Title: Cosmic Love
Genre: romance, fluff
Length: ~17,500 words
Side Pairings: hinted!Baekhyun/Yixing
Warnings: tribal!au, made-up language, minor character death, smut (top!kai)
Summary: When Kyungsoo goes to the exoplanet, Ex'act, to research the wildlife, he doesn't expect to have his heart stolen by a special native named Kai.
“That honey could save millions of people,” Kyungsoo breathes, eyeing the deadly vehemi bees’ nest from the moss-covered tree he hides behind.
Chanyeol rolls his eyes. “Yes, yes, I know. Save me the lecture about cancer research. Just tell me how you want me to help you get it.”
Kyungsoo scoffs, glaring at Chanyeol who’s standing behind him, gun at the ready. “Put that gun away, marine. Nothing here is going to harm us.”
“But those bear-looking things from the other week…” Chanyeol argues.
“They won’t come here. The sun isn’t down yet. Save me the lecture,” Kyungsoo grumbles, bending down to reach into the bag they’d brought with them, a duffle filled with small survival necessities in the case of an accident and the items needed for extracting the honey from the bees’ nest. Chanyeol mumbles something but places his gun down on the ground.
Researching the plant and wildlife on the small exoplanet that’s similar to Earth, Ex’act, was always known to Kyungsoo and his fellow team of government scientists to be dangerous with hostile and wild animals and natives that could attack them at any moment if they didn’t watch their backs, but they had a team of trained marines to protect them—Chanyeol being one of them. Kyungsoo doesn’t like them as they tend to shoot anything that moves and harm innocent wildlife, but Chanyeol’s tolerable at least.
“They’re like the bees on Earth.” Kyungsoo takes out something that looks like a silver kettle, only a little skinnier and larger with an accordion-like appendage. “Smoke causes them to relax, and we can harvest without them attacking us. You might get stung, but one sting won’t kill you.” Opening the lid, he pulls out a lighter and ignites the paper stuffed inside. “You smoke the bees’ nest, while I extract the honey.”
“Sounds easy,” Chanyeol grins, taking the smoker from him.
“Don’t fuck up, Chanyeol, I swear to god I’ll kill you if you do,” Kyungsoo warns with a fierce glare. If Chanyeol messes up, it means a million stings for him, but he doesn’t trust the marine to extract the honey effectively. “Don’t stop smoking the hive, now go.” He pushes the suddenly reluctant man towards the buzzing hive.
Chanyeol glances back at the scientist but inches his way towards the nest, smoking gun clutched with both hands. He starts to smoke the hive and instantly the activity of the bees flying around dies down, and Kyungsoo takes his chance. Grabbing a nearby branch of the tree with a knife in his hand, he starts up the tree, climbing towards the large branch that the hive hangs from. It’s not long before he’s inching down a nearby branch gingerly, not wanting to jostle the hive. It swats away from of the gathering smoke before using the knife to cut away at an extension of the hive, black-tinted honey oozing out. He cuts through completely, flinching at the sting of a bee, and the chunk drops down to the ground.
Kyungsoo doesn’t want to push anymore—as he already feels bad for stealing from the nature—and climbs back down. Once he’s back on the ground, he picks up the piece of black honeycomb and places it in a plastic bag. “You can stop smoking them now, Chanyeol.”
“Alright,” Chanyeol coughs as he walks through the haze he created. “Are we heading back to camp now? The sun’s going down.”
“Yeah, just give me a second to pack things back up,” Kyungsoo replies as he takes out a bottle of water and uses it to douse the flame inside the smoker before dumping the soaked paper out.
“I’ll go start the helicopter then,” Chanyeol states, picking his gun back up. He disappears through the underbrush towards the spot where they parked the vehicle. With the jungle-like surface of Ex’act, it’s hard to drive anywhere on the land, so they have to travel by flight.
Uncapping a marker, Kyungsoo scribbles on the outside of the bag, putting the coordinates of their location, the date, and marking his initials as the scientist who retrieved this sample. He startles as he hears Chanyeol yell a curse and scoffs. That idiot can never go a second without squawking at something. It’s probably just him getting scared of a bug again, so Kyungsoo turns back to what he’s doing.
But then he hears the roar and a scream, followed by gunshots, and Kyungsoo feels a chill in his bones.
“Chanyeol!” Kyungsoo shouts, stumbling onto his feet and grabbing the bag as he darts into the trees. The screams continue but the gunshots have stopped. Breathing raggedly, the scientist runs as fast as he can, fearing the worst. Those roars sounded like Ex’actian panthers, fearsome creatures who were deadlier than the panthers back on Earth. Chanyeol has never encountered them like Kyungsoo has.
He bursts into the clearing where the helicopter was and instantly feels sick. It’s a pack of at least four panthers and they’re all crowded into the helicopter cab, feasting. Blood is smeared on the grass, and Chanyeol’s gun lies abandoned on the ground. Kyungsoo trembles. He can’t see Chanyeol’s body, but he doesn’t think he wants to.
Adrenaline pulses in Kyungsoo’s veins, and he backs up as quietly as possible. If the panthers hear him, he’s a goner too. He shuffles back a little more, almost in the coverage of the trees again - and then a twig breaks. The panther closest to him stills and a growl rumbles in its chest. It’s two pairs of white-tipped ears flicker, and then it turns towards him, green eyes piercing.
Kyungsoo books it. He runs for his life.
He can hear the yowling of the cat-like predator as it chases after him. He darts between trees to try and dodge it, but he’s too slow. His lungs are already heaving with exhaustion, but Kyungsoo can’t stop running. Scared for his life, he does the only thing he can think to do and dives for the hollow inside one of the large trees. It’s something he can fit into, but not the larger body of the panther. It’s a tight squeeze, and Kyungsoo yelps as one of the panther’s large paws swipes at his legs, the claws ripping through his skin and mangling his lower legs terribly. Gritting his teeth from the pain, Kyungsoo kicks at the panthers face, narrowly avoiding its jaws, and it roars in irritation as he tucks his leg inside the tree, scooting back as far as he can with the bag clinging to his back. But the panther doesn’t want to give up as dusk settles in, it jumps and claws at the trunk of the tree mercilessly, and Kyungsoo justs buries his head in his knees and folds his arms over himself as protection. The panther reaches inside, claws just barely scraping his arms. Kyungsoo wishes he would’ve packed the gun or taken Minseok’s suggestion on bringing another marine with him. It’s his fault that Chanyeol is dead and that he’s in this situation, cowardly hiding from the predator that won’t stop at anything to eat him. Maybe he should just let this panther eat him.
It seems like an eternity that he’s tormented by the yowling and scratches of the wild cat. But then it suddenly stops as the Ex’actian panther cries out as though in pain. Kyungsoo lifts his head, noticing that it’s now dark out and the only light is emitted from the glow of the exotic flowers around the space. The panther is lying on the ground before the tree, what looks like an arrow sticking out of its neck. Kyungsoo almost emerges from his hiding spot, but his breath catches in his throat, and he shrinks back as tanned bare legs and feet stroll over to the dead animal, a strong arm reaching down and ripping the arrow from its flesh. There’s no doubt that this person is a native, someone that will kill Kyungsoo for being on their territory. It doesn’t feel like he’s safe when this person is probably much more dangerous than a panther could ever be.
He can only see the person’s legs because of their proximity to the tree and the small opening, and Kyungsoo’s heartbeat speeds up in his chest as they turn and walk closer. They stop before the trunk, and Kyungsoo quietly tries to press himself further inside, despite the lack of room, but he winces from his injured leg, and that’s when he’s found out.
The native suddenly kneels, revealing a nearly naked tanned man only wearing a loincloth with a bow in his hand, and he slowly leans down until his face is in Kyungsoo’s view, peering into the hollow of the trunk. His handsome face is visible, even in the dark, but he doesn’t look angered or dangerous. If anything, the Ex’actian looks curious. He cocks his head to the side, and then reaches out to touch Kyungsoo’s cheek, marveling at the softness of his skin.
“U-Um,” Kyungsoo stutters with what to say. He doesn’t know the Ex’actian language. That’s Baekhyun’s specialty. And he also doesn’t know why this man is touching him.
The man blinks. “Why hide?”
The syllables sound difficult on his tongue, but it’s easy for Kyungsoo to understand. He’s just startled that he knows English. There was a group before them that were on good terms with the Ex’actians and learned a few things from the native group, but Kyungsoo didn’t know they’d taught them English.
“The...the panther,” Kyungsoo replies, hesitant. To clarify when the man looks confused, he points to the dead animal lying in the grass.
“Ah!” the tan man’s face brightens as he glances behind himself, and he turns back around to nod at Kyungsoo. “Nien iku.”
Kyungsoo nods, giving a small smile of his own, trying to soften the mood just incase the man actually will kill him - not that he knows what he said. He hopes it was something like okay.
“My name is Kyungsoo.” He might as well try to make some sort of friendly introduction.
The man cocks his head again, not understanding.
Kyungsoo tries to simplify it and points at himself. “Kyungsoo.”
“Soo,” he repeats with a nod. “You Soo.”
He sighs. “Sure. What’s your name?” Kyungsoo points at the man. “Name?”
“Kai,” the man points to himself with a smile.
“Kai,” Kyungsoo repeats, and Kai’s smile grows wider.
Deeming it safe to come out, Kyungsoo tries to move his legs but hisses at the sharp pain in his left, the one that was abused by the panthers claws. Touching the lower part of his leg, he winces and his hand comes back red with blood. It looks like a deep wound.
Kai’s eyes widen, and his hand darts out to gingerly hold Kyungsoo’s calf. “Hurt,” he utters, looking at Kyungsoo in concern. “Come,” he says, helping Kyungsoo out from the tree. “I help.”
“Oh, no,” Kyungsoo waves his hands in denial once he limps onto his feet, “I just need to get back ho--hey!” He shouts as Kai suddenly picks him up bridal style, his bow stashed on his back with his arrows. Kyungsoo flails as he tries to grab onto something as the Ex’actian starts moving, and he ends up circling his hands around his neck. Surprisingly, Kai smells nice and floral, and that’s when Kyungsoo notices in the light from the stars and the surrounding plants that he has soft pink hair, long and twisted down into a braid that bounces off his back as he runs quickly through the forest. Flowers of all colors are tucked within the folds of his hair, and a crown of them decorates his head.
As if catching his stare, Kai looks down at grins at him, showing pearly teeth and dimples. Kyungsoo blushes and averts his eyes. “Where are you taking me?” he asks.
“My tribe. Healer. He...know humans.” His face scrunches up a bit as if he’s having difficulty explaining.
“Do you mean he knows how to heal humans?” Kyungsoo tries to help. Ex’actians aren’t that much different from humans. Their appearance is the same, but Kyungsoo knows that they heal faster than humans and are stronger, along with different organ systems and DNA makeup.
“Yes, him heal humans,” he nods, and then he looks ahead and his brows furrow, as if troubled by something. Kyungsoo turns his head as Kai guides them through hanging flowery vines, which leads them into a large clearing - the tribe’s land. Tents and huts are gathered around a large willowing tree with fluorescent purple blossoms. Few Ex’actians are outside their homes, and some turn to look at them, wonder in their eyes once they notice Kyungsoo.
One young woman with a baby on her back approaches Kai and Kyungsoo with narrowed eyes. “Zar dire nian egik, Kai? Zikgatik dire nian eki hau human?” She spits, almost angry, and she looks at Kyungsoo with a glare. He shrinks back, avoiding her eyes. He understood the word ‘human’, and she had said it like a curse word.
Kai glares back at her. “Lasist! Ti da zauris.”
She seems to look all over Kyungsoo before noticing his bleeding leg. The woman looks ashamed at her actions, and she bows at Kai and Kyungsoo. “Nien di sentitiz, sanseme.”
He smiles at her. “Esker nian kezent, Binnie.”
The woman leaves them, and Kyungsoo notices that a small group has formed around them, all natives peering curiously at Kyungsoo as if he were a kitten the man had picked up. But Kai pays the people no mind and continues on walking.
“What did she say?” Kyungsoo asks, scared if he got them in trouble.
“She friend. She want to know why Kai hold Soo.” Kai explains as he approaches a large hut, strings of dried flowers and beads covering the opening.
He walks inside and the ground is covered in furs along with two cots and tables filled with jars of whatnot. Two torches on either side of the hut cast light into the space. On one of the cots lies a pregnant woman and next to her kneels a dark-haired man, dyed blue cloth covering his shoulders. The man, who Kyungsoo assumes is the healer, smiles at the woman, murmuring to her as he touches her stomach. He hands her a small clay pot of something before helping her up to her feet and guiding her out of the hut.
“Ah, zar ekar nian hemin, sanseme? Ha human?” The healer asks Kai before looking at Kyungsoo with kind eyes and speaking in perfect English, “Are you hurt?”
It surprises Kyungsoo, and he nods as Kai silently sets him down on his feet. He limps towards the healer. “My, um, my leg.”
“Oh, my!” He exclaims as he catches sight of Kyungsoo’s mauled leg in the torchlight. “What happened? I will help you.” The healer motions to one of the cots, and Kai helps Kyungsoo sit down onto one of them. From the feel, Kyungsoo can tell they’re stuffed with feathers.
Kai answers before Kyungsoo can reply. “Ti dien eraso ara hi beltkatu.”
Assuming he talked about the panther, Kyungsoo adds, “I’m part of a research team from Earth, but my friend and I were attacked by the panthers. I hid from one, but it got my leg, and Kai came and saved me.” He feels a pang in his heart as he remembers Chanyeol. Kyungsoo should’ve ran to help the moment he heard his shouts and gunshots.
“Saved you, did he?” The healer throws an amused, dimpled smile at Kai. “Maita sanseme.”
Kai pouts with a sheepish look but says nothing as he sits on the ground beside Kyungsoo’s cot. Kyungsoo wonders what was said.
“My name is Lay, but you can call me Yixing,” the healer greets as he grabs what looks like a cloth bandage, a pail of water, and a clay pot. “The last time humans visited, a human named Baekhyun gave me that name. He said it was from a place called China. Do you know China?”
“I do, and I know Baekhyun too,” Kyungsoo smiles at him. “My name is Kyungsoo. Baekhyun is part of my team right now.”
“I see,” Yixing grins back as he settles down next to the cot and pushes Kyungsoo’s shorts up and away from his knee. “He was the one who helped me with my English.” Yixing dips a rag into the pail of water, squeezing the excess liquid out before wiping at the blood on Kyungsoo’s leg. “The wound does not seem to be too deep. You’re lucky it was not something poisonous that scratched you.”
Kyungsoo winces as Yixing presses hard on the large vertical wound on his leg. “I need to get back to my group. They’re probably wondering about me.”
“No,” Kai speaks up. “Soo stay here.” Kyungsoo glances at him, and Kai has a frown on his already pouty lips.
“Yes. This will take some time to heal. Do you have contact with your group?” Yixing asks as he takes off the lid of the clay pot.
“No,” Kyungsoo sighs. Chanyeol had the communication device. Regardless, he doesn’t think he’d know the way back to camp if he tried.
“Then you might as well wait for them to find you.”
Yixing dips his hand inside the pot and pulls out with his fingers covered in what looks like a deep green mixture of mashed herbs and oils. He spreads it over Kyungsoo’s wound gingerly. It stings like any antibiotic would from Earth, and that calms Kyungsoo’s insecurity about Yixing knowing how to treat humans correctly.
The sound of beads moving from the entrance of the hut as Yixing is rolling the cloth bandage around his leg has their heads turning to see an muscular Ex’actian man dressed sparse like Kai standing there. Like the woman from before, his eyes narrow at the sight of Kyungsoo, and then he barks at Kai, “Sansatiene bizan nian iku, sanseme.”
Kyungsoo recognizes the last word as what Yixing and the woman before called Kai, and he wonders what it means. Kai scoffs in reply and shifts to stand - but not before moving closer to Kyungsoo with a smile and pressing a kiss to his temple gently.
“Nien iza belt’an, nier arluna,” Kai murmurs to him as he stands up. “I be back, Soo.”
Kyungsoo’s face flushes red, and he stutters out, “O-Okay.”
Yixing laughs once Kai and the man are gone. “Our sanseme seems to like you quite a lot.”
“Sanseme? What does that mean?” Kyungsoo asks, shaking off the fluttery feeling caused by Kai’s kiss. “You all call Kai that.”
“Oh, you don’t know?” Yixing looks at him in surprise. “I guess in English it would be prince? Kai is the second son of our leader, so I guess he would be like a prince.”
Kyungsoo’s eyes widen. “He’s a prince?” He had no idea, but it would make sense with how the woman outside looked apologetic after scolding him, and Kai does have a prince-like aura to him. “Am I going to get him in trouble?” Maybe that’s why that man looked so angry.
“Most likely,” Yixing says honestly, finishing his bandage job on Kyungsoo’s leg. “But don’t fret over it too much. I’m sure Kai brought you even knowing his mother, our sansatiene, would be angry. He has a kind heart.” He smiles at Kyungsoo before standing up. “You can rest here for now. I’m sure Kai will be back soon.”
“Nien nian etan sek!”
Kyungsoo stirs awake to the sound of arguing voices, and his heavy eyes slowly open. Through his bleary vision he notices he’s still in Yixing’s hut and guesses it probably wasn’t long that he spent asleep. Sitting up, he sees Kai standing in front of him, bare buttcheeks right before his face that make him swiftly avert his eyes, and that’s when he sees an old woman standing in the entrance of the hut, her long black hair nearly reaching the ground and wearing many colorful cloths and necklaces. Kyungsoo instantly knows this must be Kai’s mother, the leader of the Ex’actian tribe. A young man with dark hair stands beside her, dressed like Kai and wearing a stern expression on his face.
He hurries to sit up, wondering what all the commotion is about, and he catches the attention of the sansatiene. She strides forward in a powerful manner, picking up her long skirts. “You,” she scowls down at him, “Where are you from? Why are your people here?”
“Soo--” Kai tries to reply, but she silences him with a hand and looks at Kyungsoo expectantly.
“My name is Kyungsoo. I'm with a group of human researchers from Earth. We just came to study the plant and animal life, and we have no aim to destroy or interfere with anything here,” Kyungsoo answers. “But, um, I got separated from my group, and Kai found me.” He offers her a nervous smile.
“His leg is injured, sansatiene,” Yixing speaks up from the corner. “And he has no way of getting back to his group right now. He needs a place to rest for now.”
She still bears the same frown but stays quiet, mulling things over. Kyungsoo just hopes he isn’t kicked out into the night all alone. Not that he wants to stay here that much, but he has no choice. He’d have more than just one Ex’actian panther to worry about, not to mention that it’s still night. The forest is much more dangerous at night - when all the predators come out. He gnaws on his lip with worry as Kai’s mother once again looks him over with a narrowed gaze.
“He can stay,” she decides finally, and a smile blooms on Kai’s face. He quickly erases it when she looks his way, and she continues. “But once his wound is healed and he can find his people, he must leave. Understood?”
“Yes,” Kyungsoo replies, nodding quickly. “Thank you.”
Kai doesn’t look happy, but he presses a palm to his chest. “Ki, satiene.” He mumbles.
His mother points to Kyungsoo. “Kai, take him in with you. We have no other place to put him.”
“In hut?” Kai looks surprised, but it’s a surprise he looks happy about. “With Kai?”
“Yes, in your hut. Now, go,” the sansatiene orders. “It is very late at night.” She gives Kai a stern look and then leaves with that young man who never spoke a word during the exchange. Kyungsoo wonders if he was Kai’s brother. He seemed to carry pride on his shoulders like a prince would.
Kai bends down to Kyungsoo’s side immediately, a bright smile on his lips. “Kai and Soo go?”
He doesn’t know why his mouth goes dry every time Kai speaks. “Um, yeah, sure.” Kyungsoo gets up from the cot, Kai grabbing his hand and pulling him up. Kyungsoo makes sure to grab his bag from the ground before Kai starts to eagerly tug him towards the entrance.
“Bring him back here tomorrow, and I’ll look at the bandages again!” Yixing calls as Kai leads Kyungsoo out of the hut and into the night.
Kyungsoo finds himself limping along as Kai practically drags him along by the hand, the same ecstatic smile on his face as he leads Kyungsoo around the huge tree, and the human admires the beauty of the tree, wondering if it has any significance for the tribe.
Kai’s hut is towards the edge of the clearing, and it’s the same size as Yixing’s but larger than the surrounding huts, probably because he’s their prince. The one other thing that sets it apart from the others is how flowers bloom in a circle around it, almost clinging to the walls of the hut. It’s odd as there are few flowers throughout the clearing at all, but they’re all piled there. But Kyungsoo finds it fitting as he glances at Jongin’s long, braided hair again and the flowers decorating his head.
“Soo like?” Kai asks, looking at Kyungsoo timidly like his whole life depends on his answer.
“Um, it’s nice, Kai. The flowers are pretty,” he answers, feeling warm when Kai reacts to him happily.
“I like flowers. I bless by them.” Kai leads him inside of the hut. It’s like Yixing’s with the torches lighting the interior and the ground covered in furs and skins, though flowers peek through the gaps, surrounding the large cot in the center like the outside of the hut.
“Bless?” Kyungsoo questions.
“Yes.” Kai leads him to sit down on the cot, and he sits next to Kyungsoo. “Our god show us our fate when we child.”
Kyungsoo follows Kai’s eyes to the gap in the ceiling of the hut, the many stars in the sky shining down on them. “How do they show you?”
“Spirit guide in our tribe Boa. She speak with our god. At night, child lay under stars and ritual performed. Some fate bigger than others. Kai bless by flowers and nature. I born to be love by them. When I child, I come with light hair. Different than others.” Kai strokes the petal of a nearby white and oddly shaped flower, and Kyungsoo thinks he imagines the plant curling towards Kai’s touch.
“That’s beautiful. So your hair is naturally this color?” Kyungsoo motions to Kai’s braid that is now resting over his shoulder and on his chest, the tip reaching his hip.
Kai nods, scooting over closer to Kyungsoo until their thighs and shoulders are touching and then casually hands the length of his braid to Kyungsoo. “Soo can touch.”
Kyungsoo sputters, not expecting that to happen, but with red cheeks he feels the surprising softness of Kai’s hair. He expected it to feel rough or dirty, but it’s well-groomed, and the flowers placed between the gaps of the braiding are beautiful. Kyungsoo’s boring, short black hair is nothing compared to this.
“It’s pretty,” Kyungsoo looks up at Kai with a smile.
He returns the grin, and Kyungsoo freezes when Kai moves his hand to touch Kyungsoo’s hair. He feels the bangs that fall over Kyungsoo’s forehead and then the shorter undercut on the sides of his head. Kyungsoo’s feels his cheeks grow warm as Kai leans down and a kiss like before is placed on his temple, Kai’s nose brushing against his hair.
“Soo pretty too,” he murmurs. “Nier arluna.”
When Kai pulls away, Kyungsoo looks at him in wonder. There’s something about Kai that has him feeling all tingly and unusually sheepish. He’s practically a stranger, but Kyungsoo feels comfortable near him, and it’s obvious that Kai is curious about him too. For some reason, he looks at Kyungsoo like he hung the moon, and they’ve only just met. Kai looks at him like he’s been waiting for him his whole life.
The moment is lost when Kyungsoo suddenly yawns, covering his mouth with his hand as he does so. It has to be late into the night, and he didn’t get much sleep in Yixing’s hut evidently. The drowsiness has caught up to him.
“Oh, Soo tired.” Kai looks guilty like he kept Kyungsoo awake.
“It’s fine. I didn’t realize I was sleepy.”
Kai gets up, and Kyungsoo stands up too, watching as the taller man picks up a woven blanket that was lying to the side of the cot. He carefully spreads the blanket out before taking off the crown of flowers on his head and setting it aside. Kai puts out both torches with a shell of something, drowning the hut in darkness except for the light coming from the stars.
“Soo can sleep with Kai.” He says as he lies down on one side of the cot when he notices Kyungsoo is still standing there.
Kyungsoo fidgets a bit, feeling awkward in his shorts. He’s not used to sharing a bed or sleeping with his shorts on. He never sleeps with pants on; it’s just uncomfortable. But he doesn’t want to just suddenly strip in front of Kai, even though the man himself wears practically nothing and probably doesn’t care. It’s not like he can really see that well without the torches.
“Um,” he mumbles, “can you look away?”
Kai tilts his head, not understanding.
“Close your eyes until I say it’s okay,” Kyungsoo clarifies, feeling embarrassed.
Kai still looks confused, but he closes his eyes as asked, and Kyungsoo hurriedly tugs off his shorts and places them next to his bag. He crawls onto the cot and gets beneath the blanket. “You can open them now if you want.”
As expected, Kai opens his eyes and turns his head to look at Kyungsoo beside him. His smile blooms brightly even in the dark, and then he sighs and his eyes flutter shut. “Lo’gue mainice.”
Kyungsoo recognizes that phrase from working with Baekhyun. “Goodnight, Kai.”
Sweat sticks to his skin as the sun shines down onto the hut, casting bright light onto his closed eyes and warming up the air around him. Kyungsoo squirms as he feels caged in by something, and hot breath on his neck makes the hair on his nape stand up from the ticklish feeling. Opening his eyes with a soft groan, Kyungsoo rubs at them with the back of his hand, his sight bleary. Looking up at the ceiling of the hut, it takes a moment for Kyungsoo to remember where he is and what happened last night.
He turns his head and realizes that Kai’s arms are wound around him, and he’s spooning Kyungsoo loosely from behind, still asleep. The woven blanket is lying at their feet, kicked off at some point in the night, and Kyungsoo feels gross with the sweat sticking to his back. Ex’act tends to keep a warmer climate with cool nights.
Turning in Kai’s arms to face him, he stares at the sleeping man’s face, noting how some shorter strands of pastel pink hair have fallen out of his braid and frame his face. He looks peaceful, and Kyungsoo notes his handsome features once again. It’s hard to ignore how attractive he is, and Kyungsoo doesn’t mind being this close to him.
Maybe it has been a while since he dated.
“Kai,” he murmurs softly, touching the other man’s bare shoulder to wake him up. “Kai, wake up.”
Kai’s eyes snap open as if startled awake, and he sits up, looking around in a tense manner as if scanning for danger. Kyungsoo guesses that the only time he’d been woken up by someone was when there was something wrong.
“Oh, Soo,” Kai sighs once he notices the human beside him. He seems more groggy than alert now, yawning and rubbing at his eyes with a pout.
“Sorry, I just wanted to wake you up.” Kyungsoo sits up with a sheepish look.
Kai smacks his lips together in a sleepy manner, eyes squinted due to the sun. Kyungsoo hates that he notices how Kai’s lips are slightly swollen and red from sleeping. Rubbing at his eyes, Kai looks at Kyungsoo, taking in his mussed hair and then noticing his change of clothes. His cheeks grow red as he outright stares at Kyungsoo’s boxer briefs and how they cling to his thighs.
Kyungsoo notices and scrambles to grab the forgotten blanket and pull it over his legs, hiding his waist from view. “S-Sorry.”
“Why wear a lot?” Kai asks, looking at his abandoned shorts with furrowed brows.
“Uh, well humans don’t like to show a lot of skin,” Kyungsoo answers and judging by the look he gets, he assumes Kai doesn’t understand. He sighs and stands up, picking up his shorts and sliding them back on, pretending not to notice how Kai stares at him. When he goes to sit back down on the cot, his stomach growls, and Kyungsoo flushes in embarrassment. He hadn’t realized how hungry he was.
“Hungry?” Kai guesses with a bright smile. “We go find food?”
Minutes later, Kai is leading Kyungsoo out of the hut and the clearing, back into the forest. Judging by the sunlight, Kyungsoo guesses it’s nearly noon. It’s no wonder that it’s so hot. He wipes at the sweat on his forehead as he follows Kai beneath the trees and through the grasses. Birds squawk from the tree tops, and Kyungsoo swats at the bugs that buzz around.
Kai didn’t bring his bow with him, so Kyungsoo wonders what he’s looking for if they aren’t about to hunt down some animal. But his curiosity soon ends as Kai stops before a large tree, and Kyungsoo cups a hand over his eyes like a visor as he looks up to see some sort of red fruit hanging from its branches - a go’bitza tree. He’s eaten the fruit before, and it’s very sweet and filling.
“Soo stay.” Kai points at him and then proceeds to climb up the thick branches of the tree skillfully. He picks three fruits, holding them to his chest as he jumps down. With a grin, he hands one to Kyungsoo, and they settle down with their backs to the tree. Kai splits the fruits open on a nearby rock, and inside is a white custard-like filling. Kyungsoo picks out the seeds first while Kai dives in wildly, spitting out the seeds as he goes. It makes him wonder who was more hungry out of the two of them.
They share the third fruit when they’re done, and by then they’ve both had their fill. Kyungsoo wipes at his lips and wipes his hands on his shorts but the stickiness from the fruit remains. He groans, feeling nasty. If he were still at their base, he could shower, but there’s no such thing here in the Ex’actian wild. Grumbling, he pulls his legs up to his chest and figures he’ll have to put up with the filth a little longer. It’s not like he’s petty about a little dirt; he is a botanist, but after all that running yesterday, he doubts he smells good.
“Soo?” Kai asks, noticing his down mood. “Why sad?”
“Hmm? Oh, I’m just a little sticky and dirty is all. I need a bath or something,” Kyungsoo shrugs. “It’s fine though. I can live without it.”
“Soo want water?” Kai perks up. “We can have bath in river.”
“River?” Kyungsoo says. “Is it clean?” God, he sounds so materialistic.
“Yes!” Kai gets to his feet, brushing his bangs out of his face with the back of his hands, his fingers sticky like Kyungsoo’s.
It’s obvious that Kai knows every inch of this forest, trekking through it with no hesitance. If there are any branches, plants, or vines in the way, he makes sure to hold them out of Kyungsoo’s way like a gentleman, and before long Kyungsoo can hear the sound of falling water - a waterfall. Kai leads him through a willowing tree, and beyond that is a large waterfall that drains into a sparkling river. It looks like something from a picture of Fiji. Kyungsoo knew there were places like this on Ex’act, but he’d never seen the water. The planet has no oceans like Earth.
“Wow,” Kyungsoo breathes. “It’s beautiful.” He looks down the river and can see some women meters away washing cloth and pots in the crystal clear water. This must be their main water source.
Kai walks over to the deeper part of the river, towards the waterfall where it widens, and Kyungsoo follows. He wonders if it’s warm and bends down, sticking his hand in. It’s lukewarm, the perfect temperature.
He doesn’t even notice what Kai is doing next to him until there’s a large splash into the river, water sprinkling onto Kyungsoo’s skin. Kai grins as he surfaces, his hair now a dark magenta from the water and slicked back from his face. Kyungsoo looks to his side and sees Kai’s crown, loincloth, and hair tie lying there.
“Soo come in!” Kai chirps, swimming over to the edge of the river, where Kyungsoo is squatting. The flowers that were threaded into his hair all fall out as he swims, floating on the surface of the water.
“Okay,” Kyungsoo turns to get up and take off his clothes, “I’ll just go--agh!”
Kai snatches his hand and drags him into the water with a loud splash. Kyungsoo can even hear his loud giggles as he surfaces, clothes soaking wet. He glares at Kai as strongly as he can muster.
“My clothes are wet now!”
Kai keeps laughing anyways; albeit adorable, Kyungsoo finds it annoying as he grumbles and struggles to take off his soggy clothes, throwing them onto the grass. Even his shoes are ruined!
“I not understand. Why Soo sad?”
“I’m not sad; I’m embarrassed! This is all your fault!” Kyungsoo pouts as he comes out from behind the tree, now dressed similarly to the rest of the men from the tribe: wearing only a loincloth. He feels so odd and bare. It doesn’t feel right to step out into the open with only a piece of cloth covering his privates. Because of his clothes being wet, Kai had to go fetch him something from the tribe to wear, and of course he came back with the only thing he knew.
“I sorry Soo. I try to have laugh.” Kai puts on a kicked puppy expression, his hair dry but loose and untamed.
Kyungsoo would feel guilty if he made Kai feel any worse and settles for patting the taller man on the shoulder. “It’s fine. It’s better than nothing.” He looks down at his leg and notices the bandage that Yixing had put on it before was gone. The blood is dried, but it should definitely stay bandaged. “I should go back to Yixing.”
Kai agrees and leads him back to the tribe, holding Kyungsoo’s wet clothes and shoes for him as an apology. Once they arrive, Kai hands them to a woman to be hung up on a nearby branch, and they enter Yixing’s hut. The healer is occupied with a mortar and pestle in his hands, his back to them as he mashes something in the clay pot.
“Ah, Kyungsoo, did you come back for me to check your bandages?” Yixing puts the clay pot down. “Sit down and I’ll--” He stops when he turns around and notes Kyungsoo’s new choice of outfit, and Kyungsoo flushes down to his toes.
“Well,” Yixing chuckles, “I wasn’t expecting that.”
Kyungsoo sighs as he sits down on one of the cots, careful not to expose anything, which is harder than one would think. “My clothes got wet,” he says. “Thanks to Kai.”
“Soo welcome,” Kai grins, and Kyungsoo thinks he doesn’t really understand sarcasm yet.
“I see that your bandage came off too.” Yixing raises his brows as he grabs another long strip of cloth and that familiar green paste from before. “It looks like it’s starting to heal though. Does it hurt?”
Kyungsoo shakes his head. “It’s felt fine since I woke up.”
“Good. Then my medicine seems to be working.” Yixing smiles and gets down to his knees to start wrapping Kyungsoo’s calf again.
They stay inside Yixing’s hut for a while, just talking once Kyungsoo’s all fixed up. Kyungsoo learns that Baekhyun and Yixing really were close friends for the months that Baekhyun was stationed on Ex’act a couple years before. He and his fellow researchers taught a lot of the Ex’actians English, especially the important people like Yixing and the sansatiene. Kai and his brother, Suho (who was the man Kyungsoo had seen before), learned a bit too, but Kai tended to skip out on lessons, which led to his English being choppy. Kai frowns when Yixing mentions that, but Kyungsoo promises him that he’ll try to help him.
Eventually dusk comes, and Yixing tells them that there’s supposed to be a boar roasting tonight for the whole tribe to eat. Kyungsoo’s stomach cries at the thought of a real meal.
“Here,” Yixing pulls out a small blanket of blue cloth. “You can use this to cover up some, Kyungsoo. I know you aren't comfortable wearing only that.” He drapes it over Kyungsoo’s shoulders with a dimpled smile.
Grateful, Kyungsoo pulls it closer to himself. “Thanks, Yixing.”
Kai looks disgruntled for some reason and hauls Kyungsoo up with a grip on his forearm, a frown on his lips. “Soo and Kai go.”
Kyungsoo stumbles as he’s pulled up and waves quickly to Yixing as he’s dragged out by an impatient Kai, thanking the man for the extra clothing of sorts. Once they’re out of the hut, Kyungsoo looks up at Kai, who’s still scowling as he slides his grip down to hold Kyungsoo’s hand instead. He doesn’t know what has the Ex’actian in such a sour, pouty mood all of a sudden.
“What’s wrong, Kai?” Kyungsoo matches his pace as they approach the spot in the clearing where the smoke is billowing out into the atmosphere.
“Soo no like Kai because I push Soo into water.” Kai’s pout becomes more sad than angry. “Lay better because he do more for Soo.”
Not understanding, Kyungsoo furrows his brows and squeezes Kai’s rough palm once. “I don’t like Yixing more than you just because he gave me this, and I do like you, Kai. It was funny when you pulled me into the river, and I am stuck wearing this, but it’s fine. I don’t hate you or anything for it.”
Kai stops and looks at him with wide pleading eyes, grabbing Kyungsoo’s other hand and holding them close. “Soo mean that?”
“Uh, well, yeah,” Kyungsoo’s cheeks flame with color. “I do like you, Kai.” He feels like this is suddenly a different kind of conversation.
He doubts he’ll ever witness a brighter smile than Kai’s, dimples, perfect teeth and all. And Kyungsoo knows every smile is genuine because Kai doesn’t seem like the type to ever lie. Kai brings Kyungsoo’s hands to his chest, in an utterly adoring manner, and then leans closer to kiss Kyungsoo’s cheek tenderly. Kyungsoo blushes red down to his toes, feeling like squirming at how warm and close Kai is to him. Why does he always seem to make him melt like this?
“Kai like Soo too,” Kai murmurs happily as he pulls away, same blooming smile on his face. He lets go of one of Kyungsoo’s hands to caress his cheek, and Kyungsoo feels the urge to avoid his gaze, shy.
“Why do you treat me like…” Kyungsoo mumbles but trails off.
“Um, nevermind,” he shakes his head. “Let’s go. I’m getting hungry.”
Luckily, Kai doesn’t press him for an answer and nods with a grin, keeping Kyungsoo’s hand in his as he leads them closer to the bonfire, which Kyungsoo can see is a rather large pit with a lot of the tribe gathered around the fire. Dusk is settling in, soon to be evening and night, and he can see the embers rising into the air with the smoke. A large boar, skinned, cleaned, and run through with a stake, is roasting over the flames. The smell is enough to have Kyungsoo’s stomach growling, and he hopes it will be served soon.
Kai is greeted by his people as soon as he approaches, smiling brightly at those that bow to him. He settles down to sit on a flat boulder placed around the fire pit, a little ways away from the heat of the fire, and makes room for Kyungsoo to sit next to him. A woman soon comes over to them with a polite smile, handing Kyungsoo and Kai both a roasted vegetable that looks like a yellow squash, charred nicely in a few spots. When Kyungsoo bites into it, it tastes like a squash too, only a little spicier, making him suspect that the natives probably seasoned it. He finishes it quickly. Another woman follows up and hands them a jug of water to share and drink from, and a man strides forward with a platter of pickings from the pig once it’s finished roasting for them to eat.
It’s obvious to Kyungsoo now that Kai is a prince.
“Are you supposed to lead the tribe after your mother?” Kyungsoo asks him as Kai takes a big gulp from the jug, cheeks pudging out.
Kai shakes his head, swallowing. “No, Suho lead tribe. He older than Kai, and his fate as child to be leader. ‘Suho’ mean ‘born to be leader,’” he explains.
“Oh,” Kyungsoo nods as he chews on a smokey piece of meat. It’s covered in some sort of sauce or baste, and Kyungsoo commends whoever put it together for good seasoning. “What does ‘Kai’ mean then?”
“Mmm…” Kai ponders, searching for the words. “When flowers...grow?” He makes a sprouting motion with his fingers.
“Yes! ‘Kai’ mean blooming. Name come from fate.” Kai grabs a piece of meat from the plate that rests on Kyungsoo’s lap.
“Where I come from, people are named randomly. Our names have meaning, but they usually aren’t based off of anything in particular.” Kyungsoo stuffs a rather big piece into his mouth, sauce smearing onto the corner of his mouth in the process. Before he can even lick or wipe it off, Kai touches his chin and swipes it from his skin with his thumb, licking it from his fingers afterwards like it was nothing, but Kyungsoo’s heart stumbled in the process, shell-shocked.
“What Soo mean?” Kai asks, and Kyungsoo has to shake off the daze caused by his touch.
“Kyungsoo,” he corrects, “means brightly flowering, so like your name, kind of.”
“Hmm...I like Soo more,” Kai shrugs.
Kyungsoo snorts but accepts his opinion. He doesn’t hate Kai calling him that. It is a little cute. Sucking off the sauce and herbs on his fingers, Kyungsoo’s gaze wanders to a few women and girls a couple meters away. One woman is combing another’s long brown hair with a comb made from bone. It makes him think of Kai’s unruly hair, tangled and loose from their dip into the lake.
Feeling brave, he gets up from the rock, ignoring Kai’s questioning call as he approaches the women with a kind smile. They look at him in confusion as he bends down to pick up a lone comb. “Can I use this?” Kyungsoo asks, holding the comb to his chest just in case they don’t know English.
“Yes.” A young girl nods at him with a smile, and Kyungsoo returns it before bowing and returning back to Kai’s side.
“Move, I’ll fix your hair. It’s messy,” Kyungsoo explains to Kai who looks at him in surprise.
“Soo know how?” Kai slides forward so Kyungsoo can sit behind him.
“Yeah,” he says as he pulls all of Kai’s hair to rest on his back as Kai takes off his crown. Kyungsoo combs the pink hair gently, trying not to make Kai wince when he tugs at the small knots. “My mother was always sick and too weak to do her own hair, so I usually braided it for her.” Kyungsoo smiles at the memories. She had to teach him as a little boy but praised him every time, even if it was sloppy. “She passed away a while back, so I might be a little rusty.”
“I sorry,” Kai says, trying to comfort Kyungsoo.
“It’s alright. It was a long time ago.” Kyungsoo pats his shoulder. He continues to comb Kai’s hair quietly, listening to the crackle of the fire or the unknown words that the Ex’actians speak. Kai sighs every once in a while, and Kyungsoo guesses that he likes the feeling of the comb touching his scalp. There’s an admiration he feels towards Kai for being able to keep his hair long like this and in such a nice condition, though he suspects that Kai has help in braiding it, judging by how the tribe members treat him like the prince he is.
Eventually two young girls wander over with shy smiles and bundles of wild flowers clutched in their small hands. Kyungsoo appreciates the help as they help him with the complicated mermaid braid that he hardly remembers. Joy and Yeri are their names, and they slide the flowers into the notches of Kai’s hair with happy grins. Kai says something to them in Ex’actian that has them both getting all shy and bashful, but he hugs them close in thanks.
“It pretty, Soo,” Kai murmurs to him once the girls are gone. He pulls Kyungsoo over to sit next to him again and pecks his cheek affectionately. “Esker nian, nier arluna.”
Kyungsoo turns red again. “You’re welcome, Kai.” He recognizes that last phrase, something that Kai has whispered to him twice the night before when he was being rather...romantic. “Hey, what does--”
“Kai!” He’s interrupted by a young man, fit and slim and similar to Kai’s age, who greets him as he saunters over with short dark hair and sharp eyes. “Dire nian ilu’si? Hayi esat ri’n neskent dire tze-tze lako nian.”
Kai’s previous grin falls, and he frowns, looking away from the other man. “Nien sek’zain.” Kyungsoo doesn’t understand at all, as usual, but Kai looks sad and that worries him. What were they talking about?
“Aw, iz aria.” The dark-haired man grins and motions to Kai’s braided hair. “Nian hit cuzip oran.”
Jongin grumbles and swats a hand at him, sending him away with a wave of the hand. He looks a little disheartened from the conversation, which confuses Kyungsoo because the other man had seemed so excited about whatever it was they were talking about.
“What were you talking about?” Kyungsoo asks.
Kai looks at him and smiles. “It nothing, Soo.”
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