows, he walked into the back door with a chuckle.
Baekhyun looked back down at his wallet and gathered the money before dropping it in Jongin’s palm. Jongin didn’t look at him, placing the money in, and holding the receipt out to Baekhyun afterwards, along with his coffee. Baekhyun took it, glancing at him.
"You okay?" he couldn’t help but ask. The sad jut of Jongin’s lips was hard not to notice. He was blinking quickly too. Sleepy Jongin with a nice new haircut.
He sighed then, finally looking back at Baekhyun.
"I can’t believe you witnessed me being late on my first day of work," he mumbled then, shoulders dropping. The brown of his uniform suited his skin tone. "Do you come here often?"
"I live fifteen minutes away. I always pass by before going to work. Or before going anywhere else," Baekhyun added as an afterthought. Jongin’s lips twitched. That was a Baekhyun smile. Not a Jongin one. He took a sip of his coffee. "This is your second job, right?"
"Yeah, I’ve been fired from the first one because I was late," he said, gaze turning heavy again and falling down. "Though, this is just a tryout period of two weeks. I’m learning and working at the same time and if I do well, Minseok hyung said he’d keep me."
The way he said that, upset lips, downturned gaze, disappointment dripping from his eyes, and that one strand of hair standing straight on top of his head, made him look like a puppy. A puppy to keep. Baekhyun would really like it if Minseok kept him. That way, Baekhyun could get coffee and expressive eyes every morning. He wondered if there was something higher than a VIP. If there was, that was surely what Baekhyun would become for Cotton Coffee.
He really hoped Jongin would work here. He didn’t know why. He just hoped.
He took a sip of his coffee and Jongin took it as his cue to start tidying around. He was pretty sure it was already neat, Minseok had once confessed that messiness disturbed his performance at work. Jongin still pushed things around, maybe against the wall to neaten things, checking the amount of milk left and cleaning again what Minseok had used and already cleaned while making his drink. Nice jawed, hardworking Jongin.
"Do you want me to help?" he suddenly asked. The coffee was sweet but not unbearably so. Just enough to calm him down and energize him at the same time. Give him courage that he couldn’t even feel.
Jongin looked at him for a silent moment before laughing. His smile lines were pretty, framing the ruddiness of his lips.
"This is my job, you can’t help me here," he said, laughter still bubbling in his voice even if all he did was smile at Baekhyun.
He shook his head. His fingers laced around his cup and he lowered it down, stretching his arms.
"I mean, to be on time," he explained softly. He didn’t think this could come off as rude but he still pronounced his offer carefully as Jongin’s smile shrunk a little. "That, I could help you with."
"You want to help me with that?" he asked, raising his eyebrows. Obvious surprise. Obvious just like every other emotion of Jongin’s.
Baekhyun sweetened his mouth with a sip before speaking again.
"I could, if you need it."
Jongin’s shoulders bounced once with a laugh. His eyes didn’t smile this time. He pressed his lips together and looked down.
"I think it’s pretty obvious that I need help," he said lowly, glancing at Baekhyun in-between his words.
He did. With his catchy smile lines, his untucked shirt, and the warmth of his skin tone.
"Well," Baekhyun said, putting his cup down on the counter. "This is my favorite coffee shop. I don’t want anything to go wrong with it, like a mob of angry clients or spoiled milk, so I can help you."
Jongin looked straight into his eyes this time, frozen. Baekhyun blinked at him until Jongin’s eyes narrowed a little.
"Was that a joke?" he asked, words stretched with hesitation. Baekhyun nodded firmly and this time, Jongin laughed with his eyes. "I think you need help too. With how to make jokes obvious."
He didn’t have a dimple but Baekhyun could get comfortable with his smile the same way he did with Yixing’s, or even Jaehyun’s. Baekhyun felt the corners of his lips jolting up once.
"Alright then. I’ll help you get to places on time and you help me make nice jokes," he said and the perky melody of the door could probably describe the way he felt now. Nice. Maybe a bit more than nice. Great. He glanced down at his watch and pressed his lips together. "But I’ll go now or else I’ll be a very bad and late example to you."
Jongin beamed at him a last time, waving as Baekhyun stepped back and freed the way to the young man waiting behind him. He caught sight of Minseok coming in right before he left and waved at him too before leaving the coffee shop. Cotton Coffee. Cotton. That seemed suitable for Jongin. Although Baekhyun wasn’t really sure why yet, cotton suited him.
He tried finding an explanation to Jongin’s odd affinity with cotton in his mind on his way to the library/bookshop/tea house. Baekhyun never knew what to call it in his mind. Kyungsoo didn’t either, he had asked him yesterday.
When Baekhyun tried his question again after reaching the Cozy Book Nook, Kyungsoo still didn’t know. They debated about it while making tea and Kyungsoo then asked him if Baekhyun had a problem with his method at being funny. Baekhyun didn’t take offense and replied that maybe it was just Kyungsoo who wasn’t funny and couldn’t make him laugh. That earned him a deadpan look that melted into a laugh when Baekhyun told him that he also had a problem with making jokes obvious. Jongin’s words, not his.
Working with Kyungsoo was pleasant. He looked like a serious man but had one of the biggest smiles Baekhyun had ever seen. Not that he had seen many of them outside of his laptop or television screens but Kyungsoo’s smile really was wide. It made his cheeks look poke-able. Baekhyun would wait until they were true friends to poke his cheeks as randomly as he sometimes poked Yixing’s dimple when he smiled.
He only did one mistake in the morning, leading a customer to the wrong book because he hadn’t been careful enough in the computer’s system but it wasn’t anything bad. Kyungsoo explained his mistake to him with a bit of careful teasing. Baekhyun twitched his lips at him to let him know that Kyungsoo could tease him as much as he wanted to, Baekhyun liked being treated normally. They didn’t eat lunch together this time, because the shop didn’t close during lunch time and at least one of them had to stay at the counter and tend to customers.
When someone asked him for a book that made you think about life, Baekhyun was happy to give his first recommendation ever. The elder woman accept to read To Room Nineteen with a cup of Sun Tzu to accompany her.
It was only towards the end of the afternoon that Jaehyun stepped into the library and greeted Baekhyun with a happy smile.
"Oh, I didn’t expect you to actually come," Baekhyun said when Jaehyun closed the door behind him and stepped to the counter.
He had messaged Baekhyun during lunch break, to ask him about his whereabouts and talking with him had made eating yet another bowl of instant ramyeon more enjoyable. When Baekhyun had told him about his new job, Jaehyun had seemed very excited and had asked for the address of the place. They hadn’t seen each other since the lunch they had shared on the last Rehabilitation meeting and Baekhyun felt his lips faintly rejoicing at the sight of his friend.
"I didn’t come for you," Jaehyun said, folding his arms over the counter and giving Baekhyun a wide-eyed, obviously playful look.
"That’s what all stalkers say at first," Baekhyun retorted, drumming his fingers over the desk, next to the mouse.
Jaehyun huffed. "I’m not that kind of person," he said, lips twisted at the end of his words in a mock upset expression.
"Then what kind of person are you?" Baekhyun asked, surprising himself when his voice lilted just a tiny little bit. Not enough for Jaehyun to notice, but enough for him to feel it.
"The kind of person who’s here to buy his cute niece a cute book," Jaehyun replied, straightening his back and raising his eyebrows boastfully.
Baekhyun hummed. Jaehyun did seem to be the caring kind of person. He couldn’t imagine him playing with a tiny little girl but it would probably still be an adorable sight.
"Do you want me to help you?" he asked, already stepping to get out of his half-tea-bar, half-check-out corner.
Jaehyun stopped him with a shake of his head, however.
"No, I need to be quick because I have to go to work after this. If you accompany me, I’ll probably talk to you for half an hour and forget that I’m supposed to get a book. I can be a bit too talkative sometimes," Jaehyun laughed, raising a hand to scratch at his chin.
Baekhyun wouldn’t mind talking to him for half an hour. But Jaehyun had to work. They could find another half an hour to talk through later.
"What do you work as?" he asked instead, realizing then that he had never inquired Jaehyun about it despite their numerous text conversations over the past few days.
They were always short, didn’t last the whole day like with Yixing, but Jaehyun turned out to be the kind of person who loved sharing funny memes with his friends. Their longest conversation had been when Baekhyun had asked him how ‘meme’ was pronounced. He still wasn’t quite sure of the answer.
"I’m being trained to work as a bartender!" Jaehyun chirped, joy suddenly curving his eyes into smiles enough for Baekhyun to know that it was going very well for him.
"I definitely need to stay away from bars then," he hummed, nodding as if that thought was muttered to himself only.
Jaehyun instantly gave him a narrowed look.
"If I didn’t know you sounded serious because of the powers, I’d be offended," he huffed, to which Baekhyun shrugged exaggeratedly. It drew a smile out of his now familiar friend. "You seem to be doing great here, though, right?"
Baekhyun nodded energetically. He was doing more than great.
"I love it," he admitted. Even if his voice could fluctuate into emotions, it still wouldn’t be enough for him to show how comfortable and at home he felt while working here.
Jaehyun seemed to sense it, his smile softening a little bit, losing its boyishness and gaining in sincerity.
"I’m really glad you’re doing okay then," he said, caring, kind, the perfect friend Baekhyun had needed in his life.
He offered Jaehyun to get lunch together tomorrow, to which he agreed enthusiastically, proposing to go to a barbecue place he really liked. Baekhyun felt at ease even after Jaehyun checked out with a children’s book about dragons and princesses who fought them all on their own.
He was doing great. He would be doing even better.
The first thing Baekhyun did when he got home was get in front of the mirror and stare at himself.
He didn’t really feel anything particular when he looked at himself. He wasn’t sure he was supposed to feel anything anyway. Droopy eyes, black floppy hair, and something missing. Emotions. Baekhyun had never seen this face grin in happiness. The last grin he had seen was in the album photos in his parents’ house, a print of almost fifteen years ago.
He tried smiling. He tugged the corners of his lips up until his cheeks rounded and his lips were a stretch of chapped, faded pink. His eyes narrowed just a little bit but the emptiness was still blatant. It didn’t look like he was smiling. His face was just tensed up, narrowed and expanded all at once. Yixing’s smiles didn’t look like this. Maybe because they were heartfelt.
He stopped and stared at himself more. The yellow lights of his bathroom darkened his skin a little bit. He wasn’t sure anything could brighten his face. Stretching his lips, he tried another smile. A smaller one this time. Only the bottom half of his face moved and it looked wrong. Awkward. He pressed his hands on the edge of the sink, leaned closer, and stared at the skeleton of a smile. It didn’t look like Baekhyun.
Pushing himself away, he stopped altogether and slid out of the bathroom. Disappointment made his footsteps draggy against the floor as his feet brought him to the living room. Disappointment. If Baekhyun could feel disappointment then why couldn’t he feel happy enough to smile? Since his Erasure, he had only been able to feel small emotions. Despite it being a huge progress compared to the complete lack of feelings while he worked for the Organization, it wasn’t enough. He wanted to feel big emotions. Yixing had described it once. Happiness could cause contractions and pain in the stomach, from laughing too hard. Baekhyun wanted to feel that.
He would feel that.
Grabbing his laptop from the coffee table, he sprawled on the couch, head and feet resting on the armrest, on each extremity. He sat the laptop down on his stomach and turned it on. Browsing on Youtube would be entertaining enough.
It wasn’t. Barely two videos later, Baekhyun grabbed his phone from the table. Yixing hadn’t replied to his message yet. Jaehyun was probably working at this time of the day. Kyungsoo didn’t like texting.
He stared at Jongin’s name on his inbox and then typed a message. The reply only came another video later.
At what time do you start tomorrow?
I didn’t think you’d really do it
The whole helping thing I mean
Baekhyun stared at the words. He thought he had been clear enough. He didn’t want his favorite coffee shop to crumble to the ground. Not that he thought that would happen. Jongin seemed like the hardworking type. He had nothing to base that on. He wanted to find out if Jongin was a hardworking person.
I wouldn’t have offered if I didn’t mean it TT
You’re way too kind
Thank you TT
I start at 7:30 tomorrow
Minseok told me I should leave the house at least half an hour before that
To make sure I get there on time
Baekhyun tapped his forefinger against the side of his phone. Minseok had told him the exact amount of time it would take him to reach the coffeeshop. That was characteristic of Minseok and how indulgent he always was. And cute of Jongin. Sleepy, lost Jongin.
You have to leave at 7 then
You probably should wake up at 6
I’ll send you a message and spam you if you don’t reply :)
Baekhyun started at ten tomorrow but he’d be awake at six. That was usually when he woke up. A habit that lingered from the thousands of days he started with having to watch the sun rise and adjust it to the weather.
That’s so early TT
Please do so TT
Coffee is worth it
I don’t even like coffee
Baekhyun felt himself blinking quickly, twice, realizing. Jongin had told him the same thing before.
You don’t even like coffee but you’re working at a coffee shop??
That wasn’t the most surprising fact he learned about Jongin that night. It didn’t beat the fact that Jongin rarely wore socks because he found them useless. He surprised Jongin too, with the fact that he was older than him. Baekhyun wasn’t sure whether he should take offense or not at his grand total of three messages asking if Baekhyun was really sure that he was older than him or not.
He didn’t take offense but still forgave him when Jongin gave him random historical facts. Baekhyun was pretty sure that their conversation about Romans using a goat’s bladder as condoms centuries ago was a great factor in the building of their friendship.
Baekhyun stepped into Cotton Coffee with a novel in his hand the next evening and the clear peal of the bell as he pushed the door open was a fitting description of Jongin’s smile as he greeted him from behind the counter.
"Are you here to make sure I didn’t fall asleep and ignore your messages?" Jongin said, grinning at Baekhyun as he stepped closer to the counter. It didn’t sound like a reproach at all. Had it not been pronounced with such a bright smile, Baekhyun would’ve thought his presence was unwanted.
But Jongin had messaged him during lunch break to thank him for waking him up. It had taken four messages and three more ten minutes after Jongin’s first reply. He had passed out after replying to him that he was awake. It wasn’t hard to imagine. A cute Jongin buried under his blankets and a heavy coat of sleep.
"I did get a little suspicious so I’m here to make sure Minseok didn’t fire you," Baekhyun answered with a shrug that made Jongin give him a look, lips pursed but not enough to stop his smile. "And also coffee. I like coffee."
Although, that fell only second. He had just wanted to check up on Jongin since he had stopped replying to his messages at around three in the afternoon. It wasn’t surprising, working in a coffee shop must be hectic, but Baekhyun still wanted to make sure he wasn’t asleep under the counter or something else that would make Minseok possibly crack his kind demeanor.
"That’s a wonder. I really can’t understand how you like coffee," Jongin mumbled, voice lowered as he leaned over the counter, probably to make sure Sooyoung didn’t hear him.
Baekhyun glanced at her as she was cleaning tables. She was a really sweet girl, Baekhyun didn’t doubt she helped Jongin a lot. She’d been working here for a year. He turned to Jongin and shrugged.
"Didn’t you have to taste lots of coffee while training?" he asked, head tilted, lips quivering when Jongin winced.
"I’m going to taste it every day until I learn how to make all the drinks," he said before looking over Baekhyun’s shoulder when the door opened behind him.
He greeted the new customer with a bright smile and looked back down at Baekhyun to take his order. Sooyoung joined him behind the counter and took over the next customer while Jongin started making Baekhyun’s order.
Baekhyun, like he always did, stood there to watch his drink being prepared, except this time it wasn’t Minseok, Sooyoung, or even Donghyuk that Baekhyun observed, but Jongin. A slow, careful Jongin who bit his lower lip in concentration as he buzzed around, always taking a second to stare at his work after every single step to make sure it was okay. Hardworking Jongin whose nape looked really velvety now that his hair was cut and that his skin was unconcealed. Baekhyun had a really hard time looking away. His skin had a warm tint.
It took a little longer than usual but soon, Jongin was holding his drink out to Baekhyun with a proud smile. Baekhyun wondered if he was always this careful or if he had paid extra care to everything because the drink he was making was for someone he hopefully considered as a friend.
Baekhyun dragged his gaze down from the softness in the corners of Jongin’s eyes and looked down at the cup he was holding instead. He froze for a second, lips parting. It wasn’t what he had ordered. Silently, Baekhyun grabbed the cup but Jongin didn’t let go. When he looked up at him again, his eyebrows were furrowed.
"What’s wrong?" he asked and Baekhyun pressed his lips together. The one time he should’ve been expressionless, Jongin had noticed something.
"Nothing," he said, shaking his head and pulling at the drink. Jongin still didn’t let go, frown deepening.
"You should tell me for me to progress," he said, a soft mumble.
Baekhyun looked at him, at the assertiveness in his gaze, and sighed a little, letting go of the cup.
"I ordered a Caramel Macchiato Frap," he said softly, catching Sooyoung looking at them from her spot behind the cashier.
Jongin lowered the cup into the counter. "Is that not it?" he mumbled, looking down at what he had just made, voice low enough for it to be directed at himself and not anyone else, even if it was heard by Baekhyun. He squeezed his eyes shut then, until crinkles were drawn around them. Baekhyun had asked about it last night, while they were texting. Jongin had said he used to time travel by closing his eyes and imagining where he wanted to be. A lingering habit. Maybe a wish.
"No, that’s an Iced Macchiato," Baekhyun said, fingers fumbling together. He shouldn’t have said anything.
Jongin opened his eyes, shook his head, and gave him a smile traced by apology.
"I’m sorry. This isn’t the first time I get orders confused, I should really pay more attention," he chided himself, bowing a little at Baekhyun who shook his head and returned it. "I’ll make you a new one."
Baekhyun grabbed the cup and tugged his lips up into what he hoped was a smile big enough for it to comfort Jongin.
"No, it’s okay. I like this too, I’ll drink it," he reassured the other.
Jongin parted his lips, probably to protest but Baekhyun took a sip of the drink before he could.
"It’s okay," he repeated as Jongin’s shoulders dropped. His lower lip was paling under the weight of his teeth.
Sooyoung finally stepped to them, much later than she should. Baekhyun knew Minseok had probably asked her to leave Jongin on his own to deal with this kind of things. He had claimed it was the best way to teach someone to work when Sooyoung had just started working here last year.
"It’s on the house then. We’re sorry," she said, her hand reaching to gently rest on Jongin’s arm as she gave Baekhyun a grateful smile.
Baekhyun shook his head at them, giving them both a last attempt at a smile before turning around and finding the coziest table at a corner of the room. He put his cup and his book down and glanced up at the counter. The upset jut of Jongin’s lips was an obvious sign that he was still beating himself over his mistake. He always did that. The lips thing. When he was sleepy and when he was upset.
Baekhyun wondered if it happened on any other occasions too. Sooyoung made the next customer’s drink and spent five minutes talking to him afterwards. Only then did Jongin’s gaze lighten and he looked up from the floor with a firm nod. The door opened with another customer and Baekhyun watched as Jongin prepared the woman’s drink, still as slow as earlier, but even more careful this time. Baekhyun could see it in the way he nodded at himself after each step.
The cold coffee tasted sweeter than usual when he drew a sip from his straw and opened up the first page of his book. It was a novel that one customer had recommended to him earlier, the story of a murder set in the 1950’s London, and Baekhyun had never really read a novel from that time period so he had borrowed it from the library. That was usually not something that customers could do, they either had to buy the book or read it on spot, but Kyungsoo had told him he could get a small employee privilege.
Baekhyun, who had decided that he wanted to eat dinner with Jongin tonight, had taken it as an excuse to spend time in the the coffeeshop until closing time. He had still not asked Jongin, hadn’t gotten the occasion to with the order mistake, but he would. Hopefully, Jongin wasn’t upset at him. Not that he seemed like the kind of person who would be petty, but Baekhyun didn’t know him very well yet. He wanted to know him very well. Jongin and his eyes that slowly grew heavier as hours passed in the coffee shop.
He only glanced up from his book to catch a glimpse of Jongin from time to time, observing him buzzing around, making drinks, smiling at clients, scratching at his neck, and occasionally whispering in Sooyoung or Minseok’s ear with wide eyes. He probably had a lot of questions. Baekhyun didn’t know if it was habitual or if that was just because he had already made a mistake today. Either way, Baekhyun wouldn’t help but note that he had moments where he blinked much faster than usual, moved much slower, and during a lull in the evening with no clients to serve, when he was left alone at the counter, Baekhyun even saw him close his eyes for a few seconds before startling and shaking his head.
It was funny. Not the funny that would make him want to laugh, but the funny that made him glance at Jongin too many times, that made him unable to fully focus on his novel, that made Baekhyun’s lips attempt a smile even when no one was looking at him.
He had gotten a second drink an hour after finishing his and it was Jongin’s break time but he insisted on making it himself, under Minseok’s watchful gaze. Baekhyun didn’t know if he was extra careful, if the cloud of whipped cream he twirled on top of the drink was perfect because of Minseok or because of him. It was a delicious drink. Jongin’s beam was sweeter when he saw Baekhyun take a sip and nod to himself before giving him a lame thumbs up.
By the time he had drank almost the entirety of his second drink and was getting close to the eightieth page of his novel, the chair sitting across from him scraped against the ground. Jongin’s hair flopped along with him as he slumped down, folding his arms on the small round table and hiding his face in the crook of them.
Baekhyun looked around. There was no one else sitting in the shop, only two people queuing to get their drinks as take-out. It was closing time.
"Is it a good novel? You’ve been reading it for hours," Jongin’s muffled voice came out of its hiding spot in the crook of his arms and Baekhyun looked back down at him. The tips of his ears looked cottony. It fit right in this place. A tired Jongin.
Baekhyun tucked the bookmark he had taken from the Cozy Book Nook into his novel and closed it.
"It’s great, I like it. Got it from my workplace," he said, resting an elbow on the table and holding his head in the palm of his hand. "You’re done working?"
"I’m so sleepy," Baekhyun heard another mumble, this time dragged into a whine.
Tired, sleepy, cute Jongin.
"You want some coffee?" Baekhyun joked, lips quirking when that got Jongin to raise his head up and give him a deadpan look. He widened his eyes into what he hoped was innocence and not creepy emptiness. "What? There’s more chocolate than coffee in this. You might end up liking it."
Jongin looked down at his cup. It was much less icy than it had been when Baekhyun had ordered it but it was still a little cold and very tasty. It didn’t seem to look so to Jongin, judging by the way he crinkled his nose at him and narrowed his eyes.
Baekhyun pushed the cup towards him with two fingers and then drummed them over the table. Jongin pursed his lips and gave the drink another wary look for a short moment before slowly reaching towards it. Baekhyun didn’t expect it to happen. Jongin held onto the cup with tight fingers, as if it would jump into his face and bite him, and then leaned down to trap the straw between his lips. Nice-lipped, coffee-hating Jongin took a sip of Baekhyun’s coffee, a quick one, and then pulled away, frowning as he stared down at it. He didn’t look disgusted, he didn’t look pleased either, he was something in-between.
"How is it?" Baekhyun asked, leaning just a little closer.
"It’s alright," Jongin shrugged before leaning back into his seat. Baekhyun considered it as a victory. Or maybe Jongin was just used to drinking coffee after tasting so many drinks now. He preferred the former option. "How’s work by the way? I never ask," Jongin said, raising a hand to scratch at his neck, on the red spot right under his chin and above his adam’s apple.
"It’s going great, I like it there," he said, staring into Jongin’s expectant eyes. He stalled for a second. "It’s comfortable," he added, to which Jongin snorted, crossing his arms over his chest.
"It’s kinda unfair," he said then, his lips looking upset again. "You know so many things about me but I know next to nothing about you."
Baekhyun tilted his head. He was right.
"I could tell you over dinner," he suggested, lips agreeing with him and tugging up just a little bit.
Jongin looked at him for a fleeting moment before laughing.
"Are you going to buy me something to drink or eat every time I ask you for personal information?" he asked, his light smile not hinting any displeasure towards the situation at all.
Baekhyun pressed a knuckle against his lower lip and shrugged.
"I don’t really have anything else to do so," he trailed off, leaning closer the same way he always leaned closer to Yixing when he made a joke.
Jongin’s smile shrunk a little bit, gaze turning heavy again and falling under the weight of his eyebrows.
"Well, I don’t have anything else to do either so," he trailed off too, chair scraping against the floor loudly as he stood up. His heavy eyes were still directed to the floor. His lips were puckered around his words, upset. "I’ll just help Sooyoung clean around a little more and then we can go."
Baekhyun stared at him as he walked away without waiting for an answer, dumbfounded. Jongin smiled at Sooyoung when she threw him a cloth that he then used to clean the counter. Baekhyun looked at him for a short moment. Jongin didn’t lift his gaze to offer it to him.
He grabbed his cup and drank the last of his coffee.
His upset lips accompanied them all the way to the restaurant. They didn’t part to talk with Baekhyun, no matter how much Baekhyun tried to keep the conversation going. They only gave him hums and monosyllabic answers.
The naengmyeon they had both ordered didn’t taste as sweet as his coffee had back in the coffeeshop. Jongin was still not looking at him. It didn’t seem right. Baekhyun wasn’t sure what he had done, but he had probably done something. He glanced at Jongin, across him, as he used his spoon to bring a bit of icy broth up to his mouth. Not sweet. Jongin was sweet. He looked sour now.
"Are you upset?" Baekhyun asked after a long moment of silence that he couldn’t fill with conversation since even Jongin did participate now, it almost felt halfhearted.
Jongin finally looked up at him, noodles hanging from his mouth and eyes wide. He cut them off with a bite and straightened his back, taking the time to munch on his food as he shook his head.
"No. Sorry. There’s nothing wrong," he tried reassuring Baekhyun, but the way he was still not looking at him only made him more convinced that he had indeed done something to upset Jongin.
Baekhyun put his chopsticks down and sighed.
"If I did something wrong, please just tell me," he said, trying his hardest to catch Jongin’s gaze. He didn’t want their friendship to be ruined so early. He didn’t want their friendship to ever be ruined.
Jongin bit his lower lip, finally looking into Baekhyun’s eyes again. Baekhyun had noticed while observing him today that Jongin always looked into the eyes of whoever he was listening or talking to. With this level of avoidance, he was pretty sure he should apologize and make up for whatever he had done to upset his new friend.
"I’m sorry," Jongin said, letting go of his utensils and sliding his hands under the table again. He probably tucked them between his thighs. He hesitated for a second, lips moving but not forming words before he sighed again. "It’s just that… You said you wanted to eat together just because you didn’t have anything else to do," he explained, stopping for a second and huffing a chuckle out, the weight in his gaze tilting his head down again. "It doesn’t feel nice to hear that."
Baekhyun raised a hand to rub his eye, shaking his head. Of course. Of course that was it. Jongin wasn’t Yixing.
"Sorry," he said, pulling his hand down again and trying to look as sincere as possible. He didn’t know how to look sincere. He looked down. "That was a joke. I’m sorry. I didn’t mean it. It’s my fault for making that kind of joke when we don’t know each other well yet."
"Oh," Jongin said, pulling Baekhyun to look at him again. Round eyes, mouth round, stuck around that single sound. Then, he pressed his hand against his closed eye, fingertips dragging along his eyebrow and erasing the upset lines on his face as his shoulders quaked with quiet laughter. Pretty laughter. Pretty smile. Baekhyun wished he could laugh like that. "Right. Sorry. I’m so silly, I forgot about that and just got upset over nothing. So childish. Sorry."
"No, it’s okay," Baekhyun waved him off with a hand. "I really need to work on my facial expressions."
Jongin dropped his hand down, unraveling the width of his smile. It helped Baekhyun let go of the tension in his fingers. He wasn’t upset anymore. Instead, he was leaning closer to Baekhyun, smile bright enough to raise one of his eyebrows up.
"You do," he answered, lowering his voice to a secretive whisper that made Baekhyun huff skippy air out of his mouth. Jongin tilted his head. He had nice ears. His undercut made them more apparent and cuter. He hummed for a moment, gaze scrutinizing Baekhyun who grabbed his chopsticks again. "I wonder how you’d look like with a smile."
He stopped stirring his noodles and looked at Jongin. No one had ever told him they wanted to see him smile. Besides Yixing. But Baekhyun smiled his Baekhyun smiles with Yixing.
Just for Jongin, he tried tugging his lips up into a smile, the faint one that always made Yixing happy.
Jongin’s gaze flickered down to his lips and Baekhyun felt them wobbling a little. He stubbornly kept the smile on, until Jongin chortled an endearing sound.
"Not like that," he said, leaning back into his seat. Not mockery. He didn’t know what it was in Jongin’s gaze as he pressed his lips together but his smile still glowed in his cheeks. "A real smile. I hope I’ll see it one day. I really wonder how it would look," he said, looking down at his food as he started eating again.
Baekhyun finally let go of the tension on his face, relaxing. He wondered too. He said nothing and caught a slice of pear from his bowl between his chopsticks instead, biting at it once before tucking it whole into his mouth. It was nectarous. Jongin smiled at him and focused back on his food too. Baekhyun was glad he didn’t linger on this topic.
"Did you get to work on time this morning, by the way?" he asked after a while, realizing that they hadn’t talked about that yet.
He stopped with noodles caught between his chopsticks and looked at Jongin, awaiting his answer as the other munched down on his food before giving it to him.
"I was five minutes late," Jongin said with a sheepish smile and Baekhyun looked down. "But it’s because I walked too slowly! And it’s much better than being an hour late like I was on my first day," he laughed, although it sounded more embarrassed than anything else.
Baekhyun leaned down to finally slurp at his cold noodles.
"I’m glad you’re progressing then," he congratulated the other around a mouthful of sweet flavors.
Jongin shrugged. It wasn’t really a shrug. He just raised his shoulders and tilted his head back as if he wanted to squeeze it in-between. His smile looked comfortably tucked into his features. Nice features.
"It’s thanks to you," he said when his shoulders dropped again.
Baekhyun glanced around the room, at the few patrons surrounding them. A little girl refused to eat her food a few tables away, her mother looking seconds away from raising her voice. "I didn’t do anything. I just sent you a text."
"It was an important text," Jongin retorted, his insistent tone calling back for Baekhyun’s attention. His eyebrows were furrowed. "It might have saved me from Minseok’s wrath."
Baekhyun huffed a bouncy sound at that. "He’s not a mean person. You don’t have to be scared of him."
"I know he’s very nice," Jongin said, stabbing his chopsticks into a small piece of ice that hadn’t melted or crumbled yet in his bowl. His voice sounded pouty when he looked down while talking. "But he’s still my boss and he hasn’t scolded me even once yet but I’m scared it might happen soon."
Hardworking, worried Jonginnie. Baekhyun wouldn’t call him that yet, they weren’t close, they were barely even friends. But he wanted to. He didn’t know why.
Instead, he pressed his lips together and ate more.
"As long as you do your best it’ll be okay. Don’t worry," he tried reassuring the other.
Jongin was cute. Maybe Jongin thought he was cute too. When Baekhyun had ordered his naengmyeon without cucumbers in it, Jongin had grinned at him, even if he had been upset at that moment. Or not. People smiled for all kinds of reasons.
He wasn’t grinning now, though. He was frowning down at his noodles, chopsticks stabbing them a bit too quickly, a bit too strongly. He didn’t even have much left in his bowl.
"I did my best for the Organization and look at me now," he scoffed, stabbing his chopsticks inside the bowl and pushing a soft thud out of them.
Baekhyun grabbed his bowl but stopped before he could bring it up to drink a bit of broth. It tasted better this way, instead of using a spoon. Looking at Jongin tasted bitter now. He wanted to ask about the sourness, what exactly had Jongin done that had led to his Erasure, if it was health problems, disciplinary problems, or a degradation of his powers. They weren’t close enough to talk about that. Baekhyun wouldn’t feel comfortable sharing his life story with Jongin.
"When do you start work tomorrow?" he asked instead because that was a safe question, one that made Jongin look up at the ceiling instead of frown down at his food.
"At eleven, I think," Jongin concluded after a long while that he spent humming and that Baekhyun spent eating. Jongin was a fast eater. Baekhyun was barely halfway through his bowl but he was basically done already.
Baekhyun silently grabbed his phone from where it was resting beside his bowl and let his thumb make its way to his alarm app. He set one to ten in the morning tomorrow.
"What are you doing?" Jongin asked as the waitress from earlier passed beside them with an empty tray in her hands.
Baekhyun put his phone down, grabbed his bowl, slurped at the broth a little before replying.
"I set an alarm for you," he said as the bowl thudded when he put it down.
He should ask Yixing if he knew this restaurant. The food was tasty. He should ask Jaehyun too, he had mentioned craving something cold earlier in a text message.
Jongin looked at him with raised eyebrows. "You do that?"
"I said I’d help," Baekhyun shrugged.
Jongin looked at him for a silent moment before slumping back into his seat, arms sliding off the table and into his lap, probably.
"You’re way too kind," he mumbled, lips remaining parted afterwards, jutted out, just a little pouty. This suited Jongin’s lips.
Baekhyun shrugged again, lips twitching at the concerned expression on Jongin’s face. He didn’t know why he looked concerned but it wasn’t bad. It was great. There was a lot of great things about Jongin, Baekhyun realized.
"I am. That’s why you better make me smile in compensation," he said, grabbing his chopsticks and reaching to steal the last slice of pear in Jongin’s bowl. His lips shaped contentment at the aroma of it and Jongin laughed, a deep, sudden sound.
Natural. Like his speaking voice. Lucky.
"I’ll do my best!" he perked up, showing his determination by waving a fist in the air.
The contentment on Baekhyun’s lips grew until he felt a slight stretch in his cheeks.
By the end of their meal, Jongin gave him his entire work schedule and Baekhyun gave him the address of his workplace. It felt like a refreshing exchange.
The weather was perfect today. It was a seamless blend between heat, breeze, and sunshine. The sky was a pale blue, fading into white in its vastness. Baekhyun was glad he could take a walk outside without it being a standard weather check-up.
He had woken up early today, along with the sun, and had watched it splatter the sky in warm hues that never went missing even during winter mornings. Watching the sun rise with nothing bounding him to the sky and the adjustment of the sun’s power over the earth had been a liberating experience. He had done it almost every day since his Erasure, but the soothing, reassuring effect it had on him still didn’t wear off. Baekhyun hoped it never would, even if it was nothing but the follow-up of the panic that snapped his hands every morning. It still felt surreal not to guard the weather every single day of his life.
Sometimes, whenever he was taking a walk and didn’t appreciate the weather, he’d try changing it. It never worked. Baekhyun was never disappointed about it.
Today, he did no such thing, merely enjoying the scenery of his new neighborhood as he walked towards the Cozy Book Nook. He was to start working in half an hour, it was more than enough time for Baekhyun to allow himself to amble the streets with no care, looking around, observing students going to school and adults heading towards bus stops or subway stations, spotting tiny shops and cafés. He was too loyal to Cotton Coffee to get his morning caffeine anywhere else but as he passed in front of a Chinese dollar store, he sent a quick message to Yixing. He really loved visiting this kind of store and he always made it fun for Baekhyun, even if they sometimes got out without even buying any of the miscellaneous and sometimes extravagant items they found inside.
When he raised his gaze up from his phone after pressing on the send button, the first thing that Baekhyun saw was a little boy stopped a few meters away, swinging his arms around as his father was crouched down in front of him to tie the laces of his colorful shoe. He stopped walking and when his phone vibrated in his hand with a message, Baekhyun could barely even feel it in his fingers. The peak of pain entrapping all his senses at once was too strong for him to give his attention to anything else, anything but the big smile the father gave to his son while ruffling his hair as the little child hugged his legs, his thank you loud and lively enough for Baekhyun to hear it from where he was standing.
He swallowed down but his throat felt constricted. His lips parted and all Baekhyun could take in was a jumpy breath, barely enough for it to alleviate the pressure on his chest. He couldn’t remember he had fingers and suddenly, his phone crashed down to the ground with a loud slap. Baekhyun heard that sound in his skull, felt that cold slap against his cheek when the little boy grabbed his father’s hand again and pulled him to continue walking, his backpack wobbling on his shoulders until the man tucked the straps up properly again while laughing.
His father had spent days teaching him how to tie his shoelaces when Baekhyun was younger. He’d randomly come up to Baekhyun with a shoe in his hands and ask him to tie the laces, just to make sure Baekhyun still knew how to do it. It had taken a long time for Baekhyun to figure out the tricky knot. He always ruffled Baekhyun’s hair when he got it right, crouched down to show him again when he messed it up and tangled his own tiny fingers with the laces.
Baekhyun didn’t feel this often. He shouldn’t feel this. This pain in his chest, the sorrow clenching his throat, and the mourning clawing against his stomach, stirring his insides. He shouldn’t feel this.
He clenched his jaw, looked up to the sky, and suddenly it stopped. He could feel his fingers, could breathe, could look away from the father and his son, could tasted the heat of a summer morning in his mouth. Heat. No rain. No storms. It wasn’t his sky anymore.
Bringing a hand up to rub his face, he leaned down to grab his phone from the ground, taking a look at the screen. It wasn’t cracked, the home button worked when he pressed on it to unlock the device. He looked in front of him again and then turned around to see the little boy’s schoolbag bouncing on his back as he skipped a little, hand still holding onto his father’s.
He pressed his lips together and resumed walking. He should’ve let himself feel it. It was the only emotion he could feel. He should’ve left it to consume him and enliven him. He tried looking for it again, attempted to locate it in his chest, in the regular pace of his breathing, in the calm of his thoughts. It was gone. As if it had never even happened.
Next time. Next time he would let himself feel it. He was allowed to now.
His phone started vibrating in his hand, the alarm going off softly, and Baekhyun looked down at it, turning it off. It was ten o’clock. He closed his messaging app and opened up his contacts list instead. He wanted to hear a voice. He didn’t want to hear Yixing’s voice, even if he had replied to Baekhyun’s message and was probably free. He wanted to hear Jongin’s voice. Waking him up with a call would be easier than sending him ten messages until he replied.
He waited for Jongin to pick up, gaze strolling around as he walked past a flower shop. The beep switched to a female voice presenting him the failure of his call and Baekhyun hung up before calling again. It was only by the third call and almost towards the end of it that Jongin’s voice grunted rusty sleep at him.
"Aha," Baekhyun said, surprising himself when his tone actually matched the jumpiness of the sound. "I knew you were sleeping."
He heard rustling and then air crackling into his ear. He hoped it was a silent laugh and not a sigh.
"I’m always sleeping," Jongin said and Baekhyun had seen him rub his sleepy eye only once but the softness and mushiness of his words was enough for him to imagine it happening in his head.
Cute sleepy Jongin whom Baekhyun had managed to wake up.
"Sorry to wake you up but you gotta work in a little more than forty five minutes," Baekhyun announced, fingers of his free hand hooking into the pocket of his jeans.
The line went dead for a short moment during which Baekhyun looked around, as if he could figure out and see what Jongin was doing that way, before he heard a flat hum.
"Forty five minutes," Jongin repeated in another hum, this one longer. He still sounded like he was rubbing the sleep out of his eyes but this time, as if he was falling asleep again, voice a slur.
"Yes," Baekhyun confirmed, turning into the street the library was in. More silence. More rustling. More sleepy sighing from sleepy Jonginnie. Baekhyun tilted his head. Jongin needed at least twenty minutes to reach the coffeeshop from his house. "You kind of should be panicking right now."
"Oh," he heard, a croak more than a sound. Then, violent rustles followed by a thump and a groan. "Shit," Jongin hissed before groaning again.
Baekhyun questioned if he really had just had to tell Jongin that he was supposed to panic for him to actually start doing it. Wondered if he had just fallen off the bed. His chortle was muted and ugly when his mouth didn’t open quickly enough for him to let it out.
"I’ll message you in fifteen minutes to make sure you didn’t pass out again," he said after long seconds of Jongin repeating shit around ten times and Baekhyun hearing thumps and thuds and rustling and even water running as Jongin probably prepared to shower. He probably forgot he was holding the phone against his ear all along. It wouldn’t be surprising of him.
"Thank you, hyung," Jongin replied, sounding just a little more awake now.
Baekhyun hung up after humming in reply, leaving him to panic and getting ready. He stopped in front of the library and looked up at the sky. He felt good. He didn’t know why or how he could tell. He just felt nice all around. The weather was still stable. He pushed the library’s door open, welcomed by Kyungsoo’s wide eyes when he looked up at him over the rim of his glasses without raising his head up from whatever he was looking at behind the counter.
"You’re late," he said and although his features were tightened by disapproval, the light teasing sway in his voice made Baekhyun try a smile.
He checked the time on his phone and pressed his lips together, tucking their corners down.
"By one minute," he retorted. "And if your clock is ahead of time and mine is too, I might not be late at all."
"There’s little chance both our clocks can be ahead of time. Especially if our clocks are our phones," Kyungsoo retorted, raising an eyebrow at him.
Baekhyun blankly stared at him, which Kyungsoo returned with just as much void in his gaze for a moment before he lost and tilted his head up just a little bit while laughing. He always lost first. Baekhyun stepped behind the counter through the small opening on the side and bumped his shoulder against Kyungsoo’s on purpose as he walked to the staff room. Kyungsoo threatened to lower his pay and Baekhyun threatened him right back, telling him he would lock him in the staff room and then make the whole library his. Kyungsoo snorted at his face disbelievingly when he came back to the counter.
Later on, when Baekhyun sneaked in to message Jongin, Kyungsoo caught him and reminded him that he didn’t actually have to sneak in to use his phone with a painless flick against his ear.
Baekhyun really liked working here.
"Yes, mom, Yixing is eating well too," Baekhyun said, one hand holding his phone as the other tried to mix in the bibimbap in his bowl. "I know because we’re eating lunch together right now," Baekhyun huffed at her suspicion and spilled a little bit of carrots on the table.
With a chuckle, Yixing reached to take the bowl away and mixed in all the vegetable with the rice and the egg for him instead. Baekhyun watched him with a grateful nod and hummed at his mother’s rant about him never bringing Yixing home anymore. As though it was his duty to make sure Yixing came home to eat.
"Yes, we’ll make sure to come for dinner together sometime next week," he promised, looking at Yixing who nodded as confirmation and pushed the bowl back towards him. When she told him not to forget and to tell Yixing to put a lot of sunscreen on before going out, Baekhyun huffed out an amused sound. "I can just give him the phone, you know."
She refused though and after telling her to make sure to eat all his meals and call him whenever she wanted to, he hung up and Yixing looked up from where he was mixing in his own bowl of bibimbap. They always ordered the same thing. Baekhyun didn’t remember how or why this tradition had started but but they always ate the same thing, unless one of them had a strong craving for something else.
"I see she still wants to adopt me," Yixing said, grinning at him merrily.
"Why are you saying that as if you didn’t talk to her last week," Baekhyun said, bumping his foot against Yixing’s under the table.
His best friend shrugged smugly and Baekhyun started eating, grabbing a little bit of zucchini and ground beef and humming at the taste.
"Why didn’t she want to talk to me, though?" Yixing asked, hand held in front of his mouth to hide what he was chewing as he spoke.
"She said she didn’t want to disturb you while you’re eating," Baekhyun said, giving him a look. "You know her. She can disturb me, but you? Never."
Yixing laughed at that, his small, proud laugh that reflected a bit of embarrassment on his face nonetheless, through the droop of his eyebrows.
He then started telling Baekhyun about his day, this new plant he was working on in the Organization’s lab and how his partner was a really pretty younger woman. Baekhyun always found it amazing that while Yixing could heal plants, he could also create them. The Organization sold all kinds of weird, new, but beautiful plants in the market.
Baekhyun owned one of Yixing’s first creations, a pretty white flower whose petals had a cute resemblance to feathers, planted in a pot that he kept under his bedroom’s window, where the sun hit the best in the morning. It wasn’t entirely Yixing’s creation, they always worked in groups for this kind of thing but Baekhyun still held it close to his heart, in a tight and proud embrace.
"I made a new friend," he announced in a lull in the conversation, after he had told the other about this elderly woman who had been in the shop earlier and looked like the perfect representation of a grandma as she gave Kyungsoo and him a palmful of candy.
Yixing instantly looked up from his bowl, a bean sprout dangling from his mouth before he slurped it and hummed energetically, straightening up.
"Really? Who? When? Where?" he shot up and Baekhyun looked down at his half-empty bowl, the corners of his lips tugged up.
"His name is Jongin. We met at the rehabilitation meetings and then kept contact after he started working at Minseok’s coffee shop," he replied to all his questions in order, shoving little bits of food into his mouth in-between each piece of information.
He hadn’t told him about Jongin until now because he wasn’t sure they were actually friends. After waking up Jongin this morning and the messages they had exchanged to keep him awake on his way to the coffee shop, Baekhyun could tell they were friends. Talking to Jongin had oddly put him in a nice mood through the whole morning. Kyungsoo had even told him to stop skipping as he neatened the library. Baekhyun had accidentally bumped a book against his shoulder in retaliation.
They had that kind of friendship now.
"What kind of person is he?" Yixing asked, still not eating anymore, scrutinizing Baekhyun’s face. As if Baekhyun would keep anything from him. He really liked oversharing with Yixing, he’d never hide anything from him.
He hummed a little, voice drowned out when the waiter greeted new patrons who entered the restaurant.
"He’s sleepy," Baekhyun settled on, nodding to himself afterwards.
"Sleepy?" Yixing repeated with a laugh before stopping and widening his eyes. "Oh is he that time traveler who always slept during the meetings or was late?"
Baekhyun nodded, air rushing out of his nose, the skeleton of a laugh. That description suited Jongin.
"Is he still late to places?" Yixing asked then, dimple a lovely shadow on his cheek.
"He is," Baekhyun said, with a tone that visibly made Yixing laugh again. He grabbed the small bowl of soy sauce and added a little bit more in his food, mixing in everything together again. "But I’m helping him."
That piqued Yixing’s curiosity and sharpened his gaze. "How so?"
"He gave me his work schedule and I remind him what time he works at so he can leave his house on time and avoid being late," Baekhyun shrugged. "It’s difficult for him to grasp time too. He often walks too slowly or thinks he has half an hour in front of him when really, he only has five minutes to get ready."
It would be amusing if it wasn’t a problem that literally messed with Jongin’s life. It was still endearing, in spite of that. Endearing Jongin who always thanked Baekhyun for his help and used lots and lots of crying emojis in his messages.
"You’re not even that punctual yourself," Yixing huffed, narrowing his eyes at him. "Is he perhaps handsome?"
"What does that have to do with anything? Do you only help people in need if they’re handsome?" Baekhyun retorted, shoving food into his mouth with a flourish when Yixing parted his lips and failed to come up with an argument.
"Why are you making me feel like a bad person now?" he laughed, cutting it off here and there to scoff at Baekhyun disbelievingly.
Baekhyun simply shrugged in satisfaction.
"But he actually is very cute though," he still confessed, to which Yixing pointed a finger at him.
"See! You made me feel bad for nothing," he reprimanded Baekhyun, words laced with laughter. Baekhyun raised his shoulders obnoxiously and gave him a smile.
It appeased Yixing who shook his head at him and tutted before picking up more food and smiling at the waiter who passed by them.
Jongin was handsome. Baekhyun had never really thought about it. It was obvious that Jongin was cute but he was handsome too. Those were two different things for him. Jongin was cute in the lost puppy way but he was also handsome. In a Jongin way. In a way that made Baekhyun think about his smile, his traced eyebrows, and his jaw. The skin of his jaw. The width of it. Handsome.
"I’m really proud of you, though," Yixing said then, pulling Baekhyun’s attention back to him. He was smiling but it was softer now, not amused or amusing. It was the smile Yixing always gave him along with that gaze. The one that gave Baekhyun the impression that he was doing well. That Yixing was proud of him. "You got two new friends now! Should I feel threatened?" he asked, tilting his head a little and pointing at him with his chopsticks.
A grain of rice fell to the table and Baekhyun’s shoulders quivered. Yixing had those small possessive moments, most of them were a joke but sometimes, he really did seem protective over their friendship. It only made Baekhyun know that he had chosen the best friend he could ever find.
"No, you’re my cutest friend," he affirmed, to which Yixing nodded in satisfaction. "Would you like to meet Jaehyun?"
He had told him about Jaehyun much earlier, kept talking about him and also kept talking to Jaehyun about Yixing. He had once said wanting to meet Yixing and the mere prospect of having his two friends at the same place, at the same time, with him, made Baekhyun look at Yixing expectantly.
Yixing agreed right away and Baekhyun smiled at him. He had a feeling this would make him feel really nice. Happy.
The rest of the day was spent peacefully. Baekhyun continued reading the novel he had started back at Cotton Coffee whenever he didn’t have anything to do.
There really wasn’t much to do in this kind of library, they didn’t get new book arrivals every day and they didn’t get dozens of customers either. Those who came usually stayed for hours and rarely ever asked for a refill of tea. Most of the time, both Kyungsoo and Baekhyun didn’t have to be at the shop at the same time, just one of them was enough to clean around, take care of the tea and the books laying around. When Baekhyun had asked Kyungsoo why he had even needed to hire someone, Kyungsoo had merely shrugged and told him that it was because he wanted to go out sometimes but had to spend his entire day there unless he kept the shop closed.
That was understandable and Kyungsoo did go out from time to time. Baekhyun didn’t mind, he had learned everything he had to and even if he still had a hard time locating books amongst the dozens of shelves scattered throughout the library’s three different rooms, he still managed everything just fine. Kyungsoo trusted him enough to leave him alone once in a while and that was enough for him to work even harder.
Usually, they didn’t get any new customer after five in the afternoon, rarely had people who stayed until closing time which was eight in the evening, sometimes seven if the place was empty and it was obvious that they wouldn’t get any new customer. Therefore, Baekhyun looked up from his novel sharply when the door opened a little after five and he turned idle at the mollified luminosity of Jongin’s smile.
"What are you doing here?" Baekhyun couldn’t help but question him as he folded a corner of the page he had been reading and closed the book before standing up.
Jongin folded his arms on the corner and rested his chin on the little bundle, tugging the corners of his lips down.
"Is that how you should really great your friend? And your new favorite customer?" he asked, voice shrunk and lower lip jutted out as he spoke since his chin was still resting on his forearm.
"Favorite customer? Who said so?" Baekhyun asked, tilting his head as he observed him with a stare.
This time, Jongin got the joke. He straightened up and tutted at him, shaking his head. Baekhyun’s chest puffed up with a deep breath.
"You said it. In your head. As soon as I walked in," he huffed, hair mussed and falling over his forehead in a messy coma. It wasn’t styled, it just looked like he had swept it all up with a hand and it had naturally fallen down to reach his eyes.
He might be right. Baekhyun could see Jongin becoming his favorite customer.
"I thought I could visit since I finished my shift early today and well, I wanted to see what kind of place you worked in," Jongin said, grinning as he looked over Baekhyun’s shoulder. "Is that all tea?"
Baekhyun glanced behind himself before nodding energetically. He had been on the verge of falling asleep, truthfully, with the evening heat and the lull of the day, but now, he felt wide awake. Must be Jongin’s own energy affecting him.
"It’s all tea. We make it ourselves to serve it to customers," he explained, pointing at the display of colorful teapots and cups before turning to Jongin again, one of his fingers tapping on the cover of his book. "This place is actually perfect for you. There’s so much more tea than coffee."
Jongin laughed softly, a burst of sound and air. Melodious.
"So you weren’t kidding when you said this place was a tea house," he hummed, gaze dropping to the small rectangular standee on the counter, where they had their ‘tea menu’, as Baekhyun liked to call it. His eyebrows raised and his lips were round around his words. "You named the drinks after writers?"
"It’s cool, isn’t it?" Baekhyun answered, resting a hand on the counter and leaning closer while lowering his voice. "Who would you like to drink?"
Chortling, Jongin reached to push at his shoulder in a weak gesture that didn’t even make Baekhyun budge.
"See, I’m your favorite customer already. You just assumed that I’d stay here for a cup of tea instead of leaving right away," he said, smugness prettying the corners of his sparkling eyes.
Baekhyun hummed. "You caught me," he confessed. He really did wish Jongin would stay. They’d been texting since this morning but seeing Jongin and messaging him weren’t the same thing. It didn’t have the same effect, even if Baekhyun wasn’t sure what made him think that.
Smiling a little lesser but just as pleased, Jongin looked at the menu and hummed for a short moment. Eyebrows raised. His eyebrows were often raised. It seemed to be a habit of his. He had nice eyebrows. A handsome face, skin just a little shiny from a whole day of hard work.
"Shakespeare?" he asked, looking up at Baekhyun with wide, unsure eyes.
"Is that what you want to drink?" he asked, just to confirm. It was hazelnut and vanilla flavored black tea. One of Baekhyun’s favorites.
"Yep," Jongin said, lips pressing together at the end of his word.
Baekhyun reached for the small box of loose tea leaves and held it as he nodded towards the tea pots.
"Which one do you want?"
Jongin hummed more. Another habit he seemed to have whenever he was thinking about something.
"That one," he said, pointing towards one with small blue flowers weaved in a string at the middle of the pot and over the handle.
Small blue flowers. Baekhyun wondered what Jongin would look like with small blue flowers tucked here and there in his hair. He looked at him, meeting his gaze. He would look beautiful.
"I’ll bring it to you once it’s ready, you can settle wherever you want and read. You don’t have to buy the book, you can just read it here," he explained as he opened up the box and grabbed a tea strainer.
"Are you going to stay here?" Jongin asked as Baekhyun grabbed a spoon and scooped leaves into the strainer.
"I have to," he said, looking up at him with his lips pressed together. He would’ve really liked to sit with Jongin but he had to stay at the counter or work around the library. "But I’ll be around too, I have to start putting books away in a bit."
"Where will you be then?" Jongin asked, eyebrows furrowed. Maybe he wanted to spend time with Baekhyun. The thought made him hum for longer than he should.
"I’ll be in the third room," he said. He hadn’t taken a look there for a few hours, students often left a lot of books on the tables before leaving.
"I’ll be in the third room too then!" Jongin perked up, smiling at him.
Baekhyun smiled back at him, even if he could barely feel it on his face, but Jongin seemed to see it, the stretch of his own lips expanding before he gave Baekhyun a small wave and walked into the library’s first room.
Focusing back on the task at hand, Baekhyun put some water to boil and sat back down, checking the time on his phone. Kyungsoo should be back soon. He read a little more as he waited for the water to boil, finger continuously tapping a bouncy rhythm against the edge of the book. Another customer stepped in right after Baekhyun had poured the water into the teapot and they declined his offer to drink some tea, explaining that they were here to quickly get a book for a journey in the train.
People were always talkative in the library, Baekhyun knew random facts about half of their regular customers and the occasional older adults who visited them for the first time. He helped the man locate the book he was looking for and by the time he checked him out, Jongin’s tea was brewed and ready to be brought to him. Baekhyun placed everything on the tray and carefully lifted it to bring it to his cute friend who had decided to pay him a visit. It made him feel great. Appreciated. Yixing or Jaehyun had visited him too but they didn’t linger for a long time. Jongin was here to stay for a while. Baekhyun hadn’t enjoyed making tea this much before.
Jongin was already focused on a book when Baekhyun put the tray on the table and it was with a startle that he looked up at him before humming happily as he lifted the pot’s lid and took in the tea’s pleasant scent. He was reading a book about Japanese mythology and they talked about it for a bit, he was only a few pages in but he seemed to already know a few things on the matter. Baekhyun knew only the essentials and listening to Jongin talk about something that interested him turned out to make the subject sound much more interesting than Baekhyun thought it would be. They had to keep their voices low as there were three other groups of students in the room and a lone boy on his own.
Before he realized it, Baekhyun spent twenty minutes discussing with Jongin and he stood up with a startle, rushing back to the counter with Jongin’s muffled laughter following him. Nothing was out of place, Kyungsoo still wasn’t back either so Baekhyun spent half an hour there, reading until he reached the end of his novel. He spent an additional five minutes pondering over the end and rereading it to make sure he had understood the plot twist before standing up and going to place the book back in its spot. Dan Leno and the Lighthouse Golem . He went to the detective novels section and placed it right in its alphabetically correct spot.
Then, he started touring the first room, gathering the empty tea pots and cups to bring them back to the counter and tucking in stray books he found on the tables in addition to the ones in the Read Bins. A few people always left them on the table instead of the boxes made for that exact purpose. There wasn’t a lot of people left, the lone student and two of the three other student groups had left by the time he started cleaning the second room and Kyungsoo came back a little after six. Baekhyun teased him about his change of clothes compared to when he had left the library and managed to convince Kyungsoo to tell him that he had just come back from a date.
It wasn’t difficult to figure out it hadn’t gone too well by the fact that it was still early in the evening, but Kyungsoo didn’t seem to mind. He complained but in a funny way that made Baekhyun’s shoulders quiver as he listened to him. Once he was done recounting his failed date, Kyungsoo started doing the dishes and Baekhyun continued cleaning the rooms.
When he reached the third room, Jongin’s head was resting on the open pages of his encyclopedia, lips parted and cloudy with air as he slept. Baekhyun was barely even surprised. What had more of an effect on him was that Jongin looked even cuter when he was asleep, one of his hand tangled in his hair, the other tucked between his thighs. He was hunched over the table and it probably wasn’t comfortable at all. Baekhyun should’ve checked up on him sooner, he had no idea how long had Jongin been sleeping but the fact that he was well into a quarter of the encyclopedia came as a reassurance. Maybe he had just fallen asleep a short moment ago.
Carefully, he tried waking him up, first whispering his name and then pronouncing it a little louder. The last group of girl students got up by the time Baekhyun was poking his shoulder over and over again and they laughed a little as they walked past them. Baekhyun gave them wide, desperate eyes that made them laugh more as they left. When Baekhyun shook his shoulder, Jongin only groaned and pressed his forehead against the book instead of his temple, hiding his frown from sight but still not waking up.
People usually weren’t this difficult to wake up. Baekhyun had woken Yixing up so many times in his life, had been woken up by Yixing so many times too and none of it had ever been this hard. It was almost alarming but considering Jongin was always sleepy and tired, it didn’t seem too out of the norm either.
Giving up, he walked out of the room and went back to the counter.
"My friend’s sleeping on our book," he announced to Kyungsoo who was rinsing off cups in the sink.
He looked up at Baekhyun with raised eyebrows.
"Wake him up then, it must not be very comfortable," he said, grimacing a little.
"I’ve tried but he’s not waking up," Baekhyun sighed as he stepped behind the counter and grabbed a cloth to wipe off the water from the cups and gradually place them back in their spots on the shelves.
"Is he a heavy sleeper?"
Baekhyun hummed. "Very," he said as he reached a hand under the faucet to wet his fingers and then threw a few drops at Kyungsoo’s face.
The groan it earned him made him huff a snort of air out through his nose before he stopped when Kyungsoo cupped water in his hands and made to threw it at him. He didn’t but the threat was clear and Baekhyun kindly went back to wiping cups off.
"Well," Kyungsoo said as he turned the faucet off and put the last cup in front of Baekhyun. "We’ll probably close in half an hour, it’s basically empty already. You can just leave early and take him with you unless you want to keep him locked here all night."
That was exactly what Baekhyun had wanted to hear. He rubbed Kyungsoo’s head in gratefulness, the very short, buzzed hair a weird but pleasant sensation under his palm. Kyungsoo narrowed his eyes at him and Baekhyun took it as his cue to give him the cloth and go back to the third room, Kyungsoo calling out behind him to tell him he’d call a taxi for them.
Jongin finally woke up just a little bit when Baekhyun pulled him up to his feet but his eyes were still closed and most of his weight was still resting on Baekhyun after he threw Jongin’s arm over his shoulder. Baekhyun tried talking to him but all he got as an answer were hums and grunts that were funnier that they probably should be. Kyungsoo seemed to find it funnier, he laughed out loud when Baekhyun dragged Jongin past him and didn’t stop until they were out of the shop.
He thought the fresh evening air might wake Jongin up but all the other did was rest his forehead against Baekhyun’s temple and wrap his arm tighter around his shoulder. Baekhyun probably wouldn’t find it annoying even if he could. Endearing. It was cute. Made him feel like some kind of teddy bear.
The taxi arrived soon after and Jongin woke up from the bustle of Baekhyun trying to get him in without hitting his head on the roof of the car. He couldn’t recall his address. All he did was look at Baekhyun blankly through his slow and heavy blinking when he asked him his address and with a sound that was a mesh between a sigh and a breezy laugh, Baekhyun got in the taxi with him. He managed to sober Jongin up from drowsiness enough to get his address after five minutes of the car driving around aimlessly. They were lucky enough to have a nice driver who didn’t just throw the out of the car but patiently waited for them.
After giving out his address, Jongin dropped against Baekhyun’s shoulder with a sigh, his eyes already closed again. His hair tickled Baekhyun’s cheek enough for the corners of his lips to be tugged up. He was a nice weight against Baekhyun’s side, his breathing was loud and heavy, but he was unmoving. Cute, tired Jongin who seemed to be a cuddler in his sleep. Baekhyun wanted to ruffle his hair. Maybe try and touch his jawline to see if it really was as sharp and smooth as it looked. But he didn’t. He’d do it when they’d be closer, when Jongin would be awake.
He lived quite some way from the library and by the time the car came to a stop in front of a small apartment complex, Jongin’s arms were locked around Baekhyun’s waist, one of them resting between his back and the seat. Baekhyun asked the driver to wait for him when he failed to wake Jongin up and didn’t try that hard either. He had a feeling Jongin would somehow sit down on the staircase leading to the entrance of the building and spend the whole night there so he simply got out of the car and pulled him along. He also had a feeling his arms would be sore tomorrow. He needed to exercise more. Jongin’s lips were so puffy and sleepy and pretty. Baekhyun stumbled a little when he put most of his weight on him again.
They stumbled a little more while climbing up the stairs but it woke Jongin up enough for him to pull away from Baekhyun and press the code to open up the building’s door. It unlocked and he stayed there, unmoving. Baekhyun snorted and opened the door for him, pushing on Jongin’s lower back to get him to enter. He was basically sleepwalking, at this point, but Baekhyun was glad to see that Jongin could actually locate himself even if he walked while half asleep. He lived on the ground floor and Baekhyun followed him as he headed to the apartment on the left.
He watched with his shoulders shaking with quiet chuckles as Jongin failed to get his code in twice, only succeeding on the third try. He opened the door with a heavy hand and walked in without looking back at Baekhyun but left the door open behind him as he walked further into the apartment. Unsure, Baekhyun just leaned in to make sure Jongin didn’t bump into anything on his way inside but he couldn’t really see anything from where he was. He waited a short moment, in case Jongin left the door open because he was planning to come back but that didn’t happen. Maybe he had left it open because he was expecting Baekhyun to come in.
He didn’t, however. He didn’t want to invite himself in when Jongin was barely even conscious. Instead, he closed the door, waiting for it to sing a lock to him before leaving.
The taxi was still there and Baekhyun got in while thanking the driver for waiting for him. He gave the man his address and when the car drove forward, he pulled his phone out of his pocket, typing a quick message to Jongin.
I hope you’re sleeping well and on a bed rather than the floor
I got you home safely since you’re my favorite sleepy customer ^^
You left the door open and I think you were expecting me to come inside?
I didn't though I closed it for you and left you to sleep peacefully
When he locked his phone and looked out of the window at the darkening sky, the reflection on the window was smiling. Small, faint, but smiling.
I just woke up
Did I fall asleep at the library???
Did you literally have to carry me home???
I’m so sorry TTTTTTTTTT
I didn't really carry you, we took the taxi
I think you enjoyed sleeping on my shoulder
I think you enjoyed me sleeping on your shoulder >_>
I’m sorry though
I should’ve left when I started feeling sleepy TT
I’m glad you fell asleep there and not in the streets
Ah… That hasn’t happened yet fortunately T^T
Thank you for getting me home safely
It was fun
Jaehyun and Yixing were both already settled at a table when Baekhyun stepped into the restaurant, at a corner of the room that wasn’t really isolated and that couldn’t really be since the restaurant was rather popular for its delicious meat and the quality of service.
Almost all tables were full and as Baekhyun made his way towards them, he tried rushing. He hadn’t planned for them both to arrive before him and he didn’t want to start off their dinner in an awkward silence between two strangers whose only link was really just Baekhyun. However, as Baekhyun got closer to them, he noted that it wasn’t only the people he walked past that laughed, drank, and conversed loudly but Yixing and Jaehyun too.
They were seated across from each other and Jaehyun was laughing at something Yixing was explaining with grand gestures.
"I see you’re doing alright without me," he said to announce his presence as he sat next to Jaehyun.
They both looked at him and Baekhyun wasn’t sure if he was supposed to feel offended that they hadn’t even noticed him until he pulled the chair out to take a seat.
"You’re late," Yixing chided him, furrowing his eyebrows but not in a way that showed Baekhyun he should apologize.
"It’s not my fault," Baekhyun defended himself as he took a look at the table’s dressing. They had already ordered the food and had obviously been waiting for Baekhyun to start cooking the meat. "There was traffic. It always happens at this hour and I also had a hard time finding somewhere close enough to the restaurant to park my car in. "
"Well, it’s okay," Jaehyun said bumping his shoulder against his with a smile. "At least we got to know each other first and you don’t have to go through the awkward introductions."
"What were you even talking about? You seemed to have fun without me," he said, raising his eyebrows at Yixing who laughed at his teasing and waved a hand in front of him before he turned the grill on.
"We were talking about China!" he perked up and Baekhyun wasn’t eve, surprised. Yixing’s favorite thing to talk about was his home country. "Jaehyun said he lived in China for a year so we were just sharing awkward and funny situations that happened to us in foreign countries."
"Yixing went through a lot of awkward situations," Baekhyun said as he turned to Jaehyun who was already grabbing the tongs and placing meat on the grill, laughing softly.
"I heard. I’m glad he had you though. He said he was glad too," he added in a loud secretive voice, nudging Baekhyun who turned to Yixing and gave him a smile.
"I did save his life, indeed. Or else he would’ve accidentally insulted everyone in high school and the Organization would’ve kicked him out," Baekhyun said, voice lilting faintly as he helped Jaehyun out with the meat.
"Some words are just too similar!" Yixing defended himself, his last word chopped into chuckles when Baekhyun gave him a look.
Baekhyun was glad to see that Jaehyun and Yixing got along well. Being their friend and spending time with each of them was nice but being able to share a meal together made things even more enjoyable. Yixing and Baekhyun shared random facts about each other, just to allow Jaehyun to know them better; and Jaehyun always had interesting, smart things to add to every single conversation, whether it be about someone he had healed or random facts about animals, that Baekhyun was sure he could live without.
It didn’t matter, the meat was grilled deliciously and the wait could’ve been awkward and way too long but it wasn’t, they talked a lot and Baekhyun didn’t laugh as much as his two friends but he felt just as comfortable at that table. Yixing ordered soju and Baekhyun wouldn’t drink, he had concluded that he didn’t like it after that first time in Yixing’s apartment but he knew Yixing was a funny drunk and he had a feeling Jaehyun would be similar.
It was only during a lull in the conversation that Baekhyun looked away from them and at the door instead, just in time to see it open into dreamy eyes and a sleep-shaped mouth.
Jongin closed the door behind him and looked around with wide eyes, chest heaving. He was late. Baekhyun observed him panic a little more as he stepped further in and it took a few seconds for him to meet Baekhyun’s gaze. His eyes widened, eyebrows raising as he turned idle for a fleeting moment before shaping his lips into a breathless smile. Baekhyun waved a hand at him before gesturing Jongin to come closer.
Jongin bit his lip and looked around more, mouth parting when his gaze fell on a woman sitting a few tables away from them. He gestured something to her and Baekhyun watched curiously as she rolled her eyes before Jongin walked towards him.
"Who’s that?" Yixing asked and only then did Baekhyun notice that they had both stopped talking and were looking at him instead.
"Jongin," he explained and they both hummed in recognition just as Jongin leaned a hand against their table to catch his breath.
"Hyung," he greeted him with, voice breathy before he gave a sheepish smile to Jaehyun and Yixing along with a polite nod of his head.
"Late?" Baekhyun asked, chest puffing up with a rush of air when Jongin gave him a look and gestured at himself. He was sweating a little, forehead shiny under the coma a few strands of hair were curved into.
"I was supposed to meet my best friend," he explained, vaguely nodding to somewhere next to him. Baekhyun looked behind him and saw that the woman was still sitting there, arms crossed, glare sharp and probably piercing through the back of Jongin’s head. "But I’m an hour late."
"An hour?" Baekhyun heard Jaehyun repeat next to him, which made Jongin look at him with a grimace.
"I’m having trouble with time," he joked, which made Yixing chuckle softly.
"She does look like she wants to kill you," Baekhyun noted, gaze following the way Jongin used his wrist to wipe off the sweat on his temple.
"I think the more time I spend here the worse it’s getting but I’m kind of scared to go back there and face her," Jongin said, shuddering exaggeratedly and twisting his features enough for Baekhyun press his lips together.
He chanced another glance at Jongin’s best friend and when their eyes get, she smiled at him. She looked nice, long black hair, pretty features, beautiful smile. Someone who was friends with Jongin could probably only be nice by default.
"Would you like to eat with us?" Baekhyun suddenly offered, looking at Jaehyun and Yixing. "Would that be okay?"
"I wouldn’t want to disturb you," Jongin said, shaking both his head and his hands.
"We wouldn’t mind," Yixing said, smiling at Jongin while Jaehyun nodded as he continued grilling the meat.
Jongin looked at Baekhyun with his teeth sunk into his lower lip, unsure.
"We haven’t eaten together in a while," Baekhyun said to try and convince him, even if it had been only a few days since their last shared meal.
Jongin smiled at that and looked over his shoulder once before looking back down at Baekhyun. Pretty smile lines.
"Maybe this way your friends will tell me something embarrassing about you," he said, eyes narrowed. Baekhyun shrugged a shoulder.
"Oh yes," Yixing interjected happily. "We’ll tell you every embarrassing thing you need to know about this person," he promised, pointing at Baekhyun with the scissors he was holding.
Jongin gave him a triumphant look. "I’ll go and ask her if she’d like to eat together. Thank you," he said, looking between Baekhyun’s two kind friends.
"I didn’t know he was so handsome," Yixing said as soon as Jongin left and Baekhyun gave him a look.
"Why do you always look at people’s appearance first? That’s so superficial," he chided the other playfully, to which Jaehyun laughed while Yixing went on another complaint about Baekhyun always making him look like the bad person by saying this kind of things.
Jongin brought his friend soon after and they stopped talking to greet her instead. Baekhyun hoped Jaehyun and Yixing’s smiles were wide enough for her to focus on them. He didn’t want Jongin’s friend to find him rude or mean.
She introduced herself as Seulgi and they all moved their chairs to make room for them. The table was made for only four people but they made it fit and the waitress brought on more utensils. Yixing ordered another serving of meat since this wouldn’t be enough for all of them and Baekhyun watched Jongin sit across from him while Seulgi sat on the corner of the table, in-between them.
"You’ve been waiting for him for an hour?" Baekhyun asked, earning a big smile from Seulgi who despite not looking uncomfortable, did look a little shy. It was fitting. Jongin wasn’t the most outgoing person either. He was proud of himself for taking the first step to talk to her.
"Yeah," she said, side eyeing Jongin who gave her an apologetic look along with a small whine. "I’ve been waiting for an hour. I mean, I’m not even surprised that he’s late but I couldn’t even time travel to just meet him when he arrives."
"Why?" Jaehyun asked as he took the fully cooked meat away from the grill and put them in a plate instead to avoid them burning as they ate. Everyone started reaching for lettuce or peril la leaves and Baekhyun took a perilla leaf, his preference.
"I can’t just do it here, it would look like I’m disappearing and reappearing," she explained as Jongin filled her glass of soju. "I also didn’t know the exact time he’d arrive anyway."
"You can’t time travel without the exact time you want to end up in?" Baekhyun asked curiously, directing his question at the both of them even if Jongin was the one to perk up and shake his head.
"We can’t. We need the exact time," he said before freezing for a moment and furrowing his eyebrows. "I mean she. She needs the exact time," he mumbled, looking down as he grabbed a piece of meat with his chopsticks and dipped in the sauce before placing it in his lettuce leaf. He hadn’t poured soju in his own glass. Maybe he didn’t like to drink either.
"You’ve been through an Erasure, right?" Seulgi asked him then, voice small and hesitant, smile friendly but a little unsure.
Baekhyun glanced at Jongin. Maybe he had talked to his best friend about him. He hoped so. He really hoped it wasn’t that obvious that there was something wrong with him.
"Yeah, I did. We attended the same Rehabilitation meetings," he said, gesturing to Jongin with his chopsticks before shoving a piece of meat in his mouth. He hummed and smiled at Yixing. He was always good at grilling meat.
"I did too!" Jaehyun perked up from besides him, getting all in Baekhyun’s face. He sometimes couldn’t contain his excitement. Baekhyun wished he had as much energy. And youth. Not that he was old but it might be nice to go back a few years and change a few things.
"I was gonna say it, I wasn’t going to leave you out," Baekhyun teased him with a mock disdainful dip on his eyebrows and when Jaehyun grimaced at him, he knew he was now used to Baekhyun’s way of communicating his faint emotions.
Seulgi wasn’t, judging by the way she looked at him with wide eyes when Baekhyun turned to her. Most of the time, he couldn’t feel his smile but now, he could definitely feel it shrinking bit by bit as she glanced at Jongin.
Baekhyun pressed his lips together. "Sorry," he said softly. "I wasn’t scolding him or anything, it’s just… an effect of my powers," he explained, looking up at Jongin when he felt a foot grazing his.
His smile was reassuring. An eyebrow raised. That eyebrow was always raised. Always cute.
"Oh," Seulgi said before shaking her head and twisting her features. "Sorry. I should’ve known. I’m just not good with conflicts and I just assumed one was happening right now so I kind of panicked," she said, laughing awkwardly.
Baekhyun shook his head. It had been panic. Not judgement, at least.
"We all have those effects, don’t we?" Jongin said, which seemed to break the ice since Yixing jumped on the occasion to make some conversation. Baekhyun gave Jongin a grateful smile and he pulled his foot away.
"I feel every plant too much," Yixing said, holding a hand in front of his mouth as he chewed on his food. "Sometimes I can’t go to sleep because I feel one of them in pain but it’s too late at night and I can’t just go there and heal it."
"That happens to me too but with people," Jaehyun bounced right up, tucking his ssam into his mouth.
"It must be worse with people," Seulgi hummed, looking much more comfortable now. Baekhyun could comfortably start eating too, piling up green onions and kimchi into his leaf along with the meat. "At least you can go to plants whenever you want."
"Exactly!" Jaehyun agreed. "Having a power is sometimes tiring in that way. But I feel much better after the Erasure, I can’t really feel people’s pain. Instead, I worry a ton and get sick easily enough to catch up on all those years I spent in complete health," he snorted, shaking his head.
Seulgi said something but Baekhyun was focused on Jongin who didn’t partake in the conversation. He didn’t look particularly upset but he was munching on his food slowly, looking down. He didn’t like this subject of conversation. Baekhyun had noticed more than once that he regretted his Erasure.
He couldn’t say anything, couldn’t smile at him reassuringly, but instead, Baekhyun strayed the conversation towards something completely different, asking Seulgi if she was going to watch tonight’s baseball match. That prompted Yixing into a complete argument with Jaehyun about which baseball team was better and ultimately, they got lots of laughter out of it.
Jongin finally looked more at ease and he even sided with Yixing, adding to his arguments and strengthening them even if it meant arguing against Seulgi who teamed up with Jaehyun. Baekhyun, who had maybe watched two baseball matches in his life and stopped after it got his powers all worked up, contented himself with acting as some kind of referee and counted the points whenever each time had an argument that the other couldn’t top.
He didn’t miss the grateful smile Jongin gave him in-between Yixing’s hisses and Seulgi’s scoffs.
"Why do you hate being powerless so much?"
The radio’s slow crooning was the only thing Baekhyun could hear for a moment as he kept his eyes on the road while driving before Jongin snorted from the passenger’s seat and caused Baekhyun to glance at him quickly.
"You really can ask this kind of questions so abruptly," he said, and although it didn’t sound like a reproach or disappointment, Baekhyun still glanced at him again to make sure he wasn’t upset.
He wasn’t. He was smiling at Baekhyun as their gazes met, an amused smile that narrowed his eyes a little. Baekhyun silently looked back at the road and turned his blinker on to prepare himself to take a right turn. They were close to Jongin’s house now. He had offered Jongin to drive him home after dinner and he had needed a few directions despite having accompanied Jongin to his apartment just last night, but it had been a pleasant drive so far.
Jongin was quieter than usual but Baekhyun knew him enough to recognize his sleepy silence now.
"What makes you think I hate being powerless?" Jongin asked after a while of Baekhyun remaining silent and focusing on driving.
Baekhyun hummed for a short moment.
"You always look upset whenever we’re talking about powers. You also seem to be holding a grudge against the Organization for taking your powers away," he justified himself, recounting things that he had noticed a long while ago and trying to do it in a soft voice.
He didn’t want Jongin to think he was interrogating or judging him. But maybe Baekhyun hadn’t been able to convey the necessary emotion in his voice, because Jongin remained silent for the rest of the drive. When Baekhyun parked the car right in front of the apartment building’s door, he didn’t make a move to get out, remaining seated with his arms crossed and his head tilted down a little. His lips had their upset shape on, a bit jutted out, parted, but unspeaking.
Baekhyun turned the engine off and let his hands fall on his lap, never looking away from Jongin. He was starting to wonder if he should apologize. He was starting to feel like he should apologize.
Then, Jongin took a deep breath in, exhaling it loudly afterwards.
"I hate feeling like no one," he said, voice a mumble, stifled by the upset pucker of his lips. He was still not looking at Baekhyun but his arms weren’t crossed anymore, his hands tucked between his thighs instead. "I’m no one. I have nothing significant about me now, without the powers."
And Baekhyun knew that feeling. He had had that same exact conversation with Yixing not long after his own Erasure. Feeling like he had no purpose anymore. Like he was useless now. Baekhyun had gone through that. And he had managed to win against that.
"Your powers don’t define you," he said, hesitant, trying his hardest to choose each of his words carefully. Now wasn’t the time to be senseless. "You’re not just Jongin who time travels and gives information to historians about the past. You’re Jongin."
Jongin snorted, a weak sound that didn’t speak of amusement a bit.
"I don’t even know who Jongin is," he said, ending his words with a sigh. He finally looked up and rested the back of his head against the headrest, looking up towards the car ceiling. "It’s like I have no purpose now. I’ve been time traveling for half of my life. I have nothing to do now."
"I know how you feel," Baekhyun said and he wanted reach out and touch him. Maybe a touch could convey more comfort than his voice would ever.
He reached a hand out and let it hover in the air. Jongin noticed, looking down at it. With a small smile, Jongin pushed his arm out towards him a little bit. Baekhyun laid his fingers on his arm and squeezed a little.
"You can find yourself. It’ll take time but you can do it," he said. He had done it. Baekhyun was finding himself. He didn’t regret his powers. He didn’t feel like no one. He was Baekhyun who gave book recommendations and tried making new friends. He was Baekhyun. Just Baekhyun.
Jongin shook his head, chewed on his lower lip.
"I went from having an important presence in the Organization and helping the world learn about humanity to just… doing nothing," he said, voice gradually growing quieter towards the end of his sentence.
"You don’t have to control the weather or travel through time to be someone," Baekhyun said and this time, his voice sounded a bit more assertive. Enough for Jongin to finally look at him properly. Furrowed eyebrows, widened eyes, worried lips, and a presence that would fit perfectly in a hug. "You can make someone’s day just by being yourself. You can help someone by just wishing them a good day, complimenting their work, asking them if they’re okay." He stopped and pressed his lips together. He wanted to look down but he didn’t. He allowed himself to enjoy the oceanic emotions in Jongin’s eyes. "You’re someone to me. You’re my friend."
That made Jongin laugh. An airy, silent sound that put weight on his gaze and made it drop down. His eyebrows raised, eyes remaining a bit wide as his gaze rested on his own lap and one of his hands rose to scratch as his neck, under his chin. Shy, endearing Jongin who’d fit perfectly in a hug.
But Baekhyun didn’t hug him. Instead, he pulled his hand away from the other’s arm and pointed at him with it.
"You just got so shy," he teased, voice alleviating higher than usual.
Jongin groaned quietly pushing at his shoulder with an embarrassed hand but not fading away his smile lines. Handsome smile lines. His hand remained on Baekhyun’s shoulder as he looked at him for a moment, smile widening as Baekhyun felt his hand slid along his shoulder, towards his neck, before a finger was pressed into his chin.
"You’re smiling," Jongin said, voice rustling with teasing breezes the same way Baekhyun wished he had.
Only then did he feel the stretch on his lips and the roundness of his cheeks. He hadn’t even noticed. Usually, he noticed all his smiles. They felt weird on his face, out of place, turned his skin into leather. This one didn’t. Baekhyun still pressed his lips together. It was supposed to rain tonight. He wasn’t supposed to make it rain tonight. He stopped and let his lips regain what Jongin had shaped them into.
"Did I?" he asked, just because he wasn’t sure what else he could say.
Jongin’s smile grew, narrowed his eyes, revealing his teeth, and digging a long dip right in the center of his cheek. It was almost like a dimple, but not like Yixing’s or Jaehyun’s dimples. Rather than a dot, it was a line. It was Baekhyun’s first time seeing it. Maybe it came out only when Jongin was extremely happy.
Baekhyun was glad Jongin was his friend. He helped a lot. He didn’t know it, Baekhyun himself didn’t know how, but Jongin helped him a lot.
"You did," he hummed, dropping his hand. Baekhyun found himself wishing that it remained there longer. It almost felt like it had been fueling his smile. "A small one but still nice. I hope I can see it more often," he said, looking at Baekhyun with such earnest eyes that Baekhyun wished he could smile more often, for a whole new reason.
Maybe if they spent more time together, Jongin would see Baekhyun’s smile more often.
"Do you want to go to the last rehabilitation meeting together tomorrow?" he offered, watching as Jongin froze for a long breath.
"That’s tomorrow?" he asked then features blank, voice high. It was always high when he realized he had forgotten a place he had to be at.
Baekhyun nodded. "It’s tomorrow. At ten in the morning."
He brought a hand up against his face, rubbing fingers sideways over a pretty eyelid.
"I forgot to tell Minseok hyung about it," he groaned, hand dropping heavily again.
"You can tell him tonight," Baekhyun reassured him. "He’ll understand if you say it’s an important doctor appointment."
Jongin sighed, teeth scratching against the skin of his lip.
"You wanna go together?" he asked, as if Baekhyun hadn’t just offered the same exact thing to him.
"I can pick you up tomorrow morning," he confirmed, one hand tracing over the logo on the steering wheel.
Jongin huffed a laugh out. "Thank you. I probably need that or else I might just not wake up."
Baekhyun pressed his lips together when Jongin reached a hand to the door’s handle.
"Wait," he said before Jongin could pull the door open or greet him goodbye. He looked at Baekhyun, head tilted, hair curved on his forehead. Baekhyun hesitated for a second. He had always wanted to ask, had always wondered. Now was as good as any other occasion. "How come you’re so sleepy and tired? Always?"
Jongin grimaced at that. Maybe he didn’t want to answer. He did, before Baekhyun could take it back.
"It’s a side effect of the time travel," he sighed, shoulders drooping. "My body is worn out from traveling through time, it feels older than it is and therefore much more tired than it’s supposed to be. That’s why I’m always tired and need to sleep so much."
"Is that why you had to go through Erasure?" Baekhyun asked, fingers now curled around the wheel as he observed Jongin. He didn’t look as upset as Baekhyun thought he would. Just tired, eyes turning droopy.
He nodded. "Yeah. I was told it would wear out with time but that it could also take a long while. Maybe a year, for my body to get adjusted to a single timeline and its original age."
Baekhyun hummed, for lack of anything else to say. He didn’t want to pity Jongin. He knew the Organization had messed with all of them. Although more than the Organization, it was the powers they were naturally born with. The Organization had only grown them and enabled their use for the world’s benefit.
It made sense now. He should’ve known that beyond being abnormal, Jongin’s exhaustion was a result of his powers.
"You should go to sleep quickly then. I’ll wake you up tomorrow," he smiled, Jongin returning it tenfold.
They greeted each other goodnight and Baekhyun waited until Jongin stepped inside the building to drive away.
He paid attention to his surroundings as he drove back home, to make sure he’d remember the building’s location tomorrow morning when he’d pick Jongin up. The prospect made his fingers light as they tapped on the wheel.
He felt the smile that lingered on his face all the way to his own apartment.
The first thing Baekhyun did the next morning as he properly parked in front of the building again, was take a look at himself in the rearview mirror. He ran a hand through his hair, trying to flatten that one strand that kept standing up straight on top of his head. It didn’t work.
He dropped his hand on his lap and turned his head, gaze still focused on the mirror. He wanted to look good today. Baekhyun usually didn’t care about appearances, loved getting out of his house in pajamas just so he could stumble back into bed as soon as he got back, but today, he wanted to look nice. He wasn’t sure where that sudden want stemmed from but he didn’t stifle it.
He rearranged the rearview mirror to look properly behind the car and then grabbed his phone from where it was resting in the cup holder. He had called Jongin as soon as he had woken up but had gotten no reply, the result unchanging when Baekhyun had called him twice before leaving the house earlier. He tried again, once, waiting until the line died down and a female voice announced the failure to reach the number he had dialed.
Locking his phone, he got out of the car. It wasn’t surprising, nor was it annoying that Jongin still wasn’t awake. They still had quite a bit of time before the meeting started and Baekhyun knew Jongin only needed ten minutes to get ready when he was panicked and rushing to avoid being late.
Luckily, someone was getting out of the building and they held the door open for Baekhyun who probably would’ve had to call Jongin at least five more times for him to wake up and open the door for him. He thanked the man with a smile and walked in, heading towards the door he remembered to be Jongin’s.
He hesitated in front of the door for a few seconds. Maybe Jongin would be annoyed with him. But he had explicitly said he’d wake him up last night. And it was funny. Calling Jongin several times and imagining him trying to wake up and groaning was quite funny, Baekhyun wouldn’t deny it.
Therefore, he tried calling him again and with his free hand, he pressed on the doorbell twice. Baekhyun was a pretty patient person and it was only after two more calls and a few stab of his finger against the doorbell that the door opened, very slowly, to reveal messy hair, a sleepy frown, closed eyes, and loose clothes.
Baekhyun pressed his lips together. He was adorable. He was too adorable and sleepy and it made Baekhyun feel the urge to reach out and maybe pat his cheek, stroke his hair, tuck him back into bed. But that was the opposite of his purpose so he parted his lips to say something but before he could utter a single word, Jongin turned around, hiding his sleepy pout out of sight as he disappeared back inside the apartment, leaving the door open again.
This time, Baekhyun stepped in with quivering shoulders. This was funnier than it should be. He hadn’t expected the house to be messy but he hadn’t expected it to be so clean either. Shoes were messy at the entrance and a quick glance at the living room showed a plate and a glass on the coffee table but it wasn’t terrible. It was as clean as Baekhyun’s own house was, at least.
He found Jongin in the bedroom. Or rather, he found Jongin’s backside in the bedroom. He had plopped down on the bed face first, nothing but his mussed hair and a sliver of skin between his sweatpants’ waistband and the tugged up hem of his shirt available to Baekhyun’s eyes. And his nape. He had a nice nape. It looked smooth and warm, for some reason. Especially the back of his head, where the hair was buzzed short. Baekhyun had never thought napes looked warm and comfortable. He had the weird urge to press his forehead there. Baekhyun never had urges.
Ignoring it, he stepped closer to the bed and gently grabbed Jongin’s hand.
"Jongin," he called out, carefully tugging on his hand to shake him a little. "You have to wake up now. We’re going to be late."
All he got as an answer was a groan and he tried again, calling louder and shaking harder. Jongin tried to free his hand from his hold, rubbing his forehead against the pillow and sighing.
"Just five," he whined, stretching his words out, voice mushy and stifled. Cute.
"No, five is too much," Baekhyun said, tugging more before letting go of his hand.
Instead, he poked Jongin’s shoulder on different spots but that didn’t seem to bother him. On the contrary, he burrowed deeper against the pillow and sighed loudly again, not an annoyed sound but almost one that spoke of comfort. Baekhyun snorted the chopped beginning of a laugh. He liked this. Oddly. This was funnier than waking Jongin up through phone calls and messages. This was endearing.
"Wake up, you bear," he groaned, although his voice stuttered with unspilled laughter.
Jongin didn’t even respond or move this time. Baekhyun had to resort to the big guns. He should sing. But he hadn’t listened to a single song in what was probably months. Instead, he settled on calling Jongin’s name out but stretching the end of it indefinitely, making his voice go high and low in a pretty off-tune way, growing it louder and starting all over again when he fell short of breath.
After a moment, Jongin suddenly sat up, one of his bare foot hanging off the bed while his other leg was folded under him in a messy way. Baekhyun stopped and looked back at him. His lips were poutier than ever. Had his eyes been open, he was pretty sure Jongin would be glaring at him. He laughed. Quiet. Soft. Unfamiliar, his shoulders shaking the slightest bit. It made Jongin smile for a split moment before he groaned and fell back down against his pillow. Baekhyun instantly grabbed his hand and this time, he managed to drag him out of bed.
Jongin pouted when Baekhyun left him to get dressed on his own. Pouted when he got out of the bedroom and joined Baekhyun in the kitchen. Pouted while shoveling plain rice into his mouth. Pouted as he groggily followed Baekhyun to the car.
Baekhyun allowed him to sleep during the journey. Because Jongin needed it and because Baekhyun admittedly found him the cutest when he was sleeping with his lips parted and his features slack.
During the meeting, he didn’t let him sleep. After a while and many nudges from Baekhyun while Chanyeol gave them information they all already knew in a summarized form, Jongin stopped drowsing and actually listened. Or rather, he watched Baekhyun and Jaehyun doodle before stealing Baekhyun’s notebook and doodling too. As it turned out, Jongin wasn’t only good at sleeping like a bear but he was also amazing at drawing them cutely.
By the end of it, Jaehyun offered them all to get lunch together but Jongin couldn’t as he had to rush to work as soon as the meeting was done. He had apparently greatly disappointed Minseok with the unexpected absence this morning and Baekhyun knew it was nothing but an upset exaggeration on Jongin’s part but he was still glad he was willing to work hard to make himself forgiven.
When Jongin hesitatingly told him that he had a dinner with old colleagues tomorrow night, a hand scratching his neck, under his chin, Baekhyun put an alarm on his phone to an hour before the meeting time Jongin gave him.
He remained in a good mood even after Jongin left and he finished eating with Jaehyun. He felt light, comfortable, and his fingers were jittery even after he got to work. Happy. He thought that was the name of the emotion he could feel.
A few days later, Baekhyun found himself in Jongin’s apartment again but this time, it wasn’t to wake him up. It was for a smile session.
Jongin had messaged him right when he had been closing the Cozy Book Nook all on his own. He had felt accomplished. Kyungsoo deemed him trustful enough to let him wrap up the day of work on his own. It was just as he locked the door that he had felt his phone vibrating in his pocket. When he had taken it out to check, Jongin’s name had greeted him on the notification.
He had asked for a smile session. Baekhyun hadn’t really known what he meant by that and after a few more messages exchanged, Jongin had asked him to come over to his apartment so they could watch a movie together. A funny one that would make Baekhyun laugh for sure. That was why Jongin had called their meeting a smile session. Reading over these messages alone had made Baekhyun smile. It came a bit more easily now. His features didn’t feel like leather as much as they used to for more than half of his life.
He had brought snacks with him, mainly chips and fruits, which made Jongin laugh a lot since it was the two extremities of the snacks spectrum. Baekhyun just didn’t know what Jongin liked to snack on. Now he knew that he should bring in both healthy and unhealthy food, just to make Jongin laugh until his eyes closed and he turned jumpy.
The last two times Baekhyun had been near or in this apartment, Jongin had been sleeping, either on his feet or in his bed, and it was almost weird to sit there, on his couch, while Jongin occasionally laughed at the movie they were watching on his laptop. He had a nice laugh. One that started with a big rush of air as soon as he opened his mouth and turned into hiccups if he laughed long enough. One that made Baekhyun smile.
The movie, on the other end, didn’t make him laugh that much. It wasn’t that he didn’t like it, it was a nice movie but it just didn’t make him laugh. Maybe the fact that he could barely even focus on it played a part in that. But it was difficult to focus on something else when Jongin often laughed so much that he tipped closer to Baekhyun until their shoulders pressed together. Baekhyun watched his smile lines more than he watched characters argue on the screen.
Jongin’s laughter was contagious. Not in a way that made him laugh as well, but in a way that made him hope he’d be able to spend more time with him like this. Just sitting next to him and listening to him laugh, watching him smile. Baekhyun had never really envied smiles, not even Yixing’s charming, dimpled one. Smiles never really affected him. He liked his father’s smile, his mother’s, his best friend’s, but Jongin’s smile was different. He didn’t know how, in what way, but it was.
Therefore, when the movie ended and Jongin turned to look at him, eyes shaped into crescents from the laugh at the very last scene, Baekhyun did his best to smile back at him. Not a forced one. One that was a little wider than usual but that didn’t feel carved into his face. Not a Baekhyun smile. A Jongin smile.
Jongin’s smile faded away into upset puffiness quickly enough, however.
"You didn’t laugh," he said, not reprimanding but merely dampened.
Baekhyun twisted his mouth and rubbed a hand over his thigh.
"But it was still funny," he answered, even if he hadn’t understood half of the plot from lack of attention.
Jongin sighed with his shoulders. "This was a failure," he mumbled, a hand scratching at his other arm.
"No, it wasn’t," Baekhyun quickly said. He didn’t want Jongin to feel bad because he didn’t laugh. It wasn’t Jongin’s duty to make him laugh and it wasn’t his fault if it didn’t happen either. "I smiled a lot. I always smile a lot with you."
Jongin dropped his hand to his lap and gave him his shy smile. Raised eyebrows, smooth and pink lips, earnest eyes. His hair wasn’t styled today, it was fluffy and soft, parted in the middle and falling over his face without flopping. There was something soft about Jongin. Something reassuring that made Baekhyun feel at ease.
Then, Jongin’s eyes narrowed and he leaned just a little closer. Baekhyun didn’t move away. He would really like it if Jongin pressed his shoulder against his again. But he didn’t. He simply scrutinized Baekhyun with attentive, expressive eyes. The crinkles on the corners of his gaze playfully peeked at Baekhyun.
"Are you ticklish, hyung?" he suddenly asked, causing Baekhyun to part his lips but not form any word.
He didn’t reply. The reply didn’t matter, he knew it. And Jongin knew it too since without even actually waiting for an answer, he suddenly attacked Baekhyun with the wiggly tips of his fingers against his sides, instantly tickling loud laughter out of him.
He tried squirming away as he felt his stomach contracting with each crooked strokes Jongin traced against his clothed skin but he ended up trapped between Jongin and the armrest of the couch with no escape. His chest felt funny. His stomach felt funny. He hadn’t been tickled in years. It made his body twitch and try to fold over itself but Jongin didn’t stop. He laughed along, loud, free, natural. Maybe Baekhyun’s laugh was contagious too.
"Is that what you meant by smile session," Baekhyun tried asking, voice wobbly and breathy, wheezes and laughter squeezed in-between every word.
"This is my last resort," Jongin almost screamed in his laughter, which only made Baekhyun squirm harder with happiness jolting through his entire body.
When Jongin stopped, Baekhyun couldn’t feel his face anymore. Because it didn’t feel like his face anymore. The smile was too big, the stretch too wide, the chortles quaking his shoulders too prominent. The exhilaration overwhelming, reflected on Jongin’s own face as he looked at Baekhyun with his biggest grin. The one that scrunched his features but still made him even more attractive.
Attractive. That was the thing about Jongin. He was attractive.
He still was, even when Baekhyun gathered his breath and decided to take his revenge by tickling him back.
Baekhyun still was, when they stopped, both breathless as they flopped on the couch for a few silent seconds, before laughing at each other’s twisted faces. He still was. Happy.
"I laughed yesterday," Baekhyun announced between several clicks of Yixing’s mouse.
Yixing glanced away from his computer’s screen to look at him instead. Baekhyun closed the book he was reading and rested his hands on the cover.
"Until my stomach hurt," he added when Yixing kept glancing between him and his screen.
Baekhyun should’ve waited for him to finish his game before talking but he had been holding it in since he had stepped into Yixing’s house already. It was an exciting thing to talk about. His fingers drummed against the book’s title. Baekhyun liked playing too but he liked reading more. He was also way too used to watching Yixing play games, it would be weird to have Yixing watch him play too often. He settled on playing only once a week. He wondered if Jongin liked gaming too.
Yixing ultimately died and without even complaining about it, like he usually never really did, he closed the game and turned to look at Baekhyun properly.
"Until your stomach hurt?" he repeated, enunciating each word slowly, unsure. Baekhyun nodded. Stopped to think whether it was an exaggeration or not. Nodded again when he remembered the sensation in his stomach with Jongin’s fingers so close to his skin, only separated by a layer of clothes. "You really laughed until your stomach started hurting," Yixing said again, eyebrows raising along the tone of his voice.
Baekhyun nodded again, poking a finger right above his belly button, through his clothes.
"It started hurting here," he explained, looking down at where his finger was poking as if he expected it to start clenching like it had when Jongin tickled him.
It had been an odd sensation. Foreign. It wasn’t quite like when his stomach grumbled from hunger, it wasn’t like that one time he had an indigestion either. It hurt but not in a bad way. In a light, warm way. Pleasant. He hadn’t ever felt that. He didn’t think he’d ever feel that again. Unless Jongin was there with him, to make him feel it again.
He looked up just in time to see Yixing’s dimple as he pounced on Baekhyun with enough force to tip him down and make him lay against the couch’s armrest.
"I’m so happy to hear that!" Yixing screamed into his ear as his arms wrapped around Baekhyun and he started shaking him, half of his body laying on top of his. Baekhyun chortled. A full sound. Laughing felt easier after yesterday, as if Jongin had somehow unlocked whatever had been choking him down until then. "How? Where? When?" Yixing suddenly enumerated and Baekhyun squirmed a little to get more comfortable under him.
"I was at Jongin’s place," he started, groaning when Yixing hummed suspiciously at that and weakly pushing at his shoulder. He only tightened his hug around Baekhyun in retaliation. "We were watching a funny movie and I didn’t laugh that much at that but then he tickled me. I thought I was going to die from laughing too much."
"That’s so great! I’m glad you got to experience that kind of sensation," Yixing said, happiness pooling in his dimple as he finally let go of Baekhyun so they could both sit properly again, close to each other. Then, he twisted his mouth, not enough to hide the mischief in the narrow of his eyes. "He really made you feel that before your best friend. Should I be jealous?"
Baekhyun huffed a jumpy rush of air out at that and shook his head, hand landing on Yixing’s thigh and patting him there.
"You’re my best friend," he chided the other, tone easily gliding into light chiding. "I feel the best when I’m with you."
Yixing gave him a cheesy look that made his stomach puff with a snort.
"But you seem to feel great with Jongin too," he insisted and the playfulness was gone from his features. The mark of his smile was still there, faint but not faded as he looked at Baekhyun carefully, his hand resting on his on top of his thigh.
Baekhyun didn’t reply right away. He hummed and thought about it, tried figuring out whether Yixing was right or not. It didn’t take too long.
"I do feel great with him," he admitted, looking down as his hand started weakly pinching each of Yixing’s fingers. "He makes me feel important. It’s weird, we just recently got close but we see each other a lot and talk everyday, almost as much as I talk with you. We text a lot. I don’t do much besides waking him up with a few calls in the morning and reminding him of his appointments but he makes me feel useful. Appreciated. Appreciative," he added with a nod at his own words.
It was difficult to put it into words. It wasn’t anything Baekhyun had experienced before, it was even different from what he had with Yixing. Jongin was just Jongin. Sleepy, tired Jongin who always texted him videos of cute puppies and always drew a smiley face on his cup whenever he served him coffee in the morning. Handsome, adorable Jongin who always sent him pictures of his failed attempts at shaping a rosetta on his lattes at home, whenever he was practicing and all he could get was weird milky splotches diluted in the coffee.
Expressive, gentle Jongin whose emotions Baekhyun could spend a whole day watching, in every quirk of his eyebrows, crease around his eyes, and pucker of his lips.
"He makes you feel," Yixing said and Baekhyun felt his own lips reflecting his smile. It didn’t feel like a stretch anymore.
He’d thought it a lot before but he’d never said it out loud.
"He makes me feel," he repeated, not Yixing’s words, his own thoughts. What he felt inside.
He couldn’t really put a name on what it was exactly yet, but Jongin made him feel.
"You have a visitor," Kyungsoo announced a few days later, as Baekhyun was washing off the last few tea cups before they could close the library.
"Who?" Baekhyun asked, careful not to splash water everywhere as he started rinsing everything off.
"I don’t know," Kyungsoo said, dropping his arms over the counter and looking down at him. "He’s tall and handsome."
"All my friends are tall and handsome," he said when Kyungsoo moved to stand next to him and grabbed a piece of cloth to dry off the cups. He looked at him, musing for a second. "Well, except you."
Kyungsoo slapped his arm with the cloth, not hard but definitely enough for Baekhyun to scrunch his features at him in exaggerated pain.
"I’m not your friend. I’m your boss," he threatened with a pointer finger that was covered in baby blue fabric.
"Then why do you keep buying me instant ramyeon for lunch?" Baekhyun challenged him, staring at him defiantly as he turned the tap off.
Kyungsoo huffed and focused back on his task. "It’s because I’m a good boss," he mumbled.
Baekhyun nudged him with his elbow. "You’re a good friend. Just not a tall one."
The glare Kyungsoo hit him with wasn’t scary. Especially when all it took was Baekhyun stabbing a finger against his ribs for him to burst into that smile that made him look like a happy, well-fed baby. Eyes closed, head tilted up, cheeks plump, and lips stretched wide. He was a good friend.
It was proven further when he allowed Baekhyun to leave first, telling him that he’d close the shop on his own and that he shouldn’t make his visitor wait for too long outside.
When Baekhyun stepped out, he turned back to Kyungsoo to frown at him through the glass doors. Kyungsoo knew the name of his visitor, Jongin had spent enough time in the Cozy Book Nook the past few days for him to even exchange a few words with Kyungsoo. When Kyungsoo gave him an unapologetic, exaggerated shrug of his shoulders, Baekhyun downgraded him from friend to boss.
Jongin was silently looking at him, smiling, waiting for Baekhyun to say something first. He was used to his weird exchanges with Kyungsoo.
"Are you here to pick me up?" he asked, even if it was obvious. He just wanted to hear it, maybe. The mere thought made his fingers fumble against each other, hearing it would be even better.
"I’m starting to know your work schedule," Jongin said, a light breeze ruffling his hair. The high points of his cheeks were glowing under the streetlights, their yellow tint perfecting his skin tone and blending it beautifully with the brown of his work uniform. He usually changed before leaving the coffee shop.
Baekhyun stepped closer to him. He didn’t feel his smile but he knew it was there. Smiling without feeling the stretch on his face was still something he wasn’t used to.
"It’s because my schedule never changes," he huffed, easily settling under Jongin’s arm when he threw it over his shoulder in a half hug. He kept it there as they started walking. "I have to ask for yours every day because it always changes."
"But it’s not a bad thing!" Jongin said, his grin bright when Baekhyun looked up at him. Tall and handsome. Kyungsoo was right. Baekhyun was starting to notice it increasingly with every passing day. "We can see each other at different times of the day, every day."
Jongin liked seeing him. Baekhyun liked seeing Jongin too. They liked seeing each other. That happened with Yixing and Jaehyun too. But this made him happier. Just a little bit. Enough for him to take a deep breath in and sigh it out slowly. He wasn’t used to this either.
"Why did you come to see me today then?" he asked curiously.
"Do I need a reason?" Jongin said as he stirred Baekhyun to the left. He didn’t know where they were heading but they’d taken walks together before, Baekhyun wasn’t worried about just following Jongin around.
"Not always," Baekhyun hummed as he watched a stray cat run past them before disappearing under a car parked on the side of the streets. "But sometimes."
Jongin snorted at that and with a stroke of his hand down Baekhyun’s back, he let go of him. Baekhyun whirred a little closer to him.
"I want us to have another smile session," he said, his smile drawing pretty lines around his mouth.
Baekhyun laughed. A smile session. The memory of their last one, of the tickles, still made him feel weirdly nice. Giddy. That was what Yixing had called it when Baekhyun had explained to him the weird stomach thing he felt. When he thought about it. Or when he thought about Jongin, sometimes.
"Where should we have it?" Baekhyun asked, hand brushing against Jongin’s when he swung his arms forward. He didn’t know why. His body felt too energized. Jongin’s hair looked good at the end of a work day. It also looked good at the beginning of the work day.
"Let’s go to a night market!" Jongin perked up and for some reason, Baekhyun found himself thinking that he’d probably agree to anything Jongin said if it was pronounced with such excitement bubbling up in his gaze and the corners of his lips.
They took the bus to Dongdaemun. Baekhyun hadn’t visited a night market in years. The weather was always more difficult to control at night and even if Baekhyun slept through nights, he still kept himself alert in case he’d let something slip. Used to. He used to keep himself alert and aware of the weather.
Now, as Jongin dragged him to a stall and he dragged Jongin to another, repeating the excited journey between stalls over and over again, the only thing Baekhyun was aware of was the enjoyment in how fast his feet worked.
They had gotten something small to eat while waiting for the night market to actually open but that didn’t stop them from trying out everything that looked delicious, taking turn to pay for it. This smile session was a success. They didn’t really buy anything, simply looked around but Jongin still tried on all kinds of accessories he could find in the stalls, be it cheesy, bright pink bracelets or big hats that he put on Baekhyun’s head. He laughed a lot. He made Baekhyun laugh a lot.
Not all of them were big hearty laughs, most of them were just snorted out rushes of air and quivering shoulders but a few of them made Baekhyun’s stomach hurt the same way it had when Jongin had tickled him. That mainly happened whenever they saw obvious imitations of designer brands with funny logos or when Jongin grabbed a very revealing red dress in one of the shops lined along the streets and pressed it on his front as if he was trying it on for himself. Baekhyun had grabbed a pretty blue scarf and wrapped it around is neck to complete the look.
He even managed to find a few interesting, cheap books to buy. It kind of felt like he was cheating on his own workplace but Baekhyun had developed a great affinity to books since he had started working with Kyungsoo and he wanted to own at least a few books to put in his home. Always borrowing wasn’t the same as actually owning a few novels.
By the time they left, Baekhyun’s cheeks were a little sore. When he had told Jongin, he had merely poked one of his cheeks and said that it was a happy pain. Baekhyun couldn’t agree more. The same way he couldn’t turn Jongin down when he offered to buy a few cans of beer and continue their smile session in his apartment. That place was now synonym of merriment and it was with a little bounce that Baekhyun plopped down on the couch.
"How do you feel?" Jongin asked, eyes heavy, shoulder heavy as it pressed against Baekhyun’s. Not unpleasant. He had drunk two cans of beer and he was barely even tipsy but Baekhyun had drank one and he felt a little fuzzy and sleepy at the same time.
They had ended up on the floor somehow, the coffee table pushed away for them to comfortable stretch their legs in front of them, backs resting against the couch. Baekhyun was holding onto his can, fingers wet from its cold perspiration. Jongin leaned to grab a slice of banana with his fork. Yixing usually never ate bananas with beer. Baekhyun found that the weird combination wasn’t that weird with Jongin’s thigh pressed against his.
"I feel nice," Baekhyun said, parting his lips when Jongin brought a slice to his mouth as well. Happy. "I feel," Baekhyun said, concluded, rejoiced as he grinned at Jongin. His cheeks hurt. He forgot that smiling while munching on something could result in a cramping feeling in his cheeks.
"That’s good," Jongin said, his hand landing on Baekhyun’s thigh. He had been holding onto his can of beer too, he was drinking from it now, but his fingers felt much warmer than Baekhyun’s. "I feel nice too," he said, putting his beer down on the space between his stretched out, parted legs. He looked down, his hand rising to scratch as his neck. He had a nice Adam’s apple. Nice fingers. Nice Jongin. "I never really had a friend outside of colleagues from the Organization."
"I never really had a friend aside from Yixing," Baekhyun said. He had Jaehyun too now. But Jongin. Jongin was different. A whole different kind of different.
"Let’s drink to being each other’s friend then," Jongin laughed, smiling so hard a shadow dug into his cheek again.
Baekhyun grabbed his can and laughed when he failed to clash it against Jongin’s on the first try, hand whirring off to the side on its own. Jongin grabbed his wrist to hold it in place and gently tapped his can against his.
"Do you ever miss it, hyung?" he asked after a long gulp of beer that Baekhyun heard, that made Baekhyun’s breath fuzz out in a perky chortle.
It wasn’t hard to figure out what Jongin meant. Not with how his voice had turned into a mumble and his teeth were now digging into his lower lip. Pink. Thick. Velvety. Baekhyun felt like pressing his finger against it, just to see if it really was all that. He didn’t. Instead, he took another bitter sip.
"I don’t," he said after humming for his answer to come to him. "Do you?"
Jongin pressed his lips together. His hair rustled over his forehead when he nodded. Cute, tipsy Jonginnie who sounded really lovely whenever he called Baekhyun hyung.
" I do," was Jongin’s unsurprising answer. His hand wasn’t on Baekhyun’s thigh anymore, it was stabbing a finger into his own instead. "I’m still not used to it. It doesn’t feel as bad, though. Maybe I’ll get used to it soon."
"I hope you will," Baekhyun said, earning a smile that was so bright it attracted his hand like a moth. He veered it off before it could touch Jongin’s mouth and ruffled his hair instead. Brighter. "How did you lose it? Your power?" he asked, fingers brushing over the shell of Jongin’s ear as he dropped his hand down and away from silky hair.
He sighed, heavy, took another sip that seemingly emptied his can. He reached for a new one, the last one. Baekhyun was barely into his second beer. They had talked about it before already, but not in detail.
"My body," Jongin said, scrunching his features as he opened the can. "It got too tired. I told you, right? When we were all dining together with Seulgi, Yixing hyung, and Jaehyun." Baekhyun nodded, he remembered that day. He had seen Seulgi a few more times, mainly quick run-ins at the coffee shop when Jongin was working. "My body couldn’t handle it anymore. I had nausea. Sometimes I couldn’t travel back in this timeline and stayed stuck for a few minutes wherever I was. Time travelers don’t have a big power span. It was getting too dangerous so I got an Erasure."
Baekhyun pressed his lips together. Then, he tipped down until he could rest his head on Jongin’s shoulder. He rubbed his cheek against it. It made Jongin chuckle. Success.
He didn’t want to tell him he was sorry, didn’t want to pity him. Baekhyun might not feel as bad about his own Erasure, but he still could understand that that wasn’t what Jongin probably wanted to hear from him. But he didn’t know what to say either so he just remained there and after a while, Jongin shifted until he could wrap his arm around his shoulder. Baekhyun wondered if beer could blow bubbles into his chest. He could feel them popping. It wasn’t weird.
"What about you?" Jongin asked, to which Baekhyun remained silent for a while.
"I lost my father," he said then, easily. A pinch in his chest. Not gone but diminishing when Jongin squeezed his shoulder. No sorry words or pity. This was perfect. "I couldn’t control my emotions for a few days. It rained and stormed a lot. The Organization couldn’t wait until it settled so they offered an Erasure. I could’ve refused, it would’ve passed in a few days, I guess. But I didn’t. He hated the life I was living because of my powers."
Jongin didn’t say anything, hands still gently rubbing the length of Baekhyun’s shoulder. The touch was more grounding than any word could be.
"Did you cry?" he asked then, hushed.
Baekhyun swallowed down, struggling at the tightness around his neck.
"I didn’t," he said, voice stifled into quietude.
He wished he had cried, sometimes. But he couldn’t. Maybe because the emotion he felt wasn’t strong enough. Maybe out of habit. Maybe because he had felt too choked up to cry, at that time. He still did, now.
"If you ever feel like crying but you can’t, you should call me," Jongin said. His voice sounded closer to his ear. His lips were hidden in Baekhyun’s hair, he could feel it. "We can have crying sessions too."
Baekhyun snorted at that. An asphyxiated laugh. One that Jongin understood. His smile was gentle when Baekhyun moved to look up at him as best as he could while remaining pressed into his side.
"But you’re the person who always makes me smile. How do you expect me to cry with you?" he said, sharing an actual worry. He didn’t want to turn down the offer but he couldn’t imagine himself crying with Jongin. Smiling, laughing, being happy. Only that. That was what Jongin caused in him.
It was proven right when Jongin gave him an embarrassed scrunch of his features before wiggling his fingers against Baekhyun’s sides. His stomach hurt from laughing again but his chest felt featherlight and swollen at the same time.
In the morning, Baekhyun was awoken by pain shooting up through his back and numbness crawling all over his arm. He opened his eyes and half of the pain was gone.
Jongin was cute when he was asleep. Baekhyun had figured that out weeks ago already, on that very first rehabilitation meeting. But it was different when Jongin was sleeping with his head resting on Baekhyun’s arm, one of his own arms thrown over Baekhyun’s stomach, and their legs tangled together.
Baekhyun adjusted his arm so it rested under Jongin’s neck instead of his head. He didn’t know how they had ended up sleeping on the floor, he didn’t remember, but he didn’t want to wake him up and with the small buzz in his head, he felt like going back to sleep too anyway. But looking at Jongin was nice. His parted lips, his smooth eyelids, short lashes, eyebrows, and the tip of his nose. His lips. Parted, breathing. He didn’t know breathing could be cute. Jongin managed to make it a lovely thing to watch.
Blinking, Baekhyun raised his free hand and trailed two fingers over the curve shaping his own lips. A smile. Natural. Comfortable. He couldn’t see it but he had the sensation that this smile was different than all his others. A Jongin smile. It was Baekhyun’s favorite smile. The one that made him feel the happiest. There was just something about Jongin that made him feel happy. More than happy. That made him feel things Baekhyun had never felt before, and not only because he hadn’t been able to feel. For different reasons.
He dug a finger on the corner of his mouth and dragged the skin down. When he pulled his finger away, he could still tell he was smiling. Jongin sniffled and his hand rubbed up and down over Baekhyun’s stomach once. It was too hot to be sleeping like this, fully clothed, pressed against someone else’s body heat. Baekhyun could feel his shirt sticking to his back, could feel heat blanketing his whole body. He didn’t move away. Sleeping with Jongin was jolly.
He pressed his lips together, trying to shape his own smile with his lips. He wondered if it appeared when he wasn’t with Jongin too. He hoped so. He’d really like to always, constantly feel the way Jongin made him feel. He couldn’t put a name to it, not a single, clear one, but he liked it.
Free to breathe. Tasting a bunch of emotions. Laughing until his stomach hurt. Bubbles in his chest making him feel like he’d float in the air if he were to jump. Not a stretch on his face but a beam. Always accompanied by the one on Jongin’s face.
He liked feeling this way. He’d love to feel this way even when Jongin wasn’t there, it would be a delight to be able to keep this sensation and never venture too far from it.
But he’d prefer it if Jongin never ventured too far away from him and was always there to make Baekhyun feel this.
The best thing about working in the Cozy Book Nook was the children who occasionally came in. Kyungsoo was the happiest when it was children who were there to read or even buy books. He apparently was all for introducing children to read at the earliest age, to make sure they wouldn’t grow too distasteful of it as they grew up. Baekhyun understood what he meant. Yixing hated reading and often skipped on reading the novels they worked on in high school.
Children were his favorite clients too. Whatever Baekhyun recommended them, they took it with enthusiasm and always made loud, adorable sounds when books had pretty illustrations. When they didn’t like something, they either boldly said it or shyly glanced up at their parents for help. They were adorable. Most of their child clients were calm too, none of them jumped around or screamed like children so often did in malls. They liked reading.
Baekhyun was tidying up the children’s section after a particularly curious child had messed everything up while looking for a book about monsters when a little girl walked in, dragging a boy only a few centimeters taller than her along.
As he stacked up books with illustrations of princesses and goblins on the little table near the pillowed area of the second room, Baekhyun listened to the little girl ask, who was seemingly her brother, to read her a book. She was much too young to know how to read by herself, Baekhyun presumed. The little boy refused, claiming that he wanted to read his own grown up book about cars. It was an encyclopedia about Ferruccio Lamborghini and the development of his brand. Much too complicated for someone as young as the little boy but there was probably many pictures of cars in there.
Ultimately, the little boy managed to free himself from his sister’s grip and went back to the pillowed area instead. Baekhyun didn’t know where their parents or guardians were and maybe the little girl didn’t either since instead of asking them to read her a book, she grabbed one all on her own. It was the Little Prince. Classical, Baekhyun thought as he watched her pout down at the cover for a moment before sitting down on the floor and putting the book on her lap. She opened it and squinted her eyes at the very first page. Her pout only grew as she skimmed through the pages.
It was an adorable sight but still one that made Baekhyun feel a little bad. After a while, once he was done neatening the presentation table, he got up and went to the little girl.
"Is that a great book?" he asked as he crouched down in front of her, trying a smile. He had once made a little boy cry, when he had first started working here. Kyungsoo had told him the lack of smiles could be scary to children and ever since, Baekhyun tried smiling for his tiny clients. At first, he was pretty sure it gave him a constipated look but now, it was getting easier.
The little girl twisted her mouth and nodded before looking down, her pigtails swinging on either side of her head. A shy one.
"I really love that book too," Baekhyun said, even if that wasn’t his favorite children’s book. He probably never even had one. He should maybe spend a little more time in this section starting from now on.
She said nothing, her little fingers poking the Little Prince’s head on the page. Baekhyun pursed his lips and spoke an idea out.
"Would you like me to read the book for you? I saw you asking to a little boy earlier."
She looked up at him then, blinking her wide eyes.
"You can read it for me?" she asked, wonder easing her voice out.
Baekhyun nodded and she wordlessly handed him the book.
He had never really read a book to anyone, not to children, not even to himself, out loud, but the child made it a pleasant experience. She remained silent at first, simply listening as Baekhyun did his best to read without stuttering. It was quite difficult, his audience might be small but she had looked at him like he was a hero and in no way did he want to shatter that image she had of him.
When he grew comfortable enough to actually let his voice fluctuate and adjust to the emotion of the story, she started interacting with him. It wasn’t much, just small gasps or coos that she stopped with a hand on her mouth at the beginning, but that she let out freely when she too probably grew comfortable enough. Sometimes, she touched the illustrations as if they could come to life under her hands and Baekhyun gave her a few seconds at the end of each page, for her to observe them more even if she never glanced away from the pages he was reading to begin with.
It was nice. It made him feel important, somehow, useful. If this child grew even fonder of books than she already seemed to be by the end of the story, Baekhyun would’ve accomplished something amazing.
When the book ended, she thanked him with a shy smile. Before Baekhyun could ask her anything about the book, her mother came to her, giving Baekhyun a grateful smile as she announced to the little girl that they had to leave. She was holding the other boy’s hand and noting that he was still holding onto his book about cars, Baekhyun thought maybe she had just been waiting for them to be done with the story reading. The little girl left with a wave and the mother verbally thanked him, apologizing for the trouble afterwards. Baekhyun assured her that it hadn’t bothered him.
On the contrary, he had liked it enough to seek Kyungsoo with the proposition of organizing readings for children. Not only would it help children actually get in touch with the books they couldn’t read on their own but it might even attract more customers to their door. Just a little banner on the front of the store announcing that they did readings a few times a week might catch parents’ eyes. They could even find volunteers to do the reading, besides Baekhyun or Kyungsoo themselves, be it parents or regular customers.
Kyungsoo had patted his shoulder and told him he would give him a raise for his proposal if this had been a movie.
This time, Jongin drew a sun on his cup of coffee. Whenever he drank from it and put it down again, Baekhyun made sure to place the cup so the smiley sun would be facing him. It made him feel sunny.
A lot of things about Jongin made him feel sunny. Not just his cute doodles or his focused expressions whenever he was making a latte and struggled with the art. He had gotten better at it, Baekhyun had ordered nothing but lattes for a whole week just so Jongin would have someone to practice on without worrying about them complaining to Minseok. Not that Minseok would scold him. Baekhyun had spent merely half an hour in the coffeeshop that day so far and since Minseok was working too, it wasn’t difficult for him to notice the fond and amused looks he always sent Jongin. Baekhyun could understand. It felt like Jongin was made to be looked at with a fond gaze.
He was distracting Baekhyun from his novel. It was a new one again, borrowed from the library’s fantasy section. Baekhyun didn’t remember the title, all he recalled was how happy Jongin had looked when Baekhyun had taken a seat near the counter, as always. It had been a while since he had last spent some time in the coffee shop. Jongin looked definitely more comfortable. Still slumberous whenever he had no coffee to make, but mostly awake. He had gotten a little better, even if he slept really early at night - Baekhyun knew because he stopped messaging him abruptly and then apologized for falling asleep on him the morning after.
He always did it, even if Baekhyun kept telling him that he shouldn’t apologize for sleeping. It was easier to wake him up too now. It didn’t take five phone calls, only three or two. He still didn’t put any alarms on his phone, still only relied on Baekhyun. It was okay. He liked it. He really liked it. The way Jongin always kept him updated on any of his plans was precious. Sometimes, he pulled Baekhyun along wherever he was going. Sometimes, he fell asleep in the bus or in the passenger’s seat of Baekhyun’s car.
Now, he seemed to fight drowsiness by smiling at Baekhyun any occasion he could get.
It made him feel special. Jongin didn’t smile that much at Minseok or at any other customer. Jongin made him feel special. Not as if Baekhyun himself was special, but he gave him special emotions. A message was enough for Baekhyun’s day to suddenly get brighter. Starting his day by calling Jongin to wake him up and then lingering on the phone to listen to his pouty voice complain about mornings always added a skip to his steps as he rushed around the house to avoid being late to work himself. A touch on his shoulder, his thigh, his arm gave him the sensation that Jongin could probably guide his body around without Baekhyun ever getting back any control over it. He wouldn’t even mind. He had the impression that Jongin’s warm hands would take care of him.
Sometimes, when he heard Jongin whine over the phone or when Jongin slapped his shoulder in laughter during one of their smile sessions, Baekhyun wished he could hold his hands. He didn’t. Jongin had never said he wanted to hold his hands. Even if he had done it once, while they were lounging in Baekhyun’s apartment, doing nothing special. He had said Baekhyun’s hands were beautiful as he tapped against the mole on his thumb in wonder a few times. Baekhyun’s hands had started looking more beautiful to his own eyes after that. Maybe Jongin’s touch was magic.
Baekhyun didn’t reject it, the magic, the feelings. He had learned not to. Because it felt too good for him to suppress it, even if the urge was still overwhelming sometimes.
The tinkling of the door indicated that a customer stepped in and Baekhyun looked back down at his novel, taking a sip of his coffee. For some reason, coffee always tasted better when Jongin’s hands had cradled the cup before giving it to him. There really was some kind of magic in Jongin. In his eyes, his smile, his hands, his presence.
A few pages later, Baekhyun looked up again but it wasn’t Jongin that he saw. There was a woman a few tables away, cradling a small cup of espresso and looking down. Her shoulders were quivering when one of her hands reached to press against her mouth, her hair hiding her gaze but not the tears that Baekhyun could see rushing down her cheeks.
He wasn’t the only one to notice. Jongin soon walked to her and handed her a much bigger, sweeter cup of coffee with whipped cream and chocolate syrup on top. He didn’t say anything, just pushed the cup to her and waited for her to take it. When she looked up, he said it was on the house and then left to regain his spot behind the counter.
The woman sipped on the drink and dried her tears. Maybe Jongin had learned that he didn’t need to time travel to make someone’s life better.
He smiled at Baekhyun from behind the counter, beautiful, clear, sending an ocean of emotion to cajole Baekhyun’s body.
Jongin definitely didn’t need superpowers to make Baekhyun’s life better.
A week later, the children’s reading sessions were set up.
Only five children had attended the first one on Tuesday but Kyungsoo was really good at acting out tones and characters whenever he read so Baekhyun had seen that they all had been eager to come back next time. And most of them did today. There were three children from the previous session and three other Baekhyun had seen in the shop before.
They were using the pillowed area of the second room, children could lay around, sit, and even sip on their orange juice as they listened to Kyungsoo read with sometimes a tiny voice, and sometimes a boisterous one that reenacted the story’s villain. Baekhyun kept an ear on them even as he tidied up the aisles and went around to collect up tea cups and serve new ones. And he kept an eye on them too, because Jaehyun was there too with his niece, sitting right next to the children with his legs crossed and back hunched. He seemed just as involved in the storytelling as the tiny children around him.
It had been a good idea. Baekhyun was pretty proud of himself, even if he hadn’t done much besides suggesting it to Kyungsoo. Next time, he’d be the one to do the storytelling and he was already excited at the prospect. Having an audience of more than one child seemed gratifying, judging by the way Kyungsoo grinned widely once he closed the book and all the children — including Jaehyun — applauded him while thanking him for the story.
"Did you enjoy the story, kid?" Baekhyun asked Jaehyun as soon as he stepped out of the pillowed area, leaving his niece to discuss the story with other children and Kyungsoo who lingered there for a bit.
He huffed, shaking his head even if his dimple was shamelessly showing up.
"I was just accompanying my niece," he defended himself, raising his eyebrows exaggeratedly. "She gets nervous in unfamiliar environments with unfamiliar people."
"Yeah right, I saw you jump up a little when Kyungsoo acted out the monster catching the small kittens," Baekhyun said, his hands neatening the new arrivals table they were standing next to, out of habit. His house had definitely gotten cleaner since he had started working here.
"Kyungsoo hyung just has a scary voice, alright," Jaehyun laughed, pulling Baekhyun along because he was kind of right. Kyungsoo sometimes liked to give him sudden orders in a deep, grumbly voice just to startle him. Baekhyun never listened to those orders.
"I hope she liked the story," he said then, nodding towards the little girl who listened to the shorter girl sitting next to her with energetic nods of her head.
"She totally did," Jaehyun assured him, looking at her over his shoulder. He was smiling when he looked back at Baekhyun. "It’s a really good idea. It allows children to interact with each other too. And it’s almost like watching a movie anyway, except it’s with a book. I’m sure it’ll help them all love books even more."
Baekhyun smiled, fingers locking together in front of him. He was glad to hear that.
"We’ll gradually improve the system too. So far we’re only reading two books that we choose ourselves but we might let the children choose for themselves soon and also increase the number of books, depending on the length," he said, although Kyungsoo had said children grew bored quickly so they probably wouldn’t read more than four books a time, three if they were long. "We might also look for volunteers to do the reading."
"Oh, that’s a good idea," Jaehyun nodded, grabbing a book from the table and reading the summary at the back of it.
Baekhyun observed him for a moment before nudging him.
"Do you want to volunteer?" he asked, widening his smile.
Jaehyun looked at him, eyes narrowed. "Are you trying to exploit me?"
Baekhyun shrugged, parting his lips to say something before his eyes caught sight of a man dumping books carelessly against the shelves after skimming through them. He wasn’t even putting them back in their place, just laying them down on the narrow room left in the shelves, in front of the books that were standing up, sorted by alphabetical order. It wasn’t the first time Baekhyun had noticed this man doing that, he was a semi-regular of the library. He should know there was a Read Bin for a reason, or he should at least tuck the books back to their spot one by one. Baekhyun really disliked walking through the aisles and noticing that books had fallen off the shelves after being carelessly placed incorrectly.
Excusing himself from Jaehyun, Baekhyun sighed and went to the man and politely called him out on his behavior. The man didn’t seem apologetic a single bit about his mistreatments of the books and he said nothing, remaining completely silent as Baekhyun reminded him of the Read Bins scattered around or that books had to be placed back in correctly after use. He left with a small bow, no verbal apology, and Baekhyun was left to place the books back in correctly.
He should’ve used a firmer tone, perhaps. An angry one. But he still couldn’t feel that kind of emotion. Anger or irritation, he hadn’t tasted these yet. The suppression was still automatic for negative feelings that used to affect his control over the weather the most.
But he was progressing. Yixing had said so last night. His mother had said so two days ago, when he had brought Yixing in with him for dinner at her house. Jaehyun said so too when he left hand in hand with his niece, the little girl waving at him excitedly which Baekhyun returned with a small wave and a big smile too. It had been formulated in a teasing tone, about Baekhyun being able to smile sillily now, but it had only made Baekhyun smile harder.
He was progressing. He had progressed. And it wasn’t quite perfect yet, but Baekhyun still felt like he was living now more than ever.
Baekhyun didn’t remember crying easily as a child. Granted, it had been years and he barely even remembered what he used to cry about, he still didn’t think he’d cry at the first problem that arose in front of him.
It was a weird sensation, the tingle in his eyes gradually turning into something that resembled a prickling of heat until finally, tears formed and with a blink of his eyes, streamed down his cheeks. He didn’t remember tears being so wet. Which was weird, but there was just so much wetness no matter how many times he wiped at his cheeks, rubbed his eyes, or even used his the hem of his shirt to dab at his skin. It was probably because there was a lot of tears.
He also didn’t think he’d easily cry now, after many years, for a reason as silly as two lovers dying on the screen he could barely even see from how blurry his sight was. This was pretty stupid. This movie. Why did people even make movies if they were going to kill the main characters off at the end? Wasn’t it considered as wasted effort? All those plots, those scenes, only for the couple to die at the end. And from a gruesome death too. Why would you kill off people by shooting dozens of arrows into their body? Unbelievable.
Jongin, on the other hand, wasn’t crying at all. On the contrary, Baekhyun could feel him shaking with laughter then and now as his hold remained tight around Baekhyun’s shoulders.
"Why are you laughing at me," Baekhyun said, demanded, or maybe wailed as he angrily rubbed at one of his eyes to get it to stop leaking the emotion he hadn’t felt in so long.
"I’m sorry," Jongin laughed again but Baekhyun partially forgave him when he pressed his forehead against the side of his head and his laughter was clear and pretty. And because he had seen that long, shadowy dimple on his cheek. "It’s just funny!"
"It isn’t," Baekhyun groaned, stabbing him with his elbows, although weakly since he didn’t want Jongin to think he disliked his hold around him. Baekhyun had grown to like it quite a lot. Maybe Jongin did too. They touched a lot nowadays.
"Fine fine, I’m sorry," Jongin said, this time a little more seriously. He was still smiling when Baekhyun opened his eyes to look at him. His cheeks felt wet, his nose a little stuffy, and his head was starting to ache. But his chest, it felt like it was lightening. Jongin pulled away just a little and Baekhyun’s hand automatically shot up to hold his arm but instead of letting go of him entirely, Jongin just brought a hand up to trail gentle fingertips under Baekhyun’s eye. Baekhyun’s chest stuttered with a hiccup. Then, Jongin burst into laughter again. "I’m sorry, you just really cry like a baby," he explained when Baekhyun groaned.
This time, Baekhyun pushed him away with a whine and a frown but Jongin instantly hugged him again, pulling him in until Baekhyun could rest his forehead against his neck. The movie was still playing on the laptop but Baekhyun didn’t pay attention to it. He was pretty sure what was left of it would only make him cry harder. Instead, he focused on how sturdy Jongin’s shoulder felt under his forehead.
It took him a while to stop crying and sniffling and hiccuping enough to talk, after a few tries that just resulted in him parting his lips only to start crying all over again.
"I think I’m okay now," he mumbled, the couch groaning under his weight when he shifted to pull away from Jongin.
"Your eyes are all red," he said, a hand cupping Baekhyun’s cheek as his thumb traced the dampness under his eye. Baekhyun took a deep breath in, a hand falling down to rest on Jongin’s knee. "How long has it been since you last cried?"
"I don’t know," he said, closing his eyes for a moment. A headache was hammering into his skull, right through his temples. "Years. Maybe ten."
"Then this was all the tears you held in for years. No wonder you cried that much," he said, furrowing his eyebrows as concern was a hush draped over his voice and Baekhyun’s shoulders when his other hand rubbed one of them.
For some reason, that prompted an ugly sound out of Baekhyun’s mouth and he squeezed his eyes shut in vain, tears squeezing out of them anyway. With an amused and teasing coo, Jongin pulled him into his arms again.
Despite the headache and how uncomfortable his eyes felt, he didn’t mind this. Crying. It felt like the worst and the best thing ever at the same time, annoying but gratifying, heaving on his breath but lightening his chest.
It was only by the time no sound came from the laptop anymore that Baekhyun stopped crying again. He looked up at Jongin, met his gaze, the concern and the care. It was funny. Baekhyun had always thought of Jongin possessing ocean eyes, a gaze filled to the brim with emotions Baekhyun had wished he could taste when they had first met. Now, he could taste some of them. Now, he was the one who quite literally had oceans in his eyes.
Letting out a deep breath, feeling Jongin slowly continue swaying him in his arms like he had started to do halfway through his crying, Baekhyun raised a hand. He pressed a finger against Jongin’s jaw first, the width of it, the abundance of skin, the smoothness of its tone, and then his cheek, right where a shadow sometimes appeared to him.
"You have a dimple here," he said, fingertip pressed against the exact spot he had noticed numerous times before.
Jongin tried looking at his hand without moving, eyebrows furrowed before he chuckled, the sound cajoling Baekhyun as much as the sway of their bodies’ did.
"It’s a fake dimple," he said, cheek moving under baekhyun’s finger as he spoke. "It only appears when I’m laughing hard. When I’m very happy."
Baekhyun’s tears must also appear when he felt very happy. He started crying again. Maybe he made Jongin as merry as Jongin made him feel.
He couldn’t really stop crying after that, for no particular reason, with little breaks in-between and concerned laughter from Jongin. It was okay. Jongin continued hugging him until his tears went dry.
Baekhyun labelled them as happy tears. Jongin tears.
"You know, this is more like a date than a company dinner," Baekhyun said as he slurped on his ramyeon, biting the noodles off quickly when his mouth started burning.
He straightened his back again and kept his mouth open to allow the noodles to get cool enough for him to actually munch on them quickly. Someone laughed behind him, followed by more slurping. Baekhyun really needed to be patient with food, especially in restaurants.
Kyungsoo, who was stirring his own bowl with his gaze deadpan on Baekhyun, shook his head.
"I’m taken," was all he said before tucking a mouthful of noodles between his chopsticks and pulling them up from the soup to blow on them.
This wasn’t what Baekhyun had imagined a hwesik would be like. He had never attended any with the Organization but he had seen a lot in the dramas he’d been watching with Yixing and this wasn’t quite it. There was usually more than two people and it usually didn’t happen in a ramyeon restaurant. Not that the food was bad, Baekhyun had mostly tasted his tongue burning but he had still gotten a bit of delicious soup down his throat as well.
"I knew it," Baekhyun said, giving the other what he aimed to be a triumphant look. It only made Kyungsoo snort and eat more. "I knew you were disappearing so often just to go see your girlfriend. You really just hired me to have more free time to dedicate to girlfriend chasing, didn’t you?" he accused the other, voice void of all the amusement he could feel narrowing his eyes.
Kyungsoo said nothing for a while, until Baekhyun grabbed his chopsticks and chanced into the ramyeon again. It wasn’t burning this time and he ate comfortably, giving Kyungsoo insistent looks until he finally replied.
"I don’t pry into your private life with your boyfriend, do I?" he asked, an eyebrow raised as he twisted his tongue for any trace of food inside.
Baekhyun furrowed his eyebrows and lowered his curtain of noodles down back into the soup.
"I don’t have a boyfriend though," he mumbled, even if the face that flashed into his mind was as handsome as Jongin’s. Or was just Jongin’s. Baekhyun didn’t think there was anyone else as handsome as Jongin besides Jongin himself.
Kyungsoo tutted at him, shaking his head. "Poor thing comes to pick you up from work at least twice a week and you still don’t call him your boyfriend."
"Jongin isn’t my boyfriend," Baekhyun said before shoving food into his mouth. He didn’t know why. This conversation made him feel weird, made him avoid Kyungsoo's gaze and look down at his bowl, the fingers of his free hand digging into his thigh.
"If he makes you so shy then he definitely should be," Kyungsoo snorted but when Baekhyun looked up at him, he was smiling. The wide smile that made his lips really obvious. Baekhyun looked back down at his bowl and grabbed a single noodle, trying to pry it away from the others. So that was it. Shyness. "You smile a lot when you’re around him. You’ve been smiling more lately but you still do it the most when he’s near."
Baekhyun smiled, a little one that he accompanied with an even littler shrug. "He just makes me smile."
"Well, I think that’s the most important requirement when choosing your significant other," Kyungsoo said, giving him a knowing look before focusing back on his meal.
And it wasn’t unpleasant. The thought of it. Boyfriend Jongin. Sleepy, saccharine boyfriend Jongin who’d hug him a lot, make him smile a lot, give him lots of emotions. The same way he did now.
Maybe that was it. What Jongin made him feel all along. Maybe it was just a little more than appreciation, just a little stronger than happiness. It was just a Jongin thing. Baekhyun liked it. Maybe Baekhyun liked Jongin.
He should definitely check in with Yixing, ask him how it felt to like someone, describe him what he felt. He wanted to like Jongin. Maybe he already did.
Baekhyun closed the door behind him and stared at a childhood bedroom that was vastly unfamiliar despite him having slept inside for nineteen years. It wasn’t nearly as welcoming as the breakfast his mother had cooked for him and that he had devoured under her caring and loving gaze.
She had smiled a lot. Had told him he smiled a lot. Baekhyun knew that a lot was different from what other people associated to it, for him it probably meant three natural smiles. She still had never strayed her gaze away from him while eating. If smiling made his mother happy, Baekhyun would work on letting himself smile even more. Although, he was pretty sure she would’ve been even happier had he brought Yixing along but he had been busy this morning. At least, that meant all her attention had been poured on Baekhyun.
He plopped down on his single bed, bouncing a bit on the mattress just to see if it was as soft as he remembered it to be. Baekhyun regularly visited his mother but he rarely went to his room, there was nothing really appealing about it. Looking around, all he could see was furniture and bare walls. He pressed his lips together. People in dramas and movies rarely had this much bare space on their bedroom walls. Jongin would be disappointed.
He grabbed his phone and took a quick picture, sending it to Jongin. He had asked him to show him a picture of his childhood room, out of curiosity. Baekhyun hadn’t seen his yet but he had promised to send a picture of it in exchange next time he visited his parents’ house. The reply came only two minutes later, when Baekhyun had already moved to lay down on his bed and rest a bit. He had woken up early today.
Woah your room’s really clean hyung
Baekhyun snorted, shaking his head before moving to fluff the pillow a little bit and lay back down.
I’m not the one who cleans it silly don’t praise me for it
Though you probably mean that’s it’s pretty empty TT
I mean it is quite empty
But somehow it fits you hehe
Baekhyun smiled at his phone taking another look around his room. It fit him. But that didn’t mean he was happy about it.
I wish it wasn’t as empty actually
What kind of room do you wish you had?
Baekhyun stopped to think about his answer well, looking at his neat desk, that carried only lumps of textbooks, and the closed doors of his closet.
People usually have picture on their walls, right?
Of their friends and stuff
You wish you had pictures of your friends on your walls?
It would look less lonely
Even his apartment now had no pictures whatsoever on the walls. It was equally as empty as this bedroom. The only difference was that now, Baekhyun had bought a small shelf to put in a corner of his living room and fill with his favorite books. It wasn’t full yet, he only had five of them in so far but he’d gradually fill it up.
Why didn’t you take pictures with Yixing hyung?
I don’t know
He actually likes pictures but I guess I didn’t back then
I never really felt this way before anyway
By the way do you want to get breakfast with Yixing and me tomorrow?
I actually wanted to ask first if I could meet your friends again but I didn’t want to bother
That was such a Jongin thing. Baekhyun rolled to lay on his side. It was more difficult to type with just one thumb but he tucked his other hand under his cheek still. Jongin wanted to meet his friends more. It felt like Jongin was gradually becoming a fixed part of his life.
He felt his cheek bunching up under his hand. A smile. A Jongin smile. That was what Yixing had said. That it was easy to figure out Baekhyun was texting Jongin because he always had a Jongin smile on. He moved his hand under his neck and typed.
Of course you can meet my friends whenever you want
You don’t have to stress about it
Yixing thinks you’re cute and kind
I think Yixing is cute and kind
Do you ever listen to music?
I don’t see any posters or anything else in your walls so it made me wonder
I’ve never seen you listening to music ever either
Baekhyun scrunched his features and buried his face against his pillow. He could hear his mother moving around in the kitchen, singing to herself. This was embarrassing. He could lie or avoid to answer. But this was Jongin.
I actually haven’t really listened to music in months
Or well in years
I only hear music when Yixing puts the radio on in the car or when I’m walking around in the streets
Waiting for a reply was stressful. Baekhyun knew this was weird. Everyone listened to music. He had just stopped years ago, because it changed his mood.
We have to take care of that!!
I’ll send you a song and you’re going to listen to it hyung
Baekhyun stared at the messages, unblinking for a moment. He hadn’t really expected Jongin to judge him or anything but he was taking it too normally, not even showing surprise or any other reaction that would make Baekhyun feel like he wasn’t normal.
A message popped up on his screen before he could dwell on the fuzziness in his fingertips and Baekhyun pressed on the link, letting it lead him to a lyrics video. Ocean Eyes was the song’s title and Baekhyun understood less than half of the English lyrics but the soothing alliance of the melody and the singer’s voice made him close his eyes halfway through the song just so he could enjoy it properly. It was the kind of song that was experienced best with closed eyes, he figured.
It was a Jongin kind of song. Gentle, calmative, like open arms and a securing embrace. Ocean eyes. Jongin had ocean eyes, even if he couldn’t understand what kind of eyes the song was about and it might be completely different for all he knew.
It took him a short moment to open his eyes once the song petered out, leaving calm in its wake. He turned to lay on his back and typed a message.
I love it
It’s very calming
I love this singer
You should definitely check out her other songs if you feel like it ^^
But I think this one will remain my favorite ><
I must have really good music taste
I recommended you a song and it’s your favorite after years of no music hehe
Baekhyun snorted an airy laugh. He could imagine his wide smile, the beautiful shine in his eyes. Pretty smile lines. Baekhyun smiled as he typed.
Actually this song reminds me of you
He bit his lip, chewed on it as his thumbs twitched above his keyboard. He wanted to say it. He didn’t want to say it through a message. He wouldn’t even know how to say it. That Jongin gave him feelings.
I don’t know
Because you have really expressive eyes
A lot of emotions
So ocean eyes
You should’ve sent the song to me first then pft
Teeth digging into the curve of his lip, Baekhyun copied the link Jongin had sent him, pasted it in a message and pressed sent.
Hey this song reminds me of you
Because you have ocean eyes
The blushing, embarrassed stickers and emojis Jongin sent him made him smile so hard, for so long that his mother pinched his cheek when he went back to the living room with emotions still spread on his face.
When Baekhyun stepped out of the elevator, Jongin’s smile made his home welcoming before the door was even opened.
"What are you doing here?" he said, voice rising with surprise and pleasure as Jongin pushed himself away from the wall when he approached.
"I thought we could hang out a little," he said, stepping aside to let Baekhyun key in the code of his lock system.
"You should’ve told me, I would’ve come home sooner," he chided the other, opening the door and letting him go in first. "How long have you been waiting? You could’ve sent me a message. Or told me when we were already messaging this morning."
Jongin toed his shoes off and pressed his lips into a smile as he tilted his head.
"Hyung, you worry too much," he said and before Baekhyun could protest, Jongin grabbed his shoulders. He was holding onto a bag in one hand, whatever was inside bumping against Baekhyun’s arm when he moved to stand behind him and started pushed him forward.
"What’s that?" Baekhyun asked, trying to glance at Jongin over his shoulder. Out of curiosity. Out of an enjoyment of Jongin.
"Let’s go to the living room first," he said, his free hand letting go of Baekhyun’s shoulder and grabbing his jaw instead to turn his head forward.
"I’m older than you," Baekhyun reminded the other with a grumble but still let Jongin guide him to the couch and push on his shoulders until he sat down.
"And cuter too," Jongin nodded, standing in front of Baekhyun, tall and adorable and so so talented at making Baekhyun feel fuzzy. He raised the plastic bag he was holding, swinging it in front of Baekhyun’s face. "That’s why we’re going to take pictures!"
"Pictures?" Baekhyun repeated, gaze following the sway of the bag until Jongin stopped it and shoved his hand inside to retrieve a camera. A polaroid camera.
And then it all made sense. Jongin coming to see him with a polaroid camera, hours after Baekhyun had admitted that he wished he could take polaroids with his friends and put them on his walls. Jongin who was standing there, simpering at him proudly as he brandished the camera. Pretty smile lines, fascinating crinkles at the corners of his eyes. He reached a hand out to Baekhyun when he remained seated on the couch and pulled him up.
It was almost a blur. The moment they took pictures. Baekhyun couldn’t really see much. But he could feel. The weight of Jongin’s arm around his shoulder as he held onto the camera with his other hand. The warmth when he pressed the side of his head against Baekhyun’s. The tingle of his fingertip digging into Baekhyun’s cheek. The giddiness and the bubbling and the expanding and the shrinking and the bursts in Baekhyun’s chest. The Jongin smile. Lips stretched until he could feel his cheeks rounding up. No leather skin. No discomfort. No awkwardness. Just Jongin joy. Pure and effervescent.
He shouldn’t. Baekhyun felt his heart clenching. He had been told that a flutter in his heart would result in unexpected blossoms all over the city, no matter the season. But he couldn’t stop himself. Because it didn’t matter anymore. Because he felt. Because he was allowed to. Because Jongin was the one who made him feel. Because it was Jongin and the emotion pulsing through his whole body was so strong, Baekhyun didn’t think he’d be able to stop it even if he wanted to.
They took around six pictures. They were pressed close in all of them. Jongin was still holding onto his hand when he pulled Baekhyun to his bedroom and asked where Baekhyun wanted to hang them on the wall. Baekhyun couldn’t speak. Not because his throat was clenched, not because he felt like he would cry. Just because he felt like he had an ocean of emotion inside of him and he didn’t want a single drop to escape him. He wanted to keep it all. Sense it all. Live it all.
He wanted to share it with Jongin. And maybe that was why when Jongin pressed a hand against the wall and looked at him to ask if it would be okay to pin their pictures there, all Baekhyun did was allow delight to raise him on the tip of his toes and press the ocean against Jongin’s mouth.
Maybe Jongin had an ocean of his own inside. Baekhyun felt like it was amplifying. He pulled away, unsure, hesitant, after a brush of their lips together. A shy smile, a hand grabbing the hem of his shirt, pulling, and Jongin kissed him again.
Baekhyun hadn’t kissed anyone before. Even if he had, it felt like Jongin’s lips would’ve washed away any other memory of it from his head as they fluidly slid against his, kissed, pecked, nibbled as Baekhyun kissed, felt, enjoyed, and held onto Jongin’s waist to keep him there. His chest was puffing up. Jongin’s hand was caring against his cheek. Tender, sleepy, attentive Jongin who didn’t make Baekhyun feel like he was kissed but like his lips were adored. A lot of skin on his jaw, under Baekhyun’s hand. A smile in the corner of his mouth. A soft breath when Baekhyun’s teeth tested the cushiness of his lower lip.
A lot of merriment. More than Baekhyun had ever experienced. Enough for it to chop his breath into pieces when Jongin pulled away. Heavy eyes, hooded gaze resting on Baekhyun’s lips. He was used to Jongin’s sleepy eyes. They weren’t sleepy now. They were looking at Baekhyun. Not as if he wanted to fall back asleep any moment. Like he wanted his mouth to fall back against Baekhyun’s at any moment.
Baekhyun slid a hand over the shadowy dimple that he couldn’t see on Jongin’s cheek but that he could see through every blink of his eyes, in his head. He moved closer, until his toes bumped against Jongin’s, until their lips pressed together without kissing, until he was sure Jongin could hold him and prevent him from shattering under the weight of the exhilaration sticking to his entire being. Jittery fingers held onto Jongin’s hips, he couldn’t stop himself from smiling. His cheeks hurt. His lips yearned. His gaze dived into Jongin’s ocean eyes. It felt like it was all for him. Just for him to enjoy every single drop. He hoped it was. Jongin pressed a kiss against his lips, one that seeped happiness into Baekhyun’s heart, and he knew it was.
Jongin squeezed his eyes shut. That endearing habit of his. He hadn’t seen it in a while. Baekhyun found the wrinkles on his eyelids pretty. He opened them again and his breath stuttered when it met Baekhyun’s lips. His fingers tightened on Baekhyun’s waist, felt, maybe checked. He was here with Baekhyun. And Baekhyun was so glad Jongin was the first person he had pictures of on his bedroom wall.
"I wish I could still time travel," were the words he kissed against Baekhyun’s cheek. Baekhyun wondered if happiness was warm enough to melt a person. It was okay. He wouldn’t mind melting right into Jongin’s hands. Sturdy hands of a Jongin that blinked at him, slow but awake. "Just so I could relive this moment."
Baekhyun splayed his fingers on his jaw. He could feel his heartbeat in the tips of his fingers. Jongin made him feel his heartbeat in the tips of his fingers.
"You don’t need anything but me to relive this moment," Baekhyun whispered, kissing a pretty smile line that glided down Jongin’s chin. He had a smile line on his chin, a crease on the right side. Cute.
Jongin muffled an embarrassed groan into his mouth and Baekhyun’s elation was swollen in his chest. It was as palpable as the pulp of Jongin’s lips when he kissed him again, arms circling Baekhyun’s shoulders, pulling him close.
Baekhyun didn’t need anything else but Jongin either to relive. Just to relive. His hands splashed all kinds of emotions wherever they grazed on Baekhyun.