Kai’s duplex neighbor Choi Soobin is very nice and unfairly attractive, but Kai wishes he wasn’t so loud when he had company over (and by company, he means the boyfriend)—which was, unfortunately, most days. Kai can hear them dancing and singing almost every night—though they’re actually pretty good most of the time. He wonders if they’re in the performance arts department for ASU.
Kai has learned way more about Soobin and his boyfriend than he would care to know in the past few months. On occasion he complains to Soobin about them being too loud, because even though his earplugs block out most of the noise, he can still feel the vibrations from their various...activities. Plus, their bedrooms are right next to each other, so courtesy of some very thin walls, Kai catches too many snippets of conversations that aren’t meant for his ears, phone calls, late night ramblings...though that’s all been going on long before Soobin’s boyfriend started coming over.
Soobin is a good neighbor for the most part. They bring each other food sometimes (usually something their mothers have made), Soobin reminds Kai to take out his trash during trash day, Kai sometimes dog-sits Sean for him, and they’re generally respectful to each other. They’re more good acquaintances rather than friends, so maybe Kai doesn’t have any business being worried when Soobin all of a sudden stops having his usual company over. All of the noises Kai used to complain about stop. Soobin’s smiles stop too.
At first, Kai is only briefly disoriented by the disappearance of Soobin’s smiles, but then one day turns into a week and now they’re at the end of week two and Soobin looks so damn sad that Kai’s affected too.
He’s finally had enough when Soobin forgets trash day again—and when Kai says this is a big deal, he means it. He’s never met anyone as thorough with recycling correctly as Soobin.
With more concern than he should have for someone who’s most likely just going through a bad breakup, he marches over to Soobin’s front door and rings the doorbell. He doesn’t hear Sean, but he doubts Soobin is out walking him, since he normally walks him in the evenings. He’s even more concerned now that Sean doesn’t seem to be at home with Soobin—his neighbor loves the dog to death and spoils the little brat endlessly, and oh god he’s been ringing the damn doorbell for ten minutes and now he’s nervous. Should he be expecting a dead body? He’s considering asking Taehyun how to pick a lock—because his best friend knows how to do fucking everything—when the door finally swings open.
“Damn it Gyu, I said I wanted to be alone!”
Kai blinks when he sees Soobin—swollen eyes rimmed with black, almost like a panda, disheveled dark hair, and he’s in a set of pajamas that look slightly too small for him.
“You look terrible.” Kai is going to hell.
Soobin still looks faintly confused, but he answers flatly, “I know.”
“Shit, sorry, I mean…” Kai is speechless. The man is grieving, why did he even have to open his big fat mouth—that’s when he spots the absolute mess that Soobin’s place is behind him. Well, he does happen to be available…
Kai pushes past Soobin, and honestly, he even surprises himself with his shamelessness sometimes.
“Look, I’m not going to ask,” Kai says as he starts picking up the clothing that’s cluttering the floor. “Let me take care of you for a few hours. Take a bath. Relax. And where do you keep your broom?”
Kai doesn’t get a reply. When he looks up, Soobin is staring at him in open-mouthed shock.
“What, is there something on my face?”
“No, just...I…” The brief silence seems to last forever, but finally Soobin closes and locks the door behind him, and Kai almost sighs in relief.
“I’m really sorry about—”
Kai holds up a hand. “Shut up and go take a bath. Have you eaten yet?”
“No,” Soobin says quietly.
Kai squints at him—he needs his glasses—he’s overstepping, god he’s overstepping, but he asks anyway because Soobin looks like he lost weight and Kai is actually kind of worried. “When was the last time you ate?”
The fact that Soobin has to even think about it is excruciating. “I had lunch yesterday.”
Kai dumps the clothes in his arms in an unceremonious pile back on the floor. He was going to put them over the couch, but he’d just noticed the pillows and blankets on it, and he wonders if Soobin has been sleeping out here instead.
He corrals the taller male into his bathroom, thanking the fact that their floor layouts were mirrored. Kai starts up the bath and plucks the vanilla-scented bubble bath bottle he sees from the top of the cabinet. His rather extensive collection of trivial Choi Soobin facts prove to come in handy.
“Here, I don’t know how much you use, so you do this.” Kai passes the bottle to Soobin, picking up the various towels on the ground on his way out. He finds the hamper in Soobin’s room, which is surprisingly a lot cleaner than the rest of the place. Kai grabs the most comfortable pair of clothes he sees from the drawers— a soft, oversized long-sleeve and some sweatpants—and drops them off in the bathroom, laying them on top of the fresh towels he’d taken out earlier.
“Call me if you need me, hyung!” He doesn’t stick around to hear the response, if there is one.
And after that he’s a whirlwind of activity, busying himself with making Soobin’s place look presentable again. Because when he’s busy, he can’t think. And thinking is very dangerous right now.
He swings by his unit to pick up the ingredients for pancakes, which is probably the only thing he’s confident enough in making for other people. Soobin only has the bare essentials in his fridge, and Kai is already making a mental grocery list in his head.
Soobin takes so long with his bath that Kai considers checking on him—he wouldn’t fall asleep in there, right?—but just as he pushes the last pancake onto the plate, Soobin makes his appearance in the kitchen.
“Just in time,” Kai sing-songs as he starts the dishwasher (god, that sink had been a nightmare). “Help yourself, I’m taking the trash out.” And after that, he’ll transfer the laundry into the dryer and start the second load. He had pretty much been in and out of Soobin’s room, only grabbing the dirty clothes off the floor. It seemed a little too invasive to linger, and Kai doesn’t miss the irony in that.
When Kai returns to the kitchen, Soobin is still standing in front of the counter.
“Do you not like strawberries?” Kai asks as he reaches for the hand soap.
“Water first,” Soobin says quickly.
Kai tilts his head in confusion. “Huh?”
“Wet your hands before you use soap, or you’ll damage your skin,” Soobin says as he makes his way over to the sink, turning on the water and nudging Kai’s hands under the steady stream.
“Oh yeah, thanks,” Kai says sheepishly as he rinses his hands. He forgets sometimes. “You have any movies you wanna watch?”
“Why are you doing this?”
Kai fights back a sigh as he wipes his hand on a towel. “I missed your smile,” he says simply. “You deserve to be smiling all the time.” He really wants to pinch Soobin’s cheeks, and again, he’s acting before he’s able to fully think through the consequences. “Oh wow, they really are soft,” he murmurs as he pulls the corners of Soobin’s mouth up. “I’ve always wondered.”
Soobin looks a bit bewildered when Kai steps back and asks, “Do you like whipped cream?”
“Jam or syrup?”
“Can we use that ice cream in your freezer?” (It’s all Soobin has. He doesn’t have anything that can constitute a proper meal, but his freezer is full of ice cream. Kai is both worried and endeared.)
“Yeah.” Soobin seems to be in a daze as he takes out a tub of vanilla ice cream. Kai finds a spoon since the scoop is in the dishwasher, and soon enough he finishes adding the toppings for both of them. Was he overly generous for Soobin’s portion? Oh well. He brings their plates over to the couch, patting the spot next to him.
“Can you bring the forks? I’m gonna look for a movie.” The blankets have been folded up and placed at the end of the couch along with the pillows. Kai’s looking distractedly through the new action titles on Netflix when he feels the cushion dip next to him. With a jolt, he realizes the time. “Soobin-hyung,” he says as he turns around, somehow managing not to jerk back when he’s surprised by Soobin’s sudden proximity. It’s not a particularly small couch, but Soobin is sitting close enough for their knees to bump.
“Yes, Hueningie?” He sounds amused. Kai smiles. Amused is good. But wait.
“Don’t you usually have class around this time?” From what he knows, most of Soobin’s classes are in the afternoon, since he can’t and won’t wake up early enough for the morning slots.
“Aren’t you on break too?” Soobin asks, and his brows furrow a little bit as he takes a bite of the pancakes.
“Oh, I didn’t know ASU let out at the same time.” Kai pauses as he flips through Soobin’s recommendations. “Wait, you haven’t watched all the Studio Ghibli movies yet?”
“No, I’ve been meaning to start.”
“Let me guess, Princess Mononoke is the only one you’ve seen.”
Kai giggles. “So predictable. Let’s watch Spirited Away then, I feel like everyone's watched that at least once.”
Thankfully, Soobin seems engrossed when the movie starts, and Kai gets away with his unsubtle peeking. He wonders where Soobin’s friends are and tries not to feel grumpy at them for not being there for Soobin when he seems to need them the most. Although he supposes some of the isolation could be due to Soobin, going by how acidic he had sounded when he thought Kai was Beomgyu.
When Soobin finishes his pancakes, Kai wordlessly gives him his unfinished portion—he already ate, so he’s not really that hungry. He thinks Soobin’s eyes are actually shining when he points to himself, as if saying, For me?
Kai chuckles, patting Soobin’s head before nodding and turning his attention back to the screen. Soobin goes through the extra pancakes and the remainder of the ice cream. Kai is impressed, but then again, he’d always known that Soobin is a big eater.
Kai laughs when No-Face shows up. Soobin looks at him curiously, but Kai grins and says, “Wait and see.”
“What do you think?”
“About you comparing me to No-Face?” Soobin asks, and when that tinge of amusement spills into a smile, Kai quietly celebrates.
“Well, I meant the movie in general,” Kai says as he stands up to put the dishes in the sink. Soobin’s firm grasp on his wrist stops him before he can move any further.
“It was really good,” Soobin says. “I can—I should get those. You’ve done so much already. Thank you.”
Kai shrugs, but he sets the plates back down. “I should get out of your hair, don’t want to overstay my welcome,” he jokes. “Don’t forget your laundry.”
Soobin’s bottom lip is snagged between his teeth. He’s still holding onto Kai’s wrist.
Kai pokes two fingers in between Soobin’s eyebrows in an attempt to smooth out the wrinkle there. “I can hear your thoughts from here. How about this, you can pay me back tomorrow with pizza when I come over. Does Hawaiian sound good to you?”
The sudden pause seems to stretch on forever, and Kai is about to panic about his misstep when Soobin breathes, “Okay, sounds good.”
“See you tomorrow, then.”
When Kai is safely inside his unit, he sinks down against the back of his door. Even if he tells himself he has no ulterior intentions, the way his heart is pounding says otherwise.
Inevitably, as humans do, they settle into a routine. Kai spends a few hours—sometimes more—hanging out at Soobin’s place each night, and he doesn’t breathe a single word about his breakup. They power through Studio Ghibli movies, and although Kai can’t pinpoint the moment where they decide that cuddling is okay, he rather likes the new development (even though he shouldn’t). The thing is, Soobin is a very talented cuddler, and Kai sort of resents him because now he can’t go back to ignorance. Not knowing Soobin gave awesome cuddles and hugs made things so much easier.
Kai is in the vegetable aisle of the fresh produce section trying to rationalize to himself that this is what good friends would do for each other. Because he’s Soobin’s friend now, or at least he better be if he had to see this much of him.
“Is it really that difficult to choose a head of broccoli?” Soobin asks, pulling Kai closer to him by his waist so he can look in his basket. “Aish, why did you only get snacks?” He sounds amused again, almost affectionate.
Kai looks at him innocently. “I thought I was in charge of snacks.”
Soobin hits him lightly on the shoulder. “Cheeky brat.”
Even under the supermarket’s harsh lighting, Soobin seems happier, less tired. The dark circles aren’t so prominent anymore. Maybe it’s because he’s back to sleeping in his bed, because Kai can certainly hear him in his bedroom again. Soobin uses a loud mechanical keyboard when he games, and he has a filthy mouth when he banters with the other players. Kai finds it entertaining to listen to him when Soobin gets worked up, since he’s so unlike how he usually is, gentle and warm.
He doesn’t realize he zones out again until Soobin tugs on his hand.
“If you’re done with your staring contest with the broccoli, we can go check out.” There’s that amused tone again.
Kai sticks out his tongue. “You’re so rude.”
“And you’re surprisingly not helpful for someone who dragged me out here,” Soobin says, and Kai tries not to think about Soobin not letting go of his hand until they reach the register.
(They successfully make cookies that night, and Kai almost stays over. Almost.)
Kai finally gathers the courage to ask. “Where’s Sean?”
Soobin sets down the knife on the cutting board. “He’s at my parents’ house,” he says after a long pause. “They wanted to see him, and it was a convenient time for me to drop him off.”
“Oh. I miss the little guy,” Kai says, relieved to hear that he was fine. Kai can read in between the lines. He wouldn’t have minded taking care of Sean if Soobin felt like he couldn’t. “Hey, did I roll this the wrong way?”
Soobin looks over and snorts at his misshapen attempt at kimbap. “A little bit.” Soobin stands behind him when he demonstrates how to roll it with the bamboo mat, and Kai tries to pay attention to his instructions instead of how Soobin’s hands feel on top of his.
Kai doesn’t know who drifts off first, but he blames how comfortable the couch is. When he wakes up, his face is pressed against Soobin’s chest and their legs are entangled. Definitely not the position they fell asleep in. When Kai breathes in, he can smell the detergent on Soobin’s sweater and a scent that’s part body wash, part Soobin. Kai had thought it was some sort of cologne at first, but it turns out that on top of everything else, Soobin just smells good.
Not that he was paying specific attention, it’s just hard not to notice when they’re cuddling so often.
He needs to go home.
When he opens his eyes, he’s surprised to see that Soobin is already looking at him, though his eyes are half-lidded with drowsiness.
“Hey, Sleeping Beauty,” Soobin says in that voice, the amused one.
He’s close, a little too close. Kai’s not bothered by it.
“You fell asleep first,” Kai bluffs.
“Look me in the eyes and say that again.”
Oh, Kai can do that all night. He didn’t learn how to bluff from Taehyun for nothing.
Soobin cups his cheek, his thumb brushing softly across his skin, and Kai’s words die in his throat.
“That’s just not fair,” Kai says when he finds his voice again, after he’s done thinking about how easily he can just—
lean in a bit more,
press a little closer,
how easily he can just let it happen when he sees Soobin’s gaze track towards his lips.
But Soobin looks away just as fast, letting his eyes flick back towards Kai’s. They’re such a deep brown. Kai has difficulty reading them sometimes.
“Time for you to go?” Soobin says, sounding a bit hoarse, and Kai thinks it shouldn’t have sounded so much like a question.
Kai brings over his guitar one night because he doesn’t want to be late, but he also wants to finish his lyrics while he has the inspiration.
Soobin looks oddly pleased when he sees the guitar case slung across Kai’s back. “I thought you’d never bring that over.”
“I like hearing you play,” Soobin says. “You’re really good.”
“I know,” Kai says, grinning widely. Sometimes he plays in his bedroom, though recently, he’d been plucking strings to soft ballads or unnamed loved songs more often than not. He hands his break assignment to Soobin. “Wanna help me?”
“I probably won’t be of any help, but sure.” Soobin quickly scans the lyric sheet, chuckling lightly. “I thought you didn’t like roller coasters.”
“I don’t, but it just came out that way.” Kai shrugs. “The feeling kind of matches.” The way falling in love is the buildup of tension and anxiety tight in the stomach until finally plummeting into free-fall, like the feeling of the safety bar rising up slightly during the horrifying descent, the vulnerability of that moment.
Soobin looks at him a little too long to wave it off as casual.
“It does, and it doesn’t. In the end, a roller coaster is predictable, and falling in love isn’t.”
He doesn’t miss that it’s the first time Soobin has alluded to his breakup. Kai wonders how much time they have left, and he wonders why he’s not surprised at all when later that night Soobin presses him against the couch and kisses him slowly, because oh, this changes things.
(But not in the ways that matter.)
They don’t talk about it. Kai doesn’t say anything about Soobin rebounding, and Soobin doesn’t say anything about Kai letting him. Kissing easily enters their routine. Soobin laughs when Kai huffs at him in the middle of movies, because Soobin doesn’t always remember to pause it before he pulls Kai into his lap, can’t say it’s on the forefront of his mind when he trails kisses up Kai’s neck to watch him squirm, and maybe he pretends to forget sometimes because it makes Kai kiss him harder.
Kai shakes his head when they finally get back to the movie and he has to rewind all the way back to when Howl first transforms. “Close your eyes, you’re going to get spoiled.”
“I’m already spoiled.”
It doesn’t mean anything, but Kai feels his cheeks burn anyway. “Flirt.”
Soobin nuzzles into the crook of his shoulder. “Okay, I’m not looking.”
Kai can’t help but feel content. He’s not asking for much, just this is enough, being with Soobin like this. Being happy.
“It’s getting late,” Soobin murmurs. “Do you want to stay over?”
Kai should say no, but he’s already said yes to Soobin so many times, what’s once more?
Kai wakes up to someone incessantly knocking and ringing the doorbell. Soobin is a heavy sleeper, and he doesn’t even twitch when Kai rolls out of bed to answer the door. There’s no way Kai can sleep through this, though he wishes he could, because the feeling of Soobin’s arm draped around his waist is quickly becoming a favorite.
“Ya, Choi Soobin, you piece of—holy shit.”
Kai’s brain is lagging a little since he’s not fully awake, but the person who’s staring at him slips into a heavy Daegu accent as he starts cursing Soobin out.
“I can’t believe that fucker told us not to come over! Is that who he’s hiding? Hey, is your name Huening Kai?”
“BG, chill, you’re gonna freak him out.”
“He’s literally wearing Soobin’s shirt!” he screeches, and Kai’s mind finally wakes up as he puts two and two together. So this is Beomgyu. He’s not sure of who the other one is, but he can understand why Soobin confused him for Beomgyu the first time he came over.
“Y-You’re misunderstanding,” Kai squeaks as he hugs his arms around himself. “Soobin-hyung didn’t...we didn’t…”
“Your neck says something different, kid,” the blond male next to Beomgyu says, and Kai flushes red, hands shooting up in an attempt to cover the marks.
“He said hyung, he’s so young and precious and Soobin is going to hell—”
“I’m 21,” Kai interrupts, slightly annoyed because Beomgyu doesn’t look older than him at all.
Beomgyu blinks at him. “Oh.”
“Um, hyung knows you’re coming, right?” Kai thinks he remembers Soobin saying something vague about having his friends over soon, but he may have forgotten to ask about the details because he may or may not have been distracted with the way Soobin’s hand twisted in his hair before he slid his tongue into Kai’s mouth.
Yeah, he’d definitely been distracted.
“He didn’t tell you?!” Beomgyu’s voice is inching higher again, and the other male sighs and ushers him into the door, a hand on the small of his back.
“He might have,” Kai mumbles. “It was nice meeting you, Beomgyu-ssi…”
“Choi Yeonjun,” the blond says, and Kai nods, hand already on the door.
“And Yeonjun-ssi. I live next door, let me know if Soo—if you need anything.” And then he dips, even though he can hear them asking him to stay.
Too much, too fast.
Taehyun has always been the observing type, and he doesn’t beat around the bush. “Why are you wearing a turtleneck? You never wear it because you said it's uncomfortable.”
Kai blushes—he should have known there was no point in hiding anything from his best friend. He starts messing with the tuning keys, even though his guitar is already perfectly tuned. “You know how I’ve been hanging out with my neighbor?”
Taehyun raises a brow. “The neighbor you used to crush on before he got a boyfriend?”
“I wasn’t crushing on him!”
“Whatever you say, Hyuka. What about him?”
“We kissed,” Kai says, then he scrunches his nose. “Kissing? Like, we’re currently kissing.”
“Oh,” Taehyun says slowly, “didn’t you say he broke up with his boyfriend recently?”
“Yeah.” It sounds worse now that Taehyun says it out loud. Kai shrugs nonchalantly. “It’s not a big deal. I know he’s probably rebounding, and it’s not like I have feelings for him. We’re friends.” Kai can do casual, he’s done it before without any issues.
Taehyun knows him too well, knows that he’s already made up his mind and he’s not looking for advice. He locks their arms together and changes the topic.
“These lyrics are so you.” Taehyun chuckles. “Only you would write a song about being scared to ride a roller coaster.”
“It’s deeper than that,” Kai protests indignantly.
His best friend rolls his eyes. “Do you think I missed that it’s a love song in disguise? You usually don’t write those.”
“That’s why I wanted your feedback,” Kai mumbles.
“Sing it for me then. Did you already record the guide?”
Kai shakes his head. “Maybe later.”
He doesn’t write love songs because he’s never fallen in love before, not truly, but he thinks about Soobin when he sings.
I can hear you now, the sound of your laughter
I clench my fists, my lips dry and
The me that’s falling
It’s time to, we fall
“Don’t forget I have the keys to your place,” Taehyun says as Kai walks him to his car. “You can’t get away with doing whatever your neighbor did.” Kai’s honestly not too sure what Soobin’s situation is because he didn’t ask and doesn’t plan to either.
“You’re being dramatic Hyunie, we see each other almost every single day.” Most days they get food together and work in their shared studio, even though they’re on break. He appreciates the concern though, so he hugs Taehyun tightly before letting him go. “Drive safely, text me when you’re home.”
There’s a pause before Taehyun starts his car, and Kai almost misses what he says.
“Be careful, Hyuka.”
Are your friends still there?
No, they left earlier.
You can let yourself in whenever, door’s unlocked.
Kai definitely does not expect Soobin’s purple hair.
Soobin jumps and almost drops the dumplings in his hands. Kai steadies him with an arm around his waist, looking curiously at his hair.
“Don’t scare me like that.” Soobin pouts as he puts the dumplings in the pot, careful to not let the boiling water splash. “I hope you’re okay with dumplings for a while, we made way too many.”
“Dumplings are nice. Your hair looks nice too,” Kai says, reaching a hand to thread through the locks. It’s still soft. The color looks amazing on Soobin, giving him a touch of something ethereal. “Very pretty.”
“Thank you,” Soobin says shyly, and he’s doing the thing where he shrinks in on himself to try to appear smaller and draw less attention, but it doesn’t work when they’re the only two in the kitchen, or ever, really, given that he’s at least 186 cm.
Kai likes to tease him when he gets like this, because when it’s the other way around Soobin is relentless, too. “Pretty Soobinie,” he says, sliding a hand underneath Soobin’s apron so he can rub his stomach. “You’re so gorgeous. Can I get your KakaoTalk?”
Soobin rolls his eyes, but his cheeks are pink. “You’re ridiculous.”
And like that, they tiptoe around Kai leaving that morning.
“My friends want to meet you.”
Kai wishes his breath didn’t catch right after, but that’s Soobin’s fault and he definitely knows what he’s doing when his fingers dip underneath Kai’s shirt—well, Soobin’s shirt—to trace circles down his waist until he palms the curve of his hip. He pulls even though they’re already pressed tightly together, Soobin a pleasant weight pinning Kai down against the sheets.
Maybe if Kai pretends he doesn’t hear him—
“I know you can hear me,” Soobin says in an amused voice (yes, that one). “Do they scare you? They shouldn’t.”
“I’m not scared,” Kai mumbles against Soobin’s mouth, pettily biting his lower lip. Not of your friends.
Soobin smiles against him and doesn’t push, and that’s something that Kai likes about Soobin, that he knows when to push and when to give space. He wonders if that’s a quality he has in general or only when with Kai.
Then he doesn’t wonder about anything at all when Soobin kisses him just the way he likes it, firm but gentle, laden with promises of something more.
Soobin is learning him too quickly.
“Can I bring a friend too?” Kai asks, on the verge of falling asleep. He’s snuggled up close to Soobin, can feel his breaths on the top of his hair.
“Why not?” Kai mimics, and he can feel Soobin chuckle.
“Night, angel.” Then, a kiss against his forehead, and everything feels too sweet. His fingers curl tighter against the back of Soobin’s shirt, not wanting to let go.
Well, it could have gone a lot worse. Though they’d been a little stiff at the beginning, and it felt a little like an interrogation, at least everyone started warming up to each other after they ate (dumplings again, though Soobin reminds his friends that it’s their fault). Kai manages to cheat his way through three card games with Taehyun pretending not to notice until Yeonjun finally catches on, and after that it was just a contest to see who could cheat the hardest without being found out.
Kai ends up having fun, but he doesn’t expect to get dragged aside by Yeonjun when Soobin’s in the bathroom. Beomgyu is running interference on Taehyun.
“I don’t know if you need to hear this,” Yeonjun says carefully, “but he’s serious about you. And I don’t know if you know, but you look serious about him too.”
Kai doesn’t know what to say to that.
Yeonjun continues. “I’m not here to give you the shovel talk. Beom’s in charge of that. I know Soobinie’s had a rough couple of weeks, and you helped him through that for whatever reason. You need to think about whether or not you want to stay.”
Something must show on Kai’s face, because Yeonjun’s mouth twists into a frown, and he mutters, “I knew it,” under his breath. “Look—”
And that’s when Soobin comes back to the kitchen.
Yeonjun steps away from him, making a show of smoothing out Kai’s shirt. “Didn’t threaten Lover Boy too much, don’t look so worried, Soobinie.” He shoots one last disappointed look at Kai before brushing past Soobin.
“Hey, you okay?” Soobin asks, arms already extending out, and Kai is in them before he knows it.
“Let’s talk later,” Kai says, knowing his actions don’t mirror his words, knows that he’s just confusing himself and Soobin when he kisses him desperately. Soobin’s hand presses against the small of his back.
They’ve run out of time.
“I know I’m just a rebound,” Kai begins. “To be honest, I wasn’t expecting for things to get this far.”
“Hyung,” Kai cuts off. “I think you’re a really nice guy. An amazing guy,” he tacks on because he’s speaking emotionally. “I was really worried when you broke up with your boyfriend, so I just wanted to check in on you and make sure you were doing okay. But you’re fine now, so I think we can stop now.”
Soobin’s expression is stormy, and honestly, Kai is a little scared. They’ve never fought before.
“I’m not rebounding—”
“You’re rebounding,” Kai says firmly. “Hyung, I’m sorry for what he did to you, but you don’t like me.” It’s hard not to find similarities, after all. Soobin has a type and Kai matches it to a tee—someone outgoing who laughs loudly and likes to sing, someone tall with dark hair that curls slightly, someone who shares a lot of common interests with him so they can stay up late talking about everything and nothing. “I just felt really bad, seeing you like that.” Because you deserve to smile all the time.
“I didn’t ask for your concern,” Soobin says, and Kai freezes because Soobin is the worst type of angry, the type who speaks calmly but it’s clear that he’s furious from the look in his eyes to the set of his jaw to the way he holds himself. “I didn’t ask to be saved. And you don’t get to speak on my feelings like you know them better than me.”
“What feelings?” Kai asks rhetorically, averting his eyes from Soobin’s face because he’s afraid of what he’d find there. “I went along with it because I liked it and it made you feel better. It was a win-win, but now, well…”
“Huening Kai, get out.”
And that’s his cue.
Kai wonders why after everything he’s done to try not to end up with a broken heart, it feels like it’s shattering anyway.
Kai blinks numbly at his duplex. It needs to be cleaned, and he’s been admittedly paying less attention to it ever since he spent more and more time with Soobin. Funnily enough, he doesn’t feel like he has the energy to do anything other than sleep.
He thinks about the things he’d left over at Soobin’s place. His toothbrush, a few hoodies, some kitchen utensils—Kai can’t even remember them all. He can’t believe that unwittingly, so much of his life had entwined around those hours spent together in the past two weeks. He doesn’t even know if he can face Soobin to ask for them back.
The silence is deafening.
Kai collapses in his bed, against weeks-old sheets that need to be washed.
Be careful, Taehyun had warned, and Kai thought he was, so why does his heart ache so much? Why does he want to take it all back and pretend for just a little longer? Why are memories of Soobin filling his head, why can he only think of Soobin’s soft, gentle smile, his grin when Kai says something funny, the soft lilt of his voice in the early morning when he convinces Kai to stay up just a little later so they can talk?
They should be doing that right now. Kai shouldn’t be alone in his room, feeling like this.
He feels dread settle deep in his stomach when he realizes that it didn’t matter how careful he thought he was, that his stupid, traitorous heart had decided to go ahead and make him fall in love anyway, and it’s just so dumb that he decides to fall in love now. Not even two weeks really and Soobin has him, has all of him.
His bed feels empty, and he curls in on himself, acutely missing how Soobin would gather him up in his arms, how he’d always felt safe and secure in them, and dear god how did he even pretend to himself that he hadn’t been falling in love the whole damn time. He blinks rapidly, he’s not going to cry, he hasn’t cried in more than a decade and he’s not going to start now. He sits up, trying to find himself to distract himself with—surely he has a forgotten assignment or something—but then on his desk he sees the lyric sheet to the new song he’s written because of Soobin, for Soobin, Soobin Soobin Soobin—and he horrifyingly, despairingly, bursts into tears.
He immediately presses his sleeves to his eyes because god knows where he keeps his tissues, then promptly starts crying harder because it’s Soobin’s shirt and it smells like him, like vanilla and home. Crying—crying unexpectedly hurts, and Kai is overwhelmed with how his sobs rack his whole body and how hard it is to catch his breath and how he seems to make it worse when he tries to make it all stop; it’s dizzying, it’s exhausting, and he gives up halfway through to bury himself underneath his blankets that smell all wrong without Soobin.
And he understands now, how it feels to cry himself to sleep, alone with only his thoughts and self-contempt.
Kai wakes up to a truly awful headache and a ringing in his ears. He belatedly realizes it’s his doorbell when it goes off again, and he feels disoriented when he sees that it’s still dark outside—how long did he sleep? His head and mouth feels like they’ve been stuffed with cotton.
He whines pitifully when the doorbell rings again, and he throws off his covers. At this time, it can only be Taehyun. Did he miss a call from him? He roots around for his phone, grumbling in annoyance when his doorbell rings yet another time and he gives up on the endeavor. His eyes feel sticky and his lids are swollen, and he winces when he sees the reflection of himself in the mirror. He hurriedly shoves on his glasses and pulls his hood over his face before opening the door.
“Sorry, Hyunie. I’m not—”
It’s not Taehyun.
It’s Soobin, hands shoved deep in his pockets. He doesn’t look angry. His mouth is slightly parted, and he’s either confused or thinking really hard, based off the furrow between his brows. Or both.
Kai wants to dive into his arms.
“Why are you here?” Kai asks hoarsely, wetting his lips nervously. He really needs some water, even though he’s greedily drinking up the appearance of Soobin in front of him because he misses him already.
“You know how the walls are really thin?” Soobin finally says, eyes never leaving Kai’s, and Kai feels like Soobin can see right through him.
“Yeah, so?” Kai’s aiming for casual, but his voice cracks embarrassingly, so what now? And oh great, now he’s crying again, but he keeps a stiff upper lip and crosses his arms and pretends he’s not because it’s dark and maybe Soobin can’t see anyway.
Except Soobin reaches out to cup his face, his thumb brushing over Kai’s wet cheeks. Kai’s bottom lip maybe wobbles.
“Can I come in?”
Kai is a mere observer on his couch as Soobin moves around in his kitchen. Soobin looks good there. Well, he always looks good, but he just looks especially good here, specifically in Kai’s duplex unit, and Kai lets himself marinate in his delusions for a little while longer.
Soobin sits down next to him and hands him a mug of water.
Kai doesn’t notice his hands trembling until Soobin’s hand wraps around his when he reaches out for the mug, steadying it.
Kai tries very hard to keep his eyes dry, hurriedly bringing the mug to his lips. He easily drains the whole cup of water—had he really been that thirsty?
“Why are you doing this?”
Soobin tugs his hood off, fingers carding through his messy bed hair. The expression on his face is almost fond.
“Someone once told me that I deserve to be smiling all the time.”
Kai told him that.
He takes a deep breath as he sets down his mug. “You do, so why are you here?”
Soobin takes off his glasses instead of answering, clicking his tongue in concern when he sees Kai’s eyes. He wants to cover them up—he looks terrible—but Soobin hands him two cold spoons before he can.
Soobin pats his lap. “Press the backs of the spoons against your eyes and lay your head here.”
Kai closes his eyes and presses the spoons against them, making a small sound of relief when he finds the chill of them soothing. He’s not sure if he’s okay with lying in Soobin’s lap, because that opens them up for more hurt, and he’s not ready for that. But when Soobin wraps an arm around his shoulder, nudging just the slightest bit, Kai finds himself going along.
“Do you have any compresses?” Soobin asks, fingers skimming across Kai’s eyebrows, brushing his bangs away from his forehead.
“Don’t think so.” Kai feels ridiculous with the spoons in his hands like this, but he can’t complain because his eyes actually feel better.
“I thought so,” Soobin says, and he almost sounds endeared, affectionate, but Kai can’t look at him for clues so he’ll settle for Soobin being amused at him. With him. Whatever. “Let me know when they start getting warm, and I’ll replace them.”
Kai mumbles an affirmative, but he doesn’t want Soobin to get up and leave him.
“You’re usually not a crier, are you.” The way Soobin says it, it’s not really a question.
“No,” Kai says truthfully, “I haven’t cried in a really long time.”
Soobin pauses only briefly in petting his hair, and against everything, against rationality, Kai is starting to relax. It’s not possible to keep his guards raised against Soobin when he’d let him in so long ago.
“I figured when you didn’t cry at all during Grave of the Fireflies.” Another pause. “You wouldn’t know how to take care of yourself after.”
“Maybe I don’t deserve to be taken care of.”
Soobin takes the spoons out of his hands, leaving him defenseless. He keeps his eyes stubbornly closed.
“Don’t say that,” and Kai thinks he’s imagining the hurt in his voice. He must be.
He feels Soobin reach for something, and moments later, a ziplock bag of ice is guided into his hand, and then, that hand is guided back over his eyes. Soobin takes his other hand and interlaces their fingers.
“I don’t know if I’m ready to talk about it right now.” Soobin starts, and already Kai’s heart is beating too fast. “I used to feel bad when you complained about it being too loud, because whenever I would hear things from your side, it was always something beautiful.”
Soobin is a good conversationalist. Kai sometimes interrupts people when he gets too excited and sometimes he rambles on for too long, but Soobin is always mindful about how long he talks; he always leaves space for the other person to say something.
“Beautiful?” Kai says, because he can feel Soobin waiting for him.
“I liked it whenever you played your piano. Guitar. One time I thought I swore I heard drums, but I never heard it again after that.”
“I did play drums once, but I haven’t had time to practice.”
“Glad to know I wasn’t hearing things.” Kai can hear him smile. “You singing is my favorite, though. I love your singing.”
“Oh,” Kai says, and maybe he should adjust the makeshift ice pack to his burning cheeks instead. “You’re really good at singing too.”
Soobin shrugs. Well, Kai thinks Soobin shrugs, the way his arm knocks gently against his. “It’s just a hobby, I’m not going anywhere with it, not like you are.”
Kai frowns. “You’re not in any of the performance arts departments?” Soobin sang a bit of Kai’s new song with him. His falsetto is developed, maybe even a bit more than Kai’s.
“I wanted to be at the beginning,” Soobin says, “but I changed my mind after thinking about it for a long time. I’m too introverted for the stage, and I really like what I’m studying right now.”
“What are you studying right now?”
“Psychology and Counseling.”
“That suits you,” Kai says, then squeezes Soobin’s hand. “Though you would have been great on stage, too. You have that quality that makes people love you.”
“Thanks,” he says in that amused tone he always uses. “That quality doesn’t really seem to be working right now.”
Kai freezes. “What do you mean?”
“So what I was trying to say earlier,” Soobin continues, and the change in subject is about as subtle as a sledgehammer, “is that I learned a lot of random things about you. You have a really cute laugh, you eat out with friends around midnight a lot, you really like grape juice…” Soobin chuckles. “I found you really interesting, so I might have had a small crush on you. Plus, you’re also really gorgeous on top of everything else.”
Kai’s breath hitches. No way? But there’s no space for Kai this time, because Soobin continues.
“I didn’t want to tell you earlier when I was angry. I sort of understand why you thought I was rebounding. But what I want you to know right now is that I liked you before, and I really, really like you now.”
Kai sits up abruptly, startling Soobin, and the ice drops onto the couch. “How do you know for sure?” he blurts, nervously squeezing their hands together. “How do I know for sure?”
“Look at me, love.”
“Now I don’t want to,” Kai complains, but he turns around and immediately melts at the tender look on Soobin’s face.
“If this was a drama, I’d kiss you and you’d know,” Soobin says, and his thumb brushes over the back of Kai’s hand.
“Might still work,” Kai mumbles, and Soobin laughs softly.
“I want you to be sure,” he says, and he cups Kai’s face, and he leans into the touch. (Please.) Soobin presses closer until they’re forehead to forehead. “Yeah, I was a little sad I got broken up with right at the beginning of break, but it was mutual. He’s not why I was a shut-in for two weeks. Well.” Soobin scrunches his nose. “Not directly. Our relationship didn’t have anything to do with it.”
“I don’t really follow,” Kai says, but he’s trying really hard not to be selfish because Soobin had said he wasn’t ready to talk about it. “So you weren’t pining away for your ex the whole time?”
“Nope. We’re on good terms, we still text.” Kai scowls, and Soobin smiles before kissing the tip of his nose. “You’re so cute.”
And Kai can’t help it, he steals a kiss away from Soobin’s lips and yelps when the older pulls him into his lap, hands firm around his wrists now.
Kai really, really wants to do more than steal just one kiss.
“Well? Are you sure enough?” Soobin’s tone is teasing, but Kai knows him, knows that he still needs to verbally hear it from him, and that’s the least Kai can do.
“Can you pinky promise me something?”
“Depends on what you’re asking.”
Kai sighs. “I need you to promise never to tell Hyunie what I’m about to say.” He twists until his pinky finds Soobin’s. “There.”
“Isn’t that cheating?” Soobin asks, lips twitching in amusement.
“Isn’t that cheating?” Kai mimics. “Maybe you shouldn’t have left your hands undefended.”
“Maybe you shouldn’t have such pretty wrists,” Soobin shoots back, and Kai bites his lip as he blushes.
Kai tries to glare at Soobin, but it probably comes off more as a pout because Soobin doesn’t look scared at all.
“I swore to him that I didn’t have a crush on you when you first moved in,” Kai says. “He kept on teasing me about it.”
“Oh,” Soobin says, and he’s looking at Kai in wonder. “Like ships.”
Kai nods. “Like ships.” Passing by each other without a clue. He takes a deep breath, suddenly feeling very small. “I’m sorry about what I said, Soobin-hyung. I wanted to break it off because it felt like it was getting dangerous for me, so I said whatever I felt would make you want to stop. I…” Soobin waits patiently as Kai fumbles for the right words. “I felt like I liked you too much, when you didn’t like me back at all. Not for real. I’m really sorry, I really do lo—care for you a lot.” Oh god. He hopes Soobin doesn’t notice. He probably did. “I like you for real, hyung.”
“Can I tell Taehyun about that last part?” Soobin asks with a grin.
He definitely heard. Kai groans in despair. “Can we kiss now?”
“So impatient, love,” Soobin says, and Kai’s heart flutters when the older tugs him closer by the wrists, mouth warm against his. “I like you for real, too.”
“Good,” Kai mutters, and he relishes in Soobin’s gasp when he digs his cold hands underneath Soobin’s shirt and presses them against his abs. “Gonna make you suffer for teasing.”
“Wait,” Soobin says breathily, “is it too late to apologize—”
Kai kisses him hard.
“Are you sure you want to tell me now?” Kai asks, kissing him on the forehead just because he can now, holds his hand just because he can, tangles their legs together just because he can.
“Secrets are easier to say at four in the morning.”
“I wouldn’t know, I’m usually not awake at this hour,” Kai quips, then softens his voice. “Soobinie, you really don’t have to tell me if you don’t want to. I’m not expecting you to.”
“I want to. Though maybe I’ll feel better if you tell me one of your secrets too,” he adds playfully.
Kai makes a show of pouting, but he nods anyway. “Okay.”
“Wait,” Kai interrupts with a hand over Soobin’s mouth. “Don’t say his name, it’s weird.” Soobin rolls his eyes and licks Kai’s hand. He squeals. “Ew, gross.”
“Noted, guess I won’t use tongue anymore.”
“That’s not what I meant,” Kai whines, then takes a momentary detour from their conversation to show Soobin exactly why he should use tongue.
“I kept on thinking about if I made the wrong choice. What if I pursued my dream instead? How much would change? And I kept overthinking, so then I started comparing myself to my ex. Maybe if I was more like him, maybe if I was more outgoing, it’d be easier for me. Then I started doubting my worth as a counselor, because if I can’t work through my own feelings, how am I supposed to help someone else?”
Kai continues rubbing Soobin’s back. He thinks he’s more upset than Soobin is, to be honest.
“It wasn’t really a crisis, I just needed some time to myself to sort through my thoughts. Yeonjun-hyung understands since I grew up with him, but I met Gyu at ASU, so he doesn’t always get that I need my space sometimes. It’s hard for him, when he just wants to help.”
Kai looks at him over the pillow’s edge, stunned. “I’m sorry, I didn’t know…”
“No, what you did was really helpful, angel. It was getting unhealthy, even for me.” Soobin kisses him gently, even though Kai is supposed to be the one comforting him, and didn’t it almost always end up like this?
“What about now?” Kai asks. “How do you feel?”
“I let go of that dream,” Soobin says, “to pursue another one. I’m okay with that. And being more outgoing?” He shakes his head. “It’s tiring just thinking about it. I’ll work hard, but I’ll go at my own pace.”
“Okay hyung, just know that I’m here for you.”
Soobin smiles. “Thank you.” Then, “Your turn.”
Kai widens his eyes innocently. “For what?”
Soobin skims his hand over Kai’s thigh, right where he’s the most sensitive.
“Waitnopleasedon’ttickleme.” Kai is already starting to giggle. “I’ll tell you,” he whines.
“That’s what I thought, baby.”
Kai buries his head against Soobin’s chest. He’s totally going to think of a heart-pounding pet name to use for Soobin and destroy him. But he had something else to do first.
He swallows. His heart is going crazy inside his chest. “I’m in love with the person I wrote a love song for.”
“...Does this person know about the love song?”
“He should,” Kai says in a small voice, “he helped me with it.”
There’s a brief silence, then Soobin brings his hand to Kai’s shoulder, but Kai keeps his fists clenched around Soobin’s shirt, refusing to move.
“Kai-ah,” Soobin says, sounding amused.
“If you don’t have something nice to say, don’t say it,” Kai says petulantly into Soobin’s shirt. Then he promptly screams and unlatches when Soobin tickles his thigh.
Soobin immediately draws him close again, arm heavy around his waist, mouth firm against his.
“I’m in love with you, too,” he says when they part. “Believe me.”
“Oh.” Kai is red, so red, and Soobin kisses his cheeks as he chuckles.
“Say it again.”
“Brat. I’m in love with you, too.”
What. The fuck.
Kai looks at Soobin, disoriented. “Have you always used that voice with me?”
Soobin looks at him, confused. “What voice?”
“The one where it sounds like you’re amused, like the one you use when you’re telling me about Sean being cute or dumb. Or both.”
“Oh,” and it’s back now, accompanied by Soobin’s eyes curving into lovely half-moons. “No, I’m pretty sure that’s just the way my voice gets when I like someone and he doesn’t notice.”
“...You’re going to keep bringing this up, aren’t you.”
“Of course, angel.”
“I hate you.”
“No, I’m pretty sure you lo—”
Kai shuts him up with a kiss, feels Soobin smile against his lips, and in the end it’s Kai’s destiny, the one he maybe half-stumbled into, half-figured out with Soobin by his side.
Soobin deserves to smile all the time. Kai will make sure he does.