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Nothing hurts more than not caring

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Contrary to popular belief, Kyungsoo is a romantic. He hopes for happily ever after and true love and the comfort of a warm hand to hold his own. 

So the night before he turns eighteen, he stays up and waits for the clock to strike twelve, readying his pen as he prepares to write his first words to his soulmate.

Twelve o’clock arrives and passes as Kyungsoo freezes, pen still poised. What should he write? 

His father’s first message was hello, but his mother hadn’t been of age yet so the words stayed on the surface of his skin. When his mother finally turned eighteen, she wrote the same words on her own wrist and was pleased when his father wrote back in frantic lettering about how relieved he was that he had someone. That he wasn’t one of the ones destined to be alone.

But Kyungsoo doesn’t want to write hello. It’s a bit plain and he doesn’t want to echo his parents’ first meeting. It takes a few minutes before Kyungsoo finally settles on a smiley face right at the tip of his thumb. If the image doesn’t sink in, then it’ll be inconspicuous and he won’t have to worry about washing it off. If it does disappear, then Kyungsoo won’t have to worry about whatever words he wrote. After all, a picture is worth a thousand words.

The carefully inked smiley face ends up sinking beneath his skin, and Kyungsoo has to take melatonin to fall asleep because otherwise, he might stay up the whole night to wait for a response.

In the morning, there are no new markings on his skin, but Kyungsoo isn’t bothered. Perhaps his smiley face was a little too inconspicuous. He’ll try again.

The next mark he creates is a small “are you there?” on the inside of his forearm. He does it as the teacher lectures about life beyond high school, and he feels a surge of giddiness as the marks disappear and his forearm is left clean and pale.

He receives no reply at the end of the day.

Or the day after that.

Or the day after that.

Kyungsoo is twenty-three when he gives up.

Minseok introduces him to people who have no one to share the marks on their skin, to people his father first feared becoming.

But once each person finds out that every cut and every smudge on Kyungsoo’s skin disappears, sent to another, they stop seeing him. Even the unbonded will refuse the love of someone tethered to another.

“Maybe they’re in a coma,” Minseok suggests when Kyungsoo shows up at his door after the fifth rejection, tearful and tired of trying to make things work. “Maybe they’re trying their best but they can’t write.”

“They scraped their hands the other day,” Kyungsoo replies, holding out his own to show the angry red skin. “I felt it happen. They have hands and they’re moving around enough to scrape themselves.” He furiously swipes at his eyes, trying to calm down.

Minseok ushers Kyungsoo in and has him sit down at his kitchen table as he heats up some water for tea.

“I don’t want to see anyone else,” Kyungsoo says as Minseok sits down in front of him. “I’m just torturing myself.”

“Okay,” Minseok agrees, taking Kyungsoo’s hand in his own and squeezing it. “Whatever you think is best.”

On his twenty-fourth birthday, Kyungsoo draws a little smiley face on his thumb just to watch it fade away. It’s become a tradition of his. Some form of reassurance to show that his person, however much they reject him, is still out there, still breathing, still ignoring him.

That night, he joins Minseok and his soulmate, Jongdae, at his favorite restaurant to celebrate. The couple's presence is comforting and they’re forgiving of Kyungsoo’s more subdued mood. 

“Twenty-four,” Jongdae says as Kyungsoo flips over the meat he’s grilling. “We’re the same age right now.” He flashes Kyungsoo a bright smile. “How does it feel?”

Before Kyungsoo can reply, someone shouts “Jongdae” from behind him and the three of them look up in surprise. 

“Baekhyun,” Jongdae greets, standing up to clap the man on the back. 

“Hello,” Baekhyun says to Minseok and Kyungsoo. He’s a little taller than Jongdae, but he shares the same vivacious smile. “Sorry to interrupt. I’m Baekhyun.” This is directed at Kyungsoo because Minseok seems to be familiar with the man if the amused shake of his head is anything to go by.

“One of my university friends and current coworker,” Jongdae explains. “This is Kyungsoo. It’s his birthday.”

“Really?” Baekhyun says with widening eyes. “Happy birthday! I’m sorry, I didn’t realize.”

“It’s alright,” Kyungsoo responds with a half-hearted smile of his own. He wishes he were even a fraction as animated as the standing pair. “Thank you.”

“What are you doing here?” Jongdae asks Baekhyun as Kyungsoo flips his meat again.

“Just having a night for myself,” Baekhyun replies, but something flashes in his eyes. It seems today isn’t a good day for him.

Kyungsoo feels a sense of understanding, and before he knows it, he says, “You’re welcome to join us.”

Baekhyun looks slightly surprised, but when Kyungsoo smiles a little more sincerely, Baekhyun returns it. Jongdae tugs his friend down into the chair next to Kyungsoo and it’s settled.

Minseok raises his eyebrows when Baekhyun isn’t looking, and Kyungsoo simply shrugs his shoulders, not sure why he did it.

Two days later, Kyungsoo finds himself in a filthy club bathroom, staring himself down in the mirror. The smell of piss and sweat is inescapable and if it weren’t for the muggy air of warm bodies outside, Kyungsoo would leave the bathroom. That and the fact that Jongin would be upset that Kyungsoo ditched his party before he said happy birthday.

“Clubs aren’t your thing?”

Kyungsoo catches Baekhyun’s reflection midway through his question. Kyungsoo looks ragged, but Baekhyun looks just as haggard. The expertly applied eyeshadow covers up his eye bags, but the colored contacts can’t conceal his exhaustion.

“Not really,” Kyungsoo replies with a laugh that sounds too loud as it echoes around the bathroom.

“Maybe another drink will help,” Baekhyun suggests, lifting an arm up to mimic downing a shot.

“I’ll keep that in mind,” Kyungsoo means to say, but his eyes land on Baekhyun’s hand and he feels his heart stop.

“What’s that?” Kyungsoo asks instead, pointing at the elder’s inked thumb.

“Hm?” Baekhyun must be drunker than he appears because it takes him a moment to focus on his hand and it gives Kyungsoo a chance to really look at the small mark.

It’s tiny enough to be insignificant, but Kyungsoo recognizes the two dots and careful crescent he inked on a couple of nights ago.

Baekhyun suddenly clenches his fist and his expression becomes tight. “Nothing.”

The constant ache in his chest grows sharper and the room seems to shrink as he stares at Baekhyun’s hunched form under the fluorescent lights. 

His person—his soulmate—stands in front of him and, abruptly, whatever flimsy sympathy Kyungsoo had felt for Baekhyun that first night vanishes. In its place is an ugly resentment that has Kyungsoo pushing past Baekhyun, past the swaying bodies, past the door, until he’s standing out in the cold January weather, his breath coming out in curling, white puffs.

He’s waited for years to meet his soulmate, the first few years out of excitement, the later few out of confusion, but this is not how he thought it would go. It should’ve been something more extraordinary. Dramatic. Something where Kyungsoo could’ve confronted them and gotten some answers. It shouldn't have been in the rank bathroom of some club where one of them was too plastered to properly carry out a conversation and the other ran away.

Kyungsoo only walks back in because he needs his coat. The entire time he’s on edge, feeling as if anywhere he turns Baekhyun will be there, but nothing of the sort happens. Kyungsoo finds Jongin before he leaves and tells him happy birthday, then he grabs his things and goes home.

This isn’t how it was supposed to go.

Baekhyun knows that soulmates are too good to be true. Twenty years into their marriage, his parents divorce because his father discovers that he has a soulmate after all. A young woman, fresh out of high school, the same age as Baekhyun.

Soulmates are too good to be true and as he watches his mother wither away while his father flourishes, he renounces them. After all, what kind of universe would be so out of balance to allow something as atrocious as this to happen?

Baekhyun has a few months till his nineteenth birthday when he finds the small smiley face on his thumb.

He fights the pleased feeling in his chest and ignores the tentative “are you there?” the next night.

After the first few years, the messages slow to a trickle until it’s only once or twice a year. Oddly enough, the person on the other end never curses him out or insults him and Baekhyun hopes it stays that way. Soon enough they’ll forget him entirely and Baekhyun won’t have to see those marks anymore.

January twelfth is the bane of Baekhyun’s existence. While the messages have dwindled down to nothing over the years, January twelfth always gives him that same smiley face right at the tip of his thumb and he hates it. It’s childish and mocking and Baekhyun has to invest in a box of bandaids for at least two weeks because it seems the less they communicate the more permanent their marks are.

Sometimes, Baekhyun can’t help but stare at that dumb smiley face and wonder why the person on the other end continues to try. He would’ve given up by now if he were them. But maybe they aren’t trying at all. Maybe they just draw their little pictures to reassure themselves that Baekhyun is still here, on the other end, receiving the marks and letting them fade away.

He can’t think about it for too long because that’s when the guilt begins to creep in, so he bandages it up and waits for it to disappear.

But for all his attempts to avoid the idea of soulmates, he’s propelled right into his own.

“Why can’t you just write back?” Chanyeol will ask. “Even if it’s just to reject them?”

“Then it’s acknowledging them and I don’t want to give them hope that I’ll reply after that,” Baekhyun will reply.

“That’s cruel,” Chanyeol will say as if they haven’t had this conversation before.

Baekhyun has a feeling he’s done something wrong when Minseok stops talking to him, but when he asks Jongdae what’s wrong, his friend just shrugs off the question and avoids the topic. It’s around the end of January when Minseok begins completely shunning him and every time he comes over to talk to Jongdae, the elder is nowhere to be seen. 

“I need you to tell me what’s wrong,” Baekhyun says after a few weeks of this. “And don’t tell me there’s nothing wrong because Minseok hyung refuses to answer my texts and walks in the other direction whenever we’re within a 30-meter radius of each other.”

Jongdae is hesitant at first, but at Baekhyun’s endless badgering, he finally caves.

“Baekhyun, remember how you swore off soulmates?”

“Sure,” Baekhyun says. He doesn’t like where this is going.

“Did you ever think about how your choice would affect the person on the other end?”

Baekhyun stiffens and doesn’t say anything.

“Well, that person on the other end… you hurt him. A lot.”

Baekhyun looks down at his lap. Him.

“Do I know him?”

“Not very well,” Jongdae answers, hand reaching out to squeeze Baekhyun’s knee. “He’s nice.”

“He won’t be to me,” Baekhyun replies, forcing out a laugh. “I don’t want to meet him.”

He doesn’t need to see Jongdae to know he’s frowning.

“Why?”

“You know why.”

To Jongdae’s credit, he doesn’t antagonize Baekhyun and instead withdraws his hand and exhales.

“Baekhyun, you should at least let him down face to face. He deserves that much.”

Baekhyun feels that suffocating guilt he had finally gotten used to swirl up and threaten to swallow him whole.

“It’ll be good for the both of you, I think,” Jongdae continues. “And the marks will stop appearing for both of you.”

“Let me think about it.” Baekhyun finally says.

“Sure,” Jongdae replies, voice encouraging.

Before Baekhyun decided to renounce soulmates, he had always hoped that he would get paired with a pretty girl with soft curves and an even softer smile. Someone he could come home to and feel comforted by. Someone safe and warm.

When he grew a little older, he discovered that he wouldn’t mind someone a little harder around the edges, a deeper voice, strong hands and shoulders. He liked to imagine someone like Won Bin or Rain serenading him or being serenaded by him. Someone pretty.

At some point, Baekhyun no longer tried to put a picture to his soulmate because he figured that whoever he ended up with would be perfect for him. And so for a short period of time in high school, Baekhyun was content and ready to find who his other half would be.

Sometimes he wishes he could go back and tell himself not to be so stupid. That feeling of being prepared, of wishing for another, is something that Baekhyun still can’t shake off. When he feels guilty for his self-imposed loneliness, Baekhyun lets that feeling consume him until he’s picking up a pen and on the verge of writing back. It takes a cold shower and a few days of silent berating for him to get over one of those moments. But he always moves past them, because if he doesn’t, what would be the purpose of the aching in his chest?

Minseok finally talks to him again after his conversation with Jongdae. He isn’t friendly, but he’s tolerant and Baekhyun will take what he can get.

“I’ll meet him,” Baekhyun says a few days later outside Minseok and Jongdae’s door, trying to smother the spike of exhilaration he gets.

“Really?” Minseok asks, nearly dropping his steaming mug right on the doormat. Baekhyun doesn’t answer, unwilling to repeat himself. “Okay, I’ll set something up. Where do you want to meet each other?”

“Somewhere public,” Baekhyun says immediately. Somewhere neutral.

“Okay, I’ll check with him.” Minseok has a relieved smile on his face as he runs to grab his phone, coffee sloshing up the sides of his mug.

Within the next hour, Minseok has set up the meeting

“I’ll send you the address to the cafe,” Minseok calls later that day. Minseok’s previous excitement has dulled and Baekhyun has a strong suspicion that the man he talked to wasn’t very thrilled to meet Baekhyun. “Tomorrow at three, got it?”

“Got it, hyung,” Baekhyun replies, feeling a little sick. “Tomorrow at three.”

“Good, good.” Minseok gives Baekhyun a few words of assurance and hangs up, leaving him to panic alone.

Kyungsoo feels lethargic as he sits down in one of the booths near the back of the cafe. The small tendrils of anticipation are stifled by the sinking feeling that he won’t leave this cafe any less alone than when he walked in.

Every time he hears the ringing of the little chimes on the cafe door, Kyungsoo tenses and whips his head around, but it isn’t until fifteen minutes later that Baekhyun walks in.

Minseok had told Baekhyun that Kyungsoo would be waiting for him all the way in the back and it seems that Baekhyun doesn’t want to prolong the wait for their meeting because he makes a beeline straight for the area where Kyungsoo is sitting.

I’m not ready flits through Kyungsoo’s mind, but he shakes it off and stands so that Baekhyun notices him.

“Hello,” Kyungsoo says lamely, lifting a hand up.

Baekhyun’s gaze sharpens to focus on him and Kyungsoo feels as if he’s being stabbed.

“Hello,” Baekhyun returns, eyes widening a little as he recognizes Kyungsoo. “Kyungsoo, right?”

“Yes.” This was a horrible idea.

“Are you…?” Baekhyun leaves the question unfinished, but Kyungsoo answers.

“Yes.”

Baekhyun smiles, but it’s forced. Kyungsoo’s heart begins to feel a little too heavy in his chest.

“Should we sit?” Kyungsoo asks and when Baekhyun nods, the two of them slide into the booth.

“I’m sorry,” Baekhyun starts and Kyungsoo tries to ignore the thudding in his chest. “I’m just not looking for a relationship and I’m not very keen on forcing this.”

He gestures loosely between the two of them at the last word and Kyungsoo thinks his heavy heart just dropped straight out of his body.

“I see,” Kyungsoo says, keeping his voice even and meeting Baekhyun’s eyes. 

“I’m really sorry,” Baekhyun repeats.

Kyungsoo doesn’t say anything back as he smiles bitterly and looks down. No tears come and he’s relieved for the small mercy.

“You should’ve said something earlier,” Kyungsoo finally says, looking back up. This time he can see Baekhyun’s anxiousness.

“I-I know, I’m sorry. I just didn’t want to give you any expectations.”

“No, you had me form them myself,” Kyungsoo replies, trying to keep the anger out of his voice. Baekhyun opens his mouth to respond, but Kyungsoo continues on, “It’s fine. We can just get rid of the skin bond and leave.”

“Okay.” Baekhyun sounds much more timid now. It seems this is what he’s really here for. Once soulmates touch skin to skin, they no longer share their marks.

Baekhyun holds his hand out, fingers uncurling so that it looks like he’s reaching out to Kyungsoo. The image hurts Kyungsoo far more than he expects.

He puts his hand in Baekhyun’s own and the moment they touch, Kyungsoo has to suppress a shudder. It feels as if a current of warmth has run up his arm and the rest of his body doesn’t know how to react. The hollowness that has become so familiar is filled to the brim with something safe and sweet and Kyungsoo unconsciously grips Baekhyun’s hand a little tighter, chasing that wholesomeness.

Baekhyun’s reaction is much more subdued as he sits silently. His eyes are shuttered and his hand is limp.

Kyungsoo lets go when he realizes how uncomfortable Baekhyun must be.

“Thank you. I have to get going now,” Baekhyun says, refusing to meet Kyungsoo’s eyes now. He’s shaky as he gets up and leaves.

As the hollowness sets in again, Kyungsoo nurses his cup of coffee and wonders what he’s just done.

In school, everyone learns that there’s a trade-off to getting rid of a skin bond. In its place, a much stronger bond takes hold, called a soul bond. It’s replacing the tangible with the intangible. Changing from marks on the skin to marks on the heart, a dangerous swirl of emotions that help soulmates understand one another better.

Which means Kyungsoo is carrying double the amount of exhaustion around with him all day. He knows Baekhyun can feel his own clusterfuck of loneliness and misery, and Kyungsoo ends up more frustrated because what he feels is no longer purely his. More often than not, Baekhyun seems to feel guilty and it makes Kyungsoo upset, but he tries his best to keep that to himself, always taking deep breaths and letting the feeling dissipate until he’s just a swirl of weariness again.

But Kyungsoo deals with it. He’s no longer bound by a silent soulmate and he can concentrate on moving past this.

It doesn’t go quite as well for Baekhyun.

Kyungsoo is just coming off work when Jongdae calls a few weeks after their disaster of a meeting with a note of panic that he’s unable to hide.

“As soon as possible,” Jongdae says, voice hushed as if trying not to disturb someone. “Do you need the hospital’s address?”

Kyungsoo gets there within an hour, choosing to take the subway because he isn’t wasting money on a taxi to go visit someone who doesn’t want to see him. It isn’t until he’s intercepted by Jongdae and the doctor in charge of Baekhyun’s case that he discovers how bad the situation is.

“He collapsed outside his apartment building when he was getting home from work,” Jongdae explains as they open the door to Baekhyun’s room. “He’s been a bit off lately, but I didn’t know it was this bad.”

Doctor Kim fills in the rest of the information for Kyungsoo as they stand in front of Baekhyun’s hospital bed, where he lays gaunt and unconscious.

“We have reason to believe this surge of fatigue is due to rejecting your soul bond. And, as I’m sure you’re aware, rejecting a soul bond is very dangerous, especially if the soulmates have made contact.”

“How bad is his condition?” Kyungsoo asks as Jongdae leaves the room to give them some privacy.

“He’s been slipping in and out of consciousness, but if he continues to avoid you, he may go into a coma.”

“What are the treatment options?”

“The most straightforward one would be for you two to have prolonged contact with each other. It’s the one I’d recommend,” the doctor says.

Kyungsoo exhales and shakes his head. 

“He won’t want that.”

Doctor Kim’s face pinches in worry.

“Soul bonds aren’t an exact science, so we could try other treatments, but there’s no guarantee that any would work. We’d have to bring in someone from the psychology department and the bond department to examine what exactly is causing this roadblock in the patient’s body.”

“I think that would be the best option for now,” Kyungsoo replies.

“We need him to be conscious enough for a consultation,” the doctor informs him, pulling out a pen and grabbing Baekhyun’s clipboard. “So you’ll need to have skin on skin contact with him for a few hours.”

“How many hours is a few hours?” Kyungsoo asks as he wonders what Baekhyun would want to do.

“It varies from case to case,” the doctor answers, and Kyungsoo resists the urge to sigh.

“How long can it take?”

“The longest would be about twenty-four hours and the shortest would be under one hour. But a short period will only be possible if the two of you are familiar with each other.”

Kyungsoo laughs without much humor and sits down in the chair next to the bed.

“I guess I’m going to be here a while then.”

Doctor Kim gives him a sympathetic nod as he scribbles something else down on the clipboard.

“All you really have to do is hold his hand.” Kyungsoo cautiously reaches out to touch Baekhyun’s hand and stifles a small gasp as he feels warmth fill his entire body again. “When he wakes up, call a nurse and they’ll get me.”

“Okay. Thank you, Doctor Kim,” Kyungsoo says, standing up to bow.

The doctor smiles and his worry-lined face becomes much younger. Kyungsoo had thought the doctor was in his forties, but now looking at him, he might be in his early thirties. Everyone is a little tired, Kyungsoo thinks.

Once the doctor is gone, Kyungsoo allows himself to really study Baekhyun. He looks like a ghost with pale skin that’s drawn too tight over his cheekbones. 

Kyungsoo’s eyes travel down to their clasped hands and he wonders what Baekhyun will do when he wakes up. There’s a constant stream of warmth that has Kyungsoo leaning in closer and holding Baekhyun’s hand a little tighter. Kyungsoo is worried that when Baekhyun wakes up and pulls away, he’ll try to hold on for longer.

“Hey.”

Kyungsoo looks up to see Jongdae has brought him a can of coffee.

“Thanks,” Kyungsoo says gratefully as Jongdae opens the can and hands it to him.

“I’m so sorry,” Jongdae replies, eyes darting between their hands and Kyungsoo’s face with a worried crease between his eyebrows. “I didn’t think things would turn out this way.”

“It’s not your fault,” Kyungsoo says, giving Jongdae a small smile. “At least he was found before anything happened to him.”

Jongdae just shakes his head and fixes Baekhyun’s blankets.

“I asked the doctor if you could sleep next to him, instead of just sitting there and they said it was fine, so if you get sleepy you can lay down next to him, just don’t sleep on the side where his IV is,” Jongdae says, hand settling on Kyungsoo’s shoulder.

“Alright, thank you.” Kyungsoo takes a gulp of the coffee. “You should get some rest.”

“I will. One of Baekhyun’s friends, Chanyeol, will be coming in about an hour to make sure you guys are okay.”

Kyungsoo wants to protest and assure Jongdae that we’ll be fine but the word “we” feels unnatural and wrong, so he just nods. It’ll probably be better to have someone Baekhyun knows here when he wakes.

“Do you want me to bring you anything else?” Jongdae asks.

“No,” Kyungsoo responds, putting down the coffee on the small stand next to the bed. “Go home. I’ll be here with him and he won’t wake for a few more hours.”

Jongdae begins to frown, but catches himself and instead squeezes Kyungsoo’s shoulder comfortingly. 

“Alright, goodnight, Soo.”

“Goodnight,” Kyungsoo replies, keeping the smile on his face until Jongdae leaves the room.

Once the two of them are truly alone, Kyungsoo slumps forward and rests his head on the edge of Baekhyun’s bed, hand still clasping the other man’s. This is going to be a long night.

Kyungsoo wakes in the morning with a crick in his neck and an oddly content feeling in his chest. It takes him a few moments to realize where he is as he blinks away the sleep from his eyes and tries to figure out why his hand is so warm.

“You’re up!” an enthusiastic voice exclaims from the other side of the bed.

Kyungsoo looks up to see a tall man with a smile that reveals a full set of toothpaste commercial teeth.

“Hello,” Kyungsoo says, standing up and muffling a groan as his back protests. “Are you Chanyeol?”

“Yes, I am,” Chanyeol confirms, walking around the bed so that he can grab the blanket that slides off Kyungsoo. Chanyeol must’ve draped it over him last night. “Nice to meet you, Do Kyungsoo-ssi.”

Kyungsoo manages a somewhat friendly smile and bows his head.

“So…” Chanyeol is still smiling too widely, but there seems to be a bit of hesitance in him as he shifts his feet. “You’re Baekhyun’s soulmate?”

Kyungsoo glances down at their intertwined hands. “I guess I am.”

“I–” Chanyeol looks down at his feet, almost ashamed as the smile drops off his face. “What Baekhyun did was unforgivable and just really shitty, but I hope that you’ll stay here until he recovers.”

“Okay,” Kyungsoo replies simply, taken aback. 

“Thank you for staying with him through the night.”

“Um, yeah–” Kyungsoo lets go of Baekhyun’s hand in surprise when he begins to feel the other waking up through their bond. “He’s waking up,” Kyungsoo explains when Chanyeol’s eyebrows draw inward in question at his almost violent movements. “I’m going to go get someone.”

Kyungsoo knows the moment Baekhyun wakes up because Baekhyun’s confusion has him stumble right into a wall as his soulmate finds himself in an unfamiliar room.

“Are you alright?” a passing nurse asks, stopping to help Kyungsoo stand straight.

“Yes, I’m fine. Thank you,” Kyungsoo says, trying to smile through the other’s tumultuous emotions. “Um, the man in that room finally woke up. Who should I tell?”

“I can let someone know,” the nurse says kindly. “Why don’t you take a seat?”

Kyungsoo nods and thanks her one more time.

Once she’s gone, Kyungsoo checks to make sure he has his valuables. Baekhyun won’t want to see him here, so this would be a good time to leave. He fishes out his subway pass and calls Jongdae to let him know Baekhyun has woken up. 

For now, Kyungsoo decides to go home.

“Skin on skin contact,” the psychologist repeats, when Kyungsoo and Baekhyun stare at her in confusion. “You two have foregone your skin bond for a soul bond, but through your avoidance of each other, Baekhyun-ssi is suffering significantly. You’ll have to substitute a relationship with skin on skin contact if you two have no interest in each other.”

I do, Kyungsoo wants to say to Baekhyun. I have a great interest in you, but the sentence sounds weird in his head and Baekhyun has made it clear he has no interest in him.

“How much contact?” Baekhyun asks. His expression is muted and Kyungsoo knows it’s because of him.

“It depends on how you’re feeling,” the psychologist answers. “If you feel faint again, see how long it takes for you to… ‘charge up,’ per se.”

Kyungsoo feels a flare of annoyance come from somewhere other than himself and he frowns at the floor.

“Sorry,” Baekhyun says softly. It takes a moment for Kyungsoo to realize the apology is directed at him. 

“It’s fine,” Kyungsoo replies. “You can’t control how you feel.”

They meet again two weeks later back at the hospital.

“Damn it, Baekhyun,” Jongdae is saying as he paces around the room. “I thought you said you had this under control.” 

Kyungsoo’s hand freezes on the door handle.

“I do.” Baekhyun’s voice comes through, slightly raspy like he needs a cup of water. “I just haven’t been sleeping and eating properly. We’re working on a new exhibition at work. Once that blows over I’ll be better.”

“Really? Is that what the doctor is going to say?” Jongdae asks, voice sharp and grating. It’s clear he’s worried about the other, but the worry is translating into frustration and then into anger. “I know you have a bad history with the idea of soulmates, but do you realize how many people you’re fucking with?”

“I’m sorry,” Baekhyun replies, sounding genuinely apologetic. “Tell Minseok I’m sorry too when you go home.”

“If I go home,” Jongdae retorts, still sounding pissed, but running out of steam in the face of Baekhyun’s sincerity.

“I’ll be fine,” Baekhyun reasons. “I’m in a building full of medical professionals. I’ll give you a call if anything happens and I’ll put you down as my emergency contact.”

Kyungsoo wonders how suspicious he must look, standing right outside the slightly open door.

“Fine. But someone’s still coming to keep you company.”

“Damn it, Dae. You can’t keep calling Chanyeol. You know he’s always been really bad with my soulmate stuff.”

“I didn’t call Chanyeol,” Jongdae answers.

“Who else did you drag into this?” Baekhyun asks. Kyungsoo feels exasperation seeping through their bond. 

“Kyungsoo is coming.”

There’s a strong burst of panic, want, and guilt that has Kyungsoo stumbling into the door, trying to find something to hold onto. In turn, the door creaks open.

“Hello,” Kyungsoo greets, pretending he wasn’t just eavesdropping on their entire conversation.

Jongdae and Baekhyun exchange a look that Kyungsoo isn’t supposed to understand and then Jongdae shrugs on his coat.

“I have to get home. Would you mind staying here with Baekhyun? Doctor Kim is supposed to be here in a few more minutes.”

Kyungsoo hesitates as he glances over at Baekhyun who stares resolutely at his hands. When he can’t get a reading off of the other, he nods and takes his backpack off. 

“Thank you,” Jongdae says before shooting Baekhyun another look.

Once Jongdae is gone, Kyungsoo shuffles to the other side of the bed where a chair and a wheeled desk stand. He and Baekhyun don’t say anything to each other as he moves closer to Baekhyun’s bed and holds out his hand. Reluctantly, Baekhyun reaches out to grab it and Kyungsoo barely suppresses the sigh he makes when he feels their bond rush through him.

It doesn’t take very long before Baekhyun falls asleep again, but he’s restless in his dreams and Kyungsoo has to gently move him several times to keep him from crushing their linked hands. 

While Baekhyun sleeps, Kyungsoo pulls out a book he’s in the middle of reading.

Kyungsoo doesn’t remember when he falls asleep, but when he wakes up Jongdae is standing over him and the empty bed beside him.

“Baekhyun’s getting some tests done right now,” Jongdae informs him. “Do you want to go out for dinner?”

“I have some leftovers at home,” Kyungsoo tells him. “If I’m not needed anymore, I think I might head home.”

“Right,” Jongdae agrees awkwardly. “I don’t know how much they need you, but Baekhyun might want to talk to you.”

Kyungsoo frowns and closes his book. 

“Being around him all the time has been like an extremely personal hell,” Kyungsoo says, shoving his book into his backpack and zipping it up. “I’ve made the trip twice to help a man who wants nothing to do with me and frankly, I think I want nothing to do with him as well.” Kyungsoo puts on his coat and secures his backpack. “Unless he’s on the verge of dying, I’d rather not be called here anymore.”

“Of course,” Jongdae agrees in a quiet voice. “I’m sorry for all the trouble he’s put you through.”

“Don’t apologize for him, Jongdae,” Kyungsoo says, frustrated. “You’re only being a good friend. If I wanted an apology, I’d get one from him.”

“Right.” Jongdae looks down at his hands and then back up at Kyungsoo. “Get home safely, Kyungsoo.”

“I will. Get some rest,” Kyungsoo responds, giving Jongdae a hug.

The third time, Kyungsoo isn’t called at all. He isn’t called for the entire first week Baekhyun is admitted to the hospital. It isn’t until one day Kyungsoo realizes that the constant bombardment of emotions from Baekhyun has sharpened into one singular feeling of isolation that he calls Jongdae.

“I was going to call you in like a day,” Jongdae admits. “He’s gotten worse.”

“How much worse?” Kyungsoo asks.

He’s unsurprised when Jongdae simply says, “A lot worse.”

When he goes down this time, the doctor puts in no less than crystal clear terms that Baekhyun can’t spend extended time away from Kyungsoo. In fact, he strongly suggests that Baekhyun and Kyungsoo move in together for an unspecified period of time.

“It’s either consistent physical contact with Kyungsoo-ssi or the high possibility of organ failure.”

“Organ failure?” Kyungsoo echoes as Baekhyun’s already pale face turns so white it looks practically translucent.

“Yes,” Doctor Kim confirms. “Even though we can’t quantify how soul bonds affect us, there have been countless studies that show that they need to be taken seriously. The most common effect of limited contact between soulmates is organ failure.”

“Ah, I see,” Kyungsoo says in a soft voice. Baekhyun’s emotions have dulled as if he’s forgotten how to feel.

Baekhyun takes the warnings seriously this time and this is how Kyungsoo finds himself signing a twelve-month lease with him. They move most of Baekhyun’s things to Kyungsoo’s apartment and the rest is put into storage. 

The first night they spend together is torturous. 

Kyungsoo wraps his fingers around Baekhyun’s and they lay side by side, careful not to overlap anywhere else on the bed. 

“Thank you,” Baekhyun whispers as they stare at the ceiling. “I know this is difficult for you, but thank you for helping me.”

“You’re welcome,” Kyungsoo replies, unsure of what else to say. They barely know each other.

Baekhyun’s breathing eventually evens out, but Kyungsoo can’t fall asleep as he focuses on the heat of Baekhyun’s hand. Is this how he’s going to spend every night for the next twelve months? Kyungsoo doesn’t want to feel like a stranger in his own bed.

It’ll be okay, he tells himself. A year is nothing compared to the past few years.

Baekhyun is still trying his best to pretend that Kyungsoo doesn’t exist, but this is greatly hindered by the fact that they share a bed, a bathroom, a kitchen, sometimes clothes when they mix up laundry, and sometimes feelings when they get too strong.

Like right now, Baekhyun can tell that Kyungsoo is feeling tired. Not the “oh I just need a weekend break and I’ll be fine” tired, but the “oh my spirit is being crushed by the hopelessness and futility of life and my soulmate is also the worst person in the world” kind of tired. It makes Baekhyun tired in a completely different way.

“I made some budae jjigae,” Kyungsoo tells Baekhyun when he comes back from work. Kyungsoo is sitting on the living room couch reading something with his legs tucked underneath him. “It should still be warm.”

“Thank you,” Baekhyun replies, feeling guilty. This is the third time this week Kyungsoo’s made dinner and it’s only Thursday. Baekhyun has just been eating whatever Kyungsoo cooks.

Kyungsoo murmurs “You’re welcome” without looking up from his book and Baekhyun gets the hint, leaving him to read.

A few hours later at around one in the morning, Baekhyun is lying in bed, beginning to feel faint from the lack of contact with Kyungsoo. He waits for another hour, but it seems that Kyungsoo is content to sit in the living room reading his book.

Reluctantly, Baekhyun stands up on wobbly legs and uses the wall to support himself as he staggers to the living room. Once he gets there, Baekhyun sees Kyungsoo sitting in the center of the couch, but the book is on the coffee table. Kyungsoo is staring off into space, deep in thought.

“Kyungsoo?” Baekhyun asks quietly, trying not to disturb him too much. “When are you coming to bed?”

“I’m not that tired,” Kyungsoo replies, sounding far away. 

Baekhyun doesn’t like the emotions coming from Kyungsoo, or more so the lack of emotion.

“Is everything okay?”

Kyungsoo’s indifference morphs into something akin to irritation as he meets Baekhyun’s eyes.

“It doesn’t matter.” Kyungsoo closes his eyes as if trying to avoid looking at Baekhyun. “Why are you still up?”

Another wave of lightheadedness hits Baekhyun and it takes him a little longer to answer. 

“I wasn’t feeling very well.”

Worry appears from Kyungsoo’s end and he stands up.

“I forgot. I’m sorry.”

“No, it’s fine,” Baekhyun says. “I just wanted to know when you were going to go to sleep.”

“I’ll come now,” Kyungsoo says, standing up. “I just need to take a shower.” 

Baekhyun nods and stands up as well, hating how shaky his hands are. His body feels tingly now that it knows it’ll be getting its daily dose of endorphins and whatever other crazy chemicals the soul bond creates. It’s like having an addiction, but instead of something like ecstasy or heroin, it’s companionship. Baekhyun doesn’t like that at all.

Kyungsoo takes his shower along with his usual nighttime routine and by the time he gets to bed, Baekhyun is starting to feel delirious. This might be why instead of holding hands, Baekhyun opts to pull Kyungsoo into a loose hug.

Kyungsoo’s cheek lightly brushes against Baekhyun’s collarbone and Baekhyun suppresses his urge to shiver as the soul bond sends something sweet and comforting through the two of them. Baekhyun feels Kyungsoo wrap his arms around his waist and another surge of pure warmth comes from the place where his fingers touch Baekhyun’s back.

Without realizing it, Baekhyun pulls Kyungsoo into a tighter hug. His face fully sinks into Kyungsoo’s hair where it smells nice and clean if a little damp.

“You should’ve told me it was this bad,” Kyungsoo says, voice muffled by Baekhyun’s pajamas.

“I didn’t want to bother you,” Baekhyun admits as Kyungsoo tightens his own hold on Baekhyun.

“If you don’t feel well you should bother me. That’s what I’m here for.”

There’s that guilt again.

Baekhyun wants to tell Kyungsoo that he’s here to help him as well, but he’s afraid of what saying those words out loud will mean for himself, so he stays silent.

No soulmate? No problem! Strong relationships can be held together by less than a soul bond. Come join us and explore where your heart can take you!

Baekhyun stares down at the ad. It’s addressed to Kyungsoo, but Baekhyun had taken a look at it out of curiosity because of the bright pink heart at the center of the postcard. Trying not to laugh at the execution, Baekhyun puts the ad back into Kyungsoo’s pile of mail. He doesn’t dwell much on it, opting to focus on making some tonkatsu for the two of them. He’s determined to pull his own weight around the apartment.

Later that night, after a pleased Kyungsoo eats everything Baekhyun cooked up, Baekhyun begins washing the dishes as Kyungsoo sorts through his mail.

Baekhyun swears he’s not paying attention, but when Kyungsoo goes to throw out his junk mail, Baekhyun notices that the pink heart is nowhere to be found. 

The next day Baekhyun sees that Kyungsoo has left his organized mail on the counter and the pink ad is still there. He pretends not to see it again and covers it up with other mail so that the garish color will disappear.

When Kyungsoo gets back later that night, Baekhyun has a steaming pot of soondubu ready.

“Are you trying to take over the kitchen?” Kyungsoo asks as they eat. 

“I just feel like you’ve been doing a lot of cooking,” Baekhyun says, trying not to grin at Kyungsoo’s third bowl of the night.

“It’s not that big of a deal, but thank you. This is really good.”

Baekhyun is about to smile and preen like he would with Jongdae, but then he sees Kyungsoo’s small smile and he suddenly feels too warm.

“I’m glad you like it,” Baekhyun responds, getting up to move away from Kyungsoo. “I’m going to start the dishes.”

“I can do that,” Kyungsoo offers, standing up. “You did them yesterday.”

“Actually, you should take your mail,” Baekhyun says, trying to get Kyungsoo to go away. “I keep grabbing it on accident. I don’t want to make the mistake of actually opening it up.”

“Oh.” Kyungsoo stops walking towards him. “Sorry, I forgot about that.”

Baekhyun just shrugs his shoulders and waits for Kyungsoo to go. He can feel the confusion coming off of the other, but he doesn’t bother explaining his sudden mood swing.

They aren’t close—Baekhyun’s made sure of that—but he still feels weird. That pink ad Kyungsoo isn’t throwing away is a good thing. Baekhyun doesn’t have to worry about what happens to Kyungsoo once he and his soul bond adjust.

But it still bothers Baekhyun in a way that he can’t shake off.

Kyungsoo stares off into the street as he waits for his bus to arrive. The weather is cold, damp, and grey and he doesn’t like it very much at all. It almost feels as if it’s taunting him. Whether he’s in his apartment or out in the open, gloom is something he can’t escape.

Before all this business with Baekhyun, Kyungsoo wasn’t feeling great, but now he doesn’t know what he’s feeling. In part, that could be because of their soul bond, but Kyungsoo thinks it might be more because he doesn’t know what to do with himself now. He keeps those sad little postcards that different blind-dating companies send as if he’s trying to give himself hope for the future. How can he be someone when he has no one?

The book Kyungsoo is reading at the moment is set in a universe where soulmates don’t exist. It’s a world where relationships are encouraged, but not required, and people have to keep looking around for their other half, making so many mistakes and beginning relationships with people other than the one they’re meant to be with. Some people choose not to pursue relationships at all and Kyungsoo wonders what that must feel like. It’s hard to imagine anyone choosing not to be in a relationship when it’s so ingrained in their lives.

The bus pulls up and Kyungsoo gets on. He’ll leave these thoughts for another day.

It hurts the most not when they coexist silently in their small apartment, but when they’re out with friends. Baekhyun is like a fading ember when they’re alone, on the verge of burning out. When Baekhyun and Kyungsoo are in a group of people, Baekhyun seems to come to life, a roaring fire. Gone is the serious, lonely person Kyungsoo sees at home. Instead, a playful, obnoxious man-child takes his place. 

When Jongdae invites him to go out with a small group of friends for Baekhyun’s birthday, Kyungsoo agrees. This is when he gets to witness Baekhyun in his natural habitat.

Baekhyun smiles so much it hurts. It hurts, it hurts, it hurts.

Kyungsoo ends up going for a walk, trying to make the twisting feeling in his stomach go away. He doesn’t know if he’s feeling defeat or sadness, but he urges that too to disappear. As he walks, he pretends that everything is fine and that he can’t feel Baekhyun’s exuberance from across the street as he talks with someone in the restaurant about something Kyungsoo can’t hear.

He should just go home. Being near Baekhyun like this makes him sick to his stomach and he wonders if Baekhyun is aware, or if he even cares.

But before Kyungsoo can really get going, someone shouts his name.

“Kyungsoo, wait up!”

It’s Chanyeol. They haven’t spoken very much past their initial meeting, but Chanyeol smiles at him like they’re best friends. 

“Mind if I walk with you?”

“I was about to head home,” Kyungsoo tells him, and Chanyeol frowns.

“But we’ve barely started eating,” Chanyeol says. “Is it because of Baekhyun?”

“He’s only one of the reasons,” Kyungsoo answers, wishing Chanyeol wasn’t so damn tall. Looking up at him makes Kyungsoo feel small and stupid when he talks about how he feels.

“Baekhyun will come around,” Chanyeol assures with a softer smile. “It’ll take a bit, but I think he’ll come around. It’s hard not to like the person you’re paired with.”

“It isn’t so hard when we don’t really talk to each other,” Kyungsoo returns with a hollow laugh.

“Baekhyun has some… some problems with soul bonds. It’s difficult for him to trust them.” 

Chanyeol seems to be waiting for Kyungsoo to respond as he watches him with big eyes.

“I don’t know what you want me to do about his trust issues,” Kyungsoo says. “I started off giving him space, hoping that things wouldn’t be as uncomfortable, but now we’re stuck like this.”

Chanyeol begins to reply, but Kyungsoo shakes his head. 

“It’s fine. I’m going home. Please let Minseok and Jongdae know so they don’t worry.”

When Kyungsoo gets back to their apartment, he decides to go to sleep. It’s only about nine, but he’s tired and he doesn’t want to stay awake long enough to see Baekhyun.

A few hours later, Kyungsoo is woken by the sound of Baekhyun hissing in pain when he runs into the bed in the dark. It seems he was trying to keep from waking Kyungsoo.

Laying quietly in bed, Kyungsoo lets Baekhyun think he’s still asleep.

After a moment of silence, Baekhyun climbs into bed slowly, making sure not to jostle Kyungsoo too much. Once he’s pulled the covers over himself, Baekhyun moves closer to him and Kyungsoo’s breath catches. Baekhyun doesn’t notice and searches carefully for his hand. 

Fuck, Kyungsoo thinks. He’s facing away from Baekhyun so the only way Baekhyun would be able to reach his hand is if he wrapped his arms around him.

Baekhyun seems to come to the same conclusion as he lightly runs his hand down from Kyungsoo’s shoulder to his arm, trying to find his hand. Once he reaches it, Kyungsoo expects him to hold it as far away from himself as possible, but Baekhyun doesn’t do that. Instead, he crowds in from behind so that Kyungsoo’s entire back is pressed up against Baekhyun’s front. Baekhyun wraps his arm around Kyungsoo and tucks his head against Kyungsoo’s shoulder.

Kyungsoo tries to keep his breathing even and wonders how often Baekhyun does this.

“Why did you leave earlier yesterday?” Baekhyun asks in the morning. He sounds friendly and unassuming, but Kyungsoo can feel how nervous he is. 

“I was tired,” Kyungsoo answers honestly.

“Ah, Jongdae was sad you left,” Baekhyun says, looking at something on his laptop. 

“Was he?” Kyungsoo sits down across from Baekhyun. “I didn’t know he cared that much.”

“He does,” Baekhyun replies quietly. “He cares about you a lot.”

Kyungsoo's stomach feels weird again. He stands up too fast and hits his leg against the table, scaring Baekhyun who nearly knocks his cup of coffee over onto his laptop.

“I have to go,” Kyungsoo mutters, leaving before Baekhyun can say anything else.

That night, Kyungsoo stops by Jongdae’s with no warning, hoping that he’s free. Instead, Minseok answers the door.

“Come in,” Minseok says with a worried expression on his face when Kyungsoo shows up at his doorstep. “Do you want anything to drink? We have water, juice, iced tea…”

“I’ll drink whatever you do.”

“Tea then,” Minseok says, going to grab two cups. “Jongdae isn’t back from work yet so we have the place to ourselves.”

They end up sitting side by side on the couch with the TV volume turned down low.

“What’s up?” Minseok asks as Kyungsoo gathers his thoughts.

“I feel like I have nowhere to go,” Kyungsoo admits, eyes trained on the TV. “I can’t go home without feeling like an intruder, but I don’t want to go anywhere else.”

Minseok sets down his drink and stares at the TV as well.

“I’ve tried to respect his wishes, but I get so tired of pretending that I don’t want to get to know him. I feel like I’m the only one who cares and I don’t want to be the only one anymore.”

Kyungsoo feels Minseok move a little closer and put a hand on his knee.

“He’s still being a little shit, huh,” Minseok says. The words are light, but the way he says them are not.

“You could put it that way,” Kyungsoo replies. 

“I can talk to him,” Minseok suggests.

“I doubt that would do anything,” Kyungsoo says, before taking a sip of his drink. “I don’t think he really cares. I feel more alone than I ever have.” 

Kyungsoo takes a deep breath. 

“Sometimes I wish I didn’t have him at all.”

The words seem to hang in the air in front of him. Saying them out loud feels terrible, but Kyungsoo feels a little lighter.

“I thought that once I found him, I’d feel better, that I’d be better. They’re supposed to be our other halves, but we don’t fit. I’m fighting a losing battle that I didn’t want anything to do with in the first place. What’s the point?”

When Minseok hands him a tissue, Kyungsoo realizes he’s crying.

“The soul bond doesn’t make mistakes,” Minseok begins in a soft voice, “but just because you found your other half doesn’t mean everything magically falls into place.”

“I know that,” Kyungsoo replies in frustration. “But what more can I do? Every time I try to get closer to him he seems to fold in on himself. I see him smile at other people and talk with strangers and he’s a thousand times happier with them than he is in my mere presence. What am I even doing? I live with him, I sleep next to him, and yet the barista at his favorite cafe knows him better than I do. I can barely get myself out of bed, but I put so much energy into trying to understand him when he doesn’t even expend a fraction of that to look me in the eye every morning.”

“Kyungsoo–”

“It makes me feel worthless,” Kyungsoo interrupts. “It makes me feel like nothing.”

Minseok is no longer looking at the TV but at the front door. Kyungsoo turns to see Jongdae and Baekhyun standing in the doorway, both unsure of whether to walk in or not.

When Kyungsoo and Baekhyun make eye contact, Kyungsoo flinches away, realizing what’s just happened.

“We’re going out with the rest of the crew to eat,” Jongdae says, jabbing a finger out the door. He must be talking about their coworkers at the museum Baekhyun works at. Jongdae is good friends with them, so he often tags along. His voice is weird and high like he’s trying to sound normal. He sets his work bag on the table. “I just wanted to grab my phone. I forgot it.”

He full-on sprints to the bedroom to retrieve it, taking seconds to return. 

“Let’s go,” he says to Baekhyun, yanking him by the arm and shutting the door behind him.

“Shit,” Kyungsoo says, looking down at his iced tea. 

“Shit,” Minseok echoes in agreement.

“Can we talk?” Baekhyun asks when he gets home that night.

Kyungsoo’s heart is beating too hard and too fast as he puts his book down on the coffee table. He can feel how nervous Baekhyun is as well and it only adds to his own nervousness.

“Yeah.”

Baekhyun sits down next to him on the couch and gnaws at his lip.

“I’m sorry,” Baekhyun says. “I didn’t mean to make you feel like that.”

Kyungsoo watches Baekhyun as Baekhyun looks down at his own hands, twisting them.

“I just–” Baekhyun frowns and looks around the room as if searching for his next words. “I have trouble with the idea of soulmates.”

“I can tell,” Kyungsoo replies. He sounds tired.

“My parents,” Baekhyun continues and he’s even more anxious now, “weren’t soulmates.”

Kyungsoo’s eyes widen. He didn’t know that. Having parents who aren’t soulmates is rare.

“When I was in high school, my dad found out that he actually has a soulmate.” Baekhyun is visibly upset as he bites down harder on his lip and refuses to meet Kyungsoo’s eyes. “She’s my age.” Baekhyun closes his eyes. “My dad said that our family came first and for months he acted like nothing had changed. Then, one day I was out in the city with a few of my friends and—my dad was supposed to be staying late at work for a meeting.” Baekhyun is speaking quickly now, stumbling over his words as he tries to get them out. “But he wasn’t at work. He was busy shoving his tongue down a high schooler’s throat.” Baekhyun bites down hard enough that his lip starts bleeding and Kyungsoo has the sudden urge to comfort him. “He had been seeing her since the beginning. He lied to us for months.” Baekhyun opens his eyes. “So I don’t have a lot of faith in soulmates. I don’t know how people get chosen, but it feels like my dad’s soul bond was made specifically to tear our family apart. When I found out I had a soulmate, I didn’t want to bring it up to my mom. I didn’t want to hurt her anymore.” 

Baekhyun finally looks at Kyungsoo. “I’m sorry for how I made you feel, but I just couldn’t bear the thought of being with someone because of a soul bond when a soul bond is what ruined my family.”

“No one deserves to be abandoned,” Kyungsoo says in a soft voice. “I understand.”

“I’m really sorry,” Baekhyun repeats and there’s a lot of shame coming from him. “I shouldn’t have shut you out like that.”

Kyungsoo nods, but he doesn’t want to accept Baekhyun’s apology. Baekhyun must feel his resistance because his face falls.

“I need some time,” Kyungsoo tells him. “It’s just hard right now to be around you so much.”

“Yes, of course,” Baekhyun says, sounding a little broken. “I get it.”

It’s disheartening to tell someone about your darkest experience and have them respond with equal parts empathy and reservation. It also sucks that their empathy comes from a similar experience that you’ve caused.

Baekhyun sits alone at dinner as Kyungsoo is already done eating and sitting on the couch. He’s still ignoring Baekhyun’s presence. This goes on for the next week or so. At night, Baekhyun feels dumb when they hold hands and Baekhyun feels doubly dumb when he wakes up and Kyungsoo has already left. 

And then it gets worse. 

Whenever Kyungsoo jerks off in the shower, Baekhyun can kind of feel it. It’s weird, but if he concentrates on something else, Baekhyun can ignore the arousal coming from the other end of their soul bond. He’s sure Kyungsoo has to deal with the same thing, but it’s not that big of a deal. That is until Baekhyun is suddenly feeling a lot more than mild horniness.

Baekhyun is laying in bed one night while Kyungsoo taking a shower when suddenly he feels the first itch of something from Kyungsoo. Recognizing it immediately, Baekhyun pulls out his phone and pulls up a random video on YouTube to distract himself. His usual plan works for about two minutes when what he feels transforms from an itch to a burning desire.

Biting down on his lip hard, Baekhyun tries to orient himself so that he’s sitting up. In the process, another wave of arousal crashes into him and Baekhyun suddenly feels like he’s drowning. He barely suppresses his moan as he eyes the bathroom door. He needs to get Kyungsoo to stop before he creams his pants like a fucking teenager.

“Fuck,” Baekhyun breathes out, trying to will his own hard-on away. With some effort, he stands up and walks to the bathroom door, buckling a little when another surge of pleasure takes him out for a moment.

Knocking on the door, Baekhyun grips the doorframe a little too hard.

“Yes?” Kyungsoo’s voice sounds high and breathy.

“Um, I need to brush my teeth,” Baekhyun lies.

“Didn’t you just brush them?” Kyungsoo asks.

“Yeah, but I forgot and drank—fuck,” Baekhyun breathes out. Kyungsoo hasn’t stopped and that thought crowds his brain.

“Could you wait a little?”

“I really can’t,” Baekhyun manages to say through his deep breathing exercises. 

“Okay, come in,” Kyungsoo replies, sounding a little annoyed. 

“Thank you,” Baekhyun says, not sure what his plan after this was. Is he just going to walk into the bathroom, dick swinging?

Mercifully, Kyungsoo stops. Baekhyun steps into the bathroom to sag against the sink as he turns to glance at Kyungsoo’s foggy silhouette.

“I lied. I don’t need to brush my teeth,” Baekhyun says as he turns on the sink and splashes some cold water on his face. “Please don’t touch your dick. I can feel it and I really don’t want to come in my pajamas. I just washed them.”

Kyungsoo freezes in the shower, right in the middle of scrubbing his hair. 

“If you would be so kind,” Baekhyun says, turning the water off and waiting for Kyungsoo’s response.

“Y-Yeah,” Kyungsoo says. “I’m sorry. I didn’t realize–”

“It’s fine. Just wanted to let you know.”

Baekhyun leaves the bathroom, but Kyungsoo’s embarrassment follows him out.

They find out very quickly that the problem goes both ways and they decide to go celibate until they can figure out a solution. They consult a few specialists but none of them know why their soul bond is acting so strangely and when Baekhyun tries to ask around, people aren’t very helpful.

“Maybe it’s all that pent up sexual tension,” Chanyeol suggests, earning a glare from Baekhyun. “I’m serious, dude. When’s the last time either of you got laid? I highly doubt you two are going off sleeping with other people.”

He’s right about the last part. Baekhyun has become well-acquainted with his hand in the past six months, but that’s about it. He knows Kyungsoo is in the same boat…and now they’re both going celibate. Baekhyun sighs.

“I don’t know why I asked you,” Baekhyun says, shaking his head. When Chanyeol frowns, Baekhyun pats him on the shoulder. “It’s okay. You’ve been just as helpful as everyone else I’ve talked to.”

“Don’t worry. The two of you just need to reach your breaking point. I mean someone’s going to have to cave, you know? If anything you guys could have mutual masturbation sessions. That could keep things from getting too weird.”

“Stop giving me advice, Chanyeol,” Baekhyun says, trying his best to get that image out of his head. It’s indecent. Or something.

“Okay, but you should think about it. You both look like you need to de-stress.”

But of course, it’s Jongdae’s advice that actually helps.

“Why don’t you guys get to know each other better? You two have been tiptoeing around each other ever since you met.”

So this is why Baekhyun plops himself down on the couch next to Kyungsoo when he gets back from work. Kyungsoo turns to look at him in surprise and Baekhyun smiles back as brightly as he can.

“What’s up?” Baekhyun greets and when Kyungsoo just stares at him, he begins to feel dumb again. “Um, what are you doing?”

Kyungsoo opens and closes his mouth and gives Baekhyun a distressed look. They stare at each other for a long moment. Baekhyun must be intruding on Kyungsoo’s alone time. That’s… awkward. He’s leaving now. He’s going to leave and never come back and die of embarrassment. Kyungsoo did say that he wanted some distance and it’s kind of rude to assume that a month is enough time. Baekhyun should’ve asked or waited for Kyungsoo’s go ahead or something. Is having a soulmate supposed to be so stressful?

Baekhyun abruptly stands and Kyungsoo’s head jerks up to follow his movements.

“Sorry. I’m going to go… eat now. Enjoy your book.”

Baekhyun turns around and scrunches up his face. He’s dumb. He’s so dumb.

“I’m finishing a book. It’s called You Were Never Here," Kyungsoo says while Baekhyun is lamenting his attempt at talking with Kyungsoo.

“Hm?” Baekhyun is so lost in wallowing that he nearly misses Kyungsoo’s response.

“The book, it’s title is You Were Never Here."

Kyungsoo stands up, setting his book down on the coffee table. 

“What are you eating?”

“I was just going to make some fried rice or something,” Baekhyun answers. “What’s your book about?”

“A world without soulmates,” Kyungsoo says as Baekhyun follows him into the kitchen. “I think we have some leftover rabokki from yesterday.”

“How does that work?” Baekhyun asks. “An entire world where soulmates don’t exist?”

“There’s a lot of trial and error.” Baekhyun reaches into the fridge to grab the rabokki. “I’m not a very diligent reader, so it’s taking me a while to finish the book.”

“You have spent a lot of time on it,” Baekhyun recalls. “When did you start?”

“About four or five months ago.” Kyungsoo cringes a little when Baekhyun gasps. “I prefer playing games on my phone.”

“I thought you were reading this entire time,” Baekhyun says in disbelief. 

“Sometimes I play with my phone inside the book so that I don’t have to hold it,” Kyungsoo admits as he puts the rabokki in the microwave.

“I feel like I’ve been scammed.”

“I wasn’t hiding it, you just weren’t paying enough attention,” Kyungsoo replies, turning away from the microwave to look at Baekhyun. 

“I suppose,” Baekhyun concedes. “I thought you were concentrating, so I always left the area so I wouldn’t bother you.”

“If you were bothering me I’d let you know.” Kyungsoo seems sincere as he and Baekhyun face each other.

“Am I bothering you now?” Baekhyun asks. Kyungsoo’s eyes seem to be studying him and Baekhyun wonders what he looks like right now.

“No.”

“That’s always good to hear,” Baekhyun says, smiling.

When Kyungsoo gives a smaller smile of his own, Baekhyun feels like his heart might burst. 

It’s been a few weeks since Baekhyun last saw the bright pink advertisement that lays in front of him. He doesn’t know where Kyungsoo put the previous one, but it doesn’t really matter because there’s a brand new one taunting Baekhyun.

Kyungsoo once again keeps it, although he tries to hide it from Baekhyun’s view as he takes it into the living room. Baekhyun pretends not to notice but when Kyungsoo leaves, he frowns down at his carton of banana milk. It’s his own fault that Kyungsoo receives those advertisements, but now he doesn’t know how to make them go away. 

Does he want them gone though? Baekhyun thinks about it, coming up with the pros and cons of the advertisements. It means Baekhyun can still give himself petty excuses to keep his distance from Kyungsoo and it means Kyungsoo can still have options. Baekhyun wonders how many options they still have now. 

“What are you thinking so hard about?” Kyungsoo asks, coming back into the kitchen to sit down at the table. He’s scrolling through his phone, but he glances up at Baekhyun for a moment and gives him a tentative smile. 

“I–”

Baekhyun cuts himself before he says something that makes Kyungsoo go quiet and sad again.

“I like your glasses,” Baekhyun says instead. “They look good.”

“Thanks,” Kyungsoo replies, reaching up self-consciously to adjust them. “They’re kind of old.”

“Well, they suit you,” Baekhyun says. “Makes me want to buy a pair.”

If Kyungsoo is confused by the conversation topic, he doesn’t reveal it. He just smiles a little wider and gives Baekhyun a once over.

“Do you want to try mine on?” Kyungsoo asks. Baekhyun watches as Kyungsoo’s fingers tap the side of his frames and suddenly he’s wondering what they’d feel like against his own when they aren’t forced to hold hands while laying side by side in bed.

“Sure.”

When Baekhyun puts the glasses on, he lets out a little laugh as he squints. 

“You have really bad eyesight,” Baekhyun says as Kyungsoo squints back at him. “Take a picture of me. I want to see what I look like.”

Kyungsoo obliges, struggling to get his phone camera to focus as Baekhyun strikes a few poses. As Baekhyun blows a few kisses in his direction, Kyungsoo looks like he’s trying not to laugh.

Once Baekhyun returns his glasses, Kyungsoo shows him the pictures he’s taken.

“Maybe I should become a model,” Baekhyun jokes as he comes across a particularly salacious pose he gave the camera. Kyungsoo shrugs his shoulders with a soft smile on his face as he looks down at the pictures.

He’s so absorbed in the photos that it gives Baekhyun a chance to observe him.

Kyungsoo switches between glasses and contacts for work, so when Baekhyun’s lucky, he’ll get to catch Kyungsoo without his glasses in the morning as he’s heading out. Kyungsoo works at one of the largest corporations in South Korea, but it seems to be something he doesn’t like talking about. It’s relatively time-consuming as he spends a lot of time locked up in his office or stressing out over something that’s gone wrong at work.

Right now though, Kyungsoo seems relaxed as he laughs at another ridiculous pose Baekhyun struck. Baekhyun’s gaze wanders from Kyungsoo’s eyes to his nose and then his mouth. At the exact moment Baekhyun’s eyes land on Kyungsoo’s lips, Kyungsoo’s tongue darts out to wet his lower lip and Baekhyun averts his eyes before he starts getting any weird thoughts.

“You’d be an interesting model,” Kyungsoo says. 

Baekhyun doesn’t respond as he tries to calm down. He doesn’t know what’s wrong with him right now. 

“Do you want me to send these pictures to you?” Kyungsoo asks.

“Sure, yeah,” Baekhyun says, rubbing his temples.

Focusing his attention on the table, he tries to get his influx of messy thoughts under control. Kyungsoo isn’t paying him any mind as he stands up and grabs a carton of banana milk from the fridge still staring at his phone.

For a brief moment, Baekhyun feels safer with his wreckless emotions as Kyungsoo continues to walk around the kitchen, looking for something. He doesn’t seem to be very aware of Baekhyun’s inner turmoil, distracted by the pixelated version of Baekhyun on his phone.

Then, Baekhyun feels some emotions that aren’t his, and they’re far more volatile than he expects.

If Baekhyun thought that he was a mess, Kyungsoo seems to have completely lost it. Just looking at him, Baekhyun wouldn’t be able to tell, but Kyungsoo's emotions are like a bunch of fireworks, popping off wherever they can. Kyungsoo’s hand curls a little tighter around his carton as he stares resolutely down at the sink and Baekhyun’s mouth drops open in surprise.

Just one interaction is making them feel this unstable. There’s so much uncertainty and anticipation between the two of them the longer they talk with each other.

“Are you okay?” Baekhyun asks.

“I could ask you the same thing,” Kyungsoo returns, furrowing his eyebrows as he tries to rein in his emotions.

“I’m okay,” Baekhyun responds, not sure if he’s lying to himself or not. Kyungsoo’s fireworks are distracting him and it’s difficult to discern whose emotions are whose. “Maybe you should sit down,” he adds cautiously.

Kyungsoo closes his eyes and for a second, he doesn’t seem like he’s going to take Baekhyun’s advice, but then he backs away from the sink and heads towards the couch.

It takes a few minutes as the two of them try to sort out their weird explosion of feelings. By the time it passes, Kyungsoo covers his face and groans as Baekhyun bursts out into relieved laughter and slumps over on the kitchen table.

“Can I sit with you?” Baekhyun asks.

Kyungsoo gestures to the area next to him in response, so Baekhyun makes his way over.

“We need to figure this out,” Kyungsoo says, still covering his face, “because that was way too much.”

“But what was that?” Baekhyun asks, dropping his head against the back of the couch. “That’s never happened before. I couldn’t even tell what I was feeling.”

“I don’t know, but we’d make for an interesting case study,” Kyungsoo sighs. He lets his hands fall to his side and turns his head towards Baekhyun. He doesn’t say anything else, just looks at Baekhyun without his glasses and with a slightly perturbed expression. Baekhyun wonders how he could get rid of that look and replace it with the smile he had earli–

Nope, nope, nope. What in the world is he thinking?

Baekhyun breaks their eye contact and opts to stare up at the ceiling. He doesn’t know what he’s doing right now. Is he trying to befriend Kyungsoo or is he doing something else entirely? Maybe Chanyeol’s right and he needs to get laid. 

Whatever it is, Baekhyun tries to make it go away.

“So have you ever felt yourself do that before?” Baekhyun asks, attempting to divert his own attention. “I feel kind of crazy.”

“No, I still feel off,” Kyungsoo replies. “Are you all good now?”

Now that Kyungsoo mentions it, Baekhyun does feel a slight buzz of pent up energy that remains from earlier.

“I’m not sure,” Baekhyun replies. 

“Give me your hand,” Kyungsoo says. 

Baekhyun does and feels Kyungsoo’s hand envelope his own. 

It’s as if he’s been inflated the entire time and the moment their hands touch, he deflates. 

“Better?” Kyungsoo asks.

“Much.” Without thinking, Baekhyun curls his fingers more firmly around Kyungsoo’s.

“Should we go to the hospital again?” Kyungsoo asks, turning to look at Baekhyun.

Baekhyun keeps his eyes on the ceiling as he replies, “If you feel worried about it, we can go. I’m sure Doctor Kim and the nurses know us well by now.”

“If it happens again, we should go,” Kyungsoo decides. Baekhyun hums in agreement, wondering how long he can keep holding Kyungsoo’s hand without making it weird.

It happens again when Baekhyun decides to rope Kyungsoo into watching a movie with him. They spend a good third of the film delirious from each other’s emotions and by the end of the movie, Kyungsoo’s arm is pressed up against Baekhyun’s and Baekhyun can barely keep himself from pressing his lips against Kyungsoo’s shoulder.

He can still feel some hesitation whenever he tries to get closer to Kyungsoo, but Kyungsoo doesn’t push back when Baekhyun asks him if they can do things together. Sometimes Kyungsoo will give him a prolonged look before agreeing to go out with Baekhyun as if he’s trying to feel him out.

But Baekhyun is fine with just this. Holding hands is fine and even if Kyungsoo is wary, Baekhyun will work on earning his trust little by little. He doesn’t know where he’s going with this plan, but he wants to at least be friends with Kyungsoo. And living like a monk isn’t as bad as he thought it’d be. 

Baekhyun is cool with this.

Kyungsoo is not cool with this. 

Baekhyun is walking through the living room shirtless and muttering to himself about monks as Kyungsoo tries to catch up on the latest episode of Ask Us Anything. Ignoring the itchy feeling under his skin, Kyungsoo tries to concentrate on whoever is being roasted at the moment by Heechul.

Another few minutes pass and Baekhyun drops down on the couch with a loud “oomph!” and Kyungsoo nearly flings himself off the couch when he sees that he’s still shirtless.

“Baekhyun, where are the rest of your clothes?” Kyungsoo asks, trying not to sound too bothered.

“It’s hot,” Baekhyun replies. It’s early July, so he isn’t wrong, but they have air conditioning for a reason. “And our bill for the aircon was too high last month.” Oh, Kyungsoo forgot about that. “And you’re wearing shorts, so why can’t I be shirtless?”

Baekhyun gestures at Kyungsoo’s bare legs and for a moment, Kyungsoo feels a flicker of something from Baekhyun that makes that itch even stronger.

“Fine,” Kyungsoo replies, whipping his head back to the TV.

But this is decidedly not fine when Baekhyun continues to walk around without a shirt every day for the next three days. 

Kyungsoo closes his eyes for the third time in the past two minutes when Baekhyun leans forward to point at something on the screen like a child. Baekhyun usually wears oversized, baggy clothes, so all his hours at the gym have gone virtually unnoticed by Kyungsoo, but now they’re hitting him full force.

Kyungsoo tries to think of something else other than Baekhyun’s back muscles as he lifts his arm up and makes his trapezius shift just enough that Kyungsoo wonders what it’d feel like to run his hands do–

No.

His mortification must be stronger than he realizes because Baekhyun looks back at him in confusion.

“Are you okay?”

Kyungsoo shuts his eyes.

“Yeah, just remembering how I tripped on my way out this morning,” he lies. 

Baekhyun laughs and sits back against the couch. Kyungsoo resists the urge to open his eyes.

“No one else saw. Don’t worry about it too much.”

“Right.” Kyungsoo effectively ends the conversation there. 

“Does your head hurt?” Baekhyun asks when Kyungsoo keeps his eyes closed.

“No, I’m fine,” Kyungsoo says, opening his eyes to give Baekhyun a reassuring smile. Baekhyun smiles back sunnily and for a moment Kyungsoo forgets why he was so bothered by Baekhyun in the first place.

“I’m kind of hungry,” Baekhyun says, standing up and giving Kyungsoo a full view of his abdomen.

Ah, he remembers now.

“What do you want to eat?” Kyungsoo asks, jerking his head away and staring at the TV diligently. “I could make some kimchi spaghetti again or we could heat up the leftover seolleongtang from yesterday.”

“Why don’t we go out?” Baekhyun suggests. “There’s this Italian restaurant that opened up down the street.”

“Sure,” Kyungsoo agrees readily. Baekhyun will finally put on a shirt. “We should go now then. I’m hungry, too.”

“Okay, let me just go get changed,” Baekhyun says and Kyungsoo internally cheers. He just needs summer to be over and then everything will be back to normal again.

“Kyungsoo,” Minseok interrupts when Kyungsoo tries to explain his dilemma. “It just sounds like you’re attracted to him.”

Kyungsoo freezes, mouth half-open.

“Baekhyun has always been pretty friendly. He used to walk around naked when we were roommates, but when I told him to stop, he did. You could ask him to stop.”

“The weather sucks and air-conditioning is a hassle,” Kyungsoo says weakly, trying not to imagine Baekhyun naked. “I’m not going to ask him to suffer through the heat.”

“That’s nice of you,” Minseok says, raising an eyebrow. “Taking one for the team.”

“I’m not–” Kyungsoo’s eyes widen when Minseok smirks and suddenly he feels cornered.

“It’s so noble of you to suffer through the sight of his naked body rather than have him deal with wearing clothes like a regular person. So noble.”

“That’s not what I meant,” Kyungsoo says, but Minseok is clearly no longer listening to his lame protests.

“I still can’t believe you and Baekhyun decided to go celibate. It’s like you guys are trying to make yourselves implode or something.” Minseok’s eyes suddenly light up and Kyungsoo doesn’t like where this is going. “You two are okay with each other now, right? Like you don’t feel miserable being around each other?”

“I suppose,” Kyungsoo answers warily.

“You guys should ease off the whole celibacy thing then.” Minseok grins at Kyungsoo’s slightly mortified reaction. “What’s the worst that could happen?” Minseok asks. “He says no? I highly doubt that’s going to happen.”

Kyungsoo glares at Minseok, unsure of whether he’s joking or not.

“Ask him,” Minseok suggests. “Or try doing something and see if he stops you.”

“That sounds like a horrible idea,” Kyungsoo says, but Minseok just laughs at him.

“You never know.”

Baekhyun stares really hard at the TV as Kyungsoo sits at the kitchen table, typing away furiously on his laptop. A few seconds elapse and the typing stops. Baekhyun glances up and meets Kyungsoo’s eyes.

Kyungsoo’s eyes widen and he looks down so quickly Baekhyun is afraid he’s about to snap his neck.

Baekhyun turns back to the TV.

A few moments pass and Baekhyun looks up again. Kyungsoo is staring at him. Kyungsoo nearly takes out his neck again as he whips his head back down. Baekhyun looks back at the TV.

It takes nearly half an hour of this before Baekhyun finally says, “Do you have something you want to say to me?”

Kyungsoo is so jittery that he nearly knocks his mug of coffee clear off the table. Baekhyun jumps up out of instinct to catch it even though he’s too far away to reach the mug in time.

“I’m fine,” Kyungsoo replies unconvincingly. He feels off but that’s all Baekhyun can get out of him.

Baekhyun stares at him for a long moment and Kyungsoo stares back.

“Just tell me,” Baekhyun finally says. “This is weird.”

“It’s nothing,” Kyungsoo replies awkwardly. “It’s just–nothing.”

Baekhyun switches off the TV and walks over to Kyungsoo.

“What are you doing?” Kyungsoo asks when Baekhyun kneels next to him to peek at his laptop.

“I wanted to see what you were typing…” Baekhyun trails off when he sees that Kyungsoo is looking up more dating services. That stupid flyer he keeps getting seems to be doing its job. “I see.”

Kyungsoo doesn’t seem bothered by what Baekhyun is seeing, but he seems more fidgety than usual as he adjusts his glasses and then his mug and then straightens his mouse pad.

“Find anything good?” Baekhyun asks, trying to sound cavalier.

“Um, they’re all kind of iffy,” Kyungsoo replies, clicking on one of them. “This one is really shady. They want me to pay a really high entrance fee.”

“Hm.” Baekhyun glances at Kyungsoo who is now razor-focused on his screen. “That does sound shady.”

“Yeah, but this one is safer and a lot of people have given it good reviews.” Kyungsoo pauses and narrows his eyes as he hovers over the page. “Do you… maybe want to sign up together?”

Baekhyun can’t tell if Kyungsoo is messing with him.

“It’s free,” Kyungsoo points out as if that’s what Baekhyun is really hung up over.

A queasy feeling forms in Baekhyun’s stomach. It’s not quite jealousy. It’s closer to sadness but it’s not that either. And now Baekhyun is beginning to feel a bit weepy for some reason and when he opens his mouth to say something it feels like his throat is too dry to say anything.

“Baekhyun?” Kyungsoo asks. He sounds concerned and he actually reaches out to touch Baekhyun’s shoulder. Baekhyun is glad that he decided to wear a shirt today because Kyungsoo’s hand makes his weepy heart feel too full through their bond. If Kyungsoo gets any closer Baekhyun feels like he might break. “What’s wrong?”

“Um.” Baekhyun swallows with some effort and turns to look Kyungsoo in the eyes.

“Why are you tearing up?” Kyungsoo asks, turning sideways in his chair to get a better look at Baekhyun. His gaze is worried and he gently dabs at the tears forming in the corner of Baekhyun’s eyes. “Hey, I was just being dumb earlier. I’m not mad at you or anything, Baekhyun.”

A tear rolls down Baekhyun’s cheek and it snaps Baekhyun out of it as he pulls away and rubs vigorously at his own eyes. He feels a bit colder without Kyungsoo’s hands touching his face and his shoulder, but he thinks that he’ll be fine. He’s used to being cold.

For a moment, doubt and fear flit between the two of them, but they disappear so quickly Baekhyun wonders if he’s just projecting his own emotions onto Kyungsoo.

“Baekhyun,” Kyungsoo says in a softer voice. “It’s okay.”

Baekhyun doesn’t know what Kyungsoo is talking about, but Kyungsoo carefully reaches forward and pulls him into a hug. Baekhyun’s own arms automatically come around to return it. It fills Baekhyun even more as Kyungsoo slides out of his chair so that he can hug him tighter.

“I don’t know why I’m crying,” Baekhyun whispers, voice cracking. “I’m sorry.”

“Don’t apologize,” Kyungsoo replies, rubbing Baekhyun’s back. “Just breathe.”

Baekhyun tries his best, inhaling and exhaling shakily.

“Better?” Kyungsoo asks as Baekhyun’s breathing evens out.

“Yes,” Baekhyun replies, but when Kyungsoo loosens his hug, Baekhyun clutches him a little tighter. “Just a little longer,” he murmurs. “Please.”

Kyungsoo concedes and keeps his arms around Baekhyun.

When Baekhyun has finally calmed down, he’s figured out what’s been plaguing him for the past few weeks, probably even longer if he’s being honest.

“Do you want to talk about it?” Kyungsoo asks into Baekhyun’s hair.

It takes a long moment as Baekhyun wonders how Kyungsoo will react to his realization.

“I like you,” Baekhyun tearfully admits. Kyungsoo stiffens and Baekhyun’s heart drops out of his chest. “I’m sorry. I’m sorry.”

He can already feel Kyungsoo pulling away, both physically and emotionally. Baekhyun knows that he deserves whatever Kyungsoo throws his way, but it’s terrifying to feel him go. It’s almost like deja vu as Kyungsoo stands up.

“I’m sorry,” Baekhyun repeats quietly. 

When he musters up the courage to peek at Kyungsoo’s reaction, he regrets it immediately. Kyungsoo is staring at him in what can only be described as distress.

“You’re lying,” Kyungsoo says in a voice so soft, it’s nearly a whisper. “There’s no way you’d actu–” Kyungsoo shakes his head almost imperceptibly. “You can’t just say things like that.”

“I’m not lying,” Baekhyun tries to say, but Kyungsoo bites his lip and stands up. Baekhyun can see tears shining in his eyes as he shakes his head again. His anguish feels amplified by Baekhyun’s own as he backs up.

“I–” Kyungsoo turns around so that Baekhyun can’t see his face anymore. “I need time. I need–” Kyungsoo hesitates and Baekhyun tries to think of a way to convince him of his sincerity. They can feel each other’s emotions for heaven’s sake. Baekhyun doesn’t know how to make it any clearer and he’s afraid to push Kyungsoo any more than he already has.

“I’m going to…” Kyungsoo vaguely gestures at the door and within seconds, he’s gone.

Baekhyun stares at the space where Kyungsoo was standing moments before.

Of course. Of course, this is what happens. 

Baekhyun grips his own arms tightly as he tries to ground himself. It’s his own fault that everything has turned out this way. It’s why he didn’t want any of this in the first place. Just because someone is your soulmate doesn’t mean that everything will be okay and Kyungsoo must know this better than anyone else.

Baekhyun feels like crying, but he doesn’t. He knows he deserves this after everything he’s put Kyungsoo through.

Why does liking someone hurt so much?

Kyungsoo walks for a long time. The weather is too hot for his black t-shirt and sweats, but he can’t bring himself to turn back and change into something more comfortable. All he can really focus on is putting one foot in front of the other.

Wasn’t this what he wanted? He could feel Baekhyun’s honesty, but he didn’t even really need that. Just the way Baekhyun was looking at him told Kyungsoo that he was being genuine, but… it wasn’t enough. Is that what it was? Kyungsoo feels too vulnerable as he walks along a commercial street with people milling around, going about their day.

Kyungsoo can’t tell if he’s being ridiculous. He knows he’s scared and he knows he’s not ready, but he isn’t sure if he’s being unreasonable. Baekhyun could tell him a hundred times over that he liked him and Kyungsoo would still feel like this. It’s like his brain refuses to let him believe Baekhyun’s words. But then what would be enough? Is Kyungsoo enough?

He walks past a wall plastered with advertisements and his eyes land on one about a speed dating service to find soulmates, when Kyungsoo remembers what he was just about to do with Baekhyun. Huh. Kyungsoo wonders if it’s possible to wipe an entire memory from both of their minds.

So maybe going to a bar in the late afternoon wasn’t the best idea, but Kyungsoo feels a little better with a few drinks in him, even if the bartender keeps eyeing him oddly. That might be because Kyungsoo has been at the bar for nearly six hours by himself.

“Hey,” the bartender finally says when Kyungsoo asks for more soju. “I don’t know if it’d be a good idea to drink anymore.”

“I’m fine,” Kyungsoo mumbles, sitting up straighter and trying to sound tough. “I’m just a little tipsy.”

“I think you’re more than tipsy,” the bartender replies. “I’m going to give you some water, okay?”

“I didn’t come here for overpriced water,” Kyungsoo says, sounding more sad than upset.

“Tap water then,” the bartender concedes, handing Kyungsoo a glass of water.

Kyungsoo stares at the bartender as he walks down the counter to greet a new customer. There aren’t too many people at this bar, so it almost feels like he’s being babysat. Kyungsoo’s stare turns into a glare. He doesn’t need to be watched like a little kid.

When the bartender comes back over, Kyungsoo narrows his eyes and tries to read the nametag.

“Yiling-ssi,” Kyungsoo tries.

“It’s Yixing,” the bartender gently corrects.

“Yixing-ssi,” Kyungsoo tries again, adjusting his glasses. “I’m perfectly capable of taking care of myself.”

“I’m sure you are,” Yixing replies easily. Kyungsoo can’t tell if he’s being sarcastic, “but it’s my job to make sure no one dies of alcohol poisoning while they’re here.”

“I’m not dying,” Kyungsoo insists and Yixing nods like he’s talking to a child. Kyungsoo frowns. “I’m not.”

“Okay, then when’s the last time you ate something?”

“When I was at home with Baekhyun,” Kyungsoo answers.

“Ah, is Baekhyun available to bring you home right now?” Yixing asks.

Kyungsoo’s eyes widen and he shakes his head rapidly.

“You can’t do that,” Kyungsoo whispers. “Please don’t bring him here.”

“Okay, I won’t bring him here,” Yixing whispers back. He gestures at the water and mimes drinking it. “Water.”

Kyungsoo finally acquiesces and takes a sip as Yixing busies himself with cleaning.

“So who is this Baekhyun?” Yixing asks as he grabs a rag and mops up a spill.

“My soulmate,” Kyungsoo answers dejectedly.

“You don’t like him?” Yixing seems genuinely interested as he waits for Kyungsoo to answer.

“I don’t know,” Kyungsoo finally says. “He hurt my feelings. He didn’t like me for a long time.” Kyungsoo sighs, knocking his glasses off his face on accident. “And I really wanted him to like me.”

“That’s a rough spot to be in.”

“It hurt a lot,” Kyungsoo sniffles as he begins tearing up. “I told my friends that it hurt and I told him that it hurt and he apologized, but it kept hurting after that. And it still hurts.”

“He still doesn’t like you?” Yixing asks, pausing his wiping to wring out the rag.

“He likes me now,” Kyungsoo says and he can tell that he’s full-on crying now, but there aren’t enough people around for him to feel embarrassed. He’s also quite a bit drunker than he originally thought, but he doesn’t mention that to Yixing because then he really might not give him any more drinks.

“Is that not a good thing?” Yixing questions, reaching to grab something from under the counter.

“I don’t believe him,” Kyungsoo says.

“He’s lying?” Yixing hands him a napkin.

“I don’t know, but it shouldn’t be that easy for him to change his mind,” Kyungsoo responds, accepting the napkin and smushing it against his face. “He didn’t like me for a really long time. He might like me now, but he’ll change his mind again.”

“How do you know that?”

“I just do,” Kyungsoo says as a fresh wave of tears blurs his vision. He slumps over onto the bar so that he can hide his face. “He’s lying. This is why I didn’t want to tell him how I felt.”

“So you like him back.” Yixing’s voice is a mix between slightly amused and a bit sad.

“I’ve hidden it inside me so he doesn’t know,” Kyungsoo explains. “I hid it really well. I won’t tell him, because if I tell him and he changes his mind, I’m going to be really sad again and it’s going to hurt again and I can’t hurt again.” Kyungsoo hiccups. “I can’t. I really can’t.”

“That’s very understandable,” Yixing says, trying to mollify him. “Is there someone other than Baekhyun I can call then?”

“I don’t have my phone,” Kyungsoo confesses. “I only have my wallet.”

“Do you remember anyone’s number?”

“I think so,” Kyungsoo says, followed by another hiccup. “But what if Baekhyun’s with him?”

“We can ask your friend if he’s there,” Yixing suggests.

“Why are you being so nice to me?” Kyungsoo asks, peering through puffy eyes to see Yixing looking as calm and patient as he has since he got here a few hours ago.

“Because you look like you need someone to be nice to you right now and I’m a nice person.”

“Okay,” Kyungsoo concedes.

“Okay, you’ll call them?”

“Okay.”

“Okay.”

“He’s here,” Yixing says when Minseok rushes into the bar calling out Kyungsoo’s name.

“I depend on him too much,” Kyungsoo mumbles, shrinking down into his seat. “I’ll just sleep here.”

“I’m sorry to say that you can’t sleep here,” Yixing tells him as Minseok walks over.

“Thank you for calling me,” Minseok says, forcing a few bills into Yixing’s hands. He’s stronger than Yixing so Yixing ends up accepting them reluctantly.

“It was no problem,” Yixing replies, giving Kyungsoo a wave as Minseok helps him up. “Goodnight, Kyungsoo-ssi.”

Kyungsoo mumbles it back and then accidentally bangs his head against Minseok’s shoulder. “Ow.”

“How much did you drink?” Minseok asks as he helps Kyungsoo into his car.

“Not that much,” Kyungsoo lies.

“You’re slurring,” Minseok tells him as he gets in on the other side.

Kyungsoo frowns and turns on the air conditioning.

“You’re avoiding Baekhyun then?”

“Yes.” 

“He really wanted to see you,” Minseok says as he begins driving.

“Is he staying with Jongdae?” Kyungsoo asks.

“Yeah, and I’m staying with you so that you and your drunk ass don’t go running around town again,” Minseok says, sounding exasperated as his fingers drum against the steering wheel.

“Okay.” Kyungsoo closes his eyes and leans against the window.

“Kyungsoo, I didn’t realize how worried you were about this,” Minseok says in a softer voice.

“It’s fine,” Kyungsoo says quietly. “I just need some time.”

“Okay,” Minseok replies. “Let me know if there’s anything I can do to help.”

“You’re doing more than enough,” Kyungsoo says. “Don’t worry too much about me.”

Minseok doesn’t respond and Kyungsoo keeps his eyes shut all the way home.

The next morning, he wakes up to the smell of something cooking and the sight of Minseok cheerfully scurrying around the kitchen as he finishes serving up a bowl of porridge. The table is filled with banchan.

“Good morning,” Minseok greets. “How do you feel?”

“Not too bad,” Kyungsoo replies. He doesn’t really have a hangover although he feels kind of gross. “I’m going to wash up.”

“Sounds good,” Minseok says, waving Kyungsoo off like his mother.

When he gets back out, Minseok is casually sipping his coffee as he video calls Jongdae.

“Oh, Kyungsoo just got up,” Minseok tells Jongdae as Kyungsoo sits down across from him. 

“Hi, Kyungsoo!” Jongdae yells through the phone. Kyungsoo can picture him grinning and jumping up.

“Morning,” Kyungsoo replies, laughing a little.

“Ah, Baekhyun,” Jongdae says. “You’re finally up?”

Kyungsoo bites down on his tongue and lets out a curse. 

“Baekhyun wants to know when he can return,” Jongdae says.

“I’ll ask,” Minseok replies in the same bright voice Jongdae uses. The two of them are definitely fucking with him. “Hey, Kyungsoo, when can Baekhyun come back?”

“Whenever he wants,” Kyungsoo responds, still wincing over his tongue.

“He says whenever he wants,” Minseok tells Jongdae, “but please tell him to wait for a bit. I have to talk to Kyungsoo about a few things.”

“Sounds good. Love you!”

“Love you too,” Minseok says, giving Jongdae a sweet smile before hanging up. Kyungsoo’s eyes flit back down to his food and he wonders if Baekhyun would ever look at him like that. Maybe he’d be more inclined to now, or maybe not, seeing how Kyungsoo freaked out yesterday.

“So,” Minseok says, setting his phone down and giving Kyungsoo a look. “You’re really okay with seeing Baekhyun?”

“Yeah. He lives here, too.” Kyungsoo replies, trying to sound disinterested. “I’m fine.”

“That’s why you spent most of your waking day at a bar? Because you’re fine?” Minseok asks.

“I needed time to process.”

“The bartender said that you were sad and crying.”

“Processing.”

“Why were you sad?”

Kyungsoo can’t help the small glare he sends Minseok, but his friend doesn’t back down, smiling right back.

“I don’t like being toyed with.”

“Are you talking about Baekhyun?” Minseok asks and Kyungsoo gives him a pointed stare that answers the question. “He isn’t toying with you.”

“He might think he isn’t, but he’s not exactly reliable,” Kyungsoo replies, unable to keep the bitter edge out of his voice. “He’ll drop me after a while and then I’ll go back to being the person he holds hands with sometimes.”

“Kyungsoo, I don’t think–”

“He started off pretty much hating me,” Kyungsoo says. “How can he like me now?”

“People can change,” Minseok says gently. “And weren’t you beginning to feel differently about him as well?”

“I think it was just because we were around each other all the time and he’s objectively attractive,” Kyungsoo replies. “I thought about it and it’s not that hard to trick yourself into liking someone if you’re desperate enough.”

Minseok looks heartbroken as he watches Kyungsoo, which Kyungsoo doesn’t like very much.

“I’m fine,” Kyungsoo says, setting down his spoon. “I just don’t trust him.”

“I think you should give him one more chance,” Minseok suggests tentatively. He reaches forward and takes Kyungsoo’s hand. “But I’d understand if you didn’t. I’m sorry you feel that you can’t trust him.”

Kyungsoo just shrugs his shoulders and stands up. “I can do the dishes. You’re welcome to stay or go home. Don’t feel obligated to stay.”

Baekhyun returns in the evening to a quiet apartment. Kyungsoo is nowhere to be found and Baekhyun isn’t sure if that makes him more or less nervous.

It turns out that Kyungsoo went for a run and when he gets back, Baekhyun is in the middle of watching a rerun of some old show he doesn’t remember the name of. Baekhyun tenses up when Kyungsoo walks in, but Kyungsoo barely gives him a sideways glance as he goes to the bathroom to shower. When he comes back out, Baekhyun is nervously playing with the pillows on the couch.

“Kyungsoo,” Baekhyun says as Kyungsoo rubs his hair with a towel, walking back into the living room. “Can we talk?”

Kyungsoo looks over at him and nods. He can probably feel Baekhyun’s anxiety as he sits down next to him.

“I’m sorry if what I said made you uncomfortable. We can pretend that it never happened if that makes it easier for you,” Baekhyun says. Kyungsoo isn’t looking at him as Baekhyun is speaking, but he nods along to Baekhyun’s words.

“So are you taking it back?” Kyungsoo asks. His voice is soft and almost cold, and Baekhyun can’t quite tell how he’s feeling. It’s almost as if he’s formed a barrier around himself.

“No,” Baekhyun says slowly. “I just don’t want you to feel any pressure. It was unfair of me to spring it on you and I don’t expect anything from it.”

“Okay,” Kyungsoo says. He turns and finally properly looks at Baekhyun. “If you’re making me uncomfortable, I just have to tell you, right?”

“Yeah,” Baekhyun replies. 

“Then, you’re making me uncomfortable right now.”

“Hm?” Baekhyun smiles awkwardly, unsure of what to do. “Um, how so?”

“I don’t like when you go shirtless around the apartment.”

“Ah, sorry.” Baekhyun grabs the pillow he was playing with earlier and uses it to cover himself up. “I’ll get a shirt on then.” He stands up, but Kyungsoo grabs his arm and Baekhyun feels like he’s being pierced by his eyes.

“Wait.” Kyungsoo tugs him back down. “Help me out with something first.”

“Um, sure,” Baekhyun says, feeling completely out of his element. Kyungsoo pulls the towel off his shoulders and doesn’t let go of his arm.

“You say you like me, but I don’t know if I like you,” Kyungsoo says. 

Baekhyun can’t tell what he’s getting at, but he nods. “Right.”

“Let me try something,” Kyungsoo says.

“It depends on what it is,” Baekhyun responds. Kyungsoo’s hair is still damp as the skin on his neck is covered in a sheen of not-yet evaporated water. Baekhyun tries to pull it together and concentrate on Kyungsoo’s words.

The hand on Baekhyun’s arm loosens and Kyungsoo leans into his space. “Let me kiss you.”

Baekhyun stares at Kyungsoo in disbelief, but when Kyungsoo doesn’t laugh and tell him it’s a joke, Baekhyun realizes he needs to answer him.

“Okay,” Baekhyun chokes.

Kyungsoo reaches up and pulls Baekhyun closer by the back of his neck. Baekhyun leans forward and circles an arm around Kyungsoo’s waist, wondering if this is really happening right now.

“Close your eyes,” Kyungsoo orders and this time Baekhyun can sense a hint of nervousness.

Baekhyun closes his eyes.

Kyungsoo’s lips are soft and warm and Baekhyun feels like he’s been electrocuted as their soul bond seems to crackle with energy, unlike anything their hand-holding has produced before. It feels dangerous, but then Kyungsoo parts his lips and Baekhyun forgets what he was thinking about. Kyungsoo’s tongue is in his mouth and Baekhyun thinks he might be losing his mind. All he wants to do is get closer until every part of him is touching Kyungsoo. 

Kyungsoo’s hand trails down his bare back and Baekhyun shivers, pushing Kyungsoo back so that he’s straddling him. It’s too much and not enough. Kyungsoo seems to agree with the latter as both his hands seem to be mapping Baekhyun out, running along his ribs, his shoulders, the small of his back.

Then, abruptly, Kyungsoo pulls back. His breath comes out in pants and his lips are swollen as he stares up at Baekhyun, eyes wide.

“That’s fine,” Kyungsoo breathes out, sounding anything but fine.

“What?” Baekhyun asks, but Kyungsoo is rolling out from under him and heading into the kitchen before Baekhyun can say anything else.

“Shirt, please,” Kyungsoo reminds him, regaining his usual calm demeanor, even with his flushed face and red lips.

Baekhyun suddenly feels very exposed as Kyungsoo casually takes out the kettle. He begins boiling some water as if Baekhyun isn’t there anymore.

“Right. Shirt,” Baekhyun echoes, standing up to grab something to wear.

Is that it then? Baekhyun still feels weird and kind of hot from what they just did, but Kyungsoo seems like he’s over it. Not sure what to do with himself, Baekhyun pulls on a shirt and sits back down on the couch. He feels wholly out of place as Kyungsoo takes a seat at the kitchen table and begins typing something up, adjusting his glasses as he works.

Okay, then. That must’ve been the fastest way Baekhyun fucked something up. At least, it wasn’t a bad kiss? Or maybe it was really bad for Kyungsoo. Baekhyun debates asking, but he sees Kyungsoo concentrated on his laptop and decides not to. Instead, he turns on the TV and tries to ignore how bothered he feels.

It seems that their impromptu makeout session was a one-time thing as Kyungsoo barely looks in his direction now. He’s still as polite as ever, but now there’s an undercurrent of detachment whenever they interact. It’s stifling, and it’s made even worse by the fact that Baekhyun really wants Kyungsoo’s attention now, more than anything.

Baekhyun feels a bit pathetic as he tries to get on Kyungsoo’s good side. He cooks even more than Kyungsoo now and he cleans up after himself so much that their apartment could be in a furniture catalog. And he always has a shirt on.

Kyungsoo thanks him for the food and will briefly nod in approval when Baekhyun clears his own space, but that’s it. It’s as if Baekhyun is another piece of furniture in their living space, which is great. So great.

“What are you watching?” Baekhyun asks, hovering around the kitchen where Kyungsoo is watching a drama.

“A show,” Kyungsoo answers vaguely.

“Is it any good?” Baekhyun asks. 

“No,” Kyungsoo replies.

“Oh,” Baekhyun says, realizing that Kyungsoo is trying to end their conversation. “That’s not good.”

Kyungsoo hums in agreement, but he’s no longer paying Baekhyun any attention. Although, it’s not like Baekhyun had much of his attention to begin with.

“The weather is nice,” Baekhyun tries again. “Do you want to go for a walk?”

“I’m a bit tired,” Kyungsoo responds. “I’m probably going to bed soon.”

“Oh,” Baekhyun says, feeling like he’s spiraling as he’s continuously rebuffed. “Um, I can go to bed early as well. So that I don’t wake you up on accident later.”

“Sleep whenever you’d like,” Kyungsoo says, moving to sit down on the couch.

“Okay,” Baekhyun sighs, slumping against the counter in defeat. He’s really going to die pining after someone who prefers that he doesn’t exist. Yeah, that sounds about right.

Three weeks after his initial confession and Kyungsoo’s subsequent lack of friendliness, Baekhyun resorts to desperate measures and comes up with a plan.

His plan consists of three steps. 

  1. Go to the gym and work up a sweat.
  2. Return home before Kyungsoo does.
  3. Take off his shirt.

Something has to happen, right? Kyungsoo will chide him for smelling or tell him to leave or force him to put on a shirt. Baekhyun hasn’t broken the shirt rule yet, so it’ll be noticeable. But maybe Kyungsoo will realize what Baekhyun is trying to do and ignore him completely. Oh no. Wait. Baekhyun rethinks his plan–

Nope. He’s going to do it. Hopefully, he doesn’t actually get told to leave, though.

Right after work, he goes to the gym and completes step one, working out for about thirty minutes. He smells all gross and sweaty. Maybe Kyungsoo will make him take a shower.

When he gets back, Baekhyun is relieved to see that Kyungsoo still isn’t home. This was the riskiest part of his plan because it depended on traffic and how busy Kyungsoo would be.

Baekhyun whips off his shirt and throws it in the hamper. Step three is complete. 

Baekhyun paces the living room and takes stock of the situation. He’s waiting for Kyungsoo to get back so that he can flash his pale body at him. And he’s doing this so that Kyungsoo will finally acknowledge his existence with more than a single sentence. Beginning to feel a bit ridiculous, Baekhyun changes his mind at the last second, but before he can run back to their closet and throw something on, Kyungsoo walks through the front door.

“Welcome home,” Baekhyun says, scrambling to grab something to cover himself with. This was a bad plan. This was a very bad plan. “How was your day?”

Baekhyun has grabbed the book Kyungsoo has been spending forever on and is covering his nipples with it. What the fuck is wrong with him?

“Fine,” Kyungsoo says, and although his voice is monotonous, he’s watching Baekhyun with confusion. “What are you doing?”

“I was changing.” Baekhyun tries to smile as Kyungsoo looks around.

“In the living room?”

“I was trying to find good lighting.”

“To get dressed?”

“Yeah, the right mood can really help, you know?”

Baekhyun sets Kyungsoo’s book down, realizing that it’s not really helping him at the moment.

“You’re not wearing a shirt.”

“Yup, I will get one on right now.” Baekhyun side steps towards their bedroom. “I wasn’t expecting you to get back right now, haha.”

“I always get back around this time,” Kyungsoo replies. There’s intent in his gaze as if he’s figured out what Baekhyun was up to before he chickened out. “Did you go to the gym?”

“Yeah,” Baekhyun answers. “I should actually probably shower, now that you mention it.”

“Ah, I wanted to shower,” Kyungsoo says, setting down his backpack and taking off his shoes. 

“You can shower first,” Baekhyun immediately offers.

“No, it’s fine,” Kyungsoo replies, unbuttoning his shirt. Baekhyun swallows nervously as Kyungsoo’s omnipresent t-shirt shows up underneath his work button-up. “I’ll join you.”

“Sure,” Baekhyun says automatically. “Wait, what?”

“We can save time and water.” Kyungsoo makes it sound so reasonable.

Baekhyun doesn’t know how to respond, so he opts to make a weird strangled noise and heads towards the bathroom.

When they’re both standing in the shower—which is too small because Baekhyun keeps brushing up against Kyungsoo and this is not okay—Baekhyun wonders how his plan backfired this badly. Kyungsoo is quiet as he shampoos his hair and Baekhyun is trying not to look at all the glistening skin in front of him.

“Can you help me with my back?” Kyungsoo asks, seemingly oblivious to Baekhyun’s internal struggles. Where is their soul bond when Baekhyun needs it?

“Your back?” Baekhyun echoes.

Kyungsoo holds up the bar of soap. 

“I always have trouble reaching my back.”

Baekhyun wordlessly takes the soap and waits for Kyungsoo to turn around. Methodically, he lathers Kyungsoo’s back and wonders if this is his own personal hell.

“I can do you, now,” Kyungsoo says and it takes Baekhyun extra-long to get past the initial innuendo he hears. 

“My back?” Baekhyun asks, just to make sure he isn’t going insane.

“Yeah,” Kyungsoo replies, stretching his hand out for the soap. Baekhyun tries his best to discern what Kyungsoo is feeling, but it doesn’t work as Kyungsoo washes Baekhyun’s back. “Done.”

Baekhyun turns back around to face Kyungsoo and catches him giving Baekhyun a peculiar look.

“Did you go shirtless on purpose?” Kyungsoo asks, stepping forward just enough so that he isn’t under the showerhead.

Baekhyun is about to lie and come up with a random excuse, but Kyungsoo doesn’t seem to be all that upset, just curious.

“Yes,” Baekhyun admits, cursing their similar height. He can’t look up or down to avoid Kyungsoo’s gaze. 

“Why?” Kyungsoo asks.

“I…” Baekhyun lets out an embarrassed huff of laughter. “I know you don’t really feel like dealing with me right now, but I wanted you to notice me.”

He feels like a child, explaining his reasoning. 

“You have my attention now,” Kyungsoo says softly, his words nearly lost to the sound of running water. “What are you going to do with it?”

Baekhyun means to say something clever or funny, but his brain chooses to short circuit just then.

“I don’t know. I didn’t think this far ahead,” Baekhyun answers weakly. He can’t tell if he’s imagining the quick quirk of Kyungsoo’s lips.

“You still have soap in your hair,” Kyungsoo tells him. Baekhyun thinks that he's already lost Kyungsoo’s focus again. 

They shower in silence after that and Baekhyun looks anywhere but at Kyungsoo. He’s beyond embarrassed and he knows Kyungsoo knows, but neither of them says anything.

Once they’re finished, Baekhyun waits for Kyungsoo to leave the room with a towel, before allowing himself to bury his head in his hands and stare at himself in the mirror. He’s half-expecting his forehead to be branded with the word “fool” as he replays their entire conversation over and over again.

Even if it feels like an eternity, he can’t have been in the bathroom for more than five minutes.

Kyungsoo is standing in the middle of their bedroom, checking something on his phone. He doesn’t have his glasses on, so the phone is too close to his face and he’s squinting. Baekhyun can’t help the surge of affection he feels as he watches him. Feeling the swell of emotion from Baekhyun, Kyungsoo looks up. Baekhyun really wishes he could turn it off like Kyungsoo has.

Baekhyun tries to slip past Kyungsoo so that he can get some clothes to go on a long walk and feel embarrassed on his own. But Kyungsoo catches him off guard, asking, “What did you want to talk to me about?”

It’s quiet enough that Baekhyun can hear his heart thumping in his chest and he wonders why Kyungsoo is looking at him so seriously. Baekhyun thinks about what he really wants to say. He wants to ask him about why he kissed him and why he’s ignoring him. He wants to ask him if he likes him back or if he’ll ever like him back. He wants to ask if there’s some way Kyungsoo will forgive him for who he is and what he’s done to him because even with his walls up, Baekhyun can still feel his hurt when he’s dreaming at night.

But he won’t ask him any of those things, because he promised to give Kyungsoo space.

“Nothing. I was just being dumb.” Baekhyun smiles as sincerely as he can. “I really need to find something to do with my free time.”

“How long do you think you’ll keep liking me?” Kyungsoo asks suddenly. “How long until you don’t?”

“I don’t know.” Baekhyun stares at Kyungsoo in confusion. “I can’t control how I feel.”

Kyungsoo doesn’t seem to like his answer as he lets out a sigh.

“If you want me to leave you alone more, I can do that,” Baekhyun offers. Is this what Kyungsoo felt when Baekhyun pushed him away? It aches.

“I don’t think you can,” Kyungsoo replies. “How long do you think you would last if I told you to stop interacting with me at all?”

Baekhyun feels like his heart is being stomped on, but he tries not to let it show.

“I’d try my best,” Baekhyun answers quietly, “if you wanted that.”

“You care about what I want now?” Kyungsoo asks. His voice is still soft and even and somehow that makes everything worse.

Baekhyun doesn’t respond. All he can do is look away and hope that he doesn’t appear as foolish as he feels.

“Are you sure you even like me?” Kyungsoo continues. “Or do you just feel guilty?”

Baekhyun bites the inside of his cheek and answers, “what if it’s both?”

Kyungsoo sighs again and Baekhyun feels like he’s being inflated with things he doesn’t want to feel.

“What am I to you?”

Baekhyun feels like he’s being crushed every time Kyungsoo continues his barrage of questions. 

“What do you want me to say?” Baekhyun asks, looking up to see Kyungsoo staring at him with more emotion than Baekhyun’s seen from him in a while. “You can ask me all the questions you want, but I’m not going to tell you that I was lying or that I don’t like you anymore.”

“I don’t believe you,” Kyungsoo says and Baekhyun catches a glimpse of that pain again when Kyungsoo forgets not to show it to him. “You can’t just change how you feel like that.”

“Is that why you kissed me? To test whether I was lying?”

It’s Kyungsoo’s turn to be caught off guard as he stares at Baekhyun with wide, scared eyes.

“I didn’t just flip a switch and start liking you.” Baekhyun feels too open and vulnerable as Kyungsoo watches him. “I tried not to. I really did. You can tell me to fuck off if you want, but I’m not lying to you.” His voice is louder than he wants it to be and he takes a step back. He wants to put some clothes on so that he has something to hide behind. “I have to change.”

When he gets to the closet, he roughly pulls on a shirt, underwear, and sweatpants, trying to keep himself from tearing up. He knew Kyungsoo was hurt, but he didn’t know it was this bad. He doesn’t know what to do and he’s not stupid enough to think that he can fix it just by passively waiting. 

Baekhyun swipes at his cheeks. The ball is in Kyungsoo’s court now, and that’s that.

Kyungsoo isn’t sure what possesses him to hound Baekhyun with questions. He knows that he might’ve just made it infinitely worse for them, but he doesn’t regret it as much as he thought he would. He doesn’t particularly feel like explaining his actions, but Baekhyun doesn’t seem to want any answers. 

“Do you want me to stop talking to you?” Baekhyun asks from behind him. Kyungsoo mutes the TV and turns around. “Please tell me.”

Kyungsoo regards Baekhyun carefully. 

“You want my attention,” Kyungsoo states. When Baekhyun doesn’t answer, Kyungsoo rephrases it as a question.

“I’ll take whatever you want to give me,” Baekhyun replies, his shoulders a tense line as he waits for Kyungsoo to answer.

Kyungsoo thinks about it for a moment, feeling a strange sense of satisfaction as he takes in Baekhyun’s form. Baekhyun will really listen to whatever he says right now. But there’s really only one thing at the moment that Kyungsoo wants from Baekhyun. Wondering if he’s finally lost his mind, Kyungsoo looks down for an instant, trying to collect himself.

“You said you wanted more attention,” Kyungsoo says. “I’ll give you more attention.”

This is not what Baekhyun meant. 

Kyungsoo still ignores him for the majority of the day, but now, once a day, he gives Baekhyun his undivided attention, and it’s–it’s a lot.

“How was your book?” Baekhyun asks, trying not to sound flustered. “I saw you finished it.”

“It was fine,” Kyungsoo replies, leaning against the back of the couch, just over Baekhyun’s shoulder. “The main character found love and lived happily ever after.”

“That’s nice,” Baekhyun says uncertainly.

“Is it?” Kyungsoo returns. “I guess so.”

Baekhyun is quiet for a bit, wondering when Kyungsoo is finally going to start his usual routine. 

He’s never very ready for it and as Kyungsoo deliberately drapes himself across his back and lets his lips brush Baekhyun’s ear, he resists the urge to face Kyungsoo.

Baekhyun can feel Kyungsoo’s amusement and wonders what’s going through his mind as Kyungsoo murmurs, “So?”

“So,” Baekhyun whispers back as Kyungsoo’s fingers ghost over the back of his neck and land on his shoulder.

It takes only a moment before Kyungsoo is tilting his head back so that he can look at Baekhyun properly. He’s smiling a little like he knows what he’s putting Baekhyun through every time he does this.

“Yes or no?” Kyungsoo asks patiently as if they have all the time in the world. As if he doesn’t already know Baekhyun’s answer.

“Yes,” Baekhyun responds, and he only waits a second longer before Kyungsoo kisses him. Completely giving up on the pretense of staying seated, Baekhyun curls a hand into Kyungsoo’s shirt. There are none of the strange sparks of spite from Kyungsoo like the first time. Instead, it’s heady, making Baekhyun feel almost drunk. Kyungsoo explores and Baekhyun lets him.

It doesn’t matter how many times they do this, because Baekhyun is still woefully unprepared when Kyungsoo pulls away.

Kyungsoo doesn’t slip out of his reach when they part and he doesn’t loosen his grip on Baekhyun’s arm as he licks his lips. Baekhyun follows his lead and keeps his hold on the front of Kyungsoo’s shirt.

“How was your day?” Baekhyun asks, ignoring the pounding in his chest while Kyungsoo’s eyes are focused on him.

“Fine,” Kyungsoo replies, blinking like he’s trying to figure something out. It’s been nearly two weeks since Kyungsoo agreed to pay Baekhyun more attention, but he’s never hesitated to let go before. “Isn’t Jongdae’s birthday tomorrow?”

“Yeah,” Baekhyun confirms. They already bought and wrapped their presents for Jongdae, so he isn’t sure why Kyungsoo is asking.

Kyungsoo lets go slowly and Baekhyun does as well.

“When are you getting home tomorrow?”

“Around five or six,” Baekhyun replies. “Why?”

“I’m not going to get back until seven,” Kyungsoo says, frowning. “We have to go straight to his house to get there on time.”

“Okay, I can pick you up from work then,” Baekhyun suggests.

“Okay.”

Kyungsoo releases Baekhyun with a blank look on his face that Baekhyun has now come to recognize as his thinking face.

“Are you hungry?”

“I mean, I wouldn’t mind eating right now,” Baekhyun replies. Kyungsoo’s tongue darts out to wet his lips and Baekhyun stares for a little too long. “Ice cream, maybe? Something with…” Whipped cream, his brain supplies helpfully. “Spoons.”

Kyungsoo shoots him a weird look, emerging from his own thoughts.

“Like soup?”

“Ice cream,” Baekhyun repeats feebly. “I want ice cream.”

For a moment, Kyungsoo gives him the most amused grin, before turning away and pretending it didn’t happen.

Baekhyun suppresses the desire to reach out and say something stupid like, “Please, please do that again.”

“Alright, ice cream, then,” Kyungsoo says, already heading to the freezer. He still sounds like he’s grinning.

Kyungsoo feels out of balance as Chanyeol animatedly tells a story to everyone in the room. Baekhyun is sitting to his right and he’s been interjecting and laughing as Chanyeol talks. His hand is casually resting on Kyungsoo’s knee as they listen and he tries to ignore how warm it feels. 

Jongdae leaps up from where he’s sitting on the other side of Baekhyun and laughs raucously as Minseok shakes his head, trying to pull his soulmate back down before he falls over. There’s a slight flush to his cheeks and he’s definitely on his fourth or fifth beer, but Chanyeol, equally drunk, holds his hands out and pulls Jongdae excitedly into the middle of the living room.

“And then Baekhyun,” Jongdae practically yells, earning a shake of the head from Baekhyun himself, “pretended to be my girlfriend! Still dressed up for the music video! And he was so pretty–you were so pretty!” Jongdae gestures wildly to Baekhyun. “I was so surprised! So pretty and you kissed me on the cheek and it made me blush and Minseokkie was so jealous.”

“I have it all saved on my phone,” Chanyeol declares proudly.

“You guys were so dumb in high school,” Minseok sighs.

“And now I’m old,” Jongdae says confidently, raising his beer. “Come here, Baekhyun. I want to toast to your beauty.”

Baekhyun obliges, standing up, and Kyungsoo is unable to quell his panic when he feels Baekhyun’s warmth disappear. Baekhyun turns for a fraction of a second, but Kyungsoo has already reined it in and tries to appear nonchalant. It must work because Baekhyun turns back around and says something snarky to Jongdae. Baekhyun gets whacked in the arm by both Chanyeol and Jongdae. 

Kyungsoo watches their antics for a little longer before excusing himself to the bathroom. He runs into Jongin in the hallway and spends some time chatting with him before continuing on his way. 

As he’s washing his hands, he hears the music grow louder. Someone probably turned it up. Based on Jongdae’s continuous screaming about how he wishes he could go clubbing, it’s probably his doing, and Kyungsoo laughs to himself as he dries his hands.

When he opens the door, he’s surprised to see Baekhyun standing on the other side, nursing his wrist.

“Are you okay?” Kyungsoo asks, exiting and opening the door wider to let Baekhyun in.

“Yeah.” Baekhyun pulls Kyungsoo back in with him and shuts the door. “Chanyeol spilled his lemonade on my hand. It’s really sticky.”

Kyungsoo waits with his back facing the mirror as Baekhyun rinses his sleeve.

“Tired?” Baekhyun asks.

“I’m alright,” Kyungsoo replies, glancing at Baekhyun’s wet sleeve. “You?”

“I forgot how energetic they can be when they’re drunk.”

Kyungsoo smiles and studies the tiling on the wall as Baekhyun finishes up.

“Earlier, when I stood up,” Baekhyun says, turning off the sink, “were you worried?”

Kyungsoo looks towards the door so that he doesn’t have to see Baekhyun in his peripheral vision. 

“No,” Kyungsoo lies. Baekhyun likes to talk about how he’s being stupid all the time, but Kyungsoo knows he’s really the stupid one here.

“You don’t need to worry,” Baekhyun says, breezing past Kyungsoo’s obvious fib. His fingers brush Kyungsoo’s. “I’m not going to run away again.”

“I’m not worried,” Kyungsoo repeats futilely.

Baekhyun touches his shoulder and Kyungsoo finally turns to look at him. They’re close enough that Kyungsoo can see the individual specks of glitter that Jongdae dusted on Baekhyun’s cheeks earlier.

“Yes or no?” Baekhyun asks.

Kyungsoo is still leaning against the sink as Baekhyun’s arm presses into his own. They’re facing opposite directions, but Kyungsoo can already feel himself turning to meet Baekhyun.

“Yes.”

Baekhyun only needs to tilt his head a little closer before he reaches Kyungsoo. He smells really good as he kisses Kyungsoo on the corner of his mouth, before pressing another kiss on his lips. It smells like… his cologne and the apple scented candles Minseok snuffed out before the party started.

Baekhyun’s fingers lace with Kyungsoo’s as he coaxes his lips apart. Kyungsoo curls his own fingers in response and expels a soft sigh as Baekhyun continues to kiss him, tasting like Jongdae’s birthday cake.

The door bursts open suddenly and they spring apart to see Minseok with his mouth wide open and his eyes even wider.

“I knocked,” Minseok says slowly, clearly still processing the scene in front of him. “But no one answered. And the door was unlocked.”

“Sorry, we’re leaving,” Baekhyun says. Kyungsoo opens the door all the way and apologizes as well, hoping that Minseok will chalk up his flush to the alcohol and not embarrassment.

“Okay,” Minseok says, still staring at them like he can’t believe his own eyes. “Um, Jongdae was looking for you, Kyungsoo.”

Kyungsoo nods once before Baekhyun pulls him away. There’s some bashfulness from both of them, but they pretend not to notice it as Baekhyun goes to the kitchen to mingle and Kyungsoo searches for Jongdae.

Jongdae is laying on the couch looking exhausted from his previous demonstration. 

“What are you doing?” Kyungsoo asks as he sits down on top of him.

Jongdae lets out a whine at Kyungsoo’s added weight and pushes him off. Laughing, Kyungsoo drops down on the ground, letting Jongdae run his fingers through his hair as he presses his back against the couch.

“I was just looking for you,” Jongdae informs him. “And then I couldn’t find you, so I looked for Baekhyun. And he wasn’t anywhere either. I was worried that something happened.”

“Nothing bad happened,” Kyungsoo assures him. 

“Good, good,” Jongdae slurs. “You know I usually don’t throw parties like this.”

“I know,” Kyungsoo replies, trying not to laugh at Jongdae’s inebriated state.

“Kyungsoo, you know I love you, right?” Jongdae asks suddenly. His hands travel from his hair to grip his shoulder. “Because I love you very much.”

“Drunkard,” Kyungsoo says, thrown by Jongdae’s sudden declaration. 

“I do,” Jongdae tells him. “We don’t see each other very much anymore. It’s Baekhyun’s fault, but I want you to know that I care about you just as much as I care about him.”

“I know,” Kyungsoo replies affectionately, feeling warm from the unexpected words. He leans his head back so that he bumps Jongdae’s hip. “Don’t worry.”

“But I do,” Jongdae replies, sounding a bit teary now. “I felt so bad that I was always by Baekhyun’s side, but not yours. I love you very much, Do Kyungsoo.”

“I love you, too,” Kyungsoo returns, setting his hand over the one Jongdae has on his shoulder. He feels out of balance again. “Happy birthday, you dork.”

Jongdae doesn’t answer and when Kyungsoo checks, he’s actually fallen asleep this time.

As they drive home, Baekhyun is rummaging through the bag of party favors they got from Minseok as Jongdae dozed on the couch.

“I put normal stuff in them, but Jongdae also snuck some things in and I forgot to check. If it’s anything rude, I’m going to apologize right now and he’ll definitely be hearing about it from me in the morning,” Minseok had said in one breath as he escorted people out.

“What’s in there?” Kyungsoo asks when they stop at a red light.

“Stuff,” Baekhyun deflects, sounding uncharacteristically sheepish.

“Like?”

“I’ll show you when we get back,” Baekhyun tells him, closing their bags and staring ahead at the light. He seems unable to meet Kyungsoo’s eyes.

By the time they get back, Kyungsoo is pestering Baekhyun with questions as he hides the bags from Kyungsoo’s prying eyes.

“How bad could it be?” Kyungsoo asks as Baekhyun shoves the bags under his shirt to keep Kyungsoo from dumping everything out on the hallway floor so he can see them.

“It’s not… bad. I just don’t want to show you out here,” Baekhyun answers with a smile.

Kyungsoo grumpily unlocks the apartment door and practically pushes Baekhyun through.

“Why do you want to know so badly?” Baekhyun asks with a slight smirk on his face. He’s enjoying this too much.

Kyungsoo narrows his eyes at the lump underneath Baekhyun’s shirt.

“You’re right. I don’t care. Keep them to yourself,” Kyungsoo decides, heading into the kitchen.

“Wait, no, I’m kidding,” Baekhyun says, following him in. “Here’s yours.”

He sets both bags down on the table and waits for Kyungsoo to open them. Kyungsoo only hesitates for a second before upending the contents out on the table.

There’s hand sanitizer, candles, a mini bottle of scotch, some lotion, and–

“Nice,” Kyungsoo remarks drily, lifting up the box of condoms.

“I texted Chanyeol and he says that he and Seungwan got the same things in their bags.” Baekhyun holds up the lotion. “Minseok is freaking out already.”

It takes Kyungsoo a second to realize that the strawberry lotion is actually lube.

“Oh.”

“But next time I’ll definitely let you dump it out in the lobby,” Baekhyun says cheerily, earning a glare from Kyungsoo.

He ignores Baekhyun for the rest of the night until they’re laying in bed. They’re holding hands, although Kyungsoo is starting to wonder if Baekhyun even needs this anymore.

“Hey,” Baekhyun whispers.

Kyungsoo doesn’t respond, pretending he can’t hear Baekhyun.

“Hey,” Baekhyun repeats. “Hey, hey, hey.”

“What?” Kyungsoo snaps. He makes sure Baekhyun can feel his annoyance.

“I have to wake up early tomorrow morning. I won’t be back until later in the afternoon.”

“On a Saturday?” Kyungsoo asks.

“Yeah, I have to take inventory,” Baekhyun tells him. “We’re setting up a new exhibit.”

“Are you and Jongdae both going to be there?” Kyungsoo questions.

“No, he works in the marketing department, just like you.” Baekhyun scoots a little closer and touches his forehead to Kyungsoo’s shoulder. “He does the boring stuff.”

“For a curator, you don’t travel very much,” Kyungsoo retorts, trying not to focus on the little puffs of breath on his neck every time Baekhyun exhales.

“Yeah, I’m not high up enough or something,” Baekhyun responds. Kyungsoo can feel Baekhyun’s foot hooking around his ankle.

“How long until you’re ‘high up enough?’” Kyungsoo asks.

“I don’t know. I’ve been working there for almost three years. They’ll have to take me somewhere sometime or fire me. I’m hoping it’s the former.”

Kyungsoo flips over onto his side so that he can face Baekhyun and tries to banish the little shivers up his neck.

“Where would you travel?”

“Well, it’s the National Museum of Korea,” Baekhyun replies, “so probably just this country.”

“Exciting,” Kyungsoo says. He’s having trouble concentrating on their conversation. The minimal light coming from their digital clock is illuminating Baekhyun’s face and Kyungsoo’s eyes keep straying to his lips. Why? Kyungsoo doesn’t know. They’ve kissed already today. He’s not being deprived of anything.

Except as Baekhyun continues to talk, Kyungsoo is beginning to feel like he is. They sleep in the same bed but they’ve never done anything more than cuddle.

“Like what you do? Where do you work again?” he asks mockingly.

Kyungsoo can’t even muster a glare as he turns away and closes his eyes, trying to keep Baekhyun from figuring out what he’s feeling.

“I’m just kidding,” Baekhyun says, misinterpreting Kyungsoo’s struggle as offense. “We love Lotte. I love Lotte World. Lotte Entertainment? Wonderful. Large corporations that make you come back home late and tired? Great.”

Kyungsoo grabs Baekhyun by the front of his pajamas and Baekhyun lets out a surprised yelp.

“But you get paid by Lotte so all hail Lotte,” Baekhyun amends, but Kyungsoo isn’t listening.

“Yes or no?”

Baekhyun lets out another strange noise, but it isn’t because of panic.

“When has it ever been no?” Baekhyun replies.

Kyungsoo hesitates for a moment, but Baekhyun pulls him closer.

“Yes, please.” He smiles sweetly at Kyungsoo and that might be what breaks him.

They’re laying on their sides, but Kyungsoo swings a leg over Baekhyun and settles himself on top of him. 

Kyungsoo feels antsy as he leans over Baekhyun. This is different from kissing in a bathroom or on the couch, but he can’t pinpoint why.

“Kyungsoo?” Baekhyun asks, reaching up to touch his cheek.

“Hi,” Kyungsoo says, before falling forward and meeting Baekhyun halfway. 

Kyungsoo’s hands plunge into Baekhyun’s hair and Baekhyun reaches under Kyungsoo’s shirt to rub circles into Kyungsoo’s sides. Baekhyun’s tongue slides against his own and Kyungsoo unwittingly lets out a moan. Baekhyun’s hands glide across his back as Kyungsoo tries not to move anything but his lips and his hands. There’s no more birthday cake and cologne as Kyungsoo tastes something that is wholly Baekhyun. Somehow he likes it more. 

And he wants more, more, more as Baekhyun scrapes his nails along Kyungsoo’s back. Kyungsoo lets go of Baekhyun’s hair to tug at his shirt. Baekhyun obliges and the soft fabric gives way to warm skin. Shivering as Kyungsoo touches him wherever he can, Baekhyun accidentally ruts his hips up. The heat curled low in Kyungsoo’s belly seems to grow and Kyungsoo continues to feed it as Baekhyun sits up and manages to wrestle Kyungsoo’s shirt off, pressing them chest-to-chest.

Baekhyun redirects his attention from Kyungsoo’s lips to his neck and Kyungsoo tilts his head to give him more access. It’s sharp and wet as Baekhyun nips and licks his way along Kyungsoo’s jaw. Unintentionally, Kyungsoo rolls his hips down and Baekhyun swears softly.

It’s been too long since they both got off and Kyungsoo can feel their desperation and want as they try to get closer to each other. His entire body feels too warm and it only gets hotter when Baekhyun touches him. 

Kyungsoo opens his eyes for a brief moment, meeting Baekhyun’s heavy look. He feels drunk.

“What time is it?” Kyungsoo asks, trying to clear his mind. Baekhyun’s fingertips lightly run across his ribs and he sucks in a sharp breath.

“I don’t know.” Baekhyun sounds as out of it as he feels.

“Wait.” Kyungsoo glances around, searching for the light of the digital clock. “It’s one in the morning.”

Baekhyun sits up more with Kyungsoo, grabbing onto his shoulders so that he doesn’t fall back.

“We should stop,” Baekhyun says hesitantly.

“You have to wake up early,” Kyungsoo replies, trying to agree with him. Hot, hot, hot.

“So we should sleep now,” Baekhyun says, hands settling on Kyungsoo’s hips. He has nice hands. Kyungsoo doesn’t want to stop.

“Sleep,” Kyungsoo echoes. “Yeah.”

“Right.”

They stare at each other for a second, when suddenly, Baekhyun’s phone pings with a notification. It snaps them out of their daze and Kyungsoo abruptly gets off of Baekhyun and nearly rolling off the bed in the process.

“Fuck, are you okay?” Baekhyun asks as Kyungsoo clings onto the sheets for a second, trying to keep himself from tumbling off.

“Yeah, uh, who is it?” 

Baekhyun helps pull him back on before checking.

“Jongdae is stopping by to see me tomorrow. He wanted to give me a heads up.”

First, he gives them lube and condoms and now he’s cockblocking them. Kyungsoo doesn’t know whether to thank or curse him for either of the aforementioned things.

“Okay, yeah, let’s sleep.”

Baekhyun nods in assent, typing something back to Jongdae before turning off his phone and laying back down.

It takes a while for the two of them to fall asleep.

Kyungsoo wakes up to an empty bed. Feeling a bit restless, he spends the morning tidying up random areas of the apartment and replaying the night before in his head. If Jongdae hadn’t texted Baekhyun, he doesn’t think they would’ve stopped, but where would they have ended up?

Kyungsoo wipes down the kitchen counter and clears the table. When he catches sight of Jongdae’s drunken party favors, he pauses. He thinks he’s just horny, but he isn’t quite sure anymore. 

As if reading his mind, Jongdae calls him.

“Hey, so I’m supposed to apologize for whatever I gave you guys last night, but I spent a lot of money on encouraging everyone to have safe sex, so I’ll apologize only if you were offended.”

“Thanks,” Kyungsoo replies sarcastically. It seems Jongdae wasn’t drunk when he carried his plan out. “I really appreciate the hand sanitizer.”

“What?” Jongdae gets cut off by someone in the background. “Oh, Baekhyun wanted to say hi, but he fell asleep earlier. I’m going to drive him home after he finishes napping.”

“Okay…” Kyungsoo looks back down at the assortment of objects on the table.

“He set a timer and everything,” Jongdae chortles. “There are forty-three minutes and forty-seven seconds left.”

“Why are you telling me this?” Kyungsoo asks, picking up the mini bottle of scotch and rolling it around in his hand.

“I’m bored,” Jongdae confesses. “Baekhyun asked me to come visit him and Minseok was cranky at home.”

“So now you’re bothering me?” Kyungsoo asks.

“I vaguely remember confessing my love for you last night,” Jongdae responds. “I think I deserve to bother you.”

Kyungsoo takes a deep breath and sets the bottle down. 

“Oh wait! Sooyoung just got here! I’m going to go talk to her. Sooyoung,” Jongdae croons, before hanging up.

Kyungsoo stares down at his phone, wondering if Jongdae is still drunk. It’s been a while since he’s been so energetic.

Standing there for a moment, Kyungsoo checks the time. Baekhyun is napping for about forty more minutes. He glances at the things on the table.

He has about forty minutes before Baekhyun wakes up and he has only an hour or two longer before Baekhyun comes back. If he just gets himself off fast enough, there shouldn’t be a problem, right?

Kyungsoo deliberates for a few more minutes.

He’s wasting time.

Grabbing the lube, Kyungsoo throws it into the bathroom and hurriedly strips naked, retrieving his bathrobe from his closet before rushing back into the bathroom. He checks the time again. There are still over thirty minutes. He can do this in thirty minutes.

The water is cold when he first steps in, so he waits a little longer. He picks up the lube and glares down at it until the water warms up significantly. Stepping under the spray, Kyungsoo swallows nervously and prays that Baekhyun is still sleeping soundly. He should be able to tell if he wakes up, so he’ll stop if Baekhyun does.

Kyungsoo barely remembers how to do this as he stares down for a moment before deciding to close his eyes. Reaching down, he grips his cock and bites his lip, trying to feel less awkward about this. He’s done it before, but it feels almost foreign now. 

He imagines random people, celebrities, attractive strangers. It takes only a minute before Kyungsoo gives up on trying to imagine anyone other than Baekhyun. And it’s much easier after that.

He braces himself against the wall, panting as he tries to calm down. Bending down, Kyungsoo checks how much time he has left, dripping water all over his phone. Over twenty minutes. Okay.

He picks up the lube he’d set aside and nervously squeezes it. Now or never, right?

Squirting some of it out onto his fingers, Kyungsoo rubs it vigorously over his index finger and tries to feel Baekhyun out. It seems that he’s still asleep, as Kyungsoo doesn’t feel any change from him.

He thinks back to the guides that Jongdae sent him when he first realized that his soulmate was Minseok. As much as he had cursed his friend out, he’s relieved that Jongdae made him study them so much. It makes him feel more methodical and in control as he reaches behind himself and lightly presses a finger to his rim. 

“Right, so they say you need to poo or something and then wash it out and then be super careful and relax. Relaaaaaax.” Jongdae’s voice comes through and Kyungsoo cringes.

“Go away, go away,” Kyungsoo groans aloud. He really needs Jongdae’s voice to go away.

“Maybe you could buy a dildo like I did?” Jongdae’s disembodied voice says in his head and Kyungsoo drops his head forward in frustration. Too much time has been spent with his friend. He’s about to get cockblocked by Jongdae again, fuck.

Baekhyun, Baekhyun, Baekhyun. Kyungsoo fills his thoughts with Baekhyun again, forcibly shoving Jongdae out of his mind, remembering how it had felt to have his hands on him last night.

He reaches down again, making sure he has enough lube. The strawberry scent is filling the entire bathroom and Kyungsoo doesn’t know how he’s going to cover it up, but he’ll worry about that later.

He imagines it’s Baekhyun instead, pressing his fingers against Kyungsoo’s rim. Slowly, he slips a finger in and lets out a deep breath as he works it all the way up to his knuckle. It’s tight, but not impossible to work with.

It takes a few more minutes as Kyungsoo gets used to it, but once he does, he tries a second finger. There’s a slight burn from the stretch, but it feels better than he expects. Maybe it’s because of how foreign it is, but Kyungsoo finds himself getting more and more turned on as he braces one forearm against the shower wall and begins to thrust his fingers in and out.

He tries a third finger and lets out an audible gasp that bounces around the shower. Embarrassed with his own reaction, Kyungsoo bites down on his lip and keeps going, but before he can get any farther, the feeling of confusion stops him. Baekhyun’s woken up.

Kyungsoo almost falls over as he tries to make himself presentable, turning the temperature of the water down. Praying that Baekhyun didn’t register what Kyungsoo was doing, he shampoos his hair and washes himself thoroughly with soap, trying to get the scent of strawberries off. 

Once he’s dried and dressed, he grabs air freshener and sprays it all over the bathroom. It barely masks the smell, but it’s the best he can do. Grabbing the lube, he scans his surroundings, deliberating on where it should go. It’s over half-used, which won’t escape Baekhyun’s notice, so he can’t just leave it out in plain sight.

Kyungsoo chooses to replace it in the bag it came from and throw it in his nightstand drawer. He debates moving Baekhyun’s as well, but he doesn’t want Baekhyun looking for his own bag and finding Kyungsoo’s with it.

He flings himself face down on the couch and sighs. This is what he gets for trying to help himself with limited time constraints. 

Baekhyun texts him about half an hour later, letting Kyungsoo know he’s going on a grocery run and asking if he needs anything. After staring blankly at the screen for a few minutes, Kyungsoo gets up and scans their fridge and pantry, checking for what they have.

There’s almost nothing in the fridge, so Kyungsoo instructs Baekhyun to buy plenty of meat and vegetables and then goes back to laying on the couch, ignoring his other priorities.

When Baekhyun finally returns home, he needs Kyungsoo to open the door for him as he sets all the food down in the doorway, heaving a sigh.

“Okay, I got a lot of stuff,” Baekhyun says as Kyungsoo begins hauling everything in. “Hopefully we’ll be good for a bit.”

“Are you preparing for the apocalypse?” Kyungsoo asks. 

Baekhyun shrugs with a smile on his face. “You never know.”

They spend a few minutes putting everything away and Kyungsoo relaxes a bit. Baekhyun isn’t acting strange and he seems to be in a pretty good mood. 

That is until Baekhyun pulls out a box of strawberries.

Kyungsoo stops in his tracks as Baekhyun waves the box around, seemingly unconcerned.

“Strawberries?” Baekhyun offers, already turning to wash them. “They looked so good I couldn’t help but buy some.”

Kyungsoo knows he’s probably just being paranoid, but he thinks about the strawberry-scented bathroom. They both got strawberry lube… but it’s just strawberries. 

“And there should be some strawberry Milkis in the fridge.” Baekhyun’s back is to him as he continues, “I was really feeling strawberries today.”

“Oh.” Kyungsoo is getting more and more distressed as he opens the fridge and finds the strawberry soda Baekhyun mentioned. “Great.”

Baekhyun finishes washing the strawberries and sets them on the table. He still seems as easygoing as before and Kyungsoo can’t sense any other emotions coming from him, so he sits and tries to calm down.

“Yum,” Baekhyun moans, picking one up and biting into it. He licks his lips and grins at Kyungsoo. “Should we sprinkle some sugar on them?”

Kyungsoo can’t tell if Baekhyun is behaving this way on purpose or if he’s just projecting, but it’s doing wonders for his heart rate.

“Are they not sweet enough?” Kyungsoo asks, taking one himself. 

“I think they’re pretty good,” Baekhyun replies. “It’s up to you.”

Kyungsoo takes a bite and watches Baekhyun as he smiles at him.

“It’s good like this.”

“Oh good. I chose the nicest ones I could find.” Baekhyun stands up. “Okay, I really need to pee. Enjoy the strawberries.”

Kyungsoo looks down at the bowl of strawberries in mild panic. The bathroom smells like cheap, artificial strawberries and the fresh ones in front of him seem to be mocking his flustered state.

They agreed to go celibate, but Kyungsoo didn’t think he was going to be the first one to break the rule. He pops another strawberry in his mouth and chews it aggressively, imagining what Baekhyun must be thinking right now. He might be a bit pissed that Kyungsoo decided to ignore the rule that he had upheld so well. The best-case scenario would be that he doesn’t really care.

“Fucking strawberries,” Kyungsoo grumbles, looking down at the fruit. Why didn’t Jongdae give them unscented lube? Although, that’s not really the point, is it…

“Did you take a shower?” Baekhyun asks, coming back out. “There’s water all over the place.”

“There weren’t any towels, so I had to run and get one,” Kyungsoo replies. It definitely isn’t the result of Kyungsoo scrambling around the apartment, opening all the windows in a panic. Definitely not.

Baekhyun nods and sits back down, propping his chin up on his hand. Tilting his head, he smiles again.

“How was your day?” Baekhyun’s voice drops a register and his smile isn’t quite as innocent as before. He knows.

“Fine.” Kyungsoo holds his gaze. “How was yours?”

“It was interesting.” Baekhyun pretends to think for a moment. “I was taking a nap today and when I woke up, for some reason, I really really wanted to see you.”

“Why?” Kyungsoo asks, resisting the urge to lean in.

“Not sure.” Baekhyun plucks up a strawberry by the leaves and twists it in a circle. “There was just an itch I needed to scratch.”

“What kind of itch?” Kyungsoo asks, eyeing Baekhyun’s fingers. They’re longer and more slender than Kyungsoo’s own.

“It doesn’t matter,” Baekhyun responds, lifting the strawberry up to his mouth. Kyungsoo’s eyes follow his hand up just as Baekhyun’s tongue darts out.

Kyungsoo tears his eyes away from Baekhyun’s hands and focuses on the wall behind him. Stop thinking about Baekhyun’s hands. Stop that right now.

“But enough about me. Did you think of me today?” Baekhyun teases. “Jongdae said he talked to you while I was napping.”

“We live together. Why wouldn’t I think of you?” Kyungsoo asks in return.

Baekhyun is quiet for a brief moment as he regards Kyungsoo. Then, he moves to sit next to him. There’s no subtlety as he pulls the chair out with a screech.

“What were you thinking about me?”

When Kyungsoo chooses to eat another strawberry instead of answering him, Baekhyun leans in and presses his nose into Kyungsoo’s hair. Kyungsoo jerks away a moment too late.

“You smell like strawberries,” Baekhyun notes. “Did we get a new shampoo?”

Baekhyun’s playing him and if Kyungsoo were in his right mind, he’d tell him to fuck right off and eat his strawberries by himself. But he’s not in his right mind as Baekhyun waits for him to answer, still dressed in his nice business casual attire because of his job’s weird rules.

“We didn’t,” Kyungsoo answers. “You must just really want strawberries today.”

“The bathroom smelled like strawberries too,” Baekhyun points out. Kyungsoo feels a crack forming in his own calm facade.

“Did it?”

Baekhyun rests a hand on Kyungsoo’s thigh innocuously.

“Kyungsoo,” he says in a deceptively casual tone, “did you fuck yourself in the shower?”

Kyungsoo stares back at him in stunned silence, but this time Baekhyun doesn’t fill in the silence for him, instead, waiting for his answer.

“Why does it matter?” Kyungsoo finally asks, returning Baekhyun’s smirk with a blank look. 

“I guess it doesn’t,” Baekhyun concedes, “but I wanted to know if you were thinking of me at all.”

“I thought of plenty of people,” Kyungsoo lies, forcibly relaxing. He can play this off. “It wouldn’t be that strange to think of you for a moment.”

“You know I was at work, right? What would’ve happened to me if I was awake?” 

Baekhyun changes topics so fast Kyungsoo doesn’t have much time to come up with anything but the truth. 

“Jongdae told me you were taking a nap, so I didn’t thi–”

“I had to lay there for another fifteen minutes, waiting until everyone had left the room.” Baekhyun is more serious now.

“I’m sorry,” Kyungsoo apologizes. “I shouldn’t have done it while you were out.”

“Just let me know next time,” Baekhyun replies. “I’d be happy to help. Even if you are thinking about other people.”

Kyungsoo doesn’t say anything, looking down at the hand Baekhyun still has on his lower thigh. He wonders if he’s crazy for entertaining the idea of taking advantage of this situation.

“You’re right,” Kyungsoo finally admits. “I was thinking about you.”

It’s Baekhyun’s turn to be shocked as he withdraws his hand and blinks in confusion.

“I was wondering what it’d feel like to be fucked so I tried it out, but you woke up before I could finish.” Kyungsoo eats another strawberry as Baekhyun silently stares at him. He’s feeling quite a few things, but Kyungsoo is too wired up to sort through his emotions. 

“Does that make you uncomfortable?” Kyungsoo asks, heart thudding in his chest. 

“I don’t think so,” Baekhyun says slowly.

“So…” Kyungsoo finally meets Baekhyun’s anticipatory gaze. “Yes or no?”

Baekhyun feels too much as Kyungsoo holds his face with both his hands and kisses him like he’s been waiting the entire day for it. Kyungsoo has him practically caged in, sitting in his lap and keeping Baekhyun’s attention focused solely on him.

This wasn’t what he expected when he woke up to a very strange feeling on the couch in the break room. He thought that he’d ask Kyungsoo about it and get to tease him for a bit before moving on, but instead, Kyungsoo met him head-on and now he has Baekhyun feeling just as worked up as he is.

Tightening his grip on Kyungsoo’s waist, Baekhyun pushes Kyungsoo against the table, sliding his hands down and cupping his ass. Kyungsoo groans against his mouth and pulls him closer until all that’s left between them is Kyungsoo’s t-shirt and Baekhyun’s work attire.

“You thought about me?” Baekhyun gasps when they pull apart for air.

“Who else was I supposed to think about?” Kyungsoo answers and it makes Baekhyun grin, before Kyungsoo yanks him back down.

Baekhyun doesn’t know how long they kiss for, but at some point, Kyungsoo pushes him off and Baekhyun takes several steps back, trying to ground himself again. Kyungsoo watches him with something akin to amusement and Baekhyun interprets it as a sign that they’re done for the day. 

“I need to–” Baekhyun cuts himself off as he bites his lip and leans back against the fridge, laughing at his own inability to function. “I’m going to shower, I think.”

Kyungsoo’s mirth morphs into disappointment and Baekhyun dips his head down so that he can look at him. Why is he disappointed? He’s had his fun twice today and Baekhyun has bought strawberries and regretted ever leaving their apartment. 

“Or I could just sit here,” Baekhyun suggests, trying to figure out Kyungsoo’s intentions.

Kyungsoo is less disappointed. Okay.

“What do you want to do?” Baekhyun asks, shrugging off his blazer and draping it on a chair.

“Would you…” Kyungsoo hesitates and picks at a small hole at the edge of his shirt. 

“I’m probably going to just agree with whatever you ask,” Baekhyun says. They both know he will.

“Would you actually sleep with me?” Kyungsoo asks. He’s a ball of anxious energy as he looks anywhere but at Baekhyun.

Baekhyun stares at him, not sure if he heard Kyungsoo correctly. 

“Like sleep as in resting or sleep as in…”

“Sex. I’m asking if you want to have sex.” Kyungsoo cuts in like he’s trying to hurry the conversation along for an answer.

“Um,” Baekhyun struggles. “Yes.” Haltingly, Baekhyun asks, “Now?”

“Maybe… Maybe later?” Kyungsoo is still looking away from him. “Like next week?”

“Uh, sure.” Baekhyun’s lips are still tingling from kissing Kyungsoo, so he bites down on them, trying to make the feeling go away. “Are you sure?”

“Yeah.”

He’s serious. Tapping his fingers against the fridge, Baekhyun considers it. He’s slept with one other guy before and that experience was pretty awful. But this will probably be different. It has to be.

Kyungsoo is anxious, unable to stop the feeling from inflating inside of him and filling Baekhyun up as well. Handsome, patient Kyungsoo. Baekhyun wonders how long Kyungsoo has waited to ask him this. It could’ve been one day or a few weeks or even before that. Despite their soul bond and close proximity to each other, Baekhyun can’t quite tell with Kyungsoo.

“Have you ever had sex with a guy before?” Baekhyun asks, biting the inside of his cheek, then his lip again.

“No.” 

Neither of them can look at the other. Baekhyun is finding all sorts of patterns on their ceiling as Kyungsoo ties the loose threads of his shirt together.

“Then should we go through the logistics?”

“What do you mean?”

“Who’s going to do what,” Baekhyun says inelegantly.

“We can figure that out when we’re there,” Kyungsoo replies, another burst of embarrassment coming from him. “I don’t know.”

“Are you sure about this?” Baekhyun asks. Sometimes he still feels like he’s pressuring Kyungsoo with his ever-present crush on him.

“I think I am.” Kyungsoo finally looks up at him. “Are you?”

“Yes?”

Kyungsoo doesn’t seem satisfied with his answer, but he nods and adds, “We can think about it. And if it doesn’t end up working out, then we can pretend this conversation never happened.”

“Next week, then,” Baekhyun says.

“Next week,” Kyungsoo confirms as if they’re setting an appointment for the dentist.

Okay. Okay then. This is happening.

The rest of the week seems to drag by at a snail’s pace as Baekhyun thinks and overthinks about what will happen when they reach the end of the week. Kyungsoo has to deal with something at work, so he’s barely home for anything other than sleeping and sometimes eating. This means Baekhyun has far too much time to himself.

So when Thursday rolls around, Baekhyun decides to do some shopping, going to the nearest convenience store to buy anything they might need.

He comes back home with a pack of gum, five different lubes of different flavors (he got really curious when he saw mango and it just spiraled from there), and three different types of condoms (lubricated, ribbed, and flavored again, yeah, Baekhyun had an itch he needed to scratch with all the flavor crap).

Dumping everything onto the coffee table, he sits on the ground of the living room. Baekhyun turns on the TV so that he has something playing in the background as he begins to rummage his bag. 

Baekhyun lines up the lubes and looks at their labels. Mango, grape, vanilla, banana, and cookies and cream. Oh, they also have strawberry somewhere. He stands up and retrieves the much smaller strawberry lube and sets it down next to the rest of them. 

He lines up the boxes of condoms next. Baekhyun bought lubricated ones because apparently those are the best type, but he bought ribbed condoms because he was kind of craving ribs… He should’ve eaten before he left. It probably would’ve prevented him from buying the flavored condoms, which are all tropical drinks. There’s pina colada, some daiquiri thing, and a cherry one.

Looking down at his collection in shame, Baekhyun rubs his eyes. He doesn’t even have anywhere to store these. He could return them, but that’d be so awkward. Baekhyun bangs his head against the table, wondering if he just blew three meals' worth of money on a bunch of crap that they’re never going to use.

He’s interrupted mid-bang by a confused, “What are you doing?” 

Their front door is partially open as Kyungsoo cautiously steps in, alarmed by the sounds of Baekhyun’s head meeting the wooden coffee table.

Thinking quickly, Baekhyun sweeps his arms across the table and slams his head back down, sending all of his new goodies onto the ground where Kyungsoo can’t see them. Unfortunately, the sound of several bottles and boxes hitting the floor is more noticeable than just banging his head. Kyungsoo kicks off his shoes and rushes over to make sure that Baekhyun is okay. Baekhyun wishes he could sink into the ground.

“No! It’s okay!” Baekhyun tries to tell Kyungsoo, expecting him to pick up the items strewn across the floor. Instead, Kyungsoo grabs his face and scans him for injuries.

“Your forehead is red,” Kyungsoo says as Baekhyun can only stare back in astonishment. He thought he was going to get scolded or ignored again. “What in the world are you doing?”

“I was researching,” Baekhyun mumbles, no longer monitoring the words coming out of his mouth.

“Researching? Is the new exhibit interactive? Is that why you were doing that to your head?”

“No, not for work–” Baekhyun cuts himself off as Kyungsoo notices something behind Baekhyun and lets go of his face. “Wait, Kyungsoo,” Baekhyun says, trying to divert his attention. “How bad is my forehead? I have a meeting tomorrow.”

Kyungsoo distractedly looks back at Baekhyun’s head and Baekhyun takes the chance to give him a hug, burying Kyungsoo’s face in his chest.

“I missed you. Did you have a good day?” Baekhyun asks, kicking the closest items under the couch as Kyungsoo’s protests are muffled against his shirt. “Your glasses look very clean even though you barely clean them.”

Kyungsoo pushes him off, fixing the aforementioned glasses with a glare. 

“Did you hit your head too hard?” Kyungsoo asks, running his hands through his hair. His attention has been successfully diverted as he stands up with a grumpy look on his face. It’s very cute, but Baekhyun wisely chooses to keep his observation to himself.

“Yeah, I think so. I don’t think I’ll be able to make dinner tonight. Should I order takeout?”

“Sure,” Kyungsoo says, glancing at Baekhyun’s forehead again. “Does it hurt?”

“I’ll let you know once it’s no longer numb. Figure out where you want to order from. I’ll go pick it up later.”

When Kyungsoo turns to look up the restaurants on his phone, Baekhyun flings himself across the room and gathers the rest of the items, pushing them under the couch as well.

“How do you feel about fried chicken?” Kyungsoo asks.

“Yum,” Baekhyun replies, panting against the couch from his sudden movements. Kyungsoo raises his eyebrows.

“Sit down,” Kyungsoo orders. “I’ll pick up the food.”

Baekhyun tries to tell Kyungsoo he’s fine, but Kyungsoo brushes off his protests. He spends the next few minutes lying on the couch as Kyungsoo calls their favorite fried chicken place. As soon as Kyungsoo gets the confirmation, Baekhyun leaps up and grabs his coat.

“I got this,” Baekhyun says, ushering Kyungsoo into the kitchen. “Feeling much better now. You just relax.”

Kyungsoo eyes him doubtfully but sits down at the table.

“Okay, brew some tea or something and take a break.” Baekhyun smiles and pats Kyungsoo on the shoulder, trying not to let his nervousness seep into their bond. “Just stay here. Or take a nap. Stop moving around so much.” And please don’t look under the couch.

“Um, okay,” Kyungsoo agrees, still looking concerned.

Baekhyun sweats his way to the chicken place and back, praying that Kyungsoo doesn’t go near the couch.

He’s relieved to see Kyungsoo calmly sipping a cup of tea. And then he sees what’s spread out on the table.

“That was fast,” Kyungsoo says, looking up from the assortment of lubes and condoms.

Baekhyun nearly drops the box of chicken but gives Kyungsoo a wobbly smile.

“Uh, traffic was bad,” Baekhyun replies, flustered.

“Bad?” Kyungsoo echoes in confusion.

“No. N-not bad. It was good. Good–um, where’d you get that from?” Baekhyun points at his purchases from earlier.

“I found one on the ground, and when I went to pick it up, I found a bunch more under the couch.” Kyungsoo looks down at them curiously.

“Weird.” Baekhyun shifts from foot to foot, then gives up and blurts out, “Should I return them?”

“Hmm?” Kyungsoo doesn’t seem too surprised that Baekhyun bought them, even if his ears turn pink. “Are you allowed to return these?” 

Baekhyun thinks that this is as good a time as any to talk about what they’re going to do this weekend.

“I’m not sure, but we should figure out if we need them, right?” Baekhyun sits down across from Kyungsoo and places the box of chicken on top of the condoms, so he doesn’t have to look at them anymore.

“Right,” Kyungsoo repeats.

“So when are we planning on doing this?” Baekhyun asks, pretending not to feel awkward. 

“I was thinking… tomorrow?” Kyungsoo answers. “That way we have the weekend to recuperate.”

“You really thought this through,” Baekhyun says, trying not to sound too disheartened. This really does feel like they’re setting up an appointment. He wonders if Kyungsoo will be this detached tomorrow.

“I just want to be ready,” Kyungsoo replies. “So tomorrow you don’t have to really worry about anything. Just be clean, I guess.”

“Am I ever dirty?” Baekhyun asks, sniffing his shirt. 

“No, no,” Kyungsoo says, shaking his head. “That’s not what I meant. You can take a shower or whatever you want. I don’t know why I said that.”

Baekhyun can’t help smiling at Kyungsoo’s attempt to fix his words.

“Okay, I’ll come squeaky clean. Anything else?”

“No,” Kyungsoo says, glancing at the box of chicken. “We can figure out everything else tomorrow.”

“It’s because you’re hungry, isn’t it?” Baekhyun points out.

“Yes, I’m starving,” Kyungsoo confesses with a slight pout. Cute.

“Okay, okay, let’s eat,” Baekhyun concedes. “We’ll finish this conversation tomorrow.”

“Tomorrow,” Kyungsoo agrees before digging in.

He’s late. He’s so late. He’s so so late.

The door to their apartment flies open, hitting the wall with a dull thud as Baekhyun catches his breath in the doorway.

Kyungsoo is sitting with his feet curled underneath him, watching a YouTube video on his laptop. With a startled jolt, he looks up to see Baekhyun trying to get his loafers off.

“I’m so sorry,” Baekhyun says, scrambling to close the door. He’s so fucking late. “I got sidetracked with reformatting this new room and I just lost track of time.”

“For almost three hours?” Kyungsoo asks. His voice is even, but Baekhyun can tell he’s annoyed.

It’s only then that Baekhyun notices Kyungsoo is wearing only a loose t-shirt and underwear. His hair lays a little flatter against his head like he’s just taken a shower and if Baekhyun’s weren’t so panicked to get back, he would’ve noticed a burning feeling coming from Kyungsoo about forty-five minutes ago. 

“We can call it off,” Baekhyun says, yanking his tie off and worrying his lower lip. “I’m sorry.”

Kyungsoo is now openly glaring at him and it makes Baekhyun take a few steps back.

“I just washed every possible area of my body for almost an hour,” Kyungsoo informs Baekhyun. “So yes, we can call it off if you want to, but if you’re saying that for me, don’t.”

Baekhyun smiles sheepishly and it softens Kyungsoo’s demeanor for a brief moment. “Okay, I’ll go take my shower.” 

His shower is quick and cold. When he comes back out, Baekhyun is only covered by a towel, but he figures if everything is eventually going to come off, there’s no reason to waste time wearing anything now. Kyungsoo is still sitting on the couch, bopping his head along to a music video on his laptop. At Baekhyun’s arrival, Kyungsoo gives him a once over and immediately seems to disagree with his towel.

“You’re going to get a cold,” Kyungsoo says, shaking his head. He still seems very displeased.

“Are you mad at me?” Baekhyun asks as Kyungsoo shuts his laptop.

“I’m kind of pissed,” Kyungsoo admits easily, swinging over the back of the couch so that he’s standing almost chest to chest with Baekhyun. “You didn’t call me or even shoot me a text. I thought I was being stood up.”

“We live together,” Baekhyun points out.

“I’m glad you still remember that much,” Kyungsoo replies, stepping forward. Baekhyun takes a step back so that he doesn’t fall over. “I didn’t know you enjoyed work that much. I didn’t even know where you worked until two months into living with you.”

Before Baekhyun can back up any further, Kyungsoo pushes him into the wall with just enough force that Baekhyun can feel it.

“I was so nervous the entire day, but now I’m just really really pissed,” Kyungsoo says, hands still against Baekhyun’s chest.

He may be pissed, but he’s also very, very turned on. Baekhyun can feel it thrumming through Kyungsoo. He’s never gotten this physical with Baekhyun before, but it’s probably because he’s sick of waiting.

“Is there anything I can do to make it up to you?” Baekhyun asks, beginning to feel a bit worked up as well.

Kyungsoo takes his hands off Baekhyun, only to grab a fistful of Baekhyun’s towel and pull him in for a searing kiss. Baekhyun accidentally lets go of his towel in surprise, but it doesn’t take much for him to get over it.

Somehow, they stumble their way to the bedroom, running into the walls quite a few times on the way there. When they finally reach the bed, they break apart so that Baekhyun can discard Kyungsoo’s shirt. Once it’s off, Baekhyun directs his attention to the skin right underneath Kyungsoo’s jaw, marking it up. In response, Kyungsoo lets out a groan, burying his hands in Baekhyun’s hair.

Baekhyun drags his lips down Kyungsoo’s chest to feel him shiver and continues until he reaches one of his nipples. Baekhyun decides to give it an experimental lick. 

The effect is immediate as Kyungsoo moans in surprise and yanks Baekhyun’s head up. There’s a surge of arousal that has Baekhyun biting the inside of his cheek. Kyungsoo’s eyes are wide as if he doesn’t know what to do with the noise that came out of his mouth. Keeping his eyes on Kyungsoo, Baekhyun lowers his head slowly. Kyungsoo stares back as Baekhyun presses his tongue against his nipple again. Tensing up, Kyungsoo shudders and loosens his hold on Baekhyun’s hair, seemingly giving him permission to continue. 

Baekhyun tries sucking instead and Kyungsoo lets another moan slip through. It’s high and lyrical, such a contrast from his usually lower register. It’s also really, really hot.

He spends a bit of time bruising up Kyungsoo’s chest until Kyungsoo is a trembling mess, enjoying the way Kyungsoo falls apart underneath him. Baekhyun can’t quite believe that Kyungsoo is letting him do this at all, but the hand scratching lightly on his scalp and the more subtle tones of trust coming from Kyungsoo encourage him to keep going. When Baekhyun glances up, he sees Kyungsoo’s fingers twisting in the sheets and his lips are bitten red from trying to keep it down.

“Why so quiet?” Baekhyun asks teasingly, moving back up to drop a kiss on Kyungsoo’s cheek.

“It sounds weird,” Kyungsoo answers shakily, turning his head away.

“I like how it sounds,” Baekhyun murmurs in a low voice. Kyungsoo seems to like that quite a bit if the pulse in their bond is anything to go by. “Can I try sucking you off?”

Kyungsoo nods and Baekhyun moves back down to pull off Kyungsoo’s underwear.

He’s already hard, cock curving up. Baekhyun looks up, but Kyungsoo has thrown his arm over his face, hiding his expression from Baekhyun.

“I’ve never done this before,” Baekhyun admits to Kyungsoo, “so I’m going to need you to let me know if I’m doing something right or wrong.”

”Okay,” Kyungsoo responds, eyes trained on Baekhyun’s lips. His thigh muscles are tense, so Baekhyun rubs them soothingly.

When Baekhyun takes the tip into his mouth, Kyungsoo exhales sharply in response. Swirling his tongue around earns him a quiet moan.

Pulling off for a moment, Baekhyun teases, “I’m going to need you to be louder.”

He goes back down again and this time Kyungsoo lets out a less controlled moan to Baekhyun’s delight. Then, Kyungsoo stops him with a squeeze on his shoulder. Baekhyun sits up right away and looks to Kyungsoo questioningly. 

Wordlessly, Kyungsoo bends down to pull him into another kiss. It’s different from the kisses they started off with. Instead of the rough frustration, there’s something more tender about it. Baekhyun forgets about what he was doing as Kyungsoo tugs him closer.

When Kyungsoo lets go, Baekhyun feels like he’s floating and it’s lovely.

“What–What was that?” he asks, holding onto Kyungsoo’s arm in an attempt not to just float right through the ceiling. 

“Thank you,” Kyungsoo murmurs, cupping Baekhyun’s cheek.

“For what?” Baekhyun leans into Kyungsoo’s touch, eyes shutting naturally.

“For doing this for me,” Kyungsoo answers, giving Baekhyun another brief kiss. “You don’t need to do everything.”

Baekhyun was trying to keep things light earlier so that it wouldn’t be awkward, but now he feels dangerously close to crying. He knows he’s attempting to compensate for all the shit he’s done, but he honestly wasn’t expecting Kyungsoo to be too concerned with anything but the mechanics of how this would go. Sometimes he isn’t even sure if Kyungsoo is just putting up with him because of their role as soulmates or because he actually enjoys being around Baekhyun. There are still plenty of reasons for him to still hate his guts.

“I just…” Baekhyun doesn’t know what to say. “I just didn’t want to mess this up.”

Kyungsoo drops his hand to hold Baekhyun’s, lacing their fingers together.

“It’s okay if we mess up,” Kyungsoo assures him. His eyes are wide and sincere as he waits for Baekhyun to respond.

Baekhyun leans his head against Kyungsoo’s shoulder and nods.

“Okay.”

This time Kyungsoo is the one who drags his lips across Baekhyun’s collarbones. Baekhyun can feel the wet pressure as Kyungsoo sucks lightly up to his ear and climbs into his lap. Grabbing the lube, Kyungsoo presses it into Baekhyun’s hand.

“Come on,” Kyungsoo murmurs, running his hand through Baekhyun’s hair. With his head forced up again, he sees Kyungsoo’s slight smile and it makes Baekhyun feel fragile. “I’m ready.”

Baekhyun doesn’t take his eyes off Kyungsoo even as he squeezes lube onto his fingers. Lightly, he pushes Kyungsoo down so that he’s splayed out beneath him. Moving down Kyungsoo’s body, Baekhyun circles his rim, pushing his finger in little by little.

It’s nearly silent now, other than Kyungsoo’s labored breathing. It’s slow going as Baekhyun watches Kyungsoo for any sign of discomfort, but each of the pleased sounds Kyungsoo lets out makes Baekhyun more confident, until he’s fit three fingers in.

“That’s enough,” Kyungsoo stutters, pulling at Baekhyun’s wrist. Sitting up, Kyungsoo rips open the condom packet and rolls it on for Baekhyun.

There’s a sense of restlessness between the two of them now. This entire evening has already crossed lines neither of them thought they’d even toe and this is the last line. Baekhyun knows that after this, something will shift between them.

Kyungsoo pauses when Baekhyun does but settles a hand on his thigh. There’s a light sheen of sweat on his skin and his chest bears the marks from Baekhyun’s earlier enthusiasm. But even with how debauched he looks, Kyungsoo still has a gentle look in his eyes. 

“You’re too much,” Baekhyun murmurs as he takes the lube with shaky hands. “I don’t know why you put up with me.”

“I don’t know why, either,” Kyungsoo jokes as he runs his hand up and down Baekhyun’s leg in a way that isn’t provoking but instead comforting. “Yes or no?”

Baekhyun laughs, feeling himself snap out of his hesitation.

“Yes.”

Kyungsoo helps Baekhyun coat his cock in lube, drinking in the small hitches in Baekhyun’s breath. When he finishes, Kyungsoo drops his hands and grabs a pillow, cushioning it under his hips. Baekhyun adjusts it for him and waits for Kyungsoo to get in a comfortable position.

Kyungsoo circles his fingers around Baekhyun’s upper arm and pulls him down so that they’re face to face.

“I’m good to go,” he says as if they’re talking about a casual outing. Baekhyun can sense his nervousness, but Kyungsoo hides it well as he slides a hand along Baekhyun’s chest to his neck.

Lining himself up, Baekhyun presses in slowly. Sucking in a sharp breath, Kyungsoo forces himself to relax. It feels like ages before Baekhyun is fully buried in Kyungsoo. 

“Are you okay?” Baekhyun asks, his own breathing uneven as he feels Kyungsoo clench and unclench around his cock. 

“Just give me a second,” Kyungsoo breathes out. His head is turned to the side as he takes deep breaths. “Just a second.”

Trying to make him feel better, Baekhyun rests his face in Kyungsoo’s neck and strokes his hair. Baekhyun can’t quite decipher his own feelings, but he can tell that Kyungsoo feels as if he’s opening himself up in every possible sense. Knowing that Kyungsoo doesn’t like feeling so vulnerable, Baekhyun presses closer as if trying to cover him up. 

After a bit, Kyungsoo hooks his legs around Baekhyun’s waist.

“You can move now.”

Baekyun puts a little bit more space between them and draws back slightly before thrusting back in, missing the warmth from being so close. Letting out a gasp, Kyungsoo tightens his legs around Baekhyun’s waist. 

There’s a completely different heat now and it takes over Baekhyun’s senses as he builds up a rhythm. Kyungsoo digs his fingers into his shoulders and doesn’t bother hiding any of the noises that escape his mouth. Every once in a while, Baekhyun can hear his own name and he can’t help but hide his face, feeling too much from hearing his name come from Kyungsoo like this.

When Baekhyun thrusts particularly deep, Kyungsoo keens and bites down on Baekhyun’s shoulder, sending a mix of pain and pleasure through their bond. Wanting to hear the sound again, Baekhyun seeks out the spot again and again until Kyungsoo is crying out, no longer digging his fingers into his shoulder, but leaving scratch marks down his back. Baekhyun feels overwhelmed as Kyungsoo’s pleasure is amplified through their bond and it builds up even more every time Baekhyun does something right.

Baekhyun doesn’t think he’s going to last much longer and when he says so, Kyungsoo pushes Baekhyun back until he’s seated in his lap. With his hands splayed out on Baekhyun’s chest, Kyungsoo begins rocking back and forth. Kyungsoo is clearly amused with Baekhyun’s state as a small smirk forms on his face.

“Tired?” Kyungsoo asks with a breathy laugh. He seems more relaxed now and the smile on his face makes Baekhyun’s heart work even harder.

“I’ll manage,” Baekhyun replies, before gripping Kyungsoo’s cock and thrusting up into him at the same time in retaliation.

Kyungsoo cries out loud enough that the neighbors can probably hear them and slumps forward, trying to keep up his rhythm even as Baekhyun completely ruins his focus. 

It doesn’t take much more before Kyungsoo comes. The tightening of his walls pushes Baekhyun over as he thrusts all the way in and rides it out inside Kyungsoo. 

The overload of sensation from their physical and emotional state sends Baekhyun into a dizzy haze as they collapse onto the mess of sheets. He can feel it reverberating across his entire body. Kyungsoo seems similarly affected as he clings onto Baekhyun like a koala. As an enthusiastic cuddler himself, Baekhyun happily wraps his arms around Kyungsoo in a hug and they wait for the buzz to settle down into something manageable.

Eventually, they’re forced to get up and clean up the mess they made. Baekhyun lets Kyungsoo draw the bath as he picks up the clothes that are strewn about the room and pulls the dirty sheets off the bed. He rolls them all together into a monstrous ball of laundry and gets them to the washing machine wearing absolutely nothing. He’s a bit chilly by the time he’s finished his task and Kyungsoo notices when he pulls Baekhyun into the bathroom.

“I could’ve helped you with that,” Kyungsoo says as he ushers Baekhyun into the steaming bath. 

“It wasn’t too bad,” Baekhyun replies before sinking down into the water. 

Baekhyun lets out a content sigh as Kyungsoo settles down across from him. The two of them are quiet as Kyungsoo skims the surface of the water with his fingers. Both of them have their knees drawn up to their chests, but Baekhyun is tempted to reach out for Kyungsoo. It feels like he’s being deprived of something, but he isn’t sure what. Kyungsoo seems to be focused on something else, so Baekhyun can’t quite tell how he’s feeling.

“Hey,” Baekhyun whispers. The sound echoes in the bathroom and Kyungsoo's head jerks up. 

“Hi,” Kyungsoo whispers back. He stares at Baekhyun for a moment before looking away. 

“How are you?” Baekhyun asks.

“I’m fine,” Kyungsoo answers, but he doesn’t seem fine. Now that Baekhyun has his attention, he can feel Kyungsoo’s uneasiness. 

The water sloshes up the side of the tub as Baekhyun tips forward. He rests his chin atop Kyungsoo’s knees and smiles as brightly as he can. Kyungsoo doesn’t react at first, but after a moment he returns Baekhyun’s smile with a small one of his own.

Baekhyun reaches up to smooth the wrinkle between Kyungsoo’s eyebrows. As the water from his hand trickles down Kyungsoo’s face like tears, Baekhyun studies him. Kyungsoo looks away from Baekhyun’s stare but doesn’t push him away. He looks so small and exposed like this, curled up in the bathtub.

Baekhyun doesn’t mean to say it out loud when he asks, “Do you hate me?”

Kyungsoo is quiet for long enough that Baekhyun backs away, sending another runnel of water splashing along the walls of the tub.

“I don’t think I could hate you even if I wanted to,” Kyungsoo admits in a soft voice. “Not anymore.”

“Do you regret doing this?” Baekhyun asks, feeling braver now.

“No,” Kyungsoo answers. “Do you?”

“I–” 

Baekhyun looks down through the water and sees their toes lined up in front of each other. He wants to stretch his foot out and touch Kyungsoo, but suddenly it feels like there’s a barrier that he can’t cross. Has anything between them really changed?

“I don’t know,” Baekhyun finally says. 

He can’t tell. Maybe this was a mistake. The longer they sit here almost touching, the worse Baekhyun feels. The small annoyance of being apart is beginning to feel more like something has been ripped out of him.

“I think…” I like you too much. Baekhyun gnaws the inside of his cheek and narrows his eyes. He can feel Kyungsoo’s curiosity bubbling over. “I don’t want to regret this.”

Kyungsoo’s voice is quavering slightly when he asks, “Did I pressure you too much?”

“No,” Baekhyun answers quickly but emphatically. “It’s nothing like that. I just don’t know if it meant… that much… to you.”

Kyungsoo seems to figure out what Baekhyun is feeling at that moment because suddenly Kyungsoo’s hands are tilting his head so that they’re looking at each other again. There’s a worried look on his face that fades when he sees Baekhyun’s expression.

“It did,” Kyungsoo tells him with conviction. “It meant a lot.”

There are some things that Kyungsoo fears will stay with him forever. Things like the way his heart stutters when he sees anything with the word soulmates or the dread that accompanies his birthday. There are also some things that Kyungsoo fears will disappear. Things like finding an extra pair of shoes at the door or waking up and finding that the space beside him is still warm. 

Falling into bed with someone doesn’t come easy to Kyungsoo. He’s tried one night stands, but they make him feel too vulnerable and he ends up feeling worse when he leaves. It’s given him more reason to keep to himself when he sees other people. Surprisingly enough, most of the people he tried dating understood, but in the end, it was just another strain on his already-delicate relationships.

So when he wakes up alone, Kyungsoo panics. The bedsheets are tangled beneath him and his body protests as he sits up, looking around. There’s no sign of Baekhyun in the room. Kyungsoo could get up and look for him, but his first thought isn’t that Baekhyun could be in the bathroom or anywhere else in the apartment. His first thought is that Baekhyun is gone. 

It takes a little too long for logic to run its course and for Kyungsoo to calm down. By the time he’s settled, Baekhyun comes running in from the bathroom, hair wild and face wet. He spins in a circle as if he’s looking for an intruder.

“What’s happening?” Baekhyun asks once he realizes that there aren’t any external threats.

Kyungsoo turns so that his back is facing Baekhyun and pulls the covers back over himself.

“Nothing,” Kyungsoo lies. “Scary dream.”

There’s quite a bit of doubt from Baekhyun’s end, but he doesn’t press. Heading back into the bathroom, Kyungsoo hears him fumbling around. After a few minutes, Baekhyun comes back to bed, crawling back under the covers.

Kyungsoo listens to Baekhyun getting settled as he calms down. A glance at the window reveals that it’s still relatively early in the morning and they have plenty of time to keep sleeping.

They’re still silent when Baekhyun touches Kyungsoo’s bare back with his cold fingers. Hissing at the temperature change, Kyungsoo pulls the covers tighter around himself. But Baekhyun still doesn’t let up as he rests the palm of his hand against Kyungsoo’s shoulder blade. When Kyungsoo doesn’t push him away, Baekhyun lightly runs his hand down to Kyungsoo’s waist and presses his forehead against the back of Kyungsoo’s neck. 

Kyungsoo can tell their bond enjoys this even more than usual as it floods his senses with a gentle feeling that he can’t quite put a name to. With the encouragement of that feeling, Kyungsoo hooks his legs around Baekhyun’s until he’s maneuvered Baekhyun into giving him a full-bodied hug.

It feels nice to be held so tightly and it lulls Kyungsoo back to sleep even as his fear doesn’t completely dissipate.

The next time Kyungsoo wakes up, their fingers are intertwined against his stomach and Baekhyun is breathing softly into his hair. The sun is up and light peeks in from the edges of their curtain.

Kyungsoo waits for a bit, unwilling to move from his comfortable position. It takes only a few minutes before Baekhyun wakes up as well with a yawn and a stretch that has Baekhyun scrambling not to fall off their bed.

“Hi,” Baekhyun mumbles from behind him, sounding slightly disoriented.

“Good morning,” Kyungsoo replies, sitting up. Baekhyun groans when Kyungsoo’s warmth disappears and reaches out for him. Smiling to himself, Kyungsoo stands up and goes to the bathroom to brush his teeth and wash his face. He definitely wants some more sleep, but not without getting the taste of it out of his mouth.

In the mirror, Kyungsoo ends up spending some time inspecting his neck because Baekhyun did not hold back on him. The weather isn’t quite cold enough for scarves, but he’s going to have to wear higher collars for a bit.

When he returns to bed, Baekhyun is rubbing his eyes and looking around the room.

“What are you looking for?” Kyungsoo asks, falling back into bed. 

Baekhyun smiles sleepily and lays back down. “You.”

Kyungsoo stares at Baekhyun in mild bewilderment, but he can vaguely remember doing the same thing earlier in the morning. They might be getting too used to sleeping next to another person. But before Kyungsoo can overthink their situation, Baekhyun snuggles up against Kyungsoo’s side and pouts like a child. There’s no doubt that Baekhyun is still half asleep if the way his eyelids are drooping is any indication. 

Feeling emboldened by Baekhyun’s woozy state, Kyungsoo runs a hand through his hair. Baekhyun cuddles even closer, but instead of falling asleep like Kyungsoo expects, Baekhyun’s eyes open and some surprise makes its way between them.

“That feels good,” is all Baekhyun says before Kyungsoo is jerking away and giving Baekhyun a disgruntled look.

“Why’d you stop?” Baekhyun asks as he wraps his arms around Kyungsoo’s waist and presses his face into Kyungsoo’s neck. “Don’t go.”

Kyungsoo swallows nervously but reaches out to continue stroking Baekhyun’s hair. He can feel how content Baekhyun is so he relaxes a little and lets himself be held.

“How are you feeling?” Baekhyun asks, breath fanning across Kyungsoo’s neck.

“A bit worn out,” Kyungsoo answers. “How are you? Why’d you wake up so early in the morning?”

When Baekhyun begins stroking along his spine Kyungsoo shivers and presses closer, trying to hide his reaction.

“I needed to pee,” Baekhyun says. Kyungsoo can feel his lips curving into a grin. “But I’m feeling fine.”

“Cool.” Kyungsoo cringes at his choice in words. “Do you have anything to do today?”

“I was supposed to meet up with Chanyeol for lunch,” Baekhyun mumbles, “but I don’t want to move.”

Kyungsoo checks the time and sees that it’s a little past eleven.

“What time were you supposed to go?”

“Noon?”

“You need to wake up,” Kyungsoo says, pushing Baekhyun’s shoulder. “Come on.”

With some wheedling, Baekhyun manages to roll out of bed. Kyungsoo glances at Baekhyun as he heads towards the bathroom and then does a double-take. If Kyungsoo thought Baekhyun did a lot, Kyungsoo really went to town on Baekhyun. There are long scratches along Baekhyun’s back and some distinct bruises that Kyungsoo remembers sucking into his skin. If Kyungsoo didn’t know what happened, he’d think Baekhyun got into a fight.

Baekhyun registers Kyungsoo’s concern and turns around with a slightly worried look on his face.

“What’s wrong?” he asks.

Kyungsoo can only stare at Baekhyun’s collarbones. He looks as if he’s been mauled. Kyungsoo mauled him.

“Go wash up,” Kyungsoo says weakly. 

Baekhyun gives him a curious look but doesn’t argue with him. 

When Baekhyun is out of sight, Kyungsoo groans and pretends he doesn’t like how Baekhyun looks. Hickeys are gross and kissing is gross and Kyungsoo can feel his ears getting warm as he thinks about kissing Baekhyun. 

No, no, no, this is not the time.

Kyungsoo pulls himself out of bed. He just needs some coffee.

If Kyungsoo is being honest with himself, he didn’t think anything would change, even after sleeping with Baekhyun. They would figure out whether they liked it or not and go from there, and, yes, Kyungsoo was hoping to keep Baekhyun at the odd distance they’ve been at for the past few weeks.

Kyungsoo can still tend to be more aloof towards Baekhyun, but he, more often than not, now finds himself reaching out for Baekhyun when they’re sitting on the couch or laying in bed. It’s like his hand naturally seeks out Baekhyun’s and the next thing he knows, Baekhyun is resting his head in Kyungsoo’s lap or Kyungsoo is leaning against his arm.

And even though Kyungsoo has come to expect the warmth that comes with their bond, it’s become even more bothersome now. Kyungsoo didn’t know that he could feel so relaxed just by brushing hands with Baekhyun when they pass each other every morning and kissing is now something that takes up too much of his day because why would Kyungsoo want to waste time doing anything else?

But Kyungsoo deludes himself into thinking that this isn’t really that big of a deal. Nothing has changed. Baekhyun is just someone Kyungsoo kisses daily and likes spending time with, but that’s it. As if that isn’t quite a bit already.

Then, Baekhyun ruins it.

“I’m going to visit my mom for a few days,” Baekhyun tells Kyungsoo. “I talked to Doctor Kim and he said it should be fine.”

“Oh.” Kyungsoo looks away from the stove to see Baekhyun texting someone on his phone. “Have fun.”

Baekhyun must notice Kyungsoo’s blankness, but Kyungsoo turns back to his simmering pot and shoves his disappointment somewhere difficult for Baekhyun to find.

Wednesday morning, Baekhyun leaves. He isn’t supposed to come back until Saturday night, but it’s just half a week. Kyungsoo doubts he’ll even notice.

But Kyungsoo is wrong. He is so fucking wrong. Wednesday evening has him reaching for someone who isn’t there as he rereads the book where soulmates don’t exist. He imagines meeting Baekhyun in another world where they run into each other by accident or maybe as classmates and end up falling in love. But it sounds impossible in his head and Baekhyun’s current absence doesn’t make it any easier.

When he goes to sleep, it takes longer than usual. Baekhyun has a habit of talking to Kyungsoo for a few minutes in bed while he wraps an arm around his waist. Without his voice and warmth, Kyungsoo stares at Baekhyun’s pillow for too long, before settling on hugging it and listening to some ASMR to fall asleep.

The rest of the week follows in a similarly hellish pattern. At one point, Kyungsoo inserts himself into a dinner with Jongdae and Minseok so that he doesn’t have to eat alone and even laughs along to Minseok’s jokes, which Jongdae gives him a lot of shit for.

On Friday, there’s an alarming moment where Kyungsoo can feel Baekhyun’s nerves and a spike in anxiety, but it’s followed by a sense of relief, guilt, and even joy. Kyungsoo doesn’t know what to make of it, but he finds himself smiling along with Baekhyun on the other end.

Saturday night, Kyungsoo nearly loses his mind when Baekhyun’s train arrives twenty minutes late. Baekhyun is pleasantly surprised that Kyungsoo comes to pick him up and Kyungsoo spends the entire car ride resisting the urge to reach out for Baekhyun at every single stoplight they encounter. Drumming his fingers rapidly against the steering wheel, Kyungsoo can’t even look at Baekhyun as they make their way up to their apartment.

For all his desperation, Kyungsoo must be very good at containing his feelings or Baekhyun must be completely oblivious because he lets out a small noise of surprise and drops his overnight bag when Kyungsoo yanks him in by the arm and pulls him in for a full-bodied hug.

With a little laugh, Baekhyun hugs him back tightly. Kyungsoo lets out a shuddering breath and closes his eyes as their bond practically sings with delight. After a minute or so, Kyungsoo finally loosens his hold on Baekhyun as his brain catches up with the rest of his body. He’s ready for Baekhyun to crack a well-meaning joke that sends Kyungsoo spiraling into a pool of self-doubt, but instead, Baekhyun pats his backpack with a grin.

“My mom packed us a lot of food.”

Kyungsoo can tell Baekhyun is giving him a chance to move past the hug and he gladly takes it. 

“Put your stuff down first,” Kyungsoo says, taking the backpack from him. “Go take a shower. I can put everything away.”

Baekhyun is about to argue, but then he takes in Kyungsoo’s determined expression and probably his own exhaustion from traveling.

“Okay. I’ll be quick.”

Kyungsoo throws Baekhyun’s dirty clothes in the laundry and refrigerates all the food items in Baekhyun’s backpack. He also warms up the leftover jajangmyeon from his dinner earlier, so that Baekhyun doesn’t waste time looking for something to eat after his shower.

There’s no doubt that Baekhyun feels Kyungsoo’s urgency now because he towels off as quickly as he can and swallows down his food only slowing down to take much-needed breaths in between.

“What’s going on?” Baekhyun asks as Kyungsoo hands him a glass of water so that he doesn’t choke.

“Nothing,” Kyungsoo answers, clearing Baekhyun’s empty bowl off the table. 

“Oh.” Baekhyun frowns and rubs his belly, watching Kyungsoo. “I thought we were hurrying for something.”

“There’s no hurry,” Kyungsoo replies, unsure of his own rush. He just feels like he needs to hold Baekhyun’s hand or kiss him on the cheek or something else weird. This is dumb. He’s starting to see why Baekhyun tried to swear off soulmates.

A few minutes later, Kyungsoo has given up on holding himself back and has practically draped himself across Baekhyun as Baekhyun tells Kyungsoo about his trip back home. Apparently his mother is doing well, but she’s disappointed Baekhyun didn’t come visit her earlier. She lives on her own and has recently started taking art lessons after work and Baekhyun gushes about how wonderful her paintings and sketches are. Kyungsoo relaxes as he listens, feeling the genuine pride Baekhyun has for his mother and wonders if he’ll ever get to meet her.

“How was your week?” Baekhyun asks.

Kyungsoo sits up a little and Baekhyun smiles, waiting for his answer.

“Fine.” Kyungsoo pauses and can’t help the slight scowl that makes its way onto his face. 

Baekhyun mimics his scowl and nudges his shoulder. “Was it really?”

“Yes.” Kyungsoo tips over to lean away from Baekhyun. “Just give me a few days notice next time you decide to go somewhere. So I’m more prepared. I defrosted too much meat the day before you left. And I could’ve made more plans to hang out with other people. Or put cucumber in my stew. And slept like a starfish.”

“You can do all of that even when I’m here,” Baekhyun responds, looking like he’s holding in a laugh. There’s amusement bubbling up from him as Kyungsoo looks away. “Except for maybe the starfish thing and please no cucumbers.”

“Yeah, but it’s more difficult to do things last minute,” Kyungsoo argues, even though he knows this is a ridiculous conversation to be having in the first place.

“That’s true.” Baekhyun wrinkles his nose and thinks about it. “I’ll just bring you along next time.”

Um.

“Are you allowed to do that?” Kyungsoo asks, narrowing his eyes at the ground. He’s super focused on that piece of dust and totally not on Baekhyun trying to feel him out. “I feel like that’d be weird.”

Kyungsoo literally feels Baekhyun’s cheeriness drop and he scrambles to lift it again.

“I mean, I don’t want to intrude. It’d be cool though. To see your mother’s paintings and…” To meet her? No, that sounds like a lot. “Stuff.”

Kyungsoo facepalms internally, but Baekhyun begins to warm up again. 

“I think it’d be okay.” Baekhyun leans over and pokes Kyungsoo in the side gently. “If you wanted, you could come.”

“But what will you introduce me as?” Kyungsoo asks.

If Baekhyun says friend, Kyungsoo might lose his mind. 

“Someone I like,” Baekhyun replies simply. Even though Kyungsoo can tell that Baekhyun is nervous with his own answer, Baekhyun smiles easily and tilts his head so that he can look at Kyungsoo’s face. “Is there something you’d like to be introduced as?”

Kyungsoo gets that strange feeling in his chest as Baekhyun’s fingers brush his knees, feeling featherlight and agonizingly heavy all at once.

Introduce me as your soulmate, Kyungsoo thinks for a fleeting moment. But then he remembers what Baekhyun’s mother had to go through and banishes the thought.

“That’s fine,” Kyungsoo says, standing up. “Do you want to go to bed?”

Baekhyun nods and Kyungsoo pulls him to the bedroom so that he can hold onto him for a little longer.

If Baekhyun recalls his visit to his mom, there are a few things that come to mind like going on breakfast dates with her, watching her paint her vegetable garden, and teaching her how to play Mario Kart. At least for the first two days, that’d be what he’d say. But after Friday, only one moment replays in his mind.

“I found my soulmate, Eomma.”

When Baekhyun blurted the words out, his mom was in the middle of painting a fluffy cloud, but her paintbrush stopped then dragged straight down the page. The marred painting made Baekhyun recoil and suddenly he felt as if he’d done it all wrong again.

“I’m sorry,” he said, hovering over his mother as she set her brush down. Her face was hidden by the wide brim of her hat, and it scared him not to be able to see her reaction.

“Oh, Hyunnie,” she murmured, sounding so fragile that Baekhyun felt like he was back in high school. “That’s wonderful.”

The only words he could muster up were “I’m sorry” as his mother kept her head down. He shouldn’t have said anything at all. 

“Don’t be sorry,” she replied. When Baekhyun didn’t know what to say, she pulled him in for a hug. “Don’t be sorry,” she repeated, hugging him tightly.

When they finally let go, his mother brewed some tea, giving up on her painting. As they sat in the backyard of his mom’s house, she rubbed his back and asked him to tell her about Kyungsoo.

“I… I met him back in January, but I avoided him,” Baekhyun explained, thinking back to how miserable he had been. How miserable he had made Kyungsoo.

His mother was clearly surprised by Baekhyun’s choice and she cocked her head to get a better view of his face.

“Why did you do that?” she asked gently.

“It wasn’t fair,” Baekhyun answered, trying to form his thoughts into something understandable. “I felt like… I felt like I was no better than him.”

“Baekhyun,” his mother said in a soft voice. “That’s not the same.”

“I know,” Baekhyun replied bitterly. “I just didn’t realize then. But, yeah, I did that and then—remember when I got really sick? It was because I stayed away from him. I kept getting worse, so we finally decided to move in together.”

“Oh, your roommate,” his mom caught on. “I was wondering why you decided to move in with someone when you felt fine living by yourself. What was his name? Do Kyungjin?”

“Do Kyungsoo,” Baekhyun corrected, thinking of Kyungsoo alone in their apartment. Sometimes he could feel a slight pull from Kyungsoo as if he was trying to call Baekhyun back. “He’s…” 

Baekhyun didn't know how to put how he felt about Kyungsoo into words, but his mom seemed to understand as she changed the subject. 

“You have to bring him over some time. I’d like to meet him,” she said. “I was always worried about you. I’m glad to hear you have someone with you now.”

But you don’t, Baekhyun thought. He felt terrible for bringing the topic up and remembered exactly why he decided to swear off soulmates in the first place.

Then, he pictured Kyungsoo, leaning against him in the evening as they watched another episode of Ask Us Anything or laying in bed for a few more minutes just to let Baekhyun keep him in his koala hold. It was easier to hate the idea of soulmates when Baekhyun didn’t know his own. 

“What happened between myself and your father isn’t your fault,” his mom said as if she could hear his thoughts. “Don’t let that hold you back.”

Baekhyun shook his head and looked away, trying to keep himself composed.

“I feel like it’s wrong, how much I like him. It’s not fair that I get something like this. I was so horrible to him, but now I feel like I’m being horrible to you.”

“Baekhyun.” His mother settled a hand on his back. “Look at me, darling.”

His vision was blurry as he looked at his mother through teary eyes.

“All I want is for you to be happy.” Her eyes were dark and sincere as she stared him down. “If you deny yourself that just because of your father, you’re letting his mistakes drag you down.” In a bolder tone, she continued, “You aren’t horrible for wanting to be with someone. But you’ll be horrible if you think that I want anything less than happiness for you.”

Baekhyun felt a few tears slip out and his mother brushed them away.

“Thank you,” Baekhyun whispered as she stroked his cheek.

His mother squeezed him tighter in response.

Baekhyun looked out at her garden and her easel and thought of the way she smiled now. She seemed happy like this, dictating her own life here. Not everyone needs a soulmate, and as hard as Baekhyun tried to prove that, his mom seemed to have been the one to do it successfully.

When Baekhyun returns, Kyungsoo begins acting strange. For all of the hugs Baekhyun gets from him now, Kyungsoo is oddly avoidant. He stares at Baekhyun like Baekhyun is the one being weird and then flails a bit whenever he gets caught. It’s cute, but Baekhyun would like to know what’s going on.

So in the middle of dinner, Baekhyun asks.

“Are you avoiding me?”

Kyungsoo is in mid-bite when Baekhyun asks, so half of the food misses his mouth. Baekhyun bites down on his lip, trying not to laugh as Kyungsoo swallows his food and cleans up what he’s dropped on the table.

“No,” Kyungsoo answers. He isn’t meeting Baekhyun’s eyes, so it isn’t very convincing.

Baekhyun frowns a little and stares at Kyungsoo until Kyungsoo stops picking at his food to look back.

“I’m just. Thinking.” Kyungsoo twists his chopsticks around, lips forming a slight pout. “I don’t know.”

“Do you want me to leave you alone again?” Baekhyun asks, trying to be helpful. He can’t help the little burst of happiness he gets when Kyungsoo quickly shakes his head.

“I’m figuring some things out, so I’m having trouble concentrating right now, but I don’t mind being around you.”

That sounds very close to Kyungsoo admitting that he likes Baekhyun’s presence and it makes Baekhyun a bit giddy as he smiles down at his bowl of rice.

“I’ll bother you a lot, then,” Baekhyun teases.

Kyungsoo glares at him, but he looks more cute than upset and it puts Baekhyun at ease.

That is, until Chanyeol shatters Baekhyun’s peace.

“Are you and Kyungsoo going to renew your lease?” Chanyeol asks over lunch.

Baekhyun stares at Chanyeol like he’s speaking an alien language. Then, he realizes what Chanyeol is asking.

“I don’t know.” Baekhyun pokes at his fries and smiles halfheartedly. “I hope so.”

After that, it’s all Baekhyun can think about. He doesn’t want to be kicked out after their lease is up and he thinks Kyungsoo doesn’t want him to go either, but he doesn’t want to be let down. Yes, Kyungsoo practically smothered him in hugs when he was gone for less than a week, but that might’ve just been because it was pretty soon after they slept together. Or because Baekhyun cooked a bomb seolleongtang the night before. Really, there are so many reasons that aren’t contingent on Baekhyun as a person.

In the end, Baekhyun comes up with a very iffy plan that involves surprises and stuff that Baekhyun will not be sharing with his mother.

Kyungsoo is subjected to Baekhyun’s plan that evening as he’s digging for ice cream in the freezer. When Baekhyun walks into the kitchen, Kyungsoo, already used to his presence, barely reacts.

“Hey,” Baekhyun says, watching as Kyungsoo lights up at the sight of his ice cream.

“Hi,” Kyungsoo responds, holding his ice cream in one hand and grabbing a spoon with his other. “What’s u–”

The ice cream falls to the ground as Kyungsoo’s hands brace themselves against the kitchen counter. Baekhyun wonders if he should’ve asked first because he thought Kyungsoo would’ve been used to kissing him by now, and oh my god was this another bad plan?—but then Kyungsoo is kissing him back and Baekhyun’s doubts fly out the window.

Then, Baekhyun slips his fingers into the waistband of Kyungsoo’s sweatpants. Kyungsoo just kisses him harder in response, encouraging Baekhyun to reach down until he’s touching Kyungsoo’s dick. Kyungsoo moans in surprise against Baekhyun’s mouth and ruts up against him, already half-hard. Okay, not the worst plan in the world, especially when Kyungsoo says his name like that.

“Too dry,” Kyungsoo stutters. Baekhyun yanks his hand back out and spits on it, before shoving it back down Kyungsoo’s pants. 

Baekhyun’s stroke game must be on because Kyungsoo comes in less than a minute, panting against Baekhyun’s shoulder. Their bond feels a bit unbalanced as Kyungsoo is sated, but Baekhyun is still hard and it doesn’t help that Kyungsoo rides it out against him, making Baekhyun feel every pulse of Kyungsoo’s arousal. Bad plan.

Kyungsoo senses Baekhyun’s frustration and cups the front of his pants with a flustered laugh. He’s amused by Baekhyun’s bad, bad plan, so this seems to be going okay. 

Kyungsoo pulls Baekhyun in so that he’s standing between Kyungsoo’s legs. With Kyungsoo’s whispered encouragement and his tongue tracing out the sensitive part of his ear, Baekhyun grinds against him until he comes with a soft moan.

“The kitchen? Really?” Kyungsoo says once Baekhyun has caught his breath. For some reason, Kyungsoo seems to find this situation really funny. “Ah, my ice cream.”

Baekhyun picks it up for him, grimacing at the sticky feeling in his underwear.

“You should probably expect more of this,” Baekhyun tells Kyungsoo. As he waddles away, he can feel Kyungsoo’s delighted confusion. Well, that has to be a good sign.

And then, Jongdae shatters Baekhyun’s peace this time. Baekhyun wonders if he should’ve made some different friends because his only seem to bring him grief.

“You’re trying to convince Kyungsoo to re-sign the lease with you by plying him with sex?” Jongdae asks, but it doesn’t really sound like a question.

“Why would you put it like that?” Baekhyun returns. Slumped over onto the table in the museum’s cafeteria, he sulks as Jongdae tuts at him.

“I’m sure if you just talked to him about it, he would agree to re-sign with you.”

Baekhyun watches Jongdae slurp up his noodles. He’s visiting Baekhyun during his break, so they don’t have a lot of time together. 

“Also, if you try anything in the shower, be careful with surprising him. Slipping is not very sexy.”

Baekhyun glares openly at him and Jongdae bursts out laughing. Quite a few people—including some of Baekhyun’s coworkers—glance over and it makes Baekhyun shrink down into his seat. Usually, he would join in, but this is actually stressing him out.

Jongdae notices Baekhyun’s silence and stops pretty quickly.

“I really don’t think you need to worry.”

“Okay.”

“I’m serious.”

“Okay.”

Jongdae levels a scowl at Baekhyun and flicks his forehead. With a yelp, Baekhyun rubs his forehead and sits up.

“I’ll talk to Kyungsoo about it, but you have to pull it together and talk to him,” Jongdae says pointedly. “Honestly, I thought you guys were fine now.”

Baekhyun laughs humorlessly and buries his head in his arms again. They’re fine most of the time now. Kyungsoo smiles at him more often than he stares blankly and he seems to like Baekhyun if the glowing feeling Kyungsoo gets when they kiss is any indication. But Baekhyun feels like Kyungsoo is still holding back and it makes him a bit apprehensive to push Kyungsoo on any emotional level.

“Finish your food and stop moping,” Jongdae orders him. His words are sharp, but he rests a hand on Baekhyun’s head. Baekhyun knows Jongdae would’ve given him a hug by now if it weren’t for the table and Baekhyun’s hunched form. 

Then, Jongdae adds in a wistful voice, “Ah young love.” 

Jongdae cackles, jumping away nimbly when Baekhyun reaches up to strangle him.

You busy?

Kyungsoo sees that the text was sent over an hour ago and sighs. Usually, he’s pretty good about answering texts in a timely fashion, so Jongdae probably thinks he’s dead.

“What’s wrong?” Baekhyun asks, tilting his head. He looks deceptively cute with his oversized t-shirt and freshly washed hair falling into his face.

“Nothing,” Kyungsoo replies, relaxing back into the couch. His muscles still feel like jelly from being fucked over the arm of the couch.

When he sees Baekhyun snuggling with a blanket, Kyungsoo doesn’t bother hiding his jealousy, kicking his foot out to get Baekhyun’s attention. He’s tired. He deserves to be cuddled. That blanket has done absolutely nothing today.

Baekhyun looks back with wide, confused eyes and Kyungsoo chooses to stare back with equally wide eyes. 

“Um.” Baekhyun flounders, trying to figure out what Kyungsoo kicked him for.

While Baekhyun struggles, Kyungsoo replies to Jongdae’s text with a thumbs up and lets him know when he’s free. After a moment, he feels Baekhyun approach him and then tip over to rest his head in Kyungsoo’s lap.

“Who are you texting?” Baekhyun asks, squirming his way between Kyungsoo and his phone. 

“Jongdae,” Kyungsoo answers before pushing Baekhyun’s head down with one finger.

Baekhyun waits for Kyungsoo to stop typing before reaching up and cupping Kyungsoo’s face with his pretty hands. Finding no resistance from Kyungsoo, Baekhyun tugs him down for a long kiss.

“Jealous of a blanket?” Baekhyun asks when Kyungsoo pulls away.

Kyungsoo feels his ears turning red and tries not to pout as Baekhyun bursts out into laughter.

“You like me,” Baekhyun teases, not meaning much by his word choice. 

Kyungsoo’s embarrassment is replaced with something more distressed and he sits back up. Baekhyun’s hands grasp at thin air where Kyungsoo’s face was moments before and a confused noise comes from Baekhyun as he looks up at Kyungsoo. It only takes seconds before he realizes what he’s said.

“Just kidding,” Baekhyun amends, but Kyungsoo doesn’t return Baekhyun’s tentative smile.

Kyungsoo glances at the tidied up coffee table. They didn’t bother to put away the condoms or pina colada lube because it’s a waste of time when they’re going to come back out anyway. There’s also some of the leftover hobakjuk Baekhyun had attempted cooking earlier for Kyungsoo when he had mentioned craving it for the past few days.

Without thinking, Kyungsoo runs a hand through Baekhyun’s hair and immediately feels Baekhyun’s uneasiness dispel with every stroke of his fingers. Does Kyungsoo like Baekhyun? Probably. Does he want to broach this topic right now? No.

“Next time we have sex, I want it to be on the bed,” Kyungsoo says, breezing past the awkward beat.

“Aw, I was thinking we could do it in the oven, but if that’s what you want,” Baekhyun replies, laughing when Kyungsoo scrunches his nose in response.

Kyungsoo looks down at Baekhyun’s smiling face and, yeah, Kyungsoo definitely likes him. Okay. Cool. Not freaking out.

“Stop freaking out,” Jongdae tells him as Kyungsoo buries his head in his hands.

They’re sitting in a noraebang because, well, Kyungsoo doesn’t fucking know why, but the flashing lights and energetic background music are comical compared to the conversation he’s having.

“You two both like each other,” Jongdae says, making an okay sign with his hand. “We’ve reached the finish line for the beginning of your relationship!”

“This is the beginning?” Kyungsoo lets out a groan and drags his hands down his face.

“Why is this a bad thing?” Jongdae asks. “Tell me. What’s wrong with this situation?”

“It shouldn’t be this easy.” Kyungsoo winces when the speakers let out a screech from a microphone that’s rolled off the table and onto the ground.

“Do you want it to be harder?” Jongdae holds up his hands and begins counting on his fingers. “It’s been about ten months since you two met each other and way too many hospital visits. There’s also been a lot of crying and several years where you two just kind of suffered. But you want it to be harder. Kyungsoo, are you hearing yourself?”

Kyungsoo stares down at the songbook and bites the inside of his cheek. He knows he’s being unreasonable, but he can’t seem to reconcile how he’s felt for the last few years to how he feels now.

“I don’t know what I’m doing,” Kyungsoo admits. “I don’t know how I’m supposed to act around him. I don’t know what I want anymore.”

With a sigh, Jongdae grabs the songbook and leafs through its pages, looking for something. Kyungsoo watches, slightly bewildered. After a minute of flipping, he finds what he’s looking for and enters it into the machine. Some slow, emotional ballad comes on and Jongdae picks up the fallen microphone.

Kyungsoo is even more perturbed when Jongdae completely ignores the cues on the screen and instead turns to face him with a too-serious expression. Kyungsoo stifles a confused laugh as Jongdae takes a deep breath.

“Do Kyungsoo.” His voice rings throughout the room with the melancholic music to back it up. “The feelings you are having trouble with are called positive emotions. That brat Byun Baekhyun may have broken your emotional compass, but I’m very sure that he’ll put it back together for you if you ask him to.”

“That doesn’t make sense,” Kyungsoo points out. Jongdae really leans into whatever song is playing as he sits back down next to Kyungsoo and squeezes his shoulder.

“You should tell him how you feel.”

Kyungsoo lets out a weak chuckle, but Jongdae’s sincere stare tells him that he’s not joking.

“Can you turn off the music?” Kyungsoo asks.

“No, it’ll ruin the atmosphere,” Jongdae replies and Kyungsoo resists the urge to smack his friend. “Do you know why you two have been going at it like rabbits lately?”

Kyungsoo does whack Jongdae after all.

Jongdae lets out a sad whine, but doesn’t move away. “This is a serious question.”

“Fine, why?” 

Kyungsoo was going to ask Jongdae how he knew, but who else would tell him other than Baekhyun? It makes him nervous to hear that Baekhyun has been telling other people.

“He’s attempting to make you like him more.”

“What?”

“Are you going to kick him out when your lease is up?” Jongdae asks when Kyungsoo stares at him quizzically.

“No–” Kyungsoo hesitates when he realizes what Jongdae’s question implies. If Kyungsoo lets Baekhyun stay now, that means that Baekhyun probably isn’t ever moving out. Like ever. “I’d have to talk to him about it.”

“Yes, you two need to have a nice long talk,” Jongdae agrees. “And stop facilitating your conversation through me.”

Kyungsoo sighs at the exact time that the ballad finishes up.

“Um.” Kyungsoo twists his fingers behind his back and waits for Baekhyun to look up from his bowl of cereal. It’s almost eight in the evening, but Baekhyun is craving cereal for some reason. “Do you want to renew our lease together?”

Baekhyun drops his spoon, splashing milk onto the table.

“If not, I’d understand,” Kyungsoo quickly adds, although that part is a lie. Why would either of them want to start living alone again? Even though Kyungsoo is quiet about it, Baekhyun knows how much Kyungsoo likes waking up with someone next to him.

“Yes,” Baekhyun answers with a dumbfounded look on his face. “Yeah. I want to.”

Baekhyun’s surprise gives way to giddiness as he stands up and wiggles around as if trying to figure out what to do with his burst of energy. Watching him flounder, Kyungsoo begins to feel antsy as well, realizing what Baekhyun has just agreed to.

“Well.” Kyungsoo’s hands have formed into fists and he squeezes them tightly. This is really nice. Baekhyun is too busy spinning in a circle to notice, but Kyungsoo feels a sudden need to cry. They’re going to live together for another year and if that works out, probably another year after that. “Good.”

Without thinking, Kyungsoo interrupts Baekhyun mid-spin and pulls him in for a hug. Baekhyun doesn’t hesitate to return the hug and Kyungsoo lets a few tears slip out to be absorbed by Baekhyun’s shirt. He can feel Baekhyun shaking as they hug and it makes him laugh.

“I was worried you wouldn’t want to,” Baekhyun murmurs, sniffling loudly.

“Is that why you had us christen every room in this tiny-ass apartment?” Kyungsoo asks, thinking of what Jongdae told him.

“Maybe,” Baekhyun replies. “I can be kind of dumb sometimes, if you haven’t noticed.”

“I have.”

Baekhyun grumbles, but holds Kyungsoo a bit tighter.

On New Year’s Eve, Baekhyun sits on Chanyeol’s couch and watches people mingle. He’s a little drunk and lethargic. The year is almost over, but he feels like he’s missed most of it. He takes another sip of his rosé and stares at the TV. They’re broadcasting a brightly lit square and the overall atmosphere is cheerful and excited as people mill around, waiting for the new year.

Baekhyun downs the rest of his drink and sets it down on the coffee table. There are a few people in the living room, but none of them take notice of him as he grabs his coat and heads toward the door. He can hear Jongdae and Chanyeol’s laughter coming from the kitchen, so he knows they won’t be able to stop him from leaving. Kyungsoo is probably with them as well, and he’ll get worried if he doesn’t see Baekhyun in a few minutes.

He’ll send Kyungsoo a text once he’s reached the ground floor of the apartment complex.

It’s cold but not very windy, so Baekhyun easily makes his way across the street and towards the nearest street of blinking signs. A good majority of them are closed, but there are quite a few people admiring the night sky and there are smaller stalls filled with food and trinkets that are open.

He wanders for a bit, basking in the ambience. In fact, he’s so focused on the ambience that he runs right into a couple walking hand in hand.

“I’m sorry,” Baekhyun apologizes, taking several steps back.

“It’s alright.”

The responding voice is familiar, but Baekhyun can’t quite place it. Curiously, he lifts his head up and is surprised to see the face of Doctor Kim staring back at him.

“Doctor Kim,” Baekhyun blurts out, standing up in shock.

The doctor is holding hands with a lanky man who’s about Baekhyun’s height. While the doctor is usually sporting a sweater vest that makes him resemble a grandpa, his partner has piercings galore and Baekhyun can spot a few winding tattoos making their way up his neck.

“Oh, Baekhyun-ssi,” the doctor greets with a startled smile. “What a nice surprise.”

When his partner clears his throat, Doctor Kim remembers to introduce them.

“This is my soulmate, Yixing,” the doctor explains. “Yixing, this is one of my patients.”

“Baekhyun?” Yixing tests his name out in a way that makes Baekhyun feel like they should know each other.

“Yeah, nice to meet you,” Baekhyun responds as the couple seems oblivious to how awkward Baekhyun feels.

Yixing narrows his eyes and looks off into the distance, still mouthing Baekhyun’s name. 

“How are you feeling now?” the doctor asks, dragging Baekhyun’s attention away from his soulmate’s strange reaction.

“I’m doing much better,” Baekhyun reports with a more genuine smile.

“I see you’ve figured out how to live comfortably on your own,” Doctor Kim replies.

“Hm?” It takes Baekhyun a moment, but then he realizes how he must look, walking down the street alone on New Year’s Eve. “Oh, no. I’m with–”

“Kyungsoo-ssi,” Yixing interrupts, eyes lighting up.

Baekhyun whips his head toward Yixing in confusion as Yixing waves at someone behind him.

When Baekhyun turns to look, he sees Kyungsoo bundled up and looking slightly upset as he returns Yixing’s wave.

“Where have you been?” is the first thing Kyungsoo asks as he practically barrels into Baekhyun. “It’s almost midnight and everyone is looking for you.”

Oh shit. Baekhyun forgot to send Kyungsoo that text.

“Ah, I meant to text you,” Baekhyun explains, taking Kyungsoo’s hands and trying to appear as apologetic as possible. “I just needed some fresh air.”

Kyungsoo frowns, but seems to accept his reason.

“Kyungsoo-ssi?” Yixing repeats, sounding more amused now.

Suddenly, Kyungsoo’s anxiousness is through the roof and Baekhyun wonders if he’s missing something.

“Hello,” Kyungsoo says, bowing and squeezing Baekhyun’s hand in nervousness.

“Oh my. It seems I misinterpreted,” the doctor says, looking down at their interlocked fingers. “I’m sorry.”

“Junmyeon,” Yixing says, loud enough for everyone to hear. “These are the two I was talking about a while back. The one at the bar?”

Kyungsoo squeezes Baekhyun’s hand even tighter and glances around as if looking for somewhere to hide.

“Oh dear.” Junmyeon covers his mouth with his hand and Baekhyun wants to know what they’re talking about.

“What bar?” Baekhyun asks, but before anyone can answer him, a loud cheer erupts from everyone around them.

“Happy New Year!” Yixing shouts, more out of surprise than spirit. Junmyeon only manages a stunned gasp before Yixing pulls him in for a kiss that Baekhyun has to look away from.

“Happy New Year,” Kyungsoo echoes from beside him. There are fireworks going off and when Baekhyun turns to look at his soulmate, Kyungsoo’s face is illuminated under the light.

“Happy New Year,” Baekhyun murmurs back.

Kyungsoo gives him a small smile and pulls Baekhyun in for a kiss. Doctor Kim would have never seen this coming either and somehow it makes Baekhyun even giddier. Smiling as well, Baekhyun wraps his arms around Kyungsoo.

When Kyungsoo’s birthday finally comes around, Baekhyun is worried that it’ll turn out bad. History has proven that this day has not been good for the two of them, but Baekhyun tells Kyungsoo that it’s because they’ve been apart.

“We celebrated my birthday together last year,” Kyungsoo’s points out.

“It’s different now,” Baekhyun insists as they get ready to go out for their dinner reservation. There are going to be quite a few people there, so they can’t show up late.

The evening passes by very well and Kyungsoo is smiling so hard that Baekhyun’s cheeks hurt looking at him. It’s past eleven by the time they get home, but Kyungsoo is still glowing as he gets ready for bed. When Baekhyun comes back out of the bathroom, Kyungsoo is sitting in the middle of the bed with a pen in hand.

Feeling Kyungsoo’s anticipation, Baekhyun jumps onto the bed and pokes at the pen.

“Are you going to draw on my face when I go to sleep?” Baekhyun asks.

“No,” Kyungsoo replies, wrinkling his nose. He shows Baekhyun his thumb.

“Oh.” Baekhyun sees the familiar smiley face staring back at him. “Hello.” He waits a moment, then sticks his own thumb out. “Do me, now.”

Kyungsoo’s surprise is overcome with delight and he uncaps his pen. A few seconds later, Baekhyun looks down at his own smiley face.

“We’re matching,” Baekhyun whispers, wiggling his thumb at Kyungsoo.

“Yes, we are,” Kyungsoo whispers back, capturing Baekhyun’s hand in his own.

The warmth traveling from Kyungsoo’s hand to Baekhyun’s is as strong as ever and Baekhyun wonders how he ever thought he didn’t want this.

“I love you,” Baekhyun murmurs. 

There’s a stutter of shock from Kyungsoo and then elation.

“I love you, too.”

“Also, happy birthday,” Baekhyun adds as if he isn’t about to combust.

“It’s past midnight.”

“Fuck.”

Kyungsoo bursts out laughing as Baekhyun knocks them both over in embarrassment. Sprawling out on the bed, Baekhyun can feel Kyungsoo’s heart beating underneath him. This is it. He belongs to Kyungsoo now and that’s it. And Baekhyun wouldn’t want anything else.

⚉⚇