acatwhowrites: (Himchan♡moustache)
A Cat Who Writes ([personal profile] acatwhowrites) wrote2015-11-15 12:00 am

puppy love

title: puppy love
players: Kim Minseok (Xiumin), Lu Han, Wu Yifan (Kris), Zhang Yixing (Lay), Kim Joonmyun (Suho), Byun Baekhyun, Kim Jongdae (Chen), Park Chanyeol, Do Kyungsoo (D.O.)
rating: PG
word count: 11,440
summary: Yifan works a lot, and Baekhyun believes he's included as "work," so Yifan should pay more attention to him.
a.n.: Written for the krisbaek exchange. I finally fixed up the many embarrassing mistakes. Same lame ending, though. orz

Ages have been changed a bit. Nothing drastic. The hybrids are more like kids while humans are adults. Maturity difference. (It was more for writing convenience, since the pronouns don't change much.) I almost made Yifan an older gentleman, just because he's totally gonna be a silver fox.​ I tried to make this facility thing more like an orphanage or group home. Hybrids were once the exotic pet type of deal before people realised that just because the "pet" had more independent qualities, it did not mean they were any less needy or more capable of caring for themselves. It was just like having a child, so the adoptions here are more a legal guardian thing. Next of kin. Just a form of identification, then they can do whatever once legal age.





For years, Wu Yifan, [recent] PhD, dedicated himself to his research and campaigns and advocating and sleepless nights to achieve his dream of running a unique facility that fundamentally worked as an orphanage for the formerly exotic hybrids. Once the commodity wore off, people realised that Hey, this is actually pretty much like adopting a child. I don't want this, and many struggled with what to do. Having children was being put off in favour of pursuing careers or simply forgoing children in favour of companion pets.

The trend left a lot of hybrids abandoned or unwanted in their homes. Call Yifan a softie, but he never found that fair, regardless of species. His grandma kept entire scrapbooks dedicated to his summers rescuing animals and coaxing hybrids from under bridges or out of alleys. She always said he had a gift, a way with living creatures, and he took pride in that.

No one ever said he was very patient, though, but he was good at hiding his true feelings. The bitchface that worked its way permanently on his face covered the sadness and disgust at every person who entered his facility with a hybrid to surrender.

Another sunny, cloudless day found him in his office across from a couple close to his own age, he guessed, and well off financially, judging by their clothes and the size of the diamonds in the woman's ear lobes. The man kept a hold of his young wife's hand, patting it and looking sickeningly attentive as she giddily explained their story to Yifan.

"We're expecting," she said fondly, petting her round belly, "and we just won't have the time for him. He's a very a good boy, just..." she trailed off, pink-painted lips dipping and pursing a little.

"Energetic," her husband supplied, patting her hand. She smiled gratefully at him and giggled, relieved.

Yifan forced his lips to curl into as much of a smile as he could muster. "My congratulations, to you both. What would you like to do?"

"Find a home for him. A good one, with someone who will have the time and patience to devote to him." She made the cat sound like a chore.

Yifan nodded, "That's all we want for him." He spun his chair to face the low cabinets beneath his large windows and pawed through folders for paperwork a bit longer than necessary so the couple couldn't see the disgust in his eyes.

Just another day at the office.

"Please fill these forms out," he said as he faced he couple again. "They're histories and legal documents surrendering custody of him to us. Last one is an agreement form. There is a surrender fee." He handed the stack over and readjusted his glasses. "You may take it home to read over if you like and mail it in; our address is at the top." It's a canned speech; he's pretty sure he's recited it in his sleep.

"We'll take care of it now," the husband replied eagerly. His wife handed him a pen from her purse, and he speed-read the papers, signing at the bottom and jotting brief responses where prompted. As he worked, his wife kept a hand over her belly, staring at it with a dreamy smile while her husband signed away someone's life they had once dedicated themselves to caring for.

Yifan idly worried for their future newborn. He politely asked the woman when she was expecting the baby—"Mid-September. It'll be late summer, the perfect season."—whether she hoped for a boy or a girl—"I was thinking I'd like one of each. They'd have someone to play with, then."—names—"We like Minjun and Minseo. My grandfather was named Minjun."—and ran out of false courtesy and feined interest in the short time it took for the other man to sign the papers.

He glanced at the top page for a name. Baekhyun. "We'll contact you again to set up an appointment—"

"As soon as possible." The man smiled sheepishly. "Please. The sooner the better; my wife shouldn't be under a lot of stress with the baby, you know."

Yifan nodded. "Of course. Thank you for coming in." He walked them to the door to his office, shook their hands, and closed the door on their heels with a sigh.

It never got easier.

He coughed at the stench of perfume and picked up the new paperwork, reading half of the top page before dropping it into a folder and tossing it onto the pile of similar folders in a wire rack on his desk. For as long as the couple had had Baekhyun, barely a single line was filled in under each section.

There were no appointments until the afternoon. He had time to himself, and he needed it.

Rather than sit at his desk and mope over the cases he still had to look over, Yifan pushed open one of the windows and sat on the low filing cabinet. A warm breeze breathed into the office, chasing away some of the stuffiness and relieving his tension headache.

He took a deep breath and exhaled slowly, finding that inner meditative peace that helped him think clearly. He never thought the semester of yoga in college would do more than fulfill a credit requirement. Once the frustration had all but melted from his shoulders and neck, he opened his eyes and stared outside.

The facility was a sprawling collection of pale brick buildings, funded largely by donation, surrender fees, and government grants. The offices sat across a spacious yard from the dorms where hybrids lived. Connecting the two buildings was a long, skinny building with the kitchen and rec rooms for staff and residents. Yifan rarely ventured from the office side, keeping busy and losing track of time just to stumble home, sleep a few hours, and stumble back. His assistant had taken it upon himself to switch out the cushy loveseat in Yifan's office with a more practical pull-out sofa sleeper that could fit Yifan's tall frame and not kink his neck. He's usually too tired to open it, however, so one of the secretaries gifted him a lavender neck pillow for Christmas. It's kept in his desk drawer and had already seen a lot of use. He'd have to remember to look for a new one.

Someone knocked on the door, pulling Yifan from his narrow-eyed doze. The door opened without permission, and Joonmyun, Yifan's assistant, peeked inside. He smiled and pointed to Yifan's shoes, neatly set with the toes barely touching the bottom of the cabinet. "If you're planning on jumping, remember the rose bush beneath your window."

"Your concern is touching." Yifan yawned behind his hand and waved towards his desk. "Few more to look at. Top one's from today. They're expecting a baby and don't want the 'hassle' of a hybrid."

Joonmyun shook his head, skimming over Baekhyun's file with drawn brows. "They're in for a surprise, if they think a human baby is any different. That's what we're here for, though!" He snapped the folder shut and tucked the pile under his arm with a warm smile. "Better they come to us than suffer anything less than free love."

"Careful with that 'free love' speech, Joon. You'll show your age." Yifan's older than Joonmyun.

He didn't rise to the bait, opting to roll his eyes. "I'll put these in. Anything special to know?"

"Today's couple wants to bring Baekhyun in ASAP. Just work out a drop; I don't want anyone to waste their time on anyone but Baekhyun."

"Sure thing. Remember your afternoon appointment."

"Of course," Yifan acknowledged around a lion yawn. Joonmyun left, closing the door behind him, and Yifan dozed until Yixing texted a ten-minute appointment warning, sat through an adoption interview with his socked feet against the front panel of his desk, worked until the moon was setting, and finally fell onto the sofa across from his desk and windows, legs hanging over an arm and pillow over his face.

Rinse and repeat.





Yifan worked to place hybrids in good homes. They're treated as children for the most part, although they exhibit an accelerated growth pattern until about three years old, when they ease through adolescense to young adulthood, and then their ageing slows even more, but they expected to live long lives with old age settling seemingly overnight, dragging their faces to wrinkles and fur to turn grey.

Yifan's job was to make sure those years were their greatest.

The returned feline hybrid was young, barely a young adult, and notably energetic and excitable. Kittens typically needed another kitten or some playmate to keep themselves entertained, otherwise the family home was likely to be destroyed. Too many people didn't realise that or didn't want to invest in another cat or dog, hybrid or otherwise.

Joonmyun arranged for the expecting couple to bring their hybrid the week after they signed the surrender papers. It was another sunny, clear afternoon, a Friday, which Yifan couldn't find to be all that fair, when someone's life was about to change so drastically.

He sat with one cheek on Yixing's desk and turned the pages of the incoming hybrid's file with a pinched frown. "Baekhyun. Male Burmese-Manx genetics," which screamed PUPPY-LIKE to Yifan right away, the general population had no grasp of breeds, "no medical history of concern. Younger of two brothers. Healthy and happy until recently. Stopped eating and slept most of the time." He snapped the the folder shut. "He's depressed. I would be, too, if my parents were replacing me with a baby."

"You don't know that yet, Yifan." Yixing smiled from the floor, brushing a hybrid toddler's fluffy hair. She appeared to be either asleep or blissed out of her mind, eyes closed and mouth open slightly. Yixing kept a careful hand beneath her chin to keep her head straight. "Have Lu Han do the intake exam and be sure to do an emotional and behavioural analysis; then you'll know for sure." He pulled the girl back a little to sit against his chest and ran the brush—already filled with silver-tipped hair—over her bottle-brush tail.

"I will." Yifan rested his elbows on his knees, covering his face with his hands and groaning. "I just cannot believe how careless these people are! These kids aren't just pets; they are a living, sentient member of the family."

"You would make a magnificent posterchild, if you spoke from current experience." His ebony ears twitched, betraying his suppressed laugh.

"I don't need one of my own to know." Yifan was one of the modern leaders of hybrid research and rights advocacy. He had hundreds of hours of experience.

His secretary hummed and leaned over the kitten's head. The girl's eyes slowly opened when she noticed the pleasing feeling was gone and tilted her head back to ask Yixing what happened with big, emerald green eyes. He kissed her forehead, earning a shrill giggle and kiss to his chin. She wriggled on his lap to wrap her little arms around his neck. "I still think you'd be much happier if you adopted."

"I don't have the time, Yixing." He shook his head slowly, dropping his gaze when the little girl looked up at him. "I work a lot."

"Too much." The girl's emerald eyes bore into his soul. He pitied whoever came looking for a little girl, because they would not stand a chance in passing her by.

"It's for a good cause."

"The best of causes, but are you happy?" They're treading on deep territory. Most of the others in the office, coworkers and closer friends alike, knew to steer clear of the topic, but Yixing was blunt to the point of appearing stupid. Yifan knew better.

"I sponsor a few hybrids."

"But are you happy?" His dark ears stood alert, not focused on Yifan at all.

"Yixing..."

"I detect a bitch, please tone. What's going on?" Another hybrid, younger than Yixing, sauntered into the office, corners of his lips pulled up in a permanent grin.

"Nothing. What do you want, Jongdae?"

The rudeness did nothing to deter the hybrid. If anything, it attracted him. "Aww, don't be like that!" Jongdae pouted and rubbed a shoulder past Yifan's. "If you're not careful, you'll get wrinkles." He tapped the man's face, between his eyebrows. "You're not old enough for wrinkles, yet. Bit of grey would make you look distinguished, though." His tail curled behind him, catching Yifan's pantleg and leaving strands of pale grey fur behind.

"Jongdae..." Patience was wearing thin. Yixing did nothing to help, rubbing the girl's velvety ears between his fingertips and watching quietly.

Jongdae must have caught onto the shifting mood, because he put up his hands and shrugged. "Alright, I admit. I'm here for the munchkin. Chaerin wants her down for a nap before noon." Yixing helped the girl to her feet, and she immediately raised her arms for Jongdae to pick her up. "Oh!" he cooed. "Joy, you're so fluffy and soft! Like a pancake!" She squealed with laughter and shook her head, brushed hair like a cloud around her teeny ears. She waved over Jongdae's shoulder as they left, looking more awake.

"It'll be at least an hour before she goes to sleep, now." Not Yifan's problem.

Yixing chuckled and got to his feet, brushing off his jeans in what they both knew was a hopeless endeavour to remove fur. "Sponsoring them only goes so far." Yifan's used to the topic jumps with Yixing. Linear thought and clear segues just weren't a thing. Like with many hybrids, there's an unspoken expectation for everyone to keep up with them, regardless of situation. Yixing checked the time on his phone and slid it back into his pocket. "Adopting would give you some experience and more credibility."

"And what does my degree mean?" PhD. Yifan worked hard for it. He had the beginnings of carpal tunnel in his wrists to prove it.

Yising's tail jerked with his clipped laugh. "That you're smart and in debt."

"Thank you." His friend laughed. "You offer so much clarity to my quality of life."

"It's high quality, no doubt. I just think you're too lonely to enjoy it." Yixing touched Yifan's arm, squeezing briefly. "You could at least visit them. They're right down the hall."

"Some other time, maybe." This always made Yifan uncomfortable. There's nothing that said hybrids couldn't come over to the offices or that office workers couldn't go to the dorms, and many residents and staff visited the other freely. Yifan just never felt comfortable enough. Seeing so many hybrids without homes of their own hurt too much. He kept busy as an excuse. "You're going to be late."

Yixing tucked Baekhyun's papers neatly into their file. "Yes, sir."





Baekhyun waited with his human dad in a spacious lobby that looked like a conglomeration of a hotel, lounge, and an airport lobby, with floor-to-ceiling windows tinted to keep the bright sunlight a more manageable intensity and furniture everywhere. It was ordered chaos, and he wanted to explore; there were other hybrids lying around he wanted to meet, too. He pulled against the hold his dad had on the collar of his shirt, looking at everything with big eyes and practically vibrating. He spoke fast, chattering a mile a minute about stuff and things that his dad couldn't begin to decipher.

A man, smaller than his dad with a calm face and short hair approached them with an amicable smile. "May I help you?"

Dad nodded and struggled to keep Baekhyun close while also keeping his patience. "My wife and I discussed surrendering our cat—Baekhyun, please, settle down—with Doctor Wu a few days ago."

"Of course." The small man gestured to a curved desk. A hidden step brought him almost nose-to-nose with Dad. He tapped a few keys and brought up an intake form. "How will you be paying?"

"Charge card." Baekhyun pulled exceptionally hard when he saw an orange hybrid about his age, yanking his dad's arm sharply. "Settle down." The boy's ears fell to his hair, and he shrank at the tone, tail curling around his leg. The receptionist kept a smile on his face but rounded the desk immediately.

"I can take him, now. Please sign here." He tapped a printed page. "The one beneath it is for you, and someone will be with you, shortly." He motioned to a young woman behind a partition and offered his hand to the scolded hybrid. "Baekhyun. I'm Minseok."

The ears rose again, flicking back curiously, but his tail rose to a cheerful, relaxed S. "Hi!" he chirped, readily taking Minseok's hand when his dad didn't say anything..

"I'll show you around." Minseok gently pulled him to walk from the desk. The man was so engrossed in the final paperwork that he didn't notice to say goodbye. Baekhyun's tail lowered a little, but he focused on Minseok and his surroundings, instead.

"Okay." He trotted beside Minseok, watching everything with eager eyes. Other cats watched with open curiosity or none at all, and he waved at them, regardless.

"Our facility is kind of spread out, but this building is probably where you'll spend most of your time. Sleeping quarters are in that building straight through the garden." Minseok pointed out a large window. "There's an underground tunnel, if it's raining or cold or if you just don't want to go outside. The stairs down are here." He gestured to a closed door clearly labelled TUNNEL on a brass plate with Braille beneath it. "We try to keep everywhere you're allowed to go open. If a door's closed, don't go in or at least knock and wait to see if you're allowed. Some of these rooms are examination rooms and conference rooms, where you don't need to go unless called for, okay?" He always tried to stress the knocking, but many hybrids ignored him. A door to a hybrid was merely an obstacle.

Baekhyun nodded, not really paying much attention. A pale cat slunk past, unnecessarily running his body along Minseok's with a friendly purr. "Hello, Taemin." His tail jerked up, whacking Minseok on the chest. The human waved it away, swiping at the cat with an amused smile. Taemin spun out of his reach gracefully, dipping under the arm to lean against Minseok's back. "Taemin, this is Baekhyun. He's new. Baekhyun, Taemin. He's about your age, give or take a year."

"Hello," Taemin greeted sweetly. Baekhyun liked him already; there was a gleam in his blue eyes that spelled fun and mischief.

"Hi!"

"Jonginnie's napping, if you're looking for him. Blue Room." The cat nodded and slipped away. Baekhyun watched him, left ear twitching, and looked down the hall after Taemin. Minseok touched his elbow, and Baekhyun slipped along his arm to walk side-to-side with him.

Normally, Minseok's not big on touching. Working with hybrids since high school, he accepted that physicality was simply a part of life. He's largely unfazed, particularly since meeting hybrids like Taemin and people like Lu Han. Something about him just seemed to attract attention, and that something brought many hybrids out of their shells. He was proud of that.

While they walked, Minseok kept up quiet commentary, pointing out rooms as they passed. "We have names for a lot of the rooms. I mentioned the Blue Room; that's where a lot of cats will nap. They like the colour. There are dorm rooms—most everyone shares—but the whole design is meant to give you guys ample room. Green Room, Yellow, Pink, Red, Orange, Purple, Grey, White...they don't all look like their colour, but it's what we call them." He stopped in front of a solid grey door. "Here's the Grey Room." Minseok knocked softly. Baekhyun's ear swiveled forward at a low rustling, and Minseok quietly opened the door.

It was dark. From the light outside, Baekhyun could make out some frames on the walls and the pillows and cushions that littered the floor. At the opposite end of the room, a hybrid sat against the wall, playing a handheld game that cast a whitish light over his face. "Chanyeol?" The boy looked up, eyes flashing yellow in the light. "This is Baekyhun." Baekhyun's too nervous to greet them out loud. Everything about the Grey Room was quiet. Not his forte. "Is Kyungsoo here, too?"

Chanyeol the hybrid—Baekhyun noted orange hair—gestured to his lap. Among the cushions outlining his figure, another cat was curled between his outstretched legs, head in his arms crossed over Chanyeol's right thigh.

Minseok sighed. He smiled at Chanyeol and shut the door. "That's Chanyeol and Kyungsoo. We didn't know they were a bonded pair until after Kyungsoo had been adopted by himself. He became very depressed and was eventually returned." He shrugged, a little helplessly. "Now we know they can only go together, but I still feel awful for not noticing sooner. We honestly thought they hated one another." Minseok shook his head slowly. "Now, they spend a lot of time in that room; everyone pretty much leaves them be."

Baekhyun's ears flipped down, and he smiled encouragingly. "You're doing a lot; I can tell. Even caring matters a lot. He'll cheer up after a while." He nudged the man's shoulder with his own, earning a friendly hand between his ears.

They continued the tour down a skinnier building that Minseok explained connected the two main buildings. "We're heading towards the business end. You shouldn't need to be down here much, but it's not off-limits or anything. Same rules apply as in the other building. Knock on closed doors; don't be too nosy or noisy..." He waved to a couple of women leaning over a microphone, speaking rapidly in English about something Baekhyun couldn't understand.

There were no cubicles, which was how Baekhyun expected an office to look. Rooms with glass walls and almond between-pane blinds encircled a majority of the main room with one corner open to a small lounge area with sink, cabinets, microwave, refrigerator, and tall tables. Sofas and armchairs were placed everywhere, like in the reception area Baekhyun had first seen, only with fewer hybrids lazing about.

"Oh, there's Yifan. Wu Yifan, he's the one who runs this place. Kim Joonmyun's the one sitting down."

"He's huge!" Baekhun voiced in awe. The man's tall, much taller than Baekhyun, who probably didn't even stand to his shoulders, with large hands, long legs, and a very handsome face set in a scowl. He had to hunch and lean forward to see something over Dr Kim's shoulder.

Minseok laughed and urged him forward with a hand on Baekhyun's elbow. "Yifan!"

The man looked up, and his scowl melted into a welcoming smile. "Minseok hyung. Hi."

"This is Baekhyun. Baekhyun, Doctors Wu and Kim."

Baekhyun's heart beat wildly in his chest; his tail twitched only at the tip at his calves. Manners from somewhere in the back of his mind prompted Baekhyun to offer his hand, and his tail poofed when it was completely engulfed by Dr Wu's.

"Nice to meet you."

"Y-Yeah." He suddenly felt shy, accepting Joonmyun's greeting with a little smile and inching behind Minseok. If anyone noticed, no one said anything. Minseok got instructions to do something Baekhyun didn't pay attention to, and they left the office. He finally breathed once outside the kitchen, letting out a gust of air and slouching.

"You alright?"

"Peachy." They walked back in silence until Baekhyun's curiosity got the better of him. "Is he always like that?"

"Who like what?"

"Doctor Wu, like..." Baekhyun did his best scowly-human impersonation. It's the same face he'd make behind his dad's back a lot.

Minseok laughed. He looked really cute, and Baekhyun's tail jerked upright happily. "I don't think so, but I've known him for a long time. He's just awkward. C'mon. You need to see Lu Han. He'll be doing an evaluation—just talking, really. Basic height, weight, et cetera... Feel free to tell him if you're uncomfortable with anything."

"Okay..." Minseok knocked on a partially-closed door. Pop music played inside. Baekhyun was motioned inside, and Minseok left.

It wasn't an impressive room at all. An examination table covered in crinkly paper from a large roll suspended beneath the padded head, a desk with laptop and papers, and some chairs occupied half of the room. A large sofa separated it from the other half, where a TV entertainment system sat, playing a music program Baekhyun didn't recognise. A young man, Lu Han, sat on the sofa, staring blankly at the TV while each hand worked a separate Rubik's cube.

"C'mon in." Baekhyun jumped; he didn't think Lu Han even knew he was there. "Have a seat. Anywhere." Baekhyun sat on the closest chair. "'Anywhere,' but closer. I won't be able to hear you." Maybe this guy was actually a mom; Baekhyun's mom had eyes in the back of her head and always knew where he was. Always. He didn't get away with much.

He walked around the edge of the sofa and sat on Lu Han's left. The man blinked and looked at him, smiling brightly. "I didn't expect you so close, but good! You're not shy." The fingers of his right hand stopped; the cube displayed solid colours on all sides. "I'm Lu Han, by the way. Welcome."

Baekhyun kept his ears toward Lu Han, but he kept his eyes on the dexterous left hand until three turns, a flip, and two more turns returned the cube to its original solid-coloured state. "Stress-relief. Want to try?"

"Can I?" Lu Han twisted one of the cubes to chaos and handed it to Baekhyun. The boy took it and slouched on the sofa, tail over his feet, tucked up by his butt.

Lu Han turned the TV down and watched the boy out of the corner of his eye. "You know why you're here at this facility?"

The scrape and click of the Rubik's cube slowed to silence. "They didn't want me anymore."

"'They?'"

"My parents." Slender hands turned the cube, idly strategising moves. "Dad always said I was too noisy." He slouched more. The sounds of the cube fill the static between them.

"Do you resent them?"

Baekhyun shook his head. The excitement of a new place was wearing off, dragging his energy down to reserves. "I can't help it, though." He rubbed his eyes and frowned at the colourful cube in his hands. Every twist and flip that he thought brought the colours closer together took apart the colours he already had together. "It hurts, but I guess I understand. I'm just...too much for them, now."

Lu Han nodded. It was a good start. "Tell me about yourself. What do you do?"

They talked long enough that Baekhyun completely forgot time was a thing. He continued to make a mess of the Rubik's cube, but fiddling with it made talking easier. Somewhere between recounting the fun he had with his human parents as a kitten and learning that his mom was pregnant, his cheeks were wet with quiet tears.

Lu Han was calm company, never prying too deep and ready with a soothing hand combing between Baekhyun's turned out ears.

Their meeting dwindled down to Baekhyun cuddled against Lu Han's side, eyes dry again and watching him clear the cube in record time. "This is dumb. You've gotta be cheating." His tail thumped against the cushion.

"I'm not! You used the same cube. How could I cheat?"

"I dunno, but that doesn't mean you didn't."

"Doesn't mean I did, either."

Their impending arguement—Baekhyun giving the cold shoulder while Lu Han apologised—was interrupted by a single sharp knock.

Lu Han leaned back, craning his neck to see the door. "Enter."

The hybrid Baekhyun saw earlier peeked inside. "Yooo. Dinner time." His eyes met Baekhyun's, and he smiled brightly. "Oh, hey; new kid!" He hung over the back of the sofa and ruffled Baekhyun's hair. "I'm Jongdae."

"Baekhyun!" Baekyun chirped. He liked Jongdae already.

"You guys go ahead. I've gotta take care of something."

Jongdae's eyes narrowed with mirth. "Chanyeol and Jongin are going to eat everything if you take too long." Lu Han rolled his eyes and waved his hand. Jongdae took Baekhyun's hand and pulled him to climb over the sofa. "Minseok hyung gave you the tour already, right?"

"Yeah."

"Great. Makes my job easier. They want me to show you around, but just ask if you have questions about anything." Jongdae lead him to the kitchen, where more hybrids were already seated and eating. Introductions went fast. Baekhyun didn't pay too close attention. Chanyeol stood out in his mind from the previous introduction, and he introduced the shadow beside him as Kyungsoo, who fastidiously focused on his food and nothing else.

Once they were all eating, no one spoke much, and once they were full, they were all tired, and names didn't matter as everyone slunk off to wherever had the right temperature, atmosphere, lighting, and cushy places to nap.

Jongdae had a hold of Baekhyun's hand again, and they ended up in one of the colour rooms among a few other sleepy hybrids. Baekhyun settled on a pile of beanbags, immediately spooned from behind by a snuggly Jongdae.

It was much nicer than sleeping alone at home.





A morning after a rare night at home, Yifan walked into his office to a couple of printed pages still warm from the printer. "What's this?"

Joonmyun followed him in that morning. He shrugged off his coat and tossed it over the corner of his office door. "Write up on the new boy. Lu Han said he's in perfect mental and physical health. A bit sad when he first came here, but he's made a lot of friends and adjusts well. Before publishing it, though, I wanted another opinion."

Yifan flipped the folder open as he removed his hat and coat. First page showed full print body shot of Baekhyun, showing off the short tail. He's rather petite and looked younger than his stats said. "He was the one given up by that couple expecting a baby, right?"

"Yeah." No one had been impressed with the man who dropped Baekhyun of. They were glad to see him go and welcome the boy. "He's adjusted really well here, at least. Very, very, he laughed, "friendly."

"He lists his best feature as his hands?"

Joonmyun laughed. "Used to be hips, but he scribbled it out!"

The headshot was a smiling portrait that he obviously hadn't held still for. Mischievous eyes with a bit of a droop to the outside corners matched the smile. "He should be adopted pretty quick, I think."

"Oh?"

"He shows a lot of personality with this," Yifan waved the pages. "Sweet face, nice looks, charming pesonality. People like cute things." He shrugged.

His friend hid a smile behind his hand. "Well, he is downright adorable, if a bit of a menace. I think he'd be a great companion for someone stubborn and lonely and could benefit from some grounding..." The tone dropped a heavy hint at Yifan's feet.

He kicked it away."Joonmyun. Don't start again. Please. I'm going to have your spiels memorised."

"Good! Then I won't have to recite them anymore. You can tell yourself how miserable and stubborn you are. Maybe in your own voice, you'll accept."

"Wonderful. You're banned from my office now that I have no further use of you."

Joonmyun rolled his eyes, a behaviour he adopted soon after working with Yifan. "You're going to spend your life a sad old man."

Yifan picked through the files on his desk. "As long as none of these kids do, that's fine by me."

"You say that now, Yifan..." He worried. Workaholics were difficult enough, but it wasn't even that simple with Yifan. He used work as an excuse to reamin distant just because he had too big of a heart.

"I have a lot of work to do," Yifan cut his assistant off. Looking passed his shoulder, he tilted his chin towards the outer office. "Looks like you have a visitor, anyway."

Joonmyun turned and immediately smiled in greeting, leaving Yifan's office with arms wide to welcome a tall, pointed hybrid with slanted eyes. He carried himself like a panther until catching the doctor's attention, when his dark tail and ears rose high.

"Taozi!"

Yifan shut his door aon the reunion—Zitao was one of Joonmyun's many success stories—and sat at his desk, spinning to stare out the window.

He didn't think he was being unreasonable. If he adopted, it'd be in name more than practice, because he was gone so often. If he wasn't at the office, he was on the road appearing at seminars or universities or similar facilities that were starting to gain recognition and funding. He was a busy guy.

He didn't want the guilt of someone waiting for him at home, alone.





If Baekhyun took pride in anything, it was his voice. If he'd self-reflect more, though, he'd realise that he's actually very adaptable. Adjusting to the facility took no time at all. Remembering names took a bit longer, but no one really used names. Hey, you worked as good as anything.

Jongdae became a quick constant in his life. They were the same age and had similar backgrounds, although Jongdae had been surrendered by an elderly couple after negotiating with their assisted living home fell through. He wasn't bitter at all, just sad that he couldn't be of any use to the couple anymore.

"They managed a small store," Jongdae explained with a dreamy sort of smile at the memory. "I was kind of the mascot."

Baekhyun's room mate, a ginger hybrid named Taehyung, wasn't around as much. He slept everywhere and didn't show much allegiance to anyone but a couple of black-haired hybrids who shared the room across the hall. Baekhyun didn't see him much, but at the same time he was everywhere. The only time he was ever still was when he'd space out and stare at a patch of sunlight on the wall. Once a cloud passed over it, or the sun set, he'd blink, look around, and go to the kitchen for food. "Meditation makes me hungry," he explained.

When Jongdae wasn't around or awake, Baekhyun meandered to the Grey Room and played games with Chanyeol. Sometimes, Kyungsoo joined. His dark hair and fur blended in with the permanent shadows of the room, but large, round eyes always flashed in the light. He was quiet, polite, and very nice, but Baekhyun learned the boundaries fast.

Baekhyun's note to self: Never liken Kyungsoo to an owl or doll. The bare patch on Baekhyun's tail took over a month to grow in again .

Chanyeol's much more rambunctious and had reserves of energy that Baekhyun suspected came from sitting quietly with Kyungsoo so often.

"Did you have a home before this?" Baekhyun's character crouched behind a pile of rubble.

"I was with my sister and her family before I got too big. They only wanted girls, anyway, so I came here." Chanyeol's character blasted a hole in an alien enemy and threw the corpse aside. They both ran to the building of human hostages. Baekhyun went high; Chanyeol stayed on the ground.

"Even with such a pretty face?" Baekhyun teased, sniping an enemy in the face.

"Right?" Chanyeol ran his fingers through his shaggy hair, flipping it off his face. "So yeah, I came here. Kyungsoo came about the same time. He didn't really like me at first, I don't think, but..." The controller slowly fell to his lap, and his large, tufted ears laid back on his hair. He looked over his shoulder at Kyungsoo, who read silently behind them by the window. "It was really hard when he went away. I dunno how it was for him, but kind of felt like I was gonna die. My stomach felt like it was filled with rocks, and I didn't want to get out of bed." An explosion on-screen threw his character. He picked up his arms again, making the avatar run back to its vantage point. "When he came back, I told him that he was stuck with me, and I guess he's okay with it. Hasn't left me again, at least."

Kyungsoo moved from his corner vantage point to sit against Chanyeol's back so quietly neither boy had noticed. If that wasn't a sign of something, Baekhyun would hoark up a hairball.

He didn't feel like playing anymore. He let his character get shot, splash screen splattering blood and a ghoulish red GAME OVER text. He stood, tossing the controller onto a cushion and making Chanyeol jump. "I'm gonna go. See you guys later."

"Okay..."

Kyungsoo glanced up from his book but didn't say anything.

Baekhyun meandered from the colour room toward the office side. He'd befriended a lot of the workers and liked sitting with them. They'd say he was just being a nudje, knocking things over with his tail and lying in the most ideal spot to get in everyone's way. He won't deny any of it; he thought it was fun to watch Joonmyun try to keep his balance and avoid Baekhyun's tail while keeping a grip on thick file folders or mugs of hot coffee.

No one had yelled at him, yet. Probably the most welcome change of coming to the hybrid facility.

Yixing let Baekhyun nap in his office. The working hybrid was often napping himself—sometimes with his eyes open; Baekyhun's had to check for a pulse a couple of times.

Lu Han encouraged the mischief, taking a sterner role when Minseok was around. Minseok was the only one who would scold Baekhyun and actually make him feel bad.

The office ladies adored him and stood up for him when someone's patience wore thin.

Seokjin welcomed the company and doted on Baekhyun as well as the other hybrids, spoiling them with treats. He was weak to doe eyes but was quick to reprimand when their energy got out of hand.

Really, the only one who didn't pay Baekhyun much attention was the boss, Wu Yifan. His door was usually closed, and even the blinds were down and closed. Keep out. Do not disturb. So on the off chance that day, Baekhyun saw Yifan's door open a crack. He didn't make for it right away, a cluster of nerves settling in his gut and tail held somewhat stiffly from its usual jovial swaying.

He didn't know how long he actually stood outside Yifan's door, but he stared with such concentration that the didn't notice Amber, one of the office people, beside him until she'd leaned completely in front of him.

He did not yell, but his tail did double in size.

Amber laughed. "If you want to go in, just knock. He's not as scary as he looks."

Baekhyun assumed that from Yifan's smile when they were first introduced. Aside from then and in passing, however, they hadn't even seen much of each other. The human was effectively a stranger.

"Uh, some other time." Baekhyung about-faced and beamed. "What're you working on?"

"Lunch." She held up a Tupperware container of food that smelled divine. His interest must have showed, because she smiled and shook it a little. "Join me?"

Baekhyun didn't need to be asked twice—or even once—and followed Amber with his ears forward and tail amiably swaying once again. Amber grabbed plates from an overhead cabinet over the microwave while Baekyhun pulled over a pair of stools to the table. It was comfortably quiet between them, all focus on the food.

Until they were settled, at least. Baekhyun had chopsticks nearly to his mouth when Amber nudged his ankle with her foot. "So what were you outside boss man's office for?"

The noodles fell back to the pile on his plate. "Nothing. Just curious," he dismissed airily. It wasn't anything more than curiosity.

"He's a good guy," Amber hummed. "Works a lot, though. I used to think he lived here, with how early and late we'd see him in his office." She slurped her food and licked the sauce from her lips. "Yifan may look scary, but he's actually really sweet and kind of endearingly awkward?"

Baekhyun chewed slowly, head tilted. 'Endearingly awkward' sounded like Chanyeol, who towered over Baekhyun and Kyungsoo but tried to pretend he wasn't as lanky as he really was.

"He's a pro in his field. Super smart and dedicated. With people, though..." She shrugged. "I dunno. It's like he spent so much time with 'work,'" she sketched quotations with her fingers and stirred her noodles some more, "that he missed some vital interpersonal relationship experience. I don't think I've ever heard of him having a girlfriend or anything. Not even a pet goldfish. Man lives the life of a computer."

"You gossiping about Yifan?" Ailee, usually working the front reception desk and keeping an eye on the hybrid residents, leaned over Amber's shoulder and stole the noodles from her chopsticks. "Anything good? Hi, Baekhyun."

Amber elbowed her lightly and hunched over her food. "Just the normal, boring same-old."

"He's so dedicated that he doesn't have the time to get into any trouble. It's kind of a waste, I think. Everyone should have one good scandal."

"You are an excellent role model."

Ailee batted her eyelashes and framed her face with her hands. She pushed Amber over on her seat to share the stool. To Baekhyun, they were almost hybridlike at times like that. "Why the interest, kitty cat Baek? Crushing on the boss?"

Baekhyun's ears turned out, and both women laughed. Ailee quickly waved her hand at him, glitter manicure catching the light and sparkling. "I'm kidding. I'm sorry. He is attractive, and obviously smart, but he's like a bear, in the cave of his office."

"Seriously, though, Baekhyun," Amber insisted, "don't be afraid of him at all. I've known him a long while, and I'm pretty sure he still has a collection of stuffed alpacas holed away in his apartment somewhere."

"Just knock on his door sometime. He won't turn you away." The women fell into their own conversation, picking over Amber's lunch and sharing smiles when they caught the hybrid looking towards the closed office. His tail curled idly with a curious twitch at the end.

He could at least say hello sometime.





Yifan had his head in his hands, almost asleep over his desk, when someone knocked on the door. With the blinds closed, he never knew who was there, but this knock was more a tap, nervous.

He groaned and rubbed his face. "Enter."

Triangular ears leaned into the office before a mop of soft hair and semi-familiar face. Baekhyun wiggled his fingers a little. "Hi..."

"Hello." Yifan sat upright, suppressing his yawn and need to crack his back. Leaning over for too long was going to kill his posture. "Need something?"

"No, just...wanted to say 'hi'." The hybrid slipped around the door rather than opening it more and gazed around the office. It looked a lot like the rest, no bigger or grander for belonging to the boss. Like everywhere else, the ceiling hadn't been renovated with the rest of the building, leaving a perfectly functional but rather ugly white-ish popcorn ceiling.

He kept his hands to himself, although some shiny metal figures caught his attention. Lu Han had similar toys; a magnet in the base attracted the metal pieces. The taller they were built up, the less attraction and greater likelihood they'd fall over. He picked up the skinny metal pin, dragging a series of pieces up until it detached with a click and the pieces cartwheeled off one another and crashed to the magnetic pad. Baekhyun flinched and dropped the pin.

"Stay, if you'd like," Baekhyun's ears flipped back at Yifan's voice, head pivoted afterwards, "but keep the noise down."

Baekhyun's tail rose to an S behind him, fur relaxing when he didn't sense any imminent danger. "You don't mind?" The doctor looked tired but not unhappy at all; he also didn't look openly welcoming, but Baekhyun accepted neutrality as an okay. "You want the door closed again?"

"It's not necessary." The doctor opened his laptop but kept an eye on the hybrid. Baekhyun was cute and curious, a good candidate for fast adoption. Yifan felt that way about most of the kids who came to the facility, though.

"What do you actually do?" Baekhyun took a book from a shelf, scrunched his nose at the bland cover, and set it back in the wrong place. "Like, you're a doctor but not a medical doctor."

"I have my doctorate," he replied, without looking up. "I'm like the liaison between hybrids and potential families, co-workers... I educate the public about hybrid lifestyles and health."

"Ah." It sounded boring. He liked Yifan's voice, so he kept asking questions about the facility, the books in the office, if he had a custom car, because he was so tall, and Yifan answered everything. His patience seemed infinite.

Eventually, Baekhyun's commentary slowed to a mumble. He swiped under his eyes with his fingertips and yawned.

Yifan stopped typing. "You should go take a nap, if you're tired."

"Yeah..." The sofa was dark brown, leather, and very soft. Baekhyun invited himself onto its cushions and tucked his tail over his ankles. It wasn't what Yifan had in mind, but the boy was already fast asleep and muttering into the jacket Yifan had tossed over the back. He felt bad waking him, so he closed his laptop and picked up his phone to copy appointments into a notebook, kicking his feet up onto the filing cabinet. Multiple copies and reminders, he'd learned, were never a bad thing.

A soft knock opened the door further, and Yixing leaned around the doorframe. "Yifan?"

Yifan held a finger to his lips, tilting his head to the side without looking up from his phone. "He's sleeping."

Yixing's eyebrows rose a little. "I wondered where he'd wandered off to. Amber said he was around here, but it was too quiet."

"He invited himself."

Yixing's tail curled behind him. "I can take him back, if you'd like."

"It's fine." He put his phone to sleep and carefully lifted his feet from the filing cabinets, spinning to face his friend. "What is it?"

"I was going to ask if you'd eaten. It's almost two thirty."

"Already?" He squinted at the clock across from his desk. It really was past two o'clock. His stomach rumbled at the realisation. "Are you heading out?"

Yixing smiled. "I could bring you something."

Yifan shook his head and pushed his chair back. "I can come—"

"Stay. Baekhyun is showing a lot of trust, sleeping here. It'd be nice if you were still around when he wakes up."

"That could be tomorrow afternoon."

"Doubtful." Yixing shook his head. An ear flicked to the side when Baekhyun kicked in his sleep. "He has a very healthy sleep cycle and should be awake again within the hour. Just sit tight. I'll bring you both something to eat."

"Alright," Yifan sighed, resigned.

Baekhyun snuffled, sprawled out on his back, and pulled the jacket over his face with a soft sigh.





Maybe it really was a trust test, because Baekhyun came around much more often after that first sleepover. He pushed at Yifan, searching for boundaries and pushing them whenever possible. Within weeks, the hybrid was inviting himself into Yifan's office without knocking, napping on his sofa or sitting on the filing cabinets to people-watch outside or stealing one of Yifan's hands from its clawed typing stance to scratch behind one of his ears.

It was nice, having company. For all of Yifan's purposeful separation from the rest of the facility, he didn't mind Baekhyun at all. He was a goofball, loud, clingy, and tried to include everyone in everything. Most invitations, Yifan declined, and he missed the crestfallen droop to the boy's ears and tail.

To make up for all the rejected invitations, Baekhyun spent his free evenings in Yifan's office, after all the appointments and meetings and phone calls were done.

One particularly drizzly day, Baekhyun lamented the lack of sunbeams to lie in and dragged his feet past the colour rooms and kitchen and offices to Yifan's closed door. He heard clacking keys and entered uninvited. The window blinds were open, showing the darkening clouds and wet glass. It didn't feel as miserable in the cosy office; Baekhyun attributed it to the company.

The doctor didn't acknowledge him until Baekhyun slipped his arms around Yifan's shoulders, nudging the man's head with his own and leaning his forehead on a broad shoulder with a sigh.

"May I help you?"

"No," Baekhyun mumbled. "You're comfy's all."

Yifan scoffed. "You only like me because I'm comfortable?"

"Mmhm." He shifted his head to Yifan's other shoulder with a content sigh. "'s a compliment."

"Then I'm flattered."

Baekhyun rolled his head upright onto his chin, narrowing his eyes at the computer screen. "Whatcha workin' on?"

"I'm reviewing a paper for a friend. Long-term effects of being in a multi-generational home."

The hybrid blew a raspberry and buried his face again. "Boring."

"Feel free to leave," Yifan replied, distracted by his screen. He highlighted a section and tapped a note. Baekhyun remained over his shoulder like a clingy vulture, watching or dozing or making faces Yifan saw in the laptop screen's reflection; he couldn't be sure and didn't really care. The silence, usually welcomed, was almost stifling, though. Not even the drip-drop of the rain hitting the window helped; it was just static. It only felt oppressive when the hybrid was around. He didn't know what they could talk about; Baekhyun was usually a chatterbox, leading the conversation or carrying both sides himself. All Yifan knew about him came from his file. "You only ever lived with that married couple, right?"

"Yeah. They said they were having a baby, though," he added quietly.

"How did you feel about that?" Yifan wasn't reading, anymore, focused on the warmth across his shoulders and soft breath by his ear. He felt the shrug and sigh. "You didn't care?"

"I didn't think it meant they were gonna get rid of me, not gonna lie. I was actually pretty excited. I thought I'd have someone to play with." He sighed heavily, breath tickling Yifan's ear and disturbing the leaves of the plant on his desk. "It's lonely by yourself."

Yifan stared someplace between his nose and the screen. Baekhyun's warm against his back, and the arms around him weren't unwelcome. He hadn't recognised the static under his skin and buzzing in his ears to be loneliness until he'd met the hybrid, when the persistent buzzing stopped.

"Yeah," he agreed. "It is." The clock on his laptop read after ten. Baekhyun skipped curfew again. "It's getting late. You should go to your room."

"But you're here, and I'm comfy."

"I'll be here again tomorrow." He saved the paper with his notes and shut the lid. Baekhyun still didn't move.

"You may not be as comfy tomorrow."

"Or I will be, but you won't find out if you don't go."

"Fiiiine," Baekhyun whined. He arched his back, stretching his arms out and hunching his shoulders, squeezing Yifan in a sort-of hug. "Are you going home?"

"Soon. Goodnight."

Baekhyun straightened and walked to the door, steps silent on the carpeting. "Night." The door shut again, and Yifan pressed the heels of his palms against his eyes.

He could stay on the sofa again, but there was a threat of Joonmyun selling his apartment and everything in it if he didn't go home more often.

So he slipped his feet into his shoes, grabbed his jacket and keys, and left his work on his desk. He flipped the light switch off as he left and walked through the dark office and parking lot with heavy eyelids and buzzing ears.





Jongdae noticed Baekhyun's absences from the kitchen and colour rooms. "You know," he said one of the increasingly rare days Baekhyun was on the dorm side of the facility, "Taehyung was asking me where you've been hanging out." That Taehyung of all people noticed his absence made Baekhyun feel just a bit more okay.

He rolled his head around his neck to look at Jongdae briefly over his shoulder before rolling back to stare out the window with a sigh. "Office side."

"Office side." Jongdae nodded sagely. "Just because?"

"Sure."

"Not because you're keeping anyone in particular company?"

His ears flicked and stood still. "Sure."

Jongdae finished examining his nails and picked up his striped tail to look for split ends. Even in his hands, it twitched and curled. "The doc's at a conference thing, right?"

Baekhyun didn't reply; his tail did the talking. It wove in dreamy patterns whenever Yifan was around. It wagged eagerly when he so much as thought about Yifan. He was just so perfect. Baekhyun didn't even have the words to describe the human. With him out of town—out of country, even—the hybrid's tail hung limp, barely showing signs of life even when Jongdae tickled it.

"He'll be back in a few days."

"But it's not now." Baekhyun hadn't felt so lonely in a long time, since living at the facility. A niggling thought at the back of his mind tried telling him it was better when he and the doctor were strangers.

"'Absense makes the heart grow fonder,'" Jongdae replied unhelpfully. His tail fell to the messy blankets softly. He propped himself up on an elbow to poke the boy's waist. "C'mon, Baek. Cheer up. If he comes back to your ugly moping face, he'll not want to stick around." He dragged a nail lightly down the outside of Baekhyun's ear, making it flutter. "Your cute face is your selling point."

Every time he's in the office, he's upbeat, energetic, friendly, not the least bit mopey. "So why doesn't he like me?" His ears flatten to his hair. He rolled towards Jongdae and shifted so his face was tucked into his arm.

"He does, Baekhyun..." He squeezed the other hybrid's fingers gently.

"If he did, he'd..." Adopt me. Take me home. Baekhyun sighed and nuzzled closer to Jongdae, who allowed it, welcomed it, and curled closer.

The days crawled by. Yifan took the sunshine and summer weather with him, so Baekhyun couldn't even go outside or nap in a sunbeam or so much as look outside without stifling loneliness leaking down his throat.

Even the office ladies noticed the change. He could only take so much coddling and concern before retreating back to the dorm side. Ailee suggested he mope someplace the general public wouldn't see. He sulked in his room; Taehyung brought him snacks so quietly Baekhyun was never sure when the other hybrid was even in the room. They had little notes with them, which was nice. He sulked in the Grey Room—Kyungsoo was excellent sulking company, quiet and neutral; he didn't go out of his way to try cheering Baekhyun up at all. Just let him sulk. Baekhyun appreciated that.

When Yixing told Baekhyun the night before that Yifan was returning to the office, Baekhyun's tail rose for the first time in days, and he thanked Yixing for letting him know. He avoided the office, however. Even when Yifan left his door open—an event that had the others whispering—he boy didn't even look at it, flitting to every other office and greeting every other office worker.

The office atmosphere turned chilly with Baekhyun's cold shoulder.

Joonmyun sat on Yifan's couch and peered through the blinds, held open by his fingers. "You know, there's an easy solution."

"To what? World hunger? Feed the homeless to the hungry."

The blinds fell together with a shff and tapped the glass. "Yifan." Joonmyun mastered the exasperated parent tone before he was twenty. Its effectiveness depended on the subject. Yifan was not immune, just stubborn and resilient. "You're miserable."

"I'm just tired."

"Tired of working so much or tired of avoiding Baekhyun?"

Dark brows dipped towards a regal nose; Yifan pushed his glasses back up with a frown. "I'm not avoiding him."

"Your not avoiding something is remarkably similar to not turning around when a train derails. Because it was your fault it derailed, and you expected the accident."

"Your metaphors suck."

His friend rolled his eyes and sat forward to lean his elbows on his knees. "Baekhyun felt abandoned when you left. You didn't even tell him how long you'd be gone; he heard it from Yixing. He trusted you."

Yifan felt like crap. Guilt was the exact thing he strove to avoid.

"So you're miserable, and he's miserable. What are you going to do about it? Actively," Joonmyun added quickly, "because this passive open-door policy, while new and a good thing, is not cutting it. It's comfortable, not doing anything, I get that; this is your familiar space. Everything has been new to Baekhyun these last few months. I think it was becoming his familiar space, too, because of you."

Guilt was a heavy burden. It felt like a bear was piggy-back riding him.

"Are you done lecturing me? It was new—and I appreciate that—but I actually have something I'd like your help on." He waved Joonmyun over to his desk.

His friend leaned over his shoulder. "Will it fix this thing between you and Baekyhun?"

"I hope so."





Holding a grudge was tiring, but Baekyhun wasn't going to be the first one to give in. Call it pride; call it stupidity; but it was Yifan's fault, so he should fix it.

Baekhyun could be very patient.

He was relieved when Jongdae told him that Yixing had said that Yifan wanted to see Baekhyun in his office. A bit roundabout, but he'd take it. Pushing Jongdae aside—"Getting called to the boss man's office. Someone's in trouble!"—Baekhyun trotted to the office side, slowed to a walk just at the end of the hall, and took his time greeting whoever else was in before even looking at Yifan's office.

The door was open a crack. The hybrid angled himself so he could see inside without opening it more and saw the doctor on the comfy sofa, reading on his tablet. Quiet as a shadow, he nudged his way inside, opening the door just enough for him to get inside.

Yifan's right arm reached past Baekhyun, pushing the door shut with his fingertips. "You are an incredibly stubborn and persistent person, Baekhyun. Literally everyone in this office has come to me to say that."

His tail jerked, betraying his pleasure in being acknowledged as well as making Yifan miserable. Karma.

"I am sorry that I made you feel way, though." Yifan didn't look up during his apology. Baekhyun could see his expression was suitably sorry and guilty, and the tips of his ears were pink. "I didn't know you'd react that way when I left. I'm sorry."

Baekhyun stood quietly, tail drifting to and fro behind him, just to waste time and make Yifan squirm while he pretended to consider the apology.

He hurt. Yifan knew the hybrid hurt, and words would't make that hurt go away, but maybe simple actions could. Yifan turned back to his tablet and lifted his other arm, an invitation that Baekhyun readily accepted. He slithered beneath the long arm and tucked it across himself while searching for the ideal comfy spot.

The doctor was patient, staring at his tablet but not seeing anything as Baekhyun squirmed and shifted and situated himself firmly against his side. Baekhyun was bonier than expected. "Are you done?"

"I was." Baekhyun huffed and twisted his hips, mumbling, "Until you had to say something. Is nothing sacred?" He pushed his heels into the sofa, shoving Yifan into the padded arm, and burrowed his butt between the cushions with his toes tucked between the end cushion and arm. Deeming himself sufficiently situated, he lowered Yifan's arm. "Now I'm done." His tail touched the floor, twitched to curl up, fell again, and flipped onto the cushion under his thigh. "So whatcha doing?"

"Work."

"Is it important?"

Yifan swiped the screen with his thumb with a hum.

Baekhyun frowned. He understood work but not even taking the time to deem him with a verbal response was unacceptable. He had a need to be acknowledged, and that need was not being met. "Hey."

Yifan hummed.

"Hey."

Yifan grunted, tone turning to something inching towards amusement. He was toying with the hybrid, assuming forgiveness.

Baekhyun snorted and turned his attention to the doctors hands. Two could play the ignoring game. He spun the rings on the doctor's fingers, one at a time. First left, then right, full circle, finally working them off. Yifan glanced over from his tablet. His grin went unnoticed; Baekhyun dropped the rings onto his own fingers to admire them in the light. None of them fit except on his thumb, and even then it was quite loose; his fingers were smaller than Yifan's, whose were long and slender like a musician's.

He replaced the rings and played with Yifan's fingers, lacing them with his own and pulling Yifan's arm further over his shoulders and across his chest. His head nuzzled into the doctor's shoulder. Their comfortable routine was almost restored. "Is that really important?" More important than me?

"The less you bother me, the faster I'll be done." It's human logic. Something Baekhyun notoriously lacked.

The hybrid knocked his head against Yifan's shoulder with light, rhythmic thumps. "But I'm bored now."

"So go back to the main wing."

"No," he wriggled closer, "I'm comfy."

"You're a nuisance."

"You're a nuisance. Why do work so much when you could do me, instead?" He bit his lip and shimmied his shoulder, jostling Yifan. The man didn't acknowledge the innuendo. Baekhyun snorted and tucked his feet under his thighs to slouch irritably. "You're no fun, old man."

"So go back to the main wing."

The boy poked Yifan's thigh in a random pattern. "What button do I push for a better fortune?"

"What button do I push to turn off your mouth?"

"Oh, that's easy!" Baekhyun puckered his lips. He flinched when Yifan's tablet tapped his nose.

"Nice try." It was a worth a shot. "I have a meeting in a few minutes. You'll need to leave."

"Fine," Baekhyun sighed. At least they'd spent some time together; Baekhyun felt better. Yifan raised his arm for him to scoot off the couch and stand. "You gonna work late again?"

"No, I'll head home early." A relative timeframe, ambiguous enough for Baekhyun to not plan on seeing him again that afternoon.

"Okay... See you." He waved to Joonmyun as the doctor walked into Yifan's office, spinning on the ball of his foot to hide the papers in his hands behind him.

Yifan stayed late, drowning out the buzzing in his head with music while he worked.





Baekhyun continued to visit Yifan's office pretty much every day. Sometimes, the doctor would return to Baekhyun curled on his sofa, whimpering in his sleep and writhing. He discovered it was normal, and it became welcome background noise.

A few times, the hybrid even managed to get Yifan out of his office and in the dorm side of the facility. A lot of other hybrids were like Baekhyun had been: Largely unaware Yifan was a real person. He was awkward around them at first; meeting the living subjects of numerous research papers and projects brought a whole new dimension to Yifan's perspective. They warmed up to him pretty fast; some younger hybrids even dopted him as a jungle gym.

"You know, for how smart you are, you're pretty dumb."

Yifan groaned.

"No, Yifan. Listen to me. You're thinkng too much. Just...stop avoiding being happy. It's sad that some kids are given up. It's sad that some animals are abused and neglected. It's very sad, but that doesn't mean you have to be, too. Helping even a few matters. Coming here is good. It's an opportunity. For them and you."

Yifan sighed. It was one thing to consider in his own head, but someone else saying it out loud made it too real a possibility. He felt another headache coming on, and Fate seemed to be laughing at him, because Baekhyun looked inside just then, ears alert and eyes curious.

"Busy?"

"Just finished." Joonmyun scratched behind Baekhyun's ear. "He's all yours."

Oh, goody.

Baekhyun grinned and stood with his hands behind his back, rocking on his heels a bit until Joonmyun went into his own office and closed the door. The hybrid faced Yifan at his desk and spread his hands. "Okay, so you know how you're always cooped up in here, working or whatever?"

Or whatever. Yifan nodded.

"Well, since part of your job is getting hybrids like me homes, I'm technically 'work,' so..." Do me. His hands rotated around one another. "See where I'm going here?"

Yifan breathed a sharp laugh and rubbed a hand over his eyes. He couldn't tell if his headache was getting better or worse. "I swear, everyone's making my personal life their business."

Baekhyun sat on the corner of Yifan's desk, pushing some papers out of the way and out of order. "I have an excuse, at least, because I want to be a part of it." His tail twitched minutely, tip curling. "Legally speaking, though, ours is yours. Our lives are literally your business."

"Legally speaking, yes, but your lives and well-being are our concern, first and foremost. We," the royal 'we,' "want you all to be happy."

"What do you want?"

"Me?"

"You." Baekhyun scooted closer, ears forward and all attention on Yifan. Every swipe of his tail shuffled the papers into more disarray.

It had never been a question of his own wants. He wanted the greater good for others. He wanted hybrids like Baekhyun to feel safe and loved every day. He wanted Baekhyun.

Not that he was about to admit it. "I can't say what I want." Baekhyun's ears pulled back; the mood got heavier than he intended. Yifan flicked the tip of the boy's right ear. "I can say what I don't want, though, and I don't want to be lonely anymore."

"I'm good company," Baekhyun replied cheekily.

"You are. Thank you."

The hybrid looked to the bookshelf, feigning sudden interest to hide the colour in his cheeks. His heart sat on his tongue and beat in his ears. "I-I'm not going anywhere anytime soon, so—"

"I've been meaning to talk to you about that, actually." No turning back. Yifan offered a small prayer and looked into Baekhyun's eyes when the boy faced him again. "Come home with me." It was meant to be a question, not a proposition.

Baekhyun's ears flipped up, to the side, and somewhere in-between. He tilted his head, eyes narrowed. "...Now?"

"Every day. Come home with me, come to work, hang out with your friends, stay here or come with me when I go out of town. Never be lonely."

"Are you serious?" Yifan nodded. "Really?" He grinned, nodding again. "You're not just pulling my tail?" He tugged the furry mood monitor playfully but nodded again, firmly.

"I am serious, Baekhyun. Do you want to see it in writing?"

"Yes," came the haughty reply. Baekhyun crossed his legs at the knee and tucked his hands primly over them, spine straight and ears tall. They fell a little when Yifan produced a file folder from his middle desk drawer.

He didn't think Yifan was serious about the paper. He accepted the folder with quaking fingers. It was a lot of legalese, over his head, but both his name and Yifan's were listed. Empty lines for signatures and dates, but Joonmyun's signature decorated the last page with blue approval.

"It took a while, because of all the legal channels, but all it needs is a date and signatures," Yifan explained. "I'll be investigated—but it can be expedited—and then you can come home."

Baekhyun was going to cry if he didn't say something, so he played it coy. "I don't suppose there's a trial period. I'm sure your place is great and all, but I think I should know what I'm getting into beforehand."

"That can be arranged." Yifan replaced the papers in the file folder, slipped it into his desk, and stood. He spun his car keys around a finger. "Go pack an overnight bag."

Baekhyun packed everything.