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Lettering The Nest

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A tiny orange pill stared up at Taeyong from the palm of his hand. If it stayed there for much longer, it would leave an orange smear on Taeyong’s clammy skin and he would have to go wash it off before he went downstairs to choke down the day’s first protein bar. “Let’s get along today,” he told it, and moved it six inches closer to his mouth.

And then he almost dropped it when a loud bang on the door made him jump. “Hey Yong, you up?” Donghyuck pounded again. “It’s an emergency!”

Taeyong popped the pill in his mouth and swallowed. “Yeah, I’m up.” He shoved the little orange bottle back in his desk drawer and then crossed the room to open the door. Donghyuck stood on the other side in a tacky “I <3 Sigma Mu” shirt that Taeyong wished he’d been able to vote on last year. His was already in the trash. Total waste of twenty-five mandatory dollars.

“The alphas are cleaning the bathroom,” he whined like a tattling grade-schooler.

Taeyong blinked at him. “Good? All the alphas? Did something… happen? To the bathroom?”

“That’s the thing.” He glared down the hallway where the loud sound of aggressive scrubbing came from around the corner. “The cleaning ladies did it yesterday. It’s not dirty. I need to pee and there’s water all over the floor.”

“What?” Taeyong shoved past him, already calculating how expensive it would be if water dripped down through the kitchen ceiling.

The bathroom wasn’t exactly flooded, per say, but there was way more water than necessary splashed across the black and white tile. Sudsy water puddled up in dips where the old floor wasn’t quite even. And it wasn’t all of their many resident alphas. Unless they had Taeil and Yuta stuffed into the toilet tanks, it was just Jaehyun on his hands and knees with a brand new scrub brush, scraping grime from behind a toilet, and Johnny taking the curtain off the second shower. The first shower’s curtain was already tossed over the top of the urinal stall.

“Um.” Both boys froze and swiveled around to look at him. “I just want to make sure you guys know that it’s not my birthday.”

Jaehyun grinned and looked annoyingly handsome for somebody crouched behind a toilet in basketball shorts. “That’s a relief, Mr. President, I didn’t get you anything.”

Donghyuck leaned around the doorframe and scoffed. “You’re not funny, Jaehyun. I’m going to go pee in the kitchen sink.”

“Go in the bushes out back,” Taeyong suggested, and ruffled his hair.

“Oh good idea.”

“So many drunk people piss in those bushes, I’m surprised they don’t grow natty light cans.” Johnny snickered to himself.

“You’re not funny either,” Donghyuck called from halfway down the stairs.

“So did… did somebody shit on the floor or like what’s up?” Taeyong leaned in the doorway and grabbed a mop so he could push soapy floor water towards the drain by the sinks.

“Nah, this place is just a little grimy.” The last few curtain loops popped loose and Johnny tossed that one over the stall wall too.

“I mean, it is a frat house bathroom, you can’t expect too much.”

“Here let me do that.” Johnny pulled the mop out of his hand and began sweeping water out of the corners where Taeyong couldn’t reach from the hallway. “You didn’t just wake up, did you?”

“I did, unfortunately. I have class.”

Johnny stopped mopping to frown at him. “Maybe you should skip class and sleep. If your body is actually letting you sleep, you should take advantage.”

Taeyong scoffed. “I can’t skip class. Don’t worry, it wasn’t a good sleep anyway.” He looked around and noticed the drain cleaner, Windex, toilet bowl cleaner, and a few other superfluous chemicals under the sink. There was a second mop, some sponges, and a couple rags in a bucket behind the door. “You guys want some tips?”

“You wanna help?” Johnny asked, maybe a little defensive, and Jaehyun said “Please, housekeeping fairy, give us your wisdom.”

Taeyong zeroed in on his bare hands. “First, find some rubber gloves. I bet neither of you even own lotion.”

“I masturbate, don’t I?” Johnny scoffed, but Jaehyun pursed his lips and looked guilty. Taeyong smiled fondly at his dimples.

“I don’t use lotion.”

Johnny winced. “Doesn’t that chafe?”

“Nah, I’m uncut, so—”

“Anyways,” Taeyong said loudly, “your hands will thank you if you find some gloves. And avoid putting so much water on the floor. I know it looks like it’s built to handle water, but this house is like a hundred years old. As you know, nothing works like it’s supposed to. Also, I’m going to dig out some better cleaners.” He tapped the Windex with his toe. It was the only new chemical that had actually been opened. The sudsy floor smelled suspiciously like their usual dish fluid. “And no, Johnny, I don’t really want to help.”

“Fair enough.” Johnny shrugged and turned around to give the shower a good look up and down with his hands on his hips.

Taeyong narrowed his eyes. “Are you doing the walls first or the drains first?”

“The walls. The drains have to be last because it has to sit and fumigate or something.”

So he had at least read the instructions on the bottle.

“Where are we going to pee while it fumigates?” Jaehyun asked as if he hadn’t already flooded the place on a whim.

Johnny shrugged. Taeyong started planning his apology to the Campus Security officer who caught them all pissing in the yard in broad daylight.

“Hey babe,” Johnny said and gestured vaguely at Taeyong, “pass the Windex.”

Taeyong bent halfway down to grab it and then froze. He blinked up at Jaehyun, who blinked back with his eyebrows all furrowed and his dimples out. Taeyong stood back up slowly and looked between them and their sudden ambitious, clueless housekeeping project.

“Are you two… nesting?”

Jaehyun’s mouth popped open. “Oh!”

“Don’t think so,” Johnny muttered, but he began to stare around himself like he was waking up from a dream.

“Yeah, we totally are.” Jaehyun laughed and stood up from behind the toilet. “My rut is due soon.”

Johnny squinted at the shower. “Mine’s not due for a month.”

“Yeah, but you two have been roommates for how long? Like two years? You could have synced up.”

“I don’t think that’s a thing,” Johnny muttered slowly.

“Girls’ periods sync up, omegas’ heats sync up, alpha/omega couples’ cycles sync up, but you don’t think ruts sync up?”

Jaehyun scoffed. “Alpha ruts definitely sync up. I’ve read studies.”

“Oh.” Johnny frowned, then sighed, then nodded. “Great. Both of us are nesting at the same time. This should be fun.”

Taeyong nodded. “I look forward to a very clean house.”

“You just wait, it’ll be just as disgusting as ever by the time our ruts are over.” Johnny turned back around and reached towards Taeyong again. “Windex please?”

Taeyong, who was busy being indignant about Johnny calling the house he cleaned constantly ‘disgusting as ever,’ did not pass the Windex. “How about instead of cleaning the shower with glass cleaner, I unlock the broom closet for you guys and give you a tour of our already vast collection of cleaning products and what they get used for?”

“Come on, Johnny, stop pretending like you know what you’re doing.” Jaehyun gave Johnny a playful shove and headed for the door. “I’d love a tour of the broom closet, Mr. President. We’re going to need it.”

Taeyong shifted to the side to let him pass through, but instead of using all the new room he’d made, Jaehyun slid right up into Taeyong’s space and wrapped his arm around Taeyong’s waist. His hand spread out across the small of Taeyong’s back. His broad chest pressed up against Taeyong’s and pinned his shoulders against the doorframe. Rich, masculine alpha scent filled Taeyong’s lungs as Jaehyun leaned in and planted a loud kiss on Taeyong’s temple. Then he slipped away like nothing had happened and headed down the stairs whistling. Taeyong stayed pressed up against the doorframe with his eyes bugging out of his head. Johnny blinked after his roommate with his mouth slightly open and his eyebrows in his hairline.

When he finally moved, he thankfully headed towards the empty space in the doorway and not Taeyong’s face. He stopped halfway over the threshold and looked down at Taeyong from an unreasonable number of inches higher. “I called you babe, didn’t I?”

“You sure did,” Taeyong said cheerfully, and Johnny made a funny thinking expression that made him look even more like a Dr. Seuss character than normal.

“Yup, we’re definitely nesting.” Just for good measure, he bent down and dropped a loud kiss of his own on the top of Taeyong’s head, big hand splayed across his side.

“Oh my god,” Taeyong laughed.

“I’m telling you, this is going to be wild. Let’s go make sure he doesn’t start making lunch or this bathroom will never get done.”

On the way down the old wooden stairs, Johnny whined about how Taeyong was too skinny, but Taeyong wasn’t listening. He was too busy reassuring himself that he’d taken his pill and guiding his shaking legs from one steep step to the next.

 

 

If there was one place Taeyong knew he could trust a nesting Jaehyun, it was in the kitchen. Johnny on the other hand—

“That’s… a lot of meat.”

“I know, right?” Johnny grinned at him and waved one of Taeyong’s nice knives in the air. He had what looked like half a small pig spread out on the kitchen counter. Taeyong eyed the cabinet above Johnny’s head which housed his vast collection of protein bars, but he could smell the meat from the doorway and his stomach protested the idea of getting any closer.

“You’re home,” Jaehyun said with a bright smile from the other side of the kitchen. He had Doyoung’s apron on over a set of lurid green SigMu letters, and a university snapback held his hair out of his face as he stirred something in their largest pot. “Dinner’s almost ready. Go sit down.” Taeyong couldn’t smell what it was over the smell of meat.

“Oh… thanks, but I’m not feeling very well today.”

“I remembered you said that earlier, so I made chicken and rice soup.”

Taeyong bravely ventured into the kitchen and fought down the urge to hold his shirt over his nose, but the closer he got to Jaehyun’s side of the room, the more pleasant the smells became.

“Oh wow, Jaehyun. That smells amazing.” The pot was full of deep gold liquid that churned with vegetables and rice and filled the kitchen with a warm, friendly aroma. It mixed gently with Jaehyun’s spicy alpha scent and washed out the awful meat smell.

“I know you eat the canned stuff sometimes when you don’t feel good.” His arm wrapped snug around Taeyong’s shoulders and pulled him into his side. He radiated body heat like a furnace. Taeyong put aside how strange the sudden cuddles were and let himself relax into it, though he jumped a little when Johnny’s knife loudly slammed into the cutting board behind him.

“Yo, easy on my knives, Johnny boy.”

“Sorry,” Johnny grumbled. “Missed.”

“If you’re going to be cooking while you’re nesting, let me teach you some knife skills later, okay?”

“K.”

“You think your stomach can handle this?” Jaehyun rubbed his big, firm hand over Taeyong’s arm and Taeyong looked down at it incredulously.

“I’ll definitely try it. Start me out at one coffee mug, okay?”

“Will do.”

A horrifying banshee screech ripped through the room. Taeyong whipped around, fully prepared to sew Johnny’s thumb back on, but Johnny looked just as surprised. He brandished the knife at the doorway, where Donghyuck stood with another pitchy screech halfway out his mouth. Jaehyun started humming and turned back to his soup.

“OH MY GOD!!!” Heachan pointed at Johnny’s pile of meat. “WHAT HAVE YOU DONE TO MARK??”

“Mark?” Yuta popped in the door and gasped almost as loud as Donghyuck screamed.

“Dude, what?” said Mark from around the corner.

“MARK!” Yuta wailed. “OH GOD HE KILLED MARK!”

“Guys I’m right here.” Yuta slammed a knee and an elbow against the door frame to block Mark from getting in.

“HE KILLED MARK AND NOW HE’S GOING TO FEED HIM TO US!”

Johnny brandished his knife. “You two are going to be next if you keep screaming when I’m waving a knife around.”

“A little less violence and death threats in the kitchen please,” Taeyong whined, stomach protesting a little.

Johnny turned half around with a sheepish smile and lowered the knife. “Sorry babe.”

Jaehyun rubbed his back.

Mark’s head popped into the room under Yuta’s arm. “Whoa, big, why you got so much meat?”

“Well,” Johnny smirked, “You might say its cuz I’m an alpha, but I still have more than Jaehyun and Yuta, so…”

“Literally shut up,” Donghyuck growled. Mark frowned over at Jaehyun’s side of the kitchen as if searching for more meat, and then yelped as Yuta’s arm swung down and locked Mark’s head against his side. “You’ve never even seen my meat!” he shouted.

“That’s a good question though,” Taeyong squinted across the kitchen at what looked like eight pounds of pork shoulder, a full rack of ribs, and a stack of nine ribeyes, and started doing the math in his head. “Why do you have, like, two hundred dollars of meat?”

“I’m going to smoke it!”

“Oh.” They did have a smoker in the shed, left over from some past generation of Sigma Mus. Taeyong had seen it used once, but only for grilling. “Good luck with that.”

Johnny appeared undiscouraged. “I’ve seen my dad do it. It’ll be great.”

“Here’s your soup.” Jaehyun tapped his arm and presented him with a steaming mug of warm deliciousness. “Enjoy.”

Taeyong gratefully took the mug and headed for the beer pong room, which was really the dining room, but they definitely used it more for beer pong. A large black table with benches on either side took up the middle. Every inch of wall, ceiling, and floor was decorated with the names, years, messages, and small drawings of dicks from generations of Sigma Mu brothers. The resulting aesthetic was a disorienting mix between toddler artwork and horror movie. Every year the university offered to paint over their impromptu SigMu house guestbook completely free of charge, and every summer, the brothers locked the pong room door tight and lost the key until fall.

The other guys trickled in one by one carrying bowls of soup and beers. Jaehyun settled down on his right side. Johnny struggled to get his long legs under the table on his left. Mark, Donghyuck, and Yuta clustered up at the head of the table with a long queue of memes for each other. Taeyong made his way through several important emails and ate soup one cautious spoonful at a time.

At some point Doyoung wandered in with a bowl of soup too, and then Taeil and Jungwoo. The scents of the four alphas gradually drowned out everybody else’s until the whole room smelled a little spicy and a little musky like leather and rain-soaked forest with hint of sex. It was a good thing Taeyong liked their warm, spicy smell. Before he knew it, his soup was gone, an academic meeting scheduled, an upcoming service event announced, a theme for spring rush finalized, and frat dues paid.

“Guys, your Sigma dues just got posted,” he said, and realized he’d interrupted Jungwoo’s story. “Sorry, go on.”

Jungwoo blew on as if uninterrupted. Doyoung and Mark pulled out their phones to pay. Jaehyun set Taeyong’s mug back in front of him, refilled with soup, and Taeyong realized his stomach had settled a little. He smiled and took a big bite.

“Why did the bathroom get sterilized?” Jungwoo asked as soon as his story ended. “it smells like somebody filled a hospital with lemons in there.”

Mark snorted. “Like what?”

Taeyong pointed at the alphas on either side of him. “Johnny and Jaehyun’s ruts got synced up so they’re both nesting.”

“Oh, that explains the homemade dinner.” Taeil grinned between them. “Johnny, is it going to be a frantic studying kind of nesting or a pimping the crib kind of nesting?”

“Oh man, I wish I was nerd nesting. That was only one time. I think this cycle is going to be pretty normal.”

Jaehyun laughed and shook his head. “He got out the smoker. I think he’s going full Dad mode.”

Taeil nodded. “I always just turn into my dad when I nest.”

“I’m worried about Jaehyun honestly.” Johnny reached around Taeyong’s shoulders and slapped Jaehyun on the back. “I usually never even see him when he nests because he camps out with his girlfriend, but if he doesn’t have a nesting buddy, he gets super sad.”

Jaehyun sighed and nodded. “I get really domestic when I nest. I’m going to be really lonely.”

“You should just nest like a cave troll like me,” said Yuta, and everybody laughed.

“Yeah man,” Mark’s eyes lit up, “that blanket fort was epic!”

Doyoung scoffed. “Right. The rest of us only had to do without blankets and pillows for almost three weeks.”

“And then I spent days doing stinky rut laundry,” Taeyong added.

Yuta gave him a pout. “I told you to let me do it but you did it anyway.”

“We wanted our blankets back! You were taking too long!”

Mark poked Yuta’s arm with his spoon. “I can’t believe you didn’t let anybody else inside. It looked so cozy and no one even got to see it.”

Taeyong had seen it. It had been lit with one string of lights and a lava lamp and it was the coziest softest little tent, and Yuta had dragged him inside at the end of his rut and had his way with him, but the boys didn’t need to know that.

“Yeah, I’m weird on my cycle,” Yuta said with a wince.

Johnny nodded emphatically. “You turn into an animal.”

“What can I say? I gotta have my creepy fuck cave.”

“Wait what?” Mark’s eyes got all big and shocked.

Yuta leaned back in his seat with his hands behind his head, grinning. “I made that fort to fuck omegas in and that’s about it.”

Mark looked scandalized. “You weren’t homemaking like a normal type person?”

“Everybody nests differently,” Jaehyun reminded him.

“So you become a husband,” Donghyuck pointed at Johnny and Taeil, “and they become dads.”

“…Right,” Jaehyun said, ears turning pink. “Alphas always get really attached to the closest omega and vice versa, but some people become very space and comfort oriented. Lots of omegas just want to make a safe place to go through heat. And then you have Yuta who just gets ready to fuck…”

Taeyong wished he could mention the blanket fort’s hoard of lube and condoms without revealing too much.

“Did you actually fuck any omegas in it?” Jungwoo asked. Yuta shook his head.

“One beta but no omegas.” He looked down the table as far from Taeyong as possible. Taeyong also focused on his soup and did his best to look normal.

“Anybody we know?”

“No, no. A girl from one of my classes.”

“I bet that’s what I would be like if I nested,” Donghyuck said with the playful lilt of someone who knew they were setting themselves up to get roasted.

“Pft, are you kidding?” Johnny snickered. “You’re already the neediest fucking baby. You’d get all clingy like Jaehyun but without being husband material.”

“Uh!” Donghyuck threw a cracker at him.

Under the table, one of Jaehyun’s hand curled idly around Taeyong’s thigh. Taeyong was glad he had something else to focus on. He looked at his lap with huff and moved Jaehyun’s hand back to his own leg.

Jungwoo picked the cracker up off Johnny’s lap and ate it. “Can we back this up to Donghyuck implying he could be an alpha?”

“HA!” Yuta shouted loud enough to make Taeyong jump. Jaehyun’s hand slid back onto his thigh.

“Donghyuck would make a cute omega,” Taeil said with a wide grin.

Donghyuck threw his spoon down in his bowl and whined loudly. “Oh come on, I’m not that feminine.”

Taeil shrugged. “I’m not saying you’d have to be a girl. You could be a male omega. We would never know.” Taeyong abruptly lost his appetite as Taeil patted Donghyuck on the head. “Maybe that’s why you’re so small. The suppressants are stunting your growth.”

“Bitch, you are straight up shorter than me!” He pointed across the table at Jungwoo. “Didn’t Woo hook up with a female alpha once? Maybe he’s a male omega.”

Jungwoo snickered and shook his head. “I asked her if female alphas hooked up with male omegas and she told me she wouldn’t. She said if she wanted that then she could just hook up with a girl.”

“But what if you were a male omega and she didn’t even know?”

“I mean if male omegas are on suppressants, they’re basically not omegas so it wouldn’t matter,” Johnny said matter-of-factly. “When she said that she meant a male omega off suppressants. Lots of alphas say they wouldn’t fuck a male omega because if they want an omega, they want tits and stuff. The boy bits kind of take away from the full omega experience.”

“Lots of bullshit to unpack there,” Doyoung grumbled, and Taeil nodded.

“I mean yeah, obviously. That’s a super dated excuse. There are better reasons not to fuck male omegas.” Doyoung’s jaw clenched.

“Aren’t they all really weird?” asked Donghyuck.

Taeil nodded. “Usually, yeah. Cuz like, until about twenty years ago, all male omegas took suppressants.”

Mr. Type Studies minor Jaehyun interrupted. “There were a couple outlying cases where older male omegas stopped taking them for medical reasons.”

Taeil shrugged. “Yeah, like two. Now there’s a few more that choose not to—”

“They finally got a few very basic legal protections about fifteen years ago,” Jaehyun interrupted again.

Taeil shushed him. “Anyway, power to them of course but they’re all… yeah. It’s really unusual to not take suppressants so the ones that don’t are usually very strange.”

“I met one once,” Yuta said. His lip curled. “He looked like he had herpes and he immediately hit on me, so…”

Taeyong put his spoon down and began looking for excuses to leave that wouldn’t look suspicious. Jaehyun’s hand was still on his thigh for some reason, that made things more difficult.

“Male omegas who go off the pill do it because they want to go into heat and take alpha knots,” Johnny said. “They can’t get pregnant. There’s no other reason to quit suppressants besides the sex stuff. And if they’re willing to become social pariahs just to go into heat, they’re probably pretty weird.”

“See that’s not even true though,” Jaehyun growled. He tensed up as he glared at the other alphas, and his hand clamped down on Taeyong’s thigh just as Taeyong got ready to claim illness and abscond. “Suppressants fucking kill you, that’s why omegas quit them.”

Taeyong attempted another very casual bite of soup and barely managed to swallow.

“Wait, seriously?” Yuta sat forward in his seat. Jaehyun nodded.

“The life expectancy of a male omega on suppressants is literally decades shorter than average. The pill has been around for, like, eighty years now, and the side effects still aren’t very well studied, but they’re rough, especially as you get older. It completely shuts down an entire system of your body. Turns out that’s really bad for you. Male omegas eventually get brain damage, cancer, seizures, all kinds of stuff. It’s fucked up.” He looked between the other alphas at the table, challenging.

Taeil nodded and shrugged. “That’s true but almost every male omegas still takes them.”

“Why doesn’t anyone talk about that?” Mark said with his eyebrows tipped in and a cute little frown on his face.

“Obviously because people would still prefer men to kill themselves than be like women,” Doyoung snapped. Most of the table blinked at him.

“That’s a little harsh,” Jaehyun said. “I mean there’s some of that. But it’s mostly because it’s pretty new information, and there are so few male omegas anyway, and they’re such an invisible group, it’s hard to spread info or create urgency. I did a whole project on this.”

“So did I,” Doyoung snapped again. “It’s hard to create urgency because people are uncomfortable hearing about male omegas. They’d rather male omegas keep poisoning themselves so they don’t have to acknowledge that they exist.”

“Well I want to hear about it,” Mark grumbled.

“There’s truth to that.” Jaehyun shifted and his hand slid slowly towards Taeyong’s knee. “A lot of info campaigns got canceled because some influential groups claimed mentions of male omegas on public media were distasteful and inappropriate. That argument won some court cases so it’s pretty hard to fix at this point.”

“I want to hear about this later, but I need to go lie down,” Taeyong said quietly and removed Jaehyun’s hand from his thigh.

On his way up the stairs he saw Jungwoo and Donghyuck carrying their dishes out too, followed by Johnny with an armful of what must have been every dish left on the table and a determined glint in his eye. By the time Taeyong reached the top of the stairs, he could also hear Mark in the hallway giggling at something Yuta said. He must not have wanted to hear more about male omegas that badly. Taeyong’s stomach churned with all the delicious soup Jaehyun had made for him. He shoved a ginger candy in his mouth and curled up in bed. There was still lots of work to do that day, still hours to spend in the studio, but for now it was all he could do to lie on his side and convince himself not to vomit.

 

 

“Oh my GOD! You’re NOT my DAD!”

Two hours of fitful dozing was basically a full night’s sleep for Taeyong, so when Donghyuck’s screeching woke him, he got up. It was dark out now. The soup had settled back down. He left his room just in time to hear Johnny saying “shut the fuck up, Taeyong is trying to sleep,” and Donghyuck say “he’s all the way upstairs with his door closed, he can’t hear me.”

Jaehyun poked his head in the bathroom door while Taeyong was washing his hands. “Hey, you’re up. Have any laundry?”

Taeyong squinted at the overflowing hamper in his hands. “I mean yeah. Is that all yours?”

“No, I got me and Johnny’s stuff already in the dryer. This is everything Yuta and Taeil gave me. Yuta’s sheets fucking stink, dude.”

Taeyong took a quick sniff and caught a whiff of familiar dank alpha musk from where he stood, a good five feet away. “Jesus H Christ,” he grumbled. “Yeah, if you have a desperate urge to do laundry, I have about half a load.”

“I’ll do your sheets and your towels too,” Jaehyun said, and ducked back out the door.

While Taeyong was in the middle of shoving his computer into his bag, Jaehyun came in and began stripping Taeyong’s bed.

“If you do Doyoung’s, make sure to use his products or he’ll get really fussy.”

“He’s already told me not to touch his shit or he’ll light my hats on fire,” Jaehyun laughed from behind him.

“Don’t forget to do your homework too, okay?” He stood up, and immediately felt Jaehyun’s arm wrap around his waist. His broad chest pressed up against Taeyong’s back, and his face tucked into Taeyong’s shoulder. Taeyong blinked down at his arms. Romantic back hugs weren’t something he usually got from his frat bros, even the nesting ones.

“I won’t forget,” Jaehyun murmured, voice so deep that he could feel it vibrate against the top of his spine. A giant wad of blankets squeezed against his side. “Thanks for the reminder.”

“Wow Johnny really wasn’t kidding, was he?”

“About what?” Jaehyun’s lips smudged against the bare skin at the back of his neck. Taeyong stiffened up.

“Miss your ex?”

“Uh…” Jaehyun’s soft laugh shook against Taeyong’s back until he pulled away. Taeyong turned around and saw shy dimples and pink ears. “I don’t really miss her anymore, but I miss having a girlfriend right about now, yeah. Sorry.”

It was Taeyong’s turn to laugh. He reached up and gave Jaehyun’s soft cheek a gentle pinch. “It’s fine. I don’t mind hugs.”

Jaehyun pulled the wad of blankets against his chest and sighed. “She broke up with me after my last rut because I was too clingy. I think the nesting period freaked her out.”

“Aww.” Now Taeyong felt bad for calling him out. He pulled Jaehyun back into a hug. “Didn’t Johnny’s last girlfriend break up with him after his nesting period?”

“Not the last one, but the one before that.” Jaehyun dropped the blankets to wrap his arms around Taeyong’s shoulders. “Every alpha and omega has at least one relationship that ends after nesting.”

“I think Yuta’s nesting period has kept him from ever having a girlfriend.”

“Yeah, well, Yuta’s a fucking menace when he nests. He literally hissed at me. Like, growling I get obviously, but hissing?”

Taeyong cracked up and tucked his face into Jaehyun’s shoulder. Jaehyun rested his cheek on Taeyong’s hair. His fingers curled into Taeyong’s shirt as he squeezed him closer. After a few moments, he pulled his face back so his mouth was closer to Taeyong’s ear. “I think…”

“Hmm?”

Jaehyun paused with his chest full of air and let it out. “Never mind.”

“Okay.”

“You’re so thin.”

“I’m eating as many protein bars as I can.”

An alarm on Jaehyun’s phone went off, and he huffed and pulled back. “The dryer load is done. I better go fold it.”

“Thanks for doing our laundry, Jaehyun.” He stroked his hair and then stepped away to grab his backpack off the floor.

“Yeah, no problem. I’m having fun.”

“I always tell you guys that it’s nice to live in a clean space and get chores done, and you all just wade around in your own filth and play video games instead.”

“We don’t wade in our own filth because you don’t let us,” Jaehyun gave his cheek a pat. “Having you in the house is like having somebody nesting all the time.”

Taeyong crossed his arms. “I’m not sure if that’s a compliment or not.”

“It is.” He flashed a handsome, charming smile. “And it’s nice that I get to take care of you this time.”

“Is that why you keep cuddling me?”

“Oh, uh…” Jaehyun ducked his head and blushed again. “Maybe? I hadn’t realized I was doing that, honestly, so I haven’t really considered why. Sorry.”

“It’s okay. You can cuddle me if you need to, I don’t mind.”

“Thanks, Yong,” Jaehyun murmured. He leaned down to pick up all Taeyong’s blankets again, so Taeyong took his stuff and headed out.

At the bottom of the stairs, Johnny stood with his hands on his hips, glaring down at Donghyuck and Jungwoo who were playing video games on the couch.

“I’m just saying, you could do this after you did all the homework that I know you have.”

“Oh my god, dude, it’s only seven,” Donghyuck grumbled and didn’t look away from the TV.

“Seriously Johnny,” said Mark from a nearby chair, “you know he always starts his homework after eight and he still gets straight As.”

“Taeyong!” Donghyuck shouted as Taeyong reached for the front door. “Tell Johnny to hop off my dick!”

Taeyong’s fingers rested on the doorknob. “He’s hormonal, just do what he wants.”

“Listen to your mother,” Johnny hissed at them. Donghyuck wailed and threw his controller down so he could stomp back to his room.

“I raised you better than this!” Johnny yelled after his petulant heels as he disappeared around the corner. Then he turned around and grinned at Taeyong. “Thanks for the backup, babe.”

“Babe?” said Jungwoo.

“Did you just call him babe?” said Mark.

“…you’re welcome,” said Taeyong, and twisted the doorknob.

“Headed to the music building?”

“Yes.”

“Let me walk you.”

“I do this every night, Johnny, I think I can find my way.”

“I’ll just go grab my shoes, don’t move.” He hopped up the stairs. It only took him a minute to get back, but it was long enough for Taeyong to give the wide-eyed boys in the living room a long, tight lipped look.

“He’s weird when he nests,” Mark said.

“Yeah.”

Johnny thundered back down the stairs past Taeyong and out the front door. “Okay let’s go,” he said on his way past.

“Mhm.” Taeyong followed him out.

It was a warm night. Early October had brought none of the cool autumn charm that Taeyong craved. This week the weather still felt like early September, even if a couple trees had tentatively turned their top branches yellow. The first few leaves of the season skittered leisurely across the front porch. No doubt the alphas would have those swept up and on the curb as soon as they ran out of any actually helpful nesting chores.

The whole yard smelled like woodsmoke, which Taeyong supposed should be nice, but it was really strong and he wasn’t good with strong smells. He fell into step with Johnny’s long legs as they hit the sidewalk and craned his neck to look around the corner of the house. A very thin trail of smoke puffed up over the roof.

“How’s the smoking going?”

“Great!” Johnny rubbed his hands together. “I’m doing a couple of the shoulders right now. We’ll have barbeque for lunch tomorrow. I was thinking of making a couple different regional sauces. I found recipes for a vinegar-based sauce and a mustard-based sauce, and—”

Taeyong tuned him out so he wouldn’t have to listen to descriptions of food. He didn’t check back in until Johnny slung an arm over his shoulders.

“How was your nap?” He pulled Taeyong tight against his side.

“Not bad. It’ll get me through the night.”

“You should go to bed earlier. Like, while it’s still dark, you know?”

“I’ve tried that,” he sighed. “I’ve tried melatonin and asmr and counting sheep. I’ve definitely tried going to bed earlier but nothing works. My doctor said I shouldn’t take sleeping pills and my body can’t handle rigorous exercise, so I haven’t tried those.”

Johnny squeezed him tighter and rubbed a big hand over his shoulder. “That sucks, dude. How much sleep do you get usually?”

“Uh… it really depends. About once a week I crash and get maybe seven hours, but between that I get maybe three or four a night if I’m lucky. Plus the occasional nap.”

“Taeyong, that’s not enough!” He wrapped his other arm around Taeyong’s shoulders and managed to hug him while walking until he tripped and nearly took them both down.

“I know. I’m pretty well adjusted though. It’s not too bad.”

“Sounds pretty bad. That’s probably why you’re sick all the time. All the sleep deprivation.”

“Oh, for sure,” Taeyong sighed. “But I have a lot more time to get things done when I’m not sleeping. And remember when they hazed us with sleep deprivation? Didn’t bother me at all.”

“God that sucked.” Johnny’s arm dropped down Taeyong’s back and settled on his waist. “Now that the older guys are gone, we can stop hazing, right? Like, maybe we do something fun like blindfolding them and taking them out for ice cream but none of that psychological torture stuff.”

“What? You don’t want to make them listen to It’s A Small World at full volume and copy the lyrics for twelve straight hours or empty three cans of axe body spray into the basement and lock them down there?”

“I can’t even smell that shit anymore without feeling nauseous.”

“Ugh, you’re telling me.”

Johnny’s hand lifted off his waist to card through his hair. “How did you even get through that without projectile vomiting?”

“Oh, you were fucking lucky I hadn’t eaten anything in a while. I did a lot of dry heaving. And then I passed out, remember? Taeil said you guys threatened to call the cops until they let us out.”

“Yup, I remember.” Johnny squeezed him close again. “Thanks for taking one for the team, babe. I might have projectile vomited if we had to stay there any longer.”

“Happy to help,” Taeyong muttered, and leaned into Johnny’s hand as it pulled through his hair.

“You’re so cute,” Johnny purred, bending down close so his face was right next to Taeyong’s.

Taeyong blinked up at him and raised his eyebrows. “What?”

“I said you’re adorable.”

“No I heard you.” He pulled Johnny’s hand out of his hair and linked their arms together instead.

“Like a kitten.”

“Down boy.” He leaned away from Johnny’s face. “Don’t use your omega pickups on me.”

“Haha, sorry. ‘Tis the season.” Johnny gently bonked their heads together, but after that he backed off. The music building appeared at the end of the street. “Did you feel better or worse than usual today?”

“Pretty good actually. I ate real food and everything.”

“Lots to do tonight?”

“There’s always lots to do.” He squeezed Johnny’s arm. “I’ll try to come home early if that makes you feel better.”

“Thanks for humoring me.” He dropped Taeyong off at the door with a sloppy kiss on the forehead that gave Taeyong an uncomfortable shiver, and then he waved a friendly goodbye and headed back to the house to ‘rotate his meat.’ (“Make sure you use that lotion you were telling me about,” Taeyong said)

Taeyong headed down towards his studio through the maze of dark, narrow halls of the ancient music building. Like every ancient academic building, the place had a strange, completely untraceable smell that was entirely its own, maybe from the old carpet, or the fabric wallpaper, or decades of assorted industrial cleaners. It had been strong enough to bother Taeyong’s delicate stomach at first, but now even on his worst days, it just smelled like home.

The studios for upperclassmen music production majors were crammed together in the basement on a hallway so skinny that most of the doors had long dents down the front from getting banged into the doors across the hall when they opened at the same time. Kim Namjoon had almost killed Taeyong at least twice with his door. He was in his studio now, as usual. Some kind of old-school hip-hop beat came muffled from inside. Taeyong was glad he had Namjoon across the hall, and not the senior who was always blasting god awful EDM noise a few doors down. As Taeyong struggled with his finicky lock, Namjoon’s track switched abruptly to September by Earth, Wind & Fire, which Taeyong had begun to notice usually meant that the alpha was getting frustrated with whatever he was working on.

Taeyong’s door popped open with its usual squeak, and he squeezed into the tiny little room and flopped down in his squishy desk chair. His desk with all his equipment took up most of the room, but there had been just enough space left for the Ikea couch that Taeyong had bought for his room freshman year, a tiny little coffee table, and a small assortment of potted plants. It was cramped and warm and poorly lit, and Taeyong loved it. For the next eight hours or so, Taeyong worked on a march for music theory and an ambient rap track he was quite proud of for his own mix tape, with a slide show of renaissance paintings for art history and a proposal for a Greek-wide alcohol safety program to work on in his downtime. The deep quiet of the building pulled stress from his shoulders and settled whatever anxiousness he had left over from the brothers’ dinner conversations.

At four in the morning, his studio door popped open, and Johnny poked his head in with deep bags under his eyes and his hoody reeking of wood smoke. “Ready to go home?” he asked. Taeyong blinked at the blurry words of his proposal and the window full of background vocals that wouldn’t quite fit together behind that, which he would have continued to poke out for another couple hours until he hated every note.

“Yeah, I guess I am.”

They didn’t talk on the way home, but Taeyong leaned into Johnny’s side despite the intense smoke smell on his clothes, and Johnny’s body heat sank into his tired muscles and his strong arm around Taeyong’s back took half the work out of every step.

“Why are you still up?” he asked and couldn’t keep his words from slurring.

“Had to watch the pork. The smoker wasn’t hot enough for the first four hours because the built-in thermometer is broken, so I had to stay up longer to keep rotating it until it was done.” They headed up the front steps and Johnny unlocked the door.

The house smelled like meat again, but it also smelled like laundry detergent. Jaehyun was still in the middle of the brightly lit living room, asleep with his head on top of a pile of sheets. Piles of laundry covered every inch of furniture and floor. Only about half of it was folded.

“Oh gee,” Taeyong cooed, and toed off his shoes so he could pick his way through the maze of Greek letter shirts and gym shorts to shake Jaehyun’s shoulder. “Jay, go sleep in your bed.”

“Mmph…” Jaehyun shifted and his cheek got all squished against a familiar dark splotch on Doyoung’s navy comforter.

“You’ve got your face on Yuta’s cum stain there.”

“Mwhat??” Jaehyun jerked upright as Johnny bust into giggles.

“Don’t worry, it’s clean.” He brushed a few fluffy strands of Jaehyun’s thick hair back into place. “I didn’t realize how much cum alphas produced in rut until I had to scrub it out of the whole frat’s bedding myself.”

“Ugh, you’re such an angel,” Jaehyun grumbled and scrubbed a hand over his face.

Johnny’s hand landed on the small of Taeyong’s back. “We don’t just do that in rut, babe, that’s every time we knot.”

Taeyong pretended to hurl into Jaehyun’s laundry.

“Whoa!” Jaehyun jerked back and then laughed.

“Wait, did you think I was actually throwing up?”

“Yeah, you barf all the time.” He took a look around. “Fuck, I gotta finish folding Doyoung’s stuff before I go to bed or he’ll kill me.”

“I won’t let him hurt you if you’d rather go sleep,” Taeyong said. “I’ll fold all of my stuff. Thank you so much for washing it.” He pulled his bedding out of a pile and tossed it in his hamper, now full of clean clothes. “Johnny, thank you for coming to get me. Goodnight, you two.”

“Night, babe,” said Johnny.

“Goodnight, Yong,” said Jaehyun.

On his way back from brushing his teeth, Taeyong saw Johnny carry Jaehyun into their room. He was fast asleep again, all wrapped up in Johnny’s arms like a baby with his head on Johnny’s shoulder. Such sweet alphas. Taeyong fought his sheets back onto his bed with a smile on his face despite his shaking arms, and then lay awake for a couple hours as his head throbbed and his body ached. Only when the first blue light of morning turned the little medicine bottle on his desk orange instead of gray did Taeyong finally drop off to sleep.