Kyungsoo hated mowing the lawn but he was too cheap to hire someone else to do it. He usually waited until he absolutely had to cut the grass before starting on the task, until his yard was bordering on “neighbors may complain to the city” territory before mowing it. And by neighbors he meant neighbor, because he only had one.
One of the major selling points that attracted him to the house in the first place was its location. The house sat on a dead end with only one neighbor across the street from him. A small stream ran next to his house, and the only major crossroad a few empty lots over was quiet. It was peaceful, a nice place to come home to after a stressful day at work. And his job was, to say the least, a bit stressful at times.
Do Kyungsoo was a firefighter by trade, having held a job with the city’s fire brigade for the last six years. His chosen occupation was surprising to those who knew him.
“I always thought you would follow your Dad into the company,” his mother said. The last thing he wanted was to work in a mill like his dad and grandfather.
“So does this mean you are not going to be a stripper or?” Chanyeol, his best friend, got a punch for that comment. Just because that one time when they were eighteen and he got drunk and maybe took off his pants and ran around…stupid Chanyeol.
“You are going to be safe?! Right? RIGHT?!” was his little sister’s response. Of course he couldn’t guarantee anything; firefighting was a dangerous job.
So far in six years he had seen his fair share of action- house fires, garbage can fires, gas leaks, and false alarms. It was a trying job – twenty four hours on, twenty four hours off – with his free time feeling a bit empty. It was true that his life revolved around the fire station,.
His mother often nagged him to get married, start a family, and all sorts of other annoying “You aren’t getting any younger” statements. But Kyungsoo didn’t even like to cut the grass. How was he supposed to take responsibility for a full-fledged relationship if he couldn’t even be bothered to do yard work ninety percent of the time? Relationships were a lot of work, a lot of work that Kyungsoo didn’t want to bother with. No, he didn’t need a relationship. He liked his life – his friends in the firehouse, his job, and um…well, that was enough.
The lawnmower sat in the utility shed on the back of the lot. The doors on the shed made a horrible noise when you opened them. They probably needed oil or whatever it is you did when doors sounded like a dying pig, but Kyungsoo didn’t really care enough to figure out how to stop the noise.
He dragged the lawnmower out of the shed, knocking over a few empty paint cans that he was keeping for – wait, why was he keeping them? He paused as he surveyed the lawn. It was going to take a while, stupid lawns. He sighed before bending over to start the lawnmower.
Kyungsoo was happy for a distraction. He looked up to see his one and only neighbor, Byun Baekhyun, jogging across his overgrown lawn. The man looked out of sorts, upset even.
Baekhyun was nice, not that Kyungsoo talked to him that much. He had just moved in a few months back, buying the house when his aunt (the former resident) decided to retire to Florida.
“Baekhyun.” Kyungsoo greeted, watching as the man approached. Baekhyun was about his height, maybe a little taller (not that Kyungsoo would admit it). He was around Kyungsoo’s age, or at least he looked it. He sported a bleached hairdo and dressed in what Kyungsoo thought were rather trendy clothes – but then again Kyungsoo wasn’t exactly the best judge of fashion. He went for anything comfortable and black in his time out of uniform. Kyungsoo would suppose some people might find his neighbor good looking.
“Hey, sorry to ask, but you are a firefighter, right?” Baekhyun was out of breath, his face flushed, when he stopped in front of Kyungsoo. He was panting, his blonde hair plastered to his forehead. Kyungsoo caught himself staring for a moment longer than necessary. Catching himself he tore his eyes away, returning his gaze to the lawn mower. Okay, maybe he could admit Baekhyun was good looking.
“Yes, um why?”
“I know you aren’t on the job right now but I kind of need your help. You see my cat, Xiumin, is stuck in a tree.” Baekhyun sounded flustered.
“Your cat?” Kyungsoo repeated dumbly.
Baekhyun nodded. “Yeah, he is usually so lazy that he never leaves the front porch, I don’t know what got into him. If you can’t help that is cool, I feel bad asking but I don’t know what else to do.”
Kyungsoo took one last peek at his yard before realizing that getting a cat out of a tree was a thousand times more attractive than mowing the grass. “I can help, no problem!”
“Oh, thank you so much!” Baekhyun did look grateful, which was sort of… attractive. Kyungsoo was starting to scare himself with all the unwelcome mental admissions he was making in such a short span of time.
“I have a ladder but I am not sure if it will reach. I am not steady on my feet so I was afraid I would fall and since you do this sort of thing all the time I thought to ask you before bothering to call the fire department and really thanks so much.” Baekhyun rambled on as Kyungsoo followed him across the yard, across the street, and over to the large maple tree that sat in the front of Baekhyun’s yard.
“He is somewhere up there,” Baekhyun pointed up at the tree limbs, “the little devil.”
Kyungsoo couldn’t make anything out, the heavy foliage obscuring the view. He wondered how Baekhyun was even sure the cat was still up there. When Baekhyun appeared with a ladder, Kyungsoo felt the first bit of hesitation. “Does he have all his claws?”
“Yeah, but he isn’t the scratching type. That would be Luhan – but he never leaves the house.” Baekhyun motioned towards the big bay window that dominated the front of his house. Kyungsoo spotted a grey cat sitting on the windowsill, staring back at him.
“Do you have any treats or something I could bait him with?” Kyungsoo wasn’t sure how far on a branch the feline was sitting. If he needed to get him closer bait would help.
“Ah, good thinking! Be right back.” Baekhyun ran into the house, returning with a bag of cat treats.
Cat treats Ammunition in hand, Kyungsoo climbed up the metal ladder. As he ascended he found that the foliage wasn’t as dense the further he climbed. When he was halfway up the ladder he could make out the cat, sitting near the trunk. He muttered words of gratitude that he wouldn’t have to try to finagle the animal to come closer so he could grab him.
“Here kitty, kitty, kitty.” Kyungsoo wasn’t sure if that was the right thing to say; he had never rescued a cat from a tree before. It was a popular stereotype, the firefighter and the wayward cat stuck in a tree, not something that actually occurred on a regular basis.
The black and white cat swatted his tail back and forth a few times before lazily walking over to Kyungsoo. It was almost too easy, the firefighter thought, as he scooped the cat into his arms. “Got him!”
“Oh thank god!” Baekhyun yelled up.
A careful descent and Kyungsoo was handing the cat over to his owner - and then he remembered, he had to mow his lawn. Why couldn’t the cat have made it a little more difficult and time consuming?!
A loud whack had both men staring towards the bay window. The grey cat - was it ‘Luhan’ what Baekhyun called him (?) - was leaping against the window.
“Is he okay?” Kyungsoo had never seen anything like it, but he had never had a cat before either.
“Yeah, he just gets a little protective over Xiumin here. Come on, time to reunite you with your best friend.” Baekhyun cuddled the cat to him. Turning around he started to walk towards the front door.
“I will just be going now…” Kyungsoo said awkwardly. He scratched the back of his neck as he thought about how little he wanted to go do yard work.
Baekhyun acted like he had completely forgotten Kyungsoo was there. He whirled around, cat still in hand. “Oh no, you can’t just leave! You rescued Xiumin, I owe you! Please, come in for a beer, or lemonade, or cookies or something.”
Kyungsoo readily agreed, once again shoving lawn mowing to sometime in the distant future. He followed Baekhyun into the house, watching as the man set the cat down and it darted off into another room.
Baekhyun’s house was clean, so much so Kyungsoo suddenly felt like a giant slob. The décor was simple, neutral colors, a few art prints on the wall. The tan walls and beige carpeting were spotless, an impressive feat considering there were two cats living in the house.
“So what will it be? Beer, vodka, lemonade? All three?” Baekhyun interrupted Kyungsoo’s feelings of slovenliness, laughing after he asked the question. Baekhyun had a nice laugh.
“It is one in the afternoon!” Kyungsoo stared at the man with wide eyes.
“And it is also a Saturday, so….” Baekhyun nudged Kyungsoo’s arm mischievously. Kyungsoo stared down at his arm for a good ten seconds. What had just happened? Had Baekhyun just nudged him? Were they on nudging terms?
“Lemonade is fine.” Kyungsoo managed to raise his eyes so he was looking at Baekhyun like a normal person (as opposed to staring at his own arm and questioning exactly what length of time two people should know each other before they start nudging each other). Sometimes he could be so lame it hurt, he groaned internally.
“Suit yourself!” Baekhyun gestured for Kyungsoo to take a seat at the small kitchen table. Baekhyun hummed a tune as he retrieved glasses from the cupboard and a pitcher of lemonade from the fridge. Baekhyun was the chipper sort, Kyungsoo realized. Very different from himself.
“So I know you are a firefighter, but what else do you do? Hobbies? Interests? Secret lives?” Baekhyun asked as he took a seat opposite Kyungsoo, pushing the glass of lemonade towards him.
Kyungsoo thought he should have laughed at the question, at least when he thought about it later. Instead he found himself flustered. What did he do other than hang out at the firehouse, work at the firehouse, and mope around his own house when he had a day off?
“Not going to answer? Fine, I will go first. My name is Byun Baekhyun, but you already know that. I work in retail sales, which is tons of fun. I am joking by the way.” Baekhyun winked before continuing. “I paint when I am bored but I am terrible at it. Oh, and I somehow have this really expensive gym membership that my friend talked me into so I do that too, because I hate paying so much and not using it.”
Kyungsoo took a sip of lemonade. Baekhyun and his energy was….perhaps a bit overwhelming. “I don’t have that many hobbies,” he answered quietly.
“A real life hero doesn’t need hobbies. Seriously, it is amazing – what you do for a living. I really respect that. I mean, all I do for forty hours a week is sell overpriced jeans to teenagers. Nothing heroic in that.”
“Heroic, yeah.” Kyungsoo’s mouth felt parched. Why did it feel dry? He took another drink of the lemonade.
After a few minutes of small talk, which was really Baekhyun talking about the gym he was a member of and Kyungsoo listening, Baekhyun bridged a topic that Kyungsoo didn’t want to talk about. “So, are you single?”
When Kyungsoo didn’t answer right away Baekhyun blurted out, “Sorry! You don’t have to answer that if you don’t want to.”
“Ye..yes , I am single.” Kyungsoo stared at the lemonade glass.
“Hm. Amazing, a cute guy like yourself single. I would think girls or guys would be fighting over you.”
Kyungsoo didn’t miss the way Baekhyun accentuated the word guys. Was his neighbor flirting with him? If he was what in the hell was he supposed to do? He had never been good at flirting, which was another reason he didn’t have a steady relationship. Aside from the lack of effort on his part of course. Flirting, what is flirting? He stared dumbly at Baekhyun before blurting out, “Sorry, I need to go mow my lawn!”
Baekhyun took the hint. “Oh, of course, I interrupted you. Thanks again for all your help. Drop in sometime if you are ever bored, I usually have Saturdays and Wednesdays off.”
Kyungsoo nodded before making as quick as an escape as he could without looking like a total weirdo. When he reached his yard he realized it was the first time in his life that mowing the lawn was a welcome alternative to…well, anything else.
Four days later Kyungsoo was still thinking about the awkward encounter with his neighbor. More specifically how he had kind of made things weird with his sudden exit. He wondered if Baekhyun would avoid him from there on out. Maybe he would even stop the friendly waves he shot Kyungsoo’s way when they saw each other outside.
He didn’t have to wait long for his answer. A loud knock on his door had Kyungsoo groaning as he left behind the comfort of his recliner. When he opened the door he was taken aback to see his neighbor standing in front of him.
“Hey, sorry to bother you. This is kind of embarrassing but my cat,” Baekhyun gestured behind him, “is stuck in the tree again.”
“Again?!” Kyungsoo looked past Baekhyun to the huge maple tree.
“Yeah, he darted out when I got home from work. I hate to ask but do you think you could maybe get him down?”
Kyungsoo had a few seconds where he considered saying no, but he never could say no when someone genuinely needed his help, so he agreed. Baekhyun made a show of his gratitude, saying thank you at least a half dozen times as they walked across the street.
“He certainly likes that tree,” Kyungsoo muttered. He was hoping the cat was once again somewhere near enough the trunk to ensure the task was easy.
“It is so weird, he never used to do this.” Baekhyun rambled on about the cat usually being so well behaved and who knows what got into him as he fetched the ladder and set it up.
Thankfully the cat was as easy going the second time around, lying near the center of the tree and letting Kyungsoo scoop him up without a struggle.
Another round of thanks had Kyungsoo muttering “no problem". He prepared himself to return to his afternoon of doing nothing.
“Hey, do you want to stop in? I know I keep bothering you but I am really thankful. I was just making dinner – if you are hungry and like pulled pork you could stay and eat.” Baekhyun sounded hopeful.
Kyungsoo agreed to stay, mostly because he wanted to make up for his hasty retreat a few days before. That and he loved pulled pork. Fifteen minutes later he found himself seated in front of a six pound pan of the stuff. Baekhyun explained he always made too much. “Good thing I have someone to help me eat it, huh?”
Kyungsoo was used to eating in silence. Even at the firehouse the guys usually parked themselves in front of the television and scarfed down their meals, no long and engaging conversations required. Kyungsoo found out Baekhyun liked to talk while eating. It shouldn’t have been a surprise because Baekhyun just seemed to like to talk in general.
He rattled off what his day had been like (you had today off, right?), what he was planning on watching on television that night (hey, what are your favorite shows?), and the fact his older brother had called him twice the day before because he had made his girlfriend mad by calling her dress ugly (but it was totally unintentional, my brother is a moron, I clearly got all the smarts in the family). By the time Baekhyun announced it was time for dessert Kyungsoo was exhausted from listening to him.
“I was thinking Soo – oh, sorry. I can call you Soo, right?” Baekhyun slapped a hand over his mouth like he had just cursed or something.
“Um, sure.” Kyungsoo didn’t usually let people who weren’t close to him call him Soo. In his neighbor’s case he figured there was no harm in it. It wasn’t like they saw each other a lot or anything. A nickname said once in a blue moon was okay.
“Do you want to hang out this weekend? If you aren’t busy? I owe you more than a lemonade and dinner, I mean you practically saved my cat’s life twice! I could take you to a movie or your favorite restaurant or...”
“Sorry, I have to work all weekend.” Kyungsoo suddenly found his napkin interesting. “Besides, I wasn’t helping so you would owe me anything.”
“Of course not! But still, I am grateful.”
Kyungsoo made the mistake of making eye contact. He realized that Baekhyun had a peculiar expression when proclaiming how grateful he was. It was an expression that Kyungsoo kind of liked. He swallowed, hard.
“Well, maybe we can do something some other time.” Baekhyun was all smiles. He didn’t act at all disappointed as he gave Kyungsoo a cup of coffee and a half an hour more of chatter. It was almost eight o’clock when Kyungsoo finally left. Baekhyun hinted that he could stay and watch television if he wanted.
Kyungsoo politely declined. When he returned to his house he decided he had made up for the awkward run in four days prior. Now that it was all taken care of he wouldn’t need to bother with his neighbor again, at least not in an overtly friendly manner. Problem solved. He fell asleep with a smile on his face, relieved.
Kyungsoo didn’t see Baekhyun for nearly a week after they ate dinner together. He had picked up some extra shifts at the firehouse and was rarely home. The next time he did encounter Baekhyun was on his first day off in forty eight hours. He had just gotten out of his car and the only thing he could think of was how much he wanted to collapse into his own bed.
Kyungsoo tried not to look annoyed when he greeted his neighbor. Baekhyun was walking up his driveway, a bright smile on his face.
“Morning!” Why was Baekhyun always so chipper?
“Morning,” Kyungsoo muttered. He knew full well he did not sound even ten percent as excited as Baekhyun did.
“Hey, I was wondering if you have the day off. If so we should hang out.” Baekhyun might have looked a little hopeful but Kyungsoo didn’t care. Bed, he wanted bed.
“Yeah, but today isn’t good.”
“Oh, okay. Maybe next time.” Baekhyun was most definitely frowning – or pouting – or a weird combination of the two as he walked back across the street.
Later that day, after sleeping for ten hours, he started to feel guilty. He had turned his neighbor down yet again. He buried his head in his pillow, groaning into the pillowcase. Why did Baekhyun always make him feel like he had something to make up for? God damnit.
Kyungsoo kind of redeemed himself in his own mind a few days later. He spotted Baekhyun lounging around on his front porch, cup of coffee in hand, newspaper in the other. After a lengthy mental pep talk, Kyungsoo decided to do the unthinkable. He crossed the street, hands in his pocket, feeling super awkward.
“Hey neighbor.” Kyungsoo tried to sound upbeat - but he didn’t do upbeat. Instead he sounded slightly deflated.
“Soo!” Baekhyun perked up right away, almost spilling his coffee as he set it on the ground. “What brings you to my humble abode?”
“I have the day off.” Kyungsoo thought that this fact was enough for Baekhyun to form a conclusion. He assumed that he did not need to elaborate.
Okay, apparently he needed to say something else. “Do you have time to hang out today?”
Baekhyun looked like he was deep in thought, taking a few seconds before he answered. “Yes, I think I am free. What did you have in mind?”
Crap. Kyungsoo hadn’t thought that far ahead. “Whatever you want to do.”
“But I owe you, so you can pick.” Baekhyun replied quickly.
Kyungsoo had zero idea what to do. He blurted out the first thing that came to mind. The first thing that came to mind and did not involve a ton of conversing on his part that is. “Do you want to see a movie?”
Baekhyun seemed to like the idea. He clapped his hands as he listed off everything he knew was showing at the moment. Kyungsoo picked a drama and four hours later everything was said and done. The movie had been long, sad, and perfect because Kyungsoo didn’t have to do much talking. He got to eat nachos, so the experience wasn’t anything too terrible. Baekhyun had even managed to be quiet for most of the film. During the drive to the theater Baekhyun's chatter and exuberance were not too overwhelming, another win.
“We should do this again sometime.” Baekhyun had suggested after getting out of Kyungsoo’s car.
Kyungsoo gave him a noncommittal nod, knowing full well they probably would never hang out again. After all, now they were even and they didn’t have any reason to hang out.
“Who is the cute guy across the street?”
“Huh?” Kyungsoo only heard half of what Chanyeol said.
“I SAID WHO IS THE CUTE GUY ACROSS THE STREET?” Chanyeol shouted. Kyungsoo flinched as he walked into the living room while his best friend was still yelling.
Chanyeol was perched on the couch, peeking through the blinds.
“Are you watching him? Stop it!” Kyungsoo, plate of snacks in hand, scowled at his best friend.
“It isn’t like he can see me, geez, calm down. So what is his name?”
“Baekhyun.” Kyungsoo sat down in his favorite recliner, depositing the plate on the coffee table.
“Is he single?”
“I don’t know!” Kyungsoo realized he had answered with a bit more energy than he should have. As soon as Chanyeol turned away from the window and gave him a questioning look it was clear. Kyungsoo picked up the remote. Pushing play he decided it was time to stop talking about his neighbor. His best friend did not agree with his sentiment.
“Is he annoying or something? What is with you?”
Damn Chanyeol for knowing him too well. “He is just….lively.”
“Sounds like my type.”
Kyungsoo gave Chanyeol a death glare, which only made things worse.
“Or is he your type?” Chanyeol finally moved away from the window. He grabbed a handful of chips he sunk down in the couch.
“No.” Kyungsoo was one thousand percent sure Baekhyun was not his type. Okay, nine hundred and ninety nine percent sure.
“Then why are you so pissy when I talk about him?”
“I am not pissy, just watch the movie.” Kyungsoo gestured towards the television.
“You know if you like him you should ask him out.”
“Says mr. single here.” Kyungsoo shoveled a handful of chips into his mouth.
“Yeah, well, at least I go on dates.”
Kyungsoo smirked. Chanyeol shut up at the mention of his own love life, and the two friends finally settled down to watch the movie. Later that night, after Chanyeol had left, Kyungsoo found himself deep in thought. Was what Chanyeol said true- was Baekhyun his type? Should he ask him out? No, he decided, his neighbor was nothing more than his neighbor. Baekhyun was an acquaintance with a wayward cat, and that was all there was to it.
Okay, maybe that wasn’t all there was to it, not completely. The cat part remained true, because a few days later Baekhyun was once again at his door asking for his help.
“Maybe you shouldn’t let him outside,” Kyungsoo suggested. He steadied the ladder, ready to once again fetch the feline from the giant maple tree.
“Ha, right?” Baekhyun laughed. “He seems to cause trouble a lot these days.”
Kyungsoo offered a grunt in return. He was trying not to be annoyed, but he kind of was. Even if he didn’t do much on his days off other than mope and be lazy, they were still his days off. Plus every time he helped Baekhyun he commenced another round of ‘I owe you’ which led to another round of ‘I probably weirded Baekhyun out’ and all the associated messiness on Kyungsoo’s part. It was far from an ideal situation, yet Kyungsoo had done it again. He found himself climbing up the ladder with cat treats in hand.
Xiumin was easy to grab the third time around. He let Kyungsoo pluck him from the branches without a fight. A minute later the cat was reunited with his owner. Kyungsoo brushed off the stray cat hairs that clung to his black sweatshirt.
“I owe you for this!” Baekhyun hugged the cat to him, looking at Kyungsoo with wide eyes.
Oh shit, this again, Kyungsoo cringed. “No, really, it is fine. Just doing my duty.”
“No, I insist!” Baekhyun was more forceful this time. He grabbed Kyungsoo’s arm and half dragged him into the house without listening to the other man’s protests. Fifteen minutes later Kyungsoo was nursing a beer, listening to Baekhyun as he relayed the entire life story of his cats.
“So they couldn’t be separated, see!” Baekhyun chuckled as he finished his story.
“I see that.” Kyungsoo didn’t really see because he had only been half listening. For most of Baekhyun’s rambling tale Kyungsoo shifted between annoyance and a different feeling. He was annoyed that he kept finding himself socializing with Baekhyun. Yet that was because the more time he spent with Baekhyun the more he was starting to realize that he found his neighbor attractive. Very attractive - more than a passing ‘okay he is good looking’ sort of attractive. Which wasn’t good because Kyungsoo didn’t do relationships or need a relationship. Especially a relationship with a guy who couldn’t even keep his cat out of a tree.
It wasn’t a sudden realization, but a gradual one. He had found Baekhyun attractive at certain moments during their first cat debacle, and their second, and their third. Still he didn’t want to dwell on that fact. Maybe it was Chanyeol and his big mouth that had finally made him begrudgingly piece together those moments into a firm understanding. He thought his neighbor was far too good looking…and he wasn’t at all happy with the way he was feeling. Not one bit.
“Sorry, is beer not your thing?” Baekhyun motioned towards Kyungsoo’s glass, which was almost full. In comparison Baekhyun had just finished off his own pint.
“I don’t really drink, “Kyungsoo lied. He did drink, rarely, but when he got together with his co-workers they were known to throw back a few.
“Oh.” Baekhyun pouted. “That’s cool! Do you want some coffee?” Baekhyun looked hopeful. The sight, the way the corners of his lips downturned ever so, was not helping Kyungsoo with his mental state. Baekhyun had nice lips, full enough, pretty even. They were almost as nice as his eyes, which Kyungsoo found infinitely distracting as soon as they were seated across from each other. Shit.
Kyungsoo didn’t want coffee or cookies or pulled pork or Baekhyun pouting. No, he didn’t want any of it because it was starting to scare him. Yet, how to turn Baekhyun down? He was starting to feel panicked.
When Kyungsoo didn’t answer, Baekhyun’s pout morphed into a frown. “Is something wrong?” Baekhyun leaned over the kitchen table, concerned. It was like he was inspecting every inch of Kyungsoo’s face. Not good.
Kyungsoo nearly fell over as he scooted back a good six inches. The kitchen chair scraped on the floor at his hasty actions. He blurted out, “I um, have stuff to do!”
He didn’t dare look at Baekhyun as he made a hasty retreat, leaving behind an almost full glass of beer and another awkward situation.
“I got your neighbor’s number.” Chanyeol lazed back on the couch, holding up his cell phone as he smiled.
“You what!?” Kyungsoo almost attacked his friend then and there. It had been a week since the hasty retreat. The entire seven days had passed with Kyungsoo feeling guilty for being so weird in front of Baekhyun (yet again).
“Hm. He was outside when I got here.” Chanyeol looked proud of himself. Kyungsoo had an intense need to slap the smile off of his friend’s face.
“So you walked over and asked him for his number?” Kyungsoo couldn’t believe it, yet he could. It was like Chanyeol to be so bold.
“Something like that. Hey, he is even better looking up close.”
Kyungsoo found that his hands were clenched into fists. So Chanyeol and Baekhyun huh? Great, wonderful. He was pretty sure that he hated everything at the moment. He must have looked that way too if Chanyeol’s sudden explanation was anything to go by.
“Hey, chill. I saw him at the gym and he asked me if I was your friend, said he saw me over here a couple times. He told me he could hook me up with a discount at the store he works at so we traded numbers.” Chanyeol reached across the couch, slapping Kyungsoo playfully. “You must really like him, huh?”
“’Shut up, Chanyeol.” Kyungsoo gave his friend a death look.
“Hey, you know it isn’t a crime to like someone, right? I know you never really dated but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t! Soo, the only thing you do is work and hang out here. Heck I have to practically invite myself over or I don’t even think you would hang out with me. It is time to live a little.”
“I don’t need to see anyone, I am fine the way I am.” Kyungsoo wasn’t sure if he was trying to convince Chanyeol or himself.
“Hm, right. Whatever you say. Seriously dude, I love you, but sometimes I wonder how we are so different.”
Kyungsoo didn’t comment and pretty soon the subject changed. Chanyeol knew when enough was enough.
“Did you give Baekhyun my number?!” Kyungsoo was fuming, okay, maybe more panicking, as his best friend picked up the phone.
“Um, yeah. Why?” Chanyeol sounded like he had just woken up which only further annoyed Kyungsoo.
“You can’t just give my number out!” Kyungsoo stomped his foot down on his kitchen floor, halfway towards throwing a full on fit.
“He is your neighbor, calm down. He said he couldn’t get a hold of you.” Chanyeol sounded so at ease that it was an easy decision for Kyungsoo to disconnect the call. It wouldn’t be the first time that he had hung up on his best friend and probably not the last. He wasn’t worried that it would end their friendship. No, he wasn’t worried about that, he was just straight up pissed.
Tossing his phone on his kitchen counter he stomped over to his recliner and slumped down. He had been avoiding Baekhyun – for the last two weeks in fact. Every time he got into his car and heard his name called, Baekhyun’s unmistakable cheery voice ringing out, he would pretend he didn’t hear it. When he backed out his car he always looked towards the large maple for a second, making sure there wasn’t a ladder perched against it. He would feel a bit guilty leaving a cat in a tree all because he was ignoring his neighbor.
Yes, he was pointedly ignoring Baekhyun – because he no longer wanted to deal with the way Baekhyun made him feel. He didn’t want to think about how nice his neighbor looked when he was wearing expensive jeans. He didn't want to think of how alluring he could be when he was muttering ‘thank yous’ with his cat in his arms. No, he had decided he didn’t want to deal with any of it…so he wouldn’t. And then a text message popped up and pretending not to hear Baekhyun was no longer a surefire tactic.
Hey this is Baekhyun. Sorry to bother you but I was wondering if you are off this weekend? We should go see a movie! Hehe, lame I texted you for this, huh? You just seem super busy these days and I worry about you, neighborly duty and all <333
The heart emoticons did it. Stupid Chanyeol giving out his phone number to stupid attractive Baekhyun.
Fifteen minutes later Kyungsoo managed to calm down enough to respond.
This weekend won’t work. Sorry. I am busy – every day for a long time.
He hoped that would be it and they could both get on with their lives, no favors owed, no more texts, no more Kyungsoo feeling uncomfortable. The end.
Three days later Kyungsoo found himself standing by the storage shed on the back of his property, scowling at the prospect of mowing his lawn. The grass was overgrown again, he had a day off, and he didn’t want a fine from the city. Stupid lawn. He was about to suffer through the dying pig noise of opening the shed doors when something caught his attention. It sounded like a strange thud…no, maybe like a snap. It was loud, but sounded like it was coming from some ways away. Somewhere like…across the street.
Kyungsoo stared across his lot, across the street, his jaw dropping at what he was seeing. Some large twigs had been broken off the maple tree. That much was evident from the way he watched Baekhyun swatting the small branches off his arms. Off his arms – that held HIS CAT. HIS CAT.
Kyungsoo balled his fists as he saw Baekhyun all but throw the black and white feline up into the tree. Baekhyun fist pumped when Xiumin apparently landed where he wanted him to.
So Baekhyun had been doing it all along?! He had been tossing Xiumin in the tree himself!!!!! Why would he do it? What a sick, twisted person.
Kyungsoo as pissed, beyond pissed – he was super pissed – super-duper pissed. When he spotted Baekhyun starting to walk across his yard he turned around and pretended to fiddle with the shed doors.
“Kyungsoo! Kyungsoo!” Baekhyun was calling for him. It was the same distraught way he had approached Kyungsoo three times before. But this time was different. This time Kyungsoo had caught him in the act.
Kyungsoo whirled around, his finger extended. “I saw you!”
Baekhyun was a few feet away, standing absolutely still, not a word coming out of his mouth. It was the first time Kyungsoo had ever seen his neighbor speechless.
“I saw you throw him in the tree!” Kyungsoo growled. “You have been doing it all along, haven’t you?!”
“I…” Baekhyun looked like he was about to pass out. He was pale, his posture unnaturally stiff. It looked like he was holding his breath.
“You CAT ABUSER!”
“No! No! You have it all wrong!” Baekhyun waved his hands back and forth dramatically. “I never abused him!”
“You threw him in a TREE.” Kyungsoo felt the adrenaline rush through him as he stared down his neighbor. Ha, to think he had ever thought Baekhyun was attractive. Of course he had been right to ignore him, he was a no-good cat tossing scum.
“He is fine! He likes it up there!” Baekhyun all but whined.
“Why? Why are you doing this? Are you teasing me? Come ask Mr. Fireman to get the cat out of the tree, make fun of him when he is done? Is that your GAME?!” Kyungsoo was livid. He let the words leave his mouth without thinking about what he was saying. Of course Baekhyun had never made fun of him, but why was he tossing a cat in a tree?!
Baekhyun didn’t respond. He shook his head slowly, sadly almost. Kyungsoo narrowed his eyes when he noticed that tears were threatening to spill out. Baekhyun looked like he was going to cry. A split second later Baekhyun turned heel and ran, across the lot, across the street, and into his house. Kyungsoo scowled at him the entire time, the sick bastard.
It was eight o’clock in the evening when Kyungsoo’s phone buzzed with a text message.
Chanyeol: What did you do to Baekhyun? He is crying and saying stuff about cats and IDK Soo what did you do?!
Kyungsoo didn’t think the message deserved a response. Because clearly he had done the right thing. He had outed a cat abuser and told him off, forever dismissing any attraction he had ever felt for the man. Yes, he had completely and totally fixed any and all feelings he once had of discomfort and longing and, well it didn’t matter because they were all gone. Completely gone.
That is when the first raindrops started to ping against Kyungsoo’s windows. Great, rain. And then another buzz of his phone.
Chanyeol: Look, if he did something it is probably just because he likes you. Idiot the guy is crazy about you, I didn’t think I had to be the one to tell you that dumbass.
Ha, right, crazy about him. So crazy he threw a poor helpless animal in a tree, a poor helpless animal that might… be caught in a rainstorm?! Kyungsoo rushed to the front window. Peeking out the blinds he watched the large maple. Was Xiumin still in the tree? No, surely Baekhyun would have gotten him down by then.
Kyungsoo started to feel his anxiety build at the thought of the cat drenched in the rain, alone in the tree, no one to rescue him. He couldn’t move away from the window, his gaze fixed on the maple tree. When he spotted another form moving across the yard he almost cried out. It was another cat. Was it…Luhan?
The small form slinked across the yard and climbed the tree. The rain was beating down, drenching the animal. Kyungsoo panicked. So Xiumin must still be up in the tree?! Baekhyun had said Luhan never left the house and had an attachment to the other cat. Xiumin must be in the tree, otherwise why would Luhan be climbing it?
Where in the hell was Baekhyun?! The situation was too distressing for him to sit still, he rushed to his entryway and grabbed a rain jacket. He had to rescue the cats, Baekhyun be damned.
Kyungsoo had knocked on the door but no one answered. He could see the lights on and hear the loud noise of the television from within. He pounded on the door harder, still no answer. Giving up he went to find the ladder, knowing from experience that Baekhyun stored it near his garage. A minute later he was leaning the ladder against the trunk of the tree, the rain pounding down on him as he considered the slippery climb.
But the cats were up there, getting drenched. He couldn’t ignore the cats.
One step, two steps, three and he was ascending, hoping he could manage to get both felines out of harm’s way without injuring them or himself. When he broke through into the less dense foliage he spotted the cats, huddled together near the trunk. The grey cat was nearly wrapped around the black and white cat like it was shielding the other feline from the storm.
“Here kitties,” Kyungsoo called, reaching out to scoop them up. Instead of an easy rescue, as had been the case before, he was met with a swipe of claws. Moving back to avoid the scratch Kyungsoo almost slipped off the ladder. It was a few heart pounding seconds later when he tried again.
The large grey cat, Luhan, was definitely much less even tempered than Xiumin. Every time Kyungsoo reached for him he swatted, claws out, ready to give Kyungsoo a nasty scratch. After several attempts Kyungsoo realized he would have to bear with whatever the cat, or rather the cat’s claws, gave him. With as swift of a movement as he could manage while standing on a ladder in a rainstorm he grabbed both cats, clutching them to him.
Luhan was not a happy kitty, struggling while clawing. Kyungsoo felt the cat’s claws on his exposed hand, the pain intense. Trying to descend while the cat fought back was difficult, each step had to be taken slowly. When he finally reached the ground, cats squished to his chest, he was sure that he was bleeding.
Now the challenge was to get Baekhyun to answer the door. He climbed up the porch steps, Luhan hissing and making ungodly noises. Hopefully the sounds of the cat’s anger was enough for Baekhyun to open the door.
“Baekhyun! Open up! I have your cats!” Kyungsoo yelled at the top of his lungs. The television was still blaring from within. When there was no answer Kyungsoo tried another tactic. He landed a swift kick on the thing, almost falling over from the force of his foot colliding with the heavy door.
While steadying himself and still fighting to keep the cats in his arms the door was thrown open. Baekhyun stood in the entryway, his face red, his eyes puffy. It was clear that he had been crying. A brief moment was all it took before he was rushing forward, scooping the cats out of Kyungsoo’s arms.
“Oh my god! How did-“Baekhyun sounded panicked as he stared at Kyungsoo. “You are bleeding!”
Kyungsoo glanced down at his hand to assess the damage. It was worse than he thought, blood dripping onto the porch from several scratches on his hand.
Without a word Baekhyun pulled him inside, dragging him through the living room and into the kitchen. “I am so sorry.” Baekhyun was crying as he pulled open a drawer, retrieving a first aid kit.
Kyungsoo’s hand hurt but the pain wasn’t as significant at the moment, not compared to the other thing he was feeling…what was he feeling?
“I messed everything up and now you are hurt and...” Baekhyun fumbled with the first aid kit, pulling out antiseptic and bandages.
Kyungsoo stayed quiet as his neighbor gently grabbed his hand. Baekhyun poured the antiseptic on the scratches and cleaned the wounds. He continued to cry, his choked sobs not impeding his work.
Baekhyun was crying, he was crying because of him. One glance back towards the living room and Kyungsoo spotted a tub of ice cream on the coffee table and Beaches playing on the television. One glance back at Baekhyun and his heart felt heavy. Too heavy. He had made Baekhyun cry. And eat straight from an ice cream container. And watch Beaches.
“It is okay,” Kyungsoo mumbled. It was the first time he had ever comforted someone like this, other than when he was working and it was part of his job.
“No, no it is not. I messed up. I tricked you and then I didn’t even remember Xiumin was in the tree and Luhan escaped and now you are hurt and it is ALL MY FAULT.” Baekhyun wrapped a bandage around Kyungsoo’s hand, the tears streaming down his face. “I am a cat abuser, I left little Xiu in a tree while I moped and and and…”
Kyungsoo didn’t know what he was doing but he was doing it. He moved forward, his one good hand finding the small of Baekhyun’s back and pulling him in for a hug. “Shhh, don’t say that.”
Kyungsoo moved his injured hand, bringing it around so he could fully encase Baekhyun in a hug. The man was still crying, he buried his face in Kyungsoo’s shoulder. Kyungsoo held him.
“You aren’t a cat abuser, I was just angry you tricked me. You are a nice person and you love your cats and you shouldn’t say such bad things about yourself.”
“I just wanted you to talk to me,” Baekhyun whispered through his tears.
“I know, I know.” Kyungsoo did know, he knew but he didn’t really want to admit it until now. Chanyeol was right and Kyungsoo should have noticed it before. Well, he did notice it; he just didn’t want to admit it. No one had ever taken an interest in him before, it was all new to him. Plus he didn’t want anyone to be interested in him, he didn’t want a relationship so he had pushed Baekhyun away. Now…now, as he held the man in his arms, he started to consider that maybe he had been wrong.
“Do you hate me?” Baekhyun broke the embrace slowly, moving back as he wiped his tears on his sleeves.
“No, I don’t hate you.” Kyungsoo spoke the truth. “But please never throw your cat in a tree again.”
“I won’t!” Baekhyun smiled for a split second as he sniffled. Kyungsoo thought he had a beautiful smile.
It was silence, the only background noise that of Beachesblaring at full blast. The two neighbors stared at each other, one with red puffy eyes, the other nursing several deep cat scratches. It was a strange situation to say the least.
“Can we start over?” Baekhyun asked hesitantly.
“Do you um, do you like ice cream?” Baekhyun gestured towards the living room.
Two hours later Baekhyun was asleep, his head resting on Kyungsoo’s lap. The soft noise of the television – some nature program – barely kept Kyungsoo awake.
He looked down at his neighbor, still fighting with strange feelings. But the fight was no longer about how to make them go away, it was about how best to understand them, to build on them. Sure he was still a bit miffed that Baekhyun would toss a cat in a tree. At the same time he knew he had been standoffish, maybe even a bit rude. It wasn’t going to be easy, whatever was before him, and he probably wouldn’t be comfortable all the time, but he was done with running.
Plus he couldn’t afford any more cat scratches, they hurt like a bitch. He glared at the corner, where Luhan sat cuddled up next to Xiumin. The cats didn’t seem to pay him any mind, their rescuer ignored. Kyungsoo sighed, resigning himself to threading his fingers through Baekhyun’s hair. It would be a long journey, whatever it was.