It’s the smell of something baking as soon as he walks in, the gentle, precise sound of working hands.
Chris comes in quietly, pulls his shoes off in the doorway, sets his bag on the couch and his mostly empty coffee cup on a coaster, and goes to Felix in the kitchen.
“Hey, Little One, what are you making?” he asks. He lets himself observe the moment-out-of-time: Felix looking up brightly, happy to see him. Blinking slowly. Apron tied around his small waist. Shadows growing long, pinkish light, beam of golden sun on his cheekbone. And, yeah, Felix looking really happy to see him. He says, “Hey, hi. Just a pie.”
“Probly not ‘just,’” Chris grins. “The last pie you made was…” he can’t even think of a word for how good it was. He pants like a dog.
Felix smiles sideways. “Oh, that good?”
“Even better,” Chris insists as Felix finishes washing his hands, then insistently beckons for Chris to come hug him. Chris obliges, of course.
Felix wraps his arms around Chris’ midsection and squeezes tight, making a grumbly sound and squirming into it. Chris loudly kisses the top of his head over and over.
“Missed you today,” Felix says into Chris’ shirt. He gives one final squeeze before pulling back and gently straightening Chris’s shirt. He pats his chest for good measure.
Chris’ heart threatens to crack. He is feeling a bit sentimental.
Actually, he has been feeling sentimental all day. He was on a work call earlier, and he realized halfway through that he was completely thinking about Felix, and not about payment terms, not even a little bit. His mouth was like, “I’ll need to check with my manager about switching you to net 60, but I don’t see it being a problem.” His brain was like, I should take Felix somewhere really nice for dinner this weekend. I should get Felix a gift. What kind of gift should I get Felix? He’s so hard to shop for, because his taste is so much better than mine.
Chris can be a lot. He knows it, so as Felix goes back to cleaning up his dishes, instead of being like, I think you’re so great that I could throw up, right now, if you’d like to see? he leans back against the counter and tells some dumb story about his day. He doesn’t even hear his own words, really, but Felix is listening to him. Another moment-out-of-time: Felix framed in the doorway, like a picture from a magazine. When the oven timer interrupts him just as he’s saying, “Should be almost done,” he laughs, and it looks like an ad for pie pans.
Alright, one little sentimentality won’t hurt too much. “It’s nice to come home to you baking.”
Felix sets the pie on the stovetop to cool, mits on his hands. He makes a little thoughtful sound and says, “It’s nice for me, too.”
Chris thought he’d be free of it by now, but maybe it gets worse instead of better?
The fact that Chris is invited to see Felix at his most relaxed should solve it, right? The way Felix, who puts on a bit of a face for people and likes to be seen a certain way, who is shockingly tough for someone so earnest, is just sliding around in his socks, should have made it go away.
But Chris still worries that this means more to him than it does to Felix.
Felix follows him into the places where Chris invites him, of course. Felix says yes when Chris offers. Do you want the rest of my japchae? Yes. Will you sing for me? Yes. Do you love me? Yes, of course I do. That’s a funny question.
Chris thinks; he knows. That he could go the rest of his life making space for Felix, and Felix would always fill it. They could do it forever.
But this thing happens to him some days. Or happens to him every day, and some days it’s distracting. When the shadows are long and almost pink, and the low sun shines golden beams on the outline of Felix's body like it’s trying to say something about him. Devastating.
Does Felix's chest hurt like this, too? Does he see Chris and want to cry? When he thinks about what Chris means to him, does it hurt? Is it crazy? Could he just go outside and scream? Is it everything, everything to him, so much that he’s scared? Is his body too small for it?
He doesn't know.
Back then, he and Felix danced around each other, were just friends for almost a whole excruciating year, until a mutual friend Changbin was over at Chris’ place, and was like, “You guys are fucking, right?”
“No, absolutely not,” Chris said. “You’ve asked me this before, mate.”
“Thought you were lying,” Changbin shrugged. “You sure go on a lot of dates for two people who aren’t fucking.”
“It’s not dates,” Chris insisted, but then he was blushing, because as he said it he knew it was a lie, at least on his end. The end where he would do anything for Felix in order to keep him around, where he’d let Felix step on him if it meant his shoes would stay clean. Still, he tried to save it. “He’s like my little brother.”
“Kind of gross,” Changbin said, nonjudgmentally.
Yeah, Chris got the vibe that it would have been less weird for him to be hungry for Felix than to… you know, love him.
But he couldn’t help but love him, because he was Felix, he was charming and hilarious and genuine, and he looked like that. Not delicate, exactly, because that would imply that he seemed breakable, and that was not right. He was strong, yet soft. Bright and quick and also genuinely scary, mischief otherworldly. Except that he was also very worldly, very online and very loud and somewhat embarrassing, and Chris loved that too.
Chris was humiliated enough by his feelings that he did, eventually, pretend that he was only hungry.
The first time, he played it off with a bit of bluster. They were in Chris’ room playing video games, and Chris was like, “Do you want to sleep with me, or what?”
Though he tried, he didn’t miss the hurt look that passed over Felix’s face. But it was quick, and then Felix laughed. He said, “That’s romantic, Chris.”
“I never said I was romantic,” Chris fucking lied. “We’ve just been hanging out for a while, and I, you know.” Well, he only had so much bluster. “I want… I want you.”
The pause music on their game was looping. Felix was looking at Chris with his big bright eyes, with the dusting of freckles on his cheeks, with his small, pretty mouth hanging open a little. Gorgeous, even with potato chip crumbs on his hoodie. If Chris could paint, he’d paint a million Felixes, so it’s good that he can’t paint. He said, “I want you, too.”
Turned out, in some ways, it was actually easier to pretend not to be helplessly in love with Felix after they started sleeping together. It was an excuse for a lot of things, where there wasn’t one before. Hanging out, buying stuff for him. That was just respectful behavior for someone you had on speed dial. Then, it was harder because it gave Chris much more to love about Felix. Freckles on his chest, sleepy noises in the morning, the way he was always sort of desperate, hands fisted in his shirt; kissed like he needed more, almost like he wanted Chris just as much.
They were in uni, Chris three years above Felix, already looking toward graduation when Felix was just settling in; far apart. If they had friends who were dating, it was usually on the casual side, or else it was devastatingly serious and didn’t seem like much fun. Their friends made fun of rom-coms, said it wasn’t that deep, you know?
Chris hadn’t felt like this before, either. He’d hooked up a bit, but didn’t have much relationship experience other than a few little flings here and there, a girlfriend in high school. They tried to make it when they went to different schools, but obviously promptly broke up. They got along well, had the bond of having lost their virginity together, but, especially after Chris met Felix, he knew that it truly hadn’t been that deep.
So Chris was treading water on his own here, too. He had feelings that did not make sense to him, for someone he did not want to scare away. Instead of being fully honest, he took what he was given, and he gave much more than that. He decided to just be the fun and lighthearted and goofy person that he normally really is. He decided not to need it so bad, but to take care of Felix anyway, and not for himself.
Chris was scared of the feelings he had. He was scared of how hard it was not to try to pin Felix down, to have him. He was scared of how hard it was not to solicit promises from Felix. There was a while, when they were sleeping together, when he would fantasize not about Felix’s body, but about him saying forever.
There came a day that was a lot like today. A lot, actually, like today; it was in the autumn, and Felix was being the kind of Felix who is quieter, wants to be held. They were in Felix’s room and they weren’t even taking their clothes off. Felix was on his side curled up on the covers of his bed, using Chris’ chest as a pillow, scrolling through his phone. Chris was running his fingers through Felix’s hair, bleached and a bit long. It was like this sometimes, even though the premise of what they were doing was hooking up.
Felix was so beautiful and sweet, and Chris couldn’t fit it all inside him. At a certain point, trying to jam that one last shirt into the suitcase, the whole thing just explodes, right? The seams just rip.
If Chris didn't tell Felix, then maybe Felix would never know. And Chris could die from that.
So he just did it. He told him.
It was so hard. With other people, before Felix, he'd tried to present his confessions diplomatically. I think it would make sense for us to date, he'd say. No hard feelings if you're not interested! He'd add that before he even heard an answer. So fucking scared. But none of it was that important before this. Nobody had been Felix before, a whole universe inside one small person.
He handed Felix his heart this time. He didn't protect himself. With quiet music playing in the background, Chris quietly said, voice rumbling against the side of Felix’s face, "I really like you."
Felix flopped around so he could look up at Chris without moving off him. He said, “I like you too, Chris.”
"I mean, would you want to date? Would you want to… I don’t know. Would you want to be my boyfriend?”
There was a moment. Even if Chris could paint, he wouldn’t bother trying; Felix was a study in beauty even with his hair all messed up from Chris’ hands, in jeans, a sock half-falling off, even when he was like, scrolling on his phone reading celebrity gossip.
"Yeah, Chris. I would."
"Of course," Felix said quietly as the smile spread across his face. Almost a whisper, "Of course I would."
It's a crazy thing, to want more. It's a selfish and crazy thing. But Chris is a bit selfish and a bit crazy, and it follows him around. And the nicest days, the least eventful, are the most difficult ones for Chris and his hard-beating heart.
But being brave works, right? In things like love. Well, it either works or your heart is crushed like a grape. But Felix has always been careful with Chris' heart.
Felix does show his love. That’s what makes Chris’ fear the strangest. It’s not that Chris is catching steam, it’s not like he’s building a house for Felix to thoughtlessly move into. Felix loves him, too. Felix loves him a lot. Listens to him, everything he says, even when he’s just fuckin’ talking. Laughs with him, at him. Sticks up for him, even though Chris is supposed to be the one that sticks up for Felix, even though he tries to be. Sometimes Chris needs some sticking-up-for, too. Sometimes Felix is Chris’ strength, too.
Felix has always been easy with physical affection, his heart ready to accept all of Chris' love and throw it right back at him. He is always there. Chris may wait around for him, but Felix always shows up.
Felix is good to Chris. Good, good, good. He says he’s going to the bathroom, and secretly pays the waiter for their meals. He says thank you a million times, for everything; sometimes he’s still saying thank you months later, for things Chris did or said in passing. Everything means so much to him. And he was much braver, in the beginning, about things like holding hands in public than Chris was. He was the one who looked at Chris with concern on his face and asked if it was okay, and said, “For me, it’s okay. For me, I want to.”
Every day, when Chris gets home, Felix gives him a big hug. Sometimes, Felix leans back to get a good look at him, pushes his hair out of his face, or holds his face and kisses him deeply. Sometimes, he buries his face in Chris' collarbone, blinks butterfly wings into his shoulder.
Every time Chris hands Felix his heart, Felix takes it gently into his hands and shields it, understanding that he's being trusted with something.
But that doesn't make it easy to do it again and again. To be the one, every time, who puts it on a plate and says, do whatever you want with this. Eat it! It’s not mine anymore.
Normally, this isn't so distracting. But today, Chris can't think about anything else.
He and Felix put dinner together and Felix notices Chris looking. Finally, he asks, "What? Did I get something on my face?"
"No," Chris says. "Nope, you're beautiful." Ugh. Big eyes, quiet smile, lovely small hands making salad.
"Alright," Felix says, a little self-conscious. "Thank you."
The first time Chris said I love you , it was a bit like this. Maybe he gets weaker with time? They were walking back to Chris’ place from a movie, shouting and laughing in the street. It was dark and the cars passed infrequently as they bounced between pools of street lights. It was hot out, and Felix was wearing a tank top. A milestone Chris didn’t realize would mean so much to him: getting comfortable enough together to go on a date without trying to impress each other. Of course, Felix was always impressive, even when he wasn’t trying, and Chris was always, always trying, but still. Still.
It was something about that day. Chris hadn’t done much, just tidied up here and there, watched stuff, ate lunch, wasted his day waiting for Felix to come over. And then Felix had gotten there with an armful of groceries, like, ready to take over the kitchen Chris shared with all his roommates. It had been great. Just a perfect night. They laughed and laughed, Felix rested his head on Chris’ shoulder during the movie, played with his fingers, and now they were right back to laughing, filling up the space between the buildings that rose on both sides of the street with it. Felix was cackling and Chris was unable to keep himself from giggling like a fool, happiness like a shaken bottle of Sprite.
That’s when he said it, still laughing. “I really love you.”
Felix’s face stayed the same, open and grinning. He scrunched his nose a little and looked at Chris with sparkly eyes. “Yeah?” he asked, and Chris giggled like a hiccup and said, “Yeah, I do.”
“I love you too,” Felix said, nodding at Chris like he got it, he knew. But then, dramatically, he shouted, “Love you, Bro!”
Then they just kept laughing.
Chris is a mess. He’s a fool. He’s not even a person as much as he loves this little dude. He was able to hold it together through dinner by listening to Felix talk about his day, but now they’re eating the pie, and it’s so good. Chris is thinking about how much better Felix has gotten at baking, even since they moved in together. Something he likes doing, that makes him feel calm, and now he’s great at it? Wow, that makes Chris so proud.
Felix glances over again, looks concerned almost. He looks like he's about to ask again. Really, what's happening with you?
The seams are ripping. There is no suitcase, just an endless outpouring of shirts. Chris just spits it out. "I'm in love with you."
Felix’s face breaks into a goofy smile, though the concern isn’t completely gone. His mouth is tinged lightly purple inside from the pie filling. "I know that,” he says.
Chris laughs, but it's because he might cry otherwise. He finally says, "I mean, it's a lot, you know?"
"Okay," Felix says, smile widening, shining. Chris could die. "It is a lot," Felix agrees.
“I don’t think you understand.”
“How much it is,” Chris says, “for me.”
Felix takes a breath that’s so big, looks at Chris in a funny way, like actually Felix is the big one here. “How much is it?” he asks.
Chris swallows. He doesn’t want to put pressure on Felix to agree. But it would be worse to talk around it, to be diplomatic instead of honest. The tears are really trying to fall. “I just…” it’s so hard to find the words. “I really love you.”
Felix laughs kindly. He looks like he’s loving this, which would be funny if Chris weren’t having a breakdown. “Right,” he says. “That’s established.”
“If something happened to you,” Chris tries again. “If there was no you.” He can’t even think about that. Shit, he’s really got to say it if he’s gonna say it. “I think you’re my soulmate.”
Felix is still just smiling, like he thinks he knows something that Chris doesn’t know. He says, “Yeah.”
“I don’t think you get what I mean,” Chris says, a bit desperately. “But the feeling is too crazy, I can’t explain it.”
“No, I think I understand,” Felix says. He laces his fingers with Chris’ on the table, and looks at Chris’ whole face. When he speaks, it’s like he understands that Chris is about to pop like a soap bubble. “Why do you think we’re dating?” he asks.
“Because I asked you out,” Chris says.
“That’s wrong. It’s because we liked each other. Both of us, yeah?” He makes a pursed-lip face like he’s so smart. He says, “And why do we live together?”
Chris shakes his head instead of answering, because Felix already has an answer, clearly.
Felix points a knowing finger and says, “Ah-ha. It’s because we both wanted to move in together.”
“But I asked you.”
“Because you wanted to ask me,” Felix says smugly. “Or did you want me to ask you?”
Oh. Hmm. Good question.
“You wanted to ask me,” Felix confirms. He holds their entwined hands up, kisses the back of Chris’ hand. “Can I tell you a secret?” he asks, softer, through his lashes, then kisses Chris’ hand again before setting them down.
Chris nods. His eyes are filled with tears, sooo stupid.
“Anything you ask,” Felix says, seriously, looking directly, directly into Chris’ eyes. “Anything. I’ll say yes. I want all of it.” He says it again. “All of it, Chris, okay?”
“Even, like,” Chris tries, holding onto the truth he’s lived under.
“Yes,” Felix says, uncaring. “Yep, absolutely. Let’s do it, whatever it is. I love you. I’ve probably already thought about it, and yes, I want to.” Then he laughs self-consciously, and then he has to hide his face. “Okay, no, it is hard. It’s hard.” He says it through his fingers, puts his head down on the table. “But I am serious,” he squeaks.
“I’m serious, too,” Chris says, petting Felix’s hair, bathing in his words. “I’ve gone the last three years thinking I liked you more.”
“You don’t,” Felix says earnestly, resting his chin on his hands but not sitting up straight. “Maybe you do, but I don’t think you do. It’s just, you’re the one who… You’re the main one, right? I follow you.” He laughs breathily. “You make this romantic stuff look easy,” he whines.
Chris laughs, for real. Hilarious. Wow, wow. Hilarious. “Do I?” he asks wildly. Even his voice is shaking.
“Usually!” Felix yells at the table. Then he looks up at Chris and his eyes are red-rimmed, too. “You usually have it handled!”
Well, he likes to look like he has it handled, when it comes to Felix. “I try to,” he says. Then, “You don’t always have to follow me. I can follow you sometimes too.”
“It’s hard,” Felix agrees. “Shit.” He sighs once, then sighs again. Then smiles like Chris is telling a joke, then sighs. Then he says, “Okay, how about I get the next one.”
“Wait, what’s the next one?” Chris asks, panicked again.
Felix holds a finger to his lips. Shhh. “You’ll know.” He shakes his head at himself. “I have to graduate first.”
Chris is not going to think about what that means. No, he is not.
Instead, he’s going to take Felix’s hands and gently pry them off his face, and he’s going to look at him, despite being an embarrassing fool, and he’s going to say what he means to say, so that they both can know. So that it can be between them, so that Chris will never have to force himself to say it for the first time again. “You are my home,” he will say, not thinking about the flat they’ve been in for nearly a year, and not of the school they both went to or even all of Sydney or any place at all, but of the circle of Felix’s arms when he holds them out in the sleeves of a big sweater, demanding that Chris accept a hug. “I come home to you.”