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Minghao's life is very ordinary.

He goes to school (naturally), he works a job (reluctantly), he has a hobby (dancing), he has a few friends (emphasis on few and hesitant quotation marks on friends). He knows his life is nothing too special or interesting and for him, that's fine. It's more than fine actually, it's ideal. Because for all the times he craves attention like most humans do, for as much as he secretly dreams of his life revealing itself to be a romance film, for as often as he’s wondered why nothing extraordinary happens to him... he loves laying low. He loves watching others ' lives implode into messes filled with drama and chaos. Namely his neighbor-slash-classmate-slash-friend Soonyoung. But any subject will normally suffice, real or fictional.

When he had first moved to Korea, things were chaotic. It was stressful and lonely, he could hardly string together two words in Korean let alone enough to have a conversation with anyone. He debated turning around and heading back home with his tail between his legs so many times. But if Minghao is anything, he’s stubborn. So he stuck it out, he learned the language, he got a job, he half-befriended some people. Things got better.

So with all those trying months behind him, he welcomes the ordinary with open arms. He’s happy to be settled and with a routine. It’s comfortable, it’s safe. It’s not too taxing.

The early Sunday morning shift is truly the worst one to work. It's ten to eight, just before open, and he's still busy unstacking chairs while hiding his yawn when he notices a figure outside the door. The person tries unsuccessfully to open the large glass panel one, two, three times before Minghao looks over, scowling with nothing more than exhaustion.

"Hello? We open at 8, it says it right there," he calls out. The figure, who he's registered now is male, stops and stares at him. The lights aren't on yet and the shadow cast from the early morning sun makes it difficult to see the customer's face, but his size can't be hidden. He’s like a tree.

The guy tries the door again and Minghao drops the chair in his hand before stomping over.

"Look," he stresses, finger pressing into the glass of the door, right above where it says 'OPEN: 8AM' in big black letters. "Can't you wait," he glances at the giant clock on the wall, "seven minutes?"

"Hello," the male replies, smiling widely. Minghao gets a decent look at his face now that they're closer. His grin is astonishingly white, his teeth aligned in a way that makes him look almost wolfish. His skin is smooth and too perfect, almost glowing from where the sunbeams are hitting it. He's still smiling and blinking at Minghao, maybe expectantly or something, but it leaves him a little uneasy so instead of standing there, he unlocks the door and lets the guy inside. 5 minutes early.

"You'll have to wait to order, I need to finish setting up," Minghao tells him as he turns his back, moving over to other tables and removing their chairs.

He's halfway through when he hears an echo of chair legs clattering to the ground and when he looks up, he sees the strange customer following his actions: swiftly moving chairs from the tabletops to the ground. He turns to Minghao and smiles big again once he's finished with them all.

"What are you doing?" The guy doesn't respond, instead looking around the cafe like he's in an art exhibit. And before Minghao can ask him again, the tiny bell attached to the door jingles and in saunter the morning rush (mostly older men and women, the only people willingly awake at this hour).

A queue forms and Minghao begins taking their orders and scrawling down their names. Three Americanos, a cappuccino, a few vanilla lattes. His morning grumpiness slips to the back of his mind as he loses himself in his work, multitasking everything on his own until his coworker comes in at nine.

"And your name?"

"Mingyu," a twenty-something who orders an extra large cafe latte tells him. Minghao scrawls the name on the cup and sets it aside when he notices one more customer. Of course, it's the weirdo from earlier.

"How can I help you?" he asks with a sigh. The guy stares at him, blinking and smiling (this time no teeth). "Look, if you want to loiter around here, you should at least order something to drink. What do you want?"

The guy leans over across the counter and Minghao takes a step back out of instinct. "Hmm... this," he says, pointing to a small metal cup of discarded steamed milk. Minghao cocks his head to the side.

"That's just steamed milk."

"Okay."

"You want steamed milk?" The strange man nods.

"It looks like a cloud," the guy says with his toothy smile, reaching his hand out towards the cup. Minghao pulls it away before he can touch it.

"Okay..." Minghao isn't even sure how to ring up the order, so he inputs it as a child's sized milk. "What's your name?"

The guy hums in thought before pointing to cup near Minghao's hand, the one from the previous customer with 'Mingyu' scrawled on the side of it.

"Your name is Mingyu?"

"Okay," the supposed Mingyu shrugs, smiling again. Minghao is confused (and slightly creeped out, if he's being honest) but he pulls out a kid-friendly cup and scrawls 'Mingyu???' on it. Mingyu just watches him, appearing far too invested in what he's doing.

"Um, you still need to pay. Cash or card?"

His eyes seem to light up with recognition and he begins digging around in his pockets, excessive amounts of jingling and jaggling emitting from them. Minghao watches, curious, before letting out a small gasp when the other dumps an overflowing handful of coins onto the countertop.

"What... dude, some of these are wet. What did you do?" The man is wearing a nice suit, what’s he doing with a mountain of change in his pocket?

"I found them," Mingyu says, his chin tilted up slightly as if he's immensely proud of himself. There's a certain level of concern Minghao feels but he pushes past it, grabbing a towel to use as he counts out the correct amount of coins.

"You need to clean up the rest, I'm not touching them." Mingyu does so happily, picking them up one by one and inspecting them closely, as if he's stumbled upon some sort of rare gems. He does it so remarkably slow and Minghao takes note of the other customers in the cafe, watching the two of them curiously and perhaps a bit annoyed as Minghao's rhythm for quickly getting out drinks was derailed.

Minghao leaves him to clean before he gets to work on making drinks, blocking out everything else to crank them out at near record speed. He delivers them one by one, quickly calling out names and wiping down counters after each round. He finally gets to the steamed milk, mumbling to himself about how this will be a good story to share later this week when he sees Soonyoung.

"Mingyu," he calls out flatly, setting the brightly colored kid-sized cup on the pick-up counter. He sees the strange man standing in front of the display of mugs and other items for sale. He seems to be looking at himself in the reflection of a tumbler. "Mingyu," Minghao says louder, followed by a sigh.

Still no reply.

Snatching up the cup, he lifts the counter to move into the seating area and strides over to the galoot, tapping him on the shoulder. "Mingyu," he stresses one last time. Mingyu turns and looks at him, smile stretching again. He takes the cup and automatically sips it, Minghao cringing because he knows it must burn.

"It's much hotter than a cloud," Mingyu states, licking over his lips and okay, Minghao is officially weirded out. Before he can say anything else, he turns and scurries back behind the counter, busying himself with washing out mugs and restocking syrups.

Thankfully Hansol shows up not long after, his face clearly fuzzy with sleep.

"Hansol," Minghao whisper-yells, tugging on his coworker's sleeve. "Do you see the guy over there? In the suit?" Hansol covers a yawn with the back of his hand before lazily gazing around the cafe.

"You mean the guy with no shoes?"

"What?" Hansol lifts a hand and points at Mingyu, Minghao quickly batting it down before the creep notices their very evident conversation about him.

Minghao does his best to stealthily peer over at him, first noting the smear of milk above his upper lip before his eyes trail downward and he realizes that Hansol is in fact correct, the guy isn't wearing any shoes. He doesn't even have socks on.

"Jesus," he curses under his breath, tightening his hold on Hansol's arm. "He's been here since before I opened up. He's so weird, I wonder if he's high or something."

"Hmm, could be. It could be psychedelics. Are his pupils blown?"

"What? I don't know, I don't really know what people on drugs look like but he's... just so weird. He helped me unstack chairs and he has like 50 bucks in coins in his pocket and he ordered steamed milk, who orders just steamed milk?"

Hansol shrugs, wiping down the countertop. "Maybe he doesn't like caffeine."

Minghao gives up after that because Hansol is far too understanding and accepting of people to really grasp how odd this guy seems to be.

The hours pass and Mingyu never leaves. He goes from standing to sitting to standing again and then not coming out of the bathroom for almost twenty minutes, until Hansol coaxes him out.

Time simultaneously drags on and speeds by but maybe that’s typical when there’s something to slightly obsess over. Minghao doesn’t even hide his staring at one point because the weirdo is completely in his own world as he plays with the window blinds, lowering them and then pulling them back up repeatedly.

Hansol catches him gawking multiple times but it takes until the fourth instance for him to say something.

“Why don’t you just go talk to him?”

“What? Why would I talk to him?”

“I mean, it’s obvious that you are curious about him. Maybe he’s not crazy, maybe he has a cool story to tell.”

“Hansol,” is all Minghao says, forcibly tearing his eyes from Mingyu (who is currently stretching his bare feet out onto a chair across from him).

“You never go out of your way to get to know new people.”

“That’s so not true, we’re friends.”

“Because we work together. You kinda have to talk to me.” Minghao wants to protest but sadly enough, he has a point. It’s not that Minghao doesn’t genuinely like Hansol, he does! He’s probably one of his top three favorite people, if that means anything. But the reality is that he most likely never would have approached Hansol if they hadn’t been forced to interact at work.

That’s just not Minghao’s thing. Maybe it’s rooted in being a foreigner, maybe it’s because he’s an introvert, maybe it’s a combination of a lot of things. But he just isn’t the kind of guy to approach strangers or strike up random conversations.

“He’s too weird, I’m not talking to him.”

Hansol rolls his eyes in a way that isn’t malicious but it still irks Minghao. He doesn’t want to be that guy, really. He wishes he was more outgoing and less socially restrained in the way Hansol is, even how Soonyoung is too. Perhaps his only two friends.

Minghao's shift ends and he's relieved because Mingyu is still there and he just wants to get away from him. He punches out and silently waves bye to Hansol before attempting to sneak out the side door unnoticed.

He doesn't make it half a block before he gets the feeling that he's being followed and when he peeks over his shoulder, he sees the shoeless Mingyu only a few feet behind him.

"Seriously? Are you following me or something?" His voice has more bite than he means but he's tired and uncomfortable and wow, it's really weird how this guy blinks at him and reminds him so much of a puppy.

"Yes," Mingyu says, his shoulders slouching down a bit and toes pressing down into the sidewalk as he stretches them.

There are a thousand thoughts racing through his head, ranging from cursing out the guy to bolting down the sidewalk in hopes his speed can’t be matched. But there’s one lone voice he keeps coming back to that sounds an awful lot like Hansol and in a brief moment of self-hatred, he gives into it.

He’ll try to be... sociable.

"Dude, why aren't you wearing any shoes?"

"My feet got too hot," Mingyu explains, as if it's the most understandable thing in the world.

"So you just didn't wear any outside today?"

"I left them somewhere safe!" Mingyu grabs Minghao's wrist and he really should pull away but there's a morbid curiosity that is bubbling up inside him the more he talks to this guy. Maybe he’s not crazy, disembodied Hansol tells him. Maybe he’s cool. If Minghao ends up dead, there will only be one person to blame for it and it’s not himself.

Either way, he allows himself to be led a few blocks away to a nearby park, following but attempting to twist his wrist away from the other’s grasp.

It's mid-afternoon so it's pretty active with people lounging around or playing frisbee, dogs jogging alongside their owners and families spread out on mats having midday picnics.

Mingyu leads him over to a large fountain in the center of the park. There's a couple sitting on the edge of it but Mingyu seems blindly unaware of them as he settles closely beside the girl and turns to the water. The boyfriend says some choice words to Mingyu before helping his startled girlfriend stand and hurrying away. Minghao is terribly embarrassed and equally confused so he just stands a far enough distance away that hopefully nobody will automatically assume they are together. He wants to be distant enough because who knows what this guy is going to do? Minghao doesn’t even know what they are doing there.

That is until Mingyu reaches into the shallow fountain water and pulls out a large pair of soaked and dripping dress shoes. Upon a second look, he can see wadded up socks shoved inside them.

"See! Here they are!" Mingyu beams, showing the shoes to Minghao as if he’s a proud hunting dog with caught prey locked in his jaws.

"What the hell... why would you put them in water?" Minghao asks, incredulously. Drugs, it has to be drugs.

"They are safe! Nobody will take them. It is like sunken treasure, but people only look in the ocean. They do not look in places like this. I found so much beautiful, shiny money here too!" Mingyu reaches into his pocket with his wet hand, pulling out a few coins for further explanation.

And it does explain a lot, it explains the payment exchange earlier. But what kind of guy in an expensive looking suit swipes change from a park fountain?

"You can't just take money out of a fountain, that's stealing!" Mingyu suddenly looks scandalized, as though the thought had never crossed his mind. He’s either a fabulous actor or quite the swindler.

"Stealing? But people give it away and leave it there."

"Yeah, to make wishes and stuff. But you can't just reach in and take it!"

"Why not?"

"It's not yours?"

"Then whose is it?" Minghao thinks for a beat before he realizes he doesn't have to explain himself to this guy, this weird, peculiar man with a half-soaked suit jacket filled with stolen coins and sopping wet shoes.

That’s the last time he ever listens to Hansol.

"Look, you clearly have issues." Minghao turns and begins walking away. There's a looming feeling that if he sticks around this guy, things will only get odder and stranger. Maybe it would be worth the story to share but this is why Minghao sticks to the few people he actually knows and somewhat trusts. People are fucking weird.

And yeah, he reminds himself how his life is ordinary; he likes that it's ordinary. It’s comfortable.

There's sudden commotion from behind him, people gasping and calling out and despite his better judgement, he turns to look back and see Mingyu, face-first against the pavement. He's completely still, unmoving, and various people around gawk and whisper and point.

"Why is he all wet?" someone mutters.

"He's not moving, should someone call an ambulance?" Another voice.

"Shouldn't his friend go help him? He fell pretty hard," yet another person calls out. He realizes they mean him, despite the fact that he is very clearly not this guy's friend. He must not have been standing far enough away.

But everyone is staring and more and more eyes travel towards him, expectedly. So he huffs a sigh and hurries back towards Mingyu, trying to ignore all the attention on them. Peer pressure is a weird thing and look where it’s landed him.

"Mingyu, get up," he says lowly, grabbing the other's ridiculously wet arm and trying to pull him up. Mingyu lifts his head and he can see his chin is scraped, bright and saturated red that almost doesn't look real, like it's been etched into his skin with marker.

Mingyu rises awkwardly fast, like a sprinter jumping up into position and Minghao can see the palms of his hands are scraped too, shining with the same candy-colored red. Mingyu must see Minghao staring because he glances at his hands as well.

"It feels like my hands are on fire." Minghao would respond but there are still so many people watching them and whispering amongst themselves that he feels too self-conscious to do so. Yes, he's a craver of attention like everybody else, but not this kind.

"Just... you have to get cleaned up."

"Cleaned? Should I get in the water?" he asks, completely unironically. He tugs Minghao's grasp towards the fountain, looking back at it.

"No! What is wrong with you? Seriously." Minghao means to whisper but it's louder than intended, causing more questioning looks. God, this is so painful. He clears his throat. "Did you hit your head there, buddy? Let's get you home." There's a fake albeit convincing smile on his face now and Mingyu matches it, minus the insincerity.

Minghao tries to keep the smile on his face but it falters when he feels Mingyu slip his hand into his own and lace their fingers. He's worried about the transfer of blood (and maybe, just a little, about how it must hurt to put pressure on a fresh wound), but Mingyu seems blissfully unaware of any strangeness. Of course.

Minghao leads them away from the fountain, far enough so that no one will hopefully recognize any of them. Mingyu seems to be beaming the entire way, swinging his still dripping shoes in his free hand. What an image the pair must make, Minghao thinks.

"You should really go home and clean those cuts out," Minghao tells him, finally yanking his hand away and inspecting his own palm. It's free from any traces of blood. Guilt or something like it keeps him from simply walking away; the guy is injured after all. "Do you live around here?"

Mingyu shakes his head enthusiastically. "My home is far away."

Minghao sighs and squeezes his eyes shut. He knows what he should do, he really does, he can hear his mother nagging him and chastising him about being a decent human being, he hears Hansol prodding him to have a heart... but hasn't he done enough already?

"Okay, well. You should find a pharmacy then." He's being helpful by offering advice, as obvious as it may be. Shouldn't that be enough?

Mingyu looks around for a moment before settling his eyes back on Minghao. Always smiling. "Okay, let's find one."

"No, I meant you. Alone. I have somewhere to be." Now is the time to cut ties and bolt. He takes a few step backwards, attempting to be casual, but Mingyu simply follows his steps, keeping the gap between them constant.

"Is there a pharmacy where you need to be?" Minghao’s sympathy is waning thin and his mouth hardens into a straight line.

"Seriously, what's your deal? I'm sorry you got hurt but can't you just use your phone to find a pharmacy and go by yourself?"

"I do not have a phone."

Of course he doesn't have a phone because despite wearing an extremely nice and likely expensive suit, the guy who may or may not be named Mingyu stores his shoes in public fountains and collects coins for his income.

Truthfully Minghao doesn't have anywhere dire to be. He just wants to go home to study and eat and then pass out in peace. And while he really doesn't want this unhinged fellow knowing where he lives, he can also envision how terribly awkward and strange a trip together to the pharmacy would be. Nothing about this guy is normal; he'd probably end up trying to eat lip balm or blow up condoms like balloons.

Mingyu is picking at his bleeding chin like a child scratches at a scab and Minghao has to swat his hand away before his stomach turns. It’s unsettling. Unsettling and weird.

"God. Just follow me."

 

 

***

Minghao lives alone, which is perfect for someone like him because he likes everything to have it's particular place. He likes being able to sleep in when he can without having to worry about someone else being noisy and waking him up. He enjoys not having to do anybody else's dishes or sharing the bathroom or listening to someone else having company (though occasionally he can hear his neighbor across the hall, Soonyoung, screaming with his friends over who knows what.)

He doesn't even invite over other people that often. His parents saw his apartment when they visited Korea of course and the standard delivery people have been able to peer inside, but that’s it. His apartment isn't for hanging out, it's for escaping. He's built up an ambiance there that he hasn't been able to find anywhere else and he doesn't need anyone else ruining that.

So inviting Mingyu over to bandage him up is clearly a bad idea, given the guy's track record that day.

At first he just moseys about, looking at items displayed on bookshelves and empty bottles of wine strategically lined along the windowsill. But then when Minghao is busy digging through his bathroom cabinet for ointment and enough bandages, there's a loud crash followed by a whimper that resembles that of an animal.

When he emerges, he sees a shattered picture frame of he and his parents with Mingyu squatted over it, meticulously picking up every shard of glass he can. Minghao can see that bright red spreading again along his fingertips and he would smack the other on the head if he didn't worry it would cause more damage.

"You idiot, what are you doing?!"

Mingyu looks up, his face reading more embarrassed than alarmed. Minghao drags him up and over to the kitchen, emptying his cupped hands into the trash can, pieces of glasses clinking and chiming together.

"I'm sorry, I can fix it," Mingyu says softly, his eyes not leaving Minghao's face.

"Why are you cleaning it up with your hands? You're already hurt. How thick are you, seriously?"

Turning on the faucet, Minghao runs their hands under the cold water and Mingyu lets out a little yelp. He forces the other to sit down and he stands in front of him, patting his palms dry before he applies the ointment over the biggest scrapes on his palm. He does his best to bandage him up, despite the multitude of cuts and rounded curves of Mingyu's hands.

There's a sweet smell, almost fruity, and Minghao doesn't know what it is but it appears to be coming from Mingyu. He wonders if it's some kind of perfume or detergent but as he inspects his fingers for any small shards of glass, the scent is stronger.

"Do you use, like, a certain lotion?" he asks. Mingyu's been steadily watching his face which has most definitely been uncomfortable.

"Lotion? Do you mean lubricant?"

Minghao chokes on his own spit, sputtering into the crook of his arm before looking up at Mingyu with wide eyes.

"Dude, what the hell? You have lube on your hands?"

Mingyu shrugs. "I have lubricant everywhere inside me."

There’s a brief flash of disgust that overtakes Minghao but he gauges the expression on Mingyu’s face and quickly deduces that with how ignorant and aloof this guy has seemed all day, sexual perversion doesn’t really fall into that same ballpark. It’s almost as if Mingyu isn’t aware of how his words sound or that his actions are anything out of the ordinary. Maybe the guy is just completely unaware of his social ineptitude.

"Okay, seriously. What's your deal? Why are you so weird?" Mingyu seems to get sheepish at this, scratching the back of his neck with a bandaged finger and still smiling, though softer. "It's like you aren't human." Perhaps that was too insensitive to say but Mingyu doesn’t look offended by it.

"But do I not look human?" he asks, leaning forward until his face is mere inches from Minghao's. "I even have this mole to make me look less perfect." He uses one of his large fingers to poke himself in the cheek. His expression is genuine, as if he's waiting for an actual answer.

Minghao has to laugh at this, stepping back and sitting down in the other chair. "Yeah, you look like the weirdest human." Mingyu seems to take offense to this, however, pouting ever so slightly and sitting up straight. His lower lip juts out a little.

"But I am supposed to look good." The way he talks sounds strange too, unnatural and rigid. But Minghao is definitely no expert in the Korean language himself, so maybe it’s some different dialect.

"I think somewhere between drinking pure steamed milk and storing your designer shoes in a fountain, you lost a few attractiveness points."

"So people do not do those kinds of things?" The question strikes Minghao as odd, not because of it's meaning but because of the lack of the word 'normal'. Normal people don't do those kinds of things. People in general seems so broad.

"Sane people probably don't do anything you've done today."

Mingyu begins sulking after this, quiet and very still. He's no longer looking around the apartment in awe or intently staring at Minghao's face. It's easy to bandage up his chin despite the roundness of it. Minghao is careful not to touch any of the saturated red blood.

When he's finished, Mingyu looks incredibly younger, despite his attire. His hair is slightly mused from the day and his bandaged face looks ridiculous. He still looks deflated and Minghao feels a bit responsible though he doesn't know why. He hasn’t done anything wrong. If anything, he’s done more than most would do. Who would invite someone like this into their home to help put a few bandaids on them?

"You're as good as new," he sighs, capping up the ointment before standing.

"Thank you," Mingyu says. He thinks this is the opportune time for Mingyu to stand and excuse himself from intruding too but why would someone with next to no social skills offer to do something as standard as that?

Mingyu just sits there, thoughtful expression etched onto his face as his fingers pick at the bandage on his chin.

“It’s getting kind of late.” He drops the most obvious hint he can think of, even though it’s a lie. It’s like 6 o’clock. The sun is still shining into his apartment.

“Do you need to rest? I forgot about that.” Minghao doesn’t know what he supposedly forgot but subtlety must not read at all with this guy. So he has to be blunt, enough trying to be nice or accommodating.

“Yeah, I do. So I think it’s time you headed out.”

“Oh.” Mingyu stands up too quickly and his body sways around as if he might fall over. Minghao wonders if it’s act, like he’s pretending he hit his head and is suddenly lightheaded. But he manages to find his balance and staggers out of the kitchen towards the door.

His sopping wet shoes are on the tile of the entrance and he picks them up, droplets still silently dripping. His suit jacket’s arms are still darkened with water too and god, with all his bandages... he looks a mess. A lost, confused mess.

“Thank you for your kindness and help. I will always remember it.”

Jesus, this guy lays it on thick. But it’s effective.

“I’ll get you a taxi on Kakao T. Where are you going?” Minghao offers as a last-ditch effort to be a kindhearted Samaritan. Though he doesn’t know if a taxi driver will accept a payment made in only coins.

“I do not have anywhere to go.” The words have a sadder meaning than Mingyu’s tone gives them. He states it blankly, like it’s just a fact and not something that is supposed to eat away at Minghao’s conscience.

“Nowhere? Are you staying in Seoul tonight?”

Mingyu nods. “I was going to sleep where I was keeping my shoes.” At the park?

Okay, fine. Minghao gives up. His heart bleeds, his moral compass wins out.

He tries not to overthink it when he stiffly forces Mingyu to drop his shoes back down and leads him back into the apartment. He doesn’t mull over his word choice when he tells the other that’s stupid, he can just stay here for the night. One night. He does specify that.

Minghao isn't really prepared to have anyone stay at his place. He's had a drunk Soonyoung crash once when he couldn’t remember his door code, but that's pretty low maintenance as far as hosting goes. He simply made sure he passed out on the couch with at least a blanket and some sort of pillow to cushion his head.

Not that he cares about Mingyu thoroughly enjoying his stay, the kind that would leave "10/10 Would Definitely Stay Again" reviews on his life's Yelp page. But still, he's trying to be a gracious host. His mother’s face keeps popping up in his head, it’s annoying. Hansol stands over her shoulder, nodding in agreement with everything she rattles off.

He pulls out his extra comforter, the heavier one that he uses during the freezing winter months, and thankfully it doesn't smell too musty despite being stored in a suitcase. He sacrifices a pillow from his bed which leaves him particularly irked. He only needs one for his head but he enjoys hugging the other while he sleeps, his limbs feeling awkward without it, his bones knocking together like empty wind-chimes.

He doesn't bother with his ceremonious fluffing of pillows, instead carelessly tossing it on the couch and plopping the comforter beside it. Mingyu's still in the bathroom, he deduces from the closed door and light seeping out from the gap between the bottom and the floorboard.

There's a slight gawkiness to his motions now, idly moving around books on the shelf and lining up remotes in a fashion that seems far too staged. He doesn't know why he feels any discomfort when it's his house and he doesn't even know this guy at all. But then he reminds himself that the guy is really fucking weird and while he doesn't want to judge any books, he's a little uneasy after only flipping through the pages.

Mingyu finally emerges and Minghao would laugh if he wasn't completely confused by the sight before him. The stranger clearly took to heart Minghao’s suggestion of "washing up"; not only is his face still damp with water but his hair is completely drenched, soaking the shoulders of his white collared shirt. He seems unaware of the fact that anything is off though, smiling at Minghao as he enters the living area. The bandages on his chin curl at the edges from the wetness, completely saturated with water.

What was with this guy and water?

"I feel much more refreshed."

"Um, do you want a towel?" Minghao doesn't wait for an answer because obviously this guy needs a towel and, also, he's not about to stand around while a giant puddle forms on his hardwood floors.

He hurries to the linen closet and pulls out a light pink hand towel, shaking it open before tossing it at the other. It lands half on Mingyu's head and all he does is lightly dab his face with it and inhale, deeply enough for Minghao to hear it.

He's half-tempted to rip the towel from his hands and ruffle his hair with it like he's drying off a dog after a bath because it's just that frustrating watching the taller male be so unaware of everything. But that would breach so many personal space rules.

"Are you going to sleep in that?" He doesn't know why he cares; he doesn't, he reasons. He's just curious because the thought of sleeping a whole night in a suit sounds unbelievably uncomfortable.

Mingyu looks down at his clothes before tilting his head to the side. He does that look a lot, like he's trying to recall a lost thought or work out something in his head. It stays put as he begins quickly unbuttoning his shirt and he has it half untucked and shrugged off his shoulders before Minghao lets out a strangled noise.

"Dude! You can't sleep naked on my couch. I'm sorry, you just... you can't." Mingyu's hands stop but he doesn't correct his shirt so Minghao forces himself to look away.

It's not a big deal seeing another guy shirtless, why would it be? It's definitely not strange. But this is literally the weirdest day of his life. He's waiting to wake up from it.

"I do not own any sleeping clothes." Minghao pinches the bridge of his nose at the odd choice of words. Of course not, why would the guy who walks around without shoes or socks have pajamas on him?

"Look, I'm not going to pry or ask you to explain in detail why you are wandering around without money or clothes or a phone or anything really, but I'm letting you stay here so you could at least throw me something? You're seeming more and more like a serial killer. Or the Terminator."

"I have money," is all Mingyu has to say. Minghao sighs, exasperated, and is about to berate him when the other reaches into his suit pant pocket and god, not the coins again. But it doesn’t clink together at all because he pulls out a handful of cash. Not a handful, a wad.

It's all crisp yellow 50,000KRW bills from what Minghao can see and it's such an absurd size, he's suddenly really nervous. Is this guy a bank robber? Is he a con man? The average person wouldn’t have this kind of cash on them. Who carries around this kind of money with them?

Who carries around this kind of money and then scours the bottom of a fountain for coins?

"Why do you have so much money?"

"It was given to me." Is he a hitman? Is it hush money?

"You have all that... and you said you don't have anywhere to stay. Why didn't you just go to a hotel?" Mingyu seems to think for a moment, rolled bills in one hand and the other rubbing the pink towel against his cheek.

"You said I could stay with you."

"Because you said you had nowhere to go..."

"Did I?" It's not said tongue in cheek or with any snark. Mingyu just tilts his head again in thought before smiling, that warm look he keeps giving.

Minghao realizes that might not have been exactly what he said, but it's what was inferred. He really must be swindler, a liar. Minghao doesn’t know if he’s more upset or embarrassed to be played like this.

"I can give you it." Suddenly Mingyu is stepping closer to him, hand with the money extended outward. Minghao quickly steps back to maintain the distance, the backs of his thighs hitting the arm of the couch.

"What? No, I don't want your blood money." Mingyu frowns a little, looking confused. "Just... you can spend the night and then you need to go in the morning. Okay?"

He doesn't wait for a reply before brushing past the other, his shirt still comically splayed open like the cover of a trashy romance novel.

Minghao shuts the bedroom door behind him, something he never does because who needs the door shut when you live alone? But he needs a barrier between him and this bizarro reality he's found himself in.

Why did he put himself in this situation? Why did he let Hansol's words get so distorted and latched onto his brain? His attempts at being a more open good Samaritan are probably going to get him murdered in his sleep. Or worse, robbed blind. One kidney down in the morning while waking in a bathtub of ice? There we go.

There should be a precaution in place just in case so he quickly fishes his phone from his pocket and messages Hansol.

     xmh: if i don't show up to work tomorrow, call the police
     xmh: and it will be your fault btw

It's not normal, he knows, but he stands at his closed door and carefully presses his ear against the wood, listening for anything on the other side.

He hears nothing and jumps a little when his phone caws at him.

     hansollie: ummm what, y tho??

     xmh: because i took your dumb advice and now that weirdo from earlier is sleeping here

     hansollie: dude.... lol. wtg

There's a string of thumbs up emojis mixed with the occasional tongue-sticking-out face.

Minghao groans, lightly knocking his head against the door. He hears some shuffling outside and he holds his breath until it stops.

     xmh: shut the fuck up. i'm serious, i'm really weirded out

     hansollie: kick him out

Shoe emoji, door emoji. Minghao has a brief daydream of comically kicking out Mingyu with an oversized boot, sending him flying off into the sunset like a cartoon character.

     xmh: and risk pissing him off?? yeah no, then 100% Certified Murdered

     hansollie: do u want me to come over??

Minghao contemplates it for a moment before freezing. He hears soft clanking sounds now and some muttering. Curiosity gets the best of him and he cracks his bedroom door open and peers out it, down the hall to the living room.

The couch blocks most of his view but he can see the curve of Mingyu's back as he sits on the floor in front of the coffee table, counting out numbers.

"500, 1000, 1500, 1600, 1700..." He must be counting the coins he unnecessarily stole.

Minghao is still uneasy but it seems innocent in a way. Like if this guy was really going to do anything to him, why would he be wasting time counting coins?

     xmh: no, it's fine. but i'm gonna msg you before class tom morning so if you don't hear from me, can you check in?

     hansollie: sure thing, hyung

Minghao carefully shuts the door and it's practically silent but Mingyu must have heard it or seen him anyway because Minghao hears him call out his name.

"I hope you have pleasant and vivid dreams, Minghao."

It’s only 8 o’clock, he realizes then. And he’s cornered himself in his bedroom for the rest of the night, unless he wants to deal with Mingyu some more.

He’d rather stare at the ceiling and contemplate how exactly he ended up here.

 

 

***

Minghao sleeps awfully.

If he had kept count, he thinks maybe he woke up about thirty times. He's proud of himself for only being tempted to check on the state of his apartment (like if anything magically went missing) a few times and never following through on it.

His alarm is set for 6:30 but when he wakes up for the millionth time at 6:07, he rolls out of bed with ease. He checks his phone and there are no unread messages, so he sends one to Hansol stating he made it through the night alive.

It's terrifying for him emerging from his bedroom. It takes him a few deep breaths to open the door and all but tiptoe down the hall. He doesn't even realize at first that Mingyu is still sitting on the floor in front of the small coffee table, his coins stacked and organized so perfectly that it almost looks like a piece of art. The tiny towers create a small wave of silver.

Mingyu's wide awake and the pillow and duvet sit on the couch untouched. Minghao notes they haven't moved at all; they are still positioned how he carelessly tossed them the night before.

"Good morning," Mingyu chirps, his back hunched over so much that Minghao wishes he could straighten it out for him. It looks uncomfortable and makes the other look so much smaller.

"Um, morning. Did you not sleep?"

Mingyu seems to be hit with a realization and scratches at the back of his neck, looking a little sheepish.

"Oh. I forgot about that."

Maybe it's the lack of restful sleep but Minghao isn't terribly surprised by the oddness of that statement. How does someone forget to sleep?

"Look. Can we just cut the crap for a minute? What is your deal? Am I unknowingly harboring an escapee or something?"

Mingyu looks shy, almost childlike. It makes the idea of him being a murderer or criminal of some kind seem hilarious.

"I am not supposed to tell anyone." He literally looks like a elementary student getting coaxed into narcing. Minghao watches him as he nervously plays with a stack of his coins, the absurd bundle of bills laying forgotten on the table.

"Well, I think it's the least you can do considering all I've done for you." Is it manipulative? Yeah, maybe. Does Minghao want to get himself involved with this kind of insanity? Probably not. But dammit, he needs to know. It's eating at him.

Mingyu licks over his lips and suddenly sits up straight, his torso long and lean.

"I was sent here to learn things." Holy shit, is he a spy? He seems a little... undertrained for that sort of thing.

"Learn things? What things?"

"Anything. What people are like."

"What people in Seoul are like?" Mingyu hesitates but nods and shrugs at the same time. "Who sent you here?" Minghao's heart is racing and he stupidly feels around in his hoodie pocket for his phone, but he left it on his bed. His eyes dart around the room briefly, looking for anything dangerous, sniper lasers or the like.

"My... people?" Minghao makes a face and suddenly feels like a fool; he's clearly being messed with. This guy really must be a conman or at least crazy. "Though from what I know, you would not really call us people."

What the hell.

"But I am supposed to learn what I can and then go back home with what I find. And they taught me a lot of things but I guess it was not enough because I was never told that humans refrain from walking around outside without shoes, just that it is acceptable inside because that is what you did! And they gave me your kind's money to get things I need but I do not know which places to go to, they failed to tell me any of that!"

Minghao blinks at him, unmoving.

"And the air here is so different, my feet feel funny and gravity is weird, how do you move around so easily?" Mingyu asks, emphasizing by shaking his arms around like wet noodles. "I read a bunch of your books while you slept and now I am more confused." Minghao glances at his bookshelf and notices that they are all reorganized, by color and heights: a beautiful chromatic wave of colors. "Did people really not know about feelings and emotions before? Did you not see with color before? I know humans’ perception of colors is so limited compared to my people's but not seeing anything... it seems remarkable."

Minghao is so lost he doesn't get a word in before Mingyu continues.

"But you know what I do understand? I know why someone would want to kill a whale that bit off their leg. That makes sense, that's a natural human instinct I know about. An eye for an eye, they say, right?"

It's then that Minghao notices the bandages from Mingyu's chin and hands are gone, as are the cuts and scrapes that they were protecting. His skin is bright and clear, smooth and perfect. Sure, the injuries weren't ER worthy but they definitely would take a few days to heal.

So how was it that they were gone now?

Minghao plops down on the couch, his legs feeling unsteady. "How did you do that?"

"Do what?"

"Your cuts, they're all gone. Were you not really hurt?"

"Oh." Mingyu frowns, examining his palm before stroking his chin. "It hurt when I fell. It felt like fire."

"But they're all healed."

"Because you fixed me. Thank you." Mingyu finally smiles. "I am as good as new."

It's a fever dream, all of this. Some elaborate hallucination that he'll wake from in sweat-soaked sheets and a dozen missed calls from work asking where he is. He must be lucid dreaming or something of the sort because he's all too... aware. What's the best way to wake up from a dream again?

"Look, what are you supposed to be? Are you supposed to represent something? Like my disinterest in befriending new people or something?"

Mingyu cocks his head. "What am I?"

"Yeah. I mean, obviously my subconscious created you from some mash-up of attractive strangers I've seen recently or something. But what's your purpose?"

"To learn about humans," Mingyu says again, like the line is rehearsed. "Do you really think I am attractive? I mean, they said humans would find me attractive but I was not certain--"

Minghao cuts him off. "You're human, why would you need to learn about them? Is this like... do I not know enough about humanity or something? Is that the point here?"

Suddenly sheepish, Mingyu scratches behind his ear. He does that very often, it seems. "I am not."

"You're not representing that? Then what?"

"I am not human. Your people call us aliens."

Minghao laughs. He laughs and laughs, head thrown back, hand grasping at his stomach. So it's about him being a foreigner, is that it? A foreigner learning how to be more humane? Jesus, his subconscious is really trying to tell him something.

"Why are you laughing? Did I make a joke? Human humor is something that I never excelled at." Minghao collects himself enough to look at Mingyu through the tears in his eyes.

It's just a matter of time before he wakes up, he thinks. He doesn't have to pay this any mind because it'll be over and a weird, distant memory he'll eventually forget about. But he should remember enough to tell Hansol; he'll get a kick out of it.

Leaving the "alien's" question unanswered, Minghao stands and makes his way to the bathroom. Water should help wake you up, right?

He splashes his face with cold water one, two, five times. He shivers a little but nothing seems different so he showers. He washes his hair and scrubs at his skin a little too harshly. He keeps it icy, hoping it'll shock him awake.

After he towel dries his hair, he makes his way back into the living space and Mingyu is nowhere to be seen. He presses his hand against the pulse on his neck and gives himself a few light smacks on the cheek. Did it work?

"You are not from here, are you?" Mingyu is in the kitchen, opening up cabinets and peering inside them but not removing anything.

Minghao sighs, rubbing at his eyes with the sleeve of his sweatshirt.

"Ah, precision of language. I mean... not like me, you are from Earth. But you are not from Seoul."

"No, I'm not."

"You speak differently, your words sound unusual."

"Thanks?" Minghao gives the other a strange look. His subconscious really wanted him to take a hard look at himself, didn't it?

"I like your voice, you have nice inflections. The cadence is melodic sometimes." Mingyu suddenly pulls out a large pan and removes a carton of eggs from the fridge.

Minghao is giving in. If this dream wants to feed him, he'll happily sit and eat whatever the oddly attractive alien self-projection wants to cook for him.

It's odd because Minghao doesn't really cook, not often; nothing beyond some ramen and hard boiled eggs with some rice on the side. But Mingyu moves with ease and grace, an attribute he would have assumed the other lacked due to his awkwardness and clumsy nature.

But there he is, cracking open eggs with both hands and flitting around the kitchen like he has cooked there his entire life. He easily peels open a can of Spam and Minghao wonders what he's making.

"I know more about Korean culture and cuisines than others, but can you tell me about yours?"

"Um, like what?"

"Where are you from?" Shouldn't you know this? Minghao muses, plucking at the front of his hair in attempts to settle some unruly pieces. He glances at the clock and notes he has to leave shortly for class. Maybe by the time that's through, this will be done with.

Will dream class be as tedious as the real thing?

"I would assume perhaps China," Mingyu says when he gets no reply. He's finely chopping the Spam and Minghao wonders where he got the green onions from. They must've been tucked in the back of his fridge somewhere. He is in need of a grocery store run.

"You'd assume right."

Mingyu flashes him a wide smile and Minghao squints at him, trying to remember where he's seen him before. He had heard that before, that in dreams, your subconscious only uses faces you've seen in real life. Maybe it was on a drama or a subway ad; he could be a model or actor with a face like that.

"You must miss home. I have only been here one day and I miss my home already."

"What is your home like?"

To be truthful, Minghao doesn't really care. But he wonders what the other will say, how it could tie back into his own history and personal life.

"Hmm, it is warm. Very beautiful and peaceful, everything is in order. Seoul seems so chaotic compared to it. I think it must be exhausting living here sometimes; there are so many people and so much commotion." Minghao would drink to that.

It doesn't take long for Mingyu to present him with a plate of gyeran-mari, still steaming rolled egg with spam and green onions sprinkled throughout, and a small but filled bowl of rice. Minghao's stomach growls at the sight of it.

"There was not a lot of food to work with but I hope you enjoy it."

Mingyu is quickly washing pans and bowls while Minghao digs in and while it's simple and not even close to a full meal, it's delicious. The egg rolls are so consistent in their shapes and sizes, perfectly seasoned with the right amount of salt and green onions. He inhales it all and is so enraptured with his meal that he doesn't realize until he's finished that Mingyu is sitting across from him, chin in his hands. The look on his face is somewhat adoring, maybe of admiration.

"Um," Minghao clears his throat, gently pushing his empty rice bowl away. "I have class soon."

"Oh, school! You are a student?" Minghao nods, standing and picking up his plate and bowl. Mingyu swiftly takes them from him and shuffles to the sink, washing them himself. "What are you studying?"

"My major is dance." Mingyu visibly perks up at this. If he had a tail, Minghao thinks it would be wagging almost violently.

"Dance! You are an artistic person. I should have deduced that. You have a lovely way of carrying yourself, I can see that."

These compliments are the weirdest ones he's ever received; first his accented voice and now the way he walks? Minghao tries to ignore it, shrugging on his jacket. He's halfway to the door when Mingyu's voice calls out to him.

"Wait! I want to come with you." Minghao cringes a little, looking over his shoulder at the other. He's still wearing the long pink gloves, fingers covered in soap suds. It's so domestic and in an odd way, endearing.

"Um, it's just class? And they'll notice you don't belong, you can't really sneak in to performance classes." Mingyu's face drops along with a glob of suds from his gloved hand, hitting the floor with a wet smack.

"Oh." Why does Minghao feel so guilty? Mingyu isn't really there, he's just a figment of his brain's imagination. Or something.

"But you can stay here. Make yourself at home."

This seems to be an acceptable answer to Mingyu because he smiles before waving far too enthusiastically as Minghao quickly slips out the door.

Class is a blur. He's half-unfocused because he thinks it's not real, that he's just running through the daily motions of his life through this elaborate dream.

But his instructor chews him out for being foggy and distracted. Soonyoung is there too, it being one of the few classes they share together.

"Dude, what's wrong with you today?" he asks him between one of their short breaks. They're both sweaty and panting. It all feels so real and Minghao is tempted to ask Soonyoung about it, about how this isn't real, right? And he expects Soonyoung to tell him, 'nope, it's not; this is all in your head' and then for a dragon to emerge from his mouth or something equally insane.

But Soonyoung is just staring at him in a way that is laced with so much interest and a bit of concern that it seems far too realistic. And Minghao chickens out, doubt creeping up the length of his spin and his sweat suddenly feeling all too cool.

"Nothing. Just got some stuff going on. I'll be fine."

Class ends and Minghao turns down an offer for late lunch with Soonyoung. He has a short shift later tonight, he tells him (and it's the truth), but his main reason for bailing is he needs to go home.

It's the first time he's entered his apartment to noise, which is slightly uneasy. The TV is on but the living room is empty. He notes the familiar looking cast and tries to place it... was that Forrest Gump?

Minghao tosses down his gym bag and that seems to get Mingyu's attention, the alien shuffling into the room, his face bright and that dumb smile of his stretching across his lips.

"Minghao! You came back."

"It's my house, of course I came back?"

Mingyu scurries a bit closer to him and he's afraid for a moment that the other is going to hug him. But he stumbles over the leg of the coffee table and that's when Minghao notices how immaculate his place looks.

Admittedly, he's always been a bit of a neat freak. But his apartment now seems to sparkle and glow; if it weren't for the decorative pieces and odds and ends he has collected over the years, it might look like a staged room. Or a hospital.

"You cleaned?" he asks and Mingyu nods, puffing out his chest like a proud animal of some kind.

"I did. I cleaned everything. The kitchen, the bathroom, your bedroom--"

"You went into my bedroom?" Mingyu seems unaffected by Minghao's incredulous expression.

"You said to make myself at home, which means I can act as if I live here. Correct?"

Minghao sighs, shrugging his jacket off and tossing it on the back of the couch. Mingyu seems to shrink a little and it's concerning. "What? Why are you looking like that?"

"Well, I was cleaning everything and I noticed your clothes in the bin were dirty so I wanted to wash them. But I did something wrong." Minghao freezes.

The thought of a stranger going through his dirty laundry, sweat-stained shirts and underwear for god's sake, is more that a little horrifying. His face feels hot suddenly.

"What did you do?"

"I used too much soap, I think." Minghao stares at him, unblinking. "There are so many bubbles, they are like clouds! I was trying to clean it up and then I heard you come inside..."

Minghao brushes past him to the small laundry closet tucked in the hallway. Sure enough, there are bubbles erupting from the now open door. It smells awfully lemony for laundry. Then he spots the dish soap bottle sitting on top of the machine.

"You used dish soap?" He swats at some of the frothy bubbles and picks up the bottle. "How much did you use?"

"Well I used about a teaspoon for the dishes, so I multiplied that by how much water the dimensions of this machine holds in comparison to the sink..."

"You used, like, half the bottle!"

Mingyu smiles just barely, his head bowing down and Minghao feels like he's scolding a child. This is all too real. It feels real, his anxiety prickling up inside him. The potent citrus smell is too real.

"I will clean it up, I am sorry." Mingyu swoops in beside him, trying to collect the bubbles with his bare hands. It sticks to his arms and his white dress shirt, eventually crawling up his neck and adhering to his jawline. Minghao's reminded of Santa Claus and he laughs despite everything else because this is real, but it's too surreal too.

Mingyu looks at him and suddenly laughs too, fluffing his arms in the bubbles like it's a game of who can collect the most. Minghao doesn't indulge him by joining, but he keeps quiet as they gradually clean the mess together.

It's nearly three by the time they're finished and he has to get work within the hour. But before he goes, he sits on the couch beside Mingyu, Forrest Gump's credits scrolling on the screen.

"So you just cleaned today?" Mingyu nods. Minghao notes his money has been cleared off the now empty coffee table and he wonders where he's stored it.

"I watched some programs as well. They are very informative." Minghao arches an eyebrow and glances at the TV.

"Movies aren't real. You know that, right?"

"Real?"

"They're fiction. Most of them didn't really happen."

"But there were real people in them?" Mingyu seems confused, his face contorted in thought. Minghao wants to smile but he bites it back.

"So... you're an alien?" Mingyu looks at him and nods. "From where?"

Mingyu thinks for a moment, his chin tilted upward. "From... out there," he says, vaguely gesturing towards the window with his hand. "It is hard to pinpoint it exactly from Earth without proper tools."

"And you're here to learn about people?" Another nod. "Why? Are you going to invade and take over Earth or something?"

Mingyu frowns, his hunched shoulders straightening up. "No, why would we do that? That would be an awful thing to do."

There's a dozen more questions on the tip of his tongue but Minghao's phone buzzes in his pocket and he checks it. It's Hansol stating he'll be running late to their shared closing shift. Typical.

"I have to go to work," he sighs, standing and stretching out his limbs. He feels a little achey from that awful sleep he got and his morning work-out, plus the cleaning escapade. And to add to it, he's confused about why he feels so okay with leaving Mingyu in his apartment. "So... do you still need a place to stay?"

Mingyu bites his lip. "I saw on the television that I can go to a place and give them money, and they will let me stay there."

"A hotel? I mentioned that before." Mingyu nods. Every time he does it, Minghao's reminded of a bobblehead.

"Is this intruding? Me staying here?" It's a genuine question because if Minghao has picked up on anything, it's that Mingyu doesn't have an awareness for humor really. He said so himself.

"Some people would think so. But I invited you here and offered you a place to stay, so I can't really say much about it." Mingyu seems to contemplate this and his face sinks after a moment. "You clearly need to do more research before you'll be able to blend in better. No offense, but you do stupid stuff a lot."

"Stupid is as stupid does!" Mingyu exclaims, his smile reappearing. Minghao is confused but he laughs anyway.

"Right. So um, you can stay here for a little while longer if you want." And Mingyu gives him the softest, warmest look that penetrates something in his chest. He hates the feeling because he doesn't know why it's there. "Just for a little bit."

"Thank you, Minghao." Minghao waves him off, wandering to his bedroom to change and shake whatever feeling he is experiencing off.

The hallway still smells strongly of soapy lemons.

 

 

***

"So all of you guys look like humans?"

On Tuesdays, Minghao is free from classes. He works in the morning but the rest of his day is usually spent studying or occasionally indulging in one of hobbies, always keeping busy. But today he's sat on the floor of his living area, leaning back against the couch with Netflix streaming on his TV.

He can't remember the last time he relaxed in his free time like this. Of course it wasn't really just relaxing and hanging out; he was picking Mingyu's brain.

"In general, we do. But we are less..." Mingyu trails off, looking Minghao over once.

"Unique? Different?"

"Imperfect," the alien shrugs. Minghao scoffs, straightening his posture.

"What's that supposed to mean?"

"Humans are flawed. It is not a bad thing, it is part of your charm. But back home, they had to update my appearance so I would blend in more. That is why they did this," Mingyu parts his lips but keeps his teeth clenched together, showing off a slightly crooked tooth and oversized canines. "And they gave me this mole." He pokes his cheek with one finger. "Now I look more human-like."

"Yeah, so you mentioned before," Minghao says with a roll of his eyes. Staring at Mingyu, he has to agree that he's not really wrong. The guy is pretty much perfect looking. He leans across the coffee table a bit, squinting. "But what about that?"

Mingyu pokes at different parts of his face, trying to locate what Minghao is talking about.

"That. The little speck on the tip of your nose. Like a freckle or something."

"What?!" His voice is comedically high, so different from the ease he usually speaks with. Minghao can't help but bite back a bit of a smile as the alien scrambles to his feet and slides in front of the mirror near the front door. His face is mere centimeters from glass, closely inspecting his nose. "This must have been a mistake. I was informed only two changes would be made!"

"It's not a big deal. It makes you look more human, more imperfect. Consider it part of your charm," Minghao giggles behind his palm. Mingyu looks over at him with a pout, forefinger and thumb pulling at the tip of his nose.

The day flies by them. Mingyu seems to have a deep interest in movies (specifically the romantic kind) and Minghao has to explain to him multiple times that the majority of films aren't real; they're made up fantasies meant to entertain. But that doesn't stop Mingyu from getting irrationally frustrated when two lovers on screen fight or someone misunderstands their partner. Currently they're about three-fourths of the way through 10 Things I Hate About You.

"Why are they not communicating? If they would just talk to one another, they could sort out all of these issues and be at peace. He could admit to his deceit and confess he has grown true feelings for her."

Mingyu has been so generally confused all evening and he doesn't really know why, but Minghao finds it very endearing. It's only magnified every time Mingyu tries to take too big of a bite of pizza and ends up temporarily choking on cheese.

"It'd make for a pretty boring movie if all relationships were perfect and without problems." Minghao goes for a second slice and realizes that there's only two left. Mingyu has eaten almost an entire pizza in the span of fifteen minutes.

"So real relationships are not like this?"

Minghao scoops up the last two slices before Mingyu can snatch another, but he pauses after that. Truthfully, he's the worst person to interrogate about relationships. He's only ever had one before and it was short-lived enough to not be considered that big of a deal.

"Um, I mean it depends? Some relationships have problems. Well, I guess all of them have some sort of fights or arguments. And some can be really complicated and toxic. People lie, cheat, deceive each other." Minghao pauses. “Relationships are tough. There’s a vulnerability that you have to have when you are in one. It’s hard admitting your feelings for someone, for a number of reasons. You might be rejected, things may change between the two of you if you are already friends or whatever. It’s stressful.”

"That sounds awful," Mingyu frowns, picking off cheese stuck to the cardboard box and obnoxiously sucking it off his fingers. His mouth is smeared with pizza grease and Minghao would be completely disgusted if there wasn't something innocent about it too.

"Yeah. But not all relationships are like that. People can be in really healthy and happy relationships. I guess it all just depends on the match and the character of each person."

"I think your relationships are healthy and happy. You are not the kind of human to do any of those terrible things." Minghao's face flushes and he's not sure if it's because Mingyu's making assumptions about his nonexistent love life or the fact that he just gave him one of the most genuinely kind compliments he can ever remember receiving. Even if it was worded clumsily and from a freaking alien.

But instead of graciously accepting the compliment, he makes a soft 'pfft' sound. "How can you be so sure? You don't know me well at all."

"I was told to expect no help from humans. Not that we think your people are always cruel or unhelpful, but there is a level of uncertainty we feel with humanity." Understood, no doubt. Just look at the news, Minghao muses to himself. "But you have been so kind and helpful. You let me stay here and even though they really warned me against revealing myself to anyone, you have accepted my truths so readily." Not quite, but sure.

"Maybe I'm playing you. There's a saying: keep your friends close and your enemies closer."

Mingyu squints a little, head tilting in thought. "I do not understand that logic."

Minghao laughs lightly. "Tell me all your secrets so I can sell it to the government and retire early. Isn't that kind of what you're doing?"

"Humans are not our enemy." The alien frowns. "You are not my enemy. You are my person."

"Your person? What does that even mean?"

"I think it is like what humans call a best friend. It is the person you go to if something goes wrong. They are the person to you. And I read that a best friend is someone who you enjoy being with and someone who helps you grow and improve yourself." Minghao shifts around, blaming it on his back feeling uncomfortable from sitting on the floor all evening long. Yeah, that's definitely it. "They are your number one. Oh, and if you need to bury a body, they are the person you would ask to help you."

Minghao waves his hand in the air out of protest. "I'm never going to help you bury a body, Mingyu."

"You would be the only human I would ask to help me though. My person." He doesn't know why he does it but he leans over and flicks his finger hard against Mingyu's forehead.

The other blinks before breaking into a smile, seemingly unaffected by the faint red splotch he's now sporting on his forehead.

Minghao laughs loudly, only abruptly stopping when Mingyu tries to reciprocate the gesture, thinking it's a game.

 

 

***

Since Minghao is such an ordinary, average guy, he enjoys the mundane parts of his life more than most probably would. Things like doing laundry and visiting the post office were highlights of his week. They made him feel like a contributing member of society or, at the very least, a somewhat accomplished adult. So when Wednesday evening rolls around (his designated grocery shopping night), there's an extra bit of pep in his step. Mingyu takes notice.

"You are excited about something," the alien acknowledges. Minghao denies this but Mingyu pushes it further. "You were humming while making your tea. You have never done that before."

Mingyu's head is tilted to the side and he resembles a canine more than ever. But despite the slight endearing look, Minghao rolls his eyes. He does manage a small smile though.

"I'm heading to the store. I'll be back in a little bit. Try not to break anything else, please." The washing machine is finally fixed and he’d like to keep things in order.

He toes on his shoes, the backs collapsed inwards for easy slide-on-ability, when he feels Mingyu's lumbering presence practically on top of him. Mingyu is putting on his shoes too.

"What are you doing?"

"We are going to the store. You told me if we are outside the house, I always need to wear my shoes." Mingyu pauses as he laces one up. “On my feet! Not on my hands.” He’s beaming all proud-like.

"You do but... Mingyu, I meant I'm going to the store." Mingyu stares at him, his face not registering any obvious emotion. "You're staying here," Minghao clarifies.

"Oh." The taller doesn't look dejected or hurt; his eyebrows knit together in something that may be confusion or thought. Even so, Minghao feels guilty the moment Mingyu begins slowly untying his shoes.

"Do... you really want to go? It's just the grocery store." Mingyu's head whips up and Minghao's afraid for a moment that he may fall over. "It's not anything exhilarating."

"You seem happy to go there though." Minghao can't argue with him there.

Mingyu behaves himself well on the crowded bus though he's a bit too invasive as far as openly watching and staring at other people. Minghao nudges and whispers for him to stop, which he does for a while.

Until someone hops off the bus, leaving a seat in front of them empty. Neither of them sits but a teenaged boy goes for the seat until Mingyu blocks him with his body. Minghao thinks it's on accident until Mingyu motions for an elderly lady to take the seat, which she does with a smile and a thank you.

The teenager gives Mingyu a strange look before wandering to the back of the bus. Minghao can't help it and smiles at the other and Mingyu returns the look, his cheeks full and round.

The mart is large and bright, always playing pop music and usually bustling with families shopping together. But Minghao always times it right, just around the typical dinner time, so the people mulling about are far and few in-between.

He grabs a cart and begins pushing it, having to correct Mingyu when he grabs one too.

("But you have one." "We don't need two carts." "There are two of us though.")

They come to a compromise by allowing Mingyu to push it, his face beaming as he gets accustomed to steering and guiding it around corners.

Minghao explains the basics, how he starts on the far left, with produce, and makes his way thoroughly down each aisle, leaving frozen goods for last. Mingyu asks questions that range from understandable ("Why do people not go and capture their own food?") to the downright outlandish ("But why is there a tiger on the cereal box if there is not one inside for you to eat?")

Minghao is busy checking cartons of eggs for any cracks when realizes Mingyu is no longer beside him, their half-filled cart abandoned a few feet away. He feels panicked instantaneously, imagining the big galoot climbing in the lobster tank to swim or something worse.

Hustling along the aisles, he peers down each one, trying to spot the familiar form of his newest responsibility. Is this how his mother felt when he wandered off all the time as a child?

Finally he spots him, the long suit covered arms of Mingyu reaching up to the top shelf of the baking aisle to retrieve a large bag of sugar for a short-statured woman. Minghao is about to barge in but he notes how the woman smiles widely at Mingyu, touching his arm and nodding her head in what he assumes to be thanks.

The woman continues pushing her cart and Mingyu obnoxiously waves at her as she rounds the corner.

"Mingyu!" Minghao calls out with a sigh. Mingyu turns, face glowing with happiness. But when wasn't it?

"Minghao! She asked for my help reaching something and I helped her. I can not imagine being small, how do small people do anything? It is good you are not small. Though if you were, I would be here now to help you."

He isn't ignoring him but Minghao doesn't reply, simply looping his fingers around the other's wrist and leading him back to their cart. Mingyu only resists once, slowing when he spots a shorter middle-aged man.

"Do you want me to get something down for you? You are small and I am big, so I can help you," Mingyu babbles and Minghao cringes, squeezing the alien's wrist. "Ow."

The ahjussi looks at them strangely, muttering something under his breath before scurrying away. Minghao's face is hot with embarrassment and it only grows warmer when Mingyu waves at the man and yells out a goodbye.

"Mingyu, you can't do that stuff."

"What stuff?" he asks, his face again contorting into his contemplative expression of knitted eyebrows.

"Talk to strangers like that. People don't like that."

"I only offered to help him."

"I know but it's weird. People don't like it."

"People do not like being helped? That woman did."

"Because she asked you. But you can't just approach people like that. It's kind of, well, rude."

"It is rude to offer help? Strange," Mingyu hums, seeming genuinely confused. The pair rejoin their cart and Minghao suddenly feels tired, his previous excitement for grocery shopping having waned considerably. “You helped me before without my asking for it.”

Unsurprisingly, the alien is right about that.

He has them finish shopping quickly, keeping a short leash on Mingyu the rest of their time wandering about. A staff member is offering free samples of mini hot dogs dunked in ketchup and when Mingyu drops one onto his white button-down, he’s reminded that the other doesn’t have anything else to change into.

Mingyu isn’t sure what to pick out when it comes to clothing; he holds up a set of navy satin-like pajamas and while Minghao awkwardly agrees with him that they feel nice (Mingyu keeps brushing them against Minghao’s cheek which earns him a flick to the forehead), they aren’t very practical.

It’s sort of fun dressing someone else, especially when they’re the one paying. Minghao keeps it simple though, settling on mainly solid colored t-shirts and a few pairs of jeans and sweatpants. He blesses Mingyu’s choice of a neon orange sweatshirt because the alien says it reminds him of his home planet. Minghao makes a joke about how they must need sunglasses all the time but Mingyu happily explains that the sun-like star from his part of the universe is no brighter the one that shines on Earth.

Minghao has never felt so unfunny.

They're just lining up at the checkout when Mingyu tugs on his sleeve.

"Minghao, I need lubricant."

The young cashier and the woman checking out in front of them both look up and over at them, clearly surprised at what they had just heard. Minghao wants to curl up into a ball.

"Jesus. Can you just..." he sighs, roughly scrubbing his hand over his face and combing it back through his hair. Mingyu is looking at him the way he always does, unaware of how his actions and words are perceived. "Okay, fine. What kind? Like... for skin...? WD-40?" He's half-kidding about the second one but Mingyu seems to consider it.

"The wet kind that I can eat." The cashier clears her throat loudly as she begins ringing out their items.

Yes, Minghao really wants to die now.

"Look, I don't know what you're talking about. I mean, I might? But I'm not sure."

"It is alright. A friend of mine can get it for me." Minghao is about to ask him who he's talking about because he specifically remembers Mingyu saying he didn't know anyone around, which was the whole reason he even let the guy stay at his apartment in the first place. But before he can ask, Mingyu pipes up again. “You do not need to worry though, he is not the one I would put as my designated emergency contact. That is you.”

The cashier politely asks if he would like any bags, her cheeks tinted pink.

The girl watches them the entire distance to the door, probably because despite Minghao's protests, Mingyu insists on carrying all 7 bags of groceries by himself, utilizing multiple fingers and swinging them like they weigh nothing to him.

At the bus stop, Minghao convinces him to split the load because if he really wants to blend in, he can't be doing things like that. Mingyu seems a little confused but obliges, giving away three of the bags.

They're almost home but Minghao is beat. His eyelids feel heavy and the sway of the bus ride seems to be lulling him into an almost sleep state. He doesn't even notice Mingyu slipping the bags off his fingers and taking all seven back into his own grip, let alone how the alien positions himself just right for Minghao's head to loll back onto his shoulder.

Thankfully Mingyu's good for something in that he remembers their stop ("my memory has an endless capacity"), swiping their cards like he recalls Minghao doing before. He shouts goodbye to the bus driver who calls back to them and Minghao is too tired to be embarrassed. He does hum a response though when Mingyu asks if he can eat more "cloud milk" once they get inside.

Minghao is fumbling with the keypad, messing up the numbers a few times before Mingyu gently bumps his hand out of the way and keys in the four digits. He feels the need to remind Minghao of his superior memory again, to which he receives only a grunt in reply.

Mingyu steps inside first, all the bags swinging from his hands and Minghao is about to follow when he hears his name being called.

"Minghao!"

The male looks up at the voice, registering the face of his neighbor, classmate, and dear friend (as dear as any friend he could have), Soonyoung. Soonyoung's door clicks shut and he straightens his jacket.

"You didn't tell me you had a little boy toy. So that’s why you’ve been so weird lately... you sly dog." Soonyoung winks and elbows him, eyes shaped like crescent moons and cheeks round. Minghao's face contorts in mild disgust.

"What? No, god. He's just... a friend."

"Uh huh."

"Seriously, Soonyoung. Shut it. He's a friend who needs a place to stay for a while." Soonyoung hums as if he doesn't believe him and Minghao is about to shut him up with his fist clenched when Mingyu's face pops into the doorway.

"Minghao is my person!" Mingyu interjects, a bottle of milk clutched in his hand. Soonyoung hides a laugh behind a cough into his fist, causing the alien to look over at him. "And I would not say I am a toy. Perhaps a tool, as I am useful in many different ways."

"I'm sure you are. I'm Soonyoung, arguably Minghao's only friend until you." Soonyoung smirks, giving a small bow before holding up his hand as a way to introduce himself.

Mingyu looks down at the open palm and slaps it, like he's giving a high-five. Too many damn Western movies. Minghao squeezes his eyes shut and Soonyoung laughs again, looking between the two of them. He definitely looks confused but more on the curious end than the suspicious one.

"Minghao calls me Mingyu," he says quickly, though he's still smiling that same big, toothy smile. He looks over at Minghao and shakes the milk bottle in his hand. "How do I make it fluffy?"

"Soonyoung, don't you have somewhere to be?" Minghao asks, not so gently shoving Mingyu back into the apartment and stepping in after him.

"Hmm, right. Enjoy your night," Soonyoung tells him in a sing-song tone, wiggling his fingers at Minghao before the door is shut in his face.

Minghao is standing in front of the microwave, alternating between shaking the cup of milk and heating it up. He's reminded of watching his aunt warm baby bottles for his cousins and he groans, suddenly feeling achy all over.

Mingyu is making himself useful at least, organizing the items in the refrigerator in a way that he claims will be the most useful and beneficial. Minghao can't be bothered to argue.

When he pours the steamed milk into a mug for Mingyu to grossly drink, he remembers him mentioning his friend and the god forsaken lubricant.

"Mingyu, you said you had a friend who could get you what you needed." Mingyu nods, balancing bottles of sauce and dressings against his chest with one arm. "Will you be able to get it soon?"

"Yes, he should be here by the morning." Minghao doesn't recall Mingyu calling anyone, especially considering he doesn't have a phone. But he doesn't know how this kind of thing works with other worldly beings. Maybe they communicate telepathically. Did that mean Mingyu could read his mind too?

"Oh, good. So... does that mean once he's here, you can find a place to stay with him?"

He doesn't think it comes out as rude but Mingyu's actions come to a halt and the alien looks over at him, a bottle of honey mustard tucked under his chin. He looks youthful like this, despite still being dressed in his overly expensive clothes. His jacket is removed and his sleeves rolled up. His hair is a bit disheveled from the wind outside.

Maybe it’s the ketchup stain.

"You want me to leave." It's not a question and it is pretty much the truth, so Minghao doesn't know why he feels awfully conflicted when Mingyu says it so blatantly.

"I mean, don't you think you'd be more comfortable staying with a friend?"

"But you just said that we were friends." There's that look again, not quite hurt but confused. Processing. “You are my person.”

His conscience bubbles up inside of him, eating at something deep in his chest and he has to swallow the large lump in his throat.

"Come and drink this before it gets cold," he tells Mingyu, pushing the mug across the table. He doesn't respond to Mingyu's comment but watches quietly as the other drinks it with a smile, a smudge of white foam coating his upper lip.

Maybe they aren't really, truly friends but perhaps they could be something of the sort. Soonyoung wasn't wrong in saying that he had next to none.

 

 

***

Minghao wakes up the next morning to two voices, just muffled enough from being in the other room that he can't really make out distinct words. But there are two clearly different tones: one is rising and falling with every other word, the other low and constant.

His mind quickly recalls Mingyu but he's worried who the hell he could be talking to at quarter after six in the morning. More so than because of the precious sleep he lost, he's worried who the other party might be because what if they find out about Mingyu's identity?

That hasn't been a concern of his yet and while he knows it's one he has to address soon, his still groggy mind can't really commute it. So he simply wanders into the living area, unprepared with any kind of explanation or (if needed) escape plan. What he doesn't expect to see is a nearly nude Mingyu standing in the middle of the room. His arms stretched outward and feet shoulder length apart, having him resemble a human starfish.

A humanoid alien starfish. Whatever, details.

There's another man behind him, his hands almost mechanically patting up and down Mingyu's bare sides like he is checking him for weapons.

"Why did you have to increase it?"

"It will add to your believability. Most humans are receptive to different physical sensations, so you should be as well." Minghao means to speak up but he's engrossed by the scene in front of him.

Mingyu is shirtless, squirming and wiggling around underneath the touch of some... guy that Minghao finally gets half a look at. He's a little shorter than Mingyu but ridiculously good looking. His skin is paler too, flawless and bright. His expression is the definition of neutral, showing no hint of emotion whatsoever. And his body is lean and long, much like Minghao's own.

Clearing his throat, Minghao's presence is finally noticed by both of them. "Um, what's going on?" he asks, voice rough with sleep.

"Minghao!" Mingyu cries out and Minghao isn't sure if it's in pain or relief. "Please make him stop, this feeling is awful!"

"Is this your caretaker?" the mysterious man asks, his eyes blinking behind a pair of round glasses. Minghao quite likes the look of them. Minghao watches curiously as the man's fingers twitch along Mingyu's underarms, causing the other to convulse and cry out.

"Stop, please!" The four-eyed man does halt for a moment but his hands find their way to the juncture in Mingyu's neck, wiggling against the skin there. "He is not my caretaker, he is my person!"

Minghao almost laughs to himself because had he walked into this scenario days ago, he would have been reacting very differently. But to say he's terribly shocked at the scene in front of him wouldn't be entirely accurate.

"Is this your friend? The lube guy?" Context is everything.

"Friend is not a precise nor accurate term. I am here to complete maintenance and report back on his condition." Maintenance alien man straightens out his glasses.

"So like a doctor? Why does he need lubricant? He's not a car."

"Our kind is part mechanical. Whereas humans run an organic, natural central nervous system, ours is part machine-driven." Minghao's mouth forms an 'o' and he nods as if it all makes sense when really he's left with a dozen more questions.

But he takes another silent minute to absorb what's happening before him, noting how Mingyu's chest is defined but not overly so, his skin still the flawless golden canvas it is everywhere else he's seen. The first night when Mingyu attempted to disrobe in the living room was so crazy, he didn’t really take a good look at him. It's strange to think how someone who looks so humanlike can be part robot or something of the sort.

Minghao's suddenly conscious that he's admiring him so openly and his face heats up as he forces himself to glance up at the alien's face.

Mingyu looks as if he's in agony, his chin tucked down against his chest as the mechanic-slash-doctor's fingers curl against the line of his neck and poke at him.

"He increased my sensitivity," Mingyu explains without any prompting. The maintenance guy seems to finally be finished, removing his hands and Mingyu visibly relaxes. "He said it was not safe for me to be able to handle pain and other sensations so easily. But I explained to him I fell and it hurt so bad, like I was on fire!"

Minghao sighs. "Mingyu, you only had a few scrapes."

"It was painful," the other says with a look that resembles a pout. It might be Minghao's imagination but he feels like his range of emotions and expressions has been exponentially growing.

"So what? You're extra sensitive now?"

He means it as a joke and in jest, lifts a finger to prod at Mingyu's still bare-skinned ribs. What he doesn't expect is for other to thrash about almost violently, a strangled laugh-like sound escaping from his lips.

"Holy shit, you're ticklish? You're that ticklish?" He can't help himself and continues to wiggle his fingers against any patch of warm skin he can reach. There's a feeling that resembles pure unadulterated joy bubbling up inside of him, a feeling that is unfortunately a little foreign. But he enjoys it immensely.

For a moment, he forgets there's anyone else in the room, relentlessly tickling the other who seems to be in pain, but doesn't try to avoid the touch at all.

"I have been instructed to stay and observe you for the next ten days," the alien with glasses yells, speaking awkwardly loud to carry his voice over the laughter escaping the other two. His face still remains neutral, void of any annoyance.

Minghao stops at this and Mingyu is wheezing, his chest rapidly rising and falling, his fingers pointlessly looped around Minghao's wrists.

"You'll be staying?" Minghao asks.

"Ten days?" Mingyu says, both at the same time.

"This appears to be a suitable place to reside, even though it was incredibly irresponsible of you to reveal your identity to a human. Your caretaker appears trustworthy."

"My person," Mingyu reminds him and Minghao doesn't correct him this time either.

Mingyu finally pulls on one of the black t-shirts they picked up at the store before grabbing a large glass jug Minghao hadn't noticed tucked alongside the couch. It sloshes with a bright orange liquid that reminds Minghao of a sports drink, so he isn't taken aback when Mingyu removes the cap and takes a long swig.

"Lubricant," he explains with a smile. Minghao simply raises his eyebrows and nods.

Of course, the all important lubricant.

 

 

***

Minghao's apartment is definitely not big enough for three people to comfortably share, but the good news is that Mingyu and Wonwoo (Mingyu picked the name for him from the credits section of a magazine) don't need anywhere to sleep.

It's definitely more cramped feeling and even if Wonwoo isn't really a talker (or the type to interact much at all), Minghao still feels slightly hyperaware of everything he does. When it was just him and Mingyu, he had felt at ease once their initially awkward phase was over.

Wonwoo sets out some basic rules for optimum Mingyu health. First off, no more steamed milk. Mingyu seems crushed at the news but Wonwoo explains that milk from living creatures isn't beneficial to his make-up.

Secondly, he needs to be more careful about his physical wellbeing. Despite the fact that he can heal himself quickly, any damage done to his body under the Earth's gravitational difference from that of their home planet can be catastrophic. It seems a little over the top to Minghao but he doesn't know if their kind even knows how to lie or scare someone into believing something untrue. Either way, it works on Mingyu and he vows to take better care of himself and be more aware of his surroundings.

Lastly, if Mingyu wishes to stay at Minghao's place, he needs to dedicate himself more thoroughly to learning and researching about humans. Mingyu tries explaining that he's learned loads from watching films and TV shows but Wonwoo explains the importance of actual human interactions and research done by more... refutable means. He comments on how measly Minghao's book collection is (which Minghao defends) and mentions interest in visiting a "facility" designed to "house" a "multitude of learning resources". Minghao doesn't know what he means but he guesses the library.

His campus's library is large and spread out. It's never empty but there are always hidden nooks to slip into and disappear for a while. Minghao takes them both with the promise that they will stick close to him because given Mingyu's track record, he knows what kind of antics are to be expected, even if Wonwoo seems much more put together and reserved.

While the two wander about in the history section, Minghao allows himself to actually put in some studying time. With Mingyu's arrival, he's been majorly lacking on his schoolwork. His life used to consist of work, dance, study, repeat but for the past week, everything has been out of whack. Not that he would aggressively complain about it; these days have been the most interesting he's ever had. But he still would like to graduate on time.

It's barely more than an hour when he looks up from his notes and peers down a few aisles to notice only Wonwoo is still in sight, his face practically buried in a large book with a picture of pyramids on the cover.

A wave of panic washes over Minghao as he springs up from his table and all but runs over to Wonwoo, shaking his arm.

"Where's Mingyu?" he asks, hating how his voice seems to quiver a bit. For all he knows, the oaf could be spilling way too much information to the wrong college student or worse, walking around half-naked because his clothes had made him “too hot”.

Wonwoo looks up and blinks a few times, his head tilting. "He completed the Asian History section approximately twenty-three minutes ago. He likely moved on to another category."

He doesn't even know which question to ask with that information so instead he leaves Wonwoo to hastily scour the rows of books in their vicinity. Twenty-three minutes is a lot of time; Mingyu could have done a lot of damage within that window.

Thankfully he finds the other in a matter of minutes, his hunched over form plopped in the middle of an aisle in the Foreign Languages section. The alien has a textbook in his hands and seems to be scanning the pages quickly, flipping to the next every five seconds or so.

"Mingyu!" Minghao whisper-yells, still aware of his location. He stops in front of the other, squatting before him. "I told you not to wander off like that."

Mingyu looks up at him slowly and smiles brightly. It's always been a blinding sight but as Minghao feels his heart rate begin to drop back to normal, the sight seems to warm him.

"I am sorry. There was something I wanted to find out."

"You can't do that, okay? It's not--" Wait, did Mingyu just speak to him in Chinese? "You know Chinese?"

"I am learning!" Mingyu replies again in the other's native tongue. He sits up straighter, puffing out his chest with a grin as he shows off the cover of the book he's reading; a college level one for advanced Chinese.

"Why are you studying it?" Never mind the fact that he seems to be learning it rapidly, on the spot. He always reminded Minghao of his never-ending memory and mental capabilities.

"Because you are Chinese."

Something in Minghao's chest tingles and contracts, leaving him to mindlessly gape at the other for a moment too long. Mingyu still smiles at him, all pointy canines and rounded cheeks.

Minghao does the only thing he can think of and flicks his forehead.

"You could be learning anything and you chose Chinese because of me?"

Mingyu nods. "I am supposed to learn about people but there are so many here, it is difficult to decide where I should begin. So I decided to start with the best human." It's a ridiculous statement, entirely untrue and very comical, but Minghao still feels flustered. "And the best human is my person!"

He's about to flick Mingyu again but his hand moves upwards all on its own, instead brushing the other's hair back and off his forehead.

Mingyu leans into the touch like a dog and they both smile.

 

 

***

A routine begins to develop.

Minghao still has work, he still has his classes. But spliced in-between them are now movie marathons (he loves that he gets to indulge his fondness for romantic films without having to out himself) and meals no longer spent eating alone, also now home-cooked. His days lack their quiet hours and instead are filled with explanations over things he never thought he'd have to justify.

"But they aren't actually children."

"No, but pets are often like a part of the family."

Mingyu had inquired as to why there was a very furry, naked child hooked up to a leash at the park on one of their afternoon field trips outdoors. Once Minghao had ceased laughing, he explained why the woman holding the leash had called the creature her baby.

Perhaps it was the childlike innocence that Mingyu possesses but Mignhao finds himself feeling lighter, dare he say happier. Mingyu doesn't seem to ever have bad days, aside from the occasional act of clumsiness or oversensitivity thanks to his new settings. Calming him down after a paper cut was a mountain of a task, unnecessarily so since Mingyu's finger healed in about ten minutes anyway.

So when the alien still seems confused on the relationships some humans have with their pets, Minghao isn't annoyed or bothered. He's amused and enjoys watching the way Mingyu's eyebrows knit together and he worries his lip in thought.

Minghao's shift starts in a couple of hours so they make their way back to the apartment when they bump into Soonyoung near the elevator. He's clad in what Minghao knows is his dance practice clothes, duffel bag slung over his shoulder.

"Minghao! A stranger before my own eyes!" A blatant lie, considering Minghao just saw yesterday in class. He rolls his eyes.

"Hey," Minghao sighs before he tenses a little, remembering Mingyu's right there with him. He can feel the other's chest brush against the back of his arm.

"Soonyoung!" Mingyu greets, as if they are long lost friends. Soonyoung seems to ironically feel the same because he grins like a cheshire cat when he spots the taller male.

"Oh, Mingyu. It's good to see you still around!" Minghao smashes his finger against the elevator's up arrow at least ten times. "I was a bit worried about what Minghao has been up to lately because he hasn't been putting in his usual extra hours at the studio. But I'm glad to see he's still getting in some working out." Soonyoung winks and Minghao would throttle him if they weren't in broad daylight. He still might.

"Have I disrupted your exercise regime?" Mingyu turns and asks him, his face laced with concern. Minghao is pretty certain the tips of his ears are on fire right now. He shakes his hair to hopefully cover them.

"Ignore him, Mingyu."

Finally the doors to the elevator ping and Minghao wastes no time shoving Mingyu towards the entrance. And of course, the buffoon knocks into someone, a small 'oof' sound escaping his lips.

It's Wonwoo, clad in the purple t-shirt and sweatpants he borrowed from Minghao.

"Wonwoo!" Minghao hisses between his teeth. He explicitly told Wonwoo that he wasn't allowed to leave the apartment without him. Normally the three went out together but Wonwoo insisted on staying in today to send off some of his findings back home. Minghao thinks he really just wanted to be alone to eat all the pastries Minghao had been buying nearly every day per his request. Who knew an alien would have such a sweet tooth?

"Oh. Who's this?" Soonyoung asks, his voice suddenly softer and less prodding. Minghao is so busy trying to shove the two aliens back into the elevator that he almost misses the way Soonyoung is staring at Wonwoo or, rather, ogling him.

"No one."

"Wonwoo," the named and Mingyu state at the same time. Soonyoung smiles but it's gentler and warmer and feels all too personal to him.

"Hey. I'm Soonyoung." Wonwoo looks at him blankly, almost robotically fixing the way his glasses sit on his nose.

"Hello."

"Great chat, Soonyoung. Gotta go," Minghao hastily tells him, jabbing at the 'close doors' button multiple times once the three of them are inside. They finally do sweep shut, Soonyoung's starry-eyed face closed upon.

With a long breath, Minghao finally glares over at Wonwoo. "What are you doing out of the apartment? I told you to stay there."

"I saw the two of you approaching from out the window and thought to join you," Wonwoo explains calmly.

"That's Soonyoung!" Mingyu tells his alien companion excitedly, completely ignoring the tension in the small confides of the elevator. Wonwoo seems immune to it as well, so Minghao realizes it's really just him seething. "He's nice, he said he's sure I'm a great tool!"

Minghao ignores the taller of the two. "What if we turned around and went somewhere else? And you got locked out of the apartment?"

"I have the door code memorized."

Mingyu leans down to Minghao's ear, whispering. "We have exceptional memories."

"I know, dammit! That doesn't matter!" He doesn't mean to yell but he definitely does and both of them are taken aback by it. "You can't just go around doing whatever you want. You can't try to befriend people and help them and approach them." What began as a comment to Wonwoo evolves into an unloading more directed towards Mingyu. And it seems to hit a nerve because now Mingyu looks almost scared and even Wonwoo's normally stoic expression reads a little surprised.

"I apologize if I have angered you," Wonwoo tells him. Minghao doesn't say anything. Mingyu says something too but he can't hear it over the blood pumping in his ears.

The tension in the elevator thickens and now he knows that all of them can feel it.

He doesn't say a word to either of them going back to the apartment, nor when he's getting ready for work. The both of them are in the living room and he avoids the area entirely until it's time for him to leave.

"I'll be back later," he finally says, his voice quiet. But the pair still seem to hear him, looking up from the current episode of Grey's Anatomy that they are watching. Wonwoo nods and Mingyu stares at him like a scolded puppy, his eyes big and mouth slightly pouting.

Minghao thinks to say something else but he's already out the door before he can.

Work is long. It's long and slow, which is a lethal combination now especially because he just keeps replaying the incident in his head and trying to decipher why he reacted the way he did.

He doesn't know either of them, they've barely been in his life at all. There isn't even any certainty that they have been truthful about their goals or missions. For all Minghao knows, they could be using him and plan on abducting him or killing him or whatever else. It seems uncanny, he tells himself this, but he knows that he can't really know anything for sure.

They're strangers; strangers from another corner of the universe.

"Everything okay, man?" Hansol seems to pick up on his mood easily. Maybe it's the fact that Minghao has been wiping down the same table for about five minutes.

"Hm? Yeah, I'm peachy." There's no hint of sarcasm in his voice; it's just monotone and blank. Minghao forces himself to move on to the next table.

"You've been in a pretty great mood the past few times I've seen you, so tonight just seems really off. I dunno."

While he doesn't verbally agree or disagree with the fact that he's clearly acting different tonight, he takes some of the bait.

"Oh, really? How have I been acting lately?"

Hansol shrugs, swiping a cookie from the display case and taking a bite. "Just different from your usual self, I guess. Maybe a bit happier, smiling more. I thought maybe you were seeing someone or got laid or something."

Minghao rolls his eyes. Why does everyone assume his happiness comes from sex?

"I guess I've been a little happier. I actually took your advice."

"My advice?" Hansol asks between chews. "What advice?"

"About putting myself out there more, befriending strangers or whatever."

"I told you to talk to strangers?"

"Yeah!" He huffs, blowing his bangs off his face, acting annoyed even though he's not really upset with his coworker. "You said how I should be more open to getting to know new people."

"That doesn't equate befriending strangers, Hao. That could be messy."

He doesn't have the energy to argue semantics so instead he yanks the cookie from Hansol's grip and finishes it off in one bite. He was so busy avoiding Mingyu and Wonwoo earlier that he didn't manage to eat anything before heading to work.

"I'm not, like... going up to people and asking them to hang out. Just one guy. Well, two, by association." He waves his hand around, dismissing that detail. "But we've become friends I guess, so. I don't know. It's been nice."

Hansol laughs. He laughs so hard that Minghao thinks he might pass out from lack of airflow and he doesn't know why because he certainly didn't crack any jokes.

"What?"

"Jesus, he must be some friend if he's affected you this much."

"Seriously, everyone needs to stop with the sex jokes--" He can feel himself getting worked up again but Hansol cuts him off, arm thrashing back and forth in front of him.

"No, no, I didn't mean that. I mean, if you say he's just a friend, I believe you. But you must have really needed a friend then. Or you guys must have gotten really close really fast."

It's true, he can't honestly deny it. Even if he's careful with the words he uses around Mingyu, he hasn't felt this attached to a single person in a very long time. Mingyu has made his life more interesting, somehow more fulfilling. He's someone to look forward to seeing and talking with, even if it's over the most absurd topics. Minghao enjoys his company and his conversation, and the selfish part of him loves knowing he can make him smile so big. He's Mingyu's person, whatever he truly means by that title.

"I guess we are," Minghao admits with a defeated shrug.

"So what's the problem then? Did you fight?"

"No, he's not really confrontational. I was just an uncalled for dick."

"So apologize and make amends." Hansol always has the simplest solutions to problems, which is equal parts frustrating and refreshing.

Mingyu is so warm towards Minghao, surely he should accept a genuine apology from him. With all he's been learning about humans, he should be privy to the reality that people can be assholes sometimes. Tempers flare, hurtful words can be said. It's definitely an ugly facet to humanity but a common one all the same.

When he arrives home, the apartment is fairly quiet. The TV is on (of course, it always is nowadays) but the volume is low. Wonwoo is on the couch with a literature textbook in his hands and he barely looks up when Minghao enters.

"Hey," Minghao begins, clearing his throat and awkwardly shifting on his feet. "I'm sorry for yelling earlier. I was just worried or something, but I shouldn't have blown up like that."

Wonwoo nods a few times and smiles, just the corners of his mouth turning upwards but it's the first one from him that Minghao has seen. "Apology noted and accepted. I will follow your requests as I am infringing on your personal space and home."

It's so robotic that Minghao has to laugh a little and this seems to please Wonwoo who goes back to his swift reading. Minghao asks where Mingyu is, since he isn't in the living room or the kitchen, and Wonwoo points down the hall.

The light from the bathroom streams into the short hallway and Minghao can make out faint humming as he approaches the doorframe. There on his hands and knees, pink rubber gloves up to his elbows and flower apron tied around his waist, is Mingyu furiously scrubbing the bathroom floor.

"Mingyu? What are you doing?"

He must have surprised the alien because he all but jumps out of his skin, knocking over the small bucket of soapy water.

"Oh! You're home!" Mingyu smiles brightly up at him before he seems to recall the afternoon's earlier happenings and his face falters a little. He drops his gaze back to the floor and begins wiping at it again. "I'm sorry. I'll finish this quickly so you can wash up."

Crouching down, Minghao puts a tentative hand on Mingyu's forearm to stop his motions.

"I'm sorry about earlier. I'm sorry for getting angry and speaking to you like that. It was uncalled for."

Mingyu looks up at him, his head tilting. "I understand where the anger comes from. I know I'm not as in tune with people as I should be but I understand the notion that we are a burden. It must be stressful having to take care of the two of us." Minghao shakes his head.

"You're not a burden. But I do worry, I guess. A lot. Because even though I know you're eager to meet people and learn about them, there are people out there who will lie and deceive you. You can't trust people."

"But I can trust you?" the alien's voice goes up in a questioning tone. It makes Minghao's chest tighten.

"Of course you can. I just don't want you or Wonwoo running into a bad situation. This whole thing is really new to me, I'm trying my best. But sometimes I wish..." he trails off with a sigh, not really knowing what he wishes.

“You wish you knew how to quit me?”

Minghao considers it for a moment because the message does ring a little true. Not because he wants Mingyu to be gone but he wishes he could more calmly deal with the situation he's currently living it.

But then it hits him where he’s heard the same thought before. Brokeback Mountain, a personal favorite of Minghao's. Of course no sentimental lines from Mingyu can be taken as his own words, the plagiarizing film-obsessed buffoon.

“We aren’t a pair of closeted cowboys,” he replies, flicking Mingyu’s forehead in his usual way. And as always, Mingyu doesn’t flinch or pout or whine. He smiles but it’s softer than his normal widespread grin. It’s warmer and Minghao doesn’t know why he does it, but he leans in and presses the lightest of kisses to the faint red welt on Mingyu’s otherwise perfect forehead.

“I know. We are an alien and a human.” Minghao nods in agreement. “And you’re my person.”

Maybe it’s the exhaustion or the relief that washes over him now that they have seemed to clear the air, but Minghao feels no embarrassment when the next words slip out from him.

“You’re my person too.”

He doesn't know how he means it, aside from the reality that Mingyu isn't a person at all. But even if their time together has been short and it's brought a whole new layer of stress to Minghao's life, it's filled it to the brim with so many other positive, wonderful things as well.

And it's all thanks to Mingyu.

 

 

***

Perhaps the worst thing Minghao ever let Mingyu do was have free reigning access to his Netflix account. He understands that it's a great way to be exposed to new ideas and information (even if it's mostly fictional or exaggerated) and that evidently Mingyu's society doesn't sleep in the standard human fashion, so he has ample time on his hands.

But Christ Almighty, the amount of one-liners, quotes, and references he has to put up with every day now. He's a big enough fan of pop culture but he never thought he'd want to chuck his television out the window.

Today alone has been filled with at least a dozen detailed descriptions of love triangles featured in episodes of Grey's Anatomy and a complete reenactment of the "To Me, You Are Perfect" love confession scene in Love, Actually. Mingyu had used some of Minghao's class notes to make the cards, which was a little enraging, but the detailed to-scale sketch of Minghao's decaying corpse (Mingyu's words, not his assumption) was morbidly touching.

That was the thing, though. With all these romantic gestures and love bombs dropped on the daily, Minghao is slightly annoyed. But he can't deny the way his chest sometimes constricts or a lump suddenly forms in his throat.

It was ridiculous, completely absurd, because first off, Mingyu just reiterates things he's learned and picked up. It's that stupid endless memory of his regurgitating movie scripts and plot lines. They don't mean anything. And secondly, Mingyu is an alien. He isn't human. He’s part humanoid, part machine, Minghao isn't really privy to the details of it all and he's been too afraid to ask. But that alone should be reason enough to avoid ever letting the other make him feel strange things, as lovely as they may be.

“If you’re a bird, I’m a bird.” The Notebook, gross.

Minghao is busy slicing up vegetables for dinner when he suddenly senses the other's presence hovering behind him. He sighs, slicing the peppers a little more forcibly.

“How many times have we gone over this? You’re an alien, Mingyu. And I’m human.”

He can't see it but he can feel Mingyu pout, suddenly leaning his head down to rest against the back of Minghao’s shoulder. He stiffens when he feels warm breath tickling the back of his neck, the knife stuttering in his hands.

“I know. I wish we were the same, though.” Something in Minghao’s chest clenches tightly and he thinks maybe his lungs have collapsed. His brain works overtime trying to think where this could be a line from, but he comes up with nothing. It's touchingly sweet and vulnerable. For all he's learned about Mingyu, he doesn't know much about the depths of his emotions. He knows the guy is overly kind and generous, always offering to help and speak with strangers he meets. He has the biggest soft spot for animals and a near unhealthy obsession with romance movies, but what does that add up to in the end? Is he capable of complex, intense emotions? To the degree that humans are?

The weight of Mingyu’s head lifts from his back and Minghao lets out a long breath he didn't know he was holding.

“I like how we’re different,” he finally says, his voice so quiet that he’s not sure if Mingyu can hear. But of course he can, he’s perfect with perfect vision and hearing and a memory bank the size of China. Too obnoxiously perfect.

“I like you.”

Minghao snorts, physically shaking off the curiosity he is harboring at Mingyu's response. That's never been a doubt. Mingyu's need to have Minghao around, to help him and lead him around has made the alien quite attached. Whether it's genuine or simply a need is ambiguous, but Minghao thinks of how he's his person and feels a slight tug of selfish satisfaction somewhere inside of him.

“I know.” Mingyu makes a sound that resembles a giggle.

“Oh, Han Solo. Minghao Solo.” Star Wars, that’s a definite breath of fresh air.

But did he... just crack a joke? A lame and unfunny one but he seems awfully proud of himself and Minghao is a little impressed too. Mainly because he takes credit for the sudden evolution Mingyu has apparently gone through involving developing a sense of humor.

"You watched Star Wars? That doesn't really fall into your genre of choice."

"Wonwoo says variety is important. Also it's something I thought you enjoyed, so I wanted to watch it." Minghao realizes he's completely stopped cutting so he hastily begins again. God, he's so distracting sometimes.

"It is... did I tell you that?" Mingyu's hands are suddenly on top of his, helping him chop more steadily and safely. Minghao flushes at the touch, most likely because he's embarrassed he needs the help. Definitely not for any other reasons.

"You referred to me as Chewbacca once and I researched the reference."

Maybe Minghao is only a source of information and aid to him. Perhaps Mingyu's emotional well is shallow or maybe it runs deeper than Minghao could ever imagine. Everything could be what it is at face value.

But in moments like these, when he feels the swelling in his chest and the hitch in his breath, when Minghao finally turns his head to meet Mingyu's eyes, their hands still unitedly chopping bell peppers, Mingyu's eyes crinkling in their corners as he smiles and presses his chest against the other's back... Minghao feels like everything, all this nonsense, is real and mutual. Like his life is an actual movie.

It's comical that the ringing of the doorbell disrupts what is perhaps the most surreal moment of Minghao's life.

As if he's dancing, Minghao quickly slips out from the cage of Mingyu's arms, the moment shattered and gone, leaving him to feel nothing but embarrassment and slight annoyance at whoever had to ruin such an event.

Of course, he shouldn't be surprised to see Soonyoung standing outside his door, looking awkwardly shy and unsure.

"What the hell do you want?"

"Hey, um. How's it going?" Minghao ignores the question.

"What do you want?" he repeats. It's unlike Soonyoung to drop by unannounced. If the two did spend time together outside of class or practice, it was always planned through messages.

"I just wanted to ask you something."

"That couldn't be asked through Kakao?"

"Um." Soonyoung takes a step forward and not so subtly peers into Minghao's apartment, eyes flitting around. Minghao automatically begins closing the door out of instinct. "Wait!" Soonyoung's arm catches it before it can snap shut.

"Then tell me what you want, hyung."

"I just..." He sighs and Minghao doesn't think he's ever seen him so worked up about something. "I wanted to ask about that guy you were with the other day."

"Mingyu?"

"No, not your guy." Minghao ignores how his stomach does a little flip. "The other one, um... I think his name was Wonwoo?"

Soonyoung's face is bright red at this point and Minghao can't help but laugh.

"You gotta be kidding me." Suddenly Mingyu is beside him, munching on a piece of bell pepper.

"Soonyoung!" he greets, voice all bubbly and happy. Minghao is about to tell him to go back to the kitchen when a piece of bell pepper is smoothly slipped into his mouth. Damn Mingyu. "You want to speak with Wonwoo? Wonwoo, come see--"

Minghao begins coughing as he tries to quickly chew the surprise food in his mouth, half tempted to spit it at Soonyoung's feet.

"No, stop," he chokes out around chews, arm coming up to block Soonyoung from entering the room or from anyone else to leave it.

But it's too late, Wonwoo is shuffling over in the oversized neon orange sweatshirt Mingyu lent him, his face blank as always.

"Hey! It's nice to meet you," Soonyoung gets out before the Minghao manages to clear enough room to slam the door shut.

"I said stop!"

Mingyu blinks. "What's the problem? Soonyoung is your friend."

"He can't talk to you guys! You know why."

"But he's your friend, don't you trust him?" Mingyu asks and Minghao groans in reply. It's complicated. "Plus I think he has an agenda that doesn't involve deciphering our true identities."

"What does that even mean?"

"He clearly feels an attraction towards Wonwoo." Wonwoo seems to consider this for a moment before nodding in agreement. "It's obvious."

"You can... tell?" Minghao is confused because he didn't realize those sorts of innuendos made sense to the aliens. They seemed to still lack understanding in that department.

"Of course, his reactions were very clear as soon as he saw Wonwoo. Pupil dilation, nervous yet excited body language, the flushing of his skin..." Minghao waves his hand to stop him.

"Wait, so you can tell when people are attracted to someone else? You can read them that easily?"

Both aliens nod and briefly, Soonyoung is a distant thought because oh god, has anything he's done or felt been obvious? Not that he feels anything strongly or maybe even often, just fleeting. Still, it's horrifying to consider.

"Do you want to talk to him, Wonwoo?" The four-eyed alien thinks for a moment before nodding once.

"He appears to be an interesting and alluring human. I would converse with him." Minghao cringes for a multitude of reasons but Mingyu is just beaming at the both of them like he's made a successful love connection playing cupid.

Would it really be all that bad if Soonyoung were to find out about the two of them? Despite how he was sometimes obnoxious or hard to handle, he is Minghao's closest (human) friend. And he does trust Soonyoung, enough so that he doesn't think he'd sell out any of them for any reason.

A bit reluctantly, he slowly opens the door to his apartment again and Soonyoung is still standing there, beet red face and fidgeting hands.

Minghao heaves a heavy sigh before motioning for his neighbor to enter. "Soonyoung, meet Wonwoo."

 

 

***

Wonwoo's stay on Earth somehow gets extended.

He tells Mingyu and Minghao that it's because he's been doing such thorough and important research, their home base approved him staying there a little longer. But Mingyu has another theory.

"He wants to spend more time with Soonyoung," he states simply.

Minghao has the day off work and asks the alien if he wants to visit a board game cafe, which proves to be a terrible idea because Mingyu is so intelligent that he wins practically everything and Minghao is much too competitive for it, even if it's just Rummikub.

"What?"

Mingyu places down a group of number 6 tiles. Yeah, he regrets the suggestion. But it's amazing to see Mingyu's progress over the past few weeks; he acts so much more normal now and blends in well. He still has that glimmer of childlike happiness though, which he displays once more with a grin after his tiles are in place.

"He wishes to know Soonyoung better. He talks about him all the time when you aren't home. It's starting to become slightly..." he trails off in thought as Minghao adds a 6 to the group he just set down.

"Annoying?"

"That sounds so rude, but yes." Mingyu admits it sheepishly, which is precious and heart-warming. That's another big development, Minghao has completely given in to the fact that he finds the other charming in a way. "He has plenty he could be doing back home but he wants to stay here for a while longer."

The Minghao from a few weeks ago may have made a few jabs at that fact but the one sitting there now is quietly understanding. If he had to choose between staying around Mingyu or leaving to go back to work, the choice would be simple. But that brings up a question that tugs at the core of Minghao's gut.

"You have to go back eventually too, don't you?"

Suddenly the cafe is all too quiet, the indie music fades out in between songs and no other people there are conversing; it's as if everything has stopped, Mingyu included. Slotted between two of his fingers is a tile that's dangling in the air. If Minghao didn't already know how quickly his brain worked and processed things, he'd assume he was contemplating his game move. But Minghao knows better. He knows Mingyu's staring at the table of tiles between them because something is resonating inside him.

Despite learning in great detail (from Wonwoo, of course) that part of their internal make-up is mechanical, they are more human-like than robot. And that transcends into their emotional and mental states. Mingyu is extremely sensitive, despite his ability to brush off things with such ease. His heart bleeds for animals and he coos and squeals every time they cross paths with a baby (human or dog). He's affectionate in his own way, with how he helps style Wonwoo to make him more naturally human looking and always helps out Minghao without ever needing being asked. He preens himself when Minghao offers the occasional compliment or skinship, even the commonplace flick to the forehead.

Mingyu is warm and loving and kind. He's helpful and caring and nurturing; he's so pure and good that sometimes Minghao can't stand it. But he does, he wants to.

When Mingyu finally looks up, his eyes are shining and Minghao is suddenly sitting up straight. He's never seen him cry, he didn't even know if that was something they did since they seem to run more on positive emotions than anything angry or sad.

"I didn't mean it like I wanted you to go, I was just wondering. I don't want you to go," Minghao blurts out without thinking. He regrets it instantly, even if it is true, because he can feel the warmth spreading up his neck and ears.

Mingyu's face breaks into the softest smile he's ever seen and Minghao's heart does this weird little backflip or ten. It almost hurts but it feels so nice. The alien blinks his eyes rapidly to clear away any tears and he's leaning his head across the table and bringing Minghao's hand to his head before the other realizes it.

Of course he knows what it means, what Mingyu expects. A flick, hard enough to leave a faint mark but gentle enough to be affectionate.

Minghao's hand is trembling a little so he blames it on that when he instead presses his palm to the other's forehead and pushes back his hair, letting it slip between his fingers. He curls it down around the line of Mingyu's jaw and brushes his thumb along his cheek. He smiles at the faint speck on the end of the other’s nose.

Instead of feeling like he's petting a dog of some kind, his fingertips break out in tingles that travel up the length of his arm and wash over the rest of him. He's full of fondness and a little bit of agony at the thought of not having days like these anymore, of coming home to an empty, quiet apartment, to reverting back to his ordinary, boring life. Mingyu being gone would change everything.

"Stay for at least a while longer," Minghao tells him softly. The alien's smile grows and he nods, leaning into the touch before covering Minghao's hand with his own.

On the way home, they stop for coffee. Minghao surprises Mingyu with a cup of steamed milk.

"Don't tell Wonwoo," he says with a smile as he hands it over. An expression Minghao can't name slips over the other's face as he grasps the cup between both of his hands.

"I can't believe I thought this looked like clouds," Mingyu says before taking a sip, a smudge of cream clinging to his lip. Minghao doesn't think twice before reaching over and swiping it off with his knuckle.

"What are you talking about? It totally looks like clouds."

 

 

***

"Why won't Wonwoo go out with me?"

Soonyoung seriously needs to learn to shut up. Minghao doesn't know how the two of them have ever been friends really but this is a whole new level. Every time he sees the other dancer, he can see little Wonwoo-shaped hearts floating around in Soonyoung's eyes. So naturally it's all the guy talks about.

"I don't know, Soonyoung," he sighs heavily, opting to put in his earbuds as he packs up his things after practice. Maybe he can drown out the other's whining.

And okay, perhaps that wasn't fair because Minghao did know why Wonwoo kept rejecting Soonyoung's attempts at asking him on a date. Because he made Wonwoo promise to do so.

It was one thing for the four of them to hang out together at Minghao's apartment. It was even okay for them to be in separate rooms, Wonwoo and Soonyoung chatting in the living area while Minghao and Mingyu flitted around the kitchen like a pair of chefs that have worked together their entire lives.

But going out in public alone with Soonyoung was another question. Minghao didn't want to risk anything happening or god forbid, anything getting leaked out.

Which meant that Soonyoung still didn't know about Mingyu and Wonwoo's true identities. He just thought they were some of Minghao's old friends that were crashing with him for a while. Extended holiday or whatever.

And how thick is Soonyoung? Yeah, Minghao always knew he was a little slow when it came to some things, but how did he not pick up on anything yet? Minghao knew within a day that something was way off about Mingyu.

Maybe they had just assimilated into society so well that it isn't as obvious to an outsider anymore. Minghao prides himself on being a main component for that, if it's the case.

"Can you put in a good word for me at least? I mean... he seems to like me, I think? He's always staring at me when I'm at your place and smiles at me all the time and he laughs at my jokes." That is a valid point because 98% of Soonyoung's jokes aren't funny at all, but Wonwoo is always cracking up at them to the point where his nose and eyes are all scrunched up. What a poor sense of humor to develop.

"I can't make him date you. Even if I could, that's messed up." Soonyoung trails after him as they head outside and he wish he could shake him but they're headed to the same place after all. He really needs to find friends he doesn’t have classes with, work alongside, or live across the hall from.

"I know that! Just... maybe find out why he keeps saying no?" Soonyoung's voice drops and it's an awful sound, a terrible one that even Minghao's music can't overpower. Ever since this whole fiasco began, Minghao has found himself grower softer. Not that he was hard before, but he definitely was able to keep his emotions at bay. But something about his current situation has transformed into a total sentimental fool.

With another sigh, he stops walking and yanks out one of the buds before turning to look at his neighbor. "Wonwoo likes you, okay? He talks off Mingyu's ear about you evidently. But he's just..." what's a good way to describe that they were different without being insensitive, since Minghao had learned his lesson regarding that? "He's busy with work."

"You mean the research stuff he's always talking about?"

Minghao doesn't know exactly what Wonwoo has told him when the two of them have had their moments alone. But he believes the general idea Soonyoung has is that Wonwoo is some kind of student or research assistant, an academic in ways that Soonyoung never wants to be so he doesn't ask too many pressing questions. It's a blessing, really.

"Yeah. He's a workaholic." At least that isn't a lie in the slightest. The alien is always studying.

"Oh." They walk the rest of the way to the bus stop in silence. It's awful, worse than Soonyoung's constant babbling.

"Look, maybe I can talk to him and see if like... the four of us could go do something one night?" Sure, it's not a date, but it's a step in the direction Soonyoung wants. And Wonwoo probably wants too, if the aliens even have any concept of courting or dating.

"Like a double date?" Minghao's body jerks and he accidentally rips the remaining earbud from his ear, painfully.

"No! Not a double date! I mean, Mingyu and I aren't dating. You and Wonwoo can do... whatever." The bus has impeccable timing because he's climbing up and swiping his card before Soonyoung can see the red he knows is creeping across his face.

"You keep saying that and then you two make constant googly eyes at each other and, like, forget that Wonwoo and I are even there," Soonyoung points out, cornering Minghao on the bus. He's trapped and dammit, he's definitely blushing.

"It's not like that!"

"Whatever." Soonyoung rolls his eyes but can't hide his grin. "Make a plan for a half double-date, then. Please?"

 

 

***

It isn't a double date.

It isn't even though Wonwoo and Mingyu both seem to think it is because they spend forever getting ready. Mingyu wears his suit (the one Minghao first met him in) and Wonwoo's hair is actually combed and styled, pushed up and exposing his forehead. It isn't, even though the whole subway ride to the movie theater, Soonyoung keeps calling it that. A double date.

"So it is typical for pairs of mates go out together during the courting period of their relationships?" Wonwoo asks. He's standing upright in the subway car, directly in front of Soonyoung. Mingyu is beside him, his body positioned between Minghao's legs.

Minghao hides his snort by turning his face into his shoulder.

"Well, I've never been on a double date before but they always sounded fun. Like hanging out but better," Soonyoung replies with a broad smile. Minghao can't roll his eyes hard enough.

As if all of this double date business isn't awful enough, Minghao still doesn't understand how Soonyoung can't pick up on the absolute weirdness Wonwoo oozes. While Mingyu's way of speaking has improved leaps and bounds, Wonwoo still talks with an awkward rigidness, like he’s reading from an encyclopedia. His terms are always very technical, precise. But he's learned to crack jokes, at least.

"What's the name of the movie we are going to see again?" Soonyoung and his god awful memory.

"The Shape of Water," both Mingyu and Minghao answer at the same time.

"Mingyu chose it. He has an affinity for romance films," Wonwoo explains. That was an understatement.

"Oh yeah! Where the woman falls head over heels for the fishman, right? Talk about crazy. Love knows no bounds."

It's said partially in jest but even if Soonyoung is trying to be funny, it makes Minghao shift in his seat, his knee accidentally knocking into Mingyu's leg. The alien looks down at him and smiles warmly; Minghao expects his eyelashes to start fluttering in a flirty cartoon character sort of way but he just gazes down at him like the radiant ball of sunshine he is.

Minghao spends the rest of the subway ride studying the floor.

The movie is good. It's great actually, it makes Minghao tear up and he thinks maybe Mingyu too with the way the deep blue lights from the movie screen reflect in the other's eyes (Minghao only stole a few glances at him, honest). Their hands brush a few times within their shared popcorn bucket and Mingyu giggles cutely every time. It makes Minghao want to slip out of his seat like a melting snowman, it's too endearing. Mingyu cringes and hides his face at the poor demise of a pet cat and it's precious, it's sweet. Minghao awkwardly pats his forearm in comfort because he's a failure that doesn't know how to act in these situations.

Overall, it's a really nice time.

The worst thing about the whole movie is that Minghao is seated between Mingyu and Soonyoung, leaving Wonwoo unsupervised on the other side of his chat-a-holic neighbor.

It's not that he doesn't trust Wonwoo; he's proven himself to be extremely intelligent and he obviously knows that he can't go parading around with his identity out and about. And Soonyoung is thick enough that he hasn't picked up on any of the more obvious signs that Wonwoo can't control or hide. But still, it's nerve-wracking.

Mingyu must be able to pick up on his nerves regarding the couple because just before the credits roll, he leans over and whispers in Minghao's ear, which totally doesn't make him shiver. "See? Everything’s okay in the end."

Dinner is good too.

Wonwoo picks Japanese food because he learned before that Soonyoung loves it. Mingyu will eat anything and Minghao isn't picky as long as he can keep an eye on everyone.

There's a certain role that everyone falls into: Soonyoung leads the conversation, which is no surprise. He includes everyone but most of his time at the table is spent with his head turned towards Wonwoo, who smiles and nods and chuckles this weird low laugh that Minghao thinks sounds nice but is so weird to hear come out of him. Mingyu chimes in here and there, always smiling and chipper, shoveling food in his face. And Minghao sits back. He watches, he listens, but he doesn't interact that much. And it's okay, that's just the type of person he is.

Or at least, he was before everything that has happened.

Soonyoung insists on paying (but Minghao knows that he will slyly bring it up the next time they go out together) so while he putters around at the cash register with Wonwoo beside him, Minghao and Mingyu linger just outside the door.

The weather is beautiful. It's a stunning night, perfectly temperate with no need for a jacket. The air is clear too, breathable and nice. Minghao can hear Mingyu kicking at the sidewalk with his shoe.

"I'm sorry that you are uncomfortable." Minghao looks over at him, confused. "But even if he doesn't verbalize it, this means a lot to Wonwoo. I think he is really starting to enjoy his time here."

"I'm not uncomfortable. You think I am?" he asks, genuinely curious.

"You are. I can read how you react when Soonyoung mentions this being a double date. And you spent the whole night quieter than you normally are."

Guilt washes over him and he touches Mingyu's elbow out of instinct.

"I'm not..." Minghao trails off. He doesn't want to lie but he needs to explain because even though Mingyu is smiling (just slightly), he feels like there is something else there. "I am a little uncomfortable, but only because this is new and different. I'm on edge about the two of them." It's weak and he knows it, but Mingyu being the ever gracious and kind being he is simply nods.

"I understand. It's complicated. Humans are complicated."

Before Minghao can say anything else, Wonwoo and Soonyoung join them and the latter asks who is up for some ice cream. Wonwoo tries to protest (he really sticks to his guns about the 'no dairy' rule) but Mingyu's face lights up with the mention of it and that alone has Minghao insisting they should get some.

He knows he should feel more awkward since he's been called out on his awkwardness, but Minghao somehow feels lighter. Maybe it's the fact that it's one less thing he has to hide but acknowledging vocally that he was uneasy with the evening makes it more pleasant and enjoyable.

They talk a little about the movie and Soonyoung waxes poetic about the romance of it all, of feeling out of place and then finding that similarity in someone else, his strawberry cone dripping down the back of his knuckles.

Mingyu is happily devouring his milk ice cream, bits smearing along his lips briefly before he swipes it away with his tongue. Minghao tries to focus on the cone in his own hand.

"Once you get beyond the fact that he literally looks like a fish, it's not a big deal. Love is love. You can be totally different and that love can still grow and be genuine." Soonyoung is babbling at this point, Wonwoo reaching over with a napkin to wipe the pink drops off the dancer's hand.

What Soonyoung is saying is nothing prolific or deep; it's what the film is at face value. But Minghao is wondering why Mingyu isn't more invested in the conversation. He is, after all, the resident romance film lover. And with the whole premise and point of the movie, some part of Minghao had been hoping he'd have more to say about it.

Maybe that was just wishful thinking.

"And like, what would you do if you fell for someone who was different like that?" The question is rhetorical but Soonyoung picks it as the moment to stop talking and finally eat away at some of his ice cream. Their table is silent and Minghao shoots looks at both of the aliens to try and read them.

Wonwoo is simply watching Soonyoung devour his treat, a soft smile on his face. Mingyu stops eating, his shoulders seeming to slouch down and inward.

It's an impulsive move and he doesn't even know if the other two will even pick up on his motive or the hint. But dammit, he’s gone full-on marshmallow at this point and who is he to keep the pair apart?

"Hmm, I don't know. What do you think, Wonwoo? Can two different... beings like that have a real relationship?" His question is followed up by more silence but Wonwoo's gaze finally turns to him and Mingyu's eyes are wide like saucers.

If he wasn't so caught up in his nerves, Minghao would be proud at how they've grown as far as picking up social cues goes. It's astonishing, really.

The implication is picked up on but Minghao doesn't know if they realize he's giving them the go-ahead. So he tries to soften his expression and smile in a way he hopes is reassuring before nodding at Wonwoo. It's okay, he attempts to telepathically say to him. He still wonders if that’s how they communicate with each other on their home planet. Tell him.

By some means, Wonwoo appears to receive the message. He sits up a bit straighter and Minghao can't help that his smile turns into a little grin because he's never seen Wonwoo look nervous like this before.

He steals a look at Mingyu whose face has softened as well; it almost looks dreamy, like the way he gets swept up in love confession scenes and dramatic first kisses.

It comes out in verbose technical terms because that's just how Wonwoo is and probably always will be. Soonyoung's face shifts from emotion to emotion, confusion to shock to more confusion (also a moment where he laughs because he must think Wonwoo is trying to be funny).

But even despite the wordiness of it all, by the time Wonwoo is finished, Soonyoung seems to grasp the basic idea. He’s so caught up in thinking it through that he doesn’t notice the steady drips of melted strawberry ice cream dripping from the point of his cone.

"Wait, so you guys are like, martians?"

 

 

***

Soonyoung takes it better than Minghao could have ever expected. It's not that Soonyoung is narrow-minded or anything of the sort, but it's probably the biggest bomb anyone could ever expect to be dropped: the guy you're into just happens to be an alien.

With that out of the way, Minghao feels much better about letting them have some alone time. Though it's still a bit like sending off your child on their first date when he watches Soonyoung's apartment door close.

Mingyu already has their door opened, holding it for Minghao with a tilted head and smile.

The two of them have been living together for over a month at this point but it feels different now that they are alone in the apartment, no Wonwoo in sight.

It's pretty late and Minghao can feel exhaustion creeping up on him but Mingyu makes them both a cup of tea after they’ve each changed their clothes and how can he say no to that?

"What did you think of the movie?" Minghao asks once they are settled on the couch. His legs are up off the floor, crossed in front of him. Mingyu mirrors his position, angling his body so they are facing one another.

"I enjoyed it," he states simply, blowing on his tea, his eyes cast downwards.

Normally Mingyu doesn't shut up after he's watched something he likes, so Minghao curiously watches him for a long moment, trying to pick up anything he can that might imply he's lying.

"It was really kind of you to let Wonwoo tell him," Mingyu adds, finally peeling his eyes away from his drink. Minghao just shrugs.

"It seemed like a good time. And you were right before, there's no reason for me not to trust Soonyoung. He's reliable, he's a good guy. And they seem to really be into one another, so. I almost felt like we were intruding." He means it jokingly but Mingyu doesn't laugh. He only nods.

"Could you tell that Wonwoo was interested in him?"

"What do you mean?"

"What I mean is," Mingyu shifts in his seat, his gaze drifting to the floor, "were there any obvious clues you noticed that gave away how Wonwoo feels?"

"Well, you told me for one."

"And that's it?" Minghao lets out a little laugh.

"I guess if you hadn't told me, it still would have been a little obvious with how he was looking at him tonight. There were stars in his eyes and every little thing Soonyoung did was smile or laugh worthy to him. That's a pretty big indicator."

"So you could tell that he likes him?"

"Why are you asking me this stuff?" Minghao finally inquires, derailing Mingyu's questioning. The alien fidgets, his fingers picking at a loose thread on the hem of his sweatpants.

"I'm just curious if humans are able to pick up on things like that, how we feel."

"You mean like how you are able to read how humans feel?" Minghao feels embarrassed again but he wills his face not to grow hot.

Mingyu chews at his bottom lip, fingers drumming along the side of his mug. "We aren't mind readers. Sometimes we can pick up on things, if it's obvious. Soonyoung was very, very obvious. But it can be confusing too. People can be really complicated and complex. And even in movies and all of that, sometimes people act differently than how they feel. It can be confusing."

Minghao takes a long sip from his cup in attempts to hide his face, the liquid scalding the tip of his tongue.

"If there is one thing I wish I could change about humans, that would be it. I would want them to be more upfront with their feelings and thoughts. I don't like the mystery that comes with not knowing how someone feels. Wouldn't it be simpler and easier if everyone just openly shared those things?"

Minghao opens his mouth to reply but he doesn't know what to say. Mingyu continues anyway.

"But I also understand it, in a way. I have tried to see it how people do. There is a vulnerability that comes with expressing your emotions. The concept of rejection is scary. And you told me before, how sometimes people worry about destroying friendships because of how their feelings have grown and evolved. I get it." Mingyu is frowning now, his brow creased and fingers fluttering nonstop against the ceramic in his hands.

Minghao feels frozen. He doesn't know what to do or what to say. Everything that's come out of Mingyu's mouth is right but he can't do it, he doesn't have the nerve yet to admit to anything.

As if knowing the dilemma within him, Mingyu sets his mug down blindly on the coffee table, his eyes trained on Minghao. He scouts closer, his legs gathering beneath him so he's now on his knees, their legs touching. Bending forward, he looks up at Minghao through his fluffy bangs.

"I know we're different, I know it might seem unnatural." Minghao swallows the lump that forms in his throat, the rest of his body unmoving. "But I am a lot like you. We're different in so many ways but you and I are alike too. Just because I haven't always known how to express my thoughts and feelings in a way that is normal to people doesn't mean I haven't had them."

Mingyu looks more serious than Minghao can ever recall seeing him and it's terrifying. He isn't scary himself but the tension is palpable; Minghao is hyperaware of everything right now, like how his and Mingyu's fingers brush when the alien takes the mug from the death grip of his hands and sets it on the table.

"If you want me to leave after this, I will. I've intruded for so long and I have to go back eventually." Mingyu's voice is softer now, almost a whisper. Maybe because they are so incredibly close but Minghao's eyes hone in on the freckle on the tip of the other's nose. "But if I want humans to be more open then I have to lead by example, don't I? I don't want to be a hypocrite."

"What are you saying?" He doesn't know where his voice comes from because it feels stuck in his throat.

Mingyu's hand reaches up and brushes back Minghao's hair, gingerly slipping off the glasses that sit on the end of his nose. They are carelessly discarded on the ground but Minghao can't be bothered to care because Mingyu is so close that he can feel his breath ghosting against his skin.

Do aliens kiss? Is that a ridiculous question to consider in a moment like this?

"You complete me," Mingyu quotes in a breath and Minghao's mind races through its catalogue of films trying to place the quote. It barely settles on Jerry Maguire before Mingyu's mouth is on his, lips pressed together in perhaps the most gentle, chaste kiss he's ever experienced.

You had me at hello, he thinks so easily when they part.

His heart is thumping in his chest and Mingyu is staring at him with wide, surprised eyes, as if he can't believe he just did that.

"Oh."

"Oh?" Minghao's breath hitches in his throat. Was it that awful? Did he realize this was all a mistake and regret it instantly?

"That felt nicer than I thought it would," Mingyu admits, a shy smile spreading across his lips. Minghao openly stares at them because it can't be helped in the moment.

He's not entirely surprised with himself when he leans in and captures Mingyu's mouth in another kiss, one of the longer and drawn out variety. He takes his time to commit the sensation to memory, the slight dryness to Mingyu's lips and the hint of sweetness he tastes on them. The alien is not as clumsy with it as he expected.

Not that he had thought about this that much before or anything.

The door beeps as its code is entered and by the time Wonwoo is waltzing back in, the kiss is broken and over. But the moment isn't lost.

Wonwoo appears so enamored with whatever just transpired that if he notices the mood between the other two (which of course he must have, nothing is lost on him), he chooses to say nothing. He plops down on the floor of the living room and Minghao excuses himself to get ready for bed, his lips tingling and limbs like jelly.

When he slips out of the bathroom to his bedroom (purposely avoiding the living room for the evening), he nearly jumps out of his skin at the sight of Mingyu sitting on his bed.

"Hi," the alien greets sheepishly, his head cocked to the side.

"Is something wrong?" It's a stupid thing to ask first thing to the guy who just kissed and sort of indirectly-but-also-directly confessed to... but Mingyu doesn't seem bothered.

"No. I was wondering if can I stay with you tonight?"

Minghao's mind races because even though they tend to speak precisely and without any hidden agenda, his thoughts go elsewhere. He isn't aware of Mingyu's society's culture when it comes to things like intimacy or relationships. Just thinking the words ‘Mingyu’ and ‘sex’ in the same sentence has him terribly flustered.

"Um, I don't know i-if..." he stumbles over his words like a tongue-tied high schooler, face heating up even though he just washed up with cool water.

"I'll just lay here, I'll be silent. And if it's weird because I don't actually sleep, I can pretend." Minghao's mouth mimics that of a fish, lips pursed, opening and closing.

Mingyu demonstrates his offer, laying back against one of the pillows (the one Minghao hugs in his sleep), curling onto his side. His hands slip under his cheek for extra support and his eyes flutter shut as if he actually is trying to catch some shuteye. He looks like a poster for a mattress store.

"See?"

The sight is adorable, even if it isn't real. It settles Minghao's suddenly spiked nerves though, allowing him to laugh lightly before making his way to the other side of the bed.

Mingyu must feel him sit down because he rolls to his other side to see him, his entire face glowing. His cheek smushes into the pillow so cutely and his hair flops against his forehead. Minghao wants to kiss him again but refrains.

"Won't you get bored lying here?" he asks genuinely, settling back against the bed himself. Mingyu shakes his head the best he can from his current position.

"Not at all. I'm with my person."

Only humming in reply, Minghao lets his need for sleep overcome all else, closing his eyes. His arms feel empty with having nothing to hold and as if reading his mind, Mingyu's hand slips into one of his own. It's not the same fluffy fullness; it's actually better.

Maybe it's lucid dreaming but it seems as if he's floating freely in an ocean of blackness and stars. He feels weightless, his body effortlessly light. The only thing tethering him down is the weight of Mingyu's warm hand in his own.

Mingyu had promised to be silent but along the road of drifting into sleep, Minghao can make out his voice, as soft and gentle as it is, like a dream itself. Maybe it is.

"Unable to perceive the shape of you, I find you all around me. Your presence fills my eyes with your love. It humbles my heart, for you are everywhere."