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Playing With Fire

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Moving to a new city came with many obstacles. Unfamiliar places, changed work environments, new local cuisine and time zone shifts each took a major adjustment.

 

But none of these plagued Park Chanyeol so greatly as the local weather did.

 

He'd downloaded four different weather apps in the two months since his move, but all to no avail. His worst nightmare was still upon him. It set his nerves on edge and made him long for the power to crawl out of his own, suddenly clammy skin.

 

No normal twenty-something year old man ran with his tail between his legs at the sight of a rain cloud. But for as long as he could remember, that had been Chanyeol’s reality. Needless to say, he’d been teased for it ever since he’d started school. It wasn’t something he wanted to be open about.

 

The sky, which he was now desperately staring at, had been a pretty blue when he’d hurried out of his apartment that morning. In his rush to make it to his new job on time, Chanyeol had forgotten that looks could be deceiving.

 

Deep into thoughts about his misfortunes as the sky turned ever grayer above him, Chanyeol also forgot to focus on something other than the source of his impending doom. Two wide strides later and he received a sharp reminder in the form of a person’s shoulder to his chest.

 

“I'm so sorry,” Chanyeol began, sputtering as he stepped back to a more polite distance. “I'm just trying to get out of here before it sta--”

 

His bones began to ache as small water droplets began to fall from the sky. Just as his heartbeat was about to wildly accelerate, though, he was startled by a loud popping sound and a flash of color in his face.

 

The person that he had bumped into, who Chanyeol now saw was a man around his age, was smiling as he lifted an umbrella high to cover them both.

 

‘He has nice dimples,’ was Chanyeol’s first thought as he stared down at his savior.

 

Something along the lines of ‘thank god,’ was his second.

 

Just as he was about to thank the young man, his sleepy features arranged themselves to speak.

“Where are you headed?” he asked. Dumbly, Chanyeol pointed vaguely ahead. This seemed to amuse Dimples, whose nose scrunched at the end with a smile. Gesturing in the same direction as Chanyeol had, he offered, “I can get you there.”

 

Still speechless, Chanyeol simply nodded. The two walked in peaceful silence for a block before Dimples asked again, “Where are you headed?”

 

Chanyeol was caught up in his unique accent for a moment. Where was he from, to be pronouncing everything so crisply? He sounded Chi--

The tips of Chanyeol’s ears turned red when he realized he'd been standing and staring like an idiot.

 

“I work at the music shop,” Chanyeol finally managed. He smiled sheepishly, turning redder when the stranger’s dimples reappeared. He might've said that's interesting  or how cool, but Chanyeol was having a hard time focusing.

 

When they arrived at the music shop, Chanyeol ducked inside quickly. The manager, Joohyun, immediately collected a bet from Jungmo, the strings specialist. They frequently wagered on whether or not Chanyeol would make it to work when the weather went south.

 

Just as he was laughing at Jungmo’s loss, Chanyeol heard the bell above the door ring and realized that his savior had stepped out. To make matters worse, he had left his yellow umbrella.

 

Opening the garishly bright protection up, Chanyeol quickly hurried after him. It was really raining now, and Dimples was trying to keep dry with only his hoodie.

 

“Hey!” Chanyeol shouted, skidding to a stop when the man turned. “You forgot this,” he said between pants. Dimples’ eyes moved over Chanyeol’s face before he smiled and shook his head.

 

“You keep it. I have another one at home that doesn't make me look like a banana,” he said with a polite laugh. Chanyeol gawked, uncertain at how to react to this unwarranted kindness.

 

“I don't think I caught your name,” he blurted. Dimples’ laugh was deeper, fuller this time.

 

“I don't believe I threw it,” he said. Chanyeol was certain that his face must be flushed darkly, if the heat rising on his cheeks was any indication. Did the stranger not want to give him his name?

 

As if he heard his fears and was capitalizing, Dimples stepped forward quite suddenly. Normally, a move like this from someone he didn't know would put Chanyeol ill at ease. But he felt oddly at peace with the advance, as if he knew that Dimples was just trying to get under the umbrella with him. This close, Chanyeol saw that the other man was noticeably shorter. He hadn't seen this because he carried himself so--

 

“I'm Yixing,” Dimples said. “I'd love to stay and chat, really, but I have to get to work.”

As he said this, he procured his phone from his pocket and held it up. Chanyeol just stared. With a laugh, Yixing clarified. “Can I have your number?”

 

Chanyeol nearly dropped the umbrella and knocked Yixing’s phone to the ground in his haste. After successfully entering his name and number, he extended the device with a hopeful, “See you soon?”

 

“See you soon,” Yixing echoed. He turned on his heel and ran down the street, leaving an awestruck Chanyeol in the safe cover of the bright yellow umbrella.

 

---------

 

Joohyun had her elbow on the counter and her chin in her palm. She’d been posed like this for quite some time now, and only the slow slide of her sleek ponytail off of her shoulder confirmed that she hadn’t become a statue.

 

Jungmo, not looking up from the guitar he was tuning, asked, “What’s buggin’ you, princess?”

With a soft sigh, Joohyun shook her head. “He’s been moping all day,” she said.

 

“About Dimples?”

“Can you believe he didn’t even ask where he works?”

The two were, of course, talking about Chanyeol. He had been carrying the garishly yellow umbrella with him ever since that rainy day. It hadn’t rained since, but Joohyun and Jungmo knew that he wasn’t carrying it because he was being cautious. Chanyeol would never learn to be prepared for the rain.

 

No, the way the lanky man kept glancing out the window to check the street meant only one thing.

 

“He’s not coming,” Joohyun called from behind the counter. Mornings were always slow, and left plenty of opportunities for her to observe Chanyeol.

 

“He said we’d see each other again,” Chanyeol grumbled. Jungmo’s responding scoff made the tips of his ears turn red. He felt stupid, hoping and praying to see someone that hadn't even sent him a text. It was irrational, he knew, to be this worried about someone he didn't know.

 

A Google search hadn't even helped him. He suspected that he would have to learn how to write in Mandarin to find Yixing (he had at least ascertained that it was a Chinese name).

 

“What is it about him, anyway?” Joohyun interrupted his internal dialogue, her dark brows arched. His noncommittal shrug wasn't good enough for her, and she narrowed her eyes. If it wasn't for her cutely round cheeks, Joohyun would cut an intimidating image. That was why she kept Jungmo around.

 

With a click of her manicured nails across the counter, she huffed, “I’ll schedule you with Sunyoung if you don't entertain my questions.”

Chanyeol’s head snapped up. Sunyoung was an incredibly sweet girl, but with something like twenty dogs she excited Chanyeol’s allergies like no one else had or ever would.

 

Joohyun continued, “You barely know this guy and you're searching him down on the internet. It's asking for trouble!”

Chanyeol, unfortunately, couldn't say that she was wrong. His mother had taught him not to stalk (speak to) strangers.

 

“I think I've seen him before,” was the only way Chanyeol could explain the pull he had felt in his chest when Yixing had stood under that umbrella with him. The suggestion of a mutual social circle quelled Joohyun’s worries, so that he could angst in peace about his rainy day savior for the rest of his shift.

 

When Chanyeol got home that evening, he felt the telltale ache of rain. It hadn't come yet, but his body always felt heaviest when the skies were ready to open up. Just as he was about to tear open a bowl of instant ramen, his back pocket vibrated. Chanyeol nearly jumped out of his skin.

 

The number on his phone screen was unknown, but the message said all that it needed to in the opening line. Chanyeol sent the quickest reply of his life before reading the rest of the message.

 

yx: hey! sorry for not getting back to you sooner. work is crazy busy in seasonal times and i train the new guys. how've u been? how's my umbrella? :p

 

cy: hey!!

cy: lol I get that. both myself and the umbrella are great!!! how r u?

cy: work aside I mean lol

 

By the time Chanyeol peeled his eyes from his phone screen, the ramen had been forgotten and he and Yixing were deep into a discussion about acoustic guitars.  He, of course, had to tell Yixing this (because he’d already told him everything else about his day). He received the ‘lol’ he had been expecting, but then…

 

yx: wanna grab a bite??

 

Chanyeol’s hands suddenly lost all higher motor functions. Yixing must have been worried by the delay in response (or, Chanyeol’s gentlemanly perception of him said that that’s what it was) because he added not long after-

 

yx: not trying to be creepy lol! I haven’t eaten yet either. I know a place way better than microwave ramen :p

 

By some higher power, Chanyeol found himself walking down the street not fifteen minutes later. Although he was internally angsting about meeting up with Yixing (he was almost 90% sure that the ballcap he always wore had never been washed, and was worried that it smelled), his eyes were bright with excitement.

 

Yixing, amazingly, didn’t stand him up. The shorter man was already at the ramen shop when Chanyeol arrived, and waved him over to the small booth in the corner of the restaurant. Grinning from ear to ear, Chanyeol took a seat and shrugged his jacket off.

 

Talking to Yixing was incredibly easy. He learned that Yixing had moved to Korea in high school and that he worked at a Chinese restaurant his mother owned that was only a block from the music store. Chanyeol had never been, but made fervent promises that he would. At this point, Chanyeol was convinced that he would say anything to get Yixing to smile.

 

When they finished eating (after Chanyeol had thoroughly embarrassed himself with a spicy ramen that was far too spicy for his delicate tastebuds), they went on a walk. He might have been reading too far into the situation, but Chanyeol really felt like they were exchanging an intimate moment as they walked so close to each other that their arms bumped and talked about themselves.

 

“I’d like to go back to school,” Yixing was explaining. “I’d study pre-med, I think, but right now I need to help my mom in the shop.”

 

Chanyeol felt a little dumb as Yixing spun his life story for him. He had no grand ambitions like Yixing. The only similarity the two of them seemed to have was that they both loved their mothers and worked hard for their benefit.

 

They must have been walking a while, because Chanyeol’s nose was red from the nippy night air by the time Yixing’s strides started to slow. Noticing this, Chanyeol started to walk more slowly as well. This would have been easy if he wasn’t such an inherently clumsy person.

 

For once, though, his clumsiness wasn’t working totally against him. Every time his sneaker scuffed on the sidewalk, his hand bumped against Yixing’s. The redness in his face could also have something to do with that.

 

“Do you live up here?” Chanyeol asked, gesturing ahead with the hand opposite Yixing’s (moving that hand meant moving it away from another ‘accidental’ touch). Yixing nodded, and Chanyeol felt something akin to disappointment. But, he decided to be a gentleman and walk Yixing to his door. Or, rather, follow him like a lost puppy.

“I had fun tonight,” Yixing began as he lead Chanyeol toward the entrance of the small condo. “We should hang-out again sometime.”
Chanyeol was all too eager to agree. He probably looked like an idiot, nodding as quickly as he was. “I’d like that,” he chirped. Yixing’s smile made the idiocy worthwhile.

 

Yixing glanced over his shoulder and then up at Chanyeol. “Maybe a movie sometime? I heard something really lame is coming out,” he offered, and Chanyeol (again, like an idiot) echoed him. “Really lame, I like really lame,” he had said.

 

He beat himself up for that response all the way home.

 

---------

 

The smoke alarm had kept Chanyeol up all night. It had gone off, startling him out of his sleep, twice before he’d had to quit hitting the hush button and surrendered to its whims. Sleeping on his mother’s couch was something he’d thought he’d outgrown, but, alas.

 

“Maybe next year,” he sighed after recounting the story of his disastrous evening to Joohyun. She, for better or worse, seemed amused. “I don’t know why you haven’t texted him back, though,” she hummed after Chanyeol had spun his tale of woe.

 

His ears turned bright red and he busied himself behind the counter. Yixing had texted him exactly twice that morning, and Chanyeol could only hope that his read receipts weren’t on. The dinner had been wonderful, and he felt like he hadn’t completely bored Yixing-- but the smoke alarm fiasco had reminded him of how little he brought to the table. Why should he encourage his own infatuation with such a put-together young man when he, though equally young, was a hot mess?

 

The irony of the smoke detector bringing about this epiphany was not lost on him.

 

Joohyun, unfortunately, was relentless. “You should text him,” she began insisting. Chanyeol, weak willed as he was, had to find a way to avoid her if he had any hope of standing by his decision to give Yixing the coldest shoulder he could muster. Better to not let it progress than to have it end in embarrassment-- or worse.

 

“It’s fine,” he grumbled, and was met with a very near box to the ear. He’d nearly forgotten how infinitely tougher she was as compared to her looks. Those cutely round cheeks were the cruelest deception.

 

“You need to text him!”

 

Chanyeol found himself daydreaming about slipping into something more comfortable. Like the deepest, darkest cave he could find. Any hiding place, really. “Are caves wet?”

Joohyun nearly smacked him again for not paying attention.

 

Two days of this went by, but on the third day Joohyun relented. Chanyeol never thought he’d see the day that he’d have be more stubborn than her. He even wrote it down in the margin of the spiral bound notebook he kept in his bedside drawer. Which was, thank you kindly, not a diary.

 

And yet, it didn’t feel like victory. He felt uneasy, and a little guilty. Yixing had stopped texting him well before Joohyun had given up on trying to get Chanyeol to respond. Yixing hadn’t done anything wrong. In fact, he’d done everything right. Chanyeol wondered if he was being presumptuous by wanting to step back from...well, there hadn’t really been anything there. But, he liked to think that there could have been. The way his heart did little skips made it feel like there was a lot of potential.

 

As he was metaphorically licking his wounds and waiting for the crosswalk to be clear, he spotted a flash of yellow in the corner of his eye. He was momentarily frozen, and then tried to cast the most discrete look he could.

 

There he was. Dimples and all.

 

Yixing was chatting to an elegant looking woman with smile lines that, rather than age her, made her seem so warm Chanyeol wanted to curl up against her. He felt a twinge of-- something, in his gut. He wanted to cross the street and interrupt.

 

He stared long enough for it to be too long. Yixing turned, and their eyes met for one second too many. Recognition crossed Yixing’s features, and Chanyeol’s face turned white. Pulling his snapback down, he spun on his heel and tried to make a graceful escape. He stepped right into a puddle.

 

Shaking the water out of his shoes, he sighed his defeat at the sound of quickly approaching footsteps behind him. He expected the hand he felt, next, on his bicep. Turning towards it, Chanyeol’s eyes found Yixing’s shoes first. They were wet, like his, and he stared at them rather than politely looking up.

 

“Chanyeol,” Yixing puffed like he’d just been running, “Hey.”


It sounded remarkably ineloquent to be coming from Mr. Dimples himself. Why, Chanyeol himself could have said it. And that’s just what he did. “Hey,” he mumbled, finally looking up. Yixing didn’t look angry, which he guessed was a bit of a relief.

 

“Hey,” Mr. Dimples repeated. “Where have you been? Did you get my texts?”

 

This only inflamed Chanyeol’s earlier frustrations. Yixing seemed genuinely interested in continuing to talk to him. It was all too easy to want to slip back into the comfortable almost-ness they had been in before he’d put his phone on silent. Instead, he grumbled, “Who was that you were talking to?”

 

Brows furrowing, Yixing glanced over his shoulder. “Just now? That was Qian,” he replied, as if that answered Chanyeol’s question. It didn’t, for the record. “Qian,” Chanyeol echoed. He didn’t mean to sound quite so airheaded, but, Yixing seemed to get the clue.

 

“She’s Chinese, too. There’s a little community and we all know each other,” he explained. This calmed the ache in Chanyeol’s stomach a little. “She was pretty,” he said with a little sigh. Yixing agreed and Chanyeol wished he wasn’t so polite.

 

They stood there for a moment before Yixing cleared his throat. “You didn’t tell me if you got my texts,” he gently urged. Chanyeol’s ears turned red again. Redder, perhaps.

“I got them,” he admitted. Yixing looked struck. “You didn’t respond,” he began. Chanyeol had to cut him off quickly, lest he look like an even bigger jerk.

 

“I was up all night after our dinner because of the fire alarm, and it made me decide not to bug you because I barely function on my own, and--”

 

A finger pressed to his lips and he really wished for that hidden cave or giant hole. Yixing was shushing him. Like, actually shushing him.

 

“I don’t care about any of that,” he insisted. Chanyeol, for the umpteenth time, found himself gawking. How could Yixing say he didn’t care? Here Chanyeol was, telling him how stupid he had felt that night and how much of a burden he knew he could be, and Yixing was acting like it didn’t even matter. All that angst, gone to waste!

 

Yixing took his hand (like, really took it, fingers intertwined and everything) and gave Chanyeol a gentle tug and a dimpled smile. For once, Chanyeol didn’t feel so incredibly tall and uncomfortable in his own skin. He felt a wee bit weak in the knees, which might have been what was making Yixing seem bigger than he really was. “Let’s grab some coffee and talk about it,” Yixing offered as if that was the most sensible thing in the world. “I don’t think you should be making any rash decisions without hearing what I want, too.”

 

They talked for three hours about their favorite kinds of music and agreed to go see that horrible movie that weekend. Chanyeol never got to tell Yixing why he was so scared. Yixing’s gentle laugh and genuine interest made him forget his worries. Chanyeol was on cloud nine, but he was almost 98 percent sure that Yixing had actually called their next meeting a date.

 

He didn’t ignore a single one of his texts after that.

 

---------

 

Joohyun might as well have been going on the date herself, she was so excited. She groomed Chanyeol and in no uncertain terms told him how he needed to carry himself. He nodded to everything, but only understood half of it. He was too nervous to focus.

 

When he arrived at the movie theater, he waited outside, pacing like some kind of agitated animal. Or, well-- like a dog that had been left alone for too long and was worried.

 

When someone came up behind him and touched his back, he nearly jumped out of his skin. That was not an uncommon reaction with him, it seemed. Whipping around, he found himself face-to-face (almost, height differences accounted for) with a rather stunned looking Yixing. “Sorry,” Yixing said so quickly his accent creeped in (and up Chanyeol’s spine), “I didn’t mean to startle you.”

 

Chanyeol pretended he hadn’t been scared and urged Yixing to the ticket counter. He didn’t even protest when Yixing insisted on buying both tickets, though he did finagle his way into half the snack cost.

 

They sat with their knees touching and fingers occasionally bumping in the popcorn bucket all night. Chanyeol had never enjoyed a third sequel so much.

 

As was custom (if a second time can even be counted as a custom), they went on a walk after the movie. “I loved the explosions,” Chanyeol gushed. Good-natured Yixing simply chuckled and let Chanyeol all but hang off of his arm. He seemed to genuinely enjoy Chanyeol’s company, and that only made Chanyeol more attached than ever.

 

They walked and chatted for what felt like a comfortable forever until they reached a nicely cultivated area of the city. Stopping by a park, Chanyeol plopped his long self down onto a swingset and ignored the protesting creak of the metal. He was thin and deserved to rest after such an exciting evening. Yixing smiled, watching the spectacle of Chanyeol’s long limbs arranging themselves in the low swing. This made the height difference between the two of them all but disappear-- Chanyeol was actually tipping his head back to keep his eyes on Yixing’s face.

 

And then Yixing got very close. Chanyeol’s face was red again, watching as Yixing stepped close enough to hold onto the chains of the swing he was sitting on. The gesture didn’t go beyond that, and Chanyeol was old enough to not be put off (especially when he’d been very awkwardly flirting with Yixing all night), but all of a sudden there was a vague sizzling sound and--

 

“Holy sh--”

 

Yixing’s hands snapped back. The chains of the swing were bright red and steaming in the cool night air. Chanyeol’s eyes widened in panic.

 

He’d just burnt Yixing.

 

---------

 

 

Five year old Chanyeol clung to his mother’s skirt and hid his face from the man in the white coat. Though the mind was kind, and spoke in a gentle tone, his mother’s distress was his own.

 

For 0.8% of the population, nuclear advancements in all the developed nations came with a price. That price was unique powers. It seemed concentrated in the areas with the most recent, greatest increases in nuclear power.

 

That was what the doctor said, anyway. Chanyeol wouldn’t understand the implication until he was much older. His mother became fiercely protective, and homeschooled him until he was of the age that doctors predicted he could control the incredibly high temperatures he would produce when under stress. They feared that if he was let loose on the public too soon, he would set something on fire or hurt someone without meaning to.

 

His life was defined by doctor’s visits, government on a local and national level asking him questions, and by hiding. But, Chanyeol had never hurt someone that he could remember. He’d been so careful…

 

“Chanyeol--”

 

The tall man was snapped out of his daydream and locked eyes with Yixing. It was obvious that Yixing was in distress because of the burn, and Chanyeol interpreted it as fear. He quickly held his hands up in a pose he hoped would look like surrender, and would convey that he didn’t want to hurt Yixing.

 

“It was an accident!”

 

Before Yixing could ask him questions, like people had his entire life, he stood up and started to stumble backwards. His intention was to run away, but he was equally afraid of Yixing going to the authorities. He hadn’t meant to hurt Yixing, but with so few people being impacted (after all, Korea was a big country and Chanyeol had never met someone like himself) there was a lot of fear and misunderstandings with law enforcement. His mother had always warned him that if he wasn’t careful, he could inspire stricter control…

 

“I’m really sorry, Yixing. I’ve been like this ever since I can remember. When I get stressed out, I lose focus and I bu--”

“Chanyeol, I’m fine,” Yixing interrupted. Chanyeol stared, brow furrowing in confusion. Then, Yixing lifted his hands.

 

Though they had initially been blistered and red, Yixing’s hands now seemed….

“You’re fine?” Chanyeol echoed. He was fine! There was no indication that he had ever been hurt.

 

The two of them locked eyes and stood still, breath fogging up the night air. The atmosphere between them was ripe with tension.

 

Chanyeol’s head tipped to the side. “So, you’re...you’re like me,” he finally managed to get out. His voice was soft in the weak sort of way. Yixing’s was soft in the reassuring sort of way.

 

“I’m like you,” Yixing agreed. His hands were still outstretched and Chanyeol had an itch to touch them-- but he wouldn’t. Even if Yixing’s hands were miraculously healed, the hiss he had let out when the chains had burned hot was still imprinted on his memory. It had hurt him. He had hurt Yixing, who had only been kind to him since they’d met.

 

As if sensing his hesitations, Yixing took a step forward. It took everything in Chanyeol to not back down. “I knew about your powers,” Yixing began. Chanyeol’s brows shot up.

 

“I knew about them since before I saw you when it rained. My primary power is some sort of healing, but it comes with some kind of clairvoyance,” Yixing continued. Chanyeol only vaguely knew what that word meant, but he nodded like he understood. “Ever since I hit puberty, I’ve-- it’s not like I know everything, but I get inklings. When I moved to Korea, I felt inklings and was drawn here, to this town--”

 

Now it was Chanyeol that interrupted. “When did you move here?”

Yixing smiled because Chanyeol was cluing in.

 

“Two months ago,” he said, scuffing his sneaker on the ground. Chanyeol watched his foot. “I was pulled here,” Yixing confirmed.

 

Six more tense, tense seconds passed before Chanyeol suddenly and rather gracelessly started laughing. It was a laughter so deep he had to clutch at his stomach, eyes crinkled shut. Yixing, probably thinking he had lost his mind, laughed uncertainly.

 

Only once Chanyeol caught his breath did he try to speak. “This whole time...all these years- I thought I was the only one here. In Korea, I mean-- I thought I would have to travel to find someone like me,” he wheezed, wiping the corners of his eyes.

 

It was then that Yixing reached for him. His hands curled around Chanyeol’s wrist and coaxed his arm so that his fingers could slide down and twine with Chanyeol’s. Ironically, Chanyeol shivered.

 

Yixing smiled and shook his head, “I travelled for you.”

 

They held hands all the way home, and Chanyeol didn’t get nervous once.

 

---------

 

“Chanyeol, I swear to God--” Jungmo snapped Chanyeol out of his daydream. It was now summer, which was a horrendously rainy time of year. But, even though he was staring out water streaked windows, Chanyeol was in a state of bliss.

 

That probably explained why he’d just given the wrong change to the third customer that day. Joohyun had stepped out for the day to go look into a new shipment of a specialty guitar, so Jungmo and Chanyeol were holding down the fort.

 

“I get it, you and Dimples are going on a trip,” Jungmo whined, “But I’m not a math genius! You gotta run the drawer!”

 

They’d been out of balance since noon and Chanyeol had been too distracted to fix it. He’d been thinking about the roadtrip he and Yixing had been planning ever since they’d learned they had so much in common in terms of their genetic mutations. They both wanted to try and find others like them, and were making connections through little social media groups.

 

“Sorry, sorry,” Chanyeol smiled sheepishly and got to straightening out the finances. Joohyun would have his head on a platter if he ruined her shop.

 

Moving to a new city came with many obstacles. Unfamiliar places, changed work environments, new local cuisine and time zone shifts each took a major adjustment.

 

But, with his friends and the beauty blossoming between himself and Yixing, Chanyeol was adjusting just fine. And when the rains came, he knew he’d have someone there to keep him dry while he kept them warm.