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All The Things (I've Lost)

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He is sitting on the windowsill, his eyes lost on the decrepit city before his eyes, when his watch starts to ring. Glancing down at his wrist, he shivers as the tip of his index finger touches the watch screen to mute the notification. It still hurts. They said implanting such a tool in his flesh wouldn’t be a problem, what’s with the medication he was prescribed and all, but he must be having an allergic reaction of sorts because it isn’t healing well. Instead, the skin surrounding the screen-like device on his wrist is always warm and red. It stings at all moments of the day, a constant pulsing that he can feel all too well.

He’s almost starting to regret the investment, but he’s also aware that he’ll need it in the upcoming few weeks.

And in all honesty, he’s not looking forward to these upcoming few weeks at all.  

With a sigh that ends in a hollow sounding cough fit, he raises from his impromptu seat and makes his way to his grandmother’s cubicle on the other side of the studio’s corridor, the pitter-patter of his feet muffled by the cold concrete of the apartment. It isn’t cold against the plant of his feet; rather, it is lukewarm and somewhat humid. The building’s airing doesn’t function in a satisfactory manner, hence the pervasive humidity, but it’s still safer breathing the air here than outside.

After all, there are filters inside the building that keep a majority of the air chemicals from entering their lungs. Jongdae needs that slightly cleaner air, or else his asthma is going to kill him.

Once in the door’s threshold, he smiles down at the frail, elderly woman before walking up to her. She’s still in bed, something that is quite the common sight nowadays, with a small tablet in her hands. She must’ve been watching the news. The catheter hanging from the wall is still upright, and the needle is sunk deep in her veiny hand and still solidly taped there, so he understands the reason she called him through his watch must be something else.

“What is it, gran’?” He keeps his voice light, the corners of his lips twisting up naturally. His throat still hurts from his coughing fit but with a bit of luck, his grandmother won’t notice the sandpaper quality of his speech. He carefully sits on the bed, making sure he isn’t crushing one of her knitting needles or something else. He lays a careful hand on her knee that is hidden by the blanket she’s covered with, feeling her warmth through it.

Her voice, airy, eventually finds his ears. “Your parents just sent me an email. Would you like me to read it?” So she hasn’t heard him coughing yet again. Rather, there’s something quite like love and hope in her voice. Jongdae trembles with sorrow and anger at that, but he conceals these emotions instead of voicing them all out. She doesn’t need to hurt further than she already is.

Furthermore, she’s always liked to read him the emails she receives out loud. It was something they could share better by talking face-to-face, in her opinion.

“Hm, sure. Go ahead.” He nods, his eyes closing – maybe to avoid communicating his annoyance, he doesn’t know.

He’s not annoyed at her and her hope. He never could be. She is the sweetest human being he has ever known and she never deserved to have such an ungrateful, uncaring son: Jongdae’s father. 

After all, his parents basically gave up on her because of her poor health. There’s a reason they’re both still on Earth, stuck in a dingy studio in one of the most populated and polluted cities left, Seoul.

Jongdae’s favourite family memories are all from his early childhood, for one day his father had been hired or, well, sponsored by the military for some researches on Andromeda, and his mother had followed.

He was almost ten years old.

Since then, he hasn’t seen them much. His grandmother awaits eagerly each email they send every few weeks (or months, sometimes), as if kept alive by them even though she must know that Jongdae’s parents will never come back to take care of her.

His grandmother doesn’t stutter even once as she reads the words of the email out loud. Jongdae thinks they could’ve just sent a video of themselves instead.

We’ve been very busy.” As always. “How are the preparations going for Jongdae’s departure? He must be excited. We are close to a breakthrough on the proteins we newly identified – we are trying to see if we could adapt the chemical reaction into a new type of weapons.” Weapon creation was always their obsession. “Also, the military is still willing to offer Jongdae a spot if he changes his mind,” his father is willing to offer him a spot, not the military, “but preferably before he leaves Earth. A good day to you two.

It hurts each time to see how much they didn’t ask more about his grandmother, her state and her needs, but still her eyes shine bright, especially as she reads Jongdae’s name on the overly bright interactive screen.

She likes to see how concerned they are for him and his future.

What future?

“Jongdae, my boy, it’s true - are you still convinced you don’t want a spot in the military? Your father would be so proud…”

Jongdae shakes his head, a smile plastered on his face. “You know I don’t like that kind of stuff, granny. I’ll find a job elsewhere, something better suited for me.” Something better suited for him would definitely be something along the lines of marketing and promoting, but he doesn’t believe his diploma will be worth much once he’s out there.

His grandmother nods, never one to coerce him into anything, and then carries on with the conversation. They need some more food, but the delivery should arrive soon with premade meals and supplements. Jongdae only needs to go get it downstairs. Their neighbours from upstairs have left this very morning, and most probably for the Citadel, where Jongdae will go, too. She wrote to someone on one of her numerous chatting apps, and that person is also going to the Citadel very soon. She hopes they’ll keep in contact anyway.

Jongdae feels his chest tighten the more sentences she enunciates, and he reaches for one of her wrinkled hands as she continues to talk, finding some comfort while playing with her softened fingers. He’s going to miss her so much.

And yet, he isn’t even fair with her.

He isn’t even fair with her because just like his parents and everyone else, he’s going to abandon her. He’s going to leave her alone on this rotten planet while he tries to build himself a new life in an intergalactic capital very, very far away from here.

And as much as it pains him to know he won’t see the Earth anymore, it pains him even more to think he won’t ever see his grandmother again. She was, since the very beginning, his sole real family. His everything. And as much as he’ll be alone out there, she’ll be even lonelier in her “retirement home” – until the end of her days.

Humanity has come far, yet people still die from old age and there’s no stopping it, especially if one doesn’t have the financial means to pay for it. 

 

Jongdae used up almost the entirety of his savings to get into that relocation program and buy that supposedly very useful tool-watch.

A relocation program to make sure he will be brought someplace with a single luggage where he can actually find a job and other humans, and a tool-watch to keep track of his credit account, health data, location, identity; in short, just about everything else.

Anything is accessible through this device. He used to have a small identification chip in his left wrist, but now the watch, a Chronos XH-2500, is replacing it altogether. It’s a weird thing to look at, for the screen seems to be perfectly molded to his skin and yet, when activated to watch the news and such, it projects a responsive silver hologram in the air.

There are other types of handy, implantable devices such as eye computers and brain chips, but the most affordable one when he decided to go ahead with the surgery was the watch.

Some use add-ons to transform the device in weapons or tools for their job. As for Jongdae, he has the standard model with no add-ons; it is enough for him. It has to be enough. After all, he isn’t exactly planning on hacking or shooting anyone once he reaches the Citadel. He probably wouldn’t do much of a good job.

And the relocation program he registered for isn’t truly a relocation program, but the company behind it describes all of its organised emigration travels as such anyway. The only difference between the diverse options is that the more one pays, the more one has, as always.

Jongdae paid for the physical travel from Earth to the Exodus Cluster, more precisely to the Citadel, the Sphere’s main megalopolis, as well as the carrying of his things in a single trunk. He also paid for a relocation agent for once he actually arrives to his final destination.

But unfortunately for him, this relocation agent is currently proving to be useless.

More specifically, his credits are proving to have been at least partially uselessly wasted. 

Everything he planned is proving to be meaningless and Jongdae, who is incredibly tired and shaken up from the artificial sleep he just woke up from, doesn’t know if he wants to laugh hysterically and go on an adventure or break down and cry in front of the relocation agent’s office, office that is actually in the middle of the building’s ground floor where all of the embassies are.

(He’d definitely make an embarrassment of himself.)

“Look,” she says tentatively from behind the protective glass, “our human reception centers are completely full tonight, but I can notify you via your identity account when a spot becomes free? Tomorrow, if things go as they should…”

If things go as they should? Nothing she’s saying makes sense to him. And there’ll only be more humans arriving tomorrow, each of whom will most probably urgently need a safe spot where to stay. And, from what he had read in the news, a lot of children are coming here each day. 

The relocation service was supposed to include a bed for the night and this agent, her hair in a tight bun and her pristine badge on the left side of her chest, is telling him that there is no such bed included in his package, at least according to what is written on her screen. That nothing was booked in the reception center under his name, Kim Jongdae. He insists that, yes, it was supposed to be included, and he even shows her the digital receipt that he downloaded to his watch and all she does is shrug, only offering that there must have been too high a demand for the beds as an explanation.

“You must’ve received a message regarding that matter, perhaps,” she continues, yes looking as if she is feeling bad for Jongdae but unwilling to actually make things better. Jongdae wants to rip his hair off his head. The woman’s nose is annoying him the more he watches her, too, too thin and straight to appear natural. He types away on his watch until he can access his emails – and oh, surprise, a new message dating from a couple of hours ago does notify him of the fact that they had to give his spot to another arrival and that if he contacts them, he can get a minimal refund.

He was in an artificially induced sleep on the fucking spaceship at that time. How the hell was he to know before he arrived here? It doesn’t even make sense that they contacted him this late.

It means he has to find a sleeping spot in this huge megalopolis filled with aliens that don’t necessarily all speak Conventional or Korean, or even English for that matter. It means that, as of now, and it’s already past 1900, he needs to find food, transportation and a hotel of sorts and yes, he has his watch to help him find such spots “easily”, but he’s all alone, this place is fucking immense and he’ll have to spend credits he hadn’t planned on using yet. And he can’t even have his minimal refund right away because the office workers taking care of that aren’t available at the moment. 

Still, he needs to breathe in through his nose and move along. His grandmother would want him to. The more he waits, the less chances he has of finding a place where to relax. He plasters a smile on his face and, feeling the redness gradually leave his cheeks as he cools down, he gathers his words again. The woman looks at him like he’s grimacing instead of grinning, so he supposes he hasn’t quite managed to look happier at the moment, but at least he knows he tried.

“Alright,” he begins, swallowing hard around the lump in his sore throat, “is there anything you can suggest me?”

 

She was very happy to transfer easy options to his identity account on his watch and get rid of him. Well, she obviously didn’t say so, but Jongdae knows he hasn’t been the nicest, calmest client of her day. And he probably won’t be the only one considering there were still many humans left behind him in the line.

He took a few minutes to look through all the restaurant and hotel ads (all translated in Conventional and sometimes English, thank God) and decided on a first stop that he could actually reach by foot.

Saying he was hungry would be an understatement; he was starving and had been since the very minute he had woken up in the weirdest of sleeping capsules.

He set his sights on a small take-out stand at the corner of an intersection mainly because they appeared to be selling things that somewhat looked like wraps. What there was in these he didn’t truly know, but the salty smell of whatever ingredient was burning on their grill was enough to lure him in.

And right now, the weird alien taking orders might or might not be judging him; he just doesn’t know. Or, rather, he can’t know. The other’s lack of eyes makes the construction of a verdict a bit difficult.  Besides that, he has four limbs, just like Jongdae, but the head consists of only a small rounded extension with what appears to be, maybe, a mouth. His grey epidermis is thinner than a regular human’s, too, if the veiny paths under it are any indication.

Is that alien really seeing him and aware of him standing there, or?

That’s why Jongdae accidentally stares back for another good minute or so, gaping like a fish, a hand raised in the air and unable to form a coherent sentence in Conventional. Everything that comes from his prefrontal cortex is either in Korean or in English. And there are so many food options to choose from –

 “Sir, you have been staring for a whole two minutes and seventeen seconds.” The alien has the tactfulness to omit at me. “Do you want to order or not?” His Conventional is flawless; and while Jongdae knows this language is widely used in big alien cities and intergalactic politics, it still takes him by surprise. The other accompanies his words by a gesture to the line that has formed behind him and his kind of big luggage, not sounding exasperated, but then Jongdae realises his voice didn’t come out of the hole on his head and – 

Someone behind him honks in a weird way and he jumps, chokes on air and saliva and has to take a good thirty seconds before he can quell the pain in his throat and chest. The fit also brings back to the forefront of his conscious mind the very much real pain in his left wrist; it burns more than it ever has before.

Maybe it’s infected.

Maybe he should get it looked at.

But he’s in an alien megalopolis, lost, and is very much standing in line to get some take-out before he has to book a room somewhere where it won’t be too expensive. He can’t spend the night outside. It wouldn’t be safe.

He also does notice that his watch is flashing with an indication about his body temperature, but he dismisses it.

Food first.

Air doesn’t seem to be going in well enough as he finally throws words into the humid atmosphere, but it hurts a bit less than it would had he still been on Earth. “Ah, yes, sorry,” he clears his throat, “I’ll just take a number one?”

The alien nods and taps on the screen. Then, “Anything else?”

Jongdae purses his lips while thinking, and the irritation of his larynx reminds him that he wants to drink. He needs to drink.

“Does it include a globe?”

Globes are literal balls of water and other liquids that one can drink from. They usually are made of algae or something similar and Jongdae has been using them on Earth too, so he supposes it’s all the same here.

The alien nods once more and calls out to another alien that bears resemblances to a buffalo behind the counter. They’re using a language that Jongdae has no hope of ever recognising and learning whatsoever, and it’s a bit unsettling, but his order seems to have gone through just fine.

His first order on another planet. It’s crazy to think about it this way.

And so he decides to wait on the side while his food is being cooked.

 

Once he has his wrap in hands, he sits down at the edge of the incredibly large sidewalk to eat.

Above him, small spaceships and flying engines are whirring as they go, smelly exhaust lines and light beams in their trails. After a few minutes of observation, he notices a few even produce nothing at all; and somehow they are the most impressive of the bunch, imposing yet difficult to get a grasp of because they leave nothing in their tracks.

Living beings of all imaginable statures, colours and shapes are making their way across the pavement and around Jongdae, too, be it by walking, crawling or even, in some cases, by gliding a few centimeters above the trash scattered ground.

And if he raises his head high enough, he can almost see the tip of some of the exaggeratingly tall skyscrapers around. Almost, because fumes are rising from the numerous manholes of the street and gathering far, far away above everyone’s heads, making the sky a thick carpet of smog and condensed droplets of water.

In a way, this landscape is familiar to him. It’s a bit like Seoul or Hong Kong, polluted and terribly big with a horribly dense population, only that the air is actually easier to breathe here and the rest is worse.

And ah, neon lights. Neon lights everywhere; ads of all kinds, flashes of fluorescent holograms and moving pictures advertising commodities from food lines to the newest chirurgical trends.

It’s a bit like everything is coming together in a chaotic yet functional way; a melting pot of cultures and races, a fusion of dreams and pains unique to each individual. 

And Jongdae is now part of all of this. Technically, he traveled to this planet so far away from his own just to save his own future – and under his parents’ insistence.

His grandmother, too, said she’d feel relieved to know that he actually has a real chance at life. She always brought up the fact that he was too young to die because of the older generations’ mistakes and as his asthma grew worse, she grew more worried.

And Jongdae doesn’t think he can ever be alright with the fact that she’s now in her retirement home on Earth. With a bit of luck, just a bit, she’s already made friends and won’t be alone. He doesn’t want her to be alone; he wants her to feel loved until the end.

He selfishly wishes for that.

His grumbling stomach and beeping watch are what brings him back down to reality. His thoughts crumble and wither away, and he feels strangely neutral. It’s slightly uncomfortable, but it’s easier to bear than pure anger or profound despair.

He’ll have the time to mop later, probably. He’ll be in a better position to do so if he at least has a roof above his head.

With a heart wrenching sigh, he puts his wraps on some napkins beside him and focuses on his watch. Its shrill beeping noise is continuous, he doesn’t even understand why there’s still sound on it. Didn’t he deactivate it earlier?

Because, once again, it’s telling him that his body temperature is too high. It is true that Jongdae is shivering in the lukewarm city air, but still, he’s not dying either.

38.1 C isn’t that bad, right? He can find a drugstore for some antipyretics once he actually has something to digest and get energy from. His wrap smells so good, he wants to believe that it’s made of the best. Moreover, beating the blandness of current earthling food shouldn’t be difficult.

But, problem: when he looks again to his left side, his wrap isn’t on the napkin anymore.

He turns his head abruptly, searching the culprit behind the disappearance of his meal.

All he catches from the corner of his eyes is a splotch of pink and then, the only one standing behind him is a man who very much looks human and – isn’t that his wrap in his hand?!

“What the fuck,” he blurts out, confused but insulted above all else.

The stranger downright smirks at him and has the guts to take a bite of his wrap, a hand on his cocked hip. In all honesty, it makes Jongdae’s wrap appear even better because he looks like he’s enjoying every second of it in his mouth.

His hips are great as well and – wait. No. That’s not it. He just stole his wrap, and that means he indirectly stole Jongdae’s money, too.

He doesn’t even finish his mouthful before he speaks, and it definitely makes Jongdae shudder in annoyance. His voice is raspy as he says, “Hope you don’t mind.” There’s a teasing lilt to the end of his sentence that makes it all the more infuriating.

Hope you don’t mind – but like, what even? Jongdae voiced out his disapproval of the other in English and this guy actually answered.

He speaks English. And he looks human. And English is mostly used by human beings.

And yet, it doesn’t make him someone nice at the moment. “Give it back to me!”

He stands up suddenly and twists around, reaching for his wrap as quickly as he can.

His vision goes blurry and all he sees are –

Rose eyes and glossy lips.

Because then, the blood in his body protests the unexpected action by following gravity.

He feels his limbs grow weak at an exasperating speed. Nausea hits him full force and causes a sweat to break down his shoulder blades and he touches the ground with his knees, hard.

He’s also vaguely aware that the fall forced his already afflicted left wrist in an unnatural angle, but at the very same time, the extremities of his body tingle too much for him to focus on a spot in particular. His vision is mostly made up of black dots and grey fog.

White noise doesn’t make it easy to hear, but after a few seconds, he picks up a few things.

A few bewildering things.

“Ah, no, don’t get too close, I know him! He needs some air. Fresh air.”

The stranger’s twangy voice. And uh, no, he doesn’t know him. Like, at all.

“I will take care of him! It happens sometimes, you know, sugar levels and all –”

What bullshit is this? The guy switched to Conventional, so he’s most probably addressing his words to non-human beings, but all he’s saying is full of crap. Someone must have seen what happened, right? He can’t just deceive everyone like that, can he?

And it’s not the sugar level excuse that is utter shit, but saying he’ll take care of him? Jongdae would rather he dump him in a dark alley than go home to someone who tried to steal his food first thing first.

It’s this guy’s fault if he feels faint. And he doesn’t really see much right now. Did he close his eyes?

If he did, it truly feels nicer like that. Maybe he should just sleep right here and then –

“Really, I swear, he’s fine! I’ll get him to a doctor.”

Again, no, just no. Jongdae doesn’t want to see a doctor, especially if that doctor is related to this guy in any way.

Someone grabs at him and he tries to push them away, but it’s no use. There’s no strength in his arms and legs; he whines and tries to form words with his mouth, but nothing comes out clearly enough to be understandable.

He blinks, but all he sees is grey and fuchsia.

The sky, and this guy’s hair.

“Ah, why do you have such a heavy luggage? You’re lucky I even have my motorbike with me.”

Jongdae wants to slap this guy in the face. Lucky? How is he lucky? He doesn’t have the right to complain about Jongdae’s fucking luggage.

A warm hand sneaks up around his waist and although he leans into the support, it feels weird. He’s standing up, but in reality he’s not really capable of holding himself. How is the other even keeping him up?

After a few seconds, it even feels as if there are numerous hands on him, too many for it to be normal. Maybe someone else’s helping the stranger to carry him?

Now, he just has to wait for his senses to come back to him so he can push said stranger away.

Asshole.

 

 

Right after that last eloquent thought, he fainted for good. He knows with certainty because he remembers basically nothing of what followed.

And now, as he is opening both eyes without rushing, he realises that he’s lying on a relatively comfortable surface – and he’s not in motion anymore. While he stares up blankly at dimly lit ceiling lights, his right hand pats the top of what he’s on, trying to get a feel of the material under him. He doesn’t want to turn his head yet because the dizziness is still lurking in the corner, ready to assault him, but he needs to assess his surroundings one way or another.

It’s distressing to wake up in an unknown place.

His fingertips tell him the matter under him feels like leather but it doesn’t smell like it one bit. It’s not as pungent nor is it, as his grandmother would sometimes joke, as “manly” of a smell.

(She gave him a leather vest on his seventeenth birthday, and would tell him often about how her own grandfather used to look very cool when putting it on. Leather clothing is somewhat rare and outdated so he didn’t use it often, but he still fancied wearing it from time to time.)

If anything, it reeks of a sweetness that he cannot associate with anything he knows; not exactly overbearing yet syrupy, a disconcerting mix of honey and something else, something more.

He doesn’t have much more time to ponder on what it is precisely, though, because a face appears out of nowhere in his line of sight and he yelps on the spot, trying to back away.

He finds that it isn’t easy to do so; and the stranger’s way too close for Jongdae’s comfort.

The beam on the other’s face becomes even wider once he stops actively trying to get away. Jongdae honestly finds it a bit disturbing. “I was starting to think you wouldn’t wake up.”

And whose fault is that? He wants to spit these words to the other’s face, but instead he pulls a face, uncertain of what to answer. The stranger has such encouraging and comforting words that the need to be mean and sarcastic surfaces for an instant, too, but he wills it away. 

Maybe the other will back off if he keeps silent; so his expression doesn’t budge even after a few seconds of only their breaths answering each other.

Silence gives him the occasion to take in the situation. He’s still angry and done with life, but he has to admit that this stranger – human or not, asshole or not – is pretty cute.

Normally, Jongdae doesn’t like flamboyant colours and accessories that much, but in this guy’s case, vivid magenta hair, translucent coral eyes and light golden skin make for a perfect fit. 

And from this close, he can observe every little detail of the other’s skin. From a blemish on his left nostril to the scar on his lower lip, and to the freckle-like spots on his cheekbones to the faint traces of eyeliner around his eyes, nothing can be hidden or minimised.

There appear to be some pimple scars on his chin, too, but they do nothing to lessen the overall gorgeous looks.

And puppy eyes.

This guy has puppy eyes.

Jongdae might have a soft spot for puppy eyed beings in general although he doesn’t like to admit as much.

All of this is a bit annoying to discover for the other has proved he’s up to no good in a very short span of time by stealing Jongdae’s freshly made wrap.

On one hand he’s cute and on the other, he’s obviously an asshole. Life can be mean sometimes.

Said asshole puckers his lip, raising an eyebrow at his lack of reaction. “I know you can talk, so why are you keeping silent? You sounded like someone who whines a lot earlier.”

Okay. Breathe in, and out. Breathe in – and out. This guy’s cheekiness isn’t something he can handle at the moment, apparently.

He feels the need to either stick his tongue out at the other or pinch his nose hard, but no, he won’t do that. He’s not that childish, is he? It wouldn’t really be an efficient form of protest.   

The other’s still speaking in English, too, though now Jongdae can detect the underlying foreign accent to his words; particularly those containing r’s and w’s. It comes as no surprise that he can’t associate it to a language he knows, but it does make him curious: what is that guy and where does he come from?

He feels like if he replies the other will win, but it’s also a fact that his situation will never go forward if he doesn’t. There’s an itch in his throat and a pressure in his temple that reveal much about his physical state; and his watch starts beeping yet again, too, temporarily distracting the other; but then he finally deigns to speak, turning off the notification at the same time. “You fucking stole my wrap.”

He didn’t intend for these specific words to come out but they do anyway. It seemingly takes the other by surprise, but what’s even more sudden is the hearty laugh that breaks the awkward silence right after. Jongdae must be so funny right now. 

“I take it you really wanted that wrap, uh?” Well, duh, of course? What is he supposed to answer to that? Is this guy a pure idiot?

“Who the hell buys food to give it up like that,” he says, annoyance a bit louder in his voice.   

The guy, who, Jongdae notices, is sitting near him on the couch, shrugs. “Lots of people waste food for no good reasons. I’m Baekhyun, by the way.”

There’s something enthralling about the way he’s so casual in his demeanour. And, secretly, the earthling is almost relieved to finally have a name to associate to the other.

“I’m Jongdae,” he mutters, his eyes shutting by themselves as memories of his arrival to the Citadel until his fainting wash over him.

Introducing himself made him recognise just how out of place he feels since he landed. 

He has a name, but he feels like no one. He doesn’t belong here. And he’s oh so far away from his lovely grandmother, his only family, and at the moment it makes his heart clench painfully.

Baekhyun tilts his head as if he notices his malaise. “You’re human, right? Just arrived here?”

His luggage and appearance gave him away right from the beginning. The news probably mentioned the massive influx of humans to the Citadel, too. It couldn’t have gone unnoticed.

An entire species fleeing its planet because of the mess it created on it.

It’s not the first time it happens. 

They are not the only ones who have been stupid or caught up in something bigger than themselves. 

And there’s no use in lying, so he nods. “There’s a reason I was so hungry, you know. I just landed.”

The fuchsia-haired boy smiles down at him, snorting. “With the look in your eyes at that moment, I’m sure you would’ve fought me.” The if you hadn’t fainted at that moment goes unsaid, but it still hangs heavy in the air.

Baekhyun seems… a bit nicer than earlier. A bit.

He’s wary, though. He still has no clue as to why this guy tried to steal his wrap. Speaking of which, he hears his stomach give a rumbling complaint, and he flushes.

Baekhyun smirks. “Guess you could still fight me, but I’m nice from time to time and especially to pretty boys, so I’ll make you something.” He knows for sure he doesn’t look like a pretty boy at the moment with his greasy hair and impossible eye bags, but ok, sure, as long as there’s no poison in the food.

He still wants to hit him for the comment, but considering even sitting up on the weird couch is hard, he’ll have to delay that.

 

In a way, he doesn’t want to stay here, here being Baekhyun’s apartment.

But as he explains his situation to the other, he comes to realise one thing: he has no place where to go and it’s already past 2200. And while the Citadel never sleeps, Jongdae doesn’t think he wants to handle more fumbling around.

Reformulated, this mean he doesn’t believe he can handle any more fumbling around.

“Then, it’s not complicated; just stay here for the night and we’ll see tomorrow?” Baekhyun is way too nonchalant about this. It disturbs Jongdae a bit. Not only is it suspicious that someone’s willing to take him in just like that, but Jongdae also doesn’t appreciate the general idea of being here.

He purses his lips, sighing. He’s currently on the couch, but there’s a blanket on his thighs and a bowl of weird spicy noodles in his hands. Baekhyun said talking would be easier once they both had some more food in their bellies; and up to now it hasn’t proven to be a lie.

He feels a bit better now. Or, at least, he wants to believe so.

“You still tried to steal me. And what if you’re just planning to dissect me while I sleep to take my organs? I know there’s human trafficking here,” he argues, but he knows he sounds overly paranoiac rather than just wary.

Baekhyun huffs, rolling his eyes, and slurps at the noodles in his own bowl noisily. Jongdae flinches; the sounds annoy him so much. Talking about the bowls, he finds them funny; they look like they’re made of terracotta but feel like hot metal against the palm of his hands and one can cook the noodles directly in them since they are equipped with a heating mechanism.

He wished he’d had that back on Earth.

“I can assure you, the last thing I’d do with your body is dissect it. I’d prefer to try it before, if you know what I mean –” Jongdae interrupts him before he can repeat himself, a judgemental look on his traits. “You’re making it worse. Just, shut up.”

This conversation is a distraction, in a way, that he wishes he could take only as such, but worries still fill his mind.

Baekhyun finishes his meal way before he even eats half of his, and that’s when Jongdae notices that – something pink and shiny-looking is poking out from behind the other’s back.

He releases a weird strangled sound when he finally understands what he’s seeing: it’s a fucking tentacle and – ohmygod it’s moving and it takes Baekhyun’s bowl away and –

Baekhyun, an easy smile on his face and his tone annoyingly reassuring, says, “Ah, don’t be like that? I thought you’d seen me using them earlier.”

Jongdae might be hyperventilating at the moment. The weird appendage is followed by three others, two on each of Baekhyun’s sides, and then many more, and they’re pink, but their tips is of a darker colour that is closer to plum and, what-the-actual-fuck, they have soft-looking suction cups?

And Baekhyun is – controlling them? Apparently?

No? Just, no?

He counts them.

Twelve fucking tentacles.

“I-I thought you were human, or, something,” he blurts out, and he knows he looks shaken up. Baekhyun looks like he’s brushing off Jongdae’s shock pretty well, but he can’t know for sure.

After all, his voice does sound a little off when he explains. “Well, obviously, I’m not. Humanoid if humans are the reference point, sure, but sorry, seems like I was equipped with a little extra.”

“A little extra?” Jongdae scoffs, disbelief evident in his voice. Tentacles are no little extra. And the way he said it –

Why is he so good at making everything sound plain strange? 

And it’s not like Jongdae has never seen aliens before arriving here. There were more and more coming to Earth and he even remembers having to do school projects on other species and space animals; but for some reason, Baekhyun’s tentacles are not quite normal to him at the moment.

“Where do they even come from?” He knows his timbre is shaky. Baekhyun, instead of answering, demonstrates: he gets up from his chair, turns around, and Jongdae sees – that they come from his back? And there are holes in his top where his ribs are, so the tentacles are coming from there?

It does explain the loose shirt. Not the very tight skinny jeans, though.

“Before you ask, yes, I can have more than four, but you’re kind of pale right now and I don’t want to risk making you faint again by showing you.” And he’s back to the teasing full-force while Jongdae mutters petulantly under his breath, his ears burning.

He doesn’t want to stay here, but he already knows he will.

 

Despite the fact they shared a few things over self-heating noodle bowls, Jongdae doesn’t really know what Baekhyun does for a living. If he looks around the apartment quickly, nothing truly gives it away – and the alien’s been evasive about it for now. He just said he has to move around a lot to “get things from people” around the city, but otherwise he completes most of his work at home.

Jongdae has no fucking clue of what this is supposed to mean. 

So, for now, he’ll let Baekhyun be private about it. After all, he clearly has no intention of telling the human and they don’t need to know everything about each other.

The only thing he can see is this: if he sits on the couch, there’s a small door on the wall to the left that leads to a cabin that Baekhyun referred to as his “office”. He hasn’t seen yet what’s inside, but he supposes it consists of a desk and data processing interactive equipment that give Baekhyun the possibility to work from his apartment.

There are, in total, two more rooms that he hasn’t asked about yet. The two others he knows; the entrance door and the bathroom, and meanwhile Baekhyun will let him sleep on the couch, meaning he will be resting in the main section of the apartment that includes the living and the kitchen.

He doesn’t mind. He’s unsettled by the wide open space in which he’ll have to find Morpheus’ arms, but the couch’s smell is already becoming a landmark of sorts to his brain. 

Anything he can hold on to will do.

Baekhyun suggested he take a shower and some antipyretics and although his muscles were still quivering as he got up, he washed himself and took the offered meds. He felt so much fresher after cleansing his body of the salty grime it had accumulated throughout the travel; and he enjoyed the bigger, more technological cleansing appliance, all glass and smooth rocks with so many settings to choose from. 

At the studio he shared with his grandmother, the bathroom covered their most basic needs and the water tank was quite moody, so he never truly tried to make the most out of his biweekly showers.

And now, with Baekhyun occupying the bathroom, he’s alone.

The light bulbs are turned off, but faint rays are filtering through windows behind the couch, and although said windows don’t offer the best view, he can still observe some more neon signs and flying objects. It looks like they’re pretty high in the whole building, but said building is far from being the tallest around.

It does look a bit like Seoul but it’s a lot more gigantic.

As he’s peering through the glass and into the glowing streets of the residential district, he realises it’s eerie. All of this. He feels more at peace now that the worst of his day has passed, but his situation isn’t quite right either.

Nothing happened quite like he’d thought it would. 

And deep inside of him, into his blood-pumping muscle and further, he’s still yearning to go back. To go back to the crumbling world that is the Earth, to find again its intoxicated soils and rivers, and to wrap his arms around his frail grandmother one more time.

His grandmother. He needs to contact her, whatever time it is in the retirement house she’s now living in. He needs to tell her he’s fine.

So he selects a few options on his watch, and presses call.

She doesn’t answer right after the first ringtones and his heart drops into the pit of his stomach as he imprisons a wail inside of him, well aware that if he starts crying Baekhyun will know.

But then, the ringing stops and he hears rustling instead, and his grandmother appears in the projected hologram, a hopeful smile on her lips and happy wrinkles at the corner of her eyes.

He’s so, so happy to see her.

 

He talks with her for the entire duration of Baekhyun’s shower and although a few tears leak from his eyelids when he ends the call, he’s still comforted to have managed to get a hold of his grandmother.

She must’ve been worried. She said she talked nonstop about him to another grandmother with whom she shares a room; and apparently, the other was nice. Jongdae was wishing so hard she’d find someone with whom discussions would be possible that he almost threw up from relief.

Yes, as ridiculous as it sounds.

He felt lonelier than ever now that he was alone once more in the big living, but he didn’t take the opportunity to talk about it when Baekhyun emerged from the bathroom and asked if he was sleeping.

He wasn’t, but he acted like it, his back to the other and his face almost hidden against the cushion. Baekhyun didn’t insist, and made his way to the room near the back windows, so Jongdae guessed it was his room.

Sleep had to overcome a couple of obstacles to find him, but when it did, Jongdae welcomed it with open arms.

 

When he opens his eyes on the next day, the central star, although masked by perpetual clouds of smog, is high up in the sky. Shadows don’t conceal the room anymore and it gives him another perception of the whole place that he couldn’t have attained otherwise.

Everything is visible and not just blinking dots and whirring sighs, making the whole apartment look homier than the night before. More high-tech than Jongdae’s studio back on Earth, yes, but not as industrial-looking either. 

And before he can so much as get up from the couch, someone – something – jumps on him from behind.

Jongdae screams.

Apparently, normal awakenings won’t exist for him anymore.

When he manages to twist his neck enough that he can actually get a look at the intruder, he’s greeted with two huge black eyes and greenish skin. It reminds him of those terribly old alien movies where the only thing writers would come up with were little grey men and obviously, it isn’t a good thing.

And then it morphs into a handsome face with a quite foolish smile. The skin becomes light turquoise instead, and he doesn’t really know if he just witnessed the end of a dream or a very real transformation. Is he well awake?

A loud laugh booms from the other’s chest as he’s still holding Jongdae, and finally words make it to his ears. “I’m sorry, I had to try that!” Is he referring to the cliché alien face, or? “Baekhyun told me that we had an arrival last night, but he didn’t say you were human, so when I –“

“Chanyeol, for fuck’s sake, it’s 0700 in the morning,” Baekhyun comes out of his room at this very moment, his hair a rat’s nest and his t-shirt lifted so he can scratch his tummy.

Also, tentacles.

Jongdae looks away and as if on cue Baekhyun makes his extra limbs disappear under his pyjama shirt. Maybe it’s to be nice to Jongdae, he doesn’t know.

At the same time, why would someone who steals wraps from perfect strangers be that considerate, right?

Chanyeol giggles to himself and gets up from the couch then, his voice loud. “You didn’t say he was human!”

Baekhyun rolls his eyes. “I conveniently left it out so maybe you wouldn’t try scaring him right away, but maybe I should’ve just forbidden you from coming here instead?”

Chanyeol gasps exaggeratingly. “But I live here!”

Baekhyun grins, shrugging as he sits beside a still overwhelmed Jongdae. “Oh, I don’t know, haven’t seen you much since a week. Or it is two? Two weeks.” He lays a hand on Jongdae’s leg under the blanket, and the latter freezes. Why the contact? Why? It makes him shiver.

It’s not entirely unpleasant, but he can’t fathom why Baekhyun is touching him in the first place like it’s something entirely normal.

They don’t know each other.

They’re not close or anything like that.

“You know it’s because I’ve been busy setting up stuff at the store”, Chanyeol, because that must be his name, whines. He’s freakinglishy tall. And somehow he, too, looks human although he isn’t.

How come so many aliens’ looks can be so deceiving? How come? It isn’t fair.

Beside them, he’s a weak, small human with absolutely no weird features.

“I know, I know, anyway be nice to the new guy while he stays with us, uh?” Baekhyun gestures at him with the hand that was previously resting on his leg and Chanyeol sticks his tongue out at him. “Ah, come on, it wasn’t that bad, was it?”

The question is directed at him, and finally Jongdae can use his sharp tongue to straighten things a bit. “It was horribly weird. Please don’t do this again.” He sounds a bit too serious as he says that, even to himself, but he just couldn’t find it in him to be witty or sarcastic. Instead, awkwardness should become his new trademark. 

Chanyeol’s lower lip juts out as he pats Jongdae’s shoulder, his guilt apparent. “I meant no harm. Don’t hate me?”

“Don’t hate him or he will act like a beaten puppy all day long,” Baekhyun warns, but he just sees amused. Chanyeol hits him on the back of his head and makes his way to the door to the right wall – ah, it must be his bedroom, then.

Jongdae sets his lips in a thin line before he dares talk again, “So, he’s your roommate?” He’s speaking in Conventional for no reason, but Baekhyun just follows along. Switching between different languages seems natural so him. “Yeah, and has been for years. I guess you could say he’s my friend.”

Emphasis is put on the last word and Chanyeol hears it through the wall, complaining that Baekhyun is always trying to make him appear bad.

Jongdae finds the scene comical. Almost.

And then, “Uh, why do you know English?” A pop-up question; but it suddenly occurs to him that not many aliens learn English since it is used mostly by the human communities here.

Baekhyun looks up at the ceiling as if trying to recall something. “Ah, yeah, back when I arrived here I had to choose an extra language to learn along with Conventional and all that stuff, so I figured I’d pick the language of a species I found cute.”

“You’re kidding me, right?” He hoped for something a little bit more, say, noble. Or interesting.

Baekhyun is all too happy to break it to him, “Nah, I really just wanted to be able to pick up humans at the bar and everything.”

Jongdae facepalms. That alien is going to be the end of him, he can already feel it in his bones.

That is, if he stays.

 

While the beginning of his second day in the Citadel proved to be traumatising, Jongdae recovered quickly enough to feel hungry as Baekhyun started making breakfast. As for Chanyeol, he came out of his room to grab something from one of the cupboards and stated to Jongdae that he’d see him around; he had business to take care of at his new shop and couldn’t stay longer, and funnily enough, guilt was still etched on his face as he was looking at Jongdae. 

After that, he found himself alone with Baekhyun.

He couldn’t help but tell himself with great sarcasm that one learns new things every day, such as the asshole knows how to cook.

Jongdae is well aware of how more and more people use instant food delivery services available in big cities to feed themselves. Some catering companies specialise in weekly to monthly to even yearly deliveries with manufactured meals for every moment of the day; and some even sell pills that fill one up for hours or days on end when there’s not enough time to care for homemade cooking. It’s becoming somewhat of a norm around and cooking isn’t something that everyone learns well.

Less and less people on Earth had access to fresh ingredients, which explains why back there, Jongdae got used to eating bland meal supplements and he’s so skilled he can burn anything from rice to water. Really, pure talent.

His grandmother did try to introduce him to cooking when she’d buy vegetables and such, but it would always go through one of his ears and then out the other. In short, he doesn’t know how to feed himself aside from buying meals and haphazardly cutting vegetables.

It doesn’t mean he doesn’t like stuffing his face with food, though. As the different aromas mingling in the apartment’s air get stronger, familiarity is what brings him to think he must be imagining things. The more he looks at Baekhyun’s back, the more some of the things that are being cooked are recognisable to his nose.

Sweet peppers and onions, definitely, and maybe even curry can be detected and yet, it wouldn’t make sense for Baekhyun to have common earthling fruits, vegetables and spices so close at hand.

But minutes later, when he’s presented with bowls of rice mixed with what appear to be real peppers and onions, he can’t delude himself any further. The sight of such familiar ingredients makes his eyes water in a strange way and everything looks so tasty he can’t wait to take his first bite.

In spite of this overwhelming want, his hands do not reach for anything before Baekhyun raises a dubious eyebrow at him. “Aren’t you supposed to know what this is? And I swear I heard your stomach growling a minute ago.”

He huffs. “I know what this is, I was just,” he gestures at the bowls, “I was just waiting for you to say I could eat?” It must be too good to be true anyway. It can’t taste as amazing as it smells or looks.

“I swear it’s real human food,” Baekhyun starts filling a plate for himself, “Bought all of that a few days ago at a market a couple of blocks away from here. You know we have human communities here, right?”

Jongdae frowns. “Of course I do, I just didn’t expect you to cook breakfast and for it to be… something I know.”

Baekhyun munches quietly on a bit of rice as he looks at Jongdae, nodding slowly after a couple of seconds. “Right. Enjoy this without thinking about the fact that it’s mostly cloned and modified DNA. Otherwise, it’s all good.”

Jongdae rolls his eyes. “I know what it is and it’s probably still better than my regular supplements.”

Baekhyun chuckles. “For sure.”

Easy, familiar flavours burst on his taste buds at the first bite, and he doesn’t know if it’s comfort or remorseful nostalgia that flourishes in his chest in reaction to the food.

 

There’s something uncanny about enjoying common earthling food as a second meal in an alien metropolis. Jongdae can’t yet pinpoint what it is, but it pulls strongly at his heartstrings and burns his oesophagus in a bittersweet way.

Baekhyun speaks for the both of them during most of the breakfast, although Jongdae answers when necessary.

The alien’s hair isn’t the only thing that’s flamboyant about him; his personality is too, and Jongdae finds himself accepting his proposition even though something’s fishy about it. It’s a bit like he lets himself be pulled in without truly believing his life will make any more sense if he does. 

“Stay here while you find yourself a place or a job, or even both – and consider it to be my good deed of the year. Scratch that – my good deed for the next decade. And, no, I won’t sell you to human traffickers, you don’t even look healthy enough for that,” the last part stings a bit, but Jongdae shrugs it off as Baekhyun starts putting away the remnants of their shared meal.

Baekhyun isn’t what he would call mean, but he has direct words. He doesn’t hate it, not completely, for it makes him hopeful that there’s a bit of honesty behind the other’s intentions.

Clear words for clear intentions.

 

On that second day in the Citadel, Jongdae doesn’t go out. In little time, all of his bearings have vanished one after the other and he feels nothing short of paralysed.

Maybe it’s anxiety, maybe it’s laziness.

Maybe he should activate himself, or maybe it’s not such a bad thing that he’s resting.

After all, his soul feels fragile and lead constricts his limbs. 

Baekhyun doesn’t question it; he informs him of the appliances Jongdae might want to use around the apartment and disappears into his small office for hours on end, still insisting that he’s available if Jongdae needs something.

A weird slumber strikes him down and he spends most of his day on the couch in a weird state of sleep, wandering between dreams and reality. At some point fever takes him, but the only thing it does is make him shiver more than he already is.

 

When he wakes up at night, the lights are off.

Hunger isn’t present, either, so he just makes sure to call his grandmother before all else.

As the day before, she answers after a few rings but is all too happy to see Jongdae.

It warms him up inside to be able to exchange with her. He doesn’t feel as empty as when he’d waken up, desolate, in this world that isn’t his.

The following days are a blur of both boring moments and discovery ones.

On his third day on the Citadel, he’s entirely alone in the apartment. He has to rummage around for food and finally starts unpacking a few of his things to assess what he has or hasn’t brought with him. Mostly, he devotes his time to organising his life here a bit, be it by checking up on his credit accounts, writing down calculations and searching for easy places where to apply. He needs a place where to live, too, but at first glance everything is ridiculously expensive, although it’s true he could go back to the embassy to be referred to another agent for that.

On his fourth day in the Citadel, Baekhyun brings some takeout home for dinner. It smells heavenly but the same thing cannot be said about its looks; it’s apparently a specialty of his people and in Jongdae’s opinion, it just looks like small balls of tentacle dicks muddled together, whatever that’s supposed to mean. Still, his hunger wins on everything else and Baekhyun is all too happy to make crude joke about the meal’s appearance. It helps him release a bit of tension.

On his fifth day in the Citadel, he watches the news for the first time on a Conventional channel. Baekhyun locks himself up in his cubicle to work and Chanyeol just joins him on the couch while eating snail-flavoured crisps. Together, they sit in silence as their eyes take in the stories and notices of the week in the Citadel, and Jongdae dozes off only to wake up to Chanyeol laughing to himself while sporting a Pinocchio nose. He has to admit, it’s a bit hilarious to witness.

On his sixth day in the Citadel, he leaves alone for some much needed groceries, and is mortified to find out they live on the 206th floor of the building. The only ways down are either that ridiculously scary glass elevator or a flying mean of transportation of any kind. Obviously, he can only choose the first option; and his legs are jelly by the time he finds the ground, where Baekhyun told him their usual grocery shop is. Still, he manages to cross almost everything off the grocery list and is all too happy to go back to the funny-smelling couch. He just makes sure to keep his eyes shut as he goes up in the elevator.

And so, more days pass by.

He did notice strange bouts of fever each day or so; but when it gets annoying, he just swallows some more antipyretics and tries to soothe the fire in his wrist by putting ice or frozen meal packages on it. He doesn’t mention it to either of his temporary housemates, but Baekhyun does comment on the bruised skin of his wrist a couple of times.

Jongdae brushes him off when necessary; he doesn’t believe he needs medical care. It’ll leave. Soon.

He just needs to rest some more.

 

Jongdae is alone.

Jongdae is alone and he is utterly lost.

His brain tries to make him believe he’s still in the apartment but he knows he isn’t. Something doesn’t feel right; instead, dread settles in all of his being and he can’t swallow around the prickling lump in his throat.

His body is lying on the couch but he can watch himself from above while stripes of black make their way around his limbs, encircling them and crushing them. The blood circulation is cut off in places, the skin turning white and whiter as the pressure grows unbearable.

Tentacles, vines, appendages of sorts, he doesn’t know and he just can’t say for his vision is imprecise and cloudy; but he can’t breathe anymore and he’s going to die.

He can hear his grandmother’s voice somewhere far, far away.

 

Only suddenly he emerges and gasps for air as if he’d spent the last hours underwater, and through the haze of fear and disorientation, words find him.

“Jongdae? Are you alright?” 

It’s Baekhyun. He opens one eye tiredly, flinching when strong light hits his retina. He’s still in the apartment and on the couch, but his teeth are chattering so badly his jaw hurts as he tries to tell the alien that he’s fine.

Truthfully, he isn’t. He feels sick, sicker than he’s been in weeks, and if the way he’s nauseous and dizzy is any indication, his fever mustn’t be so light anymore. He tried to will it all away; but he’s forgotten his original antibiotics back on Earth and it’s his mistake that he hasn’t bothered to buy some since he arrived.

He blinks at his wrist watch to read the time; 0337.

Baekhyun is beside him, staring holes into his face in a way that reveals that he has been suspicious of Jongdae’s condition for a while already.

The day before was particularly bad when it came to his watch beeping at random times to announce his temperature was off the charts. And yet, Jongdae did nothing about it.

“I’m… feverish, I guess,” he mumbles, closing his eyes to cut off the light. Baekhyun lays a hand on his forehead, and then, to Jongdae’s dismay, a tentacle joins it. It’s damp and smooth on his flaming skin but not as gelatinous as he’d have expected. The freshness is welcome, but still he flicks it away, making Baekhyun sigh.

“Don’t scream at me for what I’m about to do.” He doesn’t understand what Baekhyun’s talking about, but then, more tentacles and arms are back on him and lift him up abruptly. He wants to scream for it’s just like in his dream, only, not really. Baekhyun isn’t trying to strangle him or to crush him; he just brings him somewhere else.

Somewhere else happens to be the bathroom, more specifically the shower; and he does whines when water starts pouring down on him. He can hear Baekhyun through the water in his ears. “Your temperature must be crazy high if this is cold to you. I wouldn’t use freezing water; I’d just make things worse.” And yet yes, the bite of liquid is icy on skin, a horrible feeling considering he’s still shivering from head to toe; but Baekhyun is holding him down, making sure he stays under the spray. 

“I’ll bring you to a friend and you can’t say no. You’ve been playing oblivious for the past week and that’s too much.”

His only thought is that when he feels better, he’s going to hit Baekhyun for everything.

Out of annoyance, definitely, but maybe there’ll be an ounce of gratefulness in it, too.

 

Baekhyun doesn’t take his bike to drive him around this time; rather, he brings him to the balcony after changing his set of clothes and, to Jongdae’s surprise, a pod appears in which they just hop in.

(It would be more accurate to say that Baekhyun hops in it and Jongdae follows, still held up by soft-feeling tentacles, but whatever.)

The alien makes him lay down in the reclining passenger seat as the glass protection screen closes down on them and even if the view of the city is downright alluring, he passes out quickly after.

The last image he takes in is of Baekhyun’s side-profile as he stares at the screen controls in front of him, brows furrowed.  

 

Sound is the first thing he picks up on. Then, he's clenching and unclenching his hands, a light soreness in his limbs from all the cramping and trembling his entire body went through.

He feels like shit already.

But, hey, at least his teeth aren't hitting each other at a crazy speed anymore and the dizziness isn't as overwhelming as it was when he passed out in the flying pod. Slowly but surely, he dares lift an eyelid and then the other, a weird haze causing his doubts to stay on a simmer instead of boiling up and spreading outside of him.

Everything surrounding him is white, grey, and white again, and yet it doesn't nearly hurt his eyes as much as the lighting had back at the apartment.

He appears to be.... on some sorts of medical examination table. And as soon as he tries to sit up on the crackling fabric, a rose tentacle reaches out from his left side to push him back down, firm in its unspoken order. "Don't get up too fast. I have a feeling you’ll regret it if you do.”

He could recognise this nosy voice from anywhere now; it's Baekhyun's. The alien is leaning against a counter covered in medical supplies from gauze to strange miscellaneous objects, eye bags noticeable under his eyes. With his arms crossed and his mouth in a thin line, the sight is almost alarming, one of anger and tiredness that he knows he's guilty of. But then, Baekhyun's lips stretch up and he rolls his eyes at the human patient, sighing.

His imagination must still be on the run, for relief seems to emanate from Baekhyun's form. His shoulders slouch forward a bit and he cards a hand through vivid pink hair. At that moment, it makes Jongdae wonder what its texture is like. 

As if on cue, Baekhyun comes closer, closer until Jongdae naturally reaches out with his left hand to caress the alien’s hair. The texture is unexpected, the strands thick but a lot more pliant under his touch than regular human hair.

Baekhyun breathes out shakily, his eyes fluttering shut as he almost leans into the contact.

And surprisingly enough, although the pink tentacle is still latched onto Jongdae’s bony forearm, no shiver of aversion rise from the touch; that's when he observes that his wrist is tightly wrapped in a roll of white textile and a small transparent tube peeks out from under it.

What about his watch, though?

He kind of needs it for everything, including contacting his grandmother every day.

His throat is weirdly dry when he tries to speak, acid and something else sticking to his teeth and palate. "Where are we?"

Baekhyun bites his lower lip, as if hesitating on his choice of words. "At a friend's place, if you may."

It should alarm him, but Jongdae doesn't feel like spitting angry words at the other for bringing him somewhere unknown. All of this was his fault, his being careless, his ignoring his own body signs, and he's well aware of it right now. He brought it all upon himself and his grandmother, even without raising her voice at him, would make her disappointment and worries well known to him if she was here.

For that reason, he just carries on with the conversation, or rather semblance of one. "Where is that friend of yours?"

Baekhyun's lips part to form an answer, but the metallic doors slide open and someone comes in before Jongdae can learn anything.

And since he cannot rely on what his eyes tell him, Jongdae doesn’t want to assume anything about this other being's species.

The newcomer is a cyborg; a blue light gleams from his right pupil and from what he can take in, his right forearm is entirely robotic, too, seamlessly fused to his elbow joint. 

But he looks human, maybe even more so than Baekhyun and Chanyeol do, and that's when he realises that until now, he didn't dare pay enough attention to his alien housemates' features to pick up on what exactly made them otherworldly compared to what would make a human look just specifically that, human.

Another thing that strikes him about the other isn't the apparent softness of his light brown hair or the noticeable dimples of his cheeks; rather, his eyes carry something that he can't quite comprehend and yet, instantly makes him feel better, safer even though one of these isn't organic. 

It's a bit as if knowing, just by looking at this stranger, that he's in safe hands and that were he to break down right here and then, he would be taken care of in just the right way.

Maybe Baekhyun's friends aren't all assholes and weirdoes, after all.

(Sorry, Chanyeol.)

But his walls reach too high toward the sky for him to trust candidly.  

"Hi?" He tries with a tentative expression, blinking away the sleepiness from his eyeballs. The man smiles at him sweetly and nods back. The closer he gets, the more noticeable his dimples become, and Jongdae thinks he could just melt right here and then. "I'm glad to see you've woken up. I'm Yixing, by the way. Baekhyun commed me about you needing urgent medical attention."

Turning switfly toward Baekhyun will certainly not help him as he is still feeling unstable, so he settles for giving his housemate a wondering side-glance. Baekhyun probably contacted Yixing when he was out and dreaming of nothingness. 

Yixing walks even closer and, an interactive see-through pad in his hands, reads out loud some results indicated on it. 

White globule count. Iron levels. Sugar levels. And so many other things, including some that Jongdae can’t quite recall from educative biology content he'd watched back on Earth for his classes.

By the end of this unseemly tirade, there is a weird fluster taking a hold of his entire being and he has lowered his head to glare adamantly at his thighs. Yixing speaks up. "Obviously, your condition is still terrible. It couldn't have gone unnoticed by you."

It hasn't, either. He knows he was in the wrong for everything. He knows he has been pushing everything back, as if it would make everything disappear into thin air.

So he knows that Yixing knows that he voluntarily ignored his own health problems.

It's almost ironic that his asthma hasn't gotten worse along with the rest. Sheer luck throughout all of this, somehow.

"I guess I... thought it would just, leave." Yixing, contrary to what he'd have expected as an answer, simply hums thoughtfully. "You just arrived here, Baekhyun mentioned that to me. Your wrist," and he points at the polymer tube emerging from said bandaged wrist, "has it been like that for a while? I didn't remove your watch, but... the best would be to surgically clean your tissues from the infection. I did what I could without overstepping it, but… Tissue removal might be necessary – necrosis has spread a bit, although I could treat that with cell therapy right away."

Jongdae shakes his head vehemently. "I really cannot afford that. Any of that."

Yixing's expression is contemplative. Baekhyun is still on his left side, unexpectedly silent. He looks like he's drinking in Yixing's observations of Jongdae, and somehow, calculative suddenly becomes an adjective Jongdae can stick to him.

It's a side of him he hasn't seen much, but it isn’t all new either. He’s seen that expression on his face a few times as he was coming out of his personal cubicle.

He still doesn’t know what his job is. 

"We don't have to destroy your watch, either. I don't have to uninstall your implant entirely. Also, I’ll prescribe you antibiotics to which you shouldn’t be immune to help your body heal and cleanse itself." Yixing scribbles something more down on the pad. Jongdae tilts his head, trying to comprehend the words mirrored to his eyes through it, but unable to.

"I don't really, well. How much would it cost?"

It's definitely not his goal to talk money first, but he can't agree to something he can't afford, that his body needs it or not.

Yixing goes straight to the point. "Baekhyun already agreed to care for the fees."

Jongdae's eyebrows shoot up. "What?" It comes out higher than he intended and he clears his throat, irritated by his currently grating voice.

Instantly, Baekhyun is on it. "I'm not trying to be especially nice to you, Jongdae, but I know for a fact that you can't afford any of this. Meanwhile, I'm pretty well-off, so..."

The rest is tuned out. Why would Baekhyun know “for a fact” that he can’t afford any of this? He doesn't want to take that for an answer, even if Baekhyun acts all mighty because he apparently is always up to date about everything and everyone.

He can't just accept right away for someone he met barely more than a week ago to pay for his medical care; let alone someone who also gave him the permission to stay at his place out of nowhere.

It's already bad enough that he has been staying there the whole time; and now, he'd have to pay the other back? He's not even sure the alien isn't planning on making him pay rent or something for that.

Baekhyun owes Jongdae nothing. And while they have spent more and more time together over the past couple of days, they don't share a strong bond that would substantiate any of this.

It doesn't feel right to take what's being offered to him at the moment.

"You can't. Don't. It's already enough that you're letting me stay at your place, I don't want to have any debt toward you."

He can't build himself a new life if he has too many debts.

Yixing's human and robotic eyes switch from one to the other as they exchange. Baekhyun argues that he might as well care for Jongdae since he decided on a whim to let him stay, but Jongdae insists; he doesn't want Baekhyun to pay for him.

"It'd be completely illogical for you to pay. I mean, you're already housing me and you asked for nothing and I still don't know why you decided to do that in the first place.

Baekhyun makes a show of sighing passionately, a set of keychains spinning on his left index finger. He really can't sit still for long, can he? It's like he's always on the go or playing with something, anything to move.

Although Jongdae only entered Baekhyun's personal work room once (and didn't dare mention it at supper afterwards), he can perfectly picture the tentacle guy sitting at his desk, staring at his data processing equipment and continuously fidgeting, spinning around on his chair or rehearsing songs with his fingertips by tapping on the surface of his desk.

"Look, human," said tentacle guy's tone is almost condescending. It takes him by surprise because even though Baekhyun has proven time and time again that he's blunt and prideful, he's never addressed Jongdae like this before. He bristles straight away such as would a wounded but proud cat, interrupting Baekhyun before he can truly start on his ranting or whatever arguments he has.

Even if he doesn't want to think of himself as mighty or particularly worthy, he'd like to receive a normal treatment. If anything, it'll help Baekhyun in convincing him instead of pissing him off. "Don't talk to me like that and maybe I'll stop thinking you want to sell my organs to the black market."

It seems to shut Baekhyun off. For some reason, Jongdae didn't think it'd be enough, but it is; his expression morphs into a scowl for a few unnerving seconds and then grows softer and calmer. By the exaggerated movements of his shoulders, Jongdae can guess the deep intakes of air.

Maybe it's all he needs to understand that he insulted Jongdae.

Yixing is still beside them, but he adds nothing, an attentive observer more than anything else for now.

"Okay, so," he already sounds much more serene. Jongdae doesn't feel the need to defend himself to a point where he can't listen anymore. "I just - I chose to take you in on a whim, and I'm not that heartless that I'd just leave you to fend for yourself on the streets, you know?"

Cynicism comes to him too easily. "Why not?" It's not that he doesn't appreciate Baekhyun's intention - if he has any good feelings toward him at all to begin with. It's not that, really.

He just can't imagine that anyone would do that for him.

Baekhyun makes an unimpressed face at him, his tone serious. "I saw the notes you scribbled down when you got there – planning how you'd save as much credit as possible and trying to define how much everything would take out of your accounts. You left it all for everyone to see on the table."

He swallows nervously. He didn't think Baekhyun caught a glimpse of these; and even if it is the case, he didn't believe the other would really care.

"So?"

"So," Baekhyun makes sure to put emphasis on this single syllable, "you should let me help you. Clearly, you can't get out of this by yourself - at least for now. So let's just deal with the rest later. I’m not planning to abuse you in any way."

He's obviously trying hard to sound conciliatory. Jongdae can almost feel the approval emanating off Yixing on his other side.

And maybe it's a matter of pride, maybe it's something more even - he still tries to gather his courage to say "no", to reject Baekhyun's offer and to carry all the weight of his own mistakes and his own fate.

Yixing brings it all to a halt. "I think that, for now, Jongdae, you should leave it to Baekhyun. If anything, pay him back straight after - it won't really change a thing." As he says so, his electronic member reaches for Jongdae's wrist and an automatized finger filled with blue liquid connects to his catheter. "I'm injecting you with more antipyretics and local anesthesia – and you'll have to be on medication for the following days. I hope that’s alright with you. We’ll start with the cell therapy right away."

It's not alright with him, not really, but Yixing's tone is suddenly inflexible. "Okay."

Yixing nods and, his eyes crinkling, flashes him a smile. As unsettling as it is to see the blue light of his right pupil yet again, Jongdae doesn't think he has met such a compassionate doctor before.

Out of the corner of his left eye, he can see Baekhyun nodding in approval of Yixing’s words. In the end, he wasn't given much of a choice.

 

Cell therapy isn’t unheard of on Earth, nor is it that recent of a treatment, but Jongdae has never undergone any procedure similar to it nor does he have a good grasp of how it precisely works. 

It has to do with cell stimulation by radiation of the afflicted zone, but instead of killing, say, cancerous cells or overstimulating existing ones, it triggers the body’s healing mechanism. Necrotized flesh can thus be eliminated faster and scarring will not only accelerated, it’ll even be optimised.

It’s also still incredibly expensive in some areas, so he might or might not be crying internally at the possibility of having to repay Baekhyun for that.

He’s hoping that his alien housemate isn’t actually miserly because, well, he doesn’t want to get killed for not reimbursing him completely or quickly enough.

Furthermore, it would be ironic considering he accepted to pay Yixing to fix Jongdae up in the first place.

Currently, the nerve endings of his wrist are buzzing. It's a weird sensation not to have his watch implanted anymore; it couldn't stay there for the duration of the treatment and Yixing assured him it wasn't the first time he dealt with such implants. He assured him that if everything goes well, he'll reinstall it right after.

Although it might cause Jongdae more physical pain, it's still doable.

It almost amuses him how he can still feel something and yet, even if he pinches the fragile skin hard, pain doesn't travel to his brain as it usually would.

Yixing suggested he continue to lie still on the examination table, wheeling the cell therapy machine to the left side of it and bringing a stool for himself. Then, he simply lifted Jongdae's forearm to gently slide his wrist into the device's circular opening.

"It's probably going to burn a little bit, but considering the medication I just injected you with, you should be fine," says Yixing, concentration settling on his traits as he activates the cell therapy equipment.

Jongdae can't see much of what's happening inside the hole, but dim blue light is filtering out now that it is on. Beside an instant sensation of warmth, his wrist isn't suffering at the moment.

"So, how did you meet Baekhyun? I'm surprised he took you in." Yixing doesn't give any indication that he's going to listen to his answer; his eyes are fixated on the device's live data, and for that reason, it takes Jongdae a good two minutes before he gathers his words.

"He stole my wrap on the day I arrived, I fainted, and then he brought me to his apartment." He surprises himself with his honest, concise answer, but it obviously pleases Yixing. A bright laugh escapes from his pretty lips, and Jongdae notices a scar running down the right side of his face, into and under his cyborg eye.

"I'm not sure what he meant by stealing your food, but I'm glad to hear he didn’t just leave you unattended.”

The person concerned, Baekhyun, isn’t with them anymore. His phone (or comm, whatever) had started ringing and as soon as he'd seen the ID of the caller, he’d promptly left the room.

"I still think he's an asshole for that, though I'm... grateful for the temporary place, I guess." Shy isn't a word that truly suits him but he doesn't feel quite like himself since he left Earth. Yixing doesn't seem to notice his slight discomfort.

"He doesn't have a bad heart, though some of his actions are hardly justifiable at times." Jongdae hums at that. He's barely getting to know the other even though he's been here for more than a week now. After all, there are still countless secrets he’s aware of that drive a wedge between them. "I suppose you didn't come with family? Is anyone supposed to join you soon?"

It takes him off guard and he flinches, due to both the negative feelings linked to the question and the sudden stinging in his wrist. Hopefully, the latter can conceal his uneasiness.

Usually, he just avoids to answer when the subject at hands is a bother; and yet, he feels obligated to give the other some sort of an explanation. His throat constricts around the words, but he forces them out anyway. His grandmother's okay. "No, I came alone. Last time I heard, my parents were still with the military somewhere on a planet in Andromeda and, well, my grandmother couldn't make the trip here."

Yixing lifts his eyes to his face for a moment, nodding. The heat around his wrist is becoming more and more unbearable.

"I see. How close are you with Baekhyun?" Jongdae makes a funny face at the doctor, but he carries on. "You must be starting to feel some burning. It's normal. Believe me, the aftermath will be a bit worse." Reassuring.

"I'm not really close either with Baekhyun or Chanyeol, although, well, they've become nicer." His eyes shut by themselves and he sighs; fatigue is excessive in his body.

Yixing laughs lightly. "You don't seem like you open up easily, to be honest. Chanyeol's pretty easy to talk to, and Baekhyun, well, Baekhyun..." His melodious voice trails off and Jongdae, expecting something more, wriggles a bit on the examination table.

"What about Baekhyun?" He's curious; Yixing's speaking about both his new alien friends as if he's known them for a while and if there's one thing he fathomed in the past weeks, it's that Baekhyun is as cheeky as he is difficult to get a grasp of.

He doesn't know if it's solely because of his line of work or just his overall personality, but it's a bit as if serious matters never appear in a conversation with him. He avoids them.

And Jongdae still believes the walls around him are indispensable. For now.

Luckily for him, Yixing shakes his head as if to brush some clouds away from his train of thoughts, and answers. "Baekhyun's stubborn as hell. Sometimes, he keeps his mouth shut about the most important things and in the end, it gives the impression he doesn't care while it’s far from being the case."

The words hit him, hard. It's exactly what he's been experiencing ever since he met the alien.

In a way, Yixing shares that with him.  

"I see," he mutters, a bit disheartened by this piece of information. He has the feeling he'll never be good enough to see past the other's barriers.

Yixing, because he must be magical or has some extremely fine mood perception powers, discerns the drop in his spirits and offers him a comforting smile. "I'm sure you can get past through that if he decided to take you in. You must have something he likes."

It's gibberish to him; he has nothing to give, at all, if not sarcasm and moodiness. He's not even that attractive; bony thighs, too long of a chest, incredible cheekbones. Baekhyun just felt bad for causing his moment of weakness and now he's invisible enough that he doesn't bother both his alien housemates. Yes, it must be that.

Still, he's glad Yixing got him to continue talking because the longer it goes on, the more he's aware of the fire in his flesh. "Is it soon over? It might be starting to hurt right now." He tries to make it sound easy, casual, but more and more sweat beads are making a few strands of hair stick to his forehead and temple.

Almost instantly, Yixing powers the device off, acquiescing with an easygoing stretch of the lips. "Actually, I'm done. I don't think you'll need more cell therapy, but let's see how it heals in the next few weeks, yeah?"

He breathes a sigh of relief. Now, Yixing only needs to reinstall his watch.

 

He wasn't asleep for the whole operation and even though the doctor made sure to give him a new dose of local analgesics and anti-inflammatories, the feeling of probing metallic tools, wires and sensors inside of his muscles and near his bones was nothing short of disgusting.

Still, he made it through the entirety of it without whining too much, and by the end of everything, Baekhyun was waiting for him outside in the corridor.

He can now go back to the apartment with some oral prescriptions, ointments, and a promise to come back in about a week or so, just like that.

Yixing asked him for his contact information; Jongdae has a feeling it's to make sure he can harass him if he doesn't show up when asked.

The whole process went a lot faster that it would have back on Earth - fortunately for him.

He thinks he could now fall asleep on the spot. Baekhyun grins at his pout and grabs his elbow, walking him to the front door of the building. Is it Yixing's clinic? It seems quite small and if Baekhyun's a fishy guy, well, it might just be the perfect inconspicuous place for his activities.

"You survived," the alien starts, humidifying his lips swiftly with his pretty, pink tongue. Jongdae has the stupid thought that Baekhyun is made of just that one colour; pink. Pink hair, pink skin, pink eyes, pink lips, pink tongue, pink tentacles - and the differences of undertones and shades between each part is what makes it all the more hypnotizing to watch.

Also, he's dying. So in reply, he just makes a nondescript sound, a mix of a whine and a grumble. Baekhyun guffaws and brings him closer unexpectedly, an arm around Jongdae's tense shoulders.

The warmth of his body seeps into Jongdae's now cold self and delight unconsciously fills him, as if reminding him that as a living being, he can still enjoy shared proximity.

He can't even bring himself to care for the extra, squirmy limb that pokes at the fingers of his left hand. It's quite numb at the moment anyway.

"I'm starving and I know the best place for flajuy, so let's go!"

Jongdae has absolutely no fucking clue what flajuy is, but he's hungry.

 

Once they actually walk into the apartment, Chanyeol is standing right there, looking worried and confused. Jongdae isn't sure how to take this guy; he's a giant who keeps shifting to make stupid scary jokes and yet it's as if he's already grown attached to the earthling enough to cry over his state.

Baekhyun is quick to tell him that everything's fine and that Jongdae's mistakes have been taken care of. Jongdae, in all of his sleepiness and current lack of concern, just glares at him for that. Baekhyun shrugs it off and reveals the takeout boxes to an eager Chanyeol, and Jongdae has then no choice but to follow along if he wants to get something in his stomach before he sleeps.

Flajuy turns out to be quite delicious. It's akin to a root vegetable stew and one eats it with something that reminds Jongdae of regular bread sticks; so in short, it's nothing too disconcerting.

It calms his empty stomach down and although he feels quite gross, he's too drained to bring himself to want a shower. Instead, he finds the couch, staring at Baekhyun and Chanyeol discussing Chanyeol's music shop over the small kitchen island.

He drifts off for a bit; it might just be past 1500, his body can't fight sleep off anymore.

 

It's Baekhyun who shakes him awake later, his breath smelling lightly of the mint he must've popped into his mouth right after lunch.

It's now 1632. Jongdae could probably sleep until the next morning. His organism isn't quite done with the infection he brought upon himself. He shifts and cuddles to his blanket, turning away from Baekhyun.

Baekhyun huffs behind him. "I'll lend you my bed, you'll be more comfortable. Yixing said you need quality rest."

Jongdae shakes his head to reject the offering, but soon tentacles are lifting him in the air and there isn't much he can do as he's being carried to Baekhyun's room. It still feels foreign to be handled by these squirmy limbs, but he doesn't think he has a say in this anymore considering he's living with Baekhyun. Maybe, just maybe, one day he'll get used to it.

He supposes it depends on where his path brings him in the following weeks, months.

Baekhyun drops him onto the bed, quite gentle in doing so.

He blinks once, then twice; he's never been in Baekhyun's room. The walls are painted a light grey but the ceiling is different, rather of a salmon shade, and it inwardly makes him cringe even though the colour's easy on the eyes; it's a bit as if every-fucking-thing about Baekhyun has to be pink or at least partly pink.

Before he can truly observe more, the alien turns off the lights and tucks him in as would a mother with a child. He doesn't fancy being babied, but energy isn’t exactly coursing through his limbs at the moment.

"Get some sleep, you look ghostly. Like, I'm not even joking."

He sticks his tongue out at the other and he considers fighting him too for a brief, brief instant; but contentment overrides everything else as he sinks into the velvety pillows and hides under the thick blankets. They're made of high quality textile and smell strongly of the pink-haired being, a mix that reminds him of star anise, lime and, well, sweat. It's to be expected.

It's become familiar in the last days.

His eyelids fall shut without him being able to do anything about it, and then he's sleeping, profoundly.

 

If he dreams, he doesn't remember a single thing of what his brain managed to conceive while he was out.

All he's aware of is the way his body's overwhelmed with damp heat, as if something or someone is sticking to him. Otherwise, he hopes very strongly that he's not having a wet dream. It'd be embarrassing, even more so considering he's in Baekhyun's bed.

But after a few seconds, he assesses that no, he definitely doesn't have a morning wood nor does he feel aroused in the slightest. If anything, he feels a lot more rested than the day before; a lot more serene, too. Comfortable.

Maybe someone's really just pressed against him, actually. There are strong, tight ropes around his arms, torso and thighs, and, well, he can't even move his arms an inch.

A tiny part of him wants to scream, to alert someone for help, but he knows what's going on and now that he can reflect on his situation with a half-awake mind, he's not even remotely surprised.

It's Baekhyun, who, as he can observe once his eyes finally open and adjust to the still murky atmosphere of the room, has latched onto him. He's snoring quite obnoxiously, his lips parted and a bit of drool glistening at the corner of his mouth.

He probably never planned on fully lending his bed to Jongdae; knowing him and his lack of personal space restraints, he probably assumed he could just join the human in the immense bed during the night. Jongdae would be sleeping hard and couldn't protest, obviously.

Nonetheless, he doesn't hate it altogether. It's not something he's ever done before, sharing a bed and letting himself being held so intimately - by a tentacle humanoid at that; but for a fleeting instant, his body almost wants to trick him into thinking it's natural and to let it all go.

He can't, though, let go of the wandering vine that slips into his boxer shorts and brushes the underside of his buttocks as if seeking warmth. He yelps and hopelessly tries to seize it but it's impossible to do so: it writhes away only to twist around his wrist as its tip presses into his palm like an affection deprived animal, and considering it's still in his pyjama bottom, he just doesn't know what to think.

Is it cute? Is it disgusting? What is he supposed to do about it?

Baekhyun shifts beside and around him, some of his tentacles retreating behind his back as he stretches with a long-suffering yawn.

"Can't you keep your, well, your hands -  I mean, your tentacles to yourself?"

Baekhyun shakes his head. "No. No fun. You're warm. I want that." Jongdae's eyebrows shoot up. Right, okay, so Baekhyun wants his warmth.  

He flicks his nose and realises upon doing so that Baekhyun's skin is much softer than that of a human's. In short, it recalls to his memory the tentacles for it's smooth and supple, warm but somehow… damper, if that makes any sense?

And from what he's noticed already, there's a high probability that Baekhyun's completely hairless down there. He's got nothing on his arms and legs, after all.

"You shouldn't cuddle to me like that."

"Why not?"

He hums, not really into answering clearly at the moment, and Baekhyun eyes him lazily, his face still partly squished against one of the pillows. Arguing with Baekhyun seems pointless at the moment. Even his lips are too numb to part and form arguments.

And then, he realises it.

He hasn't contacted his grandmother in more than a day.

“Shit.”

Almost instantly, he springs out of the bed, only to belatedly realise that his watch is around his bandaged wrist and nowhere else.

Baekhyun’s instantly sitting up, movements evident under the fabric of his t-shirt. “What is it?”

Jongdae leans against the wall, his limbs still shaky. “I forgot to call my grandmother.”

And it’s been two days since the last time.

 

Jongdae tried not to make a big case out of forgetting to call his grandmother and Baekhyun followed along, offering Jongdae to help him clean up his watch after freeing it from its bandages.

Then, he was able to call his grandmother; and for a first time she was instantly on line, her breaths more ragged and erratic than per usual.

Jongdae is quick to reassure her; explaining to her that he’d some troubles with his watch and also had caught a cold along the way. While all of this isn’t exactly the truth, it still is a direct interpretation of it.

She smiles, relief painted on her wrinkly features, and somehow Jongdae feels as if she isn’t real at that moment, too far for him to understand the tangibility of her existence anymore yet craving more than ever her frail arms around his bony shoulders.

“I miss you, gran’. I’ll call you again tomorrow – no, wait, tonight.”

And she nods. “I meant to ask you, before you carry on with your day…” Her voice trails off, slightly distorted through the signal but clear nonetheless.

Jongdae hums. “Yeah?” He hopes she isn’t on the verge of asking him about a job or anything remotely close to that: he has nothing.

Or, almost nothing; somehow he’s still lucky enough to have a place, as temporary as it is.

“I didn’t want to bother you with it before, you seemed busy – but could you send me a picture of who you’re staying with?”  

Oh. Even though he’s already been here for more than a week, he somehow never came around to describe extensively with who, exactly, he’s been living.

He glances beyond the hologram, noticing Baekhyun peering at him from his office’s doorway, and grins, surprising himself and apparently the alien too by doing so. His expression, remarkably empty, morphs into one of shock before he smirks back, teeth biting into his lower lip.

It reminds Jongdae of a shy child while giving him a brief glimpse of one of Baekhyun’s multiple facets that he’s barely brushed yet.

Two tentacles dance around from under his top and the human looks away after a few seconds, unsettled but not in the same way as when he first met him.

The image of sleek, pink limbs and darker coloured suckers constantly shifting and fluttering stays on his retina, as if imprinted there. He wonders what Baekhyun looks like without a shirt on.

Jongdae’s grandmother tilts her head, obviously not aware of the interaction.

“I’ll send you a picture later, if you don’t mind? When both my roommates are here.”

She agrees, and they end the call.

Later in the day, Jongdae transmits her pictures; pictures of the apartment and the view from the windows, yes, but also a picture of himself smiling alongside Baekhyun and Chanyeol both making faces a mix of awkward and funny behind him.

Right after, once Chanyeol’s left in a rush for his shop again because he forgot some things over, Baekhyun and Jongdae just sit on the couch in silence, both sinking into it with sluggishness.

It goes on until Baekhyun breaks the stillness, accompanying his words with a yawn. Jongdae’s eyes are closed. “Why didn’t you just show me? I was right there.”

Jongdae snorts, not wanting open his eyes yet. “So you were, but you looked kind of weird with tentacles peeking out from under your pyjama.” Then, his eyelids flutter open for him to witness the alien rolling his eyes so hard it gives Jongdae the impression they’re going to fall out of his sockets. Gross. “Didn’t want to worry her with your new, weird-ass alien friends?”

It’s not that. His grandmother isn’t one to judge people based on their physical appearance, not really; maybe he just isn’t quite ready to share everything about his new life yet.

Maybe he isn’t ready to share Baekhyun’s existence, in particular, yet.   

Something weird like that that he can’t even explain to himself.

“No, that’s not it.” He leaves the rest of his answer out, his head somehow finding Baekhyun’s shoulder as a pillow.

“Cryptic much, eh.”

He hums noncommittally.

 

Time is something Jongdae desperately needs but will never have enough of.

Time to learn, time to rest, time to live, even, as paradoxical as it sounds.

It is somewhat of a quantifiable idea to most beings with a thinking brain in the galaxy, repeated numbers for the hours but never-to-be used again numbers for the years; and right at this precise moment, all of these racing by numbers are causing Jongdae to feel all too aware of his own extremely limited existence.

What if he dies before he can afford a nice place here, what if he dies before he's even left Baekhyun and Chanyeol's apartment?

For yes, he doesn't want to die. He's afraid of the end, afraid of his own disappearance into the void, afraid of his own life meaning nothing.

And what about his grandmother? What if she passes away?

These are all abstracts thought, all possibilities that, until the day they are made true, don’t mean much; but he can't help it.

He's sitting cross-legged in front of the low table beside the couch, some sheets of paper and pens scattered across it, and he’s trying oh so hard to concentrate on actual matters.

Writing down ideas and calculations has always helped making everything clearer even though he could always use his watch for it, but right now, he believes he needs to feel something real under his hands to make sense of his own life, to stay grounded.

Revising notes previously taken and budgets previously planned hasn't done much for now. He'd woken up, groggy, alone in Baekhyun's bed with a message on his watch telling him that the tentacle guy would be away with Chanyeol for the entirety of the day.

More than a week has gone by since he last saw Yixing but his appointment is only tomorrow and he's still recuperating, so for now, all he can do is plan ahead.

Plan his next moves, plan his life to come.

But the more he tries to establish where to spend his money and where to apply, the more his mood is turning sour and heavy and he hates it. There’s nowhere to begin.

"You're a fucking stupid man, Jongdae, that's what."

And his sharp tongue only has himself to target.

He's the victim of his own mind.

So with a frustrated cry, he pushes the table away, the sound of scraping legs against the floor abrasive to his ears. He winces, carding a shaky hand through his hair. He needs a shower. 

"Don't be like this. Don't."

At times, talking to himself helps. He focuses on his own breathing, willing it to slow down; and slowly, all too slowly, he can feel the tension leave his body bit by bit, the anger, the pain, the need for things to change right away the causes of said tension.

Once he's calmed down enough, he just leans back against the couch and closes his eyes.

When he takes the time to go over everything that has happened since he set foot here, he realises that while it’s weird for him to be living here, he’s getting accustomated to it.  

Chanyeol's a fun guy to be around and, well, Baekhyun's a confusing person that he can't help but want to spend more time with. Somehow, it’s easy to be with him; and all the more infuriating when he hits a wall.

Baekhyun’s pretty good at dodging questions he doesn’t feel like answering and for that reason, Jongdae still has no idea what he’s doing for a living, nor does he know anything about his past.

It was hard enough extracting the name of his species from him –

Oh.

Jongdae knows what he wants to do.

 

As a kid, Jongdae was always eager to learn. His grandmother would often praise that desire to know more of his; and while he’s become somewhat bleaker as an adult, curiosity is still a quality (or a flaw, in certain cases) that guides him through life.

When he’s not busy being depressed or too tired to care, that is.

But right at this moment, if there’s one thing the human needs, it’s a distraction from how stuck he feels.

So he borrows one of Baekhyun’s numerous interactive tablets and makes himself comfortable against the couch’s arm. He could’ve just used his watch, definitely; but holding something bigger somehow felt more right.

He presses his palm against the screen and it unlocks with a satisfying click; then, he doesn’t lose time typing in the search bar.

mulkan

He’s been dying to know more about Baekhyun’s species, especially considering he has never seen him in less than boxers (and a baggy shirt, of course).

Baekhyun’s been using his tentacles as if Jongdae isn’t here but still he conceals his body from the human, as if aware that it’d be too much for him to handle.

Meanwhile, Chanyeol sometimes wanders around the apartment naked, so.

Jongdae remembers a particular occurrence when he’d needed to pee quite early in the morning; Baekhyun’s extra limbs were still all over him, but he’d somehow managed to slip out of the squirmy embrace because, full bladder emergency, only to witness one of Chanyeol’s weird forms.

His skin was that usual pale, grey turquoise shade; but his body had been even taller and thinner than usual, his limbs elongated and his head lacking hair; and when he’d turned around, Jongdae had seen nothing down there, nothing on his chest, just an endless stretch of skin around a bony structure.

It had weirded him out, but definitely not scared him. He could still recognise Chanyeol in the shape of that humanoid.

Said humanoid had promptly taken notice of him and had proceeded to shift on the spot to his usual, most common appearance - always a weird phenomenon to witness, really.

He'd asked Jongdae with a look of worry on his face if he'd seen him, and when Jongdae had answered yes, Chanyeol had started insisting that he forget it.

Considering Chanyeol's general nonchalance, it'd been surprising.

And for that reason, he wipes out mulkan and instead writes shaper.

He knows shaper is far from being the scientific name for Chanyeol's species, but he just can't recall to his memory the complicated term Baekhyun had mentioned to refer to his roommate.

The first pictures and links that come to him are random, sometimes a company, sometimes an artist; but eventually, he falls upon a descriptive website.

It's quite interesting to read about: shapers can, upon touching something or eating something, absorb and replicate DNA to mold their body to it, and some can even create new bodies or limbs entirely just from what they've seen.

It reminds Jongdae of Chanyeol's Pinocchio nose (he's pretty sure no Pinocchio lives around, but) and as he scrolls down the page, a picture appears that make him stop right away.

It basically is a picture of Chanyeol in that weird, genderless form; and under it is written Original shape.

Oh. Okay.

He frowns, assessing the picture. If this is Chanyeol's "real" appearance - why hasn't he seen it more often?

The alien's distressed expression comes back to his mind for a second and it makes him wonder if, maybe, just maybe, Chanyeol just doesn't like his original shape.

He hopes not, in a way, and he makes a mental note to talk about it to the tall guy later when he's back.

If he can do or say anything to make Chanyeol feel more positive about his own self (if that's really what's going on), then... well. Maybe it'd be nice.

Before he realises it, he's biting down on his lower lip, hard, nibbling and worrying it.

Then, he shakes his head and goes back to the search bar to type down mulkan once more.

He glances at the time too to make sure that it isn't time for his two housemates to come back yet.

Somehow, he isn't that comfortable at the idea of being found researching their species. It might look invasive or a tad bit too nosy, after all.

But truthfully, Jongdae isn't prepared for what he finds about Baekhyun's species, especially considering the first picture that pops is that of what appears to be a naked male adult mulkan in a compromising situation and what-in-the-fucking-hell-is-that.

There is no dick. Well yes, but no.

There are tentacles instead of a dick. Tentacles.

And maybe Jongdae should've expected it. Tentacle porn, all that stuff, has existed for centuries already.

And after all, it's a very striking feature of mulkans, apparently, to just, you know, have tentacles. Possess tentacles. Use tentacles.

His eyes trail off to another picture; the backside of a mulkan.

Since the very beginning, he thought that the tentacles somehow melted back into the body (what? limited imagination, okay?) whenever his new friend of sorts didn't use them; but it isn't the case.

When at rest, the tentacles just stick to the spine and the lower back, pressed so close to the skin that they don't take a lot of space and are almost incorporated into the body.

When extended - they can become much, much longer and larger. They can suddenly reach a lot more.

It definitely reminds him of octopi, especially considering the feelers similar to suction cups that cover each length.

He lays the tablet on the table for a moment, hiding his face in his hands whiles a trembling sigh escapes his lips.

His cheeks are burning up and his ears tingle; a sign of his bodily reactions to all these images that he just doesn't understand or rather doesn't want to understand.

It's alarming to feel that particular telltale heat in the pit of his stomach, too; and he doesn't think he can manage to read more about his species. Just, later, not now. Right?

He won't be able to look at the other in the same way as before - and it's already bad enough as it is.

 

As if on cue, the door slides open and in barge Baekhyun and Chanyeol, laughing and blissfully unaware of what Jongdae just went through by innocently trying to learn more about their species.

Because, yes, his intentions were just that, nothing illegitimate.

While Chanyeol disappears into his bedroom while going on and on about guitars and cords and such, Baekhyun plops down on the couch beside him and slides an arm around his shoulders way too casually, almost gleaming.

Jongdae tries his voice. "I take it it went well?"

Baekhyun nods hurriedly, his body melting against Jongdae's side. "Oh yes."

He has no clue what went well, but it's certainly not his research that did.

 

The worse part, he understands later on, was only to come.

Baekhyun takes the very tablet Jongdae made use of for his impromptu research before Jongdae can prevent him from doing so, saying he needs to check on a couple news websites.

And by the lewd smirk he sends Jongdae’s way just a couple seconds after with a knowing lilt to his whistle, Jongdae knows he saw everything that was earlier researched by the human.

He thus proceeds to bury his face in holographic emails and news watching while Chanyeol comes out of his dark hole to a smug faced Baekhyun making a show of using Jongdae's laps as a cushion for his feet.

 

For sure, that night, when Jongdae calls his grandmother, he carefully avoids to mention his research on his two roommates’ species.

She’s happy anyway to hear about his plans and hopes and such; and while she somehow looks even more vulnerable, frail than before, he doesn’t spend too much time on the observation, rather focused on making conversation about light things with her.

If she was really sick, they’d notify him, right? She’d make sure to tell him, right?

 

It’s without surprise that his dreams, that night, are quite wet and vivid.

It has been months and months if not years since he’s last had anything significantly sexual and since he has started sleeping in Baekhyun’s bed on a regular basis, he has neglected himself quite a lot. Most of the time, anyway, he was too drained to do anything about it; but now, as he wakes up from a very pornographic slumber and realises that, once again, he’s been made prisoner by Baekhyun’s tentacles, everything just starts burning.

It’s not long before he starts squirming, the textile of his underwear damp with sweat and something else. He knows he hasn’t come yet, but he feels close in an incredibly awkward, needy way.

Well. That’s a problem.

And what’s even more of a problem is Baekhyun moaning softly and retightening his grip on Jongdae, only to then open his eyes, obviously confused but unwilling to let go of the human.

“You’re hard, hmm.”

Jongdae sputters, chokes on his breath. “You don’t need to point it out!”

Baekhyun laughs easily, his tentacles sliding around and on Jongdae’s body, causing him to tense further. “Don’t want to take care of it?”

Jongdae growls, almost. “Just go back to sleep and take that fucking tentacle out of my pants, okay?”

For, yes, one of Baekhyun’s extra limbs had apparently taken the feeling of heat and wetness down there as an invitation to climb into the garments, and, well, it’s not that the entirety of Jongdae’s brain is against it, but his rational side is, and.

Well. Baekhyun and him, they’re not… anything. Or at the very least, they’re somewhat friends who keep a lot of secrets from one another, one alien and one human, and even if Baekhyun’s becoming increasingly touchy toward him, he most definitely doesn’t like Jongdae that way.

With a lot of efforts, Jongdae finally escapes Baekhyun’s arms, and the latter pouts. “I’m going to sleep on the couch. And don’t come looking for me.”

There’s no real bite to his words. He’s tired, he’s confused, and so he needs the alone time to cool not only his body down, but also his mind, thoughts.

 

The next morning, luckily for Jongdae, Baekyun doesn’t mention a single thing about the human’s very reactive body from the night before. He just winks suspiciously at him once as the three roommates share breakfast, and it leaves Chanyeol with a very lost expression on his handsome face.

Poor him.

Jongdae would rather he doesn’t know anyway.

 

He has his appointment with Yixing. The human cyborg nods approvingly as soon as he sees the quality and colour of Jongdae’s skin around the wrist area; and he even makes him notice that during that week only, he gained a bit of weight, which is, he adds with an insisting smile, a very good thing.

Jondgae just answers back with an extremely exaggerated, forced smile. If Yixing says it’s a good thing, then he’ll just, you know, go along with it.

Baekhyun once implied that an angry Yixing means pain, a lot of pain, and he’d like to avoid it if possible, hence his complying without hesitation.

 

His appointment with Yixing turns out to be the beginning of a hectic week of finally applying for jobs.

It isn’t exactly easy. He has just spent weeks with somewhat limited social interactions, wasn’t really working anymore or studying when he left Earth, and now that he’s finally beginning to settle in a place that isn’t really his own, finding real motivation and positivism is hard.

He messes up three interviews on three different days in a row and it’s incredibly annoying because he doesn’t remember being that bad at selling himself. If anything, he was always known as a good talker, sometimes even a charmer of sorts when needed in a debate or something similar. Yet now his accent in Conventional is pretty terrible because they use a lot of English at the apartment, and it’s simply overwhelming to have to prove yourself and your capacities time and time again when, somewhere deep inside, you don’t really believe in yourself.

Baekhyun assures him he will have found something by the end of the week after he takes a look at his holographic application file, or CV, but Jongdae isn’t that confident.

Somehow, there are no “good opportunities” and some things, like working in a fast-food or in a retail store, just don’t interest him enough and don’t pay enough. How is it even possible that he’s finding nothing remotely acceptable in such a gigantic city? He must be terrible at searching.

All of this is quite, quite depressing.

At some point, while he’s moping around the apartment instead of going out like he said he would, he notices Chanyeol looking at him with a contemplative yet pouty frown on his face.

He sighs deeply. Did he do something wrong? Or say something mean to the shaper earlier? He can’t remember. “What is it?” Too sharp.

The alien frowns even more as Jongdae’s discouragement oozes out from his voice, keeping his mouth shut.

Jongdae rolls his eyes and breathes in, and out. “What is it, Chan?”

At the use of the nickname, the taller’s expression becomes softer. “I want to help.”

Jongdae shrugs at that. Baekhyun too had said he wanted to help, and Jongdae had just outright refused his proposition. (Baekhyun paid for him and is housing him, that’s enough.) He doesn’t think any of his roommates can really do anything about his very own job applications. “What do you want to do, anyway? It’s not like you can find me a job just like that.” He makes a show of snapping his fingers, illustrating how unlikely it would be for a good job to appear out of thin air.

It’s Chanyeol’s turn to roll his eyes. “Well, I was going to suggest you work at my music shop, but forget it, then.”

Okay, he needs to consider that. “Uh, wait.”

 

“Ha, I thought about it, but because Jongdae’s so difficult, I never thought he’d say yes.” Baekhyun says around a big mouthful of food, a mocking grin on.

Jongdae grumbles under his breath. “It’s not like I have anything right now…”

Chanyeol just seems happy that Jongdae accepted. “I need help to manage it anyway, so maybe you can just take care of the customers and maybe, you know, if it becomes popular enough, you could, like, do something you actually like to do within the shop and not just be at the cash register!” 

His enthusiasm’s cute, kind of. Baekhyun obviously finds his friend’s positive attitude funny, nodding approvingly beside him. “Who wouldn’t want this cute human worker to take care of their needs and questions, anyway?”

Jongdae hits his shoulder, hard.

It’s not that working in an alien (and human) music shop will sustain him for long or enough, but the pay’s a bit above the minimum wage and if it means having something more in his pockets, well, he won’t say no, especially considering his boss is Chanyeol. It’ll give him a chance in finding a better, long-term job, and meanwhile he can familiarise himself with more species.

Right? Right. He needs to convince himself a bit more, or his mood will stay low.

It shouldn’t prove too complicated; he likes music quite a lot and is familiar with many of its branches.

Apparently, Chanyeol’s shop has become increasingly known over the past couple of weeks, months that he has been working on and at it, and in a way it’s good fortune for Jongdae too because it means his friend can afford to pay him.

If he takes the time to consider all that Baekhyun and Chanyeol have done for him since he’s arrived, he feels… deep gratitude. It isn’t easy, sometimes they’re both annoying and other times he misses his old life so badly that it downright hurts right there in his chest, but at least he has them to rely on.

An incongruous mix of bad and good luck is what lead to this and while he isn’t out of the woods yet, maybe, just maybe, he’s going somewhere. He just doesn’t know where to yet.

 

In just about a week and a half, Jongdae masters the art of the cash register at Chanyeol’s music shop.

While it might sounds incongruous for obsolete cash registers to be used, laws have been passed to prevent the entire automatization of transactions in physical shops. And while the cash register at Chanyeol’s shop is far from being old-fashioned and difficult to use, Jongdae still prides himself in becoming completely at ease with the price of numerous items and finding back some sort of fluency in all of the languages that he has learned.

Most of the time, it’s relatively empty, but each new day sees a bigger influx of customers because of the shop’s growing popularity; and a lot of them come here for the legal downloading and transferring of music to their accounts. Why bother coming directly into the shop? Some just wants face-to-face advices or suggestions, some are just passing by on the busy street, some are just curious and want to be able to collect music chips, or want to observe and touch the diverse instruments exhibited around the shop.

Of course, downloading music straight to your whatever-device is more practical and economical, but some will always be more sentimental about having the real thing in their hands (or paws, or tentacles, or whatever-they-have in lieu of human hands, really).

Music is a bit of a universal thing.

So far, Jongdae doesn’t mind working in Chanyeol’s shop. It hasn’t proved to be a mind-blowing experience, but it’s enough to get him back into a working rhythm of sorts and in contact with other beings than just his roommates. Furthermore, it gives him the occasion to refuel his love for music, and it reassures his grandmother back on Earth.

I’m so glad you have friends to support you like that, she’d told him just the night before, a drained but nonetheless honest smile on her small face.

Jongdae had been in the bed already at that moment, waiting for Baekhyun, still in the shower, to join him.

(Chanyeol hadn’t yet commented on the fact that they now always slept together, but it would have to come up, eventually.)

I miss you so much, Jongdae, she’d continued. But it was the right thing for you to leave.

In a way, although he understood her reasoning, he couldn’t eagerly agree with her.

Staying on Earth meant an impending doom, especially considering his then worsening health.

But coming here hasn’t been easy, either.

He hasn’t quite found his place yet, and he misses her more than anyone else in his close family.

 

He’s thinking about his relationship with Baekhyun (and missing him because the other’s been gone for three days already), his head resting in the palm of his hand, when three humanoids enter the otherwise vacant shop.

He greets them as he would any other customer, offering them help and advice if needed.

The first two are taller than he is, taller even than Chanyeol, their skin of red hues and masks covering half of their faces.

The third one is quite short, his limbs pudgy, and is wearing a suit equipped with a mask that reminds Jongdae of an oxygen one.

None of them answer and he finds himself holding back a long-suffering sigh because, great, either they don’t speak Conventional or they just don’t believe in manners.

Some aliens also don’t appreciate humans much to begin with; it wouldn’t be his first time dealing with some kind of xenophobia.

But it’s his job to help them, Chanyeol’s in the back of the store discussing with a client if anything happens, and so Jongdae is pretty confident that his gut feeling telling him that the new arrivals are bad guys will be proved wrong.

Or, at the very least, it shouldn’t be proved right.

But the minutes go on and the three just don’t look interested in the merchandise they have here. If anything, their stares toward Jongdae become more and more insistent, heavy, and it’s only when Chanyeol emerges from the back store that they retreat toward the entrance.

Jongdae’s about to tell his friend about their weird demeanour but before he can do so, Chanyeol spots the three humanoids and calls them out. “Hey, you guys!”

The usual cheerfulness is forced, that much Jongdae can pick up on.

The three mysterious beings stop in their tracks, one of the red ones giving Chanyeol a half-nod of the head. “What are you doing here, hm?”

Jongdae can’t help it: he makes it appears as if he’s focused on the cash register and some outdated discount vouchers when in fact he’s listening, careful to carry on with the mindless tasks and keeping his eyes averted.

A gravelly, breathy voice resounds. “Why wouldn’t we be here? You know the Octopus’ giving us quite a lot of troubles recently.”

Jongdae almost starts laughing, and it forces him to clear his throat. Octopus. Right.

He wonders which one spoke. The one with the breathing mask, probably?

Chanyeol’s firm tone of voice surprises him. “He might give you some more if you stay here. Leave now.”

There’s some arguing, but then the polymer glasses slide open and Jongdae raises his eyes to find only Chanyeol standing at the front of the building, a frown on his face.

“Care to explain what that was?” His head snaps back toward Jongdae but it isn’t long before he makes a face.

“Nothing, really.”

Jongdae raises an eyebrow at the other, who doesn’t lose any time before disappearing once more to the back of the store. Okay.

It’s obvious that is going to be left in the dark for now, so he might as well go back to all that my-relationship-with-Baekhyun-is-confusing stuff.

 

Truth be told, as of late Jongdae has been thinking about Baekhyun a whole lot, more than he wants to admit to himself.

It isn’t to say that they are anything particular; in a way, he barely considers the mulkan a friend, and maybe that is because their relationship just isn’t on the usual, conventional side of things to begin with.

And they don’t try to put words to define what they are, what they have become to each other.

They met because Baekhyun decided to be an ass to him only to then take him in.

He paid for his wrist; they share meals and now a bed, and they’re definitely comfortable being around each other, enough that Chanyeol sometimes feels the need to point out how they “forget” about him.  

But recently, random, scalding thoughts have been popping more and more often in Jongdae’s mind regarding the mysterious tentacle guy, and they actually started doing so way before that night with the awkward boner.

(What would one of Baekhyun’s boners look like-)

Sure, since the very start he couldn’t help but think that the other was pretty, attractive even – and then he was funny albeit annoying, and as much as he could act dumb and make suggestive jokes he was obviously very, very bright and witty. And mysterious.

And that’s the part that bothers Jongdae the most at the moment.

While they have been sharing a bed and meals and jokes and cuddle sessions on the couch, he has the feeling that he just can’t pierce through the other’s walls.

His own would have went down a while ago had the mulkan been, say, more truthful, open to him.

They have been living together for weeks already and never has he opened up about his own story and his secret profession, and so the human doesn’t think he can ever fill the void inside his chest because while Baekhyun does look at him often, if not all the time, something’s missing.

Something’s missing because the human can’t put his trust in him wholly, and the terrible thing is he might just harbour romantic feelings for the alien, making the whole situation all the more appalling and vain to his own eyes.

He could confront the other about it, definitely.

He could.

But he doesn’t know how, and that’s enough to hold him back.

 

A couple days later, Jongdae is about to lock the front doors of the music shop when the three humanoids from last time enter, and that, before he can activate the security controls for the night.

Instantly, he’s on guard. Chanyeol has always avoided the subject even though Jongdae has insisted countless times to be told more about the three mysterious, mean looking aliens; and so Jongdae has the right to assume that they’re dangerous, yeah?

But at the moment he’s alone and he basically doesn’t know a thing about them or what they might want. “Hello, I need to notify you that the shop is closing down in about five minutes.”

One of the lanky, red-skinned aliens grunts at him, but still his exceedingly cheerful voice doesn’t falter. “May I help you in any way?”

He doesn’t get a verbal answer, but all three suddenly come up to him. It might just be his stress causing him to imagine things but the atmosphere seems to densify, becoming heavier the closer the strangers get.  

He stays behind the counter – an instinctive way of protecting himself if anything happens at all. By now, he’s sweating abundantly, nervousness invading on all of his senses, but still he keeps the professional mask on.

The small, chubby alien reaches for the side of his breathing mask, pressing down where his temple would be underneath the suit.

Jongdae, for a brief instant, thinks he’s going to fire something at him, to hurt him in some way, and so he flinches the slightest bit.

But nothing happens; he only sees a dot of blue light flash for a moment beside the alien’s empty eye, and then they, simply, leave the place without a word for him.

It leaves him befuddled, unsure of how to proceed. Should he warn Chanyeol that they came back? Should he not? Should he notify the authorities?

Technically, as much as they look like gangsters, they haven’t overtly done anything wrong, nor have they tried to attack him. He’s fine.

It’s with a wildly beating heard and clammy, unsteady hands that he turns everything off, his thoughts a mess but his desire to get to the apartment overwhelming.

 

Jongdae doesn’t fear walking back home alone as much anymore, nor does he anticipate using the glass elevator like he did in the beginning. He’ll never be good with heights, but in a city such as the Citadel, he doesn’t really have a choice to at least cope with it.

And so he reaches the door to the apartment, and the first things he hears once it slides open, are angry words.

“Fuck, Chanyeol, you were supposed to tell me –”

“I would have if you weren’t so damn on edge all the fucking time!”

“Why do you think I am on edge to begin with, are you dumb?”

Jongdae steps in. Baekhyun’s behind the kitchen island while Chanyeol’s on the couch, and both are clearly very much pissed off at the moment, arguing across the common room without even bothering to look at each other in the eyes.

And so the human clears his throat, thinking it’d be better to be seen now considering he can’t avoid them anyway. “Uh, hi guys.”

Baekhyun instantly recoils, pale pink eyes on Jongdae’s shape and tentacles contorting in agitation around him. It doesn’t take a genius to understand that he’s distressed, but about what, Jongdae doesn’t know.

Before he can so much as align two more words, the vivid haired alien is out the door, almost pushing him in his hurry to leave the place.

Jongdae, afterwards, turns to Chanyeol with wide eyes as his heart sinks. “Did I just make everything worse?”

While he intends for it to be a joke of sorts, his eyes fill with burning water and he finds himself having to blink to prevent any tear from spilling. Chanyeol shrugs. His expression is half pity for Jongdae, half pitiful because of the way Baekhyun spoke to him – probably.

“He should come back in a few hours, once he’s cooled down.”

Jongdae nods, and makes his way to the bedroom.

Once he’s in, he closes the door, turns off the light and buries himself in the thick, fluffy blankets that smell of star anise, lime and sweat – Baekhyun.

 

As Chanyeol had said he would, Baekhyun comes back to the apartment a couple of hours later. It’s well into the night already, but still he enters the bedroom only to wake Jongdae up.

“Jongdae. Come on, you shouldn’t be sleeping already.”

The human groans, at first confused upon hearing Baekhyun’s voice. Calm could now be a way of describing it, the complete opposite of how it was earlier filled with anguish and pure frustration.

“Who says I can’t be sleeping already?” It always feels incredibly weird to be woken up once the sun has set but still he sits up in the bed, eyelids heavy. Baekhyun pulls at his wrist with a gentle tentacle. “You should call your grandmother now, then we will eat. I brought some stuff to drink, also.”

Jongdae hesitates for a bit before he nods. His stomach is empty and quite unhappy about it; he won’t say no to a meal.

 

Calling his grandmother only takes him a few minutes.

She warns him right from the beginning that she can’t talk too long because she has some appointment to go to, but quickly reassures Jongdae by saying it’s the usual check-up.

It doesn’t ease his bad feeling that much, but he relents even so, hopeful that his grandmother would tell him if something was wrong with her.

“You know I miss you a whole lot, gran’? Maybe one day I could come visit you.”

While they talk regularly, it will never be the same as being able to smell her, hold her, and hear her as she stands in front of or lies beside him.

And while distance is causing him to feel somewhat disconnected, more detached than before from his elder, he would never be able to forget about her, to love her less.

And so she smiles at his wild suggestion, obviously flattered as affection seeps into her voice. Jongdae shivers at his reaches his ears, familiar and consoling. “I would love for you to come back here for a bit. I miss you, my dear.”

 

When he comes out of the bedroom, the strong smell of salty foods and something that is definitely alcohol hits his nostrils. It’s a change from the cozy ambience of where he previously was, and Chanyeol looks very much intoxicated already as Jongdae sits down at the isle beside Baekhyun. “I see you’ve started without me.”

“Baekhyun feels guilty for that shitty attitude of his so he bought us booze!” The shaper’s apparently back to his joyful default mode, not so sober anymore, but it doesn’t matter.

The person concerned just grumbles under his breath before downing a shot of black, viscous liquid.

It’s suspicious looking, but it smells sweet, and Jongdae’s curious.

He tilts his head, blinking slowly to make a show of his long eyelashes. “Can I try that?”

Baekhyun smirks and pushes toward him an empty glass and a black bottle, obviously willing for Jongdae to try it out. “It burns a lot, but you’ll see, the aftertaste’s real sweet.”

Jongdae purses his lips as he raises a glass to his lips, his tongue peeking out for a quick taste – and as he’d been told, it burns. Like hell, actually.

Beside him, Baekhyun laughs. “Just down it, it’s not worth the suffering.”

He’s never been one for quick intake of alcohol, but he’ll take the advice if only to avoid the blaze on his tongue.

It tastes foul at first, and the texture unsettles him deeply, enough to make him gag. But then it slides down his oesophagus despite everything and warms him from the inside like no alcohol has ever done before. What’s left is syrupy, much kinder on his gums and taste buds, and while he is in no way a fan of overly sweet drinks, it’s addictive, impossible to identify yet just right.

He makes a weird, surprised face at Baekhyun, who simply proceeds to pat him on the shoulder before leaning into his personal space. “Don’t drink too much, or you’ll end up like that idiot over here.”

He points at a half-present Chanyeol with his thumb but the latter is too obsessed with his pastries to care, the empty glasses surrounding his plates witnesses of his intake of booze.

Jongdae finds that laugh comes more easily after a few glasses; it bubbles up from deep inside his chest, the giddiness very much real. It’s a relief for he truly needs the distraction and the company.

Baekhyun appears to be in a much better mood than earlier and he hopes, desperately, that it won’t come crashing down on them later on.

 

Because Baekhyun’s spirits are high (and his own, too), he avoids mentioning the bad guys from the store and Baekhyun’s job, which, he has to admit, he is becoming more and more curious about.

There are too many pieces missing for the puzzle that is Baekhyun to be completed and it eats away at him, though he still tries to push it all at the far back of his mind.

Right now, it is admittedly not that difficult to do so, for Chanyeol has passed out on the couch even though Baekhyun and Jongdae are literally almost on his feet. 

The human is straddling the mulkan, and they have simply been looking into each other’s eyes for the past minutes, silent but their breaths quickening with anticipation.

In anticipation of what precisely, it isn’t easy to know when your mind is a cloudy, foggy mess, but Jongdae decides it feels nice and cozy and easy, and the warmth Baekhyun’s body exudes is intoxicating against the inside of his still clothed thighs.

The tentacles are out, too, and it makes him realise that he just doesn’t care about them anymore. They have always been a part of the other, and as he’s grown, in the past weeks, months, to appreciate the mulkan more and more, he’s grown to like these extra limbs better too.

But while he truly is enjoying the moment, the unspoken ease in which they bathe, he thinks he wants more and would dare to go for it.

It’d be a first.  

“Say, Baek,” he purrs, his words slurring a bit, “you wouldn’t mind if I did a little something, would you?”

Baekhyun frowns comically. He holds his liquor better than Chanyeol and Jongdae, that’s for sure – and so the human is pretty confident that he isn’t that drunk, whatever the weird faces he can pull.

“Saying a little something doesn’t mean much, Jongdae.” His voice is low, rougher than usual, making the hairs stand on Jongdae’s arms and nape.

“But it’s nothing big, really,” he isn’t quite sure what has gotten into him and yet, yes, of course he does, he can’t fool himself forever now, can he?

It’s warm down there, and from this close he can take in Baekhyun’s musk, appreciate better the embrace of tentacles on his own body.  

Slowly, ever so slowly, he leans toward the other until, gently, he can press their lips together.

Baekhyun melts into the kiss almost instantly, his mouth warm and careful against Jongdae’s.

He yearns for soberness, then, realising that he could feel even more were he not that drunk at the moment; but still it is a relief, a need finally answered, and more than anything else it’s so natural and right that tears burn at the back of his eyelids.

Then, Baekhyun leans back, his hands on Jongdae’s shoulders to prevent him from following. His cheeks are flushed a delicious shade of strawberry and again, Jongdae’s struck with how bright and fiery he looks, all pinks and reds and peaches.

Tentacles find their way around his arms but don’t squeeze, a possessive presence only. “I don’t think Chan’s going to appreciate us here if he wakes up.”

True. Jongdae glances at the now snoring giant. He’s drooling a bit on the arm of the couch, obviously in a deep slumber; and meanwhile his own member is hard and pressing against the seam of his pants, and maybe, just a bit, he would feel bad for indulging in heavy petting with Baekhyun right beside the shaper.

Baekhyun takes it as his cue to lift the human up, holding him in his arms and tentacles.

Jongdae yelps briefly but quickly settles into the embrace. He’s not one for defined roles in relationship, so this doesn’t mean anything to him regarding his “role” in the current play. All he wants to do is enjoy it all, enjoy the other around him, under him, maybe, in him, also?

 

He’s unceremoniously dropped onto the bouncy bed, causing him to giggle like the still inebriated man he is.

Baekhyun beams at him and joins him in a similar fashion, letting his body go limp as he hits the mattress. Then, before he can get up again, Jongdae’s on him, straddling him once more and taking his face into his hands to bring his lips to his own.

It escalated quickly but it speaks, in their case, of how right it feels. Maybe they also need to let out some tension, some untold feelings and fears they’ve been living with for the past weeks, and so Jongdae doesn’t mind that Baekhyun’s tentacles are very soon undressing him, slippery but warm and concrete against his epidermis.

Where the squirmy feeling once was completely foreign to him, it’s now exciting, generating in him more desire as he doesn’t quite know what to expect.

He just wants Baekhyun very much.

And, he must be in luck, because Baekhyun apparently wants him back right now.

The clothes are soon discarded completely, and, well.

It’s a whole lot to take in.

Baekhyun’s body is imperfect and new in all of the right ways; he doesn’t have nipples nor does he have a navel, but his hairless, smooth skin is imprinted with swirls of lilac arabesques that climb up his thighs and lower stomach. Otherwise, the external similarities to a human body are uncanny: Jongdae knows that he mustn’t have the same bones and organs as himself, but it’s familiar still.

What isn’t human at all, though, are the tentacles. The twelve that sprout from where the tailbone and spine would be, Jongdae is used to, but those that serve the purpose of, say, reproduction are an entirely different matter that cause him to stare, in all of his drunken stupor, with a flushed neck and flushed cheeks, between Baekhyun’s legs.

He doesn’t want to bother counting the numerous small, visibly very nimble appendages down there; but he does so anyway. One, two, three, four, five, six – okay, so six tentacles, but one stands out from the rest greatly, slightly longer, thicker and pulsing with a steady, warm heartbeat.

While the “main” tentacles are a relatively pale pink that morphs into a plum colour at their tips, these are simply a dark purple, and obviously, there are no (human) balls to accompany them.

Their pseudo suction cups are different, too: little ridges, soft, sticky, barely visible compared to those of the extra limbs Baekhyun use in his everyday life.

It’s the alien’s almost embarrassed laugh that brings him back to reality, making him realise that his observation might have been going on for a bit too long. “I’m not sure whether you like it or not.”

Jongdae gulps down nervously. Okay. He is a tiny bit apprehensive, but considering the rigidity of his erection, he is far from being turned off.

It’s just, uh, new. “I – I don’t. I mean. I want you?”

And the awkward-while-trying-to-communicate-your-want-to-your-extraterrestrial-love-interest-while-being-drunk award goes to Jongdae, Kim!

Baekhyun bites down on his lower lip in a clear display of nervousness. Meanwhile, his entire body is obviously taunt, tentacles keeping Jongdae close. The thicker one’s tip is glistening, swollen and tender.

Jongdae wants to touch.

And so he does, with a curious, inquisitive brush of his palm against the main sexual appendage; and soon enough all the smaller, more agile tentacles join in, pushing against his palm and circling his wrist to keep him there, right there.

Under him, Baekhyun goes silent, until his breathing picks up the more Jongdae plays around and suddenly, he’s letting out these cute, adorable, arousing little moans and grunts.

His dick twitches in the hot air of the room, the slit becoming wet all over again; the human has never heard Baekhyun in such a vulnerable way before and it’s affecting him, deeply so.

The feeling is far from being the same as jerking a dick off or playing with the folds of a vagina; and truthfully, Jongdae never would have thought of himself as willing to try this before meeting Baekhyun. But here he is, all hot and bothered and amazed because of it, now sitting on his shins between Baekhyun’s spread legs as he touches him, explores him.

Meanwhile, some tentacles have begun to return the contact, caressing the inside of his thighs, swirling around his nipples and pressing against the cleft of his ass; and everything feels like too much and not enough at once, and the more the alcohol wears off, the more Jongdae thinks he can revel in the new sensations.

After a couple of minutes, he gets the hang of it even better; and so Baekhyun’s moans climb higher and higher, his breathing raspy and desperate, until suddenly the tentacles tense around Jongdae’s hand only for the thicker one to lather it in purple fluids.

The substance is denser than that of a human male’s sperm, somewhat a reminder of some types of lube Jongdae has used in the past; and it’s sweeter, too, he assesses after bringing some to his lips.

Baekhyun sighs with content under him, stretching at the same time. Jongdae almost takes it as his cue to stop all current activities because, well, the other seems tired and spent, but in a blur he finds himself lying underneath the other male, warm, pulsing limbs holding him in place.

“Can I fuck you?” Is all Baekhyun asks before Jongdae nods, maybe a tad too eagerly.

Following his agreement, a tentacle presses into him, careful but curious, and Jongdae finds his body tensing and relaxing continuously with great need. He’ll most definitely be sore afterward, but there’s no questioning whether he truly wants it or not.

It’s, again, entirely new, completely different from the sensation of a finger or anything human that he might have had before inside of him; softer, very warm, slick, and it keeps twisting and pushing at his walls with an ease and a dexterity that he never knew he could even dream for.  

All the while, there are tentacles to take care of him in all the right ways everywhere else: some are on his nipples, others tickle his lips, while some just keep spreading his legs further and further apart, and Baekhyun’s blissful expression just above him is but the cherry on top of the cake.

It soon becomes unbearable for he knows, just by looking at the other, that he’s being played with, teased; he wants to come so badly and yet, each time his breathing comes to a halt, one of the swift, dexterous members of Baekhyun’s crotch circles his dick, hard, to prevent him from doing so.

At some point, as his eyes keep fluttering shut from all the intense, pleasurable arousal in all of his body, he catches a glimpse of Baekhyun fisting his main appendage, the tip once more bulbous and pulsing, and ah, he wants him in.

His prayer is quickly answered as Baekhyun leans down, presses his pelvis into Jongdae’s, adjusts his position, then, to lift his thighs a bit; and then more tentacles press in but Jongdae especially feels the bigger one, supple and slick, yes, but still harder and heavier than all of the others inside of him.

Technically, Baekhyun doesn’t have to cant his hips into Jongdae for a thrusting motion to take place: his sex can move by itself. But Jongdae whines for he wants more, he wants the proximity, and so his nails dig into the soft skin of Baekhyun’s back, encouraging him to get closer.

Baekhyun does; one of his hands finds Jongdae’s cheek to bring him in for a kiss as he pounds into the human, in, and out, and in, and out – and that’s all Jongdae wanted, really. 

It doesn’t take long before he’s brought to the edge and this time, Baekhyun doesn’t stop him from tipping over. He chokes on his breath, pulling Baekhyun impossibly closer as he comes. Through the daze of his orgasm, Jongdae hears Baekhyun’s relieved moan and feels him emptying himself inside, numerous times in a row.

It gives him ample time to force his eyes open and take in, with a certain sense of sated pride, the blissful expression on Baekhyun’s face, his soft lips parted and bruised.

 

The aftermath is weird for Jongdae’s entire body is covered with little bruises, marks, and everything sticks.

Still, in this post-coital bliss, he can’t bring himself to care much.

Baekhyun keeps him close and warm with his solid limbs as much as his supple ones, and it simply feels natural, natural enough that Jongdae gives himself the permission to fall asleep right away.

They will deal with the rest later.

 

It’s an understatement to say that the next morning is weird.

Weird, because it’s the first time Jongdae wakes up naked and cuddling with an equally naked Baekhyun.

Weird, because he can still remember in a very detailed, precise way everything that happened, from his call to his grandmother to getting fucked by Baekhyun’s tentacles.

Weirder, even, because Baekhyun just opens both eyes lazily next to him and leans into him for a sweet, casual kiss.

“Hi.”

Jongdae’s voice comes out raspy. “Hi.”

The alien smiles, although it’s a bit hesitant. “If you prefer we don’t talk about it, it’s okay.”

Oh, they should talk about it. It’s not something one can simply avoid altogether. But it’d definitely feel nice to be able to avoid mentioning all the serious, unspoken of romantic feelings linked to this, yeah.

He hasn’t exactly been able to confirm that Baekhyun has anything more than just attraction for him, and, well, it’s a great source of anxiety for him, has been for weeks already.  

But maybe he could take that as an excuse to learn more about the other.

“We should talk about us first. I mean, us, independently.”

Baekhyun’s eyebrows shoot up in confusion. “What do you mean?”

Jongdae makes a show of himself, of stretching slowly and tauntingly, before answering anything. “What do you do for a living?”

The look in Baekhyun’s eyes instantly darkens. But still, after an instant, he relinquishes. His traits become softer all over again, and he doesn’t avoid his stare. “About that – I’ll tell you soon. Find something else you want to know.” It’s mocking, self-assured, but not in a way that makes Jongdae’s hair stand on end.

One day, one day, he will fucking force Baekhyun to stop keeping secrets from him.

“Why do you live here? I’ve read that mulkans tend to keep to their origin planet.”

Baekhyun actually seems impressed by his question, but as he raises his eyes to the ceiling, he’s obviously considering his answer.

Jongdae leans back a bit, adjusting the pillow under his head to take a better look at the other male’s pensive face.

“It’ll definitely sound stupid, but I just didn’t feel like raising a family there.”

Jongdae snorts. “You can go into details. What about raising a family back there?”

Baekhyun sighs but it’s not discouraged or annoyed, just an exaggeration of his feelings toward the task of explaining. “It’s widely encouraged, back on my planet, to, well, reproduce as much as you can. I don’t see it as barbaric – but you know, I could never wrap my head around the idea of raising ten or fifteen kids and uh, space adventures sounded a lot better. Don’t think I’d have made a responsible father either.”

Jongdae frowns. He has every right to be suspicious of the other, right? “You’re not fucking with me, are you?”

“Well, depends if you want me to.”

He rolls his eyes, finding it difficult to keep the amusement from showing on his features that he knows are too expressive for his own good. “Seriously, Baekhyun.”

“For real, though. I just didn’t like it much there and I yearned for a life of action.” His stupid grin is on, and Jongdae finally relents, nods. He’ll take that as an explanation for now.

It sounds like something Baekhyun would do anyway.  

 

Two weeks pass by, and Baekhyun seemingly forgets about his promise to tell Jongdae about his job.

And Jongdae, because while he at times has a hell of an attitude and an insatiable curiosity, gives up on asking again.

The continuous flow of time made it clear that he probably won’t ever get the answers he’s craving for. And they haven’t sorted out their relationship, either.

It hurts.

Because when Chanyeol’s not there, Baekhyun is even touchier than before.

But then, when the shaper is there, he reverts back to their previous ways around each other, and Jongdae has no fucking clue what to think.

The more he waits, the less he finds the words to confront the other.

And so on that, too, he might have to give up soon.

Working at Chanyeol’s music store serves as a distraction. The three weird guys haven’t appeared again and so it’s back to peaceful, boring interactions with customers from all over the universe.

Jongdae doesn’t mind too much. He has stopped looking for a better job, for now.

It feels easier to just go with the flow instead of forcing it all the damn time.

His parents would, could never understand that. His lack of motivation, his lack of desire for grandiose things.

Maybe it’s one of the reasons why he was never close to them in the first place and preferred the company of simpler, more honest people such as his grandmother, over them.

Speaking of which, he hasn’t been able to contact her directly in two days.

The first day, she’d quickly answered his vocal message with a written email. It’d surprised him. She was always one to prefer more direct means of communication, after all.

Then, nothing else. Maybe the contact just couldn’t get through, maybe there were some temporary troubles with the transmission, maybe she’d just broken her tablet or something – he can’t know.

He’s walking back to the apartment right now and however hard he tries to calm himself down, his eyes keep finding his watch only to take in the absence of notifications with panic.

It’s not that he wants to act all dramatic and shit, but he has a bad feeling.

It probably doesn’t mean anything at all, really; it’s just his anxiety, anxiety which he has been accumulating for weeks already about pretty much everything from his current relationships, to his grandmother’s health, to his own future and his own place in this world, and, well.

It makes him feel like utter shit.

Chanyeol won’t be there tonight, he muses. Baekhyun said he would come back late, but that he would definitely sleep with Jongdae.

He smiles, helplessly so. How he wishes he could confide in Baekhyun just like one would in a lover, without the fear of judgment and the fear of a lack of reciprocity.

Maybe he is just no meant to have that.

 

The sound of shattering crystal is what forcefully brings him out of his painful stupor.

When he looks down, there are shards embedded in both his palms. Blood is already spilling, trickling down his wrists and fingers, and on the ground lay more translucent pieces of what was, just a moment ago, a glass.

He didn’t mean to break it.

He didn’t mean to hurt himself.

He swears he didn’t.

He had only wanted to soothe his tight, parched throat with water or something similar, and then everything had become blurry before his eyes as they’d filled with salty, scalding liquid.

So Jongdae kneels down, shaking his hands in a vain attempt to take some of the glass fragments out of his skin, and then he tries to gather the rest in a small pile on the floor, quite numb to the pain.

But then, he hears the swoosh of the entrance door, and a voice, calling out. “Anyone home?”

It’s Baekhyun, back home way earlier than he’d told Jongdae he would be.  

Jongdae keeps silent at first, gathering his words and voice before all else. It comes out clear, impersonal. “Oh, hi.”

He gets up from behind the kitchen isle so that Baekhyun can see where he is.

The smile he offers is withdrawn and artificial, he’s well aware of it, and by the look on Baekhyun’s face that follows, he has noticed Jongdae’s façade. “Something’s the matter?” Baekhyun’s speaking English, but the way he pronounced the ‘s makes it sound like he has a lisp.

Jongdae’s lips part, wobble.

He can’t quite find the words, not at first. They don’t even sound real to himself. And yet, that’s what he’d heard in the vocal message from the care center.

“My grandmother passed away.”

It’s out, out into the atmosphere, out into the world, and, it’s true, it’s not a lie, it’s not a nightmare.

But oh, he wished it was, because then he could try to escape it.

It hurts. Badly.

He couldn’t even bid her goodbye properly, couldn’t even remind her of how much he has always loved her; he didn’t even know she was going to leave so soon, and while he had his suspicions because she seemed each time frailer than before, he’d continued to make small-talk like everything was fine, relying on the fact that she had to tell him, definitely, if anything was wrong with her health.

Instantaneously, Baekhyun’s eyes widen, to the point they remind Jongdae of saucers.

“Jongdae –”

The concerned one lifts his hands in an attempt to prevent the other one from running to him, but it’s a mistake.

His palms are still blood stricken, pierced through.

Baekhyun’s livid by then, and he doesn’t lose time in assessing Jongdae’s damages to himself and around. “What were you thinking?” Is what he says as he brings Jongdae away from the cutting mess and into the bathroom, forcing him to sit on the edge of the bath, adjacent to the shower, as some of his tentacles reach for the medical kit hidden away in one of the cabinets.

Said medical kit is surprisingly well-equipped, a lot more than what Jongdae and his grandmother had at their studio back on Earth. 

Baekhyun spends the next minutes solely focused on extracting all the bits from Jongdae’s hands, to then wash them, then bandage them, quite expertly at that, the human notices.

And then, when all of this is over, he takes the human in his arms, and that’s when Jongdae loses it.

He doesn’t mean for wails to come out, nor does he mean for his abundant tears to stain Baekhyun’s shirt.

But it all happens anyway, regardless of his rational mind, because he’s hurting oh so deeply right now.

The loss is all too tangible, all too genuine and undeniable, and he regrets not acknowledging the possibility of his grandmother’s death before.

He hadn’t prepared himself. Not enough.

For the past weeks, it had felt as if being away from his primary caretaker had made her invincible and unattainable, somehow, because he just wasn’t there to witness her troubles and old age directly.

He is an idiot, a pure idiot.

 

Jongdae sniffs pitifully, burrowing his face further into the crook of Baekhyun’s neck.

The bed became the default choice for a much needed comfort session, and so here they are, Jongdae half lying on top of Baekhyun as he caresses his hair with all the care in the world.

The alien hasn’t said much regarding Jongdae’s loss. It doesn’t really bother the human, for while he would sometimes slip a word or two while Jongdae was speaking to his grandmother, and she’d seen him on a few pictures Jongdae had sent to reassure her, he hadn’t known her personally.

Still, at the moment it’s achingly obvious that he cares for the human, just here and available to listen to him each time he starts rambling and crying again about how stupid he was not to treasure her more, holding him tighter and with the help of his tentacles when it becomes too much and Jongdae needs to stop and learn to breathe again.

It doesn’t solve much, but being accompanied is what matters right now.

Jongdae doesn’t exactly have other friends to rely on.

Not that he minds a lot on a daily basis; but that makes him all the more grateful for Baekhyun’s existence.

He wonders how things would have turned out to be had they not bumped into each other on his first day here, in the Citadel.

 

Light, filtering through the radiation blinds of the bedroom’s sole window, is what forces Jongdae awake and away from the land of dreams and memories.

He is cold, and alone, he realises as he sits up in the now terribly huge bed.

Still, he can pick up on sounds, the clatter of tableware, and so he knows that Baekhyun probably just rose to prepare breakfast before he did.

His legs are weak and taunt as he brings them over the edge of the bed and lays his feet on the floor. He doesn’t stretch, he doesn’t yawn; he just makes his way to the drawer Baekhyun gave him for his clothes and changes his attire.

He was supposed to work today; and so he will, because whatever Baekhyun had said at some point yesterday about sleeping it off the next day and taking his time to grieve, Jongdae just wants a distraction.

He doesn’t want to shut himself up in his very own steel tower, full of complicated, forlorn thoughts and hopes.

He needs fresh air. Who will care about his fatigued, ghostly looks anyway? As long as he is able to answer the customers’ needs and questions, that’s all that really matters.

So he passes the door’s threshold and walks up to Baekhyun from behind, albeit fully aware that the other has probably noticed him without looking. With a sigh, he just puts his head on the other’s shoulder, trying to get a look at what he is preparing.

“Aren’t you supposed to stay in bed? It’s still early.” Is all Baekhyun says, one tentacle reaching for something in a cupboard above both their heads.

“I want to work.” Jongdae says back, his voice scratchy. He’s not truly hungry, but he won’t say no to some traditional rice and vegetables.

It reminds him of his first real breakfast here, when Baekhyun decided to use the earthling vegetables and such to cook them all a complete breakfast.

That was more than a month ago, and it sure does feel like years have flown by since then.

“You shouldn’t work, Dae.”

The nickname surprises him, enough that he steps back to make the goggle eyes at Baekhyun. “Thanks for the concern, but I really want to.”

The alien’s mouth is but a thin, tight line. It’s obvious that something about Jongdae going in to work bothers him, but the human swears he doesn’t need all that concern.

He knows himself. And for now, he wants the work. Doesn’t feel like having to contact Chanyeol, who’s not even in the city as of now anyway. It’d be a hassle to find someone else to work in his place.

 

Everything starts off pretty normally.

Jongdae can’t find it in himself to pay much attention to his surroundings as he walks the old-fashioned way to Chanyeol’s music shop, and it causes him to bump into other beings a couple times. Still, nothing too big; he doesn’t destroy anything, he doesn’t hurt anyone, and, most important of all, he’s on time to open the shop.

The complexity and animosity of the urban landscape usually amaze him, but today, it’s different.

He knows this part of the megalopolis: he’s familiar with the types of flying engines that are used here as well as the smelly fumes coming from the underground, and he doesn’t blink back tears anymore because of all the neon everywhere; but today is different because he’s lost someone dear to his heart and he has to learn to bear with it.

The first half of his shift is monotonous, but he welcomes the normality and calm of it with open arms. A regular customer at the shop, a cute blob girl who dresses like a doll, asks him if he’s alright for he looks sick, too pale for it to be healthy.

He appreciates the concern although it brings him back to the cause of his anguish and feeling of emptiness; he thought it showed but not to the point where a regular could point it out.

Still, he gives her a reassuring smile as he hands her a set of original earthling CDs.

Loss. Can one really cover it?

He doesn’t feel whole anymore. Hasn’t really felt complete most of his life, but it’s as if an even bigger piece has been chopped off and he can’t support himself on his usual bearings anymore. So back to square one, with one less person at his side.

He shakes his head behind the cash register, sighing.

He keeps on losing himself in his thoughts. It certainly doesn’t help his mood and grief that he has such difficulties staying connected to the real world, but fortunately all his customers today are quite patient.

That is, until they come back.

They, means, of course, the three mysterious, unfriendly aliens from before.

Jongdae hasn’t seen them in quite a while, although he swears he has identified them lurking around in the past few weeks, be it outside the shop or on the way back from it. 

And yet, each time he’d turn around to get a better look, all he’d find was an empty alleyway or a too dense crowd to discern anything at all.

He had let the matter go.

But here they are, entering the place like they own it, and they have frigging laser guns at their belts this time.

Jongdae isn’t alone; he had been showing off one of their flujhge music collection to a curious aquatic humanoid when the bad guys appeared, and instantly he murmurs to the customer to go hide in the back. Somehow they comply, not questioning anything, and Jongdae’s thankful for that.

“Hello, may I help you with anything today?”

The little one grumbles from underneath all the layers of his breathing mask and suit, and soon after his deep, gravelly voice follows. He’s clearly pissed. “He didn’t keep his promise. You shall die.”

Jongdae’s blood runs cold as he breaks into a sweat, the frown on his face masking the almost feral fear that wants to be heard from deep within. “I’m not going to die for anybody. Who are you even talking about?”

“You know who we’re talking about. The Octopus.” One of the red aliens adds – and oh, they can actually speak.

He shakes his head. “Nah, don’t know him. You should leave now.” His voice is somewhat steady; he congratulates himself for it.

He’s well-aware that they probably have a reason to be angry at Chanyeol. But it’s not just about Chanyeol, is it? The Octopus.

He’s so dumb.

Of course it has to be about Baekhyun.  

There isn’t much he can do besides calling the local security center for some urgent intervention. He doesn’t have a gun, he doesn’t have weapon add-ons on his watch, and, well, he barely knows how to swing a fist to defend himself.

Usually, most of his strength resides either in his words or his ability to flee.

It won’t serve him much today, will it?

And so he does settle for contacting the local security center, pressing the surface of his watch as subtly as possible to activate the emergency call option.

(If only he had a different kind of implant, be it an eye or a brain chip, then he would have been able to be, well, inconspicuous about it.)

He doesn’t want this place destroyed, nor does he wants to see Chanyeol and Baekhyun here. They’re only going to get hurt, aren’t they? It’s better if he handles it himself for now, and, hopefully, he doesn’t have to be dead by the end of it.

Right?

His grandmother would actually want him to stand his ground; so there he is, doing just that. 

(Wait, Jongdae – wouldn’t she want you alive more than anything else?)

Alas, the three guys don’t appreciate his move. At all. They obviously know what he has just done. At the same time, what else were they expecting from him? He doesn’t have a clue what Baekhyun did or didn’t do, and, well, as much as he can hate himself sometimes, he doesn’t quite want to die yet.

He’s yearning for what might be ahead, what might make him happier.

There’s a flash, a beam that painfully blinds the human for a whole second, before he finds himself blinking confusedly at the ceiling.

The shop lights, he realises, are undefined circles of light connected by a complex root network. Chanyeol had once mentioned that he wanted algae to power the lighting of his shop – how come Jongdae had never taken the time to look at the fucking ceiling before?

It’s beautiful; all blues and greens and turquoises filaments connecting glowing orbs together, a contrast from the rest of the extremely high-tech appliances of the shop.

Fumes make him cough; it smells of burnt skin, somehow, and it’s only after a few more seconds pass that the agony begins, delayed as if Jongdae’s nerves had been short-circuited.

He’s hurt.

He doesn’t hear his own screams. If anything, he can pride himself on only releasing a couple of breathless whines, finding it impossible to move and to make his lungs function properly. Muscle spasms make everything worse for they quickly become unrelenting, that is, until his consciousness starts to slip away.

It feels like déjà vu, but this time, the problem is a lot more real.

Shit.

He can’t do a thing, he didn’t even do a thing, couldn’t defend himself in the slightest – and the three guys are still there, and they are going to kill him and destroy this place.

Sorry, Chanyeol.

Sorry, Baek.

 

The first thing he sees is white.

White, blazing white everywhere, so strong is causes him to tear up.  

Just how cliché is that? Maybe he is truly dead, in the end.

But – wow, ok, the ache is real.

So maybe he’s more on the alive side for now.

There are beeping sounds coming in, blaringly loud for a few seconds before they fortunately settle into the background. He finds himself trying to sit up in the unknown bed, but his muscles tense in piercing misery; specifically, his right abdominals, right pectoral as well as right shoulder muscles are incredibly sore and unresponsive, forcing him to give up with a huff as he is confronted to the limits of his own body.

He’s very much alive.

There’s something quite like euphoria that bubbles up in his chest.

And if the urgent footsteps behind the door to his left are any indication, some have been waiting for him to come back to the world of living.

It should come as no surprise that the first thing he sees is a pink tentacle peeking out from behind the metal doors, soon followed by Baekhyun as a whole.

Then Yixing, then Chanyeol, then someone whom he doesn’t know but definitely looks like one working for the authorities with his clean-cut polymer suit.

Heart-wrenching relief floods him as he gets a tight hug from his (admittedly) favourite alien, all wet limbs and warm skin. Of course, it hurts to so much as move a hand; and so he winces, but he’s pretty happy. “You fucking idiot, Baekhyun, you almost got me killed.” His voice is downright terrible.

And somehow, he can’t actually bring himself to care about the last part; it bothers him more to know that Baekhyun kept something from him than the fact that he almost got killed for it.

He knows he should be angry at the other. He knows that. But.

The pink haired extraterrestrial smiles sheepishly. His traits are drawn, stretched tight in evident anguish, but there he is, apparently very much aware of his dumb mistakes and all too happy to see Jongdae in one piece.

For yes, when he looks down at himself, his body, although covered in thick bandages and connected to a number of monitoring machines as well as different types of IV drips, is still complete.

“You almost died,” Baekhyun croaks out, his usual sassy composure cracking. “But I – I thought it could wait, you know, didn’t think they’d target you to get to me. Not… that soon, at least.”

Jongdae rolls his eyes. “Well obviously you failed somewhere, because they knew what to do.”

Baekhyun sighs and nods. Behind them, Chanyeol and Yixing are exchanging with the man in uniform.

So Jongdae uses that moment to pinch one of his ears, hard – then realising that it’s thin-skinned, more so than a human’s – and Baekhyun cries out in pain, almost outraged. “Whaaaat,” he forces out, rubbing the sore spot.

Jongdae grins. “You owe me a lot of explanations.”

Baekhyun’s lower lip is jutting out by now. “That’ll have to wait because my friend Junmyeon here wants to ask you a couple questions.” He looks annoyed with the predicament, as if his arm had been twisted.

“You’re a child, Baekhyun.” Junmyeon, because apparently that’s his name, chooses this moment to come forward and hit Baekhyun on the back of his head. “Right, hello, Jongdae – my name’s Junmyeon and I work for the Social Security Agency of the Citadel. Nothing too formal, I just need a better assessment of what happened, what you know, and such. I hope you don’t mind.” His grin is flawless, it shines, even, and Jongdae can already imagine why Baekhyun is annoyed with this man’s presence, but he will need to confirm it later.

For the moment he simply complies.

 

It turns out Junmyeon has only a few specific questions for Jongdae to answer, and then he’s off with a promise to contact him in a few days (and another slap to Baekhyun’s head because the latter sticks his tongue out at him a couple of times during the interview).

Yixing then examines Jongdae. “You’re lucky we had the technology for your injuries. They were, say, quite extensive considering the laser that was used on you and the fact that you weren’t wearing any type of protection.” The cyborg’s eyebrows are raised high. “It’s surprising you didn’t die straight on the spot.”

Jongdae laughs exaggeratingly. Okay. So maybe he’s shivering a bit right now at the idea of coming so close to dying. It was thus sheer luck through all of the hardships. “Maybe I shouldn’t have stayed there, but, uh, I couldn’t really do anything else?”

Behind the cyborg, Baekhyun scoffs. Chanyeol punches him in the shoulder.

Jongdae will thank him for that later.

Yixing carries on as if unaware of everything else surrounding him. “Cell regeneration, again, saved you a lot of troubles. It will take a few weeks – no, months before you’re quite alright and I don’t think you’ll be able to avoid the scarring, but it’s good to have you alive.” His smile’s sweet, oh so comforting. Really, he’s such a great doctor – and a friend, too.

 

Then, it’s Chanyeol’s turn to walk up to his bed as Yixing forces Baekhyun out of the room.

“I’m sorry,” is the first thing he says, a guilty puppy look on his face. Jongdae tilts his head.

Chanyeol shakes his head, clearly unsure of where to start. “I’ve been wanting to do something about all of this for weeks, but because I listened to that idiot, well. There we are.”

Jongdae can’t wait to have a word or two with Baekhyun. He really can’t.

But for now, he focuses back on Chanyeol.

Another friend he’s made during his relatively short adventure here, and maybe someone he’d like to keep in his life as a roommate and employer. For now, that is.

“It’s okay. Well, it’s not really, but… I’m okay, am I not?” Chanyeol nods but doesn’t look convinced, and so even though the pain is starting to numb his senses the longer he sits up, Jongdae opens his arms for him.

And instantly, Chanyeol’s expression brightens up and he hugs him with his long-ass arms. He doesn’t crush him or anything; and Jongdae finds himself to be thankful for the shaper’s carefulness.

So they fucked up, but Jongdae knows, deep within, that they never meant any harm, and while some would think him utterly stupid for not accusing his roommates further, he’s okay with it.

 

Finally, finally, he can close his eyes.

When he opens them again, the holographic clock on the wall indicates a much later time, and there’s a certain someone sitting in a chair beside the bed.

“You waited.”

His sleepiness hardly wants to wear off, but they need to have that conversation.

Baekhyun lifts his head from his tablet, held by a tentacle, and puts it away. “Yeah. Figured you wouldn’t want to feel like I was avoiding the subject.”

Jongdae nods, acquiescing. His observation is on point.

“So,” he starts, adjusting himself in the bed to make himself more comfortable. Baekhyun notices and instantly, he presses a button above Jongdae’s head. Almost instantly, relief floods his veins. Ah, painkillers can probably be administered on demand through one of his IV lines.

“So,” Baekhyun says. A few seconds pass before anything else leaves his lips, chapped and bruised.

The human doesn’t mind it taking time. If it’s necessary, then so be it.

The mulkan eventually gathers his words.

“I didn’t want to tell you about my job because letting anyone know about my identity can have, well, dramatic consequences. But in this case, I have to admit it made it all worse.” He cringes but then Jongdae reaches for his hand with his intact one and he seems to relax a bit.

“Obviously, you’ve heard them talking about the Octopus…” Jongdae nods. Baekhyun must’ve watched the footage of it. “Well, considering the name, I mean, it’s obvious they were talking about me.” Jongdae nods yet again.

“It’s a ridiculous name, actually,” he points out, and the look of outrage on the alien’s face is worth it.

“But it’s representative,” he squeaks out, tentacles flailing behind him and out of his shirt.

Jongdae simply shrugs and carries on. “It’s a lame-ass name anyway, if you want my opinion.” It amuses him to pick on Baekhyun after everything, greatly.

And Baekhyun is oh so sensitive to the criticism he now looks like a child that was just denied his favourite toy. “It’s not that bad, okay, there’s a point other than my tentacles behind it!”

Jongdae giggles, weakly. “Alright, alright. So, what’s your job?”

Baekhyun hesitates. “I, uh, sell… stuff.”

Unimpressed look from the human. “Right. What do you sell? Drugs? Sex toys? Because obviously what you’re selling is the point here.”

Baekhyun rolls his eyes, crossing his arms on his chest. Jongdae misses the warmth of his hand already. “That was before! I sell information, now.”

Jongdae frowns. “You sell info? And what the fuck do you mean, that was before? You were selling drugs, or sex toys?”

Baekhyun’s grin becomes huge. “Both.”

Jongdae wants to bang his head on the wall. “Of course you would, why did I even bother to ask, tell me?”

 

In short, Baekhyun is some sort of a… mastermind. Jongdae would like to add “criminal” to the mastermind, but it doesn’t quite define the mulkan well.

He explained that when he arrived here, he quickly got involved in illegal drug and sex trafficking to make the ends meet since he didn’t have anything else to offer society; but then he discovered himself quite a talent for creating contacts, manipulation and making deals, and before he knew it, he was above everyone else in the game.

It was just his luck, because the world of drugs doesn’t offer much in term of security, and not only did he almost get killed more than once, Chanyeol and Yixing found themselves involved, too.

But as an information seller with contacts and ways through the entire city, who keeps a mask on most of the time and doesn’t intervene directly as much as possible, the troubles are fewer, and the money, abundant.

His ridiculous name is but a picture of his physical appearance and his ability to have a grasp on everything that is simultaneously happening in the city.

It’s all a bit crazy to think about in Jongdae’s books and he still doesn’t think it’s a safe job in any way, but, well. He doesn’t think he’s going to be able to change the alien on that.

 

On a morning where he finds himself alone and bored in his room, Jongdae finally takes a look at his watch to check for any notification.

Chanyeol needed to go take care of his shop and Baekhyun is out and speaking with Junmyeon, who, Jongdae will later learn, is a friend who works on the official side of security and information matters.

He expects to find his inboxes all empty and devoid of life beside messages from the bank and such, but there are two messages from unexpected senders.

One is from his parents, and it’s titled News from Andromeda. He can keep that one for later, when he actually feels like taking the time to answer them.

The second, though, is titled For A Friend, and Jongdae doesn’t know what to expect.

He selects it.

It unfolds before his eyes, a few small paragraphs floating in the air and emitting a faint light.

Hello, Jongdae.

I am a friend of your grandmother.

I just wanted you to know that she was planning on contacting you, and that in her last moments, she called for you.

She kept talking about how wonderful of a young man you are; and I can only believe her from everything she’s told me. Thank you for contacting her often: it made her days all the better.

I know you didn’t have a real chance at closure, but please don’t worry, and don’t feel sad about your grandmother anymore; she was taken care of well here, and didn’t suffer extensively before she left.

I really think she is happy where she is now.

I hope you don’t think badly of me reaching out to you in this way. I kept thinking about you, out there, wondering how you are doing.

Have a wonderful day,

KY

Conflicted is the first word that comes to his mind to try to describe what he’s feeling.

Conflicted, because there’s pain, sadness, anger, but also a sense of relief.

He doesn’t know who KY is.

He didn’t get the moments he wanted with his grandmother, he didn’t get to say goodbye, and that will never change.

But that someone, out there, who was a friend of his grandmother, thought of him and thought of his own pain, it’s amazing.

It doesn’t erase the pain, but the tears he’s shedding, instead of being tears of pure loss, are now tears of deliverance that he didn’t know he was yearning for.

 

It’s warm, too warm. Hot. Jongdae can’t breathe, and he feels gross.

And the source of warmth is, of course, on top of Jongdae, who thus finds himself entangled in various layers of blankets and tentacles. It’s not that he doesn’t appreciate the proximity, but it isn’t what he would call comfortable at the moment.

Baekhyun had been warned to sleep on the couch beside the bed and not on Jongdae as to not compromise his recovery, but, well.

Apparently, they’d had other plans the night before.

Or their dicks had, but whatever.

It had caused Baekhyun to whine after the deed for Jongdae would try to push him out of the bed and he’d just cling onto him, a leech, really.

“Move,” he grunts, slapping Baekhyun’s ass. The other just sighs deeply and wiggles above him, tightening his grip on the human. He hopes his now single IV line is still in…

Last time, Yixing wasn’t too happy about it being ripped off.

For yes, they’re naked and very much had sex the night before, but the problem is that they are not at the apartment, not yet – and the human just can’t wait to be back.

But nor does he want to find out Yixing’s reaction upon entering on them in this state of dishevelment.

“Baekhyun, move,” he forces out, pinching him. “Like, seriously, go away, you’re worse than a leech.”

“What’s that?” Says the alien, a pout on his sleepy face. Jongdae rolls his eyes. “It’s a blood-sucking parasite. Wouldn’t you know?”

“Ah, yeah, we have some back on my planet.” His eyes are shut tight, his pronunciation messed up, but Jongdae can’t help but find him cute.

“There’s something else you don’t know,” he starts, his voice softer than before. Baekhyun tilts his head with a hum, showing he’s listening.

Jongdae tighten his hold on him, relishing in the feeling of the other against him. “I think I love you.”

 

That definitely does the job of waking Baekhyun up.

Sadly for them both, the moment is cut short when the doors slide open.

Yixing’s smile is tight when he takes in the sight of Baekhyun laying on top of Jongdae, in the hospital bed. Jongdae yelps and pulls at the cover, and meanwhile, Baekhyun has the decency to blush. “Oops.”

Yixing locks the doors behind him. “I suppose we are in for yet another talk about what one shouldn’t do while recovering from cell therapy, right, guys?”

 

So life isn’t perfect, and never will be.

Complicated situations will continue to arise and Jongdae will keep on suffering for as long as he keeps on existing and loving.

And yet, he doesn’t think he regrets what brought him where he is today.

After all, he’s somewhat found a place of his own in this vast, incomprehensible universe, and he can have someone, by his side, that keeps on making him happier each day.

That certain someone might have tentacles, and might also have a level of stubbornness that will keep on causing stupid situations, but hey, he loves him regardless of that.