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Aestiferous

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Baekhyun had never been a master of the language of flowers.

 

Truthfully, Baekhyun didn’t even understand flowers. 

 

He didn’t know much about them. He could look at a pretty blue flower, be told that it was named forget-me-not by a person who hadn’t even earned the right to name it, he could listen as someone uttered to him the symbolism, the meaning. Yet, he would still feel utterly confused about how that meaning had somehow been anchored into that beautiful flower.

 

The only thing he knew for sure was that flowers were beautiful. Some of them had thorns, some of them didn’t. Some people braved against the sharp threat of thorns  to graze their fingers against a velvety, enchanting petal, and some people took a look at those sharp thorns, scrunched their faces, and walked away, fingers shoved into their pockets, safe from any prickling. Some people didn’t even notice the thorns, too mesmerized by the beauty seemingly offered to them to even look more carefully before reaching towards it and leaving a drop of blood for the pretty flower to feed on.

 

Baekhyun had never been a master of the language of flowers. What he believed in, however, was that some flowers did have a meaning he could link to them according to when they chose to bloom. What he knew was that flowers represented beauty, delicacy, and maybe perfection but on his skin, they represented a fault. What he had earned out of long observations was the knowledge that flowers weren’t only a creation of nature. They could be mimicked, imitated, both the ephemeral beauty of their velvety, colorful crown and the long-lasting sting of their honed swords.

 

Blossoms sprinkled from the sky grazed skin in an ephemeral, silky kiss, before the wind swept them away. What Baekhyun had mastered was to make his touch equally fleeting and pleasant, only for it to leave scratches and stings in its wake.

 

“I have brought you the rose of love, and you have crowned me, in these dark hours, with their thorns.” 

 

The man sitting across him was dressed in a suit. His hair was cut at a perfect length, not too short but not too long either, swept up and away from his forehead, not a single strand standing out of place. He had obviously shaved in the morning. His skin was smooth and stretched evenly across a jaw that Baekhyun could imagine held clenched and tensed through most of his life. His dress shirt was perfectly ironed, not one wrinkle visible to the naked eye, the white of the fabric almost glowing under the bright lights of the empty coffee shop they had met in a bit more than half an hour ago. His suit jacket was black, his tie was black, not crooked, perfectly straight as it hung over a chest that Baekhyun knew was sculpted under those plain, boring, but expensive clothes.

 

He looked perfect. Baekhyun let his eyes slide back up to Junki’s face. His eyes were sharp but melted away the tiniest amount as soon as he met Baekhyun’s gaze. He looked firm, in control, confident whenever Baekhyun pictured him alone in his daily life, at work, in the office, in his home, amongst colleagues or family.

 

Baekhyun painted a delicate smile on his lips and he caught Junki’s lips quivering a little.

 

"Those aren’t your words," he said, voice dipping towards mock reproach.

 

Junki let out a light chuckle, shaking his head, barely even surprised that he was caught.

 

"They’re from Kristian Goldmund Aumann's The Seven Deadly Sins but I think they’re pretty fitting in this situation."

 

"I wouldn’t expect a lawyer to read that kind of book," Baekhyun quirked an eyebrow, leaning forward a little over the small round table. 

 

His cup of tea was half empty, Junki’s cup of coffee was still full. He hadn’t let go of Baekhyun’s hand since they had arrived, as if the touch of Baekhyun’s skin was worth letting a hot cup of his favorite coffee grow cold.

 

"I’ve read it after we met," Junki clarified, lips carrying a proud smile.

 

When they had first met, Junki hadn’t been smiling. In fact, he even used to have a hard time smiling, as if it hadn’t happened to him for years, as if courts, judges, and clients had hardened his face into stone. This development wasn’t something he was uncomfortable with.

 

When Junki wasn’t with Baekhyun, the latter knew that he didn’t smile. Smiling wasn’t something lawyers liked to do, Junki had once said. 

 

I have no reason to smile when I’m not with you, had been his following words. Baekhyun had given him a big, genuine grin. It had never been the same reason tugging the corners of their lips upwards.

 

"Sounds like I bettered your life," Baekhyun chuckled as he felt Junki’s thumb grazing the skin of his knuckles, as if he was caressing the most delicate petals he had ever laid his eyes on. "It also sounds like you suddenly grew interested in everything about flowers after seeing what’s on my neck."

 

Junki’s eyes flickered to Baekhyun’s neck and the latter tilted his head the slightest bit, to allow him a better view. His dark eyes brightened when he saw Junki’s own gaze clouding a little as he stared at Baekhyun’s neck, searching for the plum blossoms painted into Baekhyun’s skin in permanent black ink. He wouldn’t find them, however, Baekhyun had carefully concealed them with makeup this morning. 

 

Junki still spent a few seconds staring, his eyes sliding down from the left side of Baekhyun’s neck where the tips of the branches along with a few small blossoms would normally peak above the collar of his shirt. The other had already seen it entirely and as his gaze slid down over Baekhyun shoulder, then down the edge of his collarbone, before landing on his pectoral, Baekhyun knew that he was retracing it in his memory. He had traced it with his fingertips only a few days ago, the silk of his bedsheets embracing Baekhyun’s body as his fingers trailed over his bare skin, his nudity disrupted by the dark lines of a single branch decorated with plum blossoms.

 

Baekhyun liked plum blossoms. They were pretty, simple flowers that bloomed in spring, right at the end of a harsh, cold winter. They might be the only flowers he understood.

 

"Why did you hide it today?" he asked when he seemed to finally snap out of his memories, his grip on Baekhyun’s hand a bit tighter now.

 

"Not everyone sees tattoos positively in our country, you know," Baekhyun said, pressing his lips together a bit and furrowing his eyebrows as if he felt a little upset about that fact. He really couldn’t care less about it.

 

"Well, that’s okay," Junki instantly said, smile soft and reassuring. "Those flowers will never be as beautiful as you anyway."

 

Baekhyun sunk his teeth into his bottom lip as if to conceal a smile, letting his gaze drop down on the table but not tilting his head down enough for his hair to cover the bashful expression he offered to an enamored man. He glanced at him and saw the beam splitting his face into two, the confident glint in his eyes, as if he was well aware of the effect he thought he had on Baekhyun. He was completely oblivious to the grip Baekhyun had on him.

 

The shrill cry of a ringtone suddenly called for attention from Junki’s pocket and instantly, the enchanted expression he had on shattered and he let go of Baekhyun’s hand to grab his phone. A frown twisted his now hardened features, a clear sign that it was a call from the office. 

 

The sudden, clear switch in his behavior as he picked up the call was a satisfying show to Baekhyun’s eyes. His voice lost all of its honey-flavored, gooey touch as he engaged into a cold, seemingly unpleasant conversation with whoever was on the other end of the line and barked orders to them. He hung up after not even a full minute and his hand gripped Baekhyun’s tighter, his eyes meeting Baekhyun’s curious but carefully dampened expression. 

 

His shoulders dropped, his features withering. He leaned forward like a flower seeking for sunlight to draw life from, suddenly turning into a whole other person again. All of it was the source of the delight spreading through Baekhyun’s chest.

 

His expression remained curious however, none of the emotions crafted into his eyes and features quivering the slightest bit.

 

"I need to go back to the office again. Something came up with a client," he muttered, visibly upset.

 

Baekhyun gave him a small, understanding nod of his head. He didn’t let go of Junki’s hand.

 

"It’s alright. Go be a big, scary, and powerful lawyer," he teased the other, satisfaction tinkling in his mind at the sight of what that big, scary, and powerful lawyer turned to in front of him.

 

Junki sighed, taking a few more seconds to smile at Baekhyun before finally letting go of his hand and standing up. His coffee remained untouched, now cold. He stepped around the table to stand in front of Baekhyun and then leaned down until their lips pressed together and he could convey longing, regret, and love through their kiss. Baekhyun mimicked those emotions, one of his hands gripping the other’s jacket, the other feathering against his neck, the pulse under his fingertips fluttering a little.

 

"I’ll miss you," Junki muttered against his lips.

 

Baekhyun gave him a tender smile and brought their lips together for another chaste kiss. Those words echoed in his head like the most delectable of melodies.

 

"Will you?" he whispered against the pinkish petal of Junki’s bottom lip, voice perfumed with despair, longing, and a faint hint of desire.

 

"More than anything else," Junki whispered back before catching Baekhyun’s lips for another deeper kiss. He felt him breathe in. Baekhyun was wearing the perfume Junki had bought him last month.

 

"I’ll miss you too," Baekhyun eventually replied.

 

It wasn’t a lie. He would miss the contentment and fulfillment provided by Junki’s love, dependence, and belonging to him.

 

"Drink a lot of water and hydrate yourself. The August heat is unforgiving," Junki said and Baekhyun gave him a look that he knew the other would understand as him not having taken even a single sip of water since this morning.

 

He nodded then, quickly, grinning like an obedient lover who felt blissful at the fact that his significant other was there to remind him to take care of himself and tell him exactly what to do to lead a healthy life. That was the kind of lover Junki wanted. He liked feeling in control.

 

Eventually, Junki detached himself from Baekhyun and walked out of the coffee shop, constantly looking over his shoulder as if part of him was left in the hand that Baekhyun had gripped his jacket with seconds ago. Baekhyun watched him, returning his wave and smiling as Junki walked farther away from him.

 

Once he was out of sight, Baekhyun let out a light sigh. He felt filled up, as if he had been offered an entire meal from his favorite restaurant and each bite sliding down his throat had dragged contentment into his core.

 

He reached for his cup of tea, savoring the last colder drops he had left in there before tugging the sleeve of his dress-shirt up. His expensive watch glinted under the coffee shop’s light. He took in the time and let out another sigh, this one longer and heavier as he remembered he had a meeting to attend soon.

 

He stood up and left the coffee shop, an effortless smile still on his lips as he felt the wicked warmth of Junki’s hesitation to leave him lingering with him.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The subway was crowded. Baekhyun felt in his element, lost in a wave of people, the aftertaste of the tea and Junki’s warmth lingering in him.

 

It was hot in the train too. Baekhyun didn’t mind, he dedicated all his attention to his surroundings. There were many faces to see and lives to draw in his imagination.

 

The train came to a halt soon after a stop was announced. Two stops to go. He looked down at his watch, adjusted it so the cadran was centred on his wrist. He looked up again to the people flowing out of the doors.

 

One of them stood out.

 

He was tall, taller than most people around him. All Baekhyun could get was a glimpse before the sight was obscured by people stepping into the train. It was a pleasant glimpse. He had caught one big ear sticking out. Big eyes that looked almost round in that short glimpse. It was adorable.

 

The train resumed its course and Baekhyun looked at his watch again, the ticking hands his sole distraction through the rest of his ride.

 

Junki wasn’t really adorable. He was handsome but his features were sharp, pointy. A familiar sight that now prickled Baekhyun’s eyes. They had lost their novelty.

 

He should go for something else. Something less sharp. Someone cuter.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Despite having spent most of his life in the corridors of this company, Baekhyun still felt a wave of discomfort flowing down his whole body as soon as he stepped foot into 4C’s headquarters. 

 

The building was wide and tall, each of its many floors occupied by a different branch of the cosmetics brand, the hallways buzzing with life and stress. The floors were sparkling, spotless despite the harsh treatment afflicted to it all day long. Dress shoes and high heels clacked on its surface all day long, without a break, when their owners rushed to get to wherever they were called, sent, or needed. The only time people stopped was to bow to Baekhyun, who had learned not to return the gesture long ago, both because he was much higher than everyone in the company’s hierarchy and because it would kill his back or his neck to bow to everyone crossing his path.

 

He had walked the same path in the entrance hall, greeted the different workers welcoming him behind the counter of the reception, took the same overworked elevators, and  had stood in front of the door to one of the company’s many meeting rooms hundreds of times in his life. And yet, Baekhyun still felt like a foreigner, a reject in the middle of the buzzing energy of a company that he had never called his. 

 

It didn’t belong to him, it never would.

 

He pushed the door open without knocking, giving a friendly smile to the dozen of high rank employees standing up to greet him as he made his entrance. They weren’t surprised to see him but as he took a seat at the head of the table, he still gave everyone another light but firm smile.

 

"My father can’t attend the meeting today, unfortunately, so I’m here in his stead. Let’s proceed," he said, forcing himself to mutter those words clearly despite the wave of repulsion that lurched through his chest.

 

There were very few whispers concerning the chairman’s health as everyone was already aware of the situation, and the meeting started the next second when the head of the marketing branch proposed the new commercialization plan for their brand that dealt not only with makeup products but also skincare products and everything in between.

 

The discomfort remained in Baekhyun’s chest all throughout the boring meeting, despite having attended this kind of meeting for so many times now.  He still forced himself to pay attention to everything, making sure that every issue would be addressed and that no flaw could be found in his way of dealing with his job.

 

Not that this was his job exactly. He was only here because his father couldn’t be and his older brother was overseas on yet another business trip. Halfway through the meeting, Baekhyun felt like this was all useless and a waste of his energy. This wasn’t even his company, his father never even addressed him as someone working in this company despite having an office for himself in one of the endless floors of this vastly constricting building.

 

He didn’t particularly care about their brand’s future. His name had never really been on it. Despite often working here, he had never truly gotten involved in the grand aspects of the brand. He had never attended their launches, had never even gone on a business trip in one of their branches in the rest of Asia. It had always been his father and truthfully, Baekhyun didn’t mind. If he could, he would never set foot into this company. He felt stifled in this place that carried traces of his father’s hard work everywhere. He felt confined in this meeting, where everyone looked at him with the same gaze they looked at his father.

 

He felt suffocated by the knowledge that this is the one use his father considers him having. A replacement for when he couldn’t step into his own company.

 

He zoned out when a woman sporting the brightest shade of 4C’s signature lipsticks started giving a report concerning their ingredients supplier, his gaze on the blank sheet of paper in front of him, fingers holding onto a chic pen decorated with their brand’s logo, but his mind already away in a way messier place.

 

The only thing pulling him back to the present after a few minutes was the light vibrations he felt in the pocket of his jacket. He let his eyes wander around the table, noting that everyone was paying attention to the same woman debating over something with the head of marketing. Once he was sure that everyone was absorbed into the argument, he slid his fingers into his pocket and grabbed his phone, pulling it out and carefully placing it against his thigh, under the table in order to be as discreet as possible.

 

It was a message from Joohyun. His expression remained blank as he slid his thumb over the screen and opened the notification up, his eyes taking in the short text.

 

Can you pick me up from uni this evening? I miss you T^T

 

He read the message a second time, and then a third. His head cleared up a little bit, his throat loosening, and his lungs emptying in relief before absorbing air a bit more easily than a few seconds earlier.

 

They had seen each other only last night. They had met up at a club and danced together before Baekhyun had made sure to bring her home like the caring, kind hearted person that Joohyun had always wanted to have in her life. The kind of person she had fallen in love with. She hadn’t said it yet but she didn’t need to word it out for Baekhyun to know exactly what she was feeling.

 

Happiness and satisfaction soothed him as he typed a quick reply to her.

 

You just picked my heartrate up,  I can only hope to do the same.

 

(*≧∀≦*)

 

Cheesy hehe

 

You’re the best

 

Her answer was quick, as if she had been clutching her phone while waiting for Baekhyun’s answer to her message. Baekhyun knew that had been the case.

 

Baekhyun gave his entire attention back to the meeting after that, tucking his phone back into his pocket and putting an end to the still ongoing argument with a decision that he judged would be the best for the company.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

"Why don’t you ever take the car to travel?" Joohyun asked that same evening as they stood in the cramped subway car, her beautiful almond eyes looking up at Baekhyun curiously.

 

He had left his car at the company for someone to drive it back to his apartment later before picking her up a few minutes ago in front of her school like he so often did. She seemed to be in a chatty mood today, her clear, light voice dripping on him endlessly. Baekhyun suspected he could drown in it if his answers weren’t chosen carefully.

 

Baekhyun didn’t particularly hate driving, it was just that he simply liked taking the subway because despite it being too cramped and uncomfortable most of the time, it was still the easiest and fastest way to travel in this big, crowded city. There were too many people in each wagon but with many people came many faces and many lives Baekhyun could observe and figure out throughout the journey. Moreover, he had two cars and both of them were very obviously expensive cars that the plain office worker Joohyun believed him to be would never be able to afford.

 

"Because I can’t look at your pretty face while driving. Why would I put myself through the torture of having you so close to me but not being able to look at you?" he muttered softly, giving her a smile as his hand reached to delicately tuck a strand of her silky hair behind her ear.

 

His words dusted her cheeks with a pale pink tint and his smiled widened, matching the joyful yet timid arch of her lips. That was enough for him to know that she would never direct that question to him again.

 

"I like it better this way too," she whispered quietly, stepping closer to him and circling his waist with her arms, her head resting against his chest.

 

He let out a soft chuckle, that single note carrying fondness to Joohyun’s ears as he wrapped an arm around her frail shoulders to keep her against him. He was caring in her eyes and of course, a loving gentleman should make sure that no one bumped against her and that she was safe from any possibility of slipping or losing her balance. He had his back pressed against a window anyway, there was little chance for him to lose his balance.

 

"How was your day? How was class?" he asked after a few seconds of comfortable silence, earning an excited perk of her eyebrows.

 

Joohyun wasn’t exactly shy per se, but she was a bit closed off and didn’t open up easily, nor was she overflowing with confidence. They had known each other for two months now, after meeting out of coincidence in the street market. Baekhyun had been visiting and looking around until his attention was caught by this really pretty girl trying out some handmade jewelry at a stand while giving the mirror unsure looks. All it had taken was for Baekhyun to tell her that the pink one looked the best around her neck after figuring out that it was that one that she really wanted.

 

"It was alright, as usual. I’m really hardworking, after all. So even if third year is tiring and there’s way too much competition, I still manage." Baekhyun patted her head in a show of pride, earning another wide, satisfied smile. She was so easy to satisfy. Her lips then twisted into a small frown. "But there was this senior who basically made me trail around her for an hour because she had to make copies and then go see a teacher and then make more copies or whatever. I mean, she’s my senior so of course I should help but it kind of felt like abuse of power. Does that happen to you too? In the accounting firm?"

 

"It does," Baekhyun sighed, frowning a little as if he felt the tiniest bit concerned over her words. "That kind of thing happens everywhere and even if it’s difficult, you should try saying no when it inconveniences you too much. But don’t be too rude either, that would only worsen things. Just be careful," he said reluctantly, tightening his hold around her shoulders as if he wanted to protect her from the world.

 

The smile she gave him this time was a bit smaller but there was a blinding emotion tucked on the corners of her lips.

 

She was very beautiful. Her skin was smooth, pale but always had a pink tint to it under the summer heat. Her eyes were sparkling as she looked up at Baekhyun and she had a small button nose that scrunched up a little when she laughed too hard. She was short, not too short, but she was dainty and looked tiny to Baekhyun who wasn’t even much taller than her. A bit like a beautiful doll. The kind of doll that probably would be every little child’s first choice as soon as they ran into the aisle full of different options.

 

Her frailness wasn’t even entirely physical either, it was just her aura. Her smile and her exquisite gaze attracted people to her and fueled the urge to protect her from anything bad in this world, maybe fold her and carefully hide her into their pocket. At least, Baekhyun supposed that was the way others felt when looking at her. In his eyes, she wasn’t really a doll. Just another source of warmth, perhaps.

 

"What about you? How was your day?"

 

"It was alright. I got called into my boss’ office and I thought he would scold me or something but actually I got praised," he said, lightly squeezing her shoulders as he boasted about a life he had crafted only for her ears to hear.

 

"Really? I’m so happy for you!" she beamed, leaning to press a dainty, chaste kiss against his cheek as some kind of recompense or celebration. Baekhyun ran a hand down her back and returned her smile. "What did he say?"

 

"That I was one of the most hardworking employees and that if I kept it on, I could get a promotion soon," he replied, raising his voice a little bit as if the joy he felt at the prospect was too much for him to even control his tone anymore. He got a few irritated looks from people around him but it was worth it when Joohyun shushed him and gave him an infatuated smile. "I really couldn’t wait to share this with someone," he explained in a sheepish mumble.

 

"I’m the first person you shared this with?" she asked softly, looking at him as if Baekhyun had just told her he wanted to share the rest of his life with her.

 

Baekhyun nodded, watching as her smile split her face into two and left a reddish tint on her cheeks.

 

"We should celebrate that!" she chirped, pulling away from him a little bit. "Well, not today because I have to go to work but as soon as we can," she added begrudgingly. 

 

"Alright," Baekhyun agreed eagerly. "How would you like to celebrate it?"

 

"We could go for ice cream. I’ve been craving something sweet lately," she hummed softly.

 

"It’s not good to eat sweets," he chided her, albeit not so seriously.

 

"How do you never even crave anything sweet?" she huffed, giving him a mock weirded out look.

 

That wasn’t true. Baekhyun did like sweets, he could eat anything as long as it was strawberry flavored, even if nothing ever came close to actual strawberries for him. He supposed there was no way for Joohyun to know that, though. She didn’t know him half as well as he knew her and she never would.

 

He didn’t comment on it, however, bringing a hand up to poke the tip of her nose the same way he would boop the nose of a small puppy.

 

"Why would I crave anything sweet when I already have the sweetest treat right here?"

 

She lets out a delighted chuckle at that, scrunching her nose a little bit. Baekhyun laughed along with her, taking in the way she looked at him as if he were the most precious person in her life.

 

She parted her lips to say something but before she could, a robotic female voice announced the next stop and she furrowed her eyebrows a little bit instead.

 

"That’s my stop," she said, mood visibly dampened by that fact.

 

"I heard," Baekhyun said, the tiniest bit of regret tainting his voice.

 

"It’s alright," Joohyun said comfortingly, as if she could sense it. "We’ll see each other soon and I’ll call you after work. We can even message each other, there’s usually less people at the store in the evening."

 

"We’ll do that," he nodded firmly, pulling her close to him again for a last hug.

 

He felt her sigh in content against his collarbone before pulling away and stretching on the tip of her toes to press a kiss against his lips. It was a simple one, their lips barely even moving against each other. Joohyun didn’t know any other way of kissing yet.

 

The train stopped and she gave him a last smile before pulling away and stepping out of the car when the doors open and the crowd pushed her out. Once outside, she looked towards the wagon she had just left to catch a last glimpse of Baekhyun and waved at him. He returned both her smile and her wave before turning to look straight in front of him again as soon as the wagon moved forward, features slackening a little.

 

He wondered if she would believe him if he ignored her messages later on tonight and told her that he had fallen asleep as soon as he had gotten home, too tired from a full day of work. She would, there was nothing he would say that Joohyun wouldn’t eat up as long as he coated it with sweetness and a loving smile.

 

He shifted a bit to lean against the window more comfortably, letting his gaze trail around him. The crowd had considerably diminished since they had first gotten in. There was even a seat available a few meters away but Baekhyun didn’t move, remaining where he was as he pulled his phone out of his pocket. It was stuffy in the wagon. The summer heat was thankfully made more bearable by the air conditioning but it was evening and he knew that the air would feel damp as soon as he would get off at his stop and walk the short distance to his apartment building. 

 

He had a message from Junki asking him how his day had went. He quickly wrote him a reply, something about his classes being boring and missing him all through it, before shutting the messaging app and wandering through the internet instead. He wasn’t too interested in the news but it would at least help him while the time away until his stop.

 

It was only a few minutes later that Baekhyun felt something tingling his face. It didn’t take him more than a second to figure out that it was nothing but the impression of someone’s gaze on him. Slowly, looked away from the article he was reading and tilted his head up to look around. There was a group of female students right in front of him, all of them standing in a circle, holding onto the handles or each other in order not to lose balance. On his right, an old woman was sitting at the head of the row of seats, blinking slowly as she read the newspaper that she was holding in her trembling hands. 

 

He continued studying his surroundings, eyes trailing over the faces around him until eventually, it wasn’t features that he was looking at but intent eyes. Eyes that seemed to have lost their path across Baekhyun’s face and couldn’t figure out how to find a way out. Round eyes. Intense. Foreign.

 

The stranger was on the left, a few steps away from him, seated between an older business man and a teenager bobbing his head to the music in his headphones. His gaze jolted away from Baekhyun as soon he realized he was caught. Baekhyun took the occasion to take a proper look at him, trailing his curious gaze over the ruffled, messy strands of black hair that fell over his forehead, right above his attentive, doe eyes. Familiar. 

 

It was the tall stranger from two days ago. The one who had stood out while stepping out of the train. The cute one.

 

All Baekhyun remembered was thinking that his eyes were round, the rest of his features carrying out a similar vibe in that fleeting glimpse he had caught of him. Now, as Baekhyun could see him properly, he noted that it wasn’t exactly the case.

 

His features weren’t sharp but they weren’t too soft either, his eyes naturally big, his nose carved perfectly at the center of his face, and his lower lip plump and cushiony. He was handsome. It was an endearing kind of handsome, highlighted by the way his ears were sticking out. He looked youthful, maybe around the same age as Baekhyun, but comfortable and soft, just like the fabric of his slightly oversized hoodie seemed to be.

 

It took a few seconds for the man to look at Baekhyun again only to realize that Baekhyun hadn’t looked away from him. Surprise widened his eyes the tiniest bit and he looked flustered. Baekhyun felt his lips twitching once before he pulled them into a light smile. The stranger seemed to catch up on it, immediately looking away and straight in front of him instead, as if nothing had happened.

 

The robotic female voice from earlier announced Baekhyun’s stop after the few seconds Baekhyun spent studying the man further. He didn’t look back at Baekhyun again. Amusement curled against Baekhyun’s nape and tickled a quiet chuckle out of him when he noticed the pale rosiness dusted over the man’s cheeks, barely visible yet an unmistakable sign that Baekhyun’s smile was appreciated.

 

When he got off at his stop, it was with satisfaction still pulling the corners of his lips up at the knowledge that this encounter of no more than a few seconds might linger in the stranger’s mind through part of his evening.

 

The summer air was damp and heavy around him but Baekhyun breathed it in easily.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

"You have to blow on it first, you’ll burn your tongue."

 

Baekhyun gave Junmyeon a look to let him know that he wasn’t a nine year old who needed to be taught how to eat like a human being rather than a puppy. Junmyeon reciprocated it with a quirk of his eyebrow, a clear sign that he knew Baekhyun tended to be patient for anything but food. He had witnessed Baekhyun accidentally burning his tongue too many times to believe him.

 

He dipped his spoon into the stew, still boiling in the earthenware pot, and leaned down to blow on it, making sure to look at Junmyeon insistently through it. The latter laughed and only then did Baekhyun bring the spoon into his mouth, humming at the delicious taste. He was almost grateful that Junmyeon had woken him up so early this morning with a phone call to demand they have breakfast together. Had he been home and not in this small, hole-in-the-wall restaurant, he would’ve either skipped breakfast or ate plain rice and he’d take the seolleongtang served in this place over it any day, even if it meant a trip of half an hour to Cheongjin-dong.

 

"So, how’s work?" Baekhyun asked after a few seconds of silently savoring their first mouthfuls.

 

"Well, the usual," Junmyeon said behind a hand, finishing up the rice he was chewing on before continuing to speak. "I might have to go to Busan soon, there’s a tiny problem with our branch there and my father’s sending me."

 

"What kind of problem can even come up in a hotel that you’d need to go there to solve it?" Baekhyun asked.

 

He knew any kind of problem could suddenly emerge in a company, especially in the hotel chain Junmyeon’s family owned. He just didn’t see the use of his father sending Junmyeon there. Or maybe he just didn’t like the thought that Junmyeon would be away for a while, even if he would never voice that out to the other.

 

He reached for the small bowl of eggs that had been served to them earlier and grabbed one of them, bringing it up to his dish only to hover over it for a few seconds, both hands holding onto the raw egg. He hesitated for a bit but before he could even figure out how to crack the egg without shattering the shell wrong and making a mess, Junmyeon snorted and reached to take it away from him, swiftly cracking it into the boiling soup.

 

He leaned back into his seat properly once done and Baekhyun caught his gaze, narrowing his eyes a little bit at the familiar smug and mocking glint in his eyes. He didn’t bother thanking him for something that had been repeated so many times between them that it had become a habit for Junmyeon despite the judgement always accompanying it.

 

Instead, Baekhyun leaned closer towards his soup and narrowed his eyes further.

 

"You sure you didn’t drop any piece of shell in this?"

 

Junmyeon snorted again, the sound tainted by a huff this time. "Not all of us are incompetent in egg cracking. Just eat."

 

Baekhyun chose to ignore his words to pay attention to something much more pleasant instead. He grabbed the pair of tongs from the drawer at the side of the table and used them to pluck the meat apart from the bones in his soup.

 

"Anyway," Junmyeon said, continuing right where they had left off before the egg dug a crack into their conversation. "You know my father, he wants me to take care of everything already. He’d rather stay at home and do his work from there while I run around for him," Junmyeon sighed. Baekhyun knew it wasn’t a puff of air full of irritation or anger that he pushed out of his mouth. Junmyeon never got angry, especially not at his parents. Baekhyun’s chopsticks clinked once against his bowl of rice and eggs before Junmyeon spoke again. "My mom’s inviting you for dinner whenever you’re available."

 

"Are you parents aware that they don’t have to constantly make sure we’re still friends? It’s been ten years, we’re not fifteen year olds they have to force together," Baekhyun chuckled softly, no trace of irritation in his voice either. 

 

Junmyeon’s mother was a sweet woman. She had her moments but she was sweet. She sometimes seemed to forget that they were best friends now but Baekhyun couldn’t blame her either, he did too. It was difficult to call Junmyeon his best friend when he was the only person Baekhyun even considered as a true friend.

 

"She knows," Junmyeon laughed. "It’s just her excuse to get me to go home. I’ve been avoiding it for the past few days."

 

"Why?"

 

"She started talking about marriage and it’s freaking me out," Junmyeon said, wrinkling his nose in displeasure before washing the taste of his own words by sipping his stew.

 

"Why, though?" Baekhyun asked, offering the other a knowing look. "You’re the perfect man to marry. You’re at the perfect age, you have the perfect background, you even have the perfect face. You’re kind and meticulous in your work," he continued, narrowing his eyes as if he was analyzing Junmyeon who looked very unimpressed at his words. "You’re the perfect mix between the cute boy next door and the handsome bachelor."

 

"You sound exactly like my mom whenever she’s introducing me to one of her friends who has a daughter at one of those business parties," Junmyeon deadpanned, shaking his head and shoveling another mouthful of rice.

 

He looked like an upset bunny as he chewed on his rice and Baekhyun couldn’t help but laugh at the sight. It was somehow both adorable and comical.

 

"Well, if I wanted to sound like myself, I’d just say you’re a handsome asshole who fucks around," he retorted.

 

"I’m not an asshole!" Junmyeon protested, disbelief palpable in his muffled voice. The only time he spoke with his mouth full was when Baekhyun said something absurd.

 

"You did break a few hearts. I witnessed it," Baekhyun retorted, knowing that he was entirely right and that Junmyeon didn’t mind being confronted with the truth in this kind of nonchalant manner.

 

"Never on purpose," Junmyeon grumbled before giving Baekhyun a look. "At least I just sleep around, I don’t feel the need to make everyone fall in love with me."

 

His voice had the same teasing lilt as Baekhyun’s had and yet, it was fainter, shadowed by the truth in those words. Baekhyun had stopped denying it a long time ago. He had decided to show himself to Junmyeon a long time ago. And Junmyeon had seen, but hadn’t fled.

 

"That sounded very asshole-y for someone who just claimed not to be an asshole," was Baekhyun’s only reply, his words prompting them both to chuckle lightly.

 

Junmyeon’s phone vibrated once, rattling against the table loudly and cutting them off. Junmyeon looked at it. Baekhyun read on the jerk of a single corner of his lips that it was about work. He studied the screen until it darkened before looking back at Baekhyun again. 

 

"Anyway, how’s it going for you?" Junmyeon asked and he had that glint in his eyes. The one that helped Baekhyun figure out what exactly he was asking every time he was asking it without ever actually wording it out.

 

He knew it had nothing to do with Junmyeon judging him, or feeling upset or disgusted by what Baekhyun did. He just never really knew how to word it. Or maybe he didn’t really want to word it out. It didn’t matter, he still asked and he still knew everything about what he sometimes playfully called Baekhyun’s Love Fountains.

 

Baekhyun shrugged, scraping up the last grains of rice in his bowl before calling out to the ajumma for another serving with a polite voice. He brought a piece of radish and then meat into his mouth, savoring the way they melted deliciously against his tongue. This place made the best seolleongtang and Baekhyun could probably eat it for every meal of the day if he had to.

 

"Joohyun’s still very cute. She always messages me and calls me as if she can’t go a minute without me," Baekhyun chuckled, remembering that despite telling himself that he would ignore her messages last night, he had still indulged her for close to an hour before actually cutting it off. Junmyeon hummed, taking a sip of his water. "Junki is growing kind of tiring to maintain, though. Pretty boring." 

 

Junmyeon seemed intrigued at that.

 

"How so?"

 

"I don’t know. It’s been almost three months. He’s very dependent on me but thinks I am very dependent on him and it’s kind of boring to play the shy, fragile lover now. I haven’t decided how to cut it off." 

 

A wrinkled hand put a brimming bowl of rice in front of him and Baekhyun looked up to the kind old woman with a happy smile. Used to serving him this particular dish a few times a month, she lovingly patted his head like she would to her own grandchild. He felt his smile splitting his face into two and complimented her on her culinary talents for what felt like the hundredth time.

 

"Don’t you usually just disappear on them after making sure they can’t live without you anymore?" Junmyeon asked once she was gone.

 

It took Baekhyun a second to remember what they were talking about as he was too busy vigorously blowing on the stew to cool it down a little more. There was a familiar crumble of sarcasm in Junmyeon’s voice, nothing Baekhyun wasn’t used to hearing when they had this kind of conversation. That same note of disapproval was also hidden underneath his words but that was another thing Baekhyun was accustomed to. 

 

That was the only form of disapproval Junmyeon ever showed him. He never openly criticized Baekhyun or voiced out how ridiculous or bad he thought this was. Junmyeon understood him and that was the exact reason why Baekhyun was sitting in this small restaurant, having breakfast with Junmyeon ten years after a first meeting scheduled by Junmyeon’s family and their will to get their child closer to another wealthy heir.

 

Sometimes, Baekhyun wondered if Junmyeon’s parents had ever regretted doing that after noticing that Baekhyun’s involvement in his father’s company stopped at being a substitute that worked as hard as any other ordinary and non-privileged employee from time to time. The way they still occasionally invited him for dinner would suggest that they didn’t particularly mind. Title and appearances were everything, after all, but Junmyeon was still lucky enough to have good parents.

 

"I don’t think that would be enough to get him to give up. I’ll probably directly break up with him," he said, knowing full well that it wouldn’t really be a break up. He had never uttered Junki words of love, nor had the other ever explicitly asked a relationship of him. Even if they seemed to be together in Junki’s mind.

 

"Oh, so you want to actually witness him breaking down for you?"

 

"He wouldn’t. He’s a lawyer and, most of the time, in control of himself," Baekhyun easily replied.

 

Junmyeon looked at him for a few seconds while Baekhyun took another spoonful of stew into his mouth and sighed in content.

 

"You want to see if you can make him lose control of himself entirely."

 

It wasn’t a question. It was a statement voiced out with no accusation. Maybe a hint of disapproval still lingered but it wasn’t as loud as the amusement. Baekhyun’s own amusement was louder, flashing on his curved lips as he chose not to give out an answer that Junmyeon already held.

 

The other shook his head softly, used to all of this without ever losing the dislike he could never hide from Baekhyun. Sometimes, he wondered why Junmyeon kept on asking him those things if he disapproved of them so much. Sometimes, he thought it was just Junmyeon trying to understand him and accepting him despite everything. Sometimes, that mere fact was enough for Baekhyun to seek the other out on days that he wanted to spend alone but not lonely.

 

When Junmyeon went on to talk about his niece’s piano recital that he would have to attend in a few days and wasn’t too excited about, Baekhyun listened to him while laughing at his demise. He grew a bit quieter and more serious when the topic dived down to Junmyeon’s struggles with his family. 

 

If Junmyeon had been staying by his side for ten years out of his own free will, the least Baekhyun could do was be a decent friend to the other from time to time.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A few hours later, still gratified from the delicious breakfast and Junmyeon’s uplifting presence at the other end of the table, Baekhyun found himself alone in a taxi, heading home.

 

Junmyeon had been the one to pick him up this morning and he had offered to drive him back home as well since he had to go to the office but Baekhyun had refused, wanting to run a few errands and mostly just wander around. He didn’t regret his decision, he had enjoyed his long walk amongst shops and crowds, the many people he had watched, and the general pleasant sensation he always got from weaving through a crowd. 

 

It was way past lunch time now and he hadn’t eaten yet, deciding that it would better for him to go home and find something to eat there. He had to work a bit anyway and even if the mere thought made him feel chained and used, Baekhyun also couldn’t allow himself to slack off. It was for the best.

 

He shooed those thoughts away for now, simply enjoying the drive back home as he let his gaze run around the streets that flashed behind the car’s window. The sun was high up in the sky, already at its peak. As Baekhyun looked up to it, one eye closed because it was too bright for him to actually look at it properly, he couldn’t help but appreciate the sunlight dripping on his skin. Simultaneously, he wished the sky was cloudy and grey instead. He had always preferred winter over summer.

 

His short spell of tranquility was interrupted by his phone vibrating in his pocket and he shoved his hand inside to grab the device. He took a look at the name displayed on the screen, his eyebrows furrowing and confusion washing away the harmony this drive back home had ignited in him. After a short while spent looking at the screen of his phone, Baekhyun finally swiped his thumb over the screen.

 

"Hyung," he greeted his caller, that single word scratching at his throat as if it was unwilling to be pushed out of his chest where it had been buried for what felt like an eternity.

 

It felt almost unfitting and unfamiliar to call Baekbom with the title he rightfully should be addressed with.

 

"Baekhyun," a familiarly foreign voice answered to him from the other end of the line. Two silent breaths passed before Baekhyun heard Baekbom clearing his throat. "How have you been?"

 

"Great," he said, looking at the back of the driver’s seat and away from the window. "And you?"

 

"Great," was his brother’s reply.

 

All of a sudden, Baekhyun felt the unexplainable urge to laugh. It had been more than three months since their last conversation, maybe four, and he remembered it to be the exact repetition of this one. Awkward greetings from the other end of a line separated by long, uneasy blocks of silence. 

 

However, he didn’t laugh. He had gotten used to this years ago. The funniest movie ever created wouldn’t pull laughter out of an audience that had watched it more than ten times and learned every single line by heart. Though, Baekhyun wasn’t even sure he had talked to his older brother ten times in the past year. Maybe if he added another year or two, he could reach that number.

 

"Father was taken to the hospital last night."

 

Suddenly, it all made sense. Baekhyun had to actually bite onto his lower lip to keep a chuckle locked in his throat that contracted as a result. There was no particular emotion in Baekbom’s voice. Or maybe there was no emotion Baekhyun could name. Or maybe he had never known his brother enough to be able to figure out the timbre and pitch of his voice depending on what emotion it carried out.

 

"Why?" he asked after a few more silent seconds.

 

It was ridiculous but Baekhyun couldn’t really figure out why Baekbom was informing him of that and what exactly he wanted to hear from him. That was only mildly irritating. Baekhyun usually always knew what someone wanted to hear from him before that person even knew it themselves.

 

"For treatment."

 

"He usually comes back from those quickly, doesn’t he?" Baekhyun said, hoping that those words were enough to pull an explanation out of the other.

 

"It’s worsening," Baekbom said, voice dropping an octave lower. Sadness? Indifference? He wasn’t sure. "But he’ll get better. He just needs a little more care and a longer treatment than usual this time."

 

"It wouldn’t be worsening if he had stopped smoking the second he was told he had lung cancer."

 

He caught the driver flinching and glancing at the rear-view mirror. Baekhyun realized that he had uttered those words out a bit too coldly. He met the driver’s gaze in the mirror and stared until the middle-aged man looked away and back to the road.

 

"Baekhyun," he heard through the phone. 

 

It was that tone. The only one he could recognize in Baekbom’s voice. That low, quiet tone that mingled a warning, exasperation, and indifference altogether. Sometimes, Baekhyun also heard understanding but it always took him less than a heartbeat to realize that it was only wishful thinking. They would never understand each other.

 

A spike of silence cut through them again.

 

"I’m at the hospital. You don’t need to come."

 

This time, Baekhyun didn’t even bother holding back the dry, bitter chuckle that crashed against the receiver. 

 

"Did he find the strength to get you to tell me not to show up even in that state?"

 

Silence was his only answer. As usual. Silence was always Baekbom’s answer.

 

"I got it. I’ll cover for him at the company until he’s back. I’m going there now," he eventually muttered into the phone and hung up before giving Baekbom the occasion to say anything else.

 

He wouldn’t have said anything anyway.

 

He took a deep breath in, phone clutched tightly in his hand. 

 

He looked out of the window. He supposed his plans were ruined now. He would have to go home and change before heading out again.

 

He looked up at the clear summer sky, the wide spread of blue and the sun swimming amongst it. It wasn’t sunlight that he saw, but a cold spell that he felt wrapping around his body.

 

He supposed the saddest of movies didn’t rattle your chest with a sob anymore long before your tenth time watching it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

That same night, Baekhyun found himself in the subway again, leaned against another window, surrounded by another crowd, and grateful for yet another ride made bearable by the air-conditioning. 

 

Exhaustion pressed down on his shoulders and he wished someone would get off and empty a seat so he could crumble on it and maybe doze off until his stop. That was only wishful thinking, however, and a while later, when a seat was made available, he made no move, chin held high and back straight against the window as if he hadn’t spent a suffocating day in a suffocating office. Exhaustion had piled up on him through the whole day, so heavy now that he couldn’t even muster the will to drag himself to that seat. He breathed in through his nose. The air was dry, artificial, it tickled his nose the wrong way, pricled it. He would get off in a few minutes and then take a fresh breath of air on his way home. He couldn’t wait to drown in his sheets until the next morning.

 

He could’ve taken a taxi, it would’ve been much more convenient but Baekhyun didn’t like how quiet, monotonous the journey felt despite the music that always whispered into his ears through the speakers in the car. He knew Seoul like the back of his hand, looking through the window was never entertaining and the car wooshed by people too quickly for him to make out any faces. He preferred the hushed conversations around him, the rattle of the subway car driving through the tunnel, and the robotic voice announcing stops once in a while.

 

His hand glided towards his pocket, he grabbed his phone and just like last night, he spent the next few minutes navigating through articles, pictures, and whatever his screen displayed to entertain him through the remainder of his journey. He had two messages sitting in his inbox. Junki had messaged him a few hours ago and Joohyun had done so as soon as he had stepped into the subway station, fortunately not present with him as she didn’t take this line when she didn’t have to go to work. Both messages had shown a similar voice in the short preview given to him by the notifications and Baekhyun had judged himself too tired to deal with it right now.

 

That was when he felt it again.

 

The same intensity grazing his face. The same warm sensation as yesterday evening. He looked up from his phone and this time, it took him less than two seconds to meet the source. 

 

Unlike yesterday, the stranger looked away as soon as Baekhyun caught his gaze. He felt his lips tugging into a pleased smile at the prospect of the other still remembering the embarrassment he had probably felt yesterday when he had met the eyes of a stranger for more than a second. That also meant that he remembered Baekhyun. He felt satisfaction slowly scattering some of his exhaustion away.

 

He looked more tired this time and Baekhyun curiously looked at him, wondering what had happened today that had been harder for the stranger than yesterday. Perhaps he had worked the whole day or woken up earlier. Maybe his day had been anything but pleasant and he, too, couldn’t wait to reach his bed and let himself go in the arms of a delicious slumber. He wasn’t dressed too differently, a dark blue shirt was snug on his chest and black denim shorts reached just above his knees, revealing his bowed legs and giving off a youthful, endearing vibe. The clothes had changed but the style wasn’t entirely different from yesterday, contrary to Baekhyun. He had been neatly wearing a similar suit then but was now holding his jacket in a hand and had unbuttoned and rolled the sleeves of his dress shirt up to his forearms. The office had started stifling him way too much and keeping his appearance spotless had been a challenge he lost.

 

Judging by the way the stranger dressed, he had no job to dictate his clothing style. Or had one that allowed him to dress so casually. Baekhyun eventually looked away and turned his attention back to his phone. This was a first. Baekhyun was very good at remembering faces, names, and personality facts and he had never seen the same face twice in the subway, especially not two nights in a row. This one, it was his second time seeing it. It was a handsome face.

 

After a few seconds, when the next stop was announced, he took another look at that handsome face out of curiosity. The stranger seemed to feel it for their eyes met again. There was no blush dusting his cheeks tonight. He had felt embarrassed yesterday evening then, not shy. The stranger was the first to look away again. Baekhyun smiled to himself, appreciating the attention and basking in the satisfaction that lapped up his soul, drenching him in the cooling sensation he had desperately sought all day.

 

Their eyes met once more after that, the handsome stranger had been staring at Baekhyun again and the latter had waited a few seconds before meeting his gaze for the third time that evening and the fourth time in two days. This time, it was the announcement of Baekhyun’s stop that broke their eye contact as soon as it started.

 

A bit regretful that his entertainment had come to an end, Baekhyun slowly pushed himself away from the window and made sure not to look at the stranger again. It would be useless, Baekhyun had noticed him standing right next to the doors anyway so he’d have to walk right past him to get off the car. Once the car stopped, he moved towards the door.

 

As soon as he was only a few centimeters away from the stranger, Baekhyun pushed himself forward all of a sudden as if the young woman behind — who was actually almost pushing him forward to get out quickly — had collided into his back and caused him to lose his footing. He felt his shoulder bump against an arm and when he looked up, it was to meet the stranger’s surprised gaze.

 

As if they hadn’t spent most of the ride staring at each other, Baekhyun acted casual and gave the other a small apologetic smile.

 

"Sorry," he said, looking away from the stranger afterwards and heading back towards the door in a rush to get out.

 

From the corner of his eye, he had still caught the stranger’s answer. A slow shake of the head and a faint smile, maybe a beat too late.

 

That night, the short walk home wasn’t a bother, the damp summer air wasn’t too difficult to breathe in, and the exhaustion had almost entirely faded away by the time he stepped into his apartment.

 

Baekhyun went to bed with the delightful knowledge that he might have spent part of the evening in a handsome stranger’s mind yet again.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

"I have to leave, Baekhyun."

 

Confusion. That was the only thing registering in the little eight year old boy’s mind as he looked up at the beautiful woman. Beautiful? She didn’t look as beautiful as usual this time. 

 

Dark. She looked dark. Dark circles under her eyes. Dark hair. Dark gaze boring into his. Dark expression smothering him.

 

The darkness faded into a blur. He blinked. 

 

She wasn’t crouching down anymore.

 

She was on her feet. She was standing straight, chin held high, pale fingers clenched around the handle of her luggage.

 

Panic. He could feel it sneaking into his mouth, through his trembling and parted lips, seeping down his throat, flooding his lungs, and squeezing his heart almost hard enough to burst it.

 

A blur. A darker blur. 

 

She was talking. Saying something. To him. Screaming. He couldn’t hear her but she was screaming.

 

It was foggy all around them. 

 

As if the entire house was burning down and thick wasps of smoke were climbing up the staircase right behind her. He couldn’t feel any kind of heat or flames around him. He couldn’t feel anything but the cold fog biting his small body.

 

He stepped towards her. 

 

The fog on the staircase thickened, almost enough to take her away and hide her from him forever.

 

He shook his head, quick, fast, abrupt, enough for the world around him to swirl.. She screamed harder. He couldn’t hear her.

 

He stepped towards her.

 

The fog thickened. 

 

It surged up. All of a sudden, it snaked around her wrists, her ankles, her waist, and her head. All of a sudden, it pulled her down, down, down the steep flight of stairs.

 

He took a step forward.

 

She wasn’t there anymore. 

 

The fog still was. It thickened. 

 

The fog thickened.

 

Suddenly, it surged up again.

 

Suddenly, it engulfed him, seeped into his lungs, into his heart, into his soul.

 

Suddenly, he stopped breathing.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A loud gasp echoed in the wide room as a trembling body suddenly surged up from the bed, eyes wide open, body stiff, lips parted like a drowning man gasping for his first intake of breath after long seconds of deprivation.

 

His chest heaved, his heart throwing itself against his ribcage like a wild, frightened animal attempting to flee the rumbling danger. He looked around, bleary gaze jumping from place to place, traveling through every nook and corner of his room, the closed door, the closet, the window, before finally falling back down to the trembling hands gathered on his lap.

 

There was no fog.

 

It was just a dream. That same, recurring dream.

 

After a few seconds spent breathing in and out regularly, slowly enough for his heartbeat to slow down its wild pace the tiniest bit, Baekhyun let himself fall back against his pillow, eyes burning and staring up at the ceiling. 

 

It was silent all around him. A cold silence, the kind he could almost feel breathing against the bare skin of his chest. It was silent. There was no one. No fog, no luggage, no scream.

 

He felt his body tensing up with a shiver and he pulled his sheets up to cover himself. It was cold. Summer nights were unbearably hot but Baekhyun felt locked up in a cage of cold. The air-conditioning. It was just the air-conditioning, he told himself.

 

Shaking his head, he tried dissipating the fog gathered in his mind. He looked out of the window. The starless sky stared back at him, denying him any kind of comfort. He took a deep breath in, inhaling the frozen air around him until he felt like his lungs were on the brink of bursting before finally exhaling and sitting up at the same time. His throat was dry. He needed a glass of water.

 

The short journey to his kitchen was silent. The water he poured into his glass was cold. The icy flames in his stomach barely melted away when he gulped it down. It didn’t fill him up at all. He put the glass back down and dragged himself back to his bedroom, the sound of his bare feet pitter-pattering against the floor his only company on the journey back. He tweaked with the air-conditioning to make the room less cold and crashed on his bed again.

 

He took another deep breath in, waited five full minutes that he almost entirely counted in his head, hands clutching his sheets. He couldn’t go back to sleep. He brought his hands up to his head and ruffled his hair, tugged at the mussed strands, scratched against his scalp in frustration. Or maybe it was an attempt to dissipate the haze, get it out of his mind. He didn’t know.

 

Giving up, he reached for the bedside table and grabbed his phone, pressing against the home button and sighing when he caught a glimpse of the time. It was barely past three in the morning. He laid back down properly on the bed, wiggling a bit until he was comfortable, phone still held in hand. He had a notification from Junki and he furrowed his eyebrows a little, opening up the message. I miss you, was the only thing it said, sent only two hours ago. The blanket slid down his chest a little when he shifted. Breathing wasn’t as uncomfortable anymore.

 

He chose to ignore the message, not in the mood to deal with it. He locked his phone again and looked up at the ceiling, the nightmare still clear in his head. It wasn’t exactly a nightmare, more of a distorted memory that kept haunting him even after what felt like his thousandth time watching it unfold in his mind. 

 

Agitation still rattled his ribcage, clinging to it stubbornly, preventing him from falling back asleep. It wasn’t even a problem, Baekhyun didn’t have to wake up early tomorrow morning to go to the company. He just felt that same chaffed spark as usual slowly flaring in his mind at the fact that even after seventeen years, this still happened to him. He took another deep breath in. Exhaled. Inhaled. Exhaled, and then decided to recount his entire day in detail, hoping that those memories would at least calm him down like they often did in this kind of situation.

 

He had woken up to the sound of his ringtone, Junmyeon’s voice asking him if was available for breakfast. They had gone to that same restaurant as always, he had greeted the old lady with a wide smile and thanked her when she had served him his favorite dish to have for breakfast whenever he was eating out. He had talked with Junmyeon, it had been nice as always. They had talked about work, Junmyeon’s family, Baekhyun’s life, and then Junmyeon’s hesitation to attend his niece’s piano recital.

 

Piano. Baekhyun opened his eyes and stared at the cloud of darkness covering his ceiling. It had been almost an entire year since he had last played piano. 

 

There had been no reason for him to stop. He liked the piano, he liked the fact that he was good at it, and he also liked how soothing the melody always was. He had simply stopped, out of boredom maybe, and he had gotten rid of his keyboard a few months ago, not seeing the point in keeping it if it wouldn’t be used. He missed playing the piano.

 

He brought his phone closer to his face again, unlocked it, and opened up his SNS account, scrolling through his feed leisurely and not even bothering to like any picture. The entertainment lasted barely a full minute before he navigated to the search page and typed ‘piano’. 

 

There were many pictures of the instrument, sometimes taken as a simple aesthetic shot, sometimes taken by eager parents who probably wanted to immortalize how nice their child looked with their tiny fingers on the vast expanse of the keyboard. There wasn’t anything interesting enough and Baekhyun sighed, scrolling down, down, down endlessly before stopping and furrowing his eyebrows. He scrolled up a little bit until he found the image that he had just skipped through and brought his phone even closer to his face, intrigued. It was a video of someone playing piano but that wasn’t exactly what had piqued his interest.

 

He opened up the post it led to and let the music play softly from his phone’s speakers, eyes focused on the video. The melody was soothing, joyful even if the notes dancing away from his speakers spread a breeze of longing with every single swirl they did in the air. Baekhyun took a deep breath in and slowly exhaled again, eyes fluttering shut for the rest of the one minute video to allow him to take in the music and let it tangle around the icy flames in his stomach to gradually melt them away. The video ended, his eyes fluttered open again, remaining hooded as that single minute had almost been enough to lull  him into a serene slumber.

 

However, he didn’t fall back asleep. He pressed his thumb against the screen to replay the video and as the melody once again cradled his ears, he kept his eyes open and stared at the man whose head and shoulders were the only parts of him Baekhyun could see. The device he had used to record the video seemed to be placed right on the lid of the grand piano, most of the shot showing that part of the instrument and the musician himself in a room with walls painted a baby blue color. 

 

Baekhyun recognized the piece he was playing, it was Yiruma’s River Flows in You, a very trendy piece that Baekhyun liked for its calm flow and the sadness hidden beneath the melody, voiced out through delicate notes rather than sorrowful words. 

 

That wasn’t the only thing he recognized in the video. The face focused on the keyboard was a familiar one. 

 

It was the stranger he had locked eyes with in the subway two days in a row and Baekhyun felt pleasantly surprised by this coincidental discovery. Out of all things, piano was the last thing he would’ve associated to the stranger. His pleasant features seemed even softer and more appealing as he let the melody created by his own fingers and the emotions it carried engulf him whole. His eyes were closed, his features at peace. Coupled with the piano’s voice, it was an almost dazzling sight, sweeping his breath off its feet and away from the the smog clutching at it.

 

After a third time playing the piano, Baekhyun had forgotten all about the cold and the silence and the ghosts, curiosity taking over instead and pushing him tap on the account that had posted the video. It led to a page that was filled up with instruments right at the first glance and Baekhyun took a look at the short description under the account name, lingering on the words ‘Allegro Music Studio’.

 

He figured out that the stranger worked in some kind of music academy whose students were mostly children of all ages, only very few adults appearing in the pictures and videos shared. There were all kinds of instruments, guitars, violins, traditional Korean instruments, and even a short video of what seemed to be a choir. The stranger’s face appeared a few more times, mostly in videos where he played the piano. The page seemed to be rather popular as well, comments and likes flooding most of their posts, their captions always giving out the name of the students appearing in them or some kind of promotional message to appeal to even more potential students.

 

Baekhyun scrolled back up to the account’s description. There was an address, the studio was located in Seoul which wasn’t too surprising. He stared at the address for a few seconds before a notification called for his attention. It was another message from Junki. Irked by the disturbance, he ignored it yet again in favor of taking a last look at the address.

 

He locked his phone after a few seconds, watching the screen switch off.

 

He felt his features morph into a smile at the memory of his encounter with the stranger in the subway, the way he had looked dazzled when Baekhyun had apologized to him after accidentally bumping into him on his way out. He was handsome, might be kind since he seemed to be a teacher in a music academy, and he didn’t seem to be shy but didn’t look outgoing either.

 

He unlocked his phone again and looked at the notification in his inbox. Leisurely, he thought that he had to put an end to Junki’s presence in his life. It was growing to be just a tad bothersome and stale.

 

He missed playing the piano. He didn’t feel like investing in a new keyboard, even if he had the means to afford a few of those if he wanted to. What he could invest himself into, however, was a handsome stranger who liked playing pacifying melodies and whose rendition of a sorrowfully beautiful song Baekhyun listened to five more times before letting himself flow in the river of sleep.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The next morning, after yet another savory bowl of seolleongtang from the same place, Baekhyun found himself standing right in front of the small building in which the stranger from the subway seemed to work.

 

It wasn’t anything special, just a small building with wide windows and a huge sign right above the glass doors that read Allegro Music Studio. The  surface was clean, painted in a pale, joyful but welcoming yellow shade. A melodious name for a melodious studio, Baekhyun thought as he looked up at the few black notes dancing around those three words.

 

Without hesitation, he stepped forward and pushed the doors, opening them into an unfamiliar place that he hoped he would get a familiar feeling out of. The entrance hall was occupied by a row of seats stretched right in front of a wide window, the walls painted white. The counter was of a mahogany, deep color, and the smile given to him by the young, pretty woman standing behind it and looking up at him was welcoming.

 

"Welcome to Allegro Music Studio! How can I help you?" she asked in a light, melodious voice that was fitting to the environment they were in.

 

Baekhyun stepped closer to her until he was standing right in front of her, separated by the counter, and gave her a friendly smile.

 

"Hello," he greeted her back with an easy smile. "I was wondering if you could give me a bit of information about the classes and the academy as a whole."

 

"Of course," she chirped, obviously used to receiving people with this kind of request. She didn’t have a name tag on but Baekhyun had seen her face in one of the videos on the academy’s SNS account last night as she plucked the strings of a gayageum. She must be a teacher. "How old would the student be?"

 

"Twenty five," he replied, smile turning impish when her eyes widened comically at his words. "It would be for me," he added for clarification.

 

"Oh," she realized before letting out a soft chuckle, not an embarrassed one but a few notes that made it seem like she was aware of how comical she had looked in this situation. She gave him an apologizing smile. "I’m sorry, I didn’t realize. We’re so used to parents coming up to us that I didn’t even consider the possibility."

 

"Actually that was part of what I wanted to ask," Baekhyun said, smiling back to let her know he didn’t mind. "Do you accept adults as students?"

 

"We do! There’s no age limit," she nodded, filling Baekhyun up with a faint feeling of relief. That had been the only obstacle he had considered. "You can be our second adult student after an adorable grandma whose dream has always been to play geomungo."

 

Baekhyun laughed along with her heartily, although it was ignited by the thought that his motivation was far different from that old lady she was talking about.

 

"What instrument would you lean towards more?"

 

"I was thinking of taking piano classes," he answered, letting a little bit of hesitation infuse into his voice.

 

"You came at the right moment then," she grinned, prompting Baekhyun to give her a confused look. "We have a piano teacher available right now and I’ll let you talk to him since you seem a bit hesitant and he’d be much better at explaining the functioning of his own classes. I mostly teach traditional Korean instruments so it would be better for you. Would you like that?"

 

"Sure," he agreed.

 

"Alright! Please wait a moment," she said before leaving from the small opening at the corner of the counter and heading towards a door right on the left.

 

Baekhyun felt anticipation building in slowly when she disappeared into what he supposed was some kind of teachers’ room and he smiled to himself. Everything was going smoothly. He hadn’t expected anything less than that but it still was pleasant to see that his sudden decision might not have been a bad one.

 

A few seconds later, the door opened again and this time, it wasn’t a petite, smiley woman that reappeared but a tall, handsome stranger whose eyes Baekhyun had already met a few times in the past few days.

 

This time, his hair was swept up and away from his face, each black strand styled perfectly on top of his head, baring his handsome features and his doe eyes that widened even more as soon as he laid his gaze on Baekhyun. The sight ignited yet another flame of entertainment in Baekhyun’s chest. The stranger seemed to carry every single one of his emotions on his face, and while Baekhyun usually judged that kind of person a bit too easy to read for his liking, he could only find entertainment in that quality on this particular man.

 

His clothing style was entirely different from the two other times Baekhyun had the chance of seeing and yet, it still didn’t look out of the place. He was sporting black slacks that hugged his long legs generously and a white dress-shirt decorated with thin, light blue stripes. Only the top button was undone, giving him an air of nonchalance that wasn’t too over the top. It was enhanced by the way his cuffs had been unbuttoned as well, his sleeves rolled up to his forearms in the same manner Baekhyun’s had been the last time they had seen each other.

 

He was still handsome, obviously not as young as Baekhyun thought he was, but he didn’t mind. Age rarely mattered for him when the person looking at him had surprise and attraction obviously nestled deep into their eyes. He couldn’t really see any kind of attraction in the other’s eyes this time, the surprise overshadowing anything else, a sign that he recognized the man he had ogled more than once in the subway only last night. On the other hand, Baekhyun made sure to keep his features void of any recognition or surprise, giving the other the same friendly smile he had given to the woman from earlier instead.

 

"Hello." Baekhyun was the first one to greet him, causing the other to finally blink and get back to his senses. The sight was very comical and Baekhyun forced himself not to laugh or let anything spill into his expression, wanting the other to think that he didn’t recognize him. "You’re the piano teacher, right?"

 

"Right," the stranger said after clearing his throat and Baekhyun found himself yet again pleasantly surprised at the timbre of his voice. It sounded deep, almost velvety as that single word he uttered was carried to Baekhyun by the air and wrapped around him like the doting embrace of a soothing bath at the end of a harsh day. "Park Chanyeol," he introduced himself, bowing his head a little.

 

"Byun Baekhyun," he said, returning the gesture with a light smile.

 

Chanyeol looked at him for a second, no particular emotion on his face but his gaze almost insistent, as if he was expecting Baekhyun to recognize him and say something. Knowing that this was exactly the case, Baekhyun said nothing, waiting for the other to prompt the conversation into continuation as it would be expected from someone who was supposed to be a teacher.

 

"So you want to take piano classes," Chanyeol eventually said, his lips curved into a friendly smile that he probably gave to anyone who wanted to be a potential student.

 

"It was kind of a spur of the moment decision so I’m not entirely sure yet, actually," he said, tone not betraying a sliver of the intrigue he still felt towards Chanyeol. "I’m just here to gather information about enrollment and classes and what not. Just to get an idea of how it would be if I did enroll for classes."

 

Chanyeol hummed at his words and moved towards the counter, not stepping on the other side through the opening, but bringing himself a bit closer to Baekhyun. 

 

"That’s alright, it’s best to know what exactly you’re getting into before actually doing it. How about we just take a look around the place together first? That’s what we do to familiarize children with the academy when their parents want to enroll them in but they’re a bit apprehensive," the other explained, one corner of his lips faintly lifting up into a youthful, almost playful smile that somehow still remained neutral and rather professional at the same time.

 

It was interesting. Baekhyun was glad to have stumbled on the video that had helped him sleep last night.

 

"We could just do that. I guess I really am like a child enrolling into his first piano classes anyway," he chuckled softly, not against the idea of spending a bit more time with Chanyeol through a visit that would help him make up his mind about the place. Even if he knew it was Chanyeol that he would consider in order to take his final decision and not the place.

 

With that, he followed Chanyeol around as the latter gave him a small tour of the building. It ended up being bigger than Baekhyun had thought. The establishment offered many rooms of various size that were all soundproof, according to Chanyeol. His enjoyment about his work was obvious through the way he had a lot of things to say about every single room they visited. It was charming.

 

There were tiny rooms with instruments that students who couldn’t afford to have an instrument at home yet could come up anytime during the day and use to practice on their own, something that was intriguing to Baekhyun as he knew this wasn’t really something usual in every music studio. They walked through clean, long, and tastefully decorated hallways, Chanyeol opening doors to bigger rooms used for small groups of younger children who were taking class all at the same time rather than individually to make it more enjoyable for them. Some rooms were apparently already occupied so they couldn’t go in but Chanyeol still pointed at them and explained what they were used for.

 

"Why piano?" Chanyeol asked after a while, when the tour was finished and he had declared only having one last room left to show Baekhyun.

 

"No particular reason," he said at first, looking up at the other. He was taller than Baekhyun and had to tilt his head down a little to look at him. Baekhyun had to tilt his head up as well, the faint stretch on the front of his neck came with an enjoyable tingle. "I’ve always wanted to try the piano since I was a child but never really got around to it. Even if I’m an adult now and I should’ve started much earlier, I just want to experience it once so I won’t regret it for the rest of my life."

 

"Well, that’s okay," Chanyeol smiled. He seemed to smile a lot. Even more than the woman from earlier whose name Chanyeol had revealed to be Seungwan a few minutes ago. "Music is a really good way to cope with stress and relax a little bit. Unless it’s something that stresses you out more," he added as an afterthought, laughing softly.

 

He had a nice laugh. Baekhyun could tell it wasn’t a real laugh yet, just something that Chanyeol probably gave to everyone by default, especially students and parents, but that only fueled in Baekhyun the desire to hear a genuine laugh from the other.

 

They stopped in front of the last door and Chanyeol pushed it open into another room painted in the now familiar baby blue color. The only difference was that this room displayed a grand piano right at the center of it and instantly, Baekhyun recognized the decor from the video he had watched too many times last night.

 

"This is the room where our classes would take place," Chanyeol informed him as they stepped inside. "It’s nothing special. There’s another identical room right across but it’s currently occupied by Jongdae, another one of our piano teachers. You’re lucky enough to have me as your teacher, by default," the other continued, smiling him a wide beam that haloed him with jest.

 

A bit of a realer smile. But not quite. Baekhyun would work towards it.

 

"Maybe you’re the one who’s lucky enough to end up with me as your student," he retorted, returning an equally as playful smile to Chanyeol who didn’t seem to have expected that coming from him, going blank for a second before laughing good-naturedly.

 

They approached the instrument and Chanyeol motioned for him to take a seat on the bench. Baekhyun gave Chanyeol a curious look when he settled beside him.

 

"This is how it’s going to feel to play the piano," Chanyeol explained, reaching towards the ivory and black keyboard with a hand and pressing a few fingers on the keys. He whipped a controlled stroke towards the left, lacing notes together in a thickening melody. "It’s kind of intimidating, isn’t it?"

 

Baekhyun had sat in this same spot hundreds of times in his life. He had pressed his fingers against a keyboard hundreds of times in his life. He knew dozens of musical pieces by heart, some much older than others. He had stopped finding this majestic instrument intimidating almost seventeen years ago.

 

"A bit," he confessed, letting his gaze rest on the keyboard, taking it in, blinking at a more rapid pace as if he was impressed by the amount of keys presented to him. "It kind of makes me feel really small."

 

Chanyeol chuckled as lightly as the first note of his weaved melody from earlier, he had probably heard those words dozens of times in his life. Baekhyun wasn’t sure he looked at every single person who had uttered those words to him with this kind of gaze, soft, maybe a bit mesmerized.

 

"Soon, your small self will be able to guide the notes out of this big bad instrument," he said, his deep voice caressing Baekhyun’s ears in a joking breeze as he looked back down at the keyboard and patted it in a feathery, silent motion. "If you decide to take classes, that is."

 

"Maybe it would help me make up my mind if you play me something," Baekhyun suggested, a faint undertone of mirth in his own voice.

 

Chanyeol glanced at him before silently bringing both his hands down to the keyboard, fingertips resting against the ivory keys so gently it almost looked like he was about to scoop up feathers and offer them to Baekhyun. Chanyeol started playing the same song that served Baekhyun as a lullaby last night and he felt those feathers gliding down his back, tickling every dip on his spine.

 

The song was still dreamy, still soothing, it still whispered sorrowful words of comfort to Baekhyun’s eager ears. However, none of it was as appeasing as watching Chanyeol let his fingers valse on the ivory and black ballroom that came to life with every single step of each fingertip. Chanyeol’s eyes weren’t closed this time, only heavily hooded as he looked at the keyboard. Calm and peace flowed out of his expression, his handsome features were once again relaxed and he faintly moved his head from time to time to the rhythm he created on his own, as if he, too, was part of the melody. Maybe he was. Baekhyun thought that no other rendition of this piece would feel as complete when it wasn’t those particular hands playing it.

 

Baekhyun’s gaze zeroed in on the fingers giving life to the instrument. Chanyeol’s hands were big, the back of it broad enough for Baekhyun to feel a sense of wonder at how agile he still managed to be on such an instrument. In proportion, Chanyeol’s fingers weren’t too long, a bit chubby and thick. His nails were cut short, clean, maintained with care, and the nail of his right thumb was left a bit longer. Baekhyun wondered if he played guitar as well. The shifting of his tendons grabbed his attention.

 

They were prominent, almost bewitching as they danced in rhythm to the air Chanyeol created with his own fingers. They weren’t as eye-catching as the veins streaming down the back of his hands, like rivers taking their source on the cavity between the massif of his knuckles. They were protruding, carved beneath his skin. He had nice hands. Agile, delicate, but sturdy-looking.

 

Those hands abruptly stopped playing for a second and Baekhyun looked back up at Chanyeol’s face in confusion only to realize that he was only switching songs when much more joyful and perky notes filled the air around them instead. It was definitely a happier piece, not one that Baekhyun knew, however, and he watched the other’s long fingers knead that melody into the keyboard, an odd itch suddenly crawled down his arms. He missed playing the piano. He hadn’t played in a long time and now, when he was seated right in front of a beautiful grand piano, almost able to feel the air vibrating with every single note, it was difficult for Baekhyun to stop himself from taking over and playing one of the pieces he knew by heart.

 

After a few seconds, he couldn’t hold himself anymore so he gave in, reaching towards the keyboard with a single finger and the hesitance of a child touching snow for the first time. He pressed his finger against a key on the right half of the keyboard and Chanyeol didn’t stop at the sudden intruding note, continued playing, but Baekhyun could feel his gaze on him. He met it with his own almost innocent, mostly curious one and the teacher smiled and nodded, as if telling him to go on. Inwardly, Baekhyun rejoiced at his victory and pressed the same note again, and again, and kept pressing it until the very end of the piece in a rhythm that he made sure molded into the rest of the song but not perfectly.

 

When the music died down, silence took over for a few seconds. Chanyeol’s eyes lingered on Baekhyun’s hands for a fleeting moment and Baekhyun basked in the attention before their eyes met again and the taller smiled.

 

"That was a really good addition. Looks like you might be innate at piano."

 

That was obviously just an encouraging sentence, something that wasn’t surprising coming from a teacher who dealt with children on a daily basis, but the playful smile it was accompanied with prompted Baekhyun to mirror it back.

 

"If I were innate at piano, I wouldn’t need you."

 

Baekhyun watched as Chanyeol looked away after those words, the corners of his lips twitching into another smile. It was a sweet and appreciated smile, especially when his gaze fell back to Baekhyun’s hands. He was staring at them.

 

"What do you think?" he asked after a few seconds of silence.

 

That seemed to snap Chanyeol out of his staring and he quickly looked back up at Baekhyun’s face, eyes widened the slightest bit like a child caught stealing from the candy jar.

 

"About what?" 

 

"Do you think I could try piano lessons?" Baekhyun explained, forcing himself to show apprehension instead of anything else.

 

"Oh," Chanyeol said before chuckling softly. "Definitely. It might be difficult at first but isn’t everything difficult until you get the hang of it?"

 

"You’re right," Baekhyun hummed softly. "Thank you. This definitely helped."

 

Baekhyun had already made up his mind by the time they walked back out to the counter in the entrance hall. He carefully listened as Chanyeol handed him out the paperwork and talked about inscription fees and lesson hours that they would later on talk about more in detail, if he did decide to enroll into the academy.

 

"I’ll come back as soon as I’m sure," Baekhyun smiled at him as he gathered the few paper sheets into his hands.

 

"Take your time. Everything you need to know is in there anyway," Chanyeol smiled back, nodding towards the paper.

 

"Thanks. See you soon then. Or maybe tonight, in the subway," were the last words Baekhyun uttered to Chanyeol before leaving, plans of coming back already almost entirely made up in his mind.

 

The taken aback look on Chanyeol’s face, dusted with faint hints of pink on his cheekbones and crowned red with ears that stuck out, was the endearing prize for a right decision Baekhyun had taken. 

 

It was his fresh breath of life for the day.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The next time Baekhyun found himself in the subway, he wasn’t standing against a window but seated right below it, something he was grateful for.

 

Usually, he didn’t mind spending the short journey home from the station on his feet, even if the subway was sometimes crowded and he had people breathing down his neck or accidentally digging elbows into his side, but tonight, exhaustion had pushed him into this seat as soon as he had caught sight of it. His body had simply crumbled on top of it and he didn’t even mind hearing the faint buzz of the music the young man sitting next to him was listening to through his earphones.

 

The worst thing about it was that he hadn’t even had a harder day than usual, he had been at the company for the past two days, spent most of those two days locked up in that place and crushed under paperwork and meetings and marketing plans to approve and packaging to check and everything he was so used to doing that it didn’t even feel unpleasant anymore. That wasn’t what had exhausted him, Baekhyun was well aware of it.

 

What had sucked the energy out of him was the fact that it was in that place. He had had to relocate into his father’s office for practicality, something that he had strongly refused to do yesterday only to realize that it was a burden for everyone he was working with to go down five floors each time they had to find him in his own office, including his father’s very own secretary. The poor woman had to work with him as he was still taking over his father’s duties, the man probably still prisoner of a hospital bed and drowning in treatments. Baekhyun wasn’t entirely heartless to people he knew worked hard all day and he had accepted to work in his father’s office this morning.

 

It wasn’t an unpleasant office per se, it was just a place that didn’t belong to him. It was a place that wasn’t meant for him, just like the rest of that company, but his father’s office was the part of it Baekhyun hadn’t even stepped into in more than two years. There were still lots of pictures on his desk. Pictures of his mother, of Baekbom, of the three of them together before Baekhyun was born, pictures of his father and Baekbom alone, more recent. 

 

He took a deep breath in, hoping that it would soothe the exhaustion out of his soul. It didn’t work one bit. He looked around him. He was surrounded by a lot of people, he wasn’t alone in the subway car even if no one paid attention to him. He had left his car at the company yet again. He sighed softly and reached for his phone. He had yet another message from Junki whom he hadn’t contacted at all for three whole days. He opened up the conversation thread and typed a quick message to the other, inserting a small sticker along with his apology for not having replied to the other because of how busy he had suddenly gotten.

 

The answer came less than a minute later in the form of understanding and words about how much he missed Baekhyun. He felt his lips twitching up as he read over those words a few times, a small flame of joy lighting up in his chest and melting the exhaustion away the slightest bit. The conversation went on for a few minutes, Junki was always much more open with his feelings whenever he missed Baekhyun, showering him with more than a single message at once and even a few urgent typos when usually, his messages were very formal and well-punctuated. He let the satisfaction spread within him at that thought before opening up another conversation thread he had ignored for the past two days, or rather had no choice but to ignore when work had been so hectic he even had to skip lunch today.

 

Joohyun was obviously upset at him for not having contacted her in what felt like forever to her but a few sweet words and compliments were enough for her to shower him with childish emojis and whiny words about missing him. Baekhyun promised to take her out on a date tomorrow, knowing that he deserved a break from that cold, entrapping box that was his father’s office. The company could survive without anyone supervising it for a day. He could just swing by in the evening to check up on everything. He had never really felt entitled to give so much work into something that didn’t belong to him.

 

As soon as he sent her a message, Baekhyun felt his skin tingle with a now very familiar sensation. His lips jerked into a smile, warmth melting their harsh corners and molding them upwards even before he looked up.

 

This time, it took him less than two seconds to find Chanyeol and less than one second to feel his face splitting into two with a grin.

 

He was standing across Baekhyun, a bit to the left on the opposite side of the car and Baekhyun almost felt a little disappointed for not having noticed his recent source of entertainment on his occasional evening subway rides earlier but the sight Chanyeol offered to him made it impossible for him to feel anything but amused. He looked a bit stiff, in his ripped jeans and black sleeveless shirt that revealed arms that were far from being scrawny, his hand gripping the handle on the ceiling tightly. He had turned his gaze away as soon as Baekhyun looked at him and was now staring out of the window. Or rather, seemed to be forcing himself to stare out of it, as if he was giving his everything into not looking away and at someone else instead.

 

Baekhyun stifled a chuckle in his mouth and looked back down at his phone, choosing not to glance at the other at all for the rest of his journey and simply enjoying the delectable sensation provided by Chanyeol’s gaze resting back on his face again as soon as he looked away. 

 

It was their first encounter since their first real meeting at the music academy. Baekhyun had carefully avoided taking the subway that night, choosing to go back home with his own car after spending the last hours of the evening at the company. He had also been unable to actually visit the academy again to enroll into the classes because of work, having completely forgotten all about it. He supposed that wasn’t too bad, however. Chanyeol might have expected to see him that same night in the subway, or maybe the next morning at the academy for his inscriptions. That was a pleasant thought.

 

He avoided looking at the other until the very moment his stop was announced, only raising his gaze from his phone and abruptly meeting Chanyeol’s eyes when he felt the subway car slowing down to come to a halt. Chanyeol didn’t turn his gaze away this time, he didn’t seem to mind being caught even if the small twitch of his eyebrows in what was probably surprise didn’t go unnoticed by Baekhyun. The latter let his lips spread into a smile as they looked at each other and stood up to walk towards the opening doors.

 

"See you tomorrow," he said lightly as he walked by Chanyeol, smile still lingering on.

 

As Baekhyun stepped out of the subway car, glee still fluttered in his chest at the late reply that reached his ears in a tone that was made louder by bewilderment and maybe, astonishment.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

"Good morning! How can I help you?"

 

The smile that accompanied these words as soon as Baekhyun stepped into Allegro Music Academy the next morning was wider and toothier than Seungwan’s. It was also quickly replaced by a look of surprise. Baekhyun wondered if Chanyeol had really expected not to see him today despite Baekhyun telling him they would see each other before leaving the subway last night.

 

Chanyeol’s emotions seemed to always be openly displayed on his face. Baekhyun did his best not to betray how entertaining it was. 

 

"Good morning," Baekhyun greeted him back. "I’m here for my inscription."

 

"You’ve made up your mind?" Chanyeol asked as he grabbed the papers Baekhyun held out to him.

 

"Yeah, I think I’m ready for you to be my teacher," Baekhyun replied.

 

Chanyeol didn’t look at him but his smile widened even as his gaze remained on the paperwork that he was checking for any missing information. Baekhyun had filled everything in last night as soon as he had gotten home, quite efficiently, once he had made up his mind to proceed with this entire play. As Baekhyun observed Chanyeol’s focused expression, his raised eyebrows as he read through the forms, he couldn’t help but think that he had indeed made the right decision. So far, Chanyeol had been nothing but a treat to his eyes. This would be a breath of fresh air, something lighthearted and distracting. 

 

He took the occasion to note that Chanyeol was wearing the same hoodie Baekhyun had once seen him wearing in the subway, probably to protect himself from the chilly morning air of summer days. Perhaps he was a little sensitive to the cold. Baekhyun had gotten rid of his jacket on his way here, finding the weather already too hot for him to wear anything but a plain, white shirt and light washed jeans.

 

The whole process of signing up took a bit longer than Baekhyun thought it would. Chanyeol often opened up more than one drawer to look for things he needed, whether it be a pen, a stamp, or anything similar and soon, it was obvious to Baekhyun that Chanyeol usually didn’t work at the counter.

 

"I’m not used to taking care of the paperwork," he explained eventually when it took him almost a whole minute to find the classes’ schedule. Cute. Baekhyun shook his head, passing it off as  a trace of understanding.

 

"It must be my lucky day then.” Chanyeol gave him a surprised look. "I get to watch you fumble around. It’s very different from how confident you were when you gave me a tour of the academy."

 

Chanyeol laughed softly.

 

"Maybe it’s my unlucky day to be here when someone who wouldn’t hesitate to make fun of me is visiting," he said, giving Baekhyun a look that was professionally polite but still gave out hints of amusement and accusation. Baekhyun smiled as if he had won something and Chanyeol shook his head, sighing a little. "Truly a bad coincidence."

 

Baekhyun caught him tapping his index finger against the counter as he uttered those last words and wondered if that was the telltale sign of a lie. He tucked the detail in a corner of his mind. Maybe Chanyeol had made an exception and decided to man up the counter today.

 

"Are you trying to say you wanted to impress me?" Baekhyun chose to say instead of anything else. He had pleasant reactions.

 

Chanyeol looked at him and let out a soft chuckle.

 

"We always aim to impress any potential client or new student."

 

That was a smart answer, not something Baekhyun had expected. He thought the other would either splutter or deny everything. Maybe this would be even more interesting that he had thought.

 

"Well, the cute sight definitely impressed me," Baekhyun casually said before nodding towards the schedule Chanyeol was holding. "Can I take a look at that? To figure out when would be the best slot for me."

 

Baekhyun had to hold back a smile and keep his features blank, even if he could feel the other’s gaze on him while he studied the schedule and compared it to his own personal schedule.

 

"Two classes a week is the recommended schedule," Chanyeol explained. "They shouldn’t be too close either, not two days in a row, but spread over the week so you don’t forget what you learned after, say, five days without any lesson. You can, of course, take up to four lessons a week but that’s the limit."

 

"I think two would be enough for now," Baekhyun hummed as he gave Chanyeol the timetable back. "Wednesdays and Saturdays would be perfect for me."

 

"Alright, I’ll put you on these days for the rest of the month. We usually start planning classes right before the start of a new month so I’ll be asking you if these days are still good for you. Would afternoons be okay?"

 

"Perfect," Baekhyun said as he watched Chanyeol write his name on an entirely free Saturday.

 

They took care of the payment before Chanyeol gave him a few more details about the dynamics of the classes, Baekhyun carefully listening to him because even if he didn’t need those classes, he still would attend all of them and spend as much time here as possible. Maybe by the time he’d get tired of acting like he knew nothing about piano, they would be close enough to meet up outside of the academy.

 

"And here’s my personal number," Chanyeol said as he slid a yellow post-it decorated with the academy’s logo to Baekhyun. A few digits were scrawled on it, tiny and unpleasant to the eye. The row was askew, the numbers a bit forked together and barely intelligible, an obvious sign of rush rather than poor penmanship.

 

Baekhyun raised an eyebrow and tamed the smugness away from his features.

 

"Doesn’t the academy have a phone number?"

 

Chanyeol’s lips remained parted for a while as he stared at Baekhyun, as if he hadn’t expected to be asked such a thing.

 

"We do have a phone number that you can find right here," he eventually said in a soft voice. The tips of his ears were redder than a few seconds ago, his black hair blending in with the vividness. He wasn’t looking at Baekhyun but pointing to the phone number under the academy’s logo on the contract he had just printed out and that was resting on the counter separating them. He tapped his index finger against it a few times. "But just in case it’s urgent and no one picks up the call here. There isn’t often someone waiting at the counter since people usually don’t come when it’s not class hours, you know. So just in case you have to cancel a class and you can’t reach us at this number, you can just call my personal number. Since I’ll be your teacher anyway."

 

Baekhyun hummed in understanding. Maybe it wasn’t an excuse, maybe he did give his personal number to every student. Either way, it allowed him to see a flustered Chanyeol even for a split second and that was cute. Chanyeol was cute.

 

"Thank you then," he smiled and Chanyeol returned it, although the curve of his lips was fainter than it had been earlier.

 

Chanyeol gave him just a few last particularities, along with short pamphlets that promoted stores in case Baekhyun wanted to buy his own instruments.

 

Baekhyun’s last words to Chanyeol that day were see you on Wednesday, uttered with the knowledge that the promise was now bound to be kept. The smile Chanyeol gave him in reply was wide, youthful, and bright.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Unfortunately, that smile had been so bright his mind flashed back to it even long after Baekhyun had left the academy.

 

There was just something intriguing about Chanyeol. He wasn’t anything special. He wasn’t the most handsome man Baekhyun had ever took an interest in. He wasn’t the most difficult person Baekhyun had ever chosen. Baekhyun wouldn’t have to cleave his way into him with the determination of a thorn piercing skin even through the rough fabric of clothes. Chanyeol wasn’t someone who had shown any obvious, undeniable desire to turn his interest for Baekhyun into something more either. He had made no move so far.

 

He simply piqued Baekhyun’s interest, made him wonder all kinds of things about him. How did he dress when alone at home? What dish would he cook for someone he held close to heart? What did he greet his close friends with? How did he gaze at someone he was deeply, madly in love with? Baekhyun wanted to find out the answer to every single one of those questions. He would find out the answers to those questions and much more, no matter how long it would take.

 

Chanyeol wasn’t the first person he had wanted to invest in so much either. Baekhyun had preferences. Chanyeol was handsome and tall. He seemed kind, as someone who worked with children and music. He smiled like he had another kind of softness. A kind that was novel to Baekhyun. Different. 

 

There was just something about Chanyeol, something that made Baekhyun reminisce their last encounter even as he held a soft, small, and gentle hand in his.

 

"What are you thinking about?" 

 

The voice that pulled him out of his thoughts was usually just as soft as the hand he was holding but at that exact moment, it sounded too harsh. The tugs on his hand to call for his attention were a bit too strong. He turned his head towards Joohyun, contemplating the way sunlight gleamed in her silky hair and drew shadows on her cheeks in the form of her long lashes. Her eyebrows were furrowed and her features were stained with visible cracks of disappointment and irritation. She had never liked being ignored and Baekhyun supposed her last few words had gone completely unheard to his ears.

 

"Nothing in particular," he replied with a light smile that aimed to soothe her.

 

It seemed to work, the irritation faded away to leave more room for the disappointment in her voice as she squeezed his hand tighter. She looked down at her feet as they continued walking through a row of shops, cafés, and bubbly people buzzing around the popular Itaewon streets.

 

"We already didn’t see each other for three days and now that we’re on a date, you’re not even paying attention to me," she mumbled, her eyebrows still furrowed and her lower lip jutted out the slightest bit.

 

It wasn’t just a show, Joohyun didn’t really bother acting cute or childish to make herself more appreciated. This was nothing but a natural reaction and it pulled a light chuckle out of Baekhyun. It was nice to know she liked his attention so much.

 

"Maybe I did it on purpose to see this cute pout," he singsonged, poking her slightly puffed cheek with the tip of his finger and watching as she laughed before he could even pull it away.

 

Relief blew through him. He wasn’t in the mood to argue with her or listen to her heavy complaints about lack of attention.

 

"You’re mean," she still huffed afterwards, looking away from him but not letting go of his hand.

 

"Am I? How about I try winning you a teddy bear from there to make you forgive me?" he offered, nodding towards the claw machine a few meters away.

 

"A teddy bear?" she repeated, her interest pricked. She looked towards him again, eyes narrowed with just a little bit of suspicion. "You’d really do that?"

 

"Of course I would," he said. “Anything for you.”

 

A smile gradually flowered on her lips. It never really took much for her to forgive him. She held his hand with both of hers and then started pulling him towards the claw machine. 

 

Before she could really step forward, Baekhyun pulled her back and prevented her from bumping into a young boy skating down the street and swooshing right past them. She let out a startled sound, her widened eyes watching as the skater didn’t even glance back at them. She looked up at Baekhyun and melted against him in a swoon.

 

"Be careful, silly," he mumbled, frowning a bit.

 

Her cheeks grew rosy.

 

Eventually, after many failed tries, Baekhyun managed to pull one of the smallest plushies out of the machine and gave it to her. 

 

"You’re the best, I love you so much!" she chirped as she looked at the pink, fluffy teddy bear she was now holding. Its oversized, crafted smile paled next to hers.

 

He laughed at that. He wasn’t surprised to hear those words. He didn’t return them however. Nothing pushed him to. They weren’t together, at no point in their constructed friendship had Baekhyun uttered words about a relationship or love, or anything remotely close to that. 

 

Things had simply happened. They had met two months ago and she had been the one to shyly initiate a kiss, almost two weeks ago now. She had failed an exam and Baekhyun had taken her out on a date to distract her from it. The day had been spent buying her all the food she wanted and letting her recite how nonsensical it was for her to fail that exam. Baekhyun had taken her to the cinema to make sure she wouldn’t be able to speak there.

 

She must have felt better at the end of their date. She had promptly reached on her tiptoes to press her mouth against his. He had acted surprised and embarrassed, like the caring and kindhearted man she saw him as, but he hadn’t pushed her away. Neither of them had ever put a name to this, they simply spent time together and exchanged short kisses from time to time but Joohyun had never tried to ask whether they were in a relationship or not. And she wouldn’t get the opportunity to, Baekhyun would put an end to this before it could happen.

 

Joohyun had not even noticed what had escaped her own mouth, too busy ogling the plushie Baekhyun had offered her. Even if she had noticed, nothing pushed Baekhyun to offer her that kind of lie. He never did, to anyone.

 

The only thought in his head as he watched her hold it in her arms as they headed to the nearest ice cream shop, was that he wanted to know what kind of reaction Chanyeol would have were he the one to be gifted that small teddy bear.

 

He definitely would have to make more time in his schedule for Chanyeol if he wanted to have that answer sooner rather than later.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The further Baekhyun stepped into the hallway that he had been frequenting for the past few days, the tighter his tie felt around the neck.

 

He reached for his phone in the inside pocket of his jacket and scrolled through his notifications as he headed towards his father’s office that had become his cage for as long as he’d have to work here. His lips quirked up as he opened the five messages Junki had sent him since this morning, each of them growing gradually more insistent and whiny. They hadn’t seen each other at all since their last coffee date a few weeks ago and Baekhyun supposed his absence was starting to be overwhelming in the lawyer’s life. He glanced at the desk right outside his father’s office.

 

It was empty, the secretary must’ve either ran down to the cafeteria to get coffee or was running around still trying to get everything ready for his day at work. It was still rather early and Baekhyun didn’t mind her being late - she was an employee, not a machine. He sighed as he stepped towards the office’s door, eyes still running through his messages as he pushed it open and entered.

 

As soon he breached the threshold, he froze in place.

 

It wasn’t cold, they were still in the first few days of the year’s hottest month and the fall that would come with September was still very far away, and yet, Baekhyun felt prickles of ice scratching down his back.

 

As soon as Baekhyun’s eyes met his father’s, he found the trigger of that polar storm.

 

It had been almost a year since they had last seen each other. Baekhyun was really good at avoiding him despite working in the same building and being rather high  in the hierarchy. 

 

The man looking right into his eyes without any remorse looked like death itself. It wasn’t because that was exactly how he made Baekhyun feel with a single glance, it was simply what his pale, wrinkled, and leathery skin made him look like. It was the cancer smoking his very own being and the aura he exuded, the frown, the dry, parted lips, the wheeze Baekhyun could almost hear, could imagine, as his father breathed air into his rotten lungs.

 

He frowned, a sour expression twisting his already bitter features into something even less pleasant to look at. As if he had just accidentally caught glimpse of a single, tiny, disgusting bug and suspected the whole place to be crawling with copies of it.

 

At that moment, he felt tiny ants crawling into his throat and eating him from the inside. Baekhyun found himself wishing the man sprawled on an expensive seat behind the massive desk did not only have the appearance of a corpse.

 

His father turned his gaze away, expression growing sourer by the second, and that was enough for Baekhyun to figure out the same exact thought was screaming in the man’s head.

 

"Father," he croaked out after a few seconds, when it was made obvious that the man wouldn’t break the silence first and that Baekhyun did not have the option of simply turning his back to this situation he had stupidly walked into.

 

His eyes darted to the secretary standing right next to his father, paper sheets in her hand. She gave him an apologetic look. Baekhyun forced himself to look back at his father.

 

"You’ve returned early," he said when no answer was given to him.

 

A little voice in his head told him to shut up, to stop trying, to leave because he knew what this would turn into. That was the only voice in his head that Baekhyun sometimes had a hard time taking into account.

 

"I have," the man’s hoarse voice replied, snapping in the air. Baekhyun’s throat tightened as he heard the small wheeze that followed those irritated words. His father wasn’t looking at him, his gaze focused on the pack of Marlboros. He pushed the lid open before grabbing a long stick. There were only three other sticks left inside. The snap of his lighter echoed boisterously in the silent room. "You’re not needed anymore."

 

He breathed out smoke as he spoke and the room was wide, there was at least three meters separating him from the fuming, sick old man yet Baekhyun could feel every single waft of the ghostly swirls escaping his father’s mouth breaching into his own being. His throat stung, the need to crinkle his nose to get rid of the sting was overwhelming but Baekhyun had fought it for years, he had never lost the battle yet.

 

Or had he not?

 

He wasn’t sure. Maybe it was the smoke. He felt himself shrinking, as if he was the tiny, fragile stick his father sucked the life out of.

 

You’re not needed anymore.

 

Those words echoed in his head, ghostly, thin, but dark and heavy.

 

Baekhyun knew he was right. He had acted as nothing but a replacement while his father was being treated like he so regularly was because of the illness. He knew it but a self-deprecating snort escaped his lips, choked up, tight, as tight as the grip he had around his phone. He could feel his knuckles fading into white, into a ghost.

 

"I’ve been here to replace you and make sure nothing was wrong while you were away when nothing entitled me to do so and you don’t even bother thanking me?" he threw at his father, voice holding much less force then he would’ve liked. It sounded fluttery, like the smoke his father wheezed out along with a dry, mocking snicker.

 

"This place is where you get all that money from. That’s what entitles you to work for it. I’m the one who pays you," the old man croaked and for a second, Baekhyun wondered if that was how a helpless employee felt against a harsh employer. "And why would I thank you?" he continued, his cold, empty gaze finding Baekhyun’s amidst thin curtains of smoke. "I’m just relieved that you didn’t destroy the company in my absence."

 

"I’m not stupid," Baekhyun mumbled, hating himself a little when he sounded anything but sure of himself.

 

His father snorted, a greasy sound followed by an even greasier cough. Baekhyun heard disdain in every single rattle of his voice.

 

"You destroy everything you touch," he retorted, voice growing louder with each word. Baekhyun glanced at the secretary still standing beside his father. She seemed to be embarrassed, looking down and doing her best not to hear anything. But she did. She heard every single humiliating word thrown at him. "That’s what you did to her, isn’t it?"

 

He froze at those words. He felt stupid, weak, helpless, anything that Baekhyun knew he wasn’t but turned into whenever those two black holes stared into his own eyes. Humiliation clawed at his chest, peeling his skin off, filing his ribcage bit by bit.

 

Before it could crumble down, Baekhyun stepped back and turned around, walking out through the door again without any other word.

 

As he strode through the hallways, took the elevator, and was greeted by too many people, he couldn’t hear anything. He couldn’t hear the clicking high heels, the clatter of busy bees breezing past him, or the boring song whispering through the elevator ride. He couldn’t hear anything but a greasy, rusty, and icy voice.

 

He stepped out of the building after what felt like an entire day, chest still stinging a bit. He took a deep breath of what should be fresh air. It felt like nothing but a short, incomplete inhale. There was no room in his lungs anymore. As if the smoke from his father’s cigarette had invaded his entire being and left no room for anything else.

 

It stung.

 

He loosened his grip on his phone and glanced at the device.

 

He had one missed call from Junki.

 

His chest rattled when he attempted to take another deep breath in.

 

He called him back.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A few hours later, Baekhyun found himself breathless for a completely different reason as he laid in a bed that wasn’t his own and in a tight embrace that diffused solace into his core.

 

Junki’s hold around him was too tight, almost uncomfortably so, but at the same time, Baekhyun felt it hold his whole being together and for the moment, he had no intention to break it or ask the other to loosen it. He had a feeling Junki wouldn’t agree anyway, he could figure it out from the way the other was holding onto him too tightly.

 

That wouldn’t happen. Junki was supposed to think it wouldn’t happen. He knew that Baekhyun was neither a ghost nor a memory. The numerous marks he had been able to carve into Baekhyun’s body for the past few hours they had spent together could attest for it. 

 

Baekhyun felt spent but energized. It was a good kind of exhaustion. The kind that left his bones aching but his mind patched up.

 

"I missed you," Junki whispered after a while, when they had both recovered and weren’t panting too hard. His words were airy against Baekhyun’s chest, his damp hair tickled Baekhyun’s chin. His head was tucked right under it as he held onto Baekhyun tightly.

 

"Really?" Baekhyun breathed out softly, his fingers carding through the other’s hair absentmindedly.

 

He could barely hear what Junki was saying, his head still echoing with smoky words that had been thrown into his body earlier, infesting his soul and turning him into a haze. It was back. That voice. Those words. He could hear them again now that Junki’s hoarse moans and his words of love, despair, and need weren’t there to drown everything else out.

 

You’re not needed anymore.

 

He felt Junki nodding a little, bumping his head against Baekhyun’s chin with no real strength. Maybe the sight would’ve been adorable to someone else. To Baekhyun, it felt like a soothing caress.

 

You destroy everything you touch.

 

"I don’t think I can function without you anymore. I think I need you too much. I’m not myself when you’re not around," were the words kissed into the bare skin of his chest, his lips barely even grazing Baekhyun before he heard a dry chuckle and Junki’s hold tightened around him even more. "What have you done to me?"

 

A smile spread on his lips at those words. He closed his eyes for a second and remained silent, breathing everything in, the soft whiffs of perfume he could smell from Junki, the heavy scent of sweat and sex in the air, the fast-paced heartbeat he could feel against his chest, and the subtle hint of an incoming storm swirling in the air.

 

That’s what you did to her, isn’t it?

 

He could still hear it. That voice. That damn voice. 

 

It was getting fainter, it was fading into nothing but an old memory the more time he spent in this bed, in this embrace, in this love. 

 

It wasn’t enough.

 

He took a deep breath in, a last one. He inhaled until he felt his head clearing up from any lingering ghostly smoke, until he felt himself on the brink of exploding into tiny little pieces he would never be able to gather up again. He slowly exhaled, breathed out until every single hint of that voice was pushed out of his head.

 

Slowly, with delicacy and care, Baekhyun untangled himself from Junki.

 

As predicted, it wasn’t easy for him to give his hold up around Baekhyun but Junki loved Baekhyun, he would never hurt him, not even the slightest bit. Baekhyun sat up and stretched his neck a little bit. He tilted his head to the right, then to the left, fading a few knots away, as if he had spent hours bent down over a desk, working on painting, crafting, tying, molding, and taking.

 

He could feel Junki’s gaze on him as he reached for the shirt that had been discarded on the floor hours ago. He pushed his arms through the sleeves and adjusted the fabric on his shoulders, dusting it off and straightening a few creases. 

 

Rustling could be heard from behind him as he grabbed his underwear from the foot of the bed, the mattress dipping a little bit as Junki sat up. He could almost see the confusion on his face despite having his back facing the other. He had seen that look so many times in his life, on different faces, on different people, at different levels, but always so identical.

 

"What are you doing?" he heard the other question him, voice carrying out disorientation and a small hint of frailness. As if he already had the answer to his own question but thought it was better to ask. Maybe that was the case. Junki was a smart man.

 

Baekhyun stood up once he had his underwear on and turned to face him, taking in his wide eyes, his furrowed eyebrows, and the marks scattered over his chest. He had drawn a little bit of blood from his shoulder. Baekhyun had noticed when he caught a glimpse of red under his nails while dressing up.

 

It wasn’t Junki’s scratched shoulders that he was looking at. It wasn’t his bare chest either, nor was it any of the marks on his skin. Those weren’t the bruises Baekhyun was looking for. Instead, he let his gaze dive into Junki’s, never once looking away as he shook his head and parted his lips to draw another deeper mark on Junki.

 

"I think we should call it quits."

 

It was a familiar sight that unraveled under Baekhyun’s eyes. First, confusion darkened Junki’s gaze and he didn’t blink for three whole seconds, before his gaze started jolting back and forth between each of Baekhyun’s eyes, a clear sign that the gears in his brain were working on producing more panic with each passing second.

 

"What?" was his small, pathetic answer.

 

Baekhyun leaned down to grab his pants, shoving his right leg in first, followed by his left one.

 

"I’m not doing this anymore. I’m ending it," he explained, fingers working on buttoning his slacks as his voice carried no hint of emotion to Junki’s ears but nonchalance.

 

It took a few more seconds of silence for things to finally dawn upon Junki. Baekhyun calmly waited, looking at  him from a few steps away as he started buttoning his shirt up. It was a sudden change. Junki’s eyes grew wide, his lips parted and his bottom one trembled uselessly. It was as if he wanted to speak but couldn’t find the words hidden deep inside of him, somewhere under the panic. And maybe the pain. Baekhyun supposed that was when it started hurting, maybe somewhere around his chest. It only stopped at his imagination though, that pain was associated to nothing but satisfaction to Baekhyun. 

 

"Are you breaking up with me?" Junki suddenly spat out and Baekhyun hummed softly, gaze falling to the way the other was clutching the bedsheets between his hands, knuckles fading a bit into white and contrasting with the black silk of the bed. Junki seemed to be the kind of person whose first reaction was to get angry in this sort of situation. It wasn’t really surprising, he had always melted into a soft puddle under Baekhyun’s gaze but he was a firm, strict, and aloof person usually.

 

That thought almost sent shivers of pleasure down his spine but Baekhyun didn’t let it show, simply shaking his head.

 

"Not really," he answered, watching as the anger on Junki’s face was once again overshadowed by confusion. He chose not to torture the other too much and got to the point quickly. "We can’t really break up if we’ve never been together."

 

"What the hell are you saying?" Junki burst out, voice growing louder and stronger, a complete opposite to how he looked in a bundle of bedsheets, entirely naked and weak.

 

Baekhyun didn’t flinch.

 

"We are together, Baekhyun," he continued but this time, his voice wavered the slightest bit with hesitation. When Baekhyun breathed in, the air was scented with sweetness.

 

"When have you ever asked me to be yours?" he suddenly asked, tilting his head a bit, voice cold, chest easing as he looked at Junki slowly crumble down with every single word leaving his mouth.

 

He spluttered, shook his head, spluttered again and fumbled with his hands in grand gestures that amounted to nothing except for an obvious sign of his growing frenzy as he realized that maybe, just maybe he had been wrong about their relationship.

 

There was no answer. Junki had never asked him to be his boyfriend, his lover, whatever he wanted to call it. Baekhyun had never told him he was his either. He stepped closer to the bed, watching as hope ignited in Junki’s eyes for a split moment before dying down when Baekhyun simply grabbed the thin jacket half hurried under the bed. He didn’t even know how it had managed to get there.

 

That seemed to be enough for Junki to get back to his senses. His voice was shaky when he spoke again.

 

"But I’ve told you I love you!" he argued and Baekhyun almost winced at the volume of his voice. it was too loud, irritatingly so, and cracked on the last word.

 

"And when have I ever returned those words to you?"

 

That silenced Junki, who seemed to start piecing everything back together, his gaze falling away from Baekhyun and to his hands instead. He was still clutching onto the sheets tightly and Baekhyun wondered if he felt something clutching the same way into his heart, enough for it to leave long-lasting dents. He hoped so.

 

He wasn’t even lying to the other, merely laying down facts for Junki to pull his own answers from. Even if his gaze and his touch and the tone of his voice might have suggested the contrary in the other’s eyes, he had never ever felt any kind of love for Junki. He had never told him he loved him. He admired the marks on the other for a last second before turning around and stepping towards the door. He would find his way out alone, he had been to Junki’s house many times before, left traces and memories in a few nooks and corners. Those would remain even if Baekhyun wasn’t planning on stepping into this place ever again.

 

 Before he could even reach the bedroom’s door, a bump and footsteps rose behind him, followed by a louder bump before he felt something latching onto his wrist. He turned around and looked down to see Junki on his knees, one hand clutching onto Baekhyun’s wrist tightly. He had visibly slipped and fell in his haste to catch up to Baekhyun. He was naked, bare under Baekhyun’s gaze, revealing every single emotion, every single mark to Baekhyun who took it all in, breathed it all in, devouring every single glimpse.

 

It was almost funny, how Junki had gone from confused, to angry, to confused, to angry, to sad, and then to desperate. Love was such a merciless player, almost as merciless as Baekhyun’s black eyes looking into Junki’s wide, bleary ones.

 

"You can’t," he suddenly said, shaking his head, shaking Baekhyun’s wrist, voice shaking even harder. "You can’t leave me. You’re lying. You love me. You’ve loved me since the beginning, I know it. I just know it. I felt it, Baekhyun. Don’t do this to me. Please. Please, please. Whatever it is you’re trying to do, just stop it. You can’t leave me. Stop lying to me."

 

"I’m not lying. I’m being as truthful as I’ve ever been," Baekhyun calmly said.

 

"No!" Junki yelled. Baekhyun could feel his nails digging into his skin. He didn’t look away, taking it all in and carving the sight into a little shelf in his head. "You can’t leave me," he muttered and suddenly, the anger seemed to fade away again. He leaned his head against Baekhyun’s leg.

 

It was almost pathetic. People usually didn’t beg him. He had never imagined Junki to be the kind to go to such extremes. He wondered what his colleagues at the law firm would think if they saw him like this, naked, on his knees, begging a mere man to love him. He held back a smile and sighed softly instead.

 

"Why?" he simply inquired.

 

"Because I can’t live without you," Junki muttered weakly, looking up at him again, eyes glistening.

 

"Why? You’ve lived without me before we met."

 

"That was before you," Junki snapped, looking away. Maybe he was embarrassed of himself. The despair seemed to be stronger than the shame. He looked up into Baekhyun’s eyes pleadingly again. Or maybe it was more of hysteria rather than plea. "You’re my life now. I have nothing but you. You can’t leave me. You can’t take it all away like that, Baekhyun."

 

Baekhyun simply curved his lips into a soft smile, one that seemed to soothe Junki a little bit because as Baekhyun crouched down in front of him, he said nothing, simply watched, still pleading, still begging, still holding onto Baekhyun tightly. And Baekhyun leaned forward, delicately, carefully pressing his lips against Junki’s for a short kiss. He felt Junki’s breath hitching. The joy exploding in his chest was almost overwhelming. He breathed his last words out to Junki against his lips.

 

"I’m not taking anything away from you. You’re the one who’s given everything to me willingly."

 

There was no answer to that. Junki remained in a daze, either because of their last kiss or because he himself knew that Baekhyun had never stolen anything from him, had never forced anything out of him. Baekhyun had just painted, crafted, tied, molded, and took what was willingly given to him forever. 

 

Because this heartbreak would last forever to Junki. It would fade with time, the pain would be barely even noticeable after a while.But even ten years from now, if Baekhyun suddenly popped into Junki’s mind, there would be a sour taste in his mouth. A tiny, broken, scarred piece of his heart would always belong to Baekhyun, even if Junki himself would forget it.

 

And when Baekhyun successfully got out of the apartment only seconds after that, he couldn’t help but think that life was a monstrous, cruel concept. It was odd sometimes, how a broken heart could mend another back into a single piece. 

 

As soon as he stepped out of Junki’s apartment, he was breathing much more easily than when he had walked into it. There was no more smoke.

 

His phone buzzed for the rest of the day, Junki’s name endlessly displayed on the screen. It buzzed and buzzed and buzzed and Baekhyun wondered if that was what heartbreak or love felt like. An incessant buzzing that couldn’t be stopped unless you shut your phone off entirely.

 

That wasn’t what he did, though, because that night, the still ongoing buzzing of his phone made him sleep a bit more easily, as if the desperate call of his name from someone’s lips was as soothing as a replenishing lullaby.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

"Why are we always eating whenever we’re together?" Baekhyun couldn’t help but wonder out loud as he looked for the cucumber strips in his cold noodles and transferred them to Junmyeon’s bowl.

 

He had knocked on Baekhyun’s door a while ago and they had hung out together as usual. Junmyeon wasn’t too energetic whenever he came back from work. After some time, they had both grown hungry and Baekhyun had argued to order takeout but Junmyeon had insisted on wanting to eat naengmyeon and not wanting to get out of the house either.

 

When he had started cooking, Baekhyun had remembered that Junmyeon sometimes liked to fill Baekhyun’s fridge up with food and anything needed to cook proper meals just for himself rather than for Baekhyun.

 

It wouldn’t even be upsetting if at least, Junmyeon agreed to cook according to Baekhyun’s own tastes when using Baekhyun’s own kitchen. He could’ve at least taken the cucumbers out of the recipe but no, Junmyeon always tried tricking Baekhyun into eating cucumbers and always failed but never gave up.

 

"Because we’re going to be eating alone if we don’t eat together?" Junmyeon replied as he eyed the growing lump of cucumbers in his bowl before grabbing one of the strips, shoving it into his mouth, and making a show of chewing on it loudly just to spite Baekhyun.

 

Sometimes, Baekhyun wished he could kick Junmyeon out of his apartment but he was right. He liked eating with Junmyeon. Only because it meant he didn’t have to eat alone.

 

"Sounds about right," he chuckled, a victorious sound following out of his mouth when he was finally done digging into his noodles for weird green gooey strips. They probably only looked that way to Baekhyun. Everyone else somehow seemed to like cucumbers. Weird. He grabbed his spoon and brought a bit of the cold broth into his mouth, humming in delight. 

 

Maybe he never kicked Junmyeon out because of how good he actually was at cooking too.

 

They ate quietly for a while, both enjoying the cold dish. It was refreshing. 

 

When Junmyeon started talking about work, Baekhyun heartily laughed at his random anecdotes, going completely quiet when he cracked lame jokes from time to time to let Junmyeon know that kind of attempt at being funny should never be done again.

 

"Are you okay, though?" Junmyeon asked after a while, when a few seconds of silence had followed his story about the new intern at his father’s company breaking one of the printers and offering to pay for it with their life if it meant not being fired.

 

Baekhyun stopped slurping on his noodles and cut them off with a bite, straightening his back again and taking the time to chew and look at the concerned frown on his best friend’s face before replying.

 

"How do you always know when something’s wrong?" he couldn’t help but wonder, once again out loud.

 

Junmyeon’s lips curved into a wide smile, his cheeks bunching up a little bit and his eyes disappearing into crescents that looked full of pride. He wasn’t going to reveal the secret to figuring out how Baekhyun felt. Baekhyun knew it because he had asked more than once before. Maybe he didn’t want to know either, maybe it felt nice to have someone knowing him as well as Junmyeon knew him.

 

"Your guard’s always down when you’re with me," Junmyeon assured.

 

"Is that a flattered tone I hear?" Baekhyun teased him, narrowing his eyes a little bit.

 

"Yes, I’m very flattered that you see me as a normal human being and not a sack of love you need to fool and appropriate, Baekhyun," he replied, with a very serious voice that Baekhyun had learned to associate to anything but seriousness a long time ago.

 

He hummed. "That, on the other hand, sounded like a jealous tone," he playfully noted before twisting his features into an exaggeratedly seductive expression and sliding his leg under the table until he could trail his toes against Junmyeon’s leg. "If you want me to make you fall in love with me, just say so."

 

They were both sitting on the floor, eating on the coffee table in the living room, and he had to twist his leg a bit painfully to be able to touch Junmyeon’s but the unimpressed raise of both his eyebrows was worth it.

 

"That kind of thing doesn’t work on me, silly," Junmyeon huffed before laughing along when Baekhyun burst into laughter and pulled his foot away from him.

 

He let out a small grunt of pain and Junmyeon had the audacity to snort at him and shake his head.

 

He took another mouthful of cold broth by tilting the bowl into his mouth a little bit. The broth was cold rather than icy, Junmyeon had only let it cool down in the freezer for an hour — because Baekhyun had complained too much about being hungry — and there wasn’t much ice but it was tasty nonetheless. He wouldn’t complain when he hadn’t been much of a help to Junmyeon while cooking and especially not when he would’ve never been able to cook this on his own. Junmyeon handed him a napkin when a bit of the broth dripped down his chin.

 

"I ran into my father a few days ago," he eventually explained, the pear flavor that lingered in his mouth diluting the bitter taste of those words with sweetness. Junmyeon stopped eating and gave him his full attention.

 

"What happened?"

 

"Nothing much," he sighed, looking down at his dish. "I didn’t know he had returned to the company so soon so I kinda walked into the office and found myself facing him and his secretary. He let me know he didn’t need a replacement anymore."

 

He could feel Junmyeon’s gaze on him. Not sad, not pitiful, because Junmyeon wasn’t a stranger who pitied Baekhyun’s rather miserable life, but understanding and maybe a bit comforting.

 

"What did you do?"

 

Baekhyun let out a small, quiet chuckle and met the other’s eyes.

 

"How do you know I did something?" he asked, voice as light as earlier albeit this time, it was much fainter, emptied out.

 

This time, Junmyeon didn’t smile with pride.

 

"I know," he said softly. "You always lean back against others when your father does this. Even if it means you need to drain them out to feel better."

 

There was no accusation this time either, just even more understanding, maybe a bit of sadness.

 

Sometimes, Baekhyun really wished he could just tell Junmyeon everything that he felt. Why he did this, what he gained out of it, how it made him feel, but sometimes, when Junmyeon looked at him like this, with acceptance and concern, Baekhyun didn’t mind that those explanations never managed to leave his mouth. Maybe, just maybe Junmyeon already understood everything.

 

He took a deep breath in and decided that he wouldn’t let anything ruin the naengmyeon that his best friend had cooked for him with care. Even if he had sneaked in cucumbers into it, and rather openly at that.

 

"I ended things with Junki that same day," he started. Junmyeon nodded, not appearing surprised. "But something more exciting happened before that," Baekhyun grinned, wiggling his eyebrows a little.

 

Junmyeon narrowed his eyes but Baekhyun could see that he was fighting off a smile.

 

"What is it?"

 

"I accidentally saw a video of a cute piano teacher and decided that I wanted to enroll for piano classes. So I did. My first class is tomorrow."

 

"But you used to give me piano lessons when we were sixteen and my mom was going crazy because I still couldn’t play Für Elise despite having been taking classes for a whole year," Junmyeon frowned.

 

"Oh, I’m not after the classes. I’m after the cute teacher."

 

"You’re really going to take piano classes as a beginner just because you want to seduce the teacher," Junmyeon repeated, eyebrows raised. It wasn’t even a question, Baekhyun knew he was barely even surprised about it. "What drew you to him?"

 

"The piano," Baekhyun replied after a few short moment spent thinking. "He looks handsome when he’s playing the piano."

 

"Did you already meet him then? What kind of person is he?" Junmyeon continued questioning him like he usually did whenever Baekhyun had a new person to work on.

 

"He’s very kind, I feel like. I’ve talked to him only twice so far but he seems like a nice person," he said.  Instead of being happy like anyone should be when they were told that their best friend had met someone nice, Junmyeon pursed his lips in concern. Not for Baekhyun, the latter knew, but for Chanyeol. "He’s very gentle and very lovely. Funny too and I think he might be as playful as I can be? He has a nice voice as well. And a nice melody when he plays the piano. Very soothing."

 

"You have the tendency to turn soothing melodies into broken notes," Junmyeon mumbled.

 

"You’re especially judgmental tonight, I think you might be a bit too stressed out," Baekhyun concluded, shaking his head at the other in mock exasperation. He wasn’t being judgmental, Baekhyun knew it very well. Junmyeon was the only person he could talk about things like this with and even if Baekhyun could never find the strength to tell him outright how he felt most of the time, Junmyeon understood. 

 

"I think you might be right," Junmyeon laughed, cheeks bundling up with that smile that Baekhyun knew was only meant for him. Junmyeon might be his only real friend but Baekhyun was Junmyeon’s only real friend too.

 

And that was enough for Baekhyun to give the other a mischievous smile before letting go of his chopsticks and quickly rounding the table on his knees until he could sit next to Junmyeon and invade his personal space at once.

 

"Want me to help you get rid of the stress?" he whispered into the other’s ear, once again with that overly seductive voice that pulled laughter out of his best friend. He felt affection blossoming on his own lips in the form of an equally wide smile of his own.

 

"Stop trying to find lame excuses for your own horniness," Junmyeon accused him but never once moved to push him away.

 

It wasn’t the first time this happened, it wouldn’t be the last either. After a few seconds of silently looking at each other, Junmyeon leaned to press his lips against Baekhyun’s. He felt every single hint of affection that Junmyeon nurtured for him flowing into him easily.

 

Junmyeon melted against him a little bit and Baekhyun pushed him down until he was laying on his back, moving to straddle him as his fingers already pulled on his shirt to take it off.

 

Sometimes, Baekhyun wondered if it was a bad idea. Sometimes, he wondered if, unconsciously,  he used even his best friend to satisfy his endlessly starving need for affection. Sometimes, he was scared that this would one day put a strain on their friendship. However, all those thoughts always vanished away whenever Junmyeon trailed his tender fingertips on his nape. Like he did now when he pulled Baekhyun closer again, laughing when Baekhyun bumped his shoulder against the table as a result of the slight jolt his body always shook with whenever someone touched his nape.

 

Most of the time, it felt nice to know that there was no intricate feelings, that he didn’t need to calculate his every move and choose his every word carefully whenever he was with Junmyeon. Most of the time, it felt delightful to know Junmyeon loved him like this, to feel his best friend’s affection through every heartfelt touch, every kiss. 

 

Most of the time, Junmyeon was the only person Baekhyun could be himself with.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It was with a merry air that Baekhyun stepped into Allegro Music Studio the next day, on Wednesday afternoon.

 

It was a seamless reflection of that merriment that greeted him and oddly, Baekhyun found himself thinking that he had missed the luminosity of that wide, toothy smile that revealed small dimples on Chanyeol’s cheeks. He wasn’t alone this time but he seemed to have been waiting for Baekhyun, judging by the way the shorter man standing on the other side of the counter wiggled his eyebrows at Chanyeol as soon as Baekhyun stepped in.

 

They exchanged greetings and Chanyeol even introduced him to the wiggly-eyebrowed man whose named turned out to be Jongdae. He was apparently another piano teacher that Baekhyun could’ve had instead of Chanyeol but who mainly gave vocal lessons in the academy and only worked as a piano tutor who traveled to students’ home. Baekhyun was a bit disappointed to find out that Chanyeol, on the other hand, only gave classes in the academy itself. He could’ve brought him home quite a few times and quickened the pace of the whole process. Not that he was thinking of letting hastiness and eagerness get the best out of him. 

 

They headed towards the classroom and Baekhyun could even feel himself growing a little giddy at the thought of finally seeing what kind of person Chanyeol would turn into when slipping into his piano teacher persona. They always ended up so different from their professional or personal life whenever they were with Baekhyun and that was probably the most satisfying part about this. However, he couldn’t even say that that was the most prominent thought in his mind right now, not when he could almost feel his fingers twitching at the prospect of actually playing piano after such a long time. It might even be a bit difficult to act like a true beginner but Baekhyun trusted himself and the jubilation he would get out of Chanyeol explaining to him things he already knew by heart.

 

"Here is your battle gear," Chanyeol said as they stepped into the classroom, voice serious and grave but playfulness unconcealed beneath the deep velvet of his tone. 

 

He was pointing to the piano with a flourish and Baekhyun fought back a smile. He really was rather adorable.

 

"Well, the battle’s still kind of intimidating right now but I’m excited to throw myself into it," Baekhyun replied with an excited smile.

 

"Please don’t literally throw yourself into it. This was expensive as hell," Chanyeol laughed, pulling Baekhyun to laugh along as they stood in front of the grand piano, before he took a deep breath in and clapped his hands together. That was the cue. "Now, we should start. The first thing we need to work on is posture."

 

"Posture?" Baekhyun repeated with confusion, as if he had expected to immediately dive into the keyboard.

 

"Posture," Chanyeol repeated, nodding once with that boyish, youthful smile of his. He seemed to remain his usual self even as a teacher. "It’s a very important part of playing piano. Not only because your posture is the first thing people will see when they’re watching you play but also because it holds a big part in how you actually handle the instrument. So, in order not to make a clown out of yourself in front of an audience and not tire yourself out while playing badly, you need to have a good posture."

 

"Did you just assume I’d play badly?" Baekhyun asked, narrowing his eyes a little bit at the other as he let mock displeasure settle on his voice.

 

"I just meant that a bad posture meant a bad melody."

 

Chanyeol’s smile was crooked this time, a corner lifted up higher than the other, and its curve faint but unapologetically amused. Baekhyun liked the sight of it.

 

"Now, try sitting the way you think you should sit and I’ll correct you if needed," he suggested, gesturing to the velvety piano seat.

 

Baekhyun had the overwhelming urge to take the perfect position, just to wipe off that smile. He didn’t, as not only did he actually enjoy looking at it, but he also did not want to ruin everything he had built until now just because of that competitive part of himself. 

 

Therefore, he sat down and made his posture as bad as a beginner’s should be, back slouched forward, arms folded in front of him until he almost felt his elbows grazing his sides, hands flat on the keyboard, and legs pulled in together under the bench. He looked up at Chanyeol expectantly and caught one corner of his mouth twitching a little bit as if he was trying to keep a smile away from Baekhyun. That worked. That was either a sign of entertainment or endearment and at this stage, Baekhyun was willing to accept either of these options.

 

"Well, I’ve seen worse," Chanyeol hummed. Honesty. That could be a good thing. "Could you slide a bit aside to make some room for me?"

 

Baekhyun held back a smile and slid to the right a little bit, glancing Chanyeol who settled in next to him while keeping his posture as bad as he possibly could. He caught a whiff of a pleasant, spicy scent as Chanyeol moved. He didn’t remember having smelled perfume on the other the last two times they had met.

 

"Alright," Chanyeol said, clapping his hand together once again. It seemed to be a habit of his, a cute one. "We’re going to start with the bench first. You’re sitting way too far away from the keyboard right now, your arms are almost entirely stretched out to reach it. It’s better to sit on the front half of the bench, almost on the edge," he explained, demonstrating it to Baekhyun as he slid a bit towards the edge of the bench.

 

Baekhyun watched him attentively, taking the occasion to actually take a look at the other’s thighs. He was wearing ripped jeans again today, the washed out blue fabric stretching around his bare knees. For a second, he wondered if it was even appropriate for him to dress like this to work but figured that the owner of the academy must allow this kind of outfit if Chanyeol was confidently wearing it.

 

Without letting the other notice that he was paying more attention to his body rather than his posture, Baekhyun looked down at his own legs and moved until he could slide a bit more towards the edge of the bench in a position that he knew would be comfortable for him and allow a great control of his movements.

 

"Like this?" he asked, looking up at Chanyeol.

 

"Perfect," the other smiled. "Looks like you’re a fast learner."

 

"All I’ve done is slide towards the edge of the bench. I think you’re too generous with your praises," he said with a playful smile to which Chanyeol chuckled softly.

 

"Sitting like this will allow you to be a bit more centered and control the rest of your movements," he explained, rather than replying to Baekhyun’s words. "Next step is your back. Your back is very important. Not only because a slouching pianist isn’t pleasant to look at, but because you’re going to spend a long time playing piano. It shouldn’t affect your health and make your back ache," Chanyeol explained, Baekhyun’s eyes never once leaving him. 

 

He could hear the passion in the other’s voice. In the way words slid out of his mouth so easily. He was in his element, no trace of shyness, embarrassment, or even fluster left to Baekhyun’s eyes. Nothing but a very attractive air of confidence Baekhyun wouldn’t mind breathing in for long minutes.

 

"The piano is also an instrument that should be played with dignity and without a straight back, the audience won’t be able to see the confidence and the dignity in you. Of course, I’m not asking you to act cocky either," Chanyeol added quickly, pulling a chuckle out of Baekhyun. "You should look dignified but not pompous, you have to find the right balance. Now, try straightening your back."

 

Baekhyun did as told, straightening his back but pulling his shoulders back a little too much. He looked at Chanyeol with what probably looked like an expectant gaze but enjoyement was the feeling coursing through him as soon as he noted the slight twitch of Chanyeol’s eyebrows when he saw Baekhyun’s bad posture.

 

"Not like that," he laughed. "Your shoulders are pulled back too much. Just keep your back straight like you usually would."

 

This time, Baekhyun slouched forward a little bit, still looking at the other expectantly.

 

"Then like this?" he asked, voice shimmering with the hope of a debutant eager to learn.

 

Chanyeol simply shook his head, the light, comforting smile lingering on his lips. Baekhyun saw him raise a hand and victory grinned in the back of his head as soon as he felt that same hand resting on his lower back, where Chanyeol put a little bit of pressure until Baekhyun straightened up.

 

"Like this," he said, voice a bit quieter than earlier.

 

His touch felt gratifying even through the thin fabric of Baekhyun’s shirt and he caught on the way his hand lingered there for longer than necessary. That, coupled with the soft voice and the way Chanyeol was looking at his back rather than at his face, was enough for Baekhyun to know the attraction the other had shown in the subway was still very much present. 

 

"This is actually more difficult than I thought," Baekhyun laughed as he kept his back straight, almost regretting the warmth of Chanyeol’s hand leaving his covered skin when the other pulled it away.

 

"I told you it was," he laughed, glancing at Baekhyun’s back probably to check that he was keeping the right posture. "You have to keep your back straight whenever you’re playing. Keep that in mind."

 

"I’ll try!" Baekhyun chirped.

 

"Now, we’re almost done correcting your posture," Chanyeol smiled, very attractive. "What else do you think we need to correct?"

 

"My legs feel kind of uncomfortable right now so maybe that?"

 

"Exactly, your legs feel uncomfortable because you’ve placed them wrong," Chanyeol answered, looking at his legs. "They’re under the bench. They should never be under the bench because it’ll mess with your balance and make it harder to keep your back straight. You should place your feet near the pedals," he explained, tapping his feet against the floor to call for Baekhyun’s attention there. 

 

"I didn’t even know there were pedals on a piano," Baekhyun hummed, raising his eyebrows a little.

 

"That’s okay, we’re here to learn," Chanyeol instantly reassured him, not overbearing or mocking but comforting and kind. "Try stretching your legs out."

 

He did as told until he felt the tip of his shoes hit something and a clunk was heard. He tensed up, looking at Chanyeol with his best imitation of apologetic eyes.

 

"I think I hit them."

 

"It’s okay," Chanyeol said, unable to keep his laughter in this time. "Now, you know where they are and that you can reach them. You should keep your feet near them. Children usually can’t so we give them magazines or books to rest their feet on. I’m glad to see we won’t have to do that for you," he continued, mischief nestled in the corners of his smile.

 

Baekhyun narrowed his eyes a little.

 

"Tall people always think anyone who’s even two centimeter shorter than them is a midget. Newsflash, you’re not the tallest person on earth and shorter people are just average height, not too short," he huffed in mock offense.

 

"I don’t know, that just sounds like jealousy to me," Chanyeol retorted, grin widening even more. He seemed to understand that Baekhyun wasn’t really offended and it was a bit fascinating how he could go from a serious, attentive teacher to a playful, casual person so quickly. Baekhyun wondered if he was so friendly with everyone or if he simply felt comfortable around him. "Now position your average legs correctly."

 

Baekhyun did as told, placing his feet a correct distance away from the pedals.

 

"Am I not going to use the pedals?"

 

"Beginners don’t but later on, you might," he answered before wiggling his fingers under Baekhyun’s eyes. "We’ve now reached the most important part. Hands and arms," Chanyeol said with so much enthusiasm that Baekhyun had to bite back a laugh. "Usually, people always raise their shoulders too high at the beginning but I see that it’s not the case for you. That’s a good thing."

 

"Maybe I’m going to be natural at this," Baekhyun grinned even if his body falling back to a pianist’s habits had just cost him a potential touch from Chanyeol. He could’ve pressed on Baekhyun’s shoulders to adjust their height. He reminded himself to be a bit more careful from now on.

 

"Confidence is good," Chanyeol nodded. "The reason why shoulders are important is because if they’re raised too high, it’ll create tension in your hands. Which is terrible. You want to avoid that. Same thing for the elbows, they need to be kept at a bit of distance away from your body."

 

Like the eager student that he was supposed to be, Baekhyun immediately corrected his posture and widened the distance between his arms and his body too much.

 

"No, that’s too much," Chanyeol said softly, the balminess of his hands oozing back into Baekhyun when he grabbed his arms to push his elbows closer to his body, his grip strong but in no way entrapping. His body pressed against Baekhyun’s a little bit as he wrapped one arm around him to reach Baekhyun’s right arm. "Just like this. Try to remember this distance. It allows you to reach the entire keyboard without any problem."

 

Baekhyun nodded a bit, looking up at Chanyeol whose face was a bit closer to his now. Chanyeol met his eyes once before slowly pulling away. Once again, no trace of fluster, embarrassment, or redness on his cheeks.

 

"Elbows should remain flexible too, to prevent tension again. That also comes back in how you should keep your wrists," Chanyeol said and Baekhyun watched as his long fingers reached for the keyboard, his wrists tensed up. "It’s weird but the way you use your wrists can actually change the way sound is produced." He pressed on a few notes heavily, wrists still tensed up. "Pay attention to the difference with relaxed wrists," he said before pressing on the same keys again, this time with relaxed, curved wrists. "Heard any difference?"

 

"It definitely sounded better the second time," Baekhyun hummed softly. "Not sure why exactly, though."

 

Chanyeol nodded, seemingly satisfied with his answer. "It sounds more brutal with tensed wrists," he said, repeating the notes with tensed and then relaxed wrists again. "Let’s now focus on the pianists’ most important tool, the fingers," he said, wiggling them again. "Try putting your hands on the keyboard."

 

Baekhyun took the posture Chanyeol had just ‘taught’ him again, pressing his fingers against the keyboard, knuckles drooping too much and back, once again, not straight enough. Chanyeol seemed to notice that as well, his hand coming back to press on Baekhyun’s lower back to straighten his posture.

 

"Sorry," he gave him a sheepish smile to which Chanyeol shook his head understandingly and focused on his fingers again.

 

"Your wrists aren’t relaxed," Chanyeol noted and Baekhyun adjusted until only his fingers remained tensed up. "That’s a bit better, much better than some people are on their first lesson. The only thing you should keep in mind is that your hands should form something like a dome," he said, showing the right formation to Baekhyun who imitated it. "The roof shouldn’t crumble either," he added, letting his knuckles droop a little before getting back into the right posture.

 

Baekhyun mimicked him and caught glimpse of a satisfied smile in return.

 

"Yes, just like that!" he beamed. "That’s about it for the posture. It might be a bit difficult and uncomfortable at first but I promise you’ll get used to it. You even caught the hang of it much quicker than the average people."

 

"I guess I have a good teacher," he grinned, watching as Chanyeol returned it shyly, that emotion surfacing for the first time today. It was a good look on him.

 

"We have a bit more than fourty minutes left," he hummed, checking his watch. He had nice wrists, Baekhyun noticed, not for the first time. "How about we start learning a song?"

 

"I’m ready for the battle," Baekhyun said, wiggling his fingers against the keyboard. Chanyeol smiled then grinned when Baekhyun put his fingers back into the right posture. "What are we going to learn?"

 

"It’s a really nice song that you’ve probably heard dozens of times before," Chanyeol said as Baekhyun took his hands away from the keyboard to watch the other get into position. "It’s usually the first musical piece piano students learn. It’s a classic but also essential, in my opinion. It’s called Für Elise."

 

Baekhyun held back a smile at that, recalling the way he had talked about the particular piece only yesterday with Junmyeon. He wondered what would his reaction be if Baekhyun told him that he was learning Für Elise from the very first notes when he used to be the one to teach them to Junmyeon years ago.

 

Chanyeol played part of the song for him and later on, when he started teaching those notes to Baekhyun, the latter found himself holding back more than one smile through the rest of the lesson. There was just something winsome about the way Chanyeol went from confident while teaching to almost too cautious and timid whenever he held Baekhyun’s fingers to place them correctly on the ivory keys. His eyebrows often furrowed a little bit in concentration and he pursed his lips from time to time, revealing the small dimple digging into his cheek.

 

When he walked out of the academy later on, Baekhyun caught himself thinking that it might be nice to, one day, make that dimple play hide and seek with him according to his own will.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

His phone buzzed again that same night. Junki’s name was displayed on the screen in the form of missed calls or dozens of unanswered messages that would remain so until the end of time.

 

It would be easier to block the number or change his own. Baekhyun had never really faced a situation where someone he cut things off with was harassing him with calls and messages before but he knew that the best thing to do would be to put an end to it himself rather than waiting for Junki to give up. And yet, he couldn’t deny the fact that it felt nice to glance at his phone from time to time and notice a notification or a name calling to him in despair. Each call and each message meant that he was still on Junki’s mind. That was the only result that Baekhyun had ever sought in anyone he surrounded himself with for as long as he wanted.

 

He had seen a few of those messages through the previews on the notifications, a lot of them carried anger and despair, pleas and regrets, words of love and signs of ruin. Occasionally, he’d catch another I can’t live without you and smile to himself. 

 

Each time those words flashed in his mind, through different voices and different facial features, Baekhyun couldn’t help but wonder how someone could even reach that kind of mindset. It wasn’t even a judgmental reaction, Baekhyun wouldn’t mock what felt essential to him, but rather, a lack of comprehension. 

 

Maybe it was also a frightening feeling, knowing that someone could center their whole life around a mere human being and choose that without them, everything else would lose its meaning. Maybe he also shouldn’t be thinking like this when he was the one doing everything in his power to lead people to feel that exact way about him. Maybe he was curious. He had never loved someone so much he couldn’t live without them.

 

Or maybe he had. He had loved his mother so much, sometimes his heart pumped pain through every single drop of blood in his veins whenever he saw a mother smiling at their child and thought that this was the only thing he could never have, no matter how hard he’d work for it.

 

And yet, he had survived. He had lived without her. He was living without her. He wasn’t really sure whether that was the right thing to do or not, but he was surviving. 

 

Sometimes, he wasn’t sure whether he had actually survived or not. Sometimes, it was hard to find in himself any crumbles of humanity left. 

 

That night, the thought that kept him awake was whether having to depend on people’s love and affection to keep the cold away from his body and the madness away from his mind could really be called surviving or not.

 

Sometimes, he thought that this was the life that he rightfully deserved to live.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Come next Saturday, Baekhyun was prickling with excitement at the prospect of his next lesson with Chanyeol.

 

Time seemed to run in slow-motion during the few days that separated their two lessons and Baekhyun, despite having seen Joohyun in that timespan, felt incredibly bored while waiting for their next meeting. It wasn’t unusual, Baekhyun always felt a bit of childlike enthusiasm at the beginning of this kind of new relationship, always impatient to see the other person and spend as much time with them as possible.

 

There wasn’t even anything too novel about Chanyeol. He was still trying to figure him out. Apart from a few flirty words and a few touches here and there while playing the piano, Baekhyun wasn’t even pushing Chanyeol as hard as he usually would. He just wanted to take his time with him, he felt like this excitement could possibly linger on for months. He wouldn’t mind taking a lot of time to build something if it would belong to him even after Baekhyun took it down again brick by brick. 

 

Perhaps it was the way Chanyeol never acted on it despite obviously feeling some kind of attraction towards Baekhyun. Or maybe it was just because there was something soothing about Chanyeol. It was probably the entire piano situation.

 

Either way, it was with a sunny smile that Baekhyun greeted Chanyeol on their second lesson. Baekhyun returned it with equal shine, making small conversation with him as they headed towards their classroom. 

 

Baekhyun put care into his posture but not for the right reason, pushing himself to slouch forward a little bit and keeping his wrists relaxed but his elbows too close to his body. It was with a patient hand that Chanyeol pressed against his lower back to straighten him, keeping it there for a few seconds until he was sure that Baekhyun would keep the posture in mind. Baekhyun knew it was probably something that Chanyeol did to every one of his students but he just enjoyed the weight of the other’s hand and how big it felt against his back.

 

They practiced Für Elise again, Baekhyun mixing up the notes and letting out frustrated sighs from time to time. The result was satisfying, Chanyeol seemed to find it at the very least funny, judging by the way he was struggling to hide a few smiles through the lesson.

 

"Do you give classes for other instruments?"Baekhyun asked about halfway through, when Chanyeol allowed him to take a small break to stretch his fingers out. They didn’t hurt at all but Baekhyun remembered how they easily tensed up after even half an hour of focused practice at the beginning so he stretched them out and gave Chanyeol a grateful smile.

 

"I do," the other replied as he curled and uncurled his fingers to show Baekhyun the proper way to stretch them. He mimicked him. "I give lessons for guitar and drums too."

 

"You can play that many instruments?" Baekhyun asked, the wonder in his voice actually genuine this time.

 

Chanyeol smiled that boyish, confident smile of his while shrugging as if it wasn’t a big deal. 

 

"That’s amazing," Baekhyun added when Chanyeol didn’t give another verbal answer. "I wish I could be so talented."

 

"Talent is rarely the most important factor in music." This time, he wasn’t speaking with pompousness but with reassurance instead. "Hard work matters much more."

 

"But still, even while working hard, it must take lots of talent to be able to play three instruments well enough to give classes for them," Baekhyun said, voice neutral, not high enough to let the other think it was just a compliment for the sake of complimenting him but not low enough for Chanyeol to think he was just brushing him off.

 

"I just like music," Chanyeol muttered, voice losing its volume as he looked away from Baekhyun. He did that a lot whenever Baekhyun complimented him and this time, the tips of his ears went a bit pink.

 

Baekhyun beamed.

 

"Maybe you can teach me how to play guitar once I master this baby," he said with confidence while playfully letting his fingers drop on three notes that didn’t sound nice together at all.

 

"Maybe you’ll get tired of my nagging by the time you master it," Chanyeol laughed, a lovely dimple peeking at Baekhyun from his cheek.

 

"I don’t think so," he smiled.

 

Chanyeol looked at him for a fleeting second before returning the smile.

 

"Shall we get back to Elise?"

 

They continued practicing for the remainder of the class and truthfully, it required a lot of focus for Baekhyun not to let his fingers give Chanyeol an entire, perfect rendition of the song. The joy bubbling in his chest came mainly from the fact that he was playing piano again.

 

Given he knew this piece by heart, it should’ve been boring to sit there and learn it from the very first note but fortunately, Chanyeol’s teaching made it anything but boring. He constantly reminded Baekhyun of the right order of those first few notes that looked so easy to play but that required good finger coordination. He never got angry even when Baekhyun messed up the same note over and over again on purpose for ten minutes straight, showing an impressing amount of patience. 

 

Chanyeol’s hand occasionally pressed against his back when Baekhyun reminded himself not to make his posture too perfect and he still smiled a lot whenever Baekhyun made brutal notes and looked at him in apology. They laughed a lot too, whenever Baekhyun said something that wasn’t even intended to be funny, or when Chanyeol himself said something Baekhyun found genuinely funny.

 

Baekhyun didn’t even force himself to laugh in order to make the other feel interesting or appreciated like he usually had to do. Chanyeol was a truly interesting and humorous person. Even if he seemed to have dimmed down on the transparency of his interest towards Baekhyun.

 

It was just tiny, subtle hints that Baekhyun had to pay close attention to in order to catch. He barely even flirted with Chanyeol and he figured out that, despite being a mildly confident person, Chanyeol probably wasn’t the kind to directly show interest in anyone. The only sign Baekhyun could rely on was the fact that sometimes, he’d catch Chanyeol staring at him while he was focused on playing the piano. Sometimes, he looked away. Sometimes, he let Baekhyun meet his gaze.

 

By the end of the lesson, Baekhyun came to the conclusion that the best way to proceed would be to aim for a friendship with the other first and then gradually layer things from then on.

 

"So? How do you feel after two sessions of piano?" Chanyeol asked enthusiastically at the end of their lesson, when Baekhyun finally managed to get the hang of the opening melody of the song.

 

"It’s a bit difficult to coordinate my hands," Baekhyun replied, wiggling his fingers a bit to loosen them. He had put too much tension into them but the way Chanyeol’s sturdy fingers had touched his to carve them into the right posture was worth the slight discomfort he felt in his knuckles. "But I’ll get the hang of it soon, I hope."

 

"You’ll get better with time," Chanyeol reassured him as they walked out of the classroom and headed towards the front desk. "You’re not even that bad. Usually, I always have a headache after the first two lessons because of how brutal the melodies played by beginners are."

 

Baekhyun laughed softly at that.

 

"With a teacher as nice as you, I’m sure I’ll get better soon," he returned the compliment, smiling at the other appreciatively.

 

His words brushed a light, beautiful rosy sheen on Chanyeol’s cheeks and as he left with a small wave to Chanyeol who returned it with a grin. Baekhyun noted in a corner of his mind to compliment the other a little more often to paint him in that soft color again.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

"You’re late," were the first words Junmyeon muttered to him as soon as he opened the door to his parents’ house. Only relief palpable in his voice, however.

 

Baekhyun checked his watch and quirked an eyebrow at the other.

 

"By two minutes."

 

"Two minutes that my mother spent pressuring me to accept going on a blind date with one of her friends’ daughter," Junmyeon hissed between gritted teeth and his eyes had that wild, panicky width they always grew into whenever he talked about his mother pressuring him to get married.

 

Baekhyun bit onto his lower lip to muffle his laughter. The main reason why he had accepted Junmyeon’s mother’s invitation to dinner a few days ago was because he knew it would be an entertaining one. He also knew Junmyeon had a hard time dealing with the situation and barely ever visited home because of it so he thought it would be nice to accompany him. But mainly, Baekhyun was here for the entertainment and the food. Junmyeon’s mother was a nice cook, she was the one who had taught Junmyeon everything after all.

 

"You should’ve just joined me at my place. We could’ve come together," Baekhyun huffed. "Oh, but I forgot. You’re not a guest. This is technically your house."

 

"Just come in already," Junmyeon scoffed, grabbing his arm to pull him inside.

 

The Kims’ house was wide, way too wide for a family of two parents and an only child but Baekhyun knew wealthy people had a thing for owning much more than they needed. It was a disease and seeing as his own apartment was too big for a single person, he knew that he was infected by the illness too. He had spent a lot of time between those walls though, and he had also met and dined with Junmyeon’s parents hundreds of times before so he knew what to expect and didn’t feel particularly nervous.

 

His mother welcomed Baekhyun with a wide smile and a familiar,  loving voice that cooed at him with words of having missed him. She swooned only a little when Baekhyun pulled out the bouquet he had been hiding behind his back to give it to her. Junmyeon’s father had always been colder, not mean per se, but just a bit more stony, emotions never really showing on his face even as he cracked a lame joke. Junmyeon had inherited that humor.

 

They made small talk for a bit, Junmyeon’s mother asking him about a love life that Baekhyun claimed to be entirely empty and his father asking him how business was before they all settled around a lavishly garnished table. The food was, as expected, delicious and even Junmyeon seemed to enjoy it peacefully now that he was seated next to Baekhyun whose presence sucked in all of his mother’s attention. Laughter and conversation was abundant, Junmyeon’s mother was a really talkative woman, the kind to attend business parties or company meals simply to gather material to gossip about later on, which was exactly what she did to Baekhyun.

 

She told him about the new intern at one of their hotels, about her friend’s son’s scandalous life, and the downgrading business of one of their rival hotel chains. Once in a while, she even mentioned the daughters of a few friends, giving Baekhyun pointed looks but looking even more insistently at Junmyeon every single time. The latter ignored it to focus entirely on his meal and Baekhyun realized that his best friend wasn’t exaggerating at all. The situation was severe and he had a feeling she would start trying to marry him off too as soon as she would be done with Junmyeon. Not that that would ever happen.

 

"How’s your father doing, Baekhyun?" the radiant woman asked halfway through the meal, when there was a small moment of silence where everyone enjoyed their food. "I heard his health is degrading a little."

 

She was a very polite woman in spite of everything. She wasn’t mean, she just had a hard time understanding situations and maybe she was a bit too naive as well. She hadn’t asked that question with any kind of bad intention but Baekhyun still tensed up a little and put his chopsticks down to take a sip of water instead, the eagerness to eat as much of this delicious meal as possible now wavering a little.

 

He didn’t even know how to reply to that. He hadn’t seen his father since their encounter in the company.

 

"He did get a bit worse," he settled on saying with an appropriately dampened tone of voice. Her eyebrows furrowed, as if that news affected her deeply. It probably did, she was a kindhearted woman. "But he’s still ongoing treatments. He’s also still smoking, from what I’ve seen."

 

"Why would he do that?" she whispered to herself. Junmyeon’s father continued eating silently. Baekhyun felt discomfort knitting in his stomach, filling it up with knots and not sparing any room for more food. 

 

"I’m not sure," he eventually answered, truthful.

 

He didn’t know why his father smoked despite nicotine being one of the main triggers of his lung cancer. The doctors had strictly forbidden it and any patient who wanted to get better probably would’ve listened to their advice but Baekhyun had never understood the man. He had tried, for long years. Some people were meant to remain as a big, dark, and heavy lump of knots. Some people weren’t made to be untangled by anyone.

 

She didn’t press on. She knew that Baekhyun’s relationship with his father wasn’t  ideal. She probably didn’t understand it but Junmyeon’s family was close enough to Baekhyun's to at least know a few things.

 

"Your family is very unfortunate," she sighed after a few seconds of heavy silence. Baekhyun felt Junmyeon tensing up next to him. "First your mother and now your father."

 

Baekhyun let out a small chuckle. It sounded dry, heavy, but at least his voice didn’t rattle. He could feel Junmyeon’s gaze on him but he didn’t look back at him, digging his chopsticks into his bowl of rice instead.

 

"Granted, your mother was different. She fell down the stairs in a very unfortunate way and couldn’t recover. I hope your father will get better soon. He still has a chance."

 

Baekhyun only noticed that his whole body was tensed up when a hand settled on his thigh, Junmyeon silently showing him support. He could barely feel it, however. That grounding sensation was very faint, barely reaching Baekhyun who felt like his whole body was buried under heavy lumps of snow, the cold infiltrating into his skin and blowing through his chest like the frozen wind of a winter night.

 

"4C recently came out with a new skincare product, right, Baekhyun? I think it became one of Mother’s favorites," Junmyeon suddenly said, his voice registering through the fog in Baekhyun’s mind a beat too late but still pulling him out of it.

 

"It did!" his mother chirped, the sadness and nostalgia on her features instantly fading away. "It works wonders for my skin and makes me look so young."

 

Baekhyun dragged the corners of his lips up into a smile at those words and fought off the bitter taste in his mouth. That was his father’s company, not his.

 

He remained grateful to Junmyeon for changing the subject, however, realizing that his own words had tied up into a knot in his throat at the ones uttered by the carefree woman.

 

"I’m glad you like it," he said, widening his smile even if he could still feel ghosts of discomfort swirling around in his stomach. He wouldn’t let it deter him. Even if he hated Junmyeon’s mother for a split second. Even if he wished no one, absolutely no one would ever talk about his mother in front of him again. "The food’s really delicious tonight, by the way. Did you cook it yourself?" he asked, giving Junmyeon’s mother a wide-eyed, amazed expression as he shoved more food into his mouth.

 

It tasted like sand now. She swooned at him appreciatively, taking in the praise and enjoying it openly. He felt Junmyeon’s hand squeeze his thigh once before sliding away and he turned to him to give him a reassuring smile that Junmyeon returned with an apologetic one.

 

"I did! You know that it’s important to cook for your own family with love. Right, honey?" she asked, elbowing her husband with a grin. 

 

He merely grunted in agreement and grabbed his phone. He often did that, too focused on his work to even eat peacefully most of the time.

 

Then, she looked at Junmyeon with a slight furrow of her eyebrows and Baekhyun felt more than heard his best friend sighing next to him.

 

"See, if you learned how to treat women properly from Baekhyunnie, I’d already have a grandchild to sing lullabies to."

 

Junmyeon’s very awkward laugh was almost enough to bring a genuine smile to Baekhyun’s lips. His mother didn’t even look away once until Junmyeon simply sighed again.

 

"Fine, just send me the number of that girl you talked about earlier. I’ll go on a date with her," he ended up saying rather hollowly. His mother squealed in happiness.

 

The prospect of soon hearing Junmyeon whine about a failed date and a very severe lack of attraction for women made Baekhyun feel much better.

 

"But aren’t you too young to have a grandchild, Auntie?" Baekhyun said to her, smiling flatteringly but making sure that he sounded sincere. "You look so young. What if people mistake you for the mother rather than the grandmother and you upset your daughter-in-law?"

 

That took her attention away from Junmyeon and she laughed bashfully.

 

"You’re such a charmer," she said, narrowing her eyes a bit at him while grinning widely.

 

The rest of the meal was tasteless for Baekhyun but he made sure not to show it. Junmyeon seemed to sense it as well, he participated to the conversations more and Baekhyun felt a little sorry for him when his mother gushed about the woman she had successfully managed to set her son up with.

 

Conversation continued flowing, Junmyeon’s mother continued being her smiley self and his father barely even paid attention to them, gaze still focused on his phone as he continued eating. He had told his wife that it was a business matter and no one had batted an eyelash at it, used to it, but Baekhyun had caught the corners of his lips twitching up a little once and he wondered if it was that beautiful, blond secretary of his he was talking to. Junmyeon had never liked that secretary. Baekhyun didn’t comment on it, not wanting to make the rest of the meal more unpleasant for himself than it already was.

 

Soon, they were done eating and Baekhyun complimented Junmyeon’s mother on the dessert one last time before he let Junmyeon walk him to the door. They stepped out of the house and his best friend closed the door behind them. He leaned back against it, taking a deep breath in and sighing out heavily afterwards.

 

"This was a disaster."

 

"It wasn’t," Baekhyun reassured him, giving him a light smile even if he could still feel his chest rattling a little at what the other’s mother had said.

 

Misfortune. His mother’s death was anything but misfortune. It wasn’t just an unfortunate happening. There was a reason. A trigger. A push. 

 

He inhaled deeply. The evening air was heavy, they were more than halfway through August now. It was heavy. Baekhyun’s chest felt heavier than the air he swelled it with.

 

"I’m sorry for what she said," Junmyeon said softly, reaching to grab Baekhyun’s hand and squeezing it in apology.

 

He felt a little less constricted with Junmyeon’s comfort shrouding his hand and he shook his head. He felt the urge to ask Junmyeon if he wanted to go home with him tonight and stay over, they could marathon Star Wars for the tenth time even if Baekhyun wasn’t as excited about the movies as Junmyeon was. He would be willing to go through it if Junmyeon’s proximity would fill his home up after a dinner that left chills dotting him. However, despite knowing that Junmyeon would eagerly accept, Baekhyun was aware that it wouldn’t be appropriate and might upset his mother.

 

"It’s alright, I don’t mind," he settled on saying instead before morphing his features into a wide smile and ruffling Junmyeon’s perfectly styled hair. "You can just make me your best man at your wedding with this Han Jaehee to make it up."

 

Junmyeon simply groaned and batted his hands away.

 

"She probably wants to marry you off too. I wouldn’t laugh so much if I were you," he chided, narrowing his eyes.

 

"Regardless, you’re now closer to getting married than I am," Baekhyun grinned.

 

Junmyeon simply shook his head before giving him another look full of apologies.

 

"Thank you for coming, still," he said and sighed a little when Baekhyun merely waved his words away. "Wanna attend my niece’s recital with me next Saturday? You like piano."

 

Baekhyun crinkled his nose with mock distaste.

 

"Are you asking me on a date right after making plans with another woman?" 

 

Junmyeon quirked an eyebrow.

 

"You’re probably the worst date ever, why would I do that? You’d steal all my money and make me pay for everything."

 

Baekhyun laughed, not even able to deny that. He probably shouldn’t have told Junmyeon about that short thing he had with a much older man last year. He might have been as wealthy as him but Baekhyun still had enjoyed pulling money out of his wallet with nothing but a smile and feathery touches against his neck.

 

"I’ll see if I’m free this Saturday," he replied before pushing the other back a little. "You should go back inside before your mother starts thinking you ran away and calls me to scold me because of you again."

 

Junmyeon didn’t laugh. Instead, he looked at Baekhyun for a quiet second.

 

"Will you be okay?" he eventually asked, words simultaneously heating Baekhyun’s chest up and squeezing his heart a little.

 

Junmyeon knew he didn’t like being alone, especially not after this kind of conversation that centered around his mother for a few fleeting seconds.

 

"I’ll be alright, don’t worry," he smiled reassuringly.

 

The tight purse of Junmyeon’s lips told him he didn’t buy it one second but he didn’t press further either, sighing a little while nodding understandingly. He told Baekhyun to drive carefully on his way back home before turning around and reluctantly dragging himself back inside. The last glimpse of his face Baekhyun caught was a very exhausted, very exasperated one that pulled soft laughter out of him.

 

The drive back home was quiet. He didn’t put on any music, didn’t hum to himself, and there was no one to keep him company on the passenger’s seat.

 

The rest of his night was even quieter. He went to bed as soon as he reached home, doing his best to ignore the loud whispers of despair snaking around him like blurry, ghostly fingers carrying snowflakes under puffs of smoke. 

 

He played around on his phone, trying to distract himself from the nightmare he knew would reign over his slumber tonight by checking the news, social media, watching nonsensical and funny videos. Ultimately, there was nothing that took Baekhyun away from the despair crawling all over him, like dozens of ants filtering through his entire body.

 

In the end, Baekhyun spent most of his night reading through another kind of despair nestled between Junki’s last dozens of message to him before eventually letting the gentle melody of an even gentler pianist sing him to sleep, the same way it did only two weeks ago.

Chapter Text

It was with excitement and something akin to impatience that Baekhyun stepped into Allegro Music Studio the next Wednesday but it was disappointment that swept those feelings away when he wasn’t welcomed by the smile he was used to.

 

"Hello, you have a class with Chanyeol, right?" the man whose name Baekhyun remembered to be Jongdae greeted him.

 

There was no Chanyeol in sight and Baekhyun looked around quickly, even glancing to the door near the front desk that led to what he supposed was a kind of teachers’ room.

 

"I do," he smiled back at the other. "Should I directly go into his classroom?"

 

"You can do that, he’s going to be a bit late but he’s on his way."

 

Jongdae seemed to have a smile permanently etched on his sculpted face, a trait that he shared with Chanyeol. He seemed kind too. He was close to Chanyeol if his behavior towards the latter when Baekhyun had last seen them together was anything to judge it by. 

 

Curious, Baekhyun furrowed his eyebrows.

 

"Is he okay? Did he get into some kind of accident on his way?"

 

He was aware that he sounded a bit too worried for someone who was supposed to be nothing but a mere student but he didn’t really mind. It was often necessary to charm the friends of the person he wanted to charm above all, it might make things easier, especially if their friends were important enough to influence their way of thinking. Moreover, Baekhyun would often run into Jongdae or any of the other teachers since he was planning to take his time with Chanyeol and it would be much easier if he appeared the same way to Chanyeol’s friends as he wanted to appear to him.

 

Jongdae looked at him in surprise, obviously not expecting him to actually worry about Chanyeol. The smile he gave him afterwards was a pleased one, his eyes even gleaming.

 

"He’s okay. It’s just Chanyeol being Chanyeol," he snickered, confusing Baekhyun a little bit.

 

He didn’t reply to the questioning look Baekhyun gave him, however, simply leading him to Chanyeol’s classroom and apologizing for Chanyeol’s tardiness, assuring him that he would be there soon once again before leaving Baekhyun to wait alone.

 

His mood was only slightly dampened by the fact that Chanyeol hadn’t been there to greet him. He had spent his Sunday night rather badly after the dinner at Junmyeon’s parents’ house and Monday had been spent simply working from home. He hadn’t stepped foot into the company even once since the last encounter with his father and wasn’t planning to do so until the next meeting in a few days either. He was perfectly fine working from home, it was much more comfortable than working at the company.

 

Come Tuesday morning, he had already started anticipating his next lesson with Chanyeol and had spent a good part of his morning letting the video of the pianist playing a rendition of River Flows in You on loop to drown out the distracting silence reigning over his apartment. He had even wondered, at one point, if he should ask Chanyeol to add another lesson to their weekly schedules to make it three lessons per week but then reminded himself that hastiness was never associated to precision. He didn’t want to appear too eager either.

 

Joohyun had kept him company last night. They had gone for a walk along the Han river and had even ordered fried chicken to make for a spontaneous picnic-date. Baekhyun was grateful for it because he wouldn’t have survived another day without anyone to keep him company. Junmyeon was busy with work again and even Junki had stopped messaging him since Monday. However, it still hadn’t appeased him as much as this morning’s realization that today was a class day.

 

Now, Baekhyun didn’t mind waiting even though it was just a bit difficult to restrain himself from playing piano. Even if the rooms were supposed to be soundproof, he didn’t want Chanyeol or even Jongdae to suddenly barge in while he was playing something that should be nowhere near a beginner’s level. He settled on letting his fingers dance on the keys from time to time, just small notes that had no connection whatsoever. Occasionally, he ironed the wrinkles on his shirt with the flat of his hand. He hated wrinkles. Those little, faint flaws that were so difficult to get rid of unless he had the appropriate tool.

 

It was around ten minutes later that the door opened to reveal a panting Chanyeol, his dark hair mussed a little and his clothes nowhere near as stylish or orderly as they usually were. He was wearing a hoodie again, along with those denim shorts that reached his knees and made him look youthful.

 

"Sorry for being late," he immediately apologized, a sheepish and apologetic smile offered to Baekhyun as he stepped closer to him and promptly collapsed on the piano bench, chest heaving.

 

He seemed to have ran here. Baekhyun was the kind of person who rarely ran around. Not only was he naturally punctual, always arriving five minutes early wherever he was expected, but he also never cared enough to feel the need to run in order be on time if he happened to have miscalculated timings. That applied both to his personal life and his professional one so it was a bit refreshing to see that Chanyeol was willing to tire himself out so much simply because he felt bad about being late.

 

"It’s alright," Baekhyun shook his head, wondering whether he should outright ask the other what had happened. He felt curious but wasn’t really sure whether Chanyeol would share part of his private life with him yet. However, he caught glimpse of red lines stretching all over Chanyeol’s hands and he furrowed his eyebrows, a little bit of concern mixing in with the curiosity. "Are you okay? Did you get into an accident?"

 

Chanyeol gave him a confused look before following his line of sight and looking down at his own hands. He let out a soft chuckle when he realized there were scratch marks on the back of his hands and gathered them together.

 

"It’s nothing, don’t worry," he said, hesitating a second before looking at Baekhyun and finding something on his face that pushed him to speak his next words out. "I just found a stray cat on my way here."

 

"A cat?" Baekhyun repeated, incredulous.

 

Chanyeol nodded. "He looked very sick and sounded in pain. I couldn’t just walk away and leave him there so I rushed him to the veterinarian. Fortunately, it was just because of the lack of food and care so after making sure that he was alright, I just took him to my parents’. We’ll find him a home somewhere."

 

Baekhyun listened to the other with awe. He studied the other, the twist on his features, as if even now, he was still thinking about that wounded street cat. As a sign of his effort to rush here, beads of sweat were rolling down the side of his face in a way that should’ve been attractive but only appeared still oddly fascinating to Baekhyun. 

 

He was still panting a little, strands of hair sticking out here and there on top of his head after the wind had ruffled it too strongly while Chanyeol had ran here. He had put himself through so much trouble only for a cat. A stray cat that had probably lived in the streets for a long while, a small animal that many passerby’s had undoubtedly ignored in favor of reaching the place they were heading to without any hassle. Chanyeol, who was as busy as anyone else, had not only noticed the cat but taken it to the veterinarian and even back to his parents’ house to make sure it would be cared for.

 

That wasn’t much. That shouldn’t feel like much but somehow, Baekhyun had to contract his whole face to keep a smile from breaking out on his features. He didn’t even know why he found that so heartwarming and unusual. Maybe because Baekhyun himself wouldn’t have gone to such extents just for a stray cat. Or because the action wasn’t hard to associate to Chanyeol. Maybe because he seemed to be much kinder than Baekhyun thought him to be. Maybe because, based on his experience, Baekhyun knew that kind hearts were much easier to fool. 

 

It felt odd, made him almost giddy to know that if he worked hard enough, this soft, seemingly big heart could be contained in the palm of his hand and care for him much more than it cared for a mere street cat.

 

None of those thoughts were visible on his face, however. 

 

"You were late and ran here just because of a stray cat?"

 

Chanyeol turned idle at those words for a short moment before looking away and down at his hands with a sheepish smile.

 

"I’m sorry," he apologized again, softer. Baekhyun wondered if his reaction had thrown him off. "It sounds kind of ridiculous, right? I wasn’t being professional at all."

 

"No, it’s alright," Baekhyun reassured him, giving him a genuine smile. Surprisingly, he didn’t have to force himself to praise this newly discovered side of the teacher. "I’m just surprised. Not many people would’ve done what you did. It was very nice of you. I don’t mind waiting at all, especially not for this kind of reason. I’m glad you saved that cat."

 

Chanyeol’s shoulders slacked in apparent relief, a smile burgeoning on his lips. It was a good-looking smile, an almost shy one, like a lone frail flower lost amidst dark and sharp bushes. Baekhyun could still see crumbles of pride dusted on the corners of Chanyeol’s pastel, rosy lips.

 

"I’m glad too," he muttered before suddenly squeezing his eyes shut.

 

Baekhyun watched him in confusion only to laugh softly when it took Chanyeol a few seconds to sneeze, his whole body jolting forward with its force. His eyes were watery when he pulled his arm away from where he had pressed it against his mouth to conceal the sneeze. 

 

It was intriguing. The way someone so tall and broad could feel so small. It was as if the cuteness was merely amplified by how much room was available for it to be squeezed in.

 

"Sorry," Chanyeol laughed softly and once again, Baekhyun shook his head to let the other know it was entirely okay. Chanyeol glanced at his watch and pursed his lips. "Well, we don’t have much time left but we can still practice a bit."

 

Baekhyun eagerly accepted and the rest of the lesson was spent with relish pulling the corners of his lips up and the tips of his fingers down onto the ivory keyboard. Chanyeol’s scratched fingers occasionally adjusted his as he taught Baekhyun a melody that, despite being etched into the joints of Baekhyun’s hands, felt like a new, entirely fresh breath of air.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The next day, Baekhyun was on a date with Joohyun.

 

It was something that she really liked, simply holding his hand and walking around, letting him pamper her and pull her deeper into a trap she found more comfortable than anything else. Baekhyun didn’t particularly mind, he appreciated spending time with Joohyun. She was so easy to fluster and would do anything he asked for as long as he did so with an adoring caress against her flushed cheek.

 

Baekhyun didn't mind but at the same time, Joohyun had lost the crispness that had attracted him to her in the first place. She didn’t feel as fresh and sprightly anymore. Her colors weren’t as striking, as eye-catching, and her texture didn’t linger on his skin when his fingertips grazed her, didn’t call him back as soon as he pulled away. He supposed this was how an initially passionate florist felt. Falling into indifference after spending a lifetime amongst flowers that, despite still casting beauty to an outsider’s eyes, looked rather dull to eyes that had admired them for too long.

 

They were ambling around, walking at a leisure pace near her house this time, with no particular destination in mind. She had reached out to him because they hadn’t seen each other much lately and she was young and eager to spend time with the person she liked, loved. And Baekhyun didn’t mind. He didn’t mind having to conceal the boredom slowly taking over the further they walked together.

 

He didn’t mind yet, as soon as he felt his phone vibrating in his pocket, he took it out and quickly glanced at the screen. He angled the device in a way that would prevent her from seeing what almost split his face into two with a grin he had to bite back.

 

I still grab your favorite brand of orange juice at the convenience store.

 

It was such a simple sentence, simple words, simple human emotions and yet, Baekhyun felt his mood lighten as he read over Junki’s message once more. Simple words that held a deeper meaning. Simple words that let Baekhyun know that despite having ended things days ago and Junki not having contacted him in a while, his mark was still carved into the other’s life. Simple words that rushed delight through Baekhyun’s veins.

 

"Would you like to go grocery shopping, Joohyun?" he suddenly asked, the thought leaving his lips without any kind of hesitation. He slid his phone back into his pocket and looked at the beautiful young woman holding his hand with her smaller one. The temperature of her skin seeped into Baekhyun’s. "I can buy you sweets."

 

"How do you always know what I want before I even say it?" was Joohyun’s reply, smile wide and merry, her hand squeezing Baekhyun’s tighter while her other one grabbed his arm.

 

"I must be good at reading cute people," Baekhyun replied, brushing his fingers along her shoulder and her silky, dark hair.

 

Life was nothing but a big theatre hall and maybe that explained why the grocery store Junki usually went shopping at was only a few blocks away from where they were taking a stroll. It didn’t take long to reach it and Baekhyun didn’t rush Joohyun. He didn’t want her to get suspicious about this sudden suggestion and ultimately, whether they managed to catch Junki there or not didn’t matter to him. If they did, it would add more liveliness to his afternoon and if they didn’t, then it would remain as nothing but a missed opportunity.

 

As soon as they stepped into the store, Baekhyun  let her wander around and drag him from aisle to aisle. He took the occasion to scan his surroundings and maybe catch a glimpse of the reason why he was here in the first place. 

 

They wandered into the sweets aisle and while Joohyun looked through every single product to find whatever it was that she really wanted to eat, Baekhyun caught sight of a tall, slim figure on the vegetables corner of the store. He was looking at cucumbers, staring at the long, green vegetable that Baekhyun hated. 

 

Before he could even think of a way to catch Junki’s attention, Joohyun suddenly called his name as she grabbed a pack of candies she claimed to have loved very much as a child. Baekhyun caught sight of  Junki turning towards them before he gave his entire attention to Joohyun and felt a heavy gaze on the back of his head.

 

He smiled down at her as she excitedly told him about that one time her mother had to take her to the doctor because she had eaten two whole packs of this particular candy and her stomach hurt too bad. Without any hesitation, Baekhyun cupped her cheek while she was still talking and looked into her widened, beautiful eyes for a second. He took in their delighted sparkle and the way she nestled into his touch before leaning down and kissing her. Her lips were soft, the glare piercing through his nape was sharp. 

 

A few seconds later, Baekhyun broke the kiss, smiling down at the dazed look Joohyun was giving him, her eyes lingering on his lips as if she could still feel them against hers. He discreetly looked over his shoulder and caught Junki’s shattered gaze, the cracks in his features dragging his eyebrows down, digging into his sunken cheeks, and whitening his lips as they were pressed together, as if he had a hard time keeping his words in. 

 

To Baekhyun’s eyes, he cracked and split like dried out soil. To Baekhyun, that meant he was still the only one able to nourish that soil and coax beautiful flowers out of it, only to effortlessly crush them with the sole of his feet again if he so desired. 

 

To Baekhyun, that came with an overwhelming wave of satisfaction and relief.

 

Junki turned around and walked off, leaving Baekhyun to beam back down at Joohyun.

 

The rest of their date was much more enjoyable.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

"Be careful on your way," Baekhyun said to Joohyun an hour later, the crowd in the subway station almost drowning out his voice out as he tucked a strand of hair behind her ear.

 

"Don’t worry," she groaned playfully, as if she didn’t like his nagging when Baekhyun knew for a fact it always made her smile and turn into a bundle of happiness. 

 

"If you get scared while walking, just call me. I’ll talk to you until you reach your house," he added,  voice flavored with honey and care as he patted her head one last time before pushing her towards the subway train that was slowing down to a stop in the station.

 

She glanced at it before quickly tiptoeing to press a kiss against Baekhyun’s lips and immediately turning around and running towards the opening doors. Baekhyun smiled at her as she waved from behind the window after getting in and stayed there until she departed, waiting a second before sighing, smile fading away. She had been very talkative today. He could feel a headache knocking faintly against his temples.

 

Fortunately, he had nothing else to do today so he could now head back home and just laze around for the rest of the day. He waited no more than three minutes for his own line of subway to arrive. It was almost evening, meaning that the station and the cars would be more crowded than usual and Baekhyun didn’t manage to catch a seat but he didn’t really mind. 

 

He leaned against the wall and looked at his reflection on the window across from where he stood. The wind had picked strands of his hair away from the orderly middle part Baekhyun had given it before getting out of his house. He crinkled his nose and raised a hand, running his fingers through his hair to weave the imperfections away. The collar of his shirt was a little crooked. He adjusted it, evening out its spread over his collarbones. He looked down at his shoes. The laces were still tied, the bows a reflection of each other. The cuffs of his jeans didn’t look misplaced, didn’t ride up his ankle or flow down his sneakers. It was the perfect fit. 

 

He looked back up at his reflection, tilting his head a little bit, baring his neck. There was no apparent flaw on the coat of makeup curtaining his tattoo, no crease, no fade, no peeking petal or branch. He wasn’t close enough to the window to take a proper look but he didn’t need to check in order to know. 

 

Baekhyun had chosen the best concealer, foundation, and setting powder to cover it all up. He preferred all those layers to simple tattoo cover up products. 

 

Satisfied and with a last look at his undisrupted appearance, Baekhyun focused the reflection of the people surrounding him, a boring sight that remained soothing nonetheless at the end of a busy day. It soon turned too dull and Baekhyun turned his gaze away.

 

That was when he saw him again.

 

They hadn’t encountered each other in the subway for a while now. There wasn't much different about Chanyeol this evening. He seemed to have put a little more care into his clothes today. He was wearing dark skinny jeans and a fitting dress shirt, his hair swept up and away from his face, revealing his forehead and making his ears stick out even more than usual. He was sporting a wide smile, dimples flashing brilliantly. He was handsome.

 

Baekhyun didn’t feel any kind of appreciation at the sight. Not when that smile was directed at a beautiful woman standing right in front of him, the insignificant distance separating them speaking of familiarity and emotional proximity.

 

She was beautiful, dark brown hair cut into a suiting bob, and had wide eyes harmonizing with an even wider smile. She was dressed as modish as Chanyeol was, a cherry red dress flowing down her slender body, baring her slim legs from the knee down, and a tasteful black purse hanging off her shoulder as she laughed at something Chanyeol said.

 

They looked wonderful together, complimentary, fitting. The sight was unpleasant to Baekhyun’s eyes. It wasn’t exactly jealousy, Baekhyun had never really felt that kind of emotion, but maybe it was closer to the possessiveness that a child felt when a toy that didn’t exactly belong to them but that was always in their hands suddenly ended up in someone else’s.

 

That was a familiar emotion, a distasteful one. He felt it whenever all Junmyeon talked about for days on end was that nice date he had with a cute guy. He felt it when Joohyun gushed about that handsome professor at school, a young and successful man who always replied to her emails kindly and offered to help whenever she struggled to understand something. 

 

It was always tangled with a faint swirl of fear that Baekhyun never really understood, or had never really wanted to understand. 

 

He wondered if that woman was Chanyeol’s girlfriend. That would be inconvenient. 

 

He looked away.

 

For the first time, Chanyeol didn’t notice his presence throughout the whole journey and Baekhyun was the one who had to force himself not to look towards the other.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Some things in life, no matter how unpleasant, couldn’t be avoided.

 

That was what Baekhyun had been repeating to himself since the very beginning of this meeting in a room full of corporate people who married their job out of greed. His father, the greediest and cruelest of them all, was settled in his seat at the head of the table, like an emperor overlooking his empire.

 

Baekhyun could hear him wheezing from where he was sitting, not too far away, even if he hadn’t looked at the ill man even once. Or maybe it was just Baekhyun’s imagination, a habit, a reminiscence. Either way, he knew for a fact that his father should’ve stopped coming to the company a long time ago and focused on his health instead. Not that it mattered to him. He merely wished the old man had done so because at least, he would be able to step into this company without the fear of running into his worst nightmare.

 

He had rarely walked into this building since their last encounter but this was an important meeting concerning 4C’s holiday collection set to be released sometime around December, maybe earlier if things went well. August would only be bidding them farewell in a few days but the earlier they started planning on it, the better it would be.

 

Baekhyun remained silent as he listened to people lay out plans and explanations, watching powerpoints and videos, taking notes of reports and suggestions. His father sat there and listened. At least Baekhyun supposed he was listening, he couldn’t tell as he wasn’t looking at him.

 

"The shade selection has already been done," someone said from somewhere around the table, someone whose position Baekhyun wasn’t sure of. What he knew was that the slideshow was presented neatly and it served as a good distraction. "We’re going for glitters and mattes, colors that would fit the holiday season but that could also be worn individually or with other shades from our brand’s various palettes at any other wanted time."

 

"The packaging is what we haven’t really reached a consensus on yet. There are too many suggestions and possibilities," a woman said from the other end of the table. Baekhyun remembered her from the last meeting. Marketing? That could be her branch. "The commercialization and marketing method is also something we haven’t settled on yet."

 

Silence hovered over the whole room for a few seconds, most attendants probably thinking of a solution. Baekhyun looked around. He was bored. His tie felt too tight around his neck. He didn’t loosen it, looking down at his notes instead.

 

"I think we should go for something different from last year’s packaging," he eventually suggested, voice carrying out his words to the whole room with confidence as his gaze met a few curious ones. It wasn’t the first time he would come up with ideas or suggestions. It wouldn’t be the first time his ideas would form a successful result either. "It might be bad for our image if we constantly come out with the same packaging. How about we add a little twist to it for a fresh breath of air? Something new and original combined with what we’re known for, chick and appealing packaging."

 

"That sounds like a bad idea," came a voice from the head of the table and Baekhyun instantly felt his body rigidify, his tie somehow tightening even more around his throat.

 

His father’s voice was nothing but a croak, greasy, rattling in the air. He took a deep breath in, ignored the discomfort prickling down his spine.

 

"How so?" he asked, voice perfectly neutral.

 

The whole room’s atmosphere changed as soon as he pushed those words out of his mouth. Nobody said anything. He could see everyone looking at each other. He could feel the air weighing down on his chest, could almost see it swirling into smoke. He couldn’t wait to go home and get rid of this damn tie.

 

His father’s first answer was a snort, that ugly, disconcerting exhale of air followed by a cough that he couldn’t even conceal. Baekhyun felt no satisfaction, no concern either. He couldn’t really feel anything but the tension coursing through every single muscle in his body.

 

"I’m not willing to risk anything by letting you take the lead of things," the old man replied, slow, struggle nestled under every single one of his words.

 

Baekhyun felt like laughing. He had suggested one simple, tiny thing. He had never expressed any form of desire towards taking the lead of this product’s marketization. It wasn’t even his job. Though, did he really have one fixed job in this company? Or was his father letting him do things here and there because it would be bad for the family’s image if his second son didn’t get involved in the family business? He already knew the answers to his own questions.

 

"I’ve never said anything about wanting to take the lead. It was only a suggestion," Baekhyun calmly replied because everyone was looking at him, expecting him to say something.

 

"You might ruin this product and the image of our company," was the reply given to him, as if his father hadn’t even hear anything he had just said and only now gathered the strength to finish his sentence from earlier.

 

Baekhyun’s grip around his tablet tightened, knuckles freezing into white but not trembling. His expression remained neutral but he could feel pain pulsing in his jaw from how hard he was clenching it to keep everything in. He was already being humiliated, he shouldn’t lose his composure and worsen things.

 

However, a single glance at his father and a single glimpse of his twisted, sly, putrid smile tainted yellow by years of smoking and mocking Baekhyun was enough for him to lose it.

 

"And what exactly gave you that impression?" he questioned, voice low, quiet, but echoing through the shivering silence of the room. "Haven’t I always done everything for the company’s growth? Have I ever affected it in any kind of negative way?"

 

He knew for a fact that he had helped in its growth. He knew it. 

 

Everyone’s gaze on him was heavy. Gazes usually felt like dainty petals grazing his skin but today, at this exact moment, Baekhyun felt every single glance thrown at him crystallizing into ice and piercing through him painfully. It all liquefied in his stomach, weighing it down, stirring its content into nausea. Humiliation trickled through his veins, inserted into him through the tip of every single one of those ice shards. Even the tie around his neck felt solid, cold, clinging to his skin stubbornly as if he’d never be able to take it off ever again.

 

"How can you know what’s good for the company when you’re never here?"

 

Baekhyun felt the incredible urge to laugh. Again. Whose fault was it? Whose fucking fault was it?

 

That was what he wanted to ask. That was what he should ask. That was what he would’ve said had those words been thrown at him by any other person inhabiting this rotten world. But it was his father.

 

It was his father whose wide, unappealing smile he could feel, stretching out even more, expanding perfectly in sync with the humiliation Baekhyun had hoped he would be able to avoid today. If only he had kept his mouth shut. If only he hadn’t said anything. 

 

Someone cleared their throat. Everyone was restless and fidgety on their seats. Everyone except Baekhyun who felt frozen in time and his father who controlled the ticks and tocks of the clock from where he was sprawled on his expensive seat like a mass of smoke and fog and ice and decaying substances Baekhyun could feel infecting his blood with each small breath he forced himself to drag into his lungs.

 

He remained silent for the rest of the meeting.

 

He was the first one to rush out of the room at the end, humiliation still strong enough to take over his entire being and control him at its will.

 

This time, he was the first one to seek for a name in his contacts’ list and emit a call of a whole different kind of despair.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The hands trailing over his body were scalding hot, the marks and spots of pain they left over his skin were sizzling.

 

The words whispered into his ears were tainted with longing, desire, anger, despair, but most importantly, a deep feeling of love that Baekhyun could feel in the air he breathed in. Lips pressed against his harshly, biting, licking, and worshipping his couplets as if they were the two last petals to grow on Earth. But they weren’t. 

 

They weren’t because those same lips scattered kisses down his cheek, along his jaw, his neck, lingering the slightest bit on the faint protuberance of his adam’s apple, before kissing the inky petals laying over the side of his neck and shoulder, the branches patterned into his collarbones.

 

Baekhyun felt flames all over, bursting in his chest, in his stomach, blown into his body with each harsh, erratic thrust. Each word of love offered to him and him alone melted away the needles planted all over him. 

 

He was loved. 

 

He was loved

 

Baekhyun was loved.

 

He could feel it in the way Junki’s hands never once let go of him as he thrust into him, pleasured him, breathing him in between each bruising kiss.

 

He could feel it in the broken voice with which Junki muttered dazed, hazy words to him. As if he was under a spell, as if he was down on his knees and Baekhyun’s name was the only prayer that could grant him redemption. As if he was nothing but a broken doll that came alive only when Baekhyun tugged on the strings and pulled him closer and closer and closer because he craved the touch and the dependency and the love.

 

He was ruined.

 

He was ruined.

 

Baekhyun was ruining him.

 

Just like he was supposed to.

 

"Why are you coming back just when I was getting over you?" Junki asked, pleaded, cried, voice breathy, breathless, breezy, and bedazzled as he dived into Baekhyun’s eyes. 

 

Heat burst through Baekhyun, licking through his veins, boiling in his chest, melting his body away. He dug his fingers into Junki’s shoulders, his back, his arms, his heart, and his soul. He left marks, some would linger in the morning, some would fade away after a few days, others would remain there forever, in the shape of Baekhyun’s smile, Baekhyun’s presence, Baekhyun’s hunger, Baekhyun.

 

He could almost feel it. Something in him reaching out to Junki, wrapping all around him, swirling in the air and morphing into shards and claws and thorns and digging in, digging in, digging in deeper until they could suck every single drop of love and quench the unending thirst ruling over Baekhyun since the very beginning. Or the end. Sometimes, he confused these two.

 

He brought his hand up, chest heaving. He wasn’t drowning. He was breathing. He was breathing better than he had throughout the whole day. There was no smoke, no fog. Only love and dependence and ownership offered to him on a silver plate. 

 

His fingers feathered over Junki’s cheek, his skin felt on fire under Baekhyun’s palm. He traced his thumb over the apple of his cheek, touching, memorizing.

 

Junki’s eyes were hooded, glazed over, Baekhyun knew he would see his reflection in his irises if moonlight wasn’t shrouding them from sunlight. He loved seeing his reflection in their eyes, it felt like he was right in there, right inside of them, right in the biggest corner of their head, making sure that they would remember and love him until the end of time, even when a part of them would hate him more than anything else.

 

"If you were getting over me, you wouldn’t have picked up the phone on the first ring," Baekhyun whispered softly against Junki’s lips, pressing a small kiss on the corner, and then the other corner. He felt Junki’s breath hitching at his words, as if they had tightened one of the strings Baekhyun was holding around his neck.

 

He pulled his lower lip into his mouth and that seemed to breathe life back into Junki who took over and pulled him into a bruising kiss, anger and hatred, love and care singing into Baekhyun’s ears like the richest of melodies.

 

When day peeked over the clouds hours later, after a night spent in the revitalizing embrace of someone unable to breathe without him, Baekhyun felt like a frail plum flower blossoming on the day spring closed winter’s gates and locked it out from the world.

 

He chose to leave Junki tangled in that cold spell until the end of time, thorns the only glimpse of spring Baekhyun marked him with before disappearing along with the last streaks of moonlight.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It was around noon when Baekhyun woke up.

 

Eyes fluttering open, he took a deep breath in and blinked a few times to get rid of the haziness on the corners of his sight before staring up at the ceiling.

 

He didn’t feel particularly happy. He didn’t feel particularly sad either. There was just something weird in his chest. Or was it his stomach? He wasn’t sure. He felt like that weird sensation occupied his entire body. Maybe that was the source of the discomfort he felt trapped in despite having opened his eyes to a new day.

 

He shifted in bed, grabbing his phone from the nightstand beside his bed and checking the time. Today was Saturday. Saturdays meant piano lessons. He felt the discomfort thawing a little on the edges, eaten up by an odd kind of giddiness and excitement. Maybe a night with Junki followed by an hour with Chanyeol would help him completely recover from yesterday’s disastrous meeting.

 

Though, now that he thought about it, there wasn’t much happening with Chanyeol that could make him feel better. They were still barely a step ahead of being strangers. Baekhyun wouldn’t even call them friends and despite the attraction being transparent most of the time, he wasn’t sure why he thought that it would make him feel better to spend some time with the other. 

 

Maybe because the thought alone of Chanyeol loving him one day was enough for him to feel calming waves of delight hovering over his body. Or maybe it was just the way Chanyeol couldn’t seem to ever be able to take his eyes off him. Maybe it was because it had been a long while since he had last encountered someone as restful and kind as Chanyeol. He couldn’t even remember someone he could possibly liken to Chanyeol.

 

He felt something resting heavily on his chest.

 

The thought of accelerating things popped in his head. He just wanted to get to the point quickly.

 

He needed to work. He should definitely spend part of his day working. He had to get ready for the lesson. He didn’t really feel like working when yesterday’s humiliation was still so fresh he could almost still feel his father’s piercing gaze digging holes into his skull. He should get up and grab something to eat. He was hungry. Had he gone grocery shopping lately? He wasn’t sure.

 

With a sigh, he sat up and stretched his arms over his head, phone still held tightly in his hand before it dropped to the bed along with his hands when he was done stretching. He pushed the blanket away, a little hot. Before he could get up and tweak with the air-conditioning to make the summer heat more bearable, his phone suddenly rang in his hand, calling for his attention. 

 

The name that greeted him was one he wasn’t awaiting.

 

"Hello?" he said curiously after picking up the call.

 

"Baekhyun?" Chanyeol’s low voice asked from the other end of the line. His voice sounded even deeper through the phone, like a summer breeze but not the unpleasant kind that Baekhyun had almost groaned about a second ago. He didn’t sound as calm as usual. "Sorry for calling you so unexpectedly."

 

"It’s alright," Baekhyun said and it took a few seconds for his groggy mind to remember that he had given Chanyeol his number in the inscription forms and that the latter had also given his to Baekhyun in case of an emergency. "Is something wrong?"

 

Chanyeol remained silent for a breath. "Not really," he eventually answered but he sounded hesitant, agitation stirring his voice a little bit. "I just called to tell you that there would be no class today."

 

Baekhyun felt his heart dropping into his stomach.

 

"Why? Did something happen?" he questioned. Not in curiosity. Not even in concern. Disappointment. Baekhyun felt let down.

 

"No, no," Chanyeol reassured him and Baekhyun could hear some kind of rustling and a few other voices in the background. "I just completely forgot that the academy would be closed today. We have a show this evening and we’ve been preparing it for months but that slipped out of my mind when we made your class schedule. I’m really sorry, we can reschedule later if you’d like."

 

It was very inconvenient and Baekhyun even felt irritation pick at the back of his mind with a thin, barely noticeable needle but he supposed there wasn’t anything they could do about it.

 

"It’s okay, I understand. I hope the show will be a success."

 

"Thank you," Chanyeol said and if Baekhyun wasn’t mistaken, that sounded like his voice whenever he smiled and talked at the same time. Although, a bit lighter than usual, words a bit sloppier. "I have to go now but we’ll talk about it later. Sorry again!"

 

And with that, a beep replaced Chanyeol’s voice before Baekhyun could even greet him back.

 

With a loud and long sigh, he fell back against the bed, mood switching from dampened to effectively drowned. He supposed he would have no choice but to work from home the whole day.

 

He moved to burrow deeper under his blanket, phone twinkling in his hand once. This time, he sighed and waited a whole minute to look at the screen. Hope filled him up when he saw Junmyeon’s name.

 

I’ll pick you up at 3.

 

Baekhyun read over the message twice, trying to recall a forgotten promise.

 

For what? Where are we going?

 

Really, Baekhyun? 

My niece’s piano thing is today! This afternoon, at 4. 

You didn’t change your mind, did you?

 

Sometimes, Baekhyun told himself that he was grateful for Junmyeon hanging onto him when they were fifteen despite Baekhyun trying to push him away by either getting into his pants or criticizing him at every chance he got when he failed to do so. Sometimes, he was really grateful that Junmyeon had never fallen for his tricks when Baekhyun was young and had just discovered how nice it felt to have someone in love with him.

 

He was so grateful that he didn’t even actually feel bad about forgetting the promise he had made Junmyeon about accompanying him to this piano recital. It would take his mind off things a little bit and piano would still be involved in part of his day.

 

It depends

Are you going to feed me first or not?

 

 

Fine, you gold digger.

I’ll pick you up in half an hour.

 

Baekhyun’s face broke out into a wide smile. Junmyeon was obviously leaving him only half an hour to get ready as some kind of childish revenge but Baekhyun didn’t mind. At least it gave him a reason to get out of bed right away.

 

He quickly washed up, taking note of every single mark Junki had left on his body last night. They were faint, only bruises on his hips in the forms of fingertips and red patches over his chest that would fade throughout the day. The only thing he crinkled his nose at was a mark right under a branch painted on his collarbone that he noticed only when he looked into the mirror after his shower.

 

He chose simple but stylish clothes, fitted jeans and a plain white shirt that fortunately didn’t let the mark near his collarbone peak through. He would put on that one navy blue jacket he liked to add a little more formality to his outfit and hope the performance hall would be air-conditioned. 

 

As he combed his hair, he studied himself in the mirror, his droopy eyes, his nose, the lights of the bathroom reflecting in the mirror and twinkling in his eyes. His skin was a bit tanned, kissed very recently by the summer sun, but he could still perfectly see that tiny mole right above his mouth, his lips naturally pinkish. Fortunately they weren’t chapped today.

 

His shirt wasn’t crooked, it fit perfectly snug over his muscled chest and his broad shoulders. His hair fell over his forehead, fluffy since he had just dried it up, black and shining a little bit, catching the lights.

 

He looked perfect. The same, usual sight as always.

 

He felt something akin to sadness knock against his heart once before disappearing, like a mischievous child playing a silly prank. Baekhyun didn’t rush to the door, didn’t open it to find the source of it.

 

He let his eyes glide down over his reflection until he could look at the black plum blossoms resting over the left side of his neck, sneaking away from his shirt’s collar and up towards his ear. It looked nice, the sight brought a little smile to his lips. He had this tattoo on for a few years now but it always made him a bit joyful to see it on himself.

 

It was the only flaw he could catch on his reflection.

 

When Junmyeon messaged him again to let him know he was waiting for him outside, Baekhyun chose to go out without concealing the flowers inked on his skin for the first time in weeks.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Junmyeon’s family was fairly easy to deal with, especially this particular aunt whose entire life revolved around her children.

 

There had been short greetings and Baekhyun had prevented himself from talking too much and having too much fun with a pleasant woman who had such a lovely and loud laugh because Baekhyun please stop deliberately trying to seduce my aunt, that’s fucking weird. Baekhyun should’ve known Junmyeon had taken him to eat first just to tell him to behave in front of his family. Fortunately, the food had been good enough and Baekhyun appreciated his best friend enough to let him fret over nonsensical things. Baekhyun had never deliberately tried seducing Junmyeon’s aunt. She was married and Baekhyun had his limits, it was just very funny to watch her get even more easily flustered than Junmyeon’s mother.

 

His day had started a bit unpleasantly but now, as Baekhyun sat in the middle of an audience that was larger than expected, he had an appreciative smile on his face. He had thought this would be one of those elite, wealthy-people-show kind of recital but it really wasn’t. The entire hall was filled with supportive families and, from what he gathered, music enthusiasts.

 

The show was nice too, Junmyeon’s niece had been the opening act, playing one of Chopin’s pieces almost perfectly and impressing everyone in the audience. Even Junmyeon looked a little proud for someone who had never been particularly interested or appreciative of music, especially piano. The following children were younger than he expected, adorable as they all sang under the direction of a kind-looking man. Only a few of them went out of tune and rather than disappointment, the whole audience seemed to be taken by endearment. 

 

Baekhyun himself felt happier than he had expected when a small group of young children took place on the stage, each of them holding a near-perfect posture as they played violin. One of them had dropped his stick and looked at the audience as if he had committed the worst of crimes, his eyes wide and lower lip already trembling. All it took was for a female voice, probably his mother, to call what seemed to be his name to encourage him. Baekhyun’s heart squeezed. The performance went on smoothly.

 

It was only halfway through the show that he noticed something odd. At one point, he glanced toward the very edge of the stage, where the red, velvety curtains were pulled together and the teachers or the crew were most probably hiding, confusing filling him up when he caught glimpse of a familiar face. It was very quick and he couldn’t see well but he swore he had seen curled lips and very straight eyebrows that oddly looked like Jongdae’s.

 

Quietly, he leaned a bit towards Junmyeon sitting next to him.

 

"Didn't you say your niece took piano classes at home?" he whispered, low enough not to disturb anyone around them or the performance on stage.

 

Junmyeon gave him a confused look.

 

"She does. The teacher comes to their house. I’ve never seen him though."

 

Baekhyun furrowed his eyebrows. Chanyeol had said that Jongdae did give classes outside of the academy. Chanyeol had also talked about a show earlier. Could it be that this was the show he had talked about?

 

His chest tingled a bit in excitement at the thought of such a coincidence still bringing him together with Chanyeol despite a change in his plans. Sometimes, Baekhyun considered himself to be very lucky. 

 

He didn’t say anything for the rest of the show, merely watching with a newfound kind of interest as children and teenagers came and went. Jongdae himself showed up on stage at one point to lead a chorus of teenagers and that was all Baekhyun needed to get his confirmation. He could barely pay attention to the beautiful harmony, too busy wondering if Chanyeol was there, if he could accidentally run into him backstage, and what he could tell him.

 

The rest of the show was almost a blur of melodies and symphonies, voices merging together, rising from deep instrumental cages or human chords, dancing in the air and spreading joy through the whole audience. At one point, the enchanting tune of traditional Korean instruments called for his attention and Baekhyun watched, mesmerized as young girls dressed in pastel colored hanbok let their slender fingers dance over the strings of their gayageum.

 

Soon, the show came to an end and both the young musicians and the teachers gathered on the stage for a last, collective bow as they were showered in applause and cheers. Baekhyun’s eyes found Chanyeol and he didn’t look away, not even bothering to fight the smile spreading on his lips. He was dressed in all black, a plain black shirt along with black jeans, not ripped this time. His hair looked fluffy and a bit disorderly. He had obviously been running around a lot backstage.

 

"Why are you smiling so hard?" Junmyeon asked him when the noise died down and the crew started leaving the stage.

 

Baekhyun turned to him, smile turning enigmatic.

 

"I’m just very satisfied." Junmyeon seemed not to make much sense out of that answer. "Are you going backstage to see your niece later?"

 

"I am," Junmyeon replied, studying him. "Why?"

 

"Perfect then," Baekhyun simply said.

 

He followed Junmyeon and his family as they went backstage, bouquet held in hand and soon, given to a young, lovely girl who had really promising piano skills. Baekhyun congratulated her and even nudged her towards giving him piano lessons, her wide and almost sheepish smile an endearing sight to his eyes. Junmyeon, charming as ever, told her that he wished she was born earlier so he wouldn’t have had to be scolded by his mother for being so bad at playing piano. That was a lie. Baekhyun had tried giving him piano classes. He had still gotten scolded by his mother for failing to coordinate his fingers properly.

 

The broad dressing room was bursting with people, a lot of them congratulating their children, taking pictures, giving flowers, and offering words of praise and pride. Baekhyun’s gaze trailed around, seeking, and then twinkling when he finally localized Chanyeol talking to a family of two children at the other side of the room. It was the little boy who had dropped his violin stick earlier and one of the young girls who had played the gayageum

 

With a smile, Baekhyun grabbed Junmyeon’s wrist and excused the both of them, both his aunt and her husband too busy showering their daughter in praises to even mind the fact that they were leaving without a word. 

 

Chanyeol was already done talking with the family from earlier and was just greeting everyone with wide smiles and respectful bows, ruffling the younger children’s hair with pride dusted on the corners of his lips.

 

It only took a few seconds for his eyes to meet Chanyeol’s and as the latter’s expression morphed into one of surprise, Baekhyun mimicked it, stopping in his tracks. He could feel confusion radiating from Junmyeon next to him but fortunately, he was used to Baekhyun’s antics. He had learned years ago not to ask too many questions in times that could be inappropriate for Baekhyun’s games, as he so kindly called them with that half playful, half disapproving narrow of his eyes.

 

"Baekhyun?" Chanyeol asked as he stepped closer to them, the surprise in his eyes overshadowed by tiny sparks of joy. He was happy to see Baekhyun. That was yet another good sign. "What are you doing here?"

 

"That’s exactly what I was asking myself when I saw you bowing with everyone on stage," Baekhyun chuckled softly, letting go of Junmyeon’s wrist and tilting his head just a little bit. He saw Chanyeol’s eyes flickering to his neck, taking in the inky petals etched there and widening a bit before he seemed to realize that Baekhyun had spoken and their eyes met again.

 

"You were in the audience?" he inquired with surprise.

 

"Yeah, I was invited to watch the show and really didn’t make the link with what you told me earlier when cancelling our lesson," he said sheepishly before giving the other an intrigued look, paired with a playful smile. "We keep unexpectedly meeting in the oddest places. I’m starting to think that the universe wants us to be together," he laughed.

 

Chanyeol looked at him in surprise for a fleeting second before laughing along, one corner of his lips remaining stretched up in a crooked smile afterwards.

 

"It does look like it," was all he said and Baekhyun liked this kind of reaction to his flirty remarks. He caught Chanyeol’s finger tugging slightly on the hem of his shirt. The crooked smile then dampened into one filled with apologies. "I’m sorry, I actually wanted to invite you to the show as an apology for cancelling our lesson but I was so busy running around and panicking the whole day that it completely slipped out of my mind when I called you."

 

It was obvious that Chanyeol felt really bad about it in the way he was looking at Baekhyun. 

 

"It’s alright. You were probably just working too hard and it looks like fate took care of it for us anyway," he settled on saying with an easy smile, wanting the other to feel reassured. This shouldn’t put a strain to their faint relationship. Relief immediately slackened Chanyeol’s expression into a smile that looked almost bashful, maybe a bit pleased. "I didn’t know you had recitals."

 

"We have them every year, in August," Chanyeol replied, the same childlike excitement taking over him like it always did whenever he was passionately talking about music or his job in general. "It’s a way for us to motivate kids to learn and practice by giving them an actual reason to. It also puts their talent into use. It’s not fun if all they do is learn but never perform and show off what they actually learned through the whole year. Especially since some of them consider this as nothing but a hobby and barely do any music outside of their classes."

 

"That’s very nice of you. I can see why this would work for everyone," he smiled. Chanyeol could talk on and on about music without stopping. Baekhyun liked that. Realizing that Junmyeon had been looking at him insistently for a while now, he looked back at him. "Oh, sorry I didn’t introduce you two," he laughed sheepishly. "This is Junmyeon, my closest friend," he presented while pulling Junmyeon a bit closer. "And Junmyeon, this is Chanyeol. You know, the guy I talked to you about," he said vaguely.

 

He caught Chanyeol’s smile widening appreciatively as he gave Baekhyun a curious look before bowing at Junmyeon and shaking his hand afterwards. Chanyeol was probably wondering what exactly Baekhyun had said to Junmyeon about him. Junmyeon immediately caught on and gave Chanyeol a wide smile.

 

"Hello," Chanyeol greeted him with a bow. "I hope you enjoyed the show."

 

"It was wonderful," Junmyeon smiled back, ever-so polite and friendly. "My niece was the one doing the opening act."

 

"Oh, you’re Sehee’s relative?" Chanyeol asked with surprise. He really seemed to be close to every single one of his students. "She worked really hard this year. She deserved to open the show for us."

 

"Thank you, I’m sure you played a big role in that," Junmyeon said before looking at Baekhyun. "So this is where you take piano lessons? No wonder. The stage was full of children. You’d fit along really well next year."

 

"Don’t be rude," Baekhyun whined only faintly, narrowing his eyes in mock threat and weaky punching Junmyeon’s arm. His best friend laughed, no regret whatsoever.

 

He felt Chanyeol’s gaze on him and when he looked up to meet it, the teacher looked away and at Junmyeon instead, the smile on his lips faint now. Baekhyun gave him a curious look but before he could say anything, a very enthusiastic mother called for Chanyeol and the latter immediately looked towards her with a wide smile, waving a little.

 

"Sorry, I have to go and greet a few more people," he apologized with a smile and Baekhyun shook his head.

 

"It’s alright, you’re having a really busy day. We’re still on for Wednesday, right?" Baekhyun asked, letting hope settle on his voice. This time, it was barely even exaggerated.

 

"Of course! I promise I won’t cancel our classes out of nowhere anymore," Chanyeol laughed sheepishly.

 

They greeted each other and with a last friendly smile offered to Junmyeon, Chanyeol turned around and merged into the rest of the crowd. He didn’t really disappear, he couldn’t when he was taller than most people occupying the room, the top of his head still visible wherever he went. Baekhyun felt something akin to delight cradling his chest softly.

 

"So that’s your newest victim," Junmyeon said once Chanyeol was far enough, pulling him out of his thoughts.

 

Used to this kind of remark, Baekhyun only rolled his eyes.

 

"Did he look anything like a victim?"

 

Junmyeon hummed, gaze following Chanyeol’s backside as he weaved through families and children and offered a smile to every single person meeting his gaze.

 

"I can see why you’re after him. He looks very handsome and kind," Junmyeon noted. Baekhyun considered the thoughtful expression spread over his best friend’s face curiously. "He also kind of looks at you like you’re a gem."

 

A grin blossomed on Baekhyun’s face, reaching for the light brightening in his eyes.

 

"Does he?" he asked with feigned surprise.

 

Junmyeon shook his head at him, seeing right through his act and laughing.

 

Baekhyun’s day had gotten considerably better.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Two weeks later, September swept summer away with cooler breezes and dulling colors.

 

September came with regular piano classes and a blossoming friendship with a charming pianist. They could call each other friends now. They hadn’t met a single time outside of the academy and the  coincidental subway run-ins where they smiled at each other and Baekhyun often felt Chanyeol’s gaze on him, but he could say that they were closer now.

 

As it turned out, they shared lots of common interests. Chanyeol liked computer games as much as Baekhyun did, he liked traveling as much as Baekhyun, and they even shared similar tastes in food as Baekhyun found out on a random conversation sparked from Chanyeol commenting that he was hungry out of nowhere halfway through a lesson. 

 

Baekhyun still found him agreeable. With his big eyes, his big ears, his even bigger smiles, and his big hoodies that he had started wearing as soon as September peeked its nose into the world for the first time that year.

 

Their lessons were going well. Baekhyun would’ve felt bored most of the time while learning Bach’s Prelude to the Well Tempered Clavichord but Chanyeol made it interesting enough, somehow managing to sense Baekhyun’s impending boredom and associating it to discouragement which he seemed to like curing by giving his students challenges. That worked for Baekhyun, not only because he had an incredible competitive spirit but also because he had the skill to meet those challenges most of the time. Sometimes, he failed on purpose in order not to expose himself to Chanyeol and the sour feeling of losing a challenge was often swept away by Chanyeol’s encouraging words. It was cute.

 

They still joked around a lot, Chanyeol was as playful as him, laughter came easily between them. Spending time with Chanyeol was very soothing, even as just friends, for now.

 

What hadn’t been as soothing today was spending part of his day with Joohyun. His mood had waned a little. Baekhyun couldn’t enjoy how eager for his attention she was anymore.  She asked for too much time, too many things, wanted too much love that Baekhyun didn’t have to offer. Earlier, she had even hinted at the lack of label on their relationship. That was a clear sign that Baekhyun should end things quickly.

 

The subway entered into the station, pulling Baekhyun out of his thoughts and closer to the crowd gathering in front of the parting doors instead. As usual, there was a lot of people. 

 

Baekhyun was busy with his phone when he felt something that was now so familiar it almost seemed to have accompanied him his entire life..

 

It took him a few seconds to meet Chanyeol’s gaze. This time, he was standing right across from Baekhyun, leaning against the window. He gave Baekhyun a light smile. He didn’t look surprised and there was no such feeling bubbling in Baekhyun either. They were now nearly expecting one another.

 

This time, Baekhyun didn’t wait for the end of his journey to approach the other. He greeted him, and only a second later walked towards him with slow, careful steps and a wide smile.

 

"Looks like fate keeps bringing us together."

 

"I think it might just be the very punctual subway system of our country," was Chanyeol’s mirthful answer to him.

 

His low, deep voice tickled twinkling notes of laughter out of Baekhyun.

 

There was just something refreshing about Chanyeol. Was it because Baekhyun had never really spent so long being friends — or at the very least acquaintances — with anyone? He wasn’t sure but whatever it was that made him feel this way, he appreciated it a lot.

 

"You’re alone today," Baekhyun remarked. He was still curious about that woman but had never really had the occasion to bring it up without it making him sound too invested in Chanyeol.

 

The subway whirred noticeably around them. Chanyeol looked soft under the subway’s artificial lights. His hair was fluffy, halfway between curly and straight, and his bangs were getting too long, Baekhyun could see it from the way he blinked way too often, as if his bangs tickled his eyelashes but he was too lazy to brush them away. The lights of the car formed a dim halo all around him, lightening his dark, mussed hair but not overtaking the natural sparkle of his eyes.  

 

The hoodie he was wearing was one Baekhyun was familiar with. It was the oversized one, black with purple words scribbled on the back of it, loose around Chanyeol who, to Baekhyun, felt like nothing less than a delectable caress of sunlight in it. 

 

"I think I saw a pretty woman with you that one time," he explained when Chanyeol only gave him a confused look. 

 

Realization slowly spread through Chanyeol’s features. He laughed softly.

 

"You’re talking about my sister. I didn’t even notice you around that day," Chanyeol answered and Baekhyun refused to pay attention to the faint, barely noticeable sour taste in his mouth.

 

"Your sister?" he asked, making sure not to let the relief washing over him drip into his voice.

 

Now that he thought about it, they did look quite alike but he had been so busy trying not to look at them that he had barely even noticed it. It had been a bit silly of him to jump to conclusions like that. He probably would’ve been able to figure what kind of relationship they had with a bit of attention. It wasn’t like him at all but Baekhyun simply put the blame on how tired he had been feeling that day.

 

"Yeah, that was my sister. We hang out together at least once a week but she rarely takes the subway. She has her own car and can’t be bothered with this," he said with a faint huff as he gestured to the crowd around them.

 

"She is very beautiful. I thought she might be a friend or even a girlfriend," he said with a teasing smile to which Chanyeol simply shook his head.

 

"Oh, no. The only thing close to a girlfriend in my life is this cute five years old student I teach guitar to," he explained, leaning just a little bit closer to Baekhyun as if he was sharing a secret. "She says she wants to marry me when she grows older so we can make music together forever."

 

Baekhyun couldn’t help but laugh at that. The image of a very smiley and very happy Chanyeol looking down at a small child in fondness as she uttered those words to him was sweet.

 

"I’m glad then," he said, catching Chanyeol’s gaze for a second.

 

"You’ve been alone for a while too," he hummed, gaze attentive on Baekhyun’s face. Baekhyun felt it sting a little.

 

"I’m always alone," Baekhyun said as if it was no big deal.

 

Had he seen Baekhyun with Joohyun? He wasn’t sure at what stop Chanyeol usually got into the train. Out of all the times Baekhyun had seen him, he had never seen him boarding the train so he supposed he was always in before Baekhyun was. Or got in while Baekhyun was distracted by his phone. But Baekhyun hadn’t taken the subway with Joohyun in a while now anyway. Maybe that was a general statement about Baekhyun always being alone in the subway whenever they saw each other.

 

He couldn’t find the answers he sought on Chanyeol’s face. Baekhyun willed the worry away. There was no way Chanyeol could’ve seen him with anyone when he had indeed been alone through his subway journeys lately.

 

He saw Chanyeol’s smile widen before it was concealed when he spoke again.

 

"What about you? Why are you in the subway?" he asked before realizing how it sounded and correcting himself with a wave of his hand. "I mean, I’ve seen you several times now. You’re always either wearing an expensive suit or simple clothes. You even have a tattoo on your neck. I can’t figure out what you do."

 

"Take a guess," Baekhyun smiled, amusement lifting one corner of his mouth higher than the other as he looked up at Chanyeol and waited for the other to look at him more carefully.

 

Chanyeol’s eyes indeed trailed down over his body as he hummed, probably more a sign of playfulness than actual concentration. Baekhyun felt aware of every part of his body as Chanyeol let his gaze graze over him. Chanyeol’s two dark orbs shined with mirth when their gazes met again.

 

"Office work?" 

 

Baekhyun wasn’t wearing a suit today so the few seconds Chanyeol had spent studying him had not helped at all in this suggestion. The thought fueled the amusement he was sure was already dripping from his features.

 

He could lie. Baekhyun could lie, say he just liked dressing expensively even though he was nothing but a high school teacher himself. He could could say he was a lawyer, could even say he was a producer to draw Chanyeol in with something that would appeal to the musical side of him. He took a last look at the eagerness and curiosity twinkling in Chanyeol’s eyes and settled on being truthful this one time.

 

"I work in my father’s cosmetics company," he said with no particular emotion. 

 

"Oh, really? What brand is it?"

 

"4C. Maybe you’ve heard of it before."

 

"4C?" Chanyeol repeated, eyes widening and eyebrows raising into that surprised expression of his. "That’s actually my sister’s favorite brand!" he added with enthusiasm.

 

Baekhyun laughed softly, the melodious sound leaving his lips singing with genuineness even if he felt no particular pride or joy at that fact. It wasn’t his company to be proud of.

 

"But if it’s your father’s company… Then it means you’re rich," Chanyeol hummed, eyebrows furrowing in confusion. "Why are you here then? I mean, don’t you have an expensive car to drive around?"

 

There was no hint of mockery in his voice, not even a single drop of envy as his words caressed Baekhyun’s ears. Nothing but pure curiosity. Baekhyun had expected a completely different reaction to the revelation of his being considerably wealthy and powerful but Chanyeol was looking at him as if he had just told him he despised music.

 

"I do, in fact, have an expensive car," Baekhyun hummed. "But I don’t really like driving and I prefer crowded places."

 

Chanyeol gave him a weirded out look.

 

"But it looks like you love cars," Baekhyun stated the obvious.

 

"I do," Chanyeol chirped. "I have a driver’s license but I don’t have a car. I feel like it wouldn’t be of much use to me and just sit in my parking lot if I were to invest into one so I’m not thinking of getting one for a few more years."

 

Baekhyun hummed softly before curving his lips into a light smile.

 

"Well, if you ever need a ride or something, don’t hesitate to tell me. I wouldn’t mind," he said and the surprised expression followed by the beaming smile and the starry gaze Chanyeol gave him were an evident sign of success on his part.

 

"Really?"

 

"Of course! I might even let you drive if you ask nicely," he added, playfully nudging the other with his elbow.

 

Chanyeol’s eyes narrowed a little in.

 

"Sounds like you’re just looking for a driver."

 

"I’m not looking for any driver. I’m looking for a handsome driver and you might be perfect for the job," Baekhyun corrected him, tilting his head as he looked up at Chanyeol through his lashes with a telling smile.

 

He looked speechless for a fleeting second before gathering his wits. His eyes flickered to Baekhyun’s neck, maybe looking for a tattoo that Baekhyun had concealed with makeup this morning before going out.

 

"You’re too straightforward," he said then.

 

"You don’t seem to hate it."

 

"I don’t," Chanyeol said, smile contained by the sink of his pearly white teeth into his rosy, petal-like lower lip.

 

Baekhyun’s eyes flickered down to it, quite obviously. He didn’t even try concealing the attention but before either of them could say anything else, the usual robotic female voice announced Baekhyun’s station and he looked back up into Chanyeol’s eyes.

 

"Well, this is me."

 

Chanyeol nodded as the subway train came to a halt and people rushed towards the doors. They both remained idle for a second.

 

"Be careful on your way home," Chanyeol said with a light smile as he energetically waved at Baekhyun who already started stepping back, mirroring his expression.

 

The first breeze ruffling his hair as he stepped out of the subway station was a bit cold but Baekhyun couldn’t focus on anything but the clear rush of air he could feel tickling his insides as those words echoed in his head.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

"I have to leave, Baekhyun."

 

Confusion. That was the only thing registering in the little eight years old boy’s mind as he looked up at the beautiful woman. Beautiful? She didn’t look as beautiful as usual this time. 

 

Dark. She looked dark. Dark circles under her eyes. Dark hair. Dark gaze boring into his. Dark expression smothering him.

 

"Why?" the little boy asked, looking up at his mother through a blur. Blur? His eyes only got blurry whenever he cried.

 

Usually his mother was always there to dry his tears. Wouldn’t she be anymore?

 

"I can’t." A choked voice. Her features were blurry. Her voice seemed to scream at him from far, far away - the choked call of a drowning woman. "Your father… I can’t."

 

"Why?" he asked again. His voice was too loud, he winced at himself.

 

She shushed him, eyes widening. Wide, wide, wide eyes filled with fear.

 

"I can’t live with him anymore. I’m leaving."

 

Panic. He could feel it sneaking into his mouth, through his trembling and parted lips, swamping his throat, flooding his lungs, and squeezing his heart almost hard enough to burst it.

 

"You can’t."

 

A blur. A darker blur. 

 

"You can’t leave me. You can’t leave me. You can’t."

 

She was talking. Saying something. To him. Screaming. He couldn’t hear her but she was screaming.

 

It was foggy all around them. 

 

He stepped towards her.

 

Fog.

 

He stepped forward, forward, and forward again. Step by step, he went down the stairs.

 

She was laying on the floor. 

 

Her eyes were still open, wide with horror. Or was it just the horror veiling his own gaze?

 

A scream. He looked up. Wide eyes. Horror. His father was standing right the summit of the stairs, above them.

 

He stepped forward.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The sensation of stepping down a cliff and arrowing down into an endless pit pulled him out of his slumber with a loud gasp. It echoed in the empty room crammed with nothing but cold air.

 

He breathed it all in, wide eyes staring up at the ceiling. Nothing. Nothing gushed into his lungs. It felt like snow had piled up inside of him, hurting him, punishing him.

 

Why couldn’t he remember?

 

Why couldn’t he remember?

 

Why did everything turn into a haze? Why couldn’t he have the exact image of what had happened? Why couldn’t he see it in his dreams when he knew exactly what had happened? Why did his mind refuse to show him what exactly he had done? He remembered it. Did he remember it? He remembered it. He remembered exactly what had happened that day so why did his nightmares always turn out like this?

 

He parted his lips and breathed in Snow. Maybe it wasn’t snow. Maybe it was crystallized fear. Fear that never melted away, never crumbled down, always weighed him down.

 

It didn’t make sense. It didn’t make sense for Baekhyun to have done that. He would never. He would never do that to her. He had no reason to do that to her. It could’ve been an accident. But how could such thing be an accident? He had only been eight years old at that time. It didn’t make sense. He was wrong. He knew he hadn’t done it. He knew it. 

 

Then why did he remember doing it? Why did he have the image of his small hands struggling and grabbing and pushing in anger somewhere at the back of his head, hazy, blurry, and steamy but there. His memories couldn’t fail him. Could they? Could he ever trust the fog?

 

It didn’t make sense. It had been exactly seventeen years but it still didn’t make sense. He didn’t believe in it. He doubted it, he had always doubted it. But could he really allow himself to doubt something that he had been accused of his whole life? Could he really question what he knew he was through all those years?

 

He didn’t know. He couldn’t focus on anything. 

 

He closed his eyes and turned to lay on his side, hand blindly reaching out to his phone laying on his bedside table. There was a notification. It wasn’t a message, just an Instagram notification. A new video. He took one breath in, and then a second one, held it in, and then released it. He slid his thumb over the screen.

 

It was a video of Chanyeol sitting behind the same grand piano Baekhyun had been practicing on for more than a month now. He brought the phone closer to his face, the luminosity too high, hurting his eyes, but he ignored it. The pianist had a serene expression on his face, his eyes closed and his lips pulled into that faint, natural smile that was always the main accompaniment of his melody. Baekhyun mimicked him, closing his eyes and listening to a melody he was hearing for the first time. Maybe it was a self-composition, maybe it was just a song that Baekhyun had never heard before.

 

Either way, his eyes remained closed until the last caress of Chanyeol’s fingers against ivory keys. Baekhyun felt it console his heart a little. He felt every single note streaming into his soul, pooling against every corner of his ribcage and cradling his heart in an embrace of comfort.

 

They had been regularly seeing each other for the past week, twice in the academy but thrice in the subway. Baekhyun had stopped taking his car to travel around, he had no use for it since he had stopped going to the company and merely went out to run some errands or hang out with Joohyun or Junmyeon. 

 

The last few notes crooned through the speakers of his phone. He opened his eyes. He had no idea why this nightmare chose to visit him again tonight. He spent a lot of time with Chanyeol and even if there was nothing akin to love or affection between them, there was still a budding friendship and pleasantries. Maybe it was because Joohyun was getting busy and coupled with the fact that Baekhyun had stopped taking the subway with her, in case he might run into Chanyeol and ruin things, they couldn’t see each other. Not that she was satisfactory to him anyway.

 

Maybe it was because of his brother’s phone call a few hours ago. He had called from London and as usual, had started their conversation with the news of their father having been taken to the hospital for treatments. He had gone as far as asking Baekhyun to go to their family house in the morning and fetch a photo of their mother for his father. He usually always took it with him whenever he went to the hospital but had seemingly forgotten this time. Baekhyun had argued about it being a bad idea as the man hated it when people touched his photos but Baekbom had let him know he didn’t have the choice. Better Baekhyun than one of their countless maids.

 

He sighed, running a hand through his hair to ruffle it before bringing that same hand down and rubbing his face with it. He turned to lay on his back again and brought the phone closer to his face, staring at the thumbnail of the video for a few seconds. Almost unconsciously, his thumb pressed against the screen and the video started over again, comforting as it slowly chased the fog and the screams away.

 

He replayed the video ten more times before letting slumber take him away from the tender embrace of piano notes.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Everything around Baekhyun was foggy but this time, there was no smoke. There was nothing but the sterile white that Baekhyun associated to fog even if both these ideas and shades had nothing in common.

 

Hospitals were a sanctuary where grief canceled out joy, where misfortune pushed against miracles, and Baekhyun had always felt rather neutral about hospitals. 

 

As he walked through the plain hallways bursting with colors, seats occupied by worried families, relieved ones, prayers and curses to an almighty being that hadn’t made its appearance in the most needed moment, Baekhyun felt neither grief nor joy. 

 

The only thing he could feel was the pointy corner of the picture he was holding digging into the skin of his palm. He could’ve hid it in the inside pocket of his jacket but somehow, it felt wrong to hide that smile somewhere inside of him, close to his heart. He didn’t feel deserving of that privilege.

 

There was no particular emotion he could name that followed him with each step taken forward but he could almost feel his fingers trembling still. It was a lingering quiver he had picked up less than an hour ago, when he had been standing in front of his father’s house, waiting for one of the maids to bring him the photo. He hadn’t even stepped in. He hadn’t stepped in even once since he had left that house as soon as he was old enough to buy an apartment under his own name.

 

Soon, he was standing in front of his father’s room. The number on the door was identical to the number he had been given by the kind woman at the front desk in the entrance hall. It was staring at him. He wondered if he was remembering it correctly. What if this was the wrong room? Maybe he should go back down and ask for the room number again. 

 

He took a deep breath in. A quiet snort slipped through his lips the same way a crumbled, dried out, lifeless, and dull leaf would slide under a door, pushing in by an autumn breeze. It wouldn’t make any difference. Whether the room number was right or not, it would still be a stranger on the other side of the door.

 

He grabbed the handle carefully, the metal cold against his even colder skin, and slowly pushed it, sliding the door open. The only thing he saw at first was the end of a bed, the sheets white and pristine, a pair of feet pointing up under them. He stepped in and soon, his father came to sight, laying on it, body lost between the sheets, pale skin tone barely even contrasting with their shade. 

 

He was asleep, chest rising up and down in irregular intervals, his parted lips wheezing and coughing out low snores, no doubt the result of years of smoking gathered in his body. Baekhyun felt no particular emotion, no grief, no sorrow, no joy, and no hope. He felt as bleak as the paint glowing on the four suffocating walls of this hospital room. He stepped in properly and closed the door behind him. He looked down at his fingers, his knuckles were fading into white on the door’s handle, as if just breathing the same air as his father was enough to fade his edges away.

 

He stepped closer to the bed.. On the one hand, he was relieved that the man was sleeping and that he wouldn’t have to interact with him but on the other hand, it still felt incredibly awkward to be standing here. He should just put the photo on the bedside table and leave.

 

A quiet sigh escaped his lips as he stepped even closer to the bed to reach towards the bedside table and stretched his hand out to lay the photo there. However, before a single edge of the yellowed paper could even touch the beige surface, he glanced down at the two faces in the photo. He swallowed down and brought it closer to his face so he could look at it properly. 

 

It was a picture of his late mother and his father, when they were both young and newly married. There was no trace of neither of their two children, only them and the beaming smiles on their youthful, joyful features. His mother was a beautiful woman. Her eyes were as droopy as his and she even had a mole on the left corner of her lips, almost identical to the mole Baekhyun had on the opposite side of his face. The man on the picture was smiling, shoulders broad and chin held high up as the woman he loved had her arms wrapped around him. They looked happy. He wondered what happened and what had pushed his mother to the decision of a divorce. He didn’t remember. He had never asked Baekbom, let alone his father.

 

A cough startled him. When he looked down at his father, horror instantly filled him up when he realized that the man was blinking his eyes open and directly looking a him, features coming alive with a sour twist of anger.

 

"What are you doing?" he croaked out, voice rusty and greasy.

 

Baekhyun found himself unable to say anything, lips parting open to answer but words refusing to leave the safe confine of his throat.

 

"What," the other started again before another cough interrupted him. His eyes fell down to what Baekhyun was holding. "What’s that?"

 

"The picture," Baekhyun said, voice coming out weaker than he liked to associate to himself.

 

That seemed to be enough for his father to understand and suddenly, his eyes widened as he started fidgeting.

 

"Let go of that," he screamed as hard as he could, startling Baekhyun who jumped. It was barely even a scream, the man’s vocal cords  too damaged for him to even raise out intelligible words. "Let go of her!"

 

As if burned, Baekhyun instantly let go of the picture and stepped back.

 

"You don’t have the right to touch her," the man spat out through gritted teeth.

 

Baekhyun shook his head.

 

"I’m- I’m sorry," he mumbled, voice weak and carried away like a frail, withered petal at the mercy of a summer storm.

 

"You don’t have the right to touch her," the man repeated, voice breaking as he lifted his clenched fist barely a centimeter above the bed. Baekhyun heard those words echoing in his head, rattling his chest like a burglar forcing their way into an empty house. "After what you’ve done. You monster," his father wailed again, his last word lost in illness and coughs.

 

He was under medication. It was just the treatments and the medication, Baekhyun tried telling himself as he continued stepping back with difficulty, as if roots had splurged up from the ground and locked around his ankles, keeping him from moving properly. 

 

That accusation. That. That was what he was. Was it? A monster. Was he? He was. Was he? He had always been. That was what he was, his entire being was crafted around that single accusation. That single horrifying word was what his entire existence, his entire way of being aimed for.

 

Thoughts jumbled together in his head, crashing together into one big lump of knots made out of nothing but long, unending leather-like stems and branches. No petals inside. Only fog. Every time he tried untangling it, thorns stabbed through his fingers and scarred him further.

 

But he didn’t remember. He didn’t remember being a monster. It didn’t fit. But he did remember. He didn’t.

 

From the corner of his eyes he caught small swirls of steam billowing out of the humidifier on the bedside table.

 

Didn’t he really? Then what was he like? Whenever he smiled at someone, whenever his fingers grazed someone, whenever he uttered a single word to someone with the sole intention of intruding into them and sucking out every single drop of love they had to offer to him.

 

It fitted. Baekhyun had cut and sharpened his edges so he would fit into what he was supposed to be.

 

"You pushed her."

 

That voice sounded so far away. As far away as he felt from its owner. It sounded like nothing but a pile of grease and rotten substances and poison, coughs and wheezes and whispers of mortality.

 

"I’m so sorry," he said, pleaded, added on to those prayers to the sky that went unheard but were screamed in so many of this hospital’s hallways.

 

Maybe he wasn’t entirely neutral and emotionless, after all.

 

It wasn’t the medication. It was the truth.

 

"You killed her," the man accused him and this time, it was nothing but a faint whisper that screeched right into Baekhyun’s ears.

 

He felt it again. The same snow piling up in his chest and evaporating into fog and smoke, snaking into his throat and squeezing his tongue hard enough for it to lose its ability to twist and form any kind of sound.

 

There was no surprise. Baekhyun had heard those words dozens, maybe thousands of times in his life.

 

This time, his father was thrashing around, shaking his head, wheezing and coughing and maybe dying a little bit with each passing second as he repeated them again and again and again. So loud and so clear that he felt them crystallizing into ice shards in the air, stabbing into him and pushing, pushing, pushing until his body collided with the door, the knob digging into his lower back for a second before he whipped around, opened the door, and was pushed out of the room by those words.

 

As he walked out of the hospital on trembling legs and a quivering breath, Baekhyun thought that maybe the reason why he couldn’t ever dream of that exact moment was because he was so cowardly that even his subconscious refused to show him how monstrous he could be.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

"You should stop drinking now."

 

It was odd how a voice could sound sloshy after drinking enough. Or maybe it was because he could feel the alcohol sloshing in his stomach at the moment.

 

Either way, Junmyeon’s voice sounded sloshy and even the disapproving furrow of his eyebrows looked sloshy. That was not normal. Maybe it would get better if he drunk a little more.

 

"Why should I?" he slurred, fingers grabbing his small glass. The soju splashed inside  and Baekhyun felt himself swaying along with it before he brought the glass up to his lips and downed all of it, throat burning a little as the alcohol slid down to his stomach. "The soju’s good. The weather is nice. Even my best friend is with me. Why should I stop? Such a beautiful night."

 

His day hadn’t been good. It had been rather foggy but tonight, tonight was good.

 

He heard Junmyeon sigh but it was drowned out by the distinguished melody of the piano. Baekhyun turned towards the stage. It was odd. What kind of person drank soju while watching a piano performance? Him. He was that kind of person. The thought pushed a drunken giggle out of him.

 

It was a nice performance. It would’ve been better if the pianist had been different. A different pianist. Baekhyun hummed to himself before grabbing his phone off the table, almost dropping it and laughing loudly at his own clumsiness. Junmyeon sighed again. Was he worried? Baekhyun hoped he was. It would be nice.

 

Without a single second of hesitation Baekhyun found his camera app —after staring at the small colorful icons on his screen for what felt like a whole minute to look for it— and started recording the pianist. It was a nice song. He had never heard it before but it was nice. There were so many nice songs in this world. His father’s voice was not one of them.

 

He recorded almost an entire minute of the performance, mostly because he was so focused on watching it at one point, he forgot that he was recording. Then, he forgot why he was recording it in the first place. He frowned. Down at his phone and then up at Junmyeon. There was laughter in his best friend’s eyes but also concern. Concern. Baekhyun liked concern.

 

He also liked piano. Right. Piano. Chanyeol. He had recorded it for Chanyeol. He clumsily looked for his name in his contacts list, opened up a new conversation thread, typed a message and then joined the video as an attachment before sending it.

 

ud look good playign that

 

"Aren’t you going to tell me what put you in this state?" Junmyeon’s voice called out to him and Baekhyun tilted his head.

 

"Tell you what?"

 

"What happened today that made you drink like that," Junmyeon repeated for what felt like the tenth time.

 

Baekhyun sighed and grabbed the bottle of soju. Junmyeon snatched it away from him before he could pour himself another glass. He twisted his lips into a grimace.

 

His phone vibrated.

 

that’s a nice song

where are you?

 

u shuld lpay for me mor often it help me sleep

 

are you drunk?

 

"Baekhyun," Junmyeon called for him again, voice weakened by concern but sounding like a scream to Baekhyun’s misty ears.

 

"What?" he groaned.

 

"Why do you always do this?" Junmyeon asked, running a hand through his hair. His hair looked fluffy. Junmyeon was kind of fluffy. "Why do you never tell me how you’re feeling?"

 

Baekhyun let go of his phone. Put it down with a loud, clumsy clatter. The message remained unanswered.

 

"I’m not weak."

 

"Sharing the burden of bad thoughts is not being weak. It’s for your own well-being."

 

"I don’t deserve my own well-being," he mumbled, gaze trailing around.

 

"You’re not a monster, Baekhyun."

 

There was a man crying alone at the bar. Was this a bar? Was it even soju that Baekhyun was drinking? He wasn’t sure. That looked like someone who had gotten their heart broken. Would it be okay for him to piece that heart back together and then break it all over again so his mark would remain on it forever?

 

He got up on his feet but before he could even step towards the bar, he felt someone grab his hand.

 

"Don’t do that," Junmyeon said firmly.

 

The world tilted around a little bit. Baekhyun closed his eyes.

 

The next time he opened them he was between familiar walls, a familiar body pressed against him. Was this his house? He had bought it with his own money. It was a lonely house. He turned his head to the side and saw fluffy hair. Junmyeon’s hair was always so fluffy. Junmyeon was always so warm.

 

You’re not a monster, Baekhyun.

 

You’re a monster.

 

You’re not a monster, Baekhyun.

 

He wrapped his arms around the reassurance and pushed. He blinked once, twice, and Junmyeon was pressed between the wall and Baekhyun’s chest.

 

"Can you stay?" he slurred, probably a bit too close to Junmyeon’s face because he was blurry. Baekhyun didn’t like blurry.

 

Junmyeon breathed out, nodded once, and Baekhyun melted against him. Junmyeon was so kind. So, so kind to him.

 

He pulled away a little and looked into his eyes. He slanted their lips together. Junmyeon was always so, so warm. 

 

"Do you love me, Junmyeon?"

 

Silence. 

 

Baekhyun peppered kisses against the corner of his lips, his jaw, his neck.

 

"Don’t you love me?" he asked again, whispered against Junmyeon’s ear. "Would you like to fall in love with me? I could make you. Do you think I would love you back? Maybe. I wish I could. But I wish I never will. What’s your biggest wish? Do you love me?"

 

"Baekhyun, stop. That doesn’t work on me," he heard and frowned.

 

"You don’t love me? I can make you love me."

 

The skin of Junmyeon’s jawline hardened up under his words.

 

"I’m not one of the hearts you collect on shelves before discarding them when the enjoyment wears off."

 

Junmyeon sounded upset. 

 

Baekhyun was upset. But Junmyeon was more upset. He couldn’t be. Junmyeon was his only friend.

 

"Sorry," he whispered and then repeated once, twice, thrice, and more until he felt Junmyeon’s hand patting his back and he stopped.

 

He looked up at him. He was blurry, a bit foggy. Or maybe that was just that voice still echoing in his chest. Junmyeon’s eyes were so soft, so clear. They saw Baekhyun. He pressed their lips together again. This time, he didn’t move. He wanted to feel the comfort.

 

"Then can you love me tonight?" he mumbled against those same lips that always were so, so kind to him. His eyes burned a little bit. Stinged. Blurred. He wasn’t sure why. "Just for tonight."

 

Junmyeon breathed consolation out against Baekhyun’s lips. Or maybe it was exhaustion. 

 

They kissed again and Baekhyun was the one to breathe that consolation in for the rest of the night.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

October settled over Seoul by sprinkling dull leaves and drops of rain all over the city, dressed in a gown made of grey skies and fluffy clouds.

 

Junmyeon had been a bit off after that night but Baekhyun had earned his smile back in no time. Everything fell back into its usual flow. Sometimes, Baekhyun felt like he was directing things, pulling everything the way he wanted to. Occasionally, he wondered if it really was the case. 

 

Piano classes were still ongoing. Neither him nor Chanyeol ever mentioned the drunken messages that Baekhyun came to curse himself for the morning after the incident. They seemed to grow even closer after that. They were friends, they matched a lot. Sometimes, exchanging pleasantries and stupid jokes with Chanyeol was enough to shroud him from the cold spell hovering over him.

 

They still met a lot in the subway. Baekhyun had memorized the exact time at which Chanyeol took the subway after classes. He had to wait very little at the station to catch a glimpse of the tall man to follow him into the train. Every single time, one of them approached the other to spend the rest of the journey in pleasant conversations, comfortable banter, and laughter until Baekhyun had to get off at his stop first.

 

That Friday night, they met again.

 

Baekhyun had been the one to approach Chanyeol first, the later greeting him with a wide smile. It had become some kind of routine to talk about their days and ask each other all kinds of odd questions. Chanyeol always had a lot of funny anecdotes to share about his day spent teaching various children how to make music.

 

"Work’s very hectic nowadays," Baekhyun lied at one point. He hadn’t stepped foot into the company since the last time. Work was hectic but only at home, from where he worked. "I didn’t even have time to eat lunch."

 

That wasn’t a lie, he really hadn’t been able to eat lunch but that was because he had been running errands and hadn’t found the will to eat alone outside.

 

Chanyeol furrowed his eyebrows into that sightly concerned expression. He had traded his oversized hoodies for big coats now, the one he was sporting taking more room in the subway car than his own body mass. It was a green padded coat with some kind of military pattern and despite being rather imposing in size, Chanyeol looked like he was swimming in it. It must be warm.

 

"Cosmetics brands always get busier when holidays are approaching, right?" he asked, gentle and deep voice falling even gentler and deeper in a concerned tone. He was looking down at Baekhyun while holding onto one of the handles on the roof of the subway car. 

 

"They do," Baekhyun nodded. "They often have Holiday collections and whatnots to work on. We have to come up with new marketing ideas and there’s just so many rival brands and a big reputation to take into consideration."

 

"But still, you should take time to eat even if you’re just shoveling rice down your throat for five minutes," Chanyeol argued, giving him one of those disapproving looks Baekhyun was used to seeing on Junmyeon.

 

He laughed softly, a lighthearted note lingering in his voice afterwards.

 

"Are you concerned about my health? That’s cute."

 

Chanyeol huffed at him, not even replying. Silence settled over them for a few seconds and Baekhyun looked around. He was only two stops away from his. He didn’t really feel like leaving. It was regretful that they only saw each other for less than fifteen minutes in the subway. Maybe he should do something about that. It would be the perfect time to ask the other out to dinner, it didn’t have to mean anything. They had already engaged into the topic of food.

 

"There’s a really nice barbecue place near the next stop. If you’re still hungry, would you like to eat together? I’m a bit hungry too."

 

Baekhyun looked up at Chanyeol in surprise as the other uttered his thoughts out before Baekhyun could. He hadn’t expected the other to ask him out to dinner first but Chanyeol wasn’t a shy person. Moreover, the way he was looking at Baekhyun so casually, as if this was a completely mundane thing seemed to suggest that that was exactly what he thought. However, Baekhyun knew him now. The faint raise of his eyebrows was a sign of hopefulness.

 

Maybe this was the exact reason why Baekhyun was taking things slower than he usually would. This faint thing they had, a kind of friendship where they both knew there was attraction between them. Neither of them acted upon it. It didn’t exactly make Baekhyun feel any kind of heat. Or rather, it wasn’t exactly the same heat as usual. It was a clear, glittery summer breeze, faint, but still very much there, catching his attention despite its near complete insignificance.

 

With a wide smile and delight tucked into the corners of his lips, Baekhyun accepted. He was rewarded with an equally as bright smile from Chanyeol.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The aroma of freshly-cooked food leisurely floating around the small restaurant was a foreign one. Baekhyun had never stepped into this small hole-in-the-wall establishment. 

 

It wasn’t even a proper restaurant per se, just a few tables and chairs made of a sturdy blue plastic trapped amongst four walls made of even bluer but softer plastic curtains that fluttered with the hardest gusts of wind. It was cold outside and the place wasn’t heated enough for them to take their coats off despite the electric heater glowing a fiery orange at the center of the pocha. 

 

This place seemed to be mildly known as there were much less vacant tables than occupied ones. Hushed conversations and loud, sometimes drunken laughter danced around, chased through the air by the hiss of grilled meat. It had looked shabby from outside but Baekhyun was surprised that the services and menu it offered was far from that. It wasn’t usual to be served barbecue at a pocha but Baekhyun appreciated this difference.

 

Baekhyun liked this newly discovered place, he liked the taste of the soju, he liked the doting gaze with which the old lady who owned the establishment watched over her customers from the corner of the room. As if she was a kindhearted grandmother making sure that every single one of her grandchildren was well-fed and shrouded from the chilly weather.

 

He liked how green and fresh the lettuce and perilla leaves they had been given to accompany the meat looked. He liked how glistening and mouth-watering the pork belly cooking on the grill placed at the center of their table was. He just liked samgyeopsal, and he especially liked the focused and careful look on Chanyeol’s face as he took care of the cooking. Smoke puffed from the grill up into his face and he breathed it in, soothed and at ease, cradled by the delicious scents twirling together in the air. Or maybe it wasn’t the the food that had this effect.

 

They had been there for a few minutes already and at first, Baekhyun had been taking care of the grilling but after almost burning the meat and dropping his barbecue tongs quite a few times, Chanyeol had simply shaken his head and confiscated everything from him. He was cutting the meat into smaller pieces with the scissors now, his teeth sunk into his lower lip in an expression of concentration. His skin had a light sheen to it, a sign that the end of the day was nearing and that he felt a little bit too hot in that big, fluffy coat of his. Baekhyun felt snug in his own coat, only having taken off his scarf earlier.

 

They had continued talking about their day, the weather, the news, and even the latest songs that they listened to on replay. Conversations always flowed so naturally with Chanyeol, Baekhyun never had to dig into his head and observe the other for long seconds in order to figure out a subject that he could craft as a shared interest. 

 

"How did you get into music?" Baekhyun asked after a few seconds of comfortable silence during which the drowned out hiss of the grill sung for them.

 

Instantly, Chanyeol’s eyes brightened and the warmth elevating off the grill paled compared to the warmth dripping from his eyes to his words.

 

"Music has always been part of my life since I was young," he answered without hesitation. 

 

Baekhyun rested his chin on the palm of his hand and braced himself for long seconds of Chanyeol passionately talking about his favorite subject ever. With his fluffy hair sticking all over his head from the wind’s strong fingers, he looked like a tall, soft puppy. Which was what he basically looked like all the time, especially when he was excited or in the midst of a passionate subject.

 

"My father actually used to own a tiny shop where he sold cassette tapes and CD’s from all over the world. I kind of grew up running around that tiny shop and listening to almost every single song offered to me there."

 

"You were literally a child of music then," Baekhyun hummed, fondness tickling his insides at the image of a tiny, tiny Chanyeol running around a shop excitedly while holding cassette tapes in his hands, smile toothy and wide, ears sticking out as if his own body yearned to expand and absorb every single note of music in the entire world.

 

"I was," the other grinned as he continued looking down at the meat he was busy grilling. "My dad can play the piano and my mom used to be a wedding singer before she got married to my dad. I guess it was just natural of me to go into music and make it my profession at some point."

 

"Parents are usually against their children choosing this kind of field," Baekhyun commented as he grabbed a piece of kimchi and brought it to his watering mouth. Somehow, Chanyeol made samgyeopsal look tastier than Baekhyun remembered it to be.

 

Chanyeol let out a soft hum of finality once he deemed the meat cooked enough and Baekhyun, still chewing on the food in his mouth, perked up and let his chopsticks dive towards the grill. Chanyeol stopped him with a look and a tut before he could take anything.

 

"It’s too hot, be careful," he warned Baekhyun, who rolled his eyes playfully and still grabbed a piece of meat, holding it between his chopsticks for a short while as he listened to Chanyeol resume speaking. "My father’s dream was to spread the taste of music all over the country actually. He thinks music is very important, so he’s the one who got me to learn the guitar at first. Turns out I was actually good at that so I easily picked up piano too, afterwards. He was very happy."

 

Too impatient, Baekhyun couldn’t wait anymore and simply dipped his piece of meat into the sauce and brought it up to his mouth. It was still, unsurprisingly, too hot so his mouth fell open for a few seconds and Chanyeol laughed at him. Baekhyun narrowed his eyes at him until he could close his mouth and properly chew on the meat.

 

"So he’s kind of living his dream through you then," he commented, still chewing on the meat. It was perfectly cooked and the flavor of the sauce burst inside his mouth in a mix of soybean paste and sesame oil amongst other weaker aromas.

 

"He is," Chanyeol nodded with a perk of his shoulders, obviously proud of that fact. He took a lettuce leaf into his hand and placed sauced meat on it along with green onions and a small piece of garlic. He wrapped it all securely before bringing the bundle up into his mouth and humming softly. "Then I kind of got bored of piano in high school so I started learning the drums."

 

Baekhyun looked up from the wrap he was making of his own, the perilla leave almost bursting with meat, green onions, kimchi, a few grains of rice, green chili peppers, and sauce.

 

"You’re telling me you learned how to play a third instrument to perfection simply because you were bored?" he couldn’t help but ask, incredulous but mostly amazed. He didn’t even notice the green onions falling from a small slit on his wrap.

 

Chanyeol curved his lips into a smug, handsome smile, confidence jolting his shoulders a little bit into a nonchalant shrug, as if that was nothing to him. He was being extremely cocky and yet, Baekhyun couldn’t help but feel part of himself melting a little bit with the attraction he felt for Chanyeol reaching some kind of new peak, thickening in the air along with the delicious scent of food.

 

Chanyeol glanced down at his wrap and promptly burst into laughter. It was kind of coming apart in Baekhyun’s hand and he crammed it into his mouth before it could get entirely ruined. Cheeks bursting as he chewed on it, he groaned until Chanyeol stopped laughing.

 

"You’re really bad with food," Chanyeol noted after taking a sip of his drink.

 

Baekhyun couldn’t even find it in himself to deny it. Not that he could with all that food in his mouth. He continued chewing on the food as he watched Chanyeol grab a perilla leaf and lay it on his palm.

 

"What happened to that shop? You used the past tense," he noted, watching as Chanyeol dipped a piece of meat into the sauce and laid it on the leaf before leading his chopsticks to the small dish full of green onions.

 

"Unfortunately, it didn’t live on because of the digital age," he said, nostalgia humming faintly in his voice as he laid the perfect amount of peppers and kimchi on the meat. "So they just closed it and opened an Italian restaurant a few years later instead. I sometimes go there to help."

 

"You still have time for that?" he inquired, a bit surprised since he had come to figure out that Chanyeol’s week was usually packed with classes and students, just like the rest of the teachers at the academy. 

 

"They’re getting a bit older now," he said, voice as soft as his motions while he folded and wrapped the perilla leaf around the meat and other vegetables. "They have workers to help them but I still want to make sure everything’s going okay for them so I visit and help sometimes. I can also spend some time with them like that."

 

Baekhyun nodded in understanding. Chanyeol was really kind. He had his own life, earned his own money, and was an adult now but he was still a filial son. Somehow, that wasn’t even surprising, even if Baekhyun knew most people would simply send their parents some money and visit on holidays if they were free.

 

What was surprising, however, was Chanyeol handing him the wrap he had just made, a casual yet expectant look on his features.

 

He glanced down at the wrap and then back up at Chanyeol with slightly raised eyebrows. "You made it for me?"

 

"It takes you almost an entire minute to battle with the food before making a decent wrap," he explained with a crooked smile, still holding the wrap out to Baekhyun who oddly couldn’t bring himself to take it. He hadn’t expected Chanyeol to do this just because he had seen Baekhyun, someone who was supposed to be an adult, struggle a bit with making wraps. He also hadn’t expected such a simple gesture to be enough to make him feel so appreciated. "I didn’t put in garlic inside, if that’s what you’re worried about."

 

"How did you know I don’t like garlic?" he asked, growing more surprised by the second but still taking the wrap because Chanyeol was starting to act as if his arm was about to fall off from holding it out for too long. It was silly. So silly. And made Baekhyun feel snug. He nodded happily when Baekhyun accepted it.

 

"You put in literally everything besides garlic into your own wrap earlier. You’re quite easy to read."

 

Baekhyun had heard those words a lot in his life. Every single time, they had come from people who had been fooled both by Baekhyun and themselves. This time, Baekhyun’s smile wasn’t a secretive or appreciative one. He wasn’t really sure what emotion was showing on his own face, for the first time in his life.

 

He thanked Chanyeol and engulfed the wrap that fit into his mouth perfectly without coming apart. It seemed like Chanyeol didn’t only make samgyeopsal look tastier.

 

"A restaurant is kind of very far away from a music store," he said after a moment of silent enjoying their food. "It must’ve been hard for them."

 

Chanyeol shook his head. "Not really. They’re still spreading joy to people but this time, through food. The music there is also really nice. They still both love music more than anything. Sometimes, they randomly dance in the living room and my mother always shames me for not even knowing how to waltz," he laughed, pulling Baekhyun to laugh along. "What about you? What actually pushed you into piano lessons?"

 

The earnest way with which Chanyeol looked at him and the soothing taste of the food carefully prepared by the other’s own fingers somehow pushed Baekhyun to honesty before he even realized it himself.

 

"Actually, I saw a video of you playing piano back in August. It was a really nice song and you looked really passionate and peaceful while playing. It kind of made me envious and also pulled me in, I guess" he answered, fingers swiftly dancing over the table’s surface as they would on a keyboard while he took in Chanyeol’s reaction. The latter’s eyes flickered down to Baekhyun’s fingers once before looking up into Baekhyun’s eyes again.

 

He leaned just a tad closer over the table, his big eyes glittering beautifully with mischief.

 

"Looks like you paid more attention to the pianist than the piano," he said in a low, playful voice.

 

Baekhyun mimicked him by leaning closer as well.

 

"Maybe that’s exactly why we’re here today."

 

That drew a wide smile on Chanyeol’s lips and drops of pink on the tip of his ears, like dew enlivening the beauty of a rose under sunlight’s morning dance.

 

The rest of the meal was spent with pleasant conversation and even more pleasant tastes spreading through Baekhyun’s mouth. At one point, he had stopped trying to make his own wraps and merely shoved each accompaniment into his mouth in the short intervals separating the wraps that Chanyeol made for him. As if they had been sharing this routine their entire life.

 

When there was nothing left to eat on the grill after a few servings and surprisingly close to two hours spent in the coziness of blue plastic curtains, they finally stepped out of the place. Baekhyun offered a pleased smile to Chanyeol who offered to walk him to the subway station even if he was planning to take the bus directly to his house rather than the subway again as it would be less of a hassle.

 

It was cold, the sun had set a while ago and Baekhyun was snug in his coat, his blue scarf wrapped around the neck, and fulfillment still leisurely stroking his insides. He wasn’t sure whether it was a result of the nice meal he just had or of whom he had shared that nice meal with. After a few minutes of walking while talking about anything and everything, Baekhyun noticed that Chanyeol didn’t seem to feel as comfortable as he did.

 

He was shivering every few seconds and had repeated that the weather was very cold close to five times already, his hands shoved into the pockets of his big coat. It was a wonder he still managed to feel cold while wearing that but Baekhyun found it a bit winsome that he seemed to easily be affected by the cold breezes through which autumn laughed at their face.

 

Baekhyun saw it as a perfect occasion and stopped Chanyeol from walking by touching his arm. Ignoring the questioning look he was giving him, Baekhyun swiftly took his scarf off and reached up to wrap it around Chanyeol’s neck instead, focusing on his task and not uttering a single word. The scarf was quite big in size, usually covering half of Baekhyun’s face when worn. It had the same result on Chanyeol, concealing his mouth and the tip of his nose along with just the tip of his earlobes once Baekhyun adjusted it snuggly around him, making sure it wasn’t askew or folded away from the skin it should cover.

 

"You kept complaining about the cold," he mumbled as he took a step back, giving the other a charming but genuine smile. "Now, you’re warmer and cuter."

 

Chanyeol’s eyes were wide with surprise as he looked down at Baekhyun, more of his nose disappearing under the blue woolen scarf. A car swooshed by them, the red of its rear lights seemed to linger over Chanyeol’s cheeks even once it disappeared from sight, the skin now a little rosier than it was just before. The tips of his ears were a faint red too and Baekhyun knew it wasn’t just a result of the cold. It was adorable and Baekhyun had one piece of clothing less to protect him from the cold but he felt more immune to it than with his scarf on.

 

It took Chanyeol a second to gather his wits again and Baekhyun watched attentively as his fingers peeked like tiny paws from under the hem of his oversized coat to pull the scarf away from his mouth. He revealed an amused smile that contrasted with the gratefulness and remnants of fluster still dripping from his eyes.

 

"You having to go on your tiptoes to do that is what’s cute."

 

Baekhyun narrowed his eyes just a little bit.

 

"Be careful, I could wrap this scarf much tighter around your neck."

 

There was a second of stare down before they both promptly burst into laughter and resumed walking towards the subway station.

 

Chanyeol thanked him later with words that were boxed into a soothing smile, the faint hue of timidity wrapped all around it like a pretty bow. His fingers were holding onto the scarf as if he could draw more warmth from it that way.

 

After they parted ways in front of the station, Chanyeol’s smile still glittered in Baekhyun’s mind throughout the rest of his journey home.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

When he got home that same night, it was to a puff of merriment welcoming him as soon as he pushed the door open. Or rather, it was to a puff of merriment following him inside as he entered his apartment.

 

He had work to do. He should definitely plan a visit to the company because some things just couldn’t be done from home for weeks. He also should contact Joohyun, something that he hadn’t done in almost an entire week despite her piling messages. He missed it. Not Joohyun, just the affection and emotions she nurtured for him. 

 

And yet, the only thing Baekhyun did was plop down on his couch and look at his phone with furrowed eyebrows when it vibrated in his pocket. A smile burgeoned on his lips, fueled by the luminosity that he still could sense behind his eyelids every time he blinked. It was Chanyeol’s name displayed on the notification.

 

I completely forgot to give you your scarf back :c 

I’m sorry, I’ll bring it to you tomorrow at the academy ;u;

 

Baekhyun gazed at the emojis the other had slipped into his messages. It kind of fitted Chanyeol. It also fitted his expectations. Although, Chanyeol took a bit more time than he thought he would.

 

He hadn’t forgotten to ask for his scarf back. He had deliberately not mentioned anything about it when Chanyeol had walked away with a last wave, Baekhyun’s scarf still snug around his neck. He wasn’t entirely sure the other would message him but now, he was glad that this had served as an excuse for Chanyeol to message him. They hadn’t really texted each other since those few drunken messages Baekhyun had sent him a while ago.

 

It’s okay, I don’t mind

You can even keep it if it’ll help you not get sick during the change of weather

 

that’s very kind of you but still it’s your scarf and you might need it

 

He could almost imagine the furrow of Chanyeol’s eyebrows as he argued with him in concern. Chanyeol seemed to be an easily concerned person. He was very expressive.

 

I’m not that kind

Maybe I’m saying this because I didn’t really like the scarf that much anyway 

 

Accordion to me, this scarf is awesome and you cannot slander it like this!!! 

 

It took Baekhyun two tries to understand what exactly Chanyeol was saying in that message and as soon as he got the pun, he promptly burst into laughter, his loud voice echoing in his empty apartment.

 

Wow so you’re the kind of nerd who makes music puns

Not even surprising

 

You’re so mean 

You just baroque my heart

 

This time, Baekhyun bit onto his lower lip to conceal a wide grin. It somehow still managed to split his face into two. He had no idea why such a simple, lame thing felt so incredibly lovely to him.

 

Oh no, your heart’s too precious to get broken

 Want me to come over to piece it back together with super glue?

 

This time, the reply took three minutes to arrive and Baekhyun spent each of those minutes wondering whether Chanyeol was flustered or if he was just looking for another lame pun to reply with.

 

Sounds like an excuse to find me and steal your scarf back pft

 

You’re so smart

 

>_>

hehe

 

The conversation ended there but Baekhyun spent the rest of his night associating each of the emojis Chanyeol had used to one of his real facial expressions.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The next morning, the sun was strong and the sky was bluer than expected for an October day.

 

After a good night’s sleep, Baekhyun woke up to a message from Chanyeol.

 

this scarf can’t Handel being away from its owner for too long so it’ll see you later in class

 

Along with that simple caption that was so lame, Baekhyun felt his cheeks wincing and burning in anger from how hard it made him smile, there was a single picture attached. He opened it, draping it over his whole screen and gazing at it with that same smile on. It was a simple picture of Chanyeol, two fingers of one hand framing one closed eye in a peace sign while the other stared directly into the camera. He had a crooked smile on, one corner of his lips lifted up higher as if to support that dashing dimple on his cheek. 

 

He was handsome. He couldn’t pinpoint something particularly handsome on Chanyeol’s face no matter how long he stared at the picture through his still hazy morning eyes. He had big, kind eyes, there was just something cute about the shape of his eyebrows. He always looked either like a mischievous young boy or a caring and kindhearted man. There was just something about that crooked, boyish smile. There was just something. 

 

Baekhyun had received dozens, maybe hundreds of good morning messages in his life. Some of them made him smile, some of them felt like a waste of time, and others felt like a desperate breath of fresh air at the end of a stuffy night, but there was just something in Chanyeol’s message. Something that made Baekhyun feel so awfully attracted to him at that exact moment.

 

He was wearing Baekhyun’s scarf, as if it was a proof shot that he wouldn’t forget it this time.

 

It looked good on him. Almost as if that simple scarf was enough for Baekhyun to grip a tight hold around the other, own a small part of Chanyeol.

 

Oddly, Baekhyun didn’t find himself wanting to own a memory, a heart, or a breath, but that brilliance that seemed to always emanate off Chanyeol.

 

Maybe he had also liked owning a little bit of Chanyeol’s time that day, as they spent part of the morning exchanging messages until Chanyeol had classes to attend to and Baekhyun, work to do.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Working hadn’t been as unpleasant as Baekhyun had expected it to be. It had still happened at home, in his living room with the television switched on in case he wanted to rest his head from time to time by watching something instead of analyzing something.

 

Truthfully, Baekhyun knew that what had kept him going that day was the piano lesson that was awaiting him in the afternoon and that felt so far away yet so close at the same time.

 

Therefore, when the time had finally come, it was in a vivacious manner that Baekhyun walked into Allegro Music Studio. It was Jongdae who greeted him at the front desk again. He was often there, more than anyone else, but Baekhyun had found out a while ago that Chanyeol and Jongdae co-owned the academy. They had opened it together years ago, and while Chanyeol had been more musically inclined, Jongdae had always been the one to take care of the business part and things that Chanyeol had no inclination towards.

 

They made small talk, he asked about Jongdae’s day and the latter was always so friendly and nice that they talked for around five minutes before Baekhyun headed towards the classroom, not wanting to make Chanyeol wait for him too much. 

 

When he pushed the door open, it was mellow musical notes that wrapped around him and pulled him inside, as if he were an old friend that they had missed dearly. 

 

Chanyeol was seated at the piano, posture perfect, exuding the dignity and confidence that he had tried teaching Baekhyun about what felt like a lifetime ago but was not even three months earlier. Baekhyun could only see his side profile. His eyes were closed and he had that soothing expression on, the one that pulled him in as much as his melody did. He didn’t notice Baekhyun, too absorbed in his own musical world. Baekhyun recognized his melody as Erik Satie’s Gymnopédie No.1.

 

It was a song Baekhyun liked, lulling, sad, almost mystic. What he liked even more was the sight of Chanyeol’s still snuggled into the blue scarf Baekhyun had wrapped around him with his own hands only last night, everything down from the tip of his nose disappearing behind the colored wool.

 

He watched the other for a few seconds and entered, closing the door behind him. It was with quiet steps that Baekhyun approached, mischief taking over his body and stretching his lips into a grin as he walked until he was standing right next to Chanyeol. Without a single noise, he stretched his hand out and lightly grazed the tip of Chanyeol’s nose with his fingertip.

 

Instantly, the other’s eyes shot open and his fingers fell heavily on the keyboard as he jolted on his seat, startled by Baekhyun’s touch first and then by the loud and brutal sound of the piano notes cutting his peaceful melody. His eyes were wider than ever as he looked at Baekhyun in surprise. Baekhyun looked back at him for a second before bursting into laughter.

 

"Your face," he said between chunks of laughter, Chanyeol’s offended expression only making it harder for him to stop and take control over himself. "It was— priceless."

 

"You can’t just go around and give people heart attacks like that," Chanyeol groaned after a while. It only fueled Baekhyun’s already fiery amusement, his cheeks burning from how hard he had laughed.

 

"I just booped your nose!" Baekhyun defended himself, voice echoing with the remnants of his laugh. "You’re the one who almost fell off the bench. I didn’t know you were such a scaredy cat."

 

Chanyeol frowned at him but he couldn’t conceal the twitch of his lips, a telltale sign that he was doing his best to keep himself from laughing along with Baekhyun.

 

"I’m not sure whether you really deserve me returning this scarf to you or not."

 

"If you like it that much, you can keep it. It suits you," Baekhyun said nonchalantly as he moved to take his usual place beside Chanyeol on the bench.

 

He was only a little disappointed when Chanyeol chuckled and unwrapped the scarf from around his neck, handing it out to him. Baekhyun still took it, folded it messily and let it rest on the piano lid.

 

"You better not forget it again," Chanyeol warned him with playfully narrowed eyes.

 

Baekhyun rolled his eyes at him.

 

"Oh, wait," Chanyeol spoke again before he could say anything. "I have something to show you before we start practicing."

 

Baekhyun gave him a curious look but again, before he could question the other, Chanyeol straightened his posture again, fingers scattering over the keys. He started playing and it took Baekhyun a few seconds to recognize the leisurely melody his fingers weaved. It was the song Baekhyun had heard in that bar with Junmyeon weeks ago and that he had recorded before sending it to Chanyeol. He remembered his drunken self telling Chanyeol that he would look good playing that. He hadn’t expected the other to actually do it.

 

With each kiss of Chanyeol’s fingertips against the ivory keys, Baekhyun felt the tune moulding in his own chest.

 

By the time the last note hummed in the air, Baekhyun’s gaze was fixated on Chanyeol’s features, watching as he blinked a little as if with the end of the song came his expulsion back into the real world and he was a little disoriented. He turned to Baekhyun with a light smile.

 

"How was it?" he asked. Pure curiosity. Of course, Chanyeol probably knew that this was the perfect rendition of a nameless song.

 

"It was really amazing," Baekhyun said, surprised when his voice came out a little breathy. Chanyeol’s smile widened. He wasn’t sure why he reacted like that, he had received much more expensive and extravagant gifts in his life. Was this even a gift? What was Chanyeol’s purpose in doing this? "I really didn’t expect you to actually do it. It was so long ago that I mentioned this."

 

Chanyeol remained silent for a moment, his fingers strutting on the keyboard shortly to form a dainty string of notes. It sounded nice. He didn’t even have to look down at the keys to do it.

 

"Well, it was a nice song. I liked it the first time I heard it and even if I figured it was a self-composition from that pianist, I thought why not learn it?" He stopped there and tucked his lips into an apologetic line. "It took me quite a while because of classes and everything else but I’m glad you liked it. Although, I’m not sure how it could help you sleep better at night," he ended, bumping his shoulder against Baekhyun’s as he reminded him of his drunken words.

 

Baekhyun could’ve laughed it off. He could’ve replied in a nonchalant manner, could’ve said that it was kind of Chanyeol to do this for him, could’ve turned the other into a flustered mess only with words. Instead, he chose honesty. Maybe it was just the lingering effect the song had on him and the confusing meaning behind this simple gesture.

 

"Actually," he started, the echo of Chanyeol’s music still humming in his head. "Remember when I told you I got into piano because I saw a video of you playing it?" He waited for Chanyeol to nod in confirmation before continuing. "Well, sometimes when I can’t sleep, I just watch your videos on the academy’s Instagram account. They really do make nice lullabies."

 

Surprisingly, even if it hadn’t been his attention, his words still seemed to turn Chanyeol into a slightly flustered mess. 

 

His eyebrows raised for a second, taken aback, and the tips of his ears flushed again, something that seemed to happen quite often. He looked at Baekhyun as if he had given him the most pleasant yet most embarrassing compliment ever and fumbled for a few seconds, unable to say anything. Baekhyun delighted in this spectacle of a reaction, but at last Chanyeol offered no reply and they started with the lesson. 

 

It was almost bewildering. The way Chanyeol could act so confident one second and then turn into a flustered, fumbling mess for the most unexpected of reasons. Baekhyun enjoyed that side of him.

 

The tip of his ears remained red for a short moment, almost distracting Baekhyun from his attempt at clumsily playing yet another musical piece he knew by heart.

 

The scarf remained on the piano when Baekhyun left later on. 

 

Chanyeol seemed to still be too flustered to remind Baekhyun to take it with him when he left and Baekhyun merely glanced at it once as they left the room together. He decided that the blue of the wool complimented the flustered pigmentation of Chanyeol’s ears too beautifully for him to steal the sight away from himself forever.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

you forgot your scarf again

it’s sad now :<

 

The scarf got used to you and didn’t want to come back to me 

 I think it thinks you’re cuter than me

 

your scarf’s not a puppy!!!

 

The scarf’s not the puppy but it can be yours for now

It looks good on you and fits just right around your neck

 I’ll get it back one day, no rush

 

why do I feel like you just said something that I didn’t get >_>

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

That same night, Baekhyun found himself sitting across Joohyun in the most expensive restaurant he had ever taken her to. Her eyes shined more than the dim lights hanging from the chandeliers on the ceiling. 

 

She was beautiful. She was so young, and had a brand new heart to give to Baekhyun. She was beautiful. Her smile was mesmerizing, there was always an air of timidity around her, and she blinked cutely whenever she was flustered, her cheeks always rosy and full whenever she smiled at Baekhyun. She was beautiful but the way she made Baekhyun feel was more breathtaking than anything else.

 

There was so much adoration in her eyes as she looked at him while he cut her steak into pieces for her. She smiled as they brought their glasses of wine up and Baekhyun cheered to her gorgeous smile and to spending many months and years together. She listened to every single one of his words with affection, her hand reaching out to Baekhyun with the desire of tangling together and never parting ways. Baekhyun grabbed her hand and laced their fingers together. 

 

She asked him at one point. What do you think of me? Baekhyun read her expression, deciphered the desire hidden beneath the silky curtain of her voice. He told her she was kind. She furrowed her eyebrows a little bit. Do you think this dress suits me? Baekhyun let his gaze trail over her bare shoulders, her collarbones were defined and smooth, and accentuated by the shadows melted over her body by the chandeliers. He told her that pink suited her. Those weren’t the words she wanted to hear. Baekhyun knew exactly what she wanted to hear. Do these earrings look pretty on me? 

 

Her voice was softer now, hesitant. She was giving up, frowning, a bit saddened by the fact that Baekhyun, a caring but clueless man, did not understand what she wanted to hear from him. Baekhyun understood her better than she did herself. He was simply basking in the power insufflated into him by the way she put so much importance into his opinion, his thoughts, his words, him.

 

You’re the most beautiful flower I’ve ever laid my eyes upon, Baekhyun finally answered her, releasing her from the sorrow she was starting to feel. Those were such simple words, words anybody could mutter without a hint of sincerity. She devoured  them with no trace of questioning, a wide, beautiful smile illuminating her features.

 

Tonight would be the last time Baekhyun would see this smile. It would belong to him forever. 

 

Her hand was warm against his when she pulled him home with her. Her lips were warm when Baekhyun kissed her right in front of her door. Her smile was warm as it bourgeoned while Baekhyun looked at her like he never wanted to let go of her and would never accept a breath spent away from her.. Her voice was breathy as she asked if he’d like to stay a little more with her. Victory trickled down Baekhyun’s veins like the most delightful of vines.

 

Baekhyun breathed in her fervor as they fell into bed together. He gave it all back to her, letting it transfuse from his eyes, lips, and hands onto her skin. He looked at her as if she was all he could see. He touched her like she was one of the most frail and breathtaking flowers he had grown and watered with his own hands. He caressed her skin with care, she breathed out I love you’s against his mouth. Baekhyun inhaled it all, stole the air away from her. Not once did she question his lack of answer, she couldn’t. Not when Baekhyun made love to her as if he lived through her and her alone.

 

Joohyun would remember the first time she shared her body with someone as the warmest night of her life. After a while, maybe as soon as the sun would rise, that memory would turn into a scorching scar.

 

When Baekhyun left that night it was with the febricity of her spent body still nestled in the palm of his hands. She had still been asleep.

 

When Baekhyun left that night, it was with a small piece of memory in his pocket. 

 

Joohyun would always remember her very first night with a man. She would always remember the pain that came with that first night and the man that left with it. She would always remember Baekhyun. He was the first person to make her body quiver with caresses of love. She would always remember him and through the pain, she would always remember how she had loved him. He was her first.

 

When Baekhyun stepped out of her home and her life, the night air he took in stung, as if he was an anomaly, a creature not meant to breathe in the pure air, not deserving of something that felt so nice and kept him alive. 

 

And Baekhyun, who felt much more polluted and rotten and toxic than the air he lived through, knew that he had a place in this stained world. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The clock struck four in the morning when Baekhyun got home.

 

Sleep, on the other hand, did not even come remotely close to him. It was odd. Baekhyun usually slept very well after this kind of night and this kind of end. He had done as usual. Why wasn’t it working? What was missing? Had he forgotten something?

 

The house was empty, like it always was. It was just him. He couldn’t sleep. Should he have stayed with Joohyun a little longer? Her body was warm. He closed his eyes. He couldn’t feel it anymore. It always faded away so quickly. Maybe because it was her warmth and not Baekhyun’s.

 

He got up and made a cup of tea, watching as the water darkened from yellow to a browny red. He opened the window while waiting for the tea to infuse. There wasn’t a single star in the sky -  too much light pollution to see any.  But the  air was a bit clearer from here as he lived on the twelfth floor of a tall building. He breathed in.

 

He couldn’t sleep. It was weighing him down. Why did he feel so lonely when he could still feel the last crumbles of pleasure sparking in his body? 

 

He sighed, closed the window, grabbed his mug of tea, and headed back to the bedroom. He put it on the bedside table and grabbed his phone. He had a message. From Chanyeol. It was odd, why did he message him so late at night when they had been messaging almost the whole day? There was a voice message attached.

 

sorry I can’t post it online because the song belongs to an artist I don’t even know but here

you can use it as your personal lullaby at least

I hope it’ll help you sleep better 

if you weren’t just saying that to compliment me :p

 

It was a recording of the song Chanyeol had played for him earlier, in the academy. He connected it to the bluetooth speakers in his room and closed his eyes as the music permeated into the air and nursed him. Like sturdy hands draping a blanket over shivering shoulders.

 

The impression lingered on for the rest of the night, accompanied by lulling piano notes played, and eventually, Baekhyun fell into a slumber clear from any disturbance.

 

The next morning, the echo of the song lingering in his head melted him into a smile as he sent Chanyeol a message to thank him for giving him the best sleep of his life. They talked for the rest of the day, about Chanyeol’s funny students, Baekhyun’s boring work, his favorite moisturizer, the cartoons Chanyeol used to watch when he was little, and how kind it was of him to go out of his way and record a song for Baekhyun. He wasn’t surprised when all Chanyeol said was that it took him less than a minute to record it, in one take, and that he hoped that it would help him on nights where sleep didn’t want anything to do with him.

 

Baekhyun couldn’t remember such simple things ever grabbing at his attention to this extent..

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The last weeks of October were spent exchanging messages and smiles with Chanyeol. They continued running into each other in the subway and they had even gone to eat together again once when Chanyeol had talked about this newly opened restaurant and Baekhyun had confessed it sounding appealing to him. 

 

This time, they took the subway together.

 

It was a Saturday, Baekhyun hadn’t shown the usual enthusiasm during their class for reasons even he didn’t know. He hadn’t really bothered looking for anyone after ending things with Joohyun and the only source of affection in his life was Chanyeol, someone he could now comfortably share a meal with. The ease with which they conversation flowed between them was the basis of what Baekhyun was trying to build. And he had a feeling it could be sturdy.

 

After noticing his lack of enthusiasm, Chanyeol had questioned him about what was wrong, so obviously concerned. All it had taken was a small and slightly saddened smile from Baekhyun for Chanyeol’s soft, kind heart to give Baekhyun the exact words he wanted to hear. He had cheered him up by promising him that if Baekhyun managed to learn this difficult part of a song Baekhyun had never heard before but that really wasn’t difficult, he’d treat him to kalbi. Needless to say, Baekhyun showed surprisingly fast comprehending abilities this time.

 

Chanyeol was a little sick that day, the tip of his nose reddened and a bit dried up from how often he was blowing it and rubbing tissues against the tender skin. He was wearing Baekhyun’s scarf, the one he had never returned and Baekhyun had never asked for. It still made him look as snuggly as the very first time Baekhyun had made him wear it.

 

The jjajangmyeon was delicious, Chanyeol’s company only sweetened the taste as they ate together while talking about anything and everything. Sometimes, it still amazed Baekhyun a little, the fact that not once had he had to lie about his personal interests and hobbies to make himself fit and appeal to Chanyeol. He didn’t seem the kind at all, but Baekhyun was still pleasantly surprised that just like him, Chanyeol had a particular interest in video games. Granted, he seemed to play much more of them than Baekhyun did, they could still share long conversations about Battlegrounds and League of Legends. Contrary to when they talked about music, Chanyeol was the one doing the listening more than the talking. 

 

Baekhyun supposed with how many hours he had spent relieving stress on those games, he had quite a bit of knowledge to spill. What was even more of a pleasant surprise was that Chanyeol was just as interested in sports as Baekhyun was. The only difference was that, while Baekhyun contented himself with watching sports, Chanyeol actually did more than that. He didn’t seem like the sporty type but he turned out to be pretty good at promoting bowling. Baekhyun might be one step closer to yielding to an interest he had never bothered fitting in his schedule. Or maybe that was just the feeling he got because of Chanyeol’s wide hand gesture as he immersed himself into bowling’s good points.

 

He just had to be honest and they would instantly find a common ground. Nothing felt as delightful as Chanyeol’s smile when Baekhyun laughed at him for being messy while rubbing his thumb over his chin to collect a small stain of sauce from his skin. Chanyeol didn’t question the gesture and it was novel, people usually did. Sometimes, it felt refreshing to Baekhyun but sometimes it made him question whether Chanyeol was still interested in him or not.

 

And it wasn’t like Baekhyun concealed his own interest. It was there, out in the open even if Baekhyun never really took the step further he was supposed to have taken close to a month ago, never voiced it out and didn’t engage into anything that exceeded friendship. He still gave the other endless praises, still didn’t hold back on the flirty remarks, and even held the door open for him whenever they went out. Baekhyun did all kinds of things he figured Chanyeol would like but Chanyeol never really showed anything more than occasional fluster and appraisal. His interest was transpiring from time to time as well, in the way he still often stared at Baekhyun too long, touched him more than necessary when laughing. Especially when he laughed so hard that his expression always took pained twist from stomachaches. He even occasionally returned some of Baekhyun’s more flirty words.

 

Baekhyun wasn’t sure what exactly was happening and most of the time, it was very unnerving but sometimes, it felt nice not to have to dig into his head and craft every single step of their relationship, whatever it was.

 

Once they were done eating and about to leave, Chanyeol sheepishly excused himself to go to the bathroom and Baekhyun laughed as he watched him quickly run to the back of the restaurant with the waiter’s directions. He stood up to pay for the tab as well before Chanyeol could argue again with him about who was supposed to pay. To distract himself once back on his seat, he glanced at his phone and saw messages from Joohyun. She had probably sent him a hundred texts since their last night together. They were all filled with despair and accusations and pleas. Baekhyun took a quick look at them and put his phone back down, humming softly under his breath.

 

Chanyeol had been playing Gymnopédie No.1 again while waiting for Baekhyun before their class and the song had just been stuck in his head until now. He brought his fingers up against the edge of the table and softly pressed on non-existent keys, humming the corresponding note to each time his fingers tapped against the table. 

 

Maybe he should actually buy a keyboard for himself. He had completely invested himself into piano again through Chanyeol and it would be nice to be able to play even when he wasn’t in class with the other.

 

"You have a nice voice."

 

He looked up with a startle.

 

"What?" he said, still too surprised by Chanyeol’s sudden appearance to say anything else. He must’ve been really lost in his thoughts.

 

"You were humming," Chanyeol answered and he had an unfamiliar look in his eyes but his lips were still curved into that easy smile.

 

"Thank you," Baekhyun merely said before standing up. "Are you ready to leave?"

 

"Yep," Chanyeol nodded. "I just have to pay the tab."

 

"I paid it already."

 

Chanyeol gave him a disapproving look this time.

 

"But I was going to pay it," he said, eyebrows furrowed a little bit. "We came here because I said I’d treat you."

 

"You can pay for it next time," Baekhyun suggested, looking up at the other with a glimmer of hope in his eyes. It wasn’t artificial.

 

Chanyeol’s frown didn’t last long, quickly replaced by a smile.

 

"Next time then," he repeated.

 

The next time, it was Chanyeol who paid. 

 

The time after that it was Baekhyun. 

 

At some point, he lost count of who paid for their now regular meetings over food, whether they were spontaneous after running into each other in the subway or planned through messages or phone calls.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

"How’s it going with your new boy toy?" Junmyeon asked after a sip of his drink, a slightly tipsy smile directed at Baekhyun. "Or rather old. It’s been almost three months and that’s usually their lifespan. He might expire soon."

 

"You need to stop trying to be funny. Especially when you’re drinking," Baekhyun snorted, giving his best friend a judgmental look that only made him laugh. "And it’s just going. We’re friends."

 

"Still just friends?" Junmyeon asked, surprise evident in his voice and expression.

 

Baekhyun hummed, taking a sip of his whiskey before answering. "I like taking things slow with him."

 

Junmyeon didn’t seem to understand what he meant but that was okay, Baekhyun didn’t really understand himself either when it came to Chanyeol.

 

He hadn’t seen Junmyeon in close to two weeks now. His best friend had gotten busy with work and whenever Baekhyun himself wasn’t working, he was hanging out with Chanyeol here or there, trying out new restaurants and delicious food. He was having a good time but that didn’t mean the lack of Junmyeon in his life couldn’t be felt. It was destabilizing not to have someone suddenly knocking at his door with takeout food or bags from the grocery store that would be used to cook for Baekhyun. It was destabilizing not to feel Junmyeon’s affectionate gaze on him for so long.

 

That thought had suddenly popped up in his head that afternoon and he had called Junmyeon insistently. It had taken ten tries for him to pick up the call and groan that he was busy and dying at work. It had taken five minutes of Baekhyun whining and complaining for Junmyeon to finally cave in and accept meeting him in one of their favorite bars that evening.

 

There was nothing outstanding about the place, it was merely styled as a vintage bar with leather seats all around, a stage that sometimes was used by young, aspiring musicians and that remained empty on other nights. It was empty today but it didn’t matter, the speakers scattered around sang a jazzy melody, perfectly marrying with the hushed conversations and the pealing of glasses. It was a cozy place where people rarely even got drunk, small and rather unpopular amongst the general public due to its clientèle. 

 

The lights were dim, they were sitting at the bar counter and Junmyeon had directly joined him from one of the hotels he was in charge with. His hair was styled perfectly still, only a few strands sticking out in a way that almost made it seem purposeful, his eyes were a bit droopy, both from exhaustion and the alcohol he had been sipping on for a while now, and his tie was undone, giving him a pleasant ruffled look that Baekhyun secretly liked seeing on him. Junmyeon didn’t hate his work per se, just the amount of work, and Baekhyun didn’t like how time-consuming it was for the other.

 

They fell into pleasant conversation again, Baekhyun asking the other about his work and Junmyeon complaining about having avoided his mother for a whole month after a total of three failed blind dates that felt like torture to a poor Junmyeon who had never been attracted to women. Baekhyun did his best to keep his laughter in as the other slurred his complaints out in-between sips of delightful poison. It was nice to have Junmyeon’s smile directed at him again. His concerned questions, his familiar lame jokes, and his hand resting on Baekhyun’s thigh, arm, or shoulder in such a comfortable way made Baekhyun realize how much he had actually missed the affection Junmyeon always nurtured for him.

 

Maybe it was because he didn’t have anyone but Chanyeol in his life right now. Chanyeol didn’t really feel anything close to the way Junmyeon felt about Baekhyun, but he basked in it. He breathed it all in, so much that it wasn’t alcohol that made his head just a little dizzy but the affection fusing from Junmyeon onto him, quenching a thirst he didn’t know he was a victim of until right that exact moment.

 

And yet, it all soon turned sour when he noticed what was going on as soon as it started. Junmyeon kept looking over Baekhyun’s shoulder at one point, furtive glances, his lips curving into a handsome smile each time. He was barely even paying attention to what Baekhyun was saying, that smile wasn’t even directed at him. Curious and a little dampened, Baekhyun turned to look behind him and met eyes with a stranger. He looked small in his seat, fingers holding onto a colorful cocktail, hair swept nicely over his forehead, and smile very attractive. Baekhyun instantly recognized him as someone fitting Junmyeon’s tastes perfectly.

 

Usually, the realization that Junmyeon was checking someone out and that the gesture was mutual made him obnoxiously nudge the other and encourage him to act on it but tonight, Baekhyun felt miffed. He was the one who had called Junmyeon here. He was the one deprived of his best friend’s presence and his loving smiles and the endless affection Baekhyun hung onto for so many years. Tonight, it was their first time meeting after two entire weeks and Baekhyun didn’t feel nice about this at all.

 

That odd sensation of possessiveness kept growing in the next few minutes and Junmyeon seemed to be totally oblivious of it, chafing Baekhyun further until he couldn’t take the lack of attention anymore and abruptly cupped Junmyeon’s cheek to pull him closer. He cut him off mid-sentence, pressing their lips together into a messy kiss. He felt Junmyeon tensing up for a second before melting against him, liquefying into a puddle of solace that Baekhyun finally could bathe in without any disturbance.

 

"What are you doing?" Junmyeon whispered once Baekhyun pulled away.

 

"I called you here tonight, why are you giving attention to someone else?" he asked and despite the smile, reproach was still palpable in his voice.

 

Junmyeon seemed to realize that as he froze for a second, looking into Baekhyun’s eyes. For the first time ever, Baekhyun couldn’t really read his best friend’s gaze. There was something unfamiliar in there. It almost looked like happiness for a second before turning into sadness and then blurring behind confusion. Maybe it was just the alcohol.

 

He was well-aware of how selfish he was being. Junmyeon didn’t belong to him and Baekhyun didn’t claim such thing either. All he wanted was the attention and affection he had been deprived of for a while, ever since Baekhyun had decided to give all his time to Chanyeol and not get involved with anyone else.

 

Junmyeon didn’t look away from him again after that, the odd look in his eyes fading away and his hand anchored into Baekhyun’s as they went home together later on. 

 

They didn’t sleep together that night, merely sharing Baekhyun’s bed and affectionate caresses. Junmyeon’s embrace around him was strong but not restrictive, his fingers were soft as he stroked Baekhyun’s hair, and his lips were a comfort as he kissed Baekhyun’s forehead, his cheek, his lips before falling into slumber together after more laughter and conversation.

 

When morning came and Junmyeon had to leave, a tingle and a feathery weight lingered in his chest. His entire body felt softer, lighter, and refreshed, like a small flower whose thirst had been quenched after a dry spell. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

November started with sparkles, glitters, and powdered tepidity dusted all over Baekhyun.

 

He had never found his job in a cosmetics company very useful in his daily life. The only thing it helped him with was knowing exactly what products would be the best to conceal his tattoo with whenever he felt the need to. Besides that, he had the chance to know exactly what kind of brand should be avoided, what was a certain brand’s fortes and what weaknesses dragged it down more. He had spent so much time analyzing the products of rival brands that Baekhyun could confidently walk into a makeup store and find only the best products in a matter of seconds. 

 

He wouldn’t lie and say that he didn’t nurture a particular interest and amazement for the entire beauty industry and that sometimes, when he was bored, he’d browse through reviews, articles and whatnots on the latest beauty and skincare launches.

 

It was very uncommon for all this knowledge to actually come into use in his daily life, however, and therefore, he felt extremely surprised that morning when he woke up to a message of Chanyeol asking him if he was well informed about makeup products. Baekhyun had almost laughed. It was so typical of Chanyeol to breach the subject in such a polite way even when he knew Baekhyun was the son of the owner of one of South Korea’s biggest cosmetics brands. Not that his relation to his father had anything to do with Baekhyun’s knowledge of the subject per se.

 

He simply reassured the other about his knowledge on the subject for a few minutes, even boasting about his personal tastes as Chanyeol explained to him that he wanted to buy his sister beauty products for Christmas and had no idea how to proceed. Baekhyun wasn’t sure whether he wanted to laugh at the fact that Chanyeol was already thinking about Christmas when it was barely even into the start of November or if he wanted to smile at the fact that he preferred seeking for Baekhyun’s help rather than one of the female friends Baekhyun knew he had.

 

To Chanyeol’s surprise, they had visited the Olive Young store in Myeong-dong. He seemed to have thought Baekhyun would bring him directly one of 4C’s stores but rather than that, Baekhyun chose a bigger store that gathered all kinds of beauty products under various sections and through a wide range of both luxurious and affordable brands, including 4C. Baekhyun had explained that it would be easier than running from store to store and that 4C, despite being a really good brand, had its shortcomings that could be complemented by better products from other brands.

 

In the end, they still ended up buying a lot of 4C products and at that moment, Baekhyun felt a little proud to have his name marked in a tiny, tiny spot over a high quality and appreciated brand. However, what Baekhyun liked the most was Chanyeol attentively listening to his suggestions and explanations as to why that product was better than the other before nodding and dumping the product into the small bag provided by the store.

 

The most enjoyable thing about this spontaneous and rather unconventional outing was Chanyeol going from absolutely frightened by the amount of products to excitedly wanting to check everything out. He looked at eyeshadow palettes in amazement, as if he was looking at an impressionist painting, observed the different skincare masks and handed one with a puppy pattern to Baekhyun after telling him it wasn’t a face mask but a Baekhyun-face mask. He even let Baekhyun swatch eyeshadows and lipsticks on his hand, not even complaining about the stains as Baekhyun turned the back of his hand into a colorful piano keyboard. 

 

At one point, he even carefully rubbed his fingertips against highlighter pans and traced them over Baekhyun’s chin and cheeks. A very small, very quiet and discreet highlighter and glitter battle ensued after that and Baekhyun was the winner of it. They were careful with the pans though and Chanyeol was the one to keep warning him because it looks so fragile and pretty and glittery what if we break it?

 

They parted ways after eating fried chicken together for lunch, Baekhyun smiling each time he caught glimpse of the makeshift varicolored piano keyboard on the back of Chanyeol’s hand. Surprisingly, he had refused to wipe it all off and they both still had glitter and highlighter all over their faces, Chanyeol in a much worse state than Baekhyun.

 

They parted ways there but when Baekhyun got home, a message from Chanyeol had greeted him. It was a flash of glitter and sparkles and a glowing beam. It was just a photo of himself he had probably taken after getting home. His eyebrows were furrowed and his lower lip was jutted out in a sad pout. He looked like a big fluffy puppy that had excitedly rolled over a lump of shimmers and glitters. 

 

I have glitter everywhere because of you :<

 

Baekhyun looked at the photo again, there was a pretty sheen of peachy highlighter all over the apple of Chanyeol’s cheeks, fading into a more golden colored one that spread in streaks down his cheeks. His forehead sparkled too, his hair catching on the pale highlighter Baekhyun had playfully ruffled his bangs with. There were faint marks of glittery eyeshadow over his jawline, one line of metallic blue even trailing down the side of his neck.

 

It should’ve made him look horrible. There was too much glow, too many colors. And yet Baekhyun couldn’t help but find Chanyeol so beautiful and soft with his oversized, favorite green hoodie, his ruffled, glittery hair, and his exquisite expression. 

 

And maybe the agonizing pace was worth it if part of Chanyeol would belong to him forever in the end. Maybe taking his time was worth it if, in the end, he’d be able to dim the glow and brighten it up again according to his own will.

 

You’re a fairy, I knew your ears were huge for a reason

 

your ears are big too!!!!

you have no right to mock me >_>

 

Yes, but yours are cuter so it’s different

 

you can’t get yourself out of everything with smoothness

 

Can I really not?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

"Oh, you’re a bit late today," Jongdae welcomed him with a playful smile as Baekhyun pushed the academy’s door open.

 

"Sorry," Baekhyun said, sheepish. "I had to wait a bit at the subway to get in, it was too crowded."

 

"It’s alright," Jongdae waved him off. "Chanyeol’s going to be late too anyway. You both found the same day to be late on."

 

"Really?" Baekhyun stepped closer to the front desk in curiosity. "Did something happen?"

 

Jongdae shook his head, the fond smile on his lips softening the motion a little bit.

 

"He probably just found a lost kitty again. Or maybe it’s a puppy this time?" 

 

Baekhyun laughed at that. He had noticed Chanyeol’s fondness for animals, especially ones that were small and cute, like any passing dog in the street or even the tiniest of stray kittens. They always made him stop in the middle of a walk so he could crouch down and pet their small head with his big hand. If he found any that was harmed, he’d stop and do anything he could to take care of it. Baekhyun had stood with abandoned animals more than once while Chanyeol ran to buy something to feed them.

 

"Does that happen often?" he asked, seeing as it was already the second time Baekhyun had seen Chanyeol late because of that reason.

 

"Not really," Jongdae hummed. "But when one of us is running late for whatever reason, there’s usually someone available to cover. Yixing or I usually, but he refuses to let anyone cover for him when he’s with you." He stopped there and let his gaze slide down a mischievous slope over Baekhyun’s body, as if he was studying him. "I guess he’s possessive over this particular student."

 

Satisfaction spread through him at those words.

 

"Don’t tell me you’re jealous," he said, wiggling his eyebrows playfully since he knew Jongdae was the kind of easygoing person who joked around a lot.

 

"I might be," the other wiggled his eyebrows right back at him and they both laughed together. "He always goes out and around with you but keeps you to himself! He always talks about you but half of the teachers here don’t even know what you look like."

 

"Well, I wouldn’t mind meeting them," he said, genuinely curious about what kind of person Chanyeol was around his friends. "You all look so close together."

 

Jongdae looked at him for a second, twisting his lips pensively.

 

"We usually gather together for dinner every Saturday night. How about you join us this week?" he suggested, surprising Baekhyun only a little bit. "That way you can just meet all of us and everyone will stop asking weird questions to Chanyeol about you."

 

"Weird questions?" he blinked.

 

"They get kind of embarrassing when they’re curious." Jongdae waved him off, only fueling Baekhyun’s curiosity.

 

"If that’s alright with Chanyeol, I’d like that," Baekhyun grinned, glad that the opportunity he had been looking for presented itself to him.

 

"Let’s not tell him," Jongdae said, leaning a bit closer as if he were conspiring. "His face when he sees you arrive would be priceless."

 

Somehow, that sounded very inviting and made Baekhyun appreciate Jongdae a little more. Baekhyun eagerly agreed and they exchanged phone numbers, Jongdae promising to send him the place and time they would be meeting at before sending him away to Chanyeol’s classroom and telling him that the other would — hopefully— be there soon.

 

Without further ado, Baekhyun headed to the room and stepped in, closing the door behind him before taking his usual spot at the piano bench. He looked around, taking in the light, joyful paint splattered all over the walls. It was a bit odd to tell himself that all of this had started because of a video in which he could only see these walls, a grand piano, and a handsome pianist. 

 

Chanyeol hadn’t posted any other video on the academy’s SNS page nowadays but it didn’t really matter to Baekhyun who usually listened to the recording the other had sent him and him alone a few weeks ago. He had listened to it so much that he knew it by heart and now, just the thought of that untitled song made him hum it under his breath as he stared at the instrument right in front of him. He still hadn’t bought a keyboard for himself, maybe he should go this weekend. His fingers were itching even more now that he had the instrument so close to him but he didn’t want to risk Jongdae hearing him, even if he knew the room was soundproof.

 

He checked the time on his watch, pulling the sleeve of his suit up. He had passed by the company for paperwork today. It had been quick enough for him not to catch a single glimpse of his father nor hear a single word about him. He didn’t know if he had gotten discharged from the hospital yet. It was weeks ago, Baekhyun supposed he had. He had looked worse than ever in that bed. He had made Baekhyun feel worse than ever. He sighed. Chanyeol was really late.

 

He continued humming the song under his breath and before he realized it, the humming turned into piano notes, his fingers gliding over the ivory keys with ease, like a dancer twirling on the stage after a thousand hours of practice. This was a nice song. Baekhyun hadn’t gone back to that bar since then, and he wondered if the pianist still played there. It would be nice, Baekhyun didn’t remember all the song, just that one minute that he had recorded.

 

"You’ve finally yielded."

 

The sudden voice that sounded too close to him for comfort startled Baekhyun out of his thoughts and he looked up, a bit disoriented. The music abruptly cut off. Not a single note strayed from its path or fell down brutally despite the pianist’s startle. Surprise cleanly sliced the melody in half.

 

Heart dropping down to his stomach, Baekhyun turned his head to look at the left, gaze falling on the smug smile and quirked eyebrow on Chanyeol’s face. He felt his whole countenance cracking at the edges, his eyes widening the slightest bit as he took in Chanyeol’s disarming presence, his crossed arms, and the obvious lack of surprise in his expression and words. Baekhyun’s lips parted open but no sound came out, his fingers still postured on the keyboard perfectly, as if they could continue the melody where he had left it off at any second.

 

Suddenly, Chanyeol burst into laughter, bending his body in half from the strong reverberation of it. His loud voice filled the whole room and his hand pressed against his stomach a few seconds into it, as if he was already in pain from laughing so much. Baekhyun remained frozen.

 

"Your face," Chanyeol wheezed and this scene was so familiar, their roles had been once exchanged. However, Baekhyun hadn’t caught Chanyeol in the middle of a lie. No one ever caught Baekhyun in the middle of lie. "This is— I think this is the first time you’ve ever lost control over yourself."

 

How true that statement was.

 

Baekhyun pulled his hands away from the instrument and blinked a few times, still entirely disoriented and unsure of what he was even supposed to say or do. This had never happened to him. 

 

"How did you know?" he asked after a few seconds, when Chanyeol had calmed down and he had recovered bits of his composure.

 

"Some things just didn’t fit," Chanyeol explained as he moved to sit down beside him on the bench. His fingers dropped a few notes on the keyboard almost automatically before he met Baekhyun’s eyes again. 

 

Baekhyun couldn’t take his eyes off him, wonder and mortification blending inside of him in a foreign mixture.

 

"Like what?" he urged the other. No one had ever seen through him. Baekhyun had never let an opening. He hadn’t even left an opening to Chanyeol. He was almost embarrassed about getting caught this way but somehow, the amazement prevented him from focusing on that.

 

Chanyeol looked at him with that smug, confident spread over his features. The same one he had whenever he talked about a subject no one could beat him on, music.

 

"Firstly, your posture. You always looked so awkward when playing piano but not the same kind of awkward as everyone else. It took me a while to understand that the awkwardness wasn’t from the difficulty of holding on a perfect position but from preventing yourself from holding it on. The fact that you got really good at the posture quicker than most students also struck me but I really didn’t figure this out until later."

 

"Later?" Baekhyun asked, voice small as he bit on his lower lip. He should’ve been more careful but at the same time, he hadn’t imagined Chanyeol to be so observant.

 

"Your fingers are always really fidgety," Chanyeol noted so nonchalantly, as if he wasn’t analyzing Baekhyun better than anyone else ever had. Baekhyun looked down at his fingers. He had never even noticed. "A pianist’s fingers are always fidgety and you often use any possible hard surface as a piano keyboard. For just small seconds, but you do it very often. That only happens to either naturally fidgety people or people who’ve been playing piano for years."

 

"That’s all it took you to figure it out?" Baekhyun asked and there seemed to be something in his voice that he himself couldn’t hear, too busy still gawking at Chanyeol, but that the latter heard because his smile turned only a little shy, as if Baekhyun had just praised him.

 

"Well, not really. I did think you were just someone with a naturally good posture and naturally fidgety fingers. Also just a fast learner. Because you tried slowing it down but there’s no way you can make a good pianist out as a bad one. Or even a beginner. You just learned too fast," he stopped for a second there to laugh and Baekhyun felt so oddly ridiculous, in an almost good way, that he let out a quiet chuckle. "Sometimes, I’d give you the worst possible explanations on purpose and you’d still get everything right."

 

Baekhyun couldn’t help but laugh at that. Not in hilarity. He wasn’t sure why he was laughing. He shook his head as he brought his hands up and ran them through his hair, ruffling the strands that had been perfect styled until only a second ago. Then he ran a hand through his face and peeked at Chanyeol through the cracks between his fingers. He had the biggest, silliest grin on, the corners of his eyes crinkling and his dimple out in the open. He looked extremely proud of himself and Baekhyun was a mess.

 

"What actually gave it away then if you weren’t sure?" he mumbled and Chanyeol laughed again, redeeming himself by casually patting Baekhyun’s back afterwards, as if to comfort him. The victorious smile that refused to leave his face lessened the efficiency of the gesture but also bettered it at the same time.

 

"Remember when we went out to eat kalbi last month?" he asked, waiting for Baekhyun to nod before continuing. "Well, I went to the bathroom and when I came back you were once again using the table as a keyboard and humming to Gymnopédie No.1. There were no keys, of course, but the way your fingers moved were kind of fitting and went along perfectly with the song. But I never taught that to you so there was no way you’d know it so perfectly. Then it all kind of came together and made sense."

 

With each word leaving Chanyeol’s mouth, horror filled Baekhyun up.

 

"You’ve known for a whole month?"

 

"Yep," Chanyeol simply, nodding once - a mischievous child proud of himself.

 

"Then why did you never say anything?" Baekhyun asked, dumbfounded.

 

"I just wanted to see what would happen and for how long you’d be able to keep the act. It’s been one very fun month."

 

Baekhyun huffed out a snort of disbelief and straightened himself again even if he felt nothing but disoriented. This was so odd. So unusual. He was mortified. And yet, a bit impressed. Chanyeol was a really smart person. No one but Junmyeon had ever been able to see through him.

 

"I’m sorry," he said softly before hiding his face behind his hands again and letting out a small, tiny whine of embarrassment and frustration.

 

Chanyeol looked delighted. He never once looked away from Baekhyun.

 

"It’s alright, I really don’t mind," he said, this time good-naturedly patting Baekhyun’s head. That made Baekhyun glare at him harder but, unimpressed, Chanyeol smiled that boyish, crooked smile and quirked an eyebrow. "I’m just wondering why, though. Why did you enroll for piano classes if you’re already so good at it? You just played this song by ear, there was nothing you could learn it from besides your own video and my recording."

 

As if Chanyeol had unleashed the filter inside of Baekhyun, dread suddenly filled him up. He didn’t know what to reply to that. He didn’t even know what he looked like, what emotion was displayed on his own face. 

 

"I just needed an excuse," he eventually said before stopping himself. What was he saying? "I mean, to pick up the piano again. I needed an excuse for that. Since I hadn’t played in so long. I just saw the opportunity in your video."

 

Chanyeol didn’t lose his amused smile. It only seemed to grow wider at that, as if he knew exactly what Baekhyun was trying to say, or not to say. He hummed softly, the deep timbre of his voice vibrating with jest as he leaned just a tad closer to Baekhyun. He wasn’t sure whether the other had understood, or deemed that excuse acceptable, but he was relieved when he didn’t press on the issue.

 

"Well, then. I’m glad you found that excuse," he repeated and this time, he sounded more genuine. "I gained a really nice friend out of it. And I’ll still have that friend even if you don’t really need me to be your piano teacher."

 

Right, Baekhyun thought as he felt something in him loosen a little. He hadn’t even noticed he had been worried about that until he felt relief flooding in just then. Piano wasn’t his only link with Chanyeol anymore. They were friends. They saw each other outside of classes. They saw each other outside much more than in this academy. Through messages, phone calls, abrupt dinners, planned visits to newly opened restaurants, and since very recently, just visits to random stores simply to spend time together. As friends.

 

Chanyeol let out another soft chuckle when Baekhyun didn’t reply before nudging him a little.

 

"How about you show me the actual extents of your talents? I’m curious."

 

And it was odd, Baekhyun realized, how they even managed to match while playing an instrument. 

 

Baekhyun played for him a little, then Chanyeol played for him a little and it turned into a competition. Baekhyun started a song with one hand and Chanyeol joined in with the other, playing together sometimes clumsily and sometimes uncoordinatedly, but never once letting a single note sound out of place or stiff.

Chapter Text

"Baekhyun, here!"

 

Baekhyun looked around to spot where Jongdae’s voice was coming from. A smile broke out on his face when he saw him in one corner of the restaurant, waving crazily from his seat amongst the rest of the academy’s teachers. The seat right in front of him was empty, the one on its right occupied by Chanyeol who turned around at that moment. His wide eyes widened even more as he seemed to realize that Jongdae wasn’t joking around and that Baekhyun was indeed walking towards them.

 

It was a nice restaurant, one designed to accommodate large groups of people. Their table was already garnished with all kinds of delicious foods, set for barbecue, with bottles of soju and cider. Baekhyun supposed they were all comfortable with each other enough not to push themselves to consume alcohol if they didn’t feel like it without it seeming rude.

 

He weaved through the different tables and when he reached them, Chanyeol was still looking at him in surprise, his eyebrows raised and eyes still widened. He had a cap on, worn backwards, along with yet another hoodie that seemed new since Baekhyun had never seen this one before. He looked youthful and adorable.

 

"I’m here for Jongdae, not for you," he said with a faux disdainful expression before smiling again as he bowed and greeted everyone else around the table.

 

He recognized Seungwan who was sitting right next to Jongdae and directly across Chanyeol but the four other people around the table were unfamiliar to him, save for a few glimpses caught in the academy’s hallways. He settled in next to Chanyeol and felt the curious gazes on him, their weight not making him feel ill at ease.

 

"You plotted this behind my back?" Chanyeol asked Jongdae, voice a bit higher than usual and that same surprised expression still etched on his face. He looked utterly betrayed and even a little flustered, as if he hadn’t expected this at all.

 

It was almost satisfying, after what had happened on Wednesday. Baekhyun still felt mortification hitting him sometimes as he remembered the whole situation and how he had lost his entire composure.

 

"Don’t talk as if I stole him from you, I just invited him to dinner," Jongdae snorted, giving Chanyeol a look.

 

The latter grumbled under his breath, the tips of his ears going red in an obvious sign of embarrassment. Baekhyun felt fondness flowing through him as he watched him take his cap off and run a hand through his messy hair to push it all back before putting the cap back on again. Chanyeol seemed to feel his gaze on him but when he looked back and their eyes met, the surprise and the embarrassment on his face was swept away by a joyful smile.

 

As is turned out, only two of the other strangers occupying the table were teachers at the academy. Soojung, who was sitting directly next to Seungwan, gave flute and violin classes, and the young woman sitting across from her was her best friend, Amber. Next to Soojung was Yixing who gave piano, guitar, and vocal lessons which seemed to be his favorite thing to talk about since that was the subject of a heated conversation between him and the young man sitting across from him, Jinyoung, another one of Soojung’s friends. They were all friendly and the food was nice, Baekhyun still struggled a little from time to time with wrapping his meat with perilla leaves but it would be a lie to say that he wasn’t doing it on purpose to see if Chanyeol would treat him the same way as usual even in front of his friends. He did. It earned him a few curious looks from everyone, especially Jongdae and Seungwan who kept eyeing him and then meeting each other’s gaze as if they could communicate through their eyes alone. Baekhyun noticed that they were sitting close together.

 

It was a homey kind of dinner. Different from the company dinners Baekhyun sometimes had to go through at 4C where everyone was from the corporate world, introduced themselves with their occupation rather than their name, and talked about work more than themselves. Here, Baekhyun talked to Amber about video games and to Jongdae about music, Seungwan and Soojung talked about the latest drama they were watching together, fawning over the handsome main character. Jongdae kept intervening each time, telling Seungwan that he too would be nice enough to hold an umbrella over his partner’s head if it were raining.

 

Chanyeol joined in all kinds of conversations, talking with Yixing about a particular student who had trouble speaking but enjoyed piano more than anything else, leaning over the table to talk to Jinyoung since Amber was sitting between them. He made sure that Baekhyun had everything he wanted to eat and Baekhyun put particular care into reminding him to eat and not only talk. He was aware that everyone was probably watching him and that this was some kind of test to see if Baekhyun fitted with Chanyeol, as a friend or more.

 

Either way, Baekhyun liked this intimate atmosphere, the white noise of the meat grilling from their own table and surrounding ones, the hushed conversations and loud laughter from other patrons, and the way everyone smiled at each other, so familiar and comfortable. He didn’t feel out of place even for a second. On the contrary, despite this being a fairly unfamiliar situation to him, Baekhyun felt like everyone was doing their best not to make him feel left out, especially Chanyeol. The tips of his ears remained red for a short while and Baekhyun didn’t miss the glances he exchanged with Jongdae.

 

"It’s nice to finally meet you for real," Seungwan said about halfway through the dinner, when Baekhyun had probably answered a dozen questions about his life and earned approving nods from everyone around the table.

 

"Right?" Jongdae said, looking at her once. His voice was still drawling out when he looked at Baekhyun again. "Chanyeol always keeps you to himself like you’re some kind of treasure but also always talks about you so we all kind of grew curious."

 

Chanyeol remained silent at that, munching on his beef almost grumpily as he glared at Jongdae whose amusement seemed to grow at the sight. Baekhyun nudged him, wiggling his eyebrows in a way that made almost everyone laugh.

 

"You two plotted behind my back anyway," was the only thing Chanyeol huffed and Baekhyun laughed.

 

"Well, I’m nothing special. Just me.” But he was glad Jongdae had taken this initiative, it allowed him to see how Chanyeol behaved amongst friends and it felt like a treat so far.

 

"Nothing special?" Soojung perked up from her seat. "Every time I catch a glimpse of you, you look so nice. With perfect clothes, perfect hair, and even the way you walk is perfect. That’s some special talent, according to me," she said, shoving a few bean sprouts into her small, pretty mouth afterwards. 

 

Baekhyun carved his lips into a smile. "Thanks."

 

"While you’re here, you should tell me exactly how you do that. I need to learn," she chuckled and maybe she had a bit too much soju already, her cheeks were a little flushed.

 

Baekhyun hummed in thought for a few seconds. He let his eyes trail over her features and she seemed to understand the jest behind it because she started batting her lashes at him and making various poses.

 

"If this is how you look when you’re not perfect, I don’t think you should try harder unless you want to hurt us."

 

She laughed at that and everyone booed collectively, Jongdae acting as if he was puking while Yixing looked at him with a rather impressed expression. 

 

"He does this sometimes. Don’t mind him," Chanyeol shook his head, giving him a look with his unimpressed, narrowed eyes. Baekhyun smiled at the faint unfamiliar note in his voice. 

 

Maybe it was something close to jealousy.

 

There were only a few pieces of meat left on the grill and Chanyeol asked if anyone wanted more only to order another serving before anyone even had the time to answer.

 

"I heard you’re stopping classes?" Yixing questioned him after Chanyeol called out for more in a hearty but polite voice.

 

He felt Chanyeol’s gaze on him and met it once before looking back at Yixing.

 

"Yeah, I’m getting a bit busier with work and other things so I’ll unfortunately have to stop for now," he replied, the secrecy with which Chanyeol smiled not going unnoticed by him.

 

They had both agreed on stopping the lessons as Baekhyun wouldn’t learn anything anyway. Despite them being pleasant, Baekhyun figured that since they would continue seeing each other outside of the academy, he had no reason to clog up Chanyeol’s class schedule anymore. He had only agreed on one condition though. He had asked Chanyeol to help him choose the perfect keyboard to buy and the other had heartily agreed. They had gotten it yesterday and it was now sitting in a corner of Baekhyun’s room, perfectly slotted against his wall.

 

"So Chanyeol couldn’t convince you," Jongdae snorted, eyeing Chanyeol with a mock disappointed twist to his lips. "I bet that wouldn’t have happened if you had a teacher as amazing as me."

 

"You’re not a better teacher than I am," Chanyeol argued with a light frown.

 

"I am."

 

"You’re not."

 

"Let’s ask Baekhyun," Seungwan intervened, putting an end to their childish banter before it could escalate, as if she was used to this kind of situation. "Who do you think is the best teacher between these two idiots?"

 

Amused to no end, Baekhyun made a show of watching the two of them, Jongdae’s wiggling eyebrows and Chanyeol’s threatening gaze. Everyone was looking at him as if he was about to decide the winner of some kind of talent show and he took a few seconds to hum before giving his answer.

 

"Obviously, Jongdae would be a funnier teacher," he said, glancing at Chanyeol to see his reaction.

 

His mouth fell open in a barely exaggerated display of betrayal. Jongdae fist bumped the air in victory. Everyone else laughed and Baekhyun joined along before they all perked up at the same time when another serving of meat was brought to them.

 

Jongdae and Soojung started grilling it with the respective help of Seungwan and Jisoo. The scent of cooking meat billowed towards his face pleasantly before an even more enjoyable sensation pillowed against his arm when Chanyeol leaned close enough to him so nobody else would hear him.

 

"You really can’t lie, you know? It’s cute."

 

Baekhyun smiled at him. Chanyeol’s breath tickled him through their proximity. It felt like an estival mist on his skin. 

 

"You’re right, I really can’t."

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In a way, it was almost as if the revelation that Baekhyun had actually lied to Chanyeol about piano brought them closer than ever. They still saw each other on the subway, they still ate together, still discovered new restaurants together, and still talked a lot through messages and phone calls filled with Chanyeol excitedly telling Baekhyun about his day at the academy.

 

Baekhyun could feel himself growing fond of Chanyeol by the day, the same way he always grew fond of anyone who had so much love locked in themselves. He felt as if that wasn't avoidable, with the way Chanyeol was so caring, so selfless, and just had that something about him that was so soft. Baekhyun sometimes wanted to reach out to him and touch him just to see if he was made of human bones and flesh rather that feathers and cotton candy. Sometimes, he wondered how someone so tall and long and broad could have a heart even bigger, wider, and full of love to give.

 

Of course, that love wasn’t given to Baekhyun. Not yet, it was too soon for Baekhyun to know for sure whether Chanyeol was in love with him or not since the latter didn’t treat him any special kind of way. Chanyeol was just naturally kind and caring, that was all there was to the way he treated Baekhyun with familiarity and ease. He could see it in the way Chanyeol smiled at strangers on the street, waved at small children in the subway, petted every dog he met, and always asked Baekhyun if he had eaten dinner yet at the end of every day. Just amiability. He probably asked the same question to each of his friends.

 

Baekhyun craved that love. He craved it. Sometimes, he’d look at Chanyeol and wish he could simply take that big, soft heart and keep it to himself until the end of time. It wasn’t an unfamiliar sensation, it was something Baekhyun had been feeling since as early as he remembered.

 

Things were going at the perfect pace, however, and he wouldn’t ruin things. Some flowers took longer to blossom than others, some flowers didn’t reach their full potential at the first bloom yet. Some flowers grew even more beautiful if he just waited long enough and were patient enough to catch them at the right time. In Baekhyun’s eyes, that was the kind of flower Chanyeol was.

 

He would continue planning everything step by step and so far, he was content with this odd thing they had, somewhere between really close friends and people who were much too close to be called just friends. This was his longest case so far, it had been almost four months since the first step Baekhyun had taken into the academy and the love wasn’t there yet, but the affection was. 

 

He was content with drawing that affection to himself and breathing it in with every warm smile, warm word, and warm breath Chanyeol sent his way.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

On some days, that contentment withered a little bit.

 

On some days, while the friendly affection was delightful, the lack of desperate love fell over it like a shadow preventing a flower from reaching out to sunlight, its source of life.

 

On that cold November day, Baekhyun had gone to the company for the first time after a long time. He had been unable to avoid it anymore, with the holiday season approaching and the company getting much busier.

 

He hadn’t ran into his father, able to avoid that at least, but that didn’t make the place any less oppressive. Especially since being in the company led to thinking about his father which led to thinking about their last encounter and the words he had been stabbed with which led to thinking about his mother which led to thinking about what exactly Baekhyun had done.

 

Had he done it? He wasn’t sure. He couldn’t have done it. He had no reason to do it, hadn’t he? She had wanted a divorce, she had wanted to leave him and Baekbeom with their father but would that even lead a child to push her down the stairs and subsequently kill her? He wasn’t sure. He remembered it. He remembered pushing her, he remembered the exact moment he had turned into a monster but at the same time those memories seemed so foreign to him. As if they weren’t his own. They were too blurry, too foggy, and why couldn’t he just dream about them? Why was it always so nubilous in that same, recurring nightmare?

 

After a day spent filling up  with restless thoughts, Baekhyun’s head felt like it was about to explode. To avoid going home and making himself even more vulnerable to the constant thinking, he had decided to wander through Myeong-dong instead. It was almost closing time, some shops were even already closed but he had found one clothing store that appealed to him through the vitrine and without hesitation, he had thrown himself inside.

 

It hadn’t been a bad choice, there were really nice clothes that caught his eyes. He found a sweater that would go perfectly with that dark, navy blue pair of slacks he had, along with a dress shirt that would bring his new suit to completion. He even found a nice, woolen black scarf that he could probably wear on less formal days. Everything would be perfect.

 

There was no one else in the store, the sun had already set and it would probably close soon, he hadn’t even seen any employee wandering around. When a sudden, quiet voice rose from behind him, he was a bit startled but didn’t let it show.

 

"Good evening, sir. Can I help you?"

 

Baekhyun turned around, gaze falling on a young man with long legs and broad shoulders. His features were veiled behind a faint sheen of aloofness that Baekhyun could associate to someone who wasn’t too expressive. However, there seemed to be a few cracks in that veil, a tongue sliding out to lick at a plump lower lip, fidgety eyes as they stared at Baekhyun. He felt a shiver brushing down his spine, like the first drops of rain after long days of draught.

 

"I’m just looking for a jacket," Baekhyun said, putting on his prettiest smile. Eyes dropped to his lips for a second before going back up to his own eyes. He was handsome. He seemed to think Baekhyun was handsome too. "Would you mind helping me?"

 

"Sure," the young man agreed easily. 

 

Their gazes lingered on each other for a second before he stepped closer to Baekhyun, much closer, and started looking through the rack of clothes. Baekhyun didn’t step away one bit, basking in every single furtive glance thrown his way that he caught. He observed him. Broad shoulders, black hair falling over his forehead, slightly curled and brushing his eyebrows. He had fair skin, a mole right on the side of his neck. A pinkish tongue came out to slide over his lower lip again, leaving it prettier and glossier. He glanced at Baekhyun, once, twice, thrice. Baekhyun’s smile grew wider.

 

After a few seconds, he pulled an item out of the rack. It was a black jacket, a stylish one that he wouldn’t mind wearing.

 

"How’s this one?"

 

"It looks alright. Can I try it?" he asked, tilting his head a little. Dark eyes slid down to his bared neck.

 

Silently, the attractive man handed the jacket out to Baekhyun. He locked his gaze into his as Baekhyun took his own coat off and tried the jacket on.

 

"How does it look?" 

 

He trailed his gaze over Baekhyun’s body, down his chest, along his shoulders, and then down his legs. An unnecessary move, a blatant display of attraction. He smiled at Baekhyun, playful, a bit mischievous, maybe inviting. He wasn’t even trying to hide it.

 

"Very nice," he assured before taking that one step that separated them. "Let me help you adjust it to get a better look."

 

Long fingers slid over his shoulders, slowly. Eyes focused on his lips, then his eyes. Cool fingertips grazed his neck, then the collar of his jacket. He looked into Baekhyun’s eyes as he adjusted it. Baekhyun dropped his gaze to those thin, rosy lips, not concealing the gesture one bit.

 

"You smell very nice," he commented offhandedly, lowly, leaning a tad closer to Baekhyun. 

 

"Thank you," Baekhyun said back, letting his gaze drop to exposed, sculpted collarbones, then the name tag on a chest that looked carved and sturdy beneath the black fabric of his shirt. "Sehun," he completed, diving his eyes back up into the other’s.

 

He was taller than Baekhyun, much taller. He would look very nice pressed under him.

 

"Perfect," Sehun said after a while, whispered, voice lower, attraction scratching it faintly as he tapped Baekhyun’s chest with finality, smile widening.

 

He didn’t step back. Baekhyun grazed a hand against his hips with the excuse of grabbing the rest of the clothes he had chosen from the rack he had rested them on. 

 

"Do you have a changing room? I’d like to try these on."

 

He didn’t need to see whether the jacket fitted him or not, he could figure it out from the way Sehun was eyeing him, his shoulders, his chest, his arms, his entire body.

 

Sehun nodded then gestured Baekhyun to follow him to the changing rooms at the back of the store. There was still no one else, the door of the shop was closed.

 

Baekhyun pulled the door of a random cabin open. It was wide. Wide enough for one person, a bit narrow for two. 

 

He turned to Sehun, looking at him over his shoulder, catching him trailing his gaze down the back of his body.

 

"Would you like to help me try these on too?"

 

His voice was suave, low, the perfect melody to wrap around Sehun and pull him in closer, closer until they both stepped inside the changing room and locked the door behind them.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Baekhyun hated company dinners.

 

There was nothing faker than company dinners. And there was nothing worse than being one of the higher ups and having to attend them once in a blue moon. Only because both his father and his brother couldn’t attend and there had to be a representative, especially in such busy times.

 

He held onto the doorknob as he composed the code to unlock his door, his body swaying a little bit. He shouldn’t have drunk so much, he was such a lightweight but at the same time, he wouldn’t have been able to survive so much masquerade without alcohol in his system. It was so hypocritical of him to hate these kind of events because of fakery when he, himself, was the fakest.

 

His first attempt was a failure. The door beeped at him in refusal and he took a deep breath in, blinked a few times and slowly, very slowly pressed his fingertip on the keyboard, seeking for the right numbers one by one. It beeped at him with an approving melody and the door unlocked. He sighed in relief.

 

Getting rid of his jacket as soon as he stepped in, Baekhyun let it fall on the ground. He hated when things were on the floor and not in their appropriate spots but he was too exhausted to deal with it. He’d do it in the morning. Instead, he headed towards the bathroom on slightly wobbly legs. Had he paid the taxi driver? He didn’t remember. He must have. Or else he wouldn’t have been able to leave the vehicle.

 

The bathroom’s lights were too harsh, glaring at him unforgivingly as he stepped in front of the sink and turned the water on. He caught his own gaze in the mirror. He washed his hands as he looked at himself, the water cold, too cold for his already cold hands but he was too lazy to make it more bearable.

 

He looked nice. His black hair was styled perfectly, brushing over his forehead as if he had combed through it just now. It was a wonder Baekhyun hadn’t ripped his hair off after spending close to two hours in a place he hated with people he hated. The alcohol was the only thing he had liked. His eyes were droopy but there were no dark circles, no eye bags, just a slight flush on his cheeks that looked natural and complimented his skin tone well. His lips were just a shade darker, smooth, not dry nor chapped. The water sounded unnecessarily loud, splashing against the porcelain sink, crashing against Baekhyun’s hands. He rubbed his skin a little more, a little harsher.

 

His tie wasn’t crooked, it rested perfectly flat down his chest, the knot still tied elegantly, the black color assorted to his black slacks and the jacket he had taken off on his way to the bathroom. There were only a few wrinkles on his shirt. He straightened up, turned off the water with a heavy hand and rested his wet hands on the wet sink, looking at himself a little more. He looked, sleek, irreproachable. He was the flawless image of a company, of a family, of a life that wasn’t even his. An image made for a place he had a reputation to uphold in, where every single one of his actions could reflect on his father’s company and their family.

 

He looked immaculate. But did he look like himself?

 

He tilted his head to the side, revealing his neck. It wasn’t bare, it was covered with an illusion that concealed the blossoms inked on his skin. He straightened his back again. He reached for the pack on a corner of the marble counter, it scrunched and groaned in complaint as he pulled a single wipe out with a bit of difficulty. He began rubbing it against his skin until black plum flowers appeared again, tainted in red from the irritation of the wipe against his skin.

 

Carelessly, he dumped the wipe into the sink, brought his hand up to his hair to ruffle it, swayed a little on his legs, alcohol pushing him back and forth. He loosened the knot of his tie, tugging on his neck and on his ears as he took it off over his head, unbuttoned his shirt, swayed a little more, and then looked into the mirror again.

 

He looked like himself. Now, he did.

 

He was tired. Exhausted. Of what, he wasn’t sure. From the dinner. From looking so spotlessly perfect all the time. From finding just the right kind of perfect in every gaze he met and moulding himself into that exact shape. For what? Air. Warmth? He wasn’t sure, not when he was so exhausted that he could hardly stand.

 

He dragged himself to his bedroom, crumbled down on his bed, buried his head against the pillow. It smelled just like him. It was silent.

 

He wanted to play piano. He turned to lay on his back and looked at the keyboard at the other end of the room. It was too far. He was too heavy. He was a bit too sad. But piano.

 

He dug into his pocket, finding his phone in a place that seemed much bigger than usual. The light was harsh when he unlocked it, he narrowed his eyes and looked for a name in his contacts list. Without a single doubt, he pressed on the call button, brought the phone against his ear, and then closed his eyes, listening to the long, endless chunks of beep until a familiar voice broke it off.

 

"I see you survived your boring company dinner."

 

It was tepid. Like water. But not the water from his sink. That water was cold. Maybe it was like the shower Baekhyun should take but couldn’t bring himself to. Maybe it was like the fuming cup of his favorite tea that Baekhyun wished someone would bring him right now.

 

"Chanyeol-ah," he said, muted, like a whisper. But whispers weren’t so loud. "Why is your voice always so warm?"

 

"What?"

 

A chuckle. Warm. So warm. If he closed his eyes, he could imagine himself dressed in his favorite sweater. But his eyes were already closed. So he couldn’t imagine. Maybe Chanyeol actually was a sweater.

 

"Actually," he slurred, sighing softly, contentedly. Maybe he should wear his favorite sweater. "Why are you always so warm?"

 

"Are you drunk?"

 

That tone. Molten, but the kind that was playful. Knowing.

 

His eyes closed. When had he even opened them? His eyelids felt heavy.

 

Baekhyun couldn’t wear sweaters. They didn’t look as formal as a suit.

 

He felt sleepy.

 

"I’m tired."

 

"You should sleep then, silly."

 

"I’m tired of always being like this," he said, voice trembling the slightest bit. As if he was scared, as if he was confessing his biggest sin. "Tired of always forcing myself to be like this. Like." He waved a hand around. "Like perfect. Something like that."

 

He was so sleepy, so exhausted. He just wanted to sleep, wrapped around his favorite sweater. Why couldn’t it stay with him all night?

 

"You don’t have to be perfect. You don’t have to try so hard to look perfect to everyone, Hyun-ah."

 

Had his favorite sweater always felt so comfortable and fitting?

 

There was the prickling little burn of tears in his eyes but nothing escaped  them. He took a deep breath in, sniffled a little.

 

"I want to play the piano," he slurred, mumbled, maybe pleaded.

 

"We got you a piano." A chuckle. So, so soft. Cotton candy. But cotton candy wasn’t that snug. A sweater. "You can play it. But you’re drunk so, try not to break it."

 

He took another deep breath in. Sniffled.

 

"Can you play for me until I sleep?"

 

And it was odd. Sweaters couldn’t play piano. Maybe his favorite sweater had turned into a big, soft blanket that could protect him from the cold and magically sing him to sleep. 

 

Piano him to sleep?

 

He wasn’t sure, he fell asleep before he could figure it out.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It was a headache that Baekhyun woke up to the next morning but it was the memory of what exactly he had done that turned that small hangover into a full nightmare.

 

He groaned, running a hand through his hair and then over his face. His throat was dry. He couldn’t believe he had called Chanyeol and had said such things to him. It wasn’t like him at all. He hadn’t wanted the other to see that side of him. Even Baekhyun hated that weak, vulnerable side of himself. But he had been drunk. He hadn’t been completely aware of what he was doing.

 

And maybe, just maybe he didn’t exactly regret it. Maybe he had needed to hear those words at that exact moment. Even if he didn’t agree with them and knew he wouldn’t take them into consideration.

 

He whined a bit, groaning when even that small sound made the headache knock harshly against his temples to remind him of the mess he had been last night. He grabbed his phone from the bedside table.

 

There was a message notification from an hour ago, Chanyeol’s name greeting him on the screen.

 

good morning 

I hope you’re not too hungover 

drink a lot of water!

 

He heard a soft chuckle escaping his lips, the sound too loud for his headache. He needed some painkillers. And food. But his bed was so comfortable. Or was it really his bed that made him feel so alleviated and content? Maybe not.

 

My headache is killing me 

It was nice knowing you

And sorry for drunk dialing you last night

 

it’s alright I don’t mind you sound kinda funny when you’re drunk

 

I’m not sure that’s a compliment

 

as expected from the king of compliments :p

you can’t cook, can you

wanna meet for some haejangguk?

it could help with the hangover

 

Baekhyun hesitated. It would feel awkward to see Chanyeol after last night. Not really awkward. A bit weird. It was usually Junmyeon who ended up listening to Baekhyun’s drunk slurring and his sad drunk whining. He was used to Junmyeon understanding him and then acting like nothing happened because he knew Baekhyun would hate talking about it. He wasn’t sure how to act with Chanyeol now.

 

I don’t know if I can drag myself to the subway station

 

come ooooooon

you can’t cure a hangover with just ramyeon

 

I think you’re just looking for an occasion to make fun of me

You did just say I was a funny drunk 

 

no I just want to check up on you since I’m the kindest person on earth

I’ll even treat you

you can’t say no when someone offers to feed you

 

Baekhyun bit his lower lip, unsure. It was nice to see that Chanyeol was genuinely concerned. It was far from being surprising but it still made him feel cared for and his headache became just a little more bearable. A nice, flavory soup to cure his hangover sounded nice. 

 

Before he could reply, his phone vibrated once more in his hand.

 

I’m actually kinda tired too I look like shit so you’ll see me and get a shock and then sober up

pretty effective

also this means pls don’t look too amazing don’t wear a suit and stuff or I’ll look pathetic next to you

 

He smiled, wondered if Chanyeol had said this on purpose. He hadn’t used the word perfect but the message was there. 

 

And maybe Baekhyun should feel bad, maybe he should think that the other was pitying him after last night. Oddly, he didn’t. It just felt nice. Made him feel important, somehow. Cared for. Understood.

 

Fine

I’ll wear a hoodie to match you

 

yay

let’s meet at the station in 45 minutes?

 

Baekhyun simply sent him a sticker, the bunny sticking both thumbs up to Chanyeol to let him know Baekhyun was alright with that. He smiled down at his phone a last time, sighed, and then dragged himself out of bed, head still pounding a little.

 

It didn’t take him long to get ready. He gulped aspirin down, hoped for the best, and then headed to the bathroom to wash up. The water was hot but Baekhyun’s insides tingled with an even more delightful heat. Once in front of the mirror, dressed in the only hoodie he owned and light wash jeans, he took a look at himself.

 

He didn’t really look nice. 

 

He had faint shadows under his eyes, his hair was fluffy but disorderly, still a bit damp. He hadn’t dried it with anything but a towel and had not brushed it properly, just ran his fingers through it. He glanced at his hair then at the comb on the marble next to the sink, then at his hair again. He ran his fingers through it again, just a little, to make it less messy. His eyes caught sight of the blossoms on his neck, the pointy branches. He was going out into a restaurant, not a known, expensive one, but still a restaurant. 

 

He glanced down at the products resting beside the sink. He grabbed his concealer and looked at his bottle of full-coverage foundation. He should cover it up. Dab at his skin with the concealer to lighten the ink, then apply foundation, and seal it all with powder. Layers and layers of coverage. To hide it all. Just his neck. But he was tired, a bit lazy. He put the concealer down and immediately walked out of the bathroom before he could change his mind.

 

In front of the door, he put his shoes on and then just stood there, one hand on the doorknob and the other hanging limply by his side. He could almost feel the way his hair was already starting to stick up here and there. He was itching. The urge to run back to the bathroom and brush his hair was real. He should cover up his tattoo, just a little. 

 

He took a deep breath in. Chanyeol was waiting for him. He simply grabbed a scarf, wrapped it securely around his neck, and then got out of the house before the urge to do anything else won over him.

 

He could simply take the scarf off at the restaurant, with Chanyeol.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

November passed by in swirls of cold winds, warm shared meals, and comfortable smiles.

 

Baekhyun wasn’t someone who was particularly sensitive to the cold, contrary to Chanyeol, but he chose to spend that day nestled under his blankets. He had been on a The Avengers marathon since that morning and his eyes were starting to hurt. The sun had been barely reaching a peak behind grey clouds when he had started but now, it was already set, leaving the sky to mourn its departure with idle tears that sparkled.

 

As soon as the credits rolled down the screen of his laptop, he stretched his arms over his head and let out a loud sound, halfway between a groan and a yawn. His body felt sore but a bad kind of sore. He was too lazy to move. He was too lazy to go through another movie too, even if midnight was still hours away and he had nothing to do early tomorrow morning. He grabbed his phone. He hadn’t talked to anyone the whole day, except Junmyeon in the morning and a few messages with Chanyeol before the end of his lunch break.

 

He opened up his SNS account and scrolled through his feed, hoping that it’d help him take a decision about what he should do next. It took him only a few seconds to stumble upon a photo Chanyeol had posted three hours ago. He was holding a cake, with a few candles that had seemingly just been blown off, the ghost of smoke faint but visible as it rose from the burned tips. He had a bit of cream on his cheeks, as if someone had stabbed the cake and then swept their finger against his skin. His eyes were closed and he had a wide smile on, the one with his lips pressed together and that dimple peeking through his cheek.

 

The caption was simple. Birthday Boy. Written all in English, just like that. It took Baekhyun a few seconds to actually register the information before his stomach dropped a little bit. He didn’t even  know. No one had told him. He frowned. That didn’t feel too nice. He had missed an occasion. This could’ve been a very nice opportunity to do something wonderful for Chanyeol and draw him to himself further. 

 

It didn’t feel nice at all. Baekhyun felt bad. It was a vaguely familiar sensation, a bit like that time Junmyeon had gone to Japan without him, without even telling him when they had promised to travel there together one day. That had been years ago. Now, this felt a little worse. This was a birthday. Chanyeol’s birthday. The picture didn’t exactly look like it was taken at a party, he recognized the academy’s blue walls in the background. But still, this didn’t feel right.

 

He quickly pulled up their conversation thread and let his thumbs drum on the screen.

 

It was your birthday today??? 

 

Baekhyun spent every second of waiting frowning at the conversation thread, opening up the picture again, frowning more, and then going back to the messaging app to wait for a reply. The reply came two minutes later.

 

it was haha

 

Why didn’t you tell me??

 

I don’t know..

It never came up in any conversation 

I also didn’t feel like just messaging you to go ‘heeeey it’s my birthdaaaay wish me a happy oneee’

;n;

 

Baekhyun couldn’t help but snort at that. He wasn’t sure whether he was snorting because that sounded like a lame reason or because this wasn’t even surprising coming from Chanyeol.

 

It’s your birthday!! Of course you should tell me!

Seriously Chanyeol

 

I’m sorry TT

I didn’t think you would get so upset

 

Baekhyun wasn’t sure why he felt so upset either. Probably because birthday were always the best day to make memories with someone, especially fond and unforgettable ones. He could’ve bought something, something that would’ve made Chanyeol happy. Maybe something that would’ve taken them one step further.

 

But it was night already, most places were already closed and he wouldn’t be able to come up with a marking, meaningful gift to offer the other in such a short amount of time. 

 

Are you home?

 

yes TT

 

Alone? Or did you organize a party and not invite me?

Betrayer

TT

 

oh god

this is the first time you’ve ever sent me any kind of emoji

it’s a crying one

you must be really upset

I didn’t!!!

I swear I’m alone

There won’t be any party this year who even has the time to organize all that shit??

but if there was one I would’ve invited you first

but yes I’m alone

I’m not a betrayer TTTTTTT

forgive me TTTTTTTTTTTT

 

Baekhyun couldn’t help but smile at the long pile of messages that popped on his screen one after the other, an obvious sign of the distress Chanyeol was feeling. He was kind, too kind, too selfless and Baekhyun didn’t expect this kind of reaction. He had said those words merely because he wanted to let the other know he was a bit upset but also because he wanted to tease him. He had expected an apology at most, but not such blatant display of guilt. It didn’t feel unpleasant.

 

He took a few seconds to reply, not because he wanted to make the other feel worse but because he had to calculate his next move. There wasn’t much he could do but he could still do something nice.

 

Give me your address

 

oh my fucking god

you’re not upset enough to murder me in my sleep are you???

 

No, silly

You can’t spend your birthday night alone

I also need to wish you a happy birthday properly

So I’ll pick you up in half an hour

No protestation, you owe me that for not telling me it was your birthday

 

oh

oh okay

yes 

yes that could work too

alright

no protestation

yessir!

 

Baekhyun shook his head fondly at yet another string of messages. He was flustered, maybe. He hadn’t expected Baekhyun to care so much.

 

Maybe this hadn’t really been a missed occasion and Baekhyun would manage to thread it together just fine. There would be many other occasions, many things he could do, but somehow, this felt more important than others to him. 

 

Glad that Chanyeol didn’t seem to have picked up on the idea forming in his head, he quickly got out of bed. He threw on jeans to go along with the sweater he usually wore at home, and headed out of the house, rushing a bit to reach his destination before it closed for the day.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The look on Chanyeol’s face when he saw Baekhyun pull up to his house in his most expensive car was worth not being told about such an important information, at the end.

 

His eyebrows were raised and his eyes were widened as he looked at Baekhyun who turned the engine off and got out of the vehicle with a smug, satisfied smile plastered on his lips. 

 

"This is your car?" Chanyeol asked, voice higher than usual and eyes sparkling like an excited child as he ran his gaze all over the sleek, white Mercedes-Benz.

 

"Yep," Baekhyun simply said before stepping closer to the other and grinning at him. "Happy Birthday!"

 

That was enough for Chanyeol’s attention to snap at him and he grinned, almost abashedly.

 

"Thanks. And sorry again, for not telling you," he muttered.

 

He couldn’t take his eyes off the car, however, glancing at it in amazement time and time again. It was adorable. Baekhyun knew he liked cars but he hadn’t thought that it would be this much, enough for him not to look sorry anymore when he had been almost distressed through their messages earlier. Maybe this would turn out for the best.

 

"It’s alright. I couldn’t get you a gift, though, so I had to improvise and I hope you don’t mind," he said knowingly. 

 

Chanyeol vaguely nodded at him, stepping closer to the car to inspect it almost unconsciously as little amazed sounds escaped his parted lips. He stretched a hand out to touch the rearview mirror, very slowly, as if the car was some kind of monster and could bite him back, before realizing that Baekhyun had actually addressed him. 

 

"It’s alright," he quickly said. "I don’t really want gifts or anything like that, I’m not a child."

 

"Really?" Baekhyun hummed, pulling the car keys out of his pocket. Another comically amazed sound from Chanyeol accompanied the movement. "Then I guess you also don’t want to drive my car."

 

Chanyeol choked in his hastiness to step closer to Baekhyun. It was a wonder. Breathing had nothing to do with walking.

 

"What?"

 

Baekhyun couldn’t keep a few chuckles in at the mix of surprise and anticipation on the other’s face.

 

"We’re going on an early night ride," he said while grabbing Chanyeol’s hand and pressing the keys into his palm. "You can drive it. That’s the only gift I could come up with in such a short time."

 

Chanyeol looked at him blankly for a few seconds before realization dawned upon him and his eyes widened.

 

"You want me to drive your car? This car?"

 

"You don’t want to?" Baekhyun asked, tilting his head in mock confusion.

 

"No!" Chanyeol answered a bit too loudly, wincing when he realized it. "I mean, yes. But. Really?"

 

"Yes, you can drive it," Baekhyun laughed, endearment fluttering in him a little and keeping him safe from the cold night air.

 

"You really trust me with your car?"

 

"Well, you’re not going to break it, are you?" Baekhyun playfully narrowed his eyes. "If you do, you’ll have to be my slave for fifty years to repay it. Otherwise, yes. You’re the driver tonight."

 

Chanyeol looked extremely touched for a second, looking at Baekhyun as if he had given him his heart or proposed to him. Then, he suddenly perked up, jumped a little on the sole of his feet, and threw himself towards Baekhyun to engulf him into a tight, unprepared for hug.

 

The surprise in Baekhyun petered out into laughter as Chanyeol swayed him from side to side, muttering an excited string of thank you’s and this is the best gift ever’s. Baekhyun’s face was mashed against his chest, the blue scarf Chanyeol was wearing tickling his nose familiarly. Then, he let go of Baekhyun and basically ran to the driver’s side. He got in and probably already started tweaking with every button and looking at every single utility in amazement. 

 

Baekhyun’s cheeks hurt a little from smiling too much as he moved to get in the passenger’s seat.

 

The childlike, handsome grin never once left Chanyeol’s face as he drove. Baekhyun, despite still being a little worried at the beginning, grew more comfortable as he realized that Chanyeol was actually a very good driver. Even better than he was, actually. Although, Baekhyun had a feeling he wouldn’t be so careful had he been driving another car. Chanyeol’s eyes never strayed too much from the road, at least one of his hands always remained on the steering wheel even as he passionately and terribly sang to random songs banging loudly from the radio.

 

Baekhyun’s stomach was starting to hurt from laughing, an overly hyped up and happy Chanyeol preventing him from singing along properly. He had never enjoyed a drive so much in his life. Maybe he should make Chanyeol drive him around more often.

 

They drove in circles around the city for a while, trying to avoided places that were too crowded, the radio’s volume almost hurting Baekhyun’s ears. He was too busy singing along dramatically with Chanyeol to mind, however. He met some high notes and earned impressed looks and sounds from Chanyeol, letting his voice break and stumble down on others, fueling more laughter in the car.

 

After a while, they pulled up on top of one of Seoul’s many hills, the windshield melting into a painting as they looked through it and saw tall buildings, the Namsan Tower, and countless  lights. They seemed to have dropped from the bare, dark sky and gathered in the city, some of them unmoving and others whooshing through the city like drowsy shooting stars.

 

"This is the best birthday ever," Chanyeol declared once he turned the engine off and looked out into the view for a silent while.

 

He looked happy. Baekhyun laughed. Maybe the heat of the car was turned on too high, he felt a bit too warm. But not uncomfortable.

 

"I know, you said that about twenty times."

 

Chanyeol looked at him, smiling, lips pressed together a little bit as if he was a bit embarrassed but totally shameless about his reaction at the same time.

 

"How can you even dislike driving when you own this car?" he wondered out loud, fingers stroking the wheel with care. "If I were you, I’d never step into the subway station ever again."

 

His hair was unruly, mussed, he was wearing his favorite hoodie along with Baekhyun’s scarf knotted around his neck. The hoodie was oversized, making him look smaller than he was in the driver’s seat of Baekhyun’s car. His cheeks were dusted with the tiniest amount of pink, as if rosy petals had shyly kissed the apple of his cheeks and spread their tint through him. His eyes were sparkling, shadows made his dimple a bit deeper than usual. He was handsome, looked soft, cozy, like the most refined of flowers Baekhyun had yet to pluck out of its roots.

 

"I’m still looking for a handsome driver, if you’re interested," he said, voice drooping to an obnoxiously seductive tone that made Chanyeol laugh softly.

 

"If you’re going to pay me to drive this baby, I’ll even marry you whenever you want."

 

Baekhyun turned towards him, leaning the side of his head against the headrest.

 

"Understood. If I ever want to propose to you, I’ll do it with a car instead of a ring."

 

The tips of his ears grew red as he snickered. 

 

"Now, close your eyes," Baekhyun asked hushedly.

 

"You’re not actually going to propose right now, are you? It would be a little complicated to get married right now," Chanyeol said, raising his eyebrows and showing Baekhyun that mischievous, boyish smile of his.

 

"Just close them," Baekhyun huffed.

 

He did and Baekhyun moved, turning towards the backseat. It was a wonder that Chanyeol had not even noticed what was there, too excited about driving to pay attention to anything else. Baekhyun grabbed the small box and opened it up, revealing a small, chocolate-flavored muffin. That was the only thing left at the bakery at this time of the day but he didn’t mind, it would be enough for Chanyeol and at least, the bakery even managed to find him a single candle and a lighter.

 

Quietly, he lit up the long, red candle, held the box out towards Chanyeol and smiled a little.

 

"Open up."

 

The small flame’s reflection fluttered in Chanyeol’s wide eyes, orangey. Soft, just like Chanyeol himself. He looked at the muffin and then at Baekhyun, the flame in his eyes seemingly strong enough for him to melt just a little bit under Baekhyun’s eyes. He looked even more affected by a mere cake than when Baekhyun gave him his car keys.

 

"Make a wish," Baekhyun prompted him, voice falling down to a whisper. 

 

Chanyeol hadn’t said anything yet, he was only looking at him with that melted, soft look in his eyes. It felt wrong to talk at a higher volume than an intimate whisper. 

 

Chanyeol closed his eyes then and laced his hands together right under his chin. The candle illuminated the remnants of a smile on his peaceful features.

 

"I wish Baekhyun will be my friend for a very very long time."

 

He opened his eyes the slightest bit, leaned forward and blew on the candle, the flame fluttering before disappearing into a smoky swirling. That single tiny breeze seemed to still carry specks of fire, because Baekhyun felt it spread over his whole body with every single breath he took at that exact moment. Chanyeol looked at him, eyes bright, smile even brighter.

 

"If you tell your wish to someone it won’t come true, silly." His voice was smelted into a quiet tone again.

 

"I said it out loud because I don’t want to leave this into Fate’s hands or whatever."

 

And there was not even an ounce of love. Baekhyun hadn’t even given his all to Chanyeol yet, hadn’t even added him to his ever-growing bouquet of colorful flowers. There was nothing but affection and yet, the emotion flushing inside him at that exact moment felt like much more than that. It felt like Chanyeol had loved him through ice and fire, winter and spring, through burgeoning plum blossoms and a thousand years.

 

Chanyeol smiled at his silence, as if he was proud of himself for momentarily hindered Baekhyun’s ability to speak. He grabbed the muffin to split it into two. He offered one half to Baekhyun and as he bit into the sweet chocolate, he felt it melt inside his mouth, as if that aroma remained there, a part of him for the night.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chanyeol’s house was an unexpectedly messy place.

 

After driving them to his house, Chanyeol had asked Baekhyun if he’d like to come up. Baekhyun had eagerly accepted, glad that a simple thing he had done had opened such doors into their relationship. Moreover, he had said that Chanyeol shouldn’t spend his birthday alone and he meant it, birthdays were important and should be spent together with cherished people.

 

It was a decently sized apartment, not too big and not too small either, he noted when Chanyeol had given him a tour. The kitchen, was small but that didn’t seem to matter to Chanyeol. It was orderly, there was not a single dirty mug left on the side of the sink and no crumbles on the counter or the floor.  The living room was rather wide, the walls a plain white adorned by pictures, of a family, of the woman Baekhyun had once seen Chanyeol with in the subway, his sister, and there was even several pictures of a small, black poodle dog.

 

It wasn’t dirty per se, the floors were clean and there was even the hint of a flowery scent hanging over the whole apartment, but it was messy. And with things he hadn’t imagined he’d see here. 

 

Baekhyun found Iron Man figurines queueing on the kitchen counter as if they were waiting for food, the pillows in the living room were all different colors while the couch was a simple black one. There was an entire shelf of CD’s and cassette tapes in the living room -  a quick glance had been enough for Baekhyun to see that they were both from old and current foreign artists, blending in with a few albums belonging to local, Korean artists. There was even an entire mini car track laid out on the floor, close to the TV.

 

Chanyeol hadn’t even seemed sheepish about it, though, it was as if he was used to this clean kind of messiness and thought it normal. Baekhyun found it a bit charming and after a can of beer, he had even challenged him to a mini car race on that long and maze-like track. He had won, cheating by distracting Chanyeol and tickling him. The discovery of how ticklish the other actually was made the whole situation even more enjoyable, even if Chanyeol had whined about his cheating and requested for a rematch that Baekhyun refused.

 

"It’s late," Chanyeol said after a while, when they were both calm and had been watching a random drama on TV for about half an hour.

 

"It is," Baekhyun replied, yawning a little. It was indeed late, slightly past midnight now. He hadn’t even noticed how much time he had spent here. He was just a little bit tipsy. He had stopped after two cans of beer and that had been an hour ago, drowsiness taking over now.

 

"Wanna stay over? You drank and you don’t like driving anyway."

 

Baekhyun turned to look at him, meeting his gaze. Chanyeol was sprawled over the couch, the back of his head resting against the backrest as he looked at Baekhyun. They were sitting the same way, close but not touching. His eyes were hooded the slightest bit, he seemed to be sleepy as well. He looked soft, fluffy, cozy in that usual oversized hoodie.

 

Baekhyun slid a little down the couch to lay his upper body sideways on the cozy surface.

 

"That would be great," he muttered. "This is comfortable," he added, looking at the other, curiosity concealed by a sleepy gaze.

 

"You won’t sleep on the couch, silly," Chanyeol chuckled. He wasn’t even tipsy. He held his alcohol rather well. Baekhyun was just a little envious. He felt a hand feebly patting his head, his eyes momentarily closed. "We can sleep on the same bed. You trusted me with your car, I’ll trust you with my pillow," he said in an unnecessarily dramatic voice.

 

Baekhyun laughed softly. Chanyeol’s hand fell off his head.

 

"Good, I said that just to be polite anyway," Baekhyun said.

 

Chanyeol rolled his eyes and they both stood up, still laughing a little. There was nothing funny. Merriment was the conductor of their guffawed duet.

 

The pajamas Chanyeol lent him were a bit too big on him. It wasn’t even actual pajamas, just sweatpants that were too long for his legs and a shirt that fit his shoulders perfectly but that flowed a bit too much down his hips. Chanyeol snickered at the sight, changed in his own fitting pajamas, actual blue pajamas with little puppies patterned here and there. Baekhyun snickered right back at him.

 

They fell in bed together and Chanyeol was right, it was actually big enough for the two of them to fit in without any problem, even if their arms brushed together the slightest bit. It was comfortable, the blankets were light but kept the body heat cocooned around him. He could hear Chanyeol breathing softly as they remained silent but not awkward.

 

Baekhyun turned to lay on his side, facing Chanyeol. He looked sleepy. His eyelids were drooping lower by the second. After a while, Chanyeol noticed his gaze on him and smiled a little, turned his head towards him first and then his body, mimicking Baekhyun and laying on his side as they faced each other. Baekhyun said nothing. He gazed at Chanyeol calmly while Chanyeol gazed back at him, a bit more agitated. He didn’t look into Baekhyun’s eyes for too long. Odd. He wasn’t an usually shy person. But they were sharing the same bed. Timidity meant this wasn’t something casual to him.

 

His eyes kept fluttering, trailing down from Baekhyun’s face, to the unconcealed tattoo on his neck, to his chest, up to his face again and then to his collarbones. The shirt’s collar was a bit too wide on Baekhyun, he was exposing more skin than needed. It was nice to watch Chanyeol and try figuring out what thoughts were racing in his head.

 

"Do you wanna cuddle?"

 

Chanyeol’s voice was naught but a hush after so much time spent laughing. He was looking into Baekhyun’s eyes properly now. It was so random and yet, Baekhyun couldn’t say he was taken aback. That could explain his agitation. He caught Chanyeol’s eyes dropping down to his chest again.

 

"You wanna be the small spoon, don’t you?" he ventured, smile flowing through his voice.

 

Chanyeol chuckled softly but said nothing, considering Baekhyun for a bit. The room was warm, a Chanyeol kind of warmth that Baekhyun could feel his body swooning at. Chanyeol’s eyes were clear, clearer than Seoul’s starless sky. A tepid summer night. 

 

Without waiting for an answer, Baekhyun opened his arms. That seemed to be exactly what Chanyeol had been waiting for because he let out a soft, jubilant sound and moved until he could bury his face against Baekhyun’s chest, one of his arms folded between their bodies while the other was draped over Baekhyun’s waist. 

 

He chuckled lowly, fond. It was better this way. Fitting. He wrapped his arms around Chanyeol’s bigger body and shifted, pulling him even closer and resting his chin on Chanyeol’s head, skin tickled pleasantly by his messy hair.

 

Halfway through the night, Baekhyun felt Chanyeol turn around and move a little bit until it was his back pressed against Baekhyun’s chest, his head still tucked in under Baekhyun’s chin. Baekhyun tightened his hold on him, sleepily shifting a bit to bury his nose in the other’s hair, breathing in the other’s nearness and soaking his entire being with it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

That pleasant sensation lingered on, tingling through Baekhyun’s body as his eyes fluttered open, almost enough for the slight hangover his temples were suffering from to go unnoticed. 

 

He was alone. He remembered falling asleep with Chanyeol in his arms. It meant the other had woken up earlier than him and left already. He could hear faint sounds coming from outside, maybe the kitchen.

 

He wasn’t sure. He couldn’t really think properly at the moment. His whole body felt kind of numb. He blinked a few times, stretched his arms over his head and arched his back a little bit, sighing softly. It wasn’t a tired sigh, nor a lazy one. He recognized contentment in his own voice. His fingers tingled a little bit, his chin too, his chest, and his hips. He could almost still feel Chanyeol’s soft body pressed against him, basking in his embrace, asleep.

 

Baekhyun didn't even remember the last person he had done nothing but sleep with through the whole night. Was it Junki? He wasn’t sure. That almost felt like years ago. Too long ago. He had forgotten how nice it actually felt to share a calmative slumber with someone through the night. Baekhyun wasn’t sure he had shared the calm but he felt himself drenched. As if it was soaking through his entire being. He wanted to bathe and bask in it a little more. But Chanyeol wasn’t there.

 

He yawned a last time before getting up and heading to the kitchen. Chanyeol was there, still in his puppy pajamas, leaned over the stove. He was cooking. Now that he thought about it, Chanyeol really did feel like a snuggly puppy last night. Baekhyun stepped into the kitchen and took a look at the food garnishing the small, long counter that served as a kind of separation between the living room and the kitchen.

 

It was quite generously furnished, two bowls of rice put on each side, along with small side dishes here and there, including fermented kimchi, and there were even two bowls of miyeokguk, the seaweed’s delicious scent drawing him in just a little more. Chanyeol seemed to have heard him because he turned around right at that moment, hair ruffled, smile wide.

 

"Oh, you’re awake. I was just about to splash water on your face so you’d stop drooling on my pillow."

 

"I wasn’t drooling!" Baekhyun defended himself with a huff before giving the other a sheepish expression as Chanyeol stepped away from the stove, pan and spatula in hand. "You really didn’t have to cook all of this. I’m sorry I crashed here and made you cook all that."

 

Chanyeol crinkled his nose and shook his head as he slid each of the sunny side up eggs he had fried on the two bowls of rice.

 

"It’s okay, it’s not even much. I got too lazy to make miyeokguk yesterday so you were kind of my excuse for today," he said while gesturing to Baekhyun to take a seat across from him. "It’s actually a good thing. If it weren’t for you I wouldn’t have even cooked this and ate just rice and eggs with one side dish or something. I’m used to that since I always eat alone. I just got excited at the idea of eating with someone for once."

 

Baekhyun smiled, grabbed his spoon, and slurped a little on the broth. It tasted perfect. It almost felt like it was his birthday. He caught Chanyeol grinning, as if he had noticed Baekhyun’s enjoyment towards the soup.

 

"I don’t like eating alone either actually. I just eat rice or cereals when I’m at home."

 

Chanyeol hummed.

 

"Sounds like we should be having breakfast together more often. Especially since it’s an honor for you to eat the amazing food that I cooked. Not to brag but I’m kind of an amazing cook," he added, leaning forward a little as if he was sharing a secret, with that boyish smile on.

 

Baekhyun chose to playfully scrunch his nose down at his bowl of rice. He felt Chanyeol’s foot hitting his shin as he gave him a playful, threatening look. Baekhyun engulfed every bit of the food with a smile on his face.

 

Surprisingly, Baekhyun didn’t really feel like leaving right after they finished up their meal. He stayed, helping Chanyeol do the dishes — earning foam on his cheeks and the tip of his nose— and afterwards, they naturally plopped down on the couch and watch a few gaming videos on Chanyeol’s computer. Baekhyun never mentioned having to do anything else, too comfortable in this messy living room, and Chanyeol never said anything about the time either. On the contrary, it felt like he was even more comfortable with Baekhyun now, if that was even possible. Maybe spending a whole night cuddling together had helped.

 

Therefore, Baekhyun was barely even surprised when at one point, he felt careful fingers grazing the side of his neck, as gentle as the inked plum blossoms they were caressing.

 

"Why plum blossoms? Just because it’s pretty?" Chanyeol asked and his gaze was entirely focused on Baekhyun’s neck as he spoke, holding himself closer to Baekhyun to properly see the tattoo.

 

"Mainly," Baekhyun hummed, tilting his head almost unconsciously to display the brush-like strokes on his skin. Chanyeol’s gaze remained on them. "Plum blossoms are just my favorite kind of flower. One of the only flowers I can see actually having a meaning."

 

"What meaning do they have?"

 

"They blossom at the end of winter and usually announce spring. They’re kind of a way to symbolize that even the harshest of winters come to an end, you know?" he explained, catching Chanyeol’s gaze. There was an odd glint in his eyes. He wasn’t sure what to associate it to. It felt like a new discovery. Baekhyun smiled. "But I mainly got it to piss my father off when I was nineteen."

 

Chanyeol laughed at that, shaking his head a bit before he brought his fingers up to trail them against Baekhyun’s inked skin again. His touch was guarded, as if he was caressing the flowers themselves and not a mere drawing of them on Baekhyun’s skin. It felt nice. 

 

"Did it hurt when you got it?"

 

"It did, especially when they did the part on the collarbone," he confessed, pulling the collar of his shirt a little bit to show what he was talking about. He was still wearing Chanyeol’s clothes. He hummed softly, gaze trailing over the tattoo. Baekhyun leaned closer, curving his lips into a smile. "I feel like you’d probably cry from the pain if you were to get a tattoo."

 

Chanyeol’s features morphed into a grimace of offense.

 

"I wouldn’t!" he frowned. His next words were mumbled. "I wouldn’t get one anyway, my mom would probably cry."

 

"Sounds like an excuse because you don’t wanna cry."

 

"I wouldn’t cry."

 

"You would."

 

"Maybe you’re the one who cried and you’re trying to conceal it!"

 

"You just look like a crybaby, Chanyeol."

 

Chanyeol fake gasped at that. Baekhyun gave him a victorious grin. He had won the battle. 

 

At least that was what he thought until Chanyeol grabbed the nearest pillow and rammed it against his head. Another battle ensued and this one was won by Chanyeol who had long limbs that could hold Baekhyun’s shorter ones in place while he just bashed his head with a pillow. Baekhyun laughed until his stomach burned with cramps.

 

After noon, they left the house together. Chanyeol drove himself to the academy in Baekhyun’s car. From the passenger’s seat, Baekhyun could feel the same excitement as last night sparking from him.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

"Are you on your way to getting married yet?"

 

The look Junmyeon gave him was a rather dead one.

 

"You’re never going to let it go, are you?" he sighed before shaking his head as if to answer his own question. "It was a mistake to let you eat at my parents’ place that day. You were only there for the food and the laughs," Junmyeon accused him, eyes narrowed but not enough to hide that fond glint Baekhyun liked so much.

 

"I mean, I’ll stop at some point. I wouldn’t want you to get upset enough to never feed me again," Baekhyun said as he looked around once more.

 

They were in a nice restaurant that served Italian food and that Junmyeon had said to be rather satisfactory. It was an inviting place, popular but not crowded. They had easily found a table to settle on even if it wasn’t in an intimate or quiet corner of the restaurant. Baekhyun liked how vintage it felt, from the wall’s deep colors to the low, foreign music humming through the air. It was nice, the leather seats were comfortable and the table was adorned with candles, lit up since night had fallen.

 

Even the menu had sounded promising when the waitress had explained what their dishes consisted of and Baekhyun, who usually wasn’t one for western food, wouldn’t deny that he was anticipating the dish that would be served to him.

 

"Can you stop using the word feed whenever I’m buying you food? It sounds weird."

 

"Why?" Baekhyun singsonged, wiggling his eyebrows. "Does it actually make you think of feeding me with your pretty fingers?"

 

Junmyeon scrunched his nose. "You’d bite my fingers off."

 

"I’ve had plenty of occasions to do it and it never happened until today, has it?"

 

Junmyeon gave him another unimpressed look and took a sip of his water. Baekhyun’s suggestive smile widened and he looked at Junmyeon with an insistent, dark look as he drank his water. Then, a shadow fell over them.

 

"Here’s your order!"

 

Baekhyun’s gaze snapped up at the familiar voice, eyes widening when he was met with none other than Chanyeol. He was dressed in black sacks and a white shirt, holding two plates. He had that crooked smile on as he let his gaze meet Baekhyun’s, as if he knew that his presence was a surprise to him.

 

"What are you doing here?" he asked, surprise chiming in his voice as he watched Chanyeol lay a plate full of mouthwatering pasta in front of him. Junmyeon gave him a confused look, looking between him and Chanyeol.

 

"I told you my parents owned an Italian restaurant, didn’t I?" he shrugged, mischievous, boastful.

 

Baekhyun couldn’t drag his gaze away from where it was hung on Chanyeol’s face. He had completely forgotten about that. It had never once crossed his mind that this place could be what Chanyeol had been talking about.

 

"Enjoy your meal," Chanyeol said, giving Baekhyun one last grin before walking away towards a door on the left. He vanished as quickly as he had appeared. The surprise lingered on behind him.

 

"Who was that?" Junmyeon asked once he was gone, eyebrows furrowed.

 

"Chanyeol," Baekhyun said and realization spread over Junmyeon’s face. "You met him once, you remember?"

 

"I didn’t really remember his face but how can I forget him when you always talk about him? It’s like you’re a three year old kid with a shiny new toy," Junmyeon said with a snort.

 

Baekhyun shushed him almost instantly.

 

"Someone could hear," he explained when Junmyeon quirked an eyebrow.

 

Junmyeon snorted and dug into his food instead. Baekhyun mimicked him, unable to stay away from the rich flavors awaiting him in his plate for too long.

 

Conversation with Junmyeon flowed naturally, as usual. It felt really nice to have his best friend cater to him, shaking his head exasperatedly when Baekhyun, always the messy eater, got a bit of sauce on his chin. That didn’t prevent Junmyeon from reaching out to clean around his mouth either when Baekhyun looked at him with instance and no will to do it for himself.

 

He would sometimes catch a glimpse of Chanyeol carrying full plates into the room and empty plates back into the kitchen. Their eyes would sometimes meet and they would smile at each other. Baekhyun somehow half expected Chanyeol to break a plate or a glass at some point but that didn’t happen. On the contrary, Chanyeol looked at him smugly each time their eyes met when he was carrying anything, as if he figured out what Baekhyun was expecting and was boasting about it not happening. 

 

Junmyeon had to call out to him a few times as that would seldom distract him from the conversation. There was just something interesting about watching Chanyeol in different situations. Baekhyun always discovered new sides of him. It could be surprising that Chanyeol would work here so diligently when the restaurant looked popular and equipped with enough staff for the owners’ son not to have to be so present in the service. However, Chanyeol put a lot of importance into his family.

 

Towards the end of their meal, Chanyeol approached them again, smiling at Junmyeon and asking him if he was enjoying the food. Junmyeon, ever so polite, gave him lots of praises that seemed to make Chanyeol happy enough to still be grinning as he leaned down to whisper into Baekhyun’s ear.

 

"I’m gonna leave in about ten minutes. Do you want to wait for me so we can leave together? If that’s okay for you, of course," he added, glancing at Junmyeon who was observing them curiously.

 

"Sounds like you’re desperate for a ride," Baekhyun teased him. There would be no problem, his decision was already taken. Both him and Junmyeon had come here with their own cars and Junmyeon wouldn’t mind.

 

"You talk as if I’m not the one always driving you around in your own car," Chanyeol huffed, his breath tickly against Baekhyun’s ear. He pulled away a little to give Baekhyun a judgmental look. His eyes dropped to his neck. There was nothing to see, Baekhyun had concealed his tattoo tonight. It still made him smile.

 

"Fine, I’m feeling very kind today. Lucky you."

 

"Lucky me," Chanyeol repeated with a smile before straightening up. He bowed to Junmyeon once and disappeared through the same door again.

 

Chanyeol had indeed been driving Baekhyun’s own car around through the whole week. December had knocked into them with its first snow a few days ago, on the first day of the month, and Baekhyun particularly hated driving when it snowed so it benefitted him.

 

"You let him drive your car?" Junmyeon questioned him, eyebrows raised in surprise as he scraped the last of his food with his fork.

 

"He likes it," Baekhyun easily answered.

 

"That never happened before."

 

There was a questioning, odd glint in Junmyeon’s eyes. Baekhyun looked back at him in confusion, not sure why this was a big deal.

 

"If anyone else liked cars as much as he did, it would’ve happened. It makes us spend a lot of time together."

 

Junmyeon hummed at that and didn’t comment further. He left soon after, with a last hug and reminder for Baekhyun to always wear a scarf. He coughed and caught a sore throat rather easily. Baekhyun patted his back and reminded him to always call when his mother was getting too much.

 

Chanyeol came out a while later, when Baekhyun finished drinking a last glass of water, his hair messy like it so often was. It hadn’t looked this way earlier. Baekhyun wondered if his mother was inside and had ruffled his hair goodbye. 

 

It was natural to just give Chanyeol his car keys now and the other gave him an excited smile in exchange before personally opening the passenger door for Baekhyun and acting like his actual driver. Baekhyun laughed at him and settled comfortably in his own car. The drive was a bit quieter than usual, Chanyeol was obviously a bit tired, but he was still chatty, telling him about his day and asking Baekhyun about his.

 

"That was the guy you came to the recital with back in August, right?" Chanyeol asked when they were a bit closer to his neighborhood and the song playing on the radio was an unknown one to both of them, preventing them from singing along.

 

"Yep. Junmyeon," Baekhyun informed, turning to look at him.

 

Chanyeol looked handsome when driving. There was no need to change gears, Baekhyun’s car was automatic and he sometimes used only one hand to drive, the other limply resting on his lap, falling between his slightly parted legs. He was a good driver. Chanyeol was good at everything he did, now that Baekhyun thought about it, but there was just something more attractive about him when he was driving.

 

Perhaps it was the way he effortlessly switched lanes. The constantly shifting eyes, his constant glances at Baekhyun, the veins in his hands somehow complimenting the expensive leather of the steering wheel. Or the way he blended in a fast car whether he was wearing a hoodie and ripped jeans or slacks and a dress shirt, like he was now. He always pulled the seat all the way back to accommodate his long legs. It was charming. He fit in Baekhyun’s car perfectly.

 

"You seem close," Chanyeol commented again and Baekhyun gave him a curious look.

 

"We are," Baekhyun confirmed, tone nonchalant. "We’ve been friends since we were fourteen. Or thirteen? I don’t remember exactly. He’s kind of my only real friend."

 

Chanyeol didn’t say anything after that. 

 

He fell quiet and Baekhyun caught a shift in his expression. His eyebrows remained furrowed through the remainder of the ride. Baekhyun discreetly glanced at him, trying to read him. This didn’t feel like the usual silences they shared. Chanyeol was the kind to ask numerous questions on any newly discovered topic. But he was silent.

 

Could this be a sign of jealousy? It could be. Baekhyun was close with Junmyeon and they usually didn’t hold back with skinship even when they were in public. Perhaps he had seen them acting too intimately and hadn’t liked it. It would be an interesting reaction. Not one he had planned, but also the only explanation to such reaction.

 

Eventually, Chanyeol pulled up at his apartment’s parking lot and turned the engine off. He remained quiet for a few seconds and Baekhyun, curious, waited for him to speak first.

 

"You said he was your only real friend," Chanyeol broke the silence after a short while. Baekhyun kept his expression neutral.

 

He hadn’t even noticed that those words had slipped off from him. It was a habit for him to think that Junmyeon was his only true friend and it wasn’t a wrong thought either. 

 

"He is," he said.

 

Chanyeol was still frowning when he looked at Baekhyun. It made something in him tinkle in glee.

 

"Then what am I?"

 

That definitely sounded like jealousy, Baekhyun thought. He hadn’t expected it to spark from something quite insignificant. It almost didn’t fit Chanyeol. He didn’t know what kind of lover Chanyeol was yet, though, so he couldn’t come out with an accurate hypothesis.

 

"You?" he hummed, curving his lips into a playful smile afterwards. "You’re cute."

 

Chanyeol didn’t laugh at that. He didn’t snort or scrunch his nose in like he usually would when he deemed Baekhyun too cheesy either. The corners of his lips barely twitched. He looked at Baekhyun with a foreign glint in his eyes.

 

"You know you can talk to me about things too, right?"

 

Confusion tugged at Baekhyun through those words. He kept his expression neutral. Had he been wrong? His tone didn’t sound like how people usually did when they felt jealous, there was no harshness, no accusation, and not even anger. In fact, he sounded just a little sad. Even his eyebrows were furrowed, his eyes set on Baekhyun, lips tugged down in that droopy, concerned way.

 

"I mean," he started again when Baekhyun said nothing. He looked down to where his finger was pressing against the wheel, nail drawing the ghost of a scratch on the leather. "I obviously can’t be on the same level as someone you’ve been friends with for more than ten years. But I want to be there for you when you need it too."

 

Baekhyun had a hard time formulating the words that he knew he should pronounce at that moment. It was too unfamiliar. It wasn’t jealousy after all. Just affection, maybe concern. Maybe something else. He wasn’t sure. He couldn’t identify it.

 

"There for me?" he repeated.

 

"Yeah. I want to be your real friend too. Someone you can lean on when things get hard. Or when you’re sad. Or lonely. Someone you can talk to about anything that bothers you. I want to be all that for you."

 

It was odd. No one had ever said such things to Baekhyun. This had never been one of his aims. He smiled. There was just something so lovely about Chanyeol. His wide, sad eyes. The concerned frown. The purse of his lips that indicated how serious he was being. The genuine, sincere, selfless gaze with which he was looking at Baekhyun. 

 

There was just something so fervent about it all. Baekhyun craved more of it.

 

"Then how about you start by being my little spoon for the night?"

 

Chanyeol looked at him blankly for a second, as if he had expected to hear anything but that. Then, he burst into laughter. His shoulders shook a little and he pressed a hand against his face. His eyes closed. He didn’t look embarrassed. Disbelief? No. He nodded, looked at Baekhyun. Satisfaction? A little. His dimple sauntered under Baekhyun’s gaze. He unfastened his seatbelt. 

 

Baekhyun smiled at him.

 

Endearment.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It was the same, foggy nightmare that woke Baekhyun up days later.

 

It was the same, clear memories that followed those foggy images. Anger, betrayal, sorrow, an angry push, and a scream as her body tumbled down the stairs and never got back up. 

 

Why could he remember that? Why couldn’t he dream about that? Why was it never him but the fog that pushed her down? Why did the whole situation not make sense to him? Why did a part of him keep wanting to hold onto that dream and believe that maybe, just maybe his own mind was wrong and his father was wrong and everything else was wrong and he hadn’t pushed his mother into her death?

 

Each of those thoughts were whizzing through his head like crazed cars and blinding headlights running right into a wall, victims of dysfunctional brakes. He could see each of those thoughts flashing harshly, blindingly against the black ceiling he was staring at..

 

After a while, his hand reached for his phone. The luminosity was too high but not as flashy as his own thoughts. This time, he didn’t seek the recordings of various pacifying melodies Chanyeol had sent him until today. This time, Baekhyun blinked and found his thumb hovering over Chanyeol’s name on his contacts list.

 

He stopped. Froze. Snorted. Chanyeol was only a friend right now. Baekhyun didn’t need a friend. He needed someone who loved him. Or at the very least, could show that kind of interest towards him. He was just in a weak state and had gotten confused. Not that Chanyeol wouldn’t love him. He would. Baekhyun was working towards that. Too slowly. Why was he working so slowly? He despised himself just a little bit for not having pulled Chanyeol into loving him yet.

 

Shaking his head, he scrolled a little more down his contacts list. He needed a name. Just a name. Any name would do. That was all Baekhyun needed, he could take care of the rest. It had been a long time since he had had anyone else in his life. He was spending too much time on Chanyeol, both literally and figuratively. He stopped at one name that stood out. Sehun.

 

Sehun could do. They had already had sex and he had been the one to ask for Baekhyun’s number back then, an obvious sign that he hadn’t wanted to cut things off there even if all he had in mind at that time could’ve been a physical relationship. Baekhyun could turn that around. Baekhyun could turn that scalding desire into fervid affection.

 

He pressed on that single name amongst tens, hundreds.

 

Wanna meet tomorrow?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sehun was as confident and open while they walked through Itaewon together as he had been the last time they had seen each other, in that small clothing store and that even smaller dressing room.

 

He was still just as handsome. He still had that attractive smile that mixed in smugness and innocence. Baekhyun, of course, knew that there was nothing innocent about Sehun. They chose to go on a simple outing for Baekhyun, a date for Sehun.

 

He wasn’t boring. He was funny, had tons of anecdotes to share about the hundreds of clients he encountered at work, and he still looked at Baekhyun with that openly interested, confident glint in his eyes. Conversation flowed nicely as they had a drink —tea for Baekhyun, coffee for him— but there was nothing particularly distinctive about that. Baekhyun could make conversation flow nicely with just about anyone as long as he tried hard enough.

 

And yet, Baekhyun couldn’t help but feel as if something was missing, lacking in the other. He couldn’t figure out what. Perhaps it was the fact that there was only plain lust in Sehun’s eyes, no affection, no care, no love. That shouldn’t be odd, though. There never was such feelings at first, Baekhyun always slowly worked them towards it.

 

It didn’t keep him from saying exactly what Sehun wanted to hear, nor did it crack through the interest he had concreted  over his face but Baekhyun couldn’t bring himself to find anything satisfying in this meeting. There was no warmth. No brightness. Sehun didn’t feel like a flower. He was pretty to look at, his skin was soft when Baekhyun grazed his cheek with his fingertips and pulled a smile to himself, but it didn’t feel like anything, maybe just a mere, human-crafted copy of a flower with harsh fabrics and faded colors.

 

He still did his best, however, thinking that maybe he just had to get used to it again and they got out of the coffeeshop together.

 

That was when he saw him.

 

Only a few meters away, Chanyeol was smiling down at Yixing as they walked together. Out of nowhere, Baekhyun felt something in him freeze and break down. He grabbed Sehun’s hand, pulling him away, to the opposite side where Chanyeol wouldn’t be able to see them. For a few seconds, he remained like that, until he was sure that Chanyeol was gone.

 

He looked behind him, where he had last seen them, and felt relief numbing him a little bit when he caught no sight of that familiar oversized, military green coat. He looked up at Sehun and met his questioning gaze, the sight enough to make him realize what he had just done.

 

That had been a missed opportunity. He could’ve shown himself, even made himself look unaware as he shoved Sehun into Chanyeol’s eyes. He could’ve tested him, his reaction, if there would be anger, jealousy, possessiveness. Instead, Baekhyun had hid himself. In that moment, fear had been the one to pull at his strings.

 

It was an odd feeling. It wasn’t really fear, perhaps. He shook his head at Sehun and pulled him closer by the hand, giving him an attractive and attracted smile. It hadn’t been fear. Just. Something lighter. Baekhyun wasn’t sure why he hadn’t wanted Chanyeol to see him. Maybe because it could’ve ruined everything he had worked to build so far. That could be it.

 

Sehun gave him a handsome smile but it wasn’t enough to shake that weird feeling off for the remainder of their time spent together.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The first thing Baekhyun did when he got home less than two hours later was call Chanyeol.

 

He could’ve stayed with Sehun, he had offered Baekhyun a cup of coffee at home, a bowl of ramyeon. Baekhyun knew what that stood for. He hadn’t been able to focus on the meaning. He hadn’t been able to focus on Sehun at all after seeing Chanyeol. He didn’t even remember the excuse he had given Sehun but he had let Baekhyun go easily, with no fuss or insistence.

 

All that had been on his mind was whether Chanyeol had caught a glimpse of them earlier. That wouldn’t be great. Baekhyun just had to make sure that hadn’t happened. Just so he could base his next moves on it all. Or something like that.

 

Chanyeol took a little while to answer and Baekhyun felt himself deflating a little more with each beep that went unanswered until eventually, his low voice greeted him from the other end of the line.

 

"Hey," he greeted the other back. "What are you up to?"

 

"I have a class in a bit," Chanyeol answered, no trace of irritation, anger, or any kind of negative emotion in his voice. He sounded the same as usual. Baekhyun’s body unknotted. "It’s going to start in three minutes actually. I only answered because you usually never call during the day when I have work. It’s gonna be an entire class of five year olds with tiny tiny pianos. Wish me good luck."

 

"I hope you got painkillers with you. I predict a headache," Baekhyun laughed softly.

 

Chanyeol hadn't seen them. He would’ve commented on it. Baekhyun didn’t know why he felt so reassured.

 

"Always got them. What about you? Is everything okay?"

 

"Yep," Baekhyun said with a skip in his voice to let Chanyeol know he was in a good mood. "I was just wondering if it was still on for Saturday?"

 

"Saturday?" Chanyeol asked, voice just a little blank as if the memory concerning that word was blank as well.

 

"There’s a new bibim naengmyeon restaurant opening tomorrow. We agreed on going this Saturday, two weeks ago. You know, the one in Jamsil-dong. Did you forget?" Baekhyun asked, voice taking on a teasing but threatening lilt.

 

There was a long, loud sound of realization from Chanyeol’s part.

 

"That was this Saturday?"

 

"Why? Do you have other plans?"

 

"No, it’s just," Chanyeol started before his voice sounded a bit far off the phone as he greeted someone. Probably his students. His voice sounded a bit rushed when he came back. "It’s just that it’s my mother’s birthday this Saturday. I completely forgot about the restaurant, I thought that was next week."

 

He had an apologetic tone to his voice. Baekhyun hummed understandingly.

 

"That’s okay, we can go next week. Your mom’s birthday’s more important."

 

"But we already planned this two weeks ago. I hate going back on promises," Chanyeol mumbled and Baekhyun could almost imagine his frown, the adorable upset line of his lips.

 

"It’s alright, silly. Don’t be upset about this. Just enjoy your time with your family and wish your mom a happy birthday for me," he said, his heart squeezing just a little bit at his last words. He didn’t remember ever wishing his mom a happy birthday.

 

"How about you come with me and wish her a happy birthday yourself?"

 

Baekhyun was at a loss for words for one fleeting second.

 

"What?"

 

"You can come with me. That way we’re not really cancelling our plans, just changing them."

 

"But it’s an important day. It’s for you and your family," Baekhyun reasoned, taken aback and unaccustomed to this kind of invitation.

 

"It’s alright," Chanyeol dismissed his concern before greeting yet a few more children. "She already saw you at the restaurant anyway, you’re not a total stranger. She’s actually even curious about you. It’d be nice."

 

It was almost flattering. Chanyeol felt comfortable enough with him to introduce him to his family when they were still just friends. That hadn’t ever happened before. No one had introduced Baekhyun to their families and Baekhyun had always avoided that kind of encounter. He could mess with someone’s feelings but not with anyone’s family. That was a drawback for him, he had limits.

 

"Come on, it’ll be fun!" Chanyeol insisted. "Look, I gotta go now. We won’t be talking about this again, you’re coming with me. I’m the driver anyway, I’ll just kidnap you. Alright. Talk to you later."

 

And Baekhyun was left to look at his blackened phone in surprise, not really sure what he was feeling.

 

He let out a soft chuckle after a few seconds. He supposed things with Chanyeol were already unusual as it was, he could allow himself to bend a single rule.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Come Saturday, Chanyeol had really not given him the choice and Baekhyun found himself standing in front of a small, lovely house as they waited for someone to open the door.

 

"You’re nervous, aren’t you?"

 

Baekhyun looked at Chanyeol, an eyebrow raised.

 

"I’m not," he lied.

 

He wasn’t even sure why he felt a little bit of apprehension when he knew for sure he had the ability to make whoever was behind that door appreciate him in a matter of minutes. What he was even less sure about was how Chanyeol had even managed to see through him. Baekhyun wasn’t sure he liked that either.

 

Chanyeol merely gave him a satisfied smile before looking at the door.

 

"Why is no one opening," he muttered under his breath before bringing a hand up and stabbing his finger against the doorbell just about ten consecutive times.

 

He heard a female voice screaming something unintelligible through the door, Chanyeol’s smile widening and then turning into a full grin when the door opened to a beautiful woman with an irritated twist on her face. Baekhyun recognized her from that one time on the subway and photos in Chanyeol’s apartment. Her name was Yoora, if he wasn’t mistaken.

 

"You know why I think you’re adopted, Chanyeol? Because no one else but you acts so damn childish in this family," she grumbled, looking up at her brother with that same irritated frown that seemed to fuel Chanyeol’s amusement. It was an interesting scene. Then, her eyes slid to Baekhyun and her features relaxed into a friendliness. "Oh, hello."

 

Chanyeol snorted. Baekhyun gave her an easy smile and bowed. 

 

"Good, now you gave him the first impression of a mean sister. Pretty accurate," Chanyeol huffed before Baekhyun could say anything.

 

Yoora snarled at him.

 

"Of course not. You look like a very beautiful, very nice person. I’m actually impressed you haven’t killed this guy despite living with him all your life," Baekhyun said, purposefully avoiding to look at the offended expression he knew Chanyeol was sporting.

 

Yoora laughed at his words. He supposed she appreciated both his compliments and the playful support equally.

 

"I think if we adopted Chanyeol, we could afford to adopt you too if you’re interested," she said playfully.

 

They both laughed before Chanyeol nudged both of them inside, giving Baekhyun a betrayed look. He couldn’t conceal his smile, however. He looked glad that Baekhyun got along with his sister even if it meant the two of them teaming up against him.

 

Their mother was waiting for them right in the living room, a big smile on her face. Baekhyun realized how alike both Chanyeol and Yoora looked to their mother, the big smile and kindliness radiating from her face a splitting image to that of her children. She embraced Baekhyun heartily, as if she had known him for years and raised him together with her own children, her hands even patting his back when she pulled away with a concerned frown on her face.

 

"You’re so thin, dear," she said, voice sad and fussy. Junmyeon’s mother always did the same thing. Maybe it was something all mothers did. 

 

"And you’re very beautiful. I guess I shouldn’t be surprised that you have such a beautiful daughter anymore," he simply answered, earning a charmed smile from her. "Happy birthday."

 

She smiled bashfully. "I cooked lots of things. I wasn’t sure what you liked and couldn’t ask Chanyeol but eat a lot at least tonight, alright?" she asked softly, her hands still on his shoulders as if she had hugged him thousands of times before. She was a warm person. It was an unfamiliar kind of warmth, Baekhyun had never really felt it before, not even through Junmyeon’s mother.

 

He nodded, smile genuine before it turned into laughter when Chanyeol stepped in.

 

"Mom, don’t forget your real son."

 

She proceeded to hug Chanyeol too, laughter and joy dripping from her voice as Chanyeol wrapped his long arms around her frail body and even folded himself all around her. He rested his head on her shoulder even if she was much shorter than him and his back probably hurt from bending so much. His eyes closed into that peaceful expression, his lips pulled into that lovely smile. The one he always had on when he played the piano. Baekhyun felt fulfilment gratify him as he looked at them.

 

Chanyeol’s father was a really friendly man as well and he seemed to be the source of Chanyeol’s talkative side, asking many questions to Baekhyun, making conversation as if they were old friends. Baekhyun was pleased to find out that he liked soccer as that was a topic he had quite an abundant knowledge on.

 

As they sat down in the living room while Yoora and her mother made the last preparations for dinner, the unfamiliar sound of clicking paws suddenly cut through Chanyeol’s conversation about work with his father. Suddenly, he shot up to his feet and ran towards his left, Baekhyun’s confused gaze following him. It lit up with understanding when he saw a small ball of black fur jumping to Chanyeol’s lap when he crouched down.

 

"You have a puppy?" Baekhyun asked as he almost unconsciously stood up, leaving Chanyeol’s father alone to crouch down next to Chanyeol.

 

It was a black poodle Baekhyun had already seen pictures of but he had forgotten its existence and now, as he watched it jump and yip all over Chanyeol, he couldn’t help but laugh and slowly reached out to pat its small head. Instantly, it gave all its attention to Baekhyun. It was so jumpy and excited and in a way, it almost reminded him of Chanyeol.

 

"Looks like he loves you," Chanyeol laughed softly.

 

"What’s his name?"

 

"Toben," Chanyeol announced with a boastful voice. "Short for Beethoven."

 

Baekhyun looked at him.

 

"Did you really name your dog after a dead musician?"

 

Right at that moment, Yoora stepped into the living room with a tray full of food she laid on the dining table.

 

"It’s a lame name," she said, shaking her head a little.

 

"It’s not!" Chanyeol instantly protested, hugging Toben to his chest as if the small puppy could hear her words and get hurt.

 

"Just don’t forget to take your meds," she retorted before disappearing into the kitchen again.

 

Chanyeol huffed softly before letting go of Toben and stepping out into the hallway and up the staircase. Toben didn’t seem to mind, laying its hind paws on Baekhyun’s thighs. He took the small puppy into his arms and sat back down onto the couch, giving the father a questioning look. He seemed to understand it and smiled good-naturedly.

 

"He’s allergic to animal fur. He has to take pills whenever he’s in contact with it or he’ll start sneezing and his eyes water or get puffy."

 

"But he loves animals so much," Baekhyun heard himself say, surprised to hear this piece of information he had no idea about.

 

"He does," the man chuckled fondly. "That’s why Toben’s staying with us and not with him. He can’t spend too much time with him and especially not live with him."

 

Baekhyun looked down at the small puppy, caressing the puffy and curly fur on its ears. He had never even thought that Chanyeol could hurt himself so much through all the time he spent with animals. He had no idea Chanyeol was the kind of person who’d still spend so much time with animals and love them so much even if it affected his health.

 

That explained all the time he’d randomly have sneezing spurges back when he still gave Baekhyun classes after being in contact with animals. Or how regretfully he looked at cute puppies in the streets after caressing them once and stepping away. Baekhyun smiled down at the puppy licking his fingertips. There was just something so captivating about that. Chanyeol was really someone full of love to give. A bountiful source of melted softness.

 

The Park family’s house was a welcoming, cozy place. It wasn’t big, just big enough to fit in a family of four but small enough to keep that small family together and close to each other on a daily basis. There were pictures scattered all around the living room, Yoora had even told him the story behind every picture of Chanyeol. The way he groaned at the most embarrassing ones was almost better than the stories themselves.

 

That closeness could still be sensed throughout the meal. Chanyeol’s mother had really given her all to this meal, side dishes and main dishes piled up all over the table, complementing each other perfectly and melting deliciously in Baekhyun’s mouth through a homey blend of flavors and colors. The table was never silent, they all talked and talked more about anything and everything, ranging from Yoora’s boyfriend’s last antics to their father’s most favorite musical eras throughout the whole world. He had an overflowing knowledge about the topic and Baekhyun listened to him, genuinely amazed and interested by every single song and artist recommendation he made. His eyes sparkled the same way Chanyeol’s always did when he talked about music and that alone was enough to have more of a hindsight concerning the kind of person Chanyeol grew up to be.

 

It was such a loving family, Baekhyun felt acceptance coating his entire being with every dish that the mother made him taste. Chanyeol always filled his glass of water when it emptied or handed him the plate he wanted to take food from before Baekhyun even had the occasion to voice it out. At one point, Chanyeol accidentally spilled the broth of his ttukbaegi bulgogi on his chin and fingers and, out of habit, Baekhyun tutted at him while grabbing a napkin and dabbing at his skin to absorb the scalding hot drops before they could hurt him. He caught his mother smiling at them and almost felt bad for acting so intimate but neither Chanyeol nor anyone else seemed to mind. 

 

He wondered if Chanyeol’s family was aware of his preferences and had accepted them. Not that they had ever actually talked about their own sexual preferences but at this point, it was obvious. Maybe Chanyeol had been accepted and loved as he was by his whole family. It would be surprising but not unheard of. They did seem like a loving, close family and Baekhyun never once felt like an outsider but as happy as that made him, he also couldn’t ignore the harshness with which envy clawed at his heart. Even Junmyeon’s family wasn’t so closely bound together.

 

And it made him feel odd. It was as if he were part of the intimacy, as if he was one of the pictures hanging on the wall, one of the vinyls displayed on the shelf, one of this incredibly loving family’s members. He could feel it. And maybe even Chanyeol could feel it in the way Baekhyun’s own voice seemed lighter than usual to his own ears. He kept glancing at Baekhyun, watching him, and Baekhyun didn’t know why. Was it because he liked Baekhyun getting along so well with his family? Or was it because he was starting to feel something deeper? He wasn’t sure. He couldn’t decipher anything, too busy basking in the novelty and breathing it in, his shoulder pressed against Chanyeol’s as they sat close to each other.

 

"You’re eating so well," the mother said halfway through the meal, her gaze tender and her smile pleased as she looked at Baekhyun shoveling food down his throat. There was just something else about home cooked food. She gestured towards her children, shaking her head a little bit as she cut off yet another one of Chanyeol and Yoora’s childish arguments about something as trivial as the most tasty beverage on earth. "These two always complain about this and that, how there’s not enough salt or it’s too spicy. You’re just perfect. Not picky at all."

 

Baekhyun smiled at that, satisfied. Chanyeol had teased him about how much care he had put into his outfit but it had seemingly paid off. She liked him. Her husband nodded from beside her, approving of her words.

 

"Here, eat more," she said, refilling his rice bowl and ignoring her husband’s complaints about making him eat too much and pushing him to have a stomachache.

 

Baekhyun laughed at the argument. It kind of explained how their children acted. He took another small dish from her with both hands, bowing his head a little bit to thank her. His smile didn’t falter when he noticed that it was just cucumber pickles but he hesitated just a little bit, chopsticks hovering over the small side dish for a second before he grabbed a very small amount and added it to his bowl of rice, right on top of the grains. 

 

He couldn’t reveal himself to be unable to eat cucumbers right after such words from her. He wouldn’t allow himself to shatter that perfect image he had managed to create for himself. He held out the small plate back to her.

 

"How’d you cook that, mom?" Chanyeol suddenly asked, drawing his mother’s attention to one of the side dishes in front of his father.

 

In that short second, he grabbed the thin spicy, sauced pickles of cucumber from Baekhyun’s bowl and dumped them into his instead. Baekhyun looked at him, surprise not showing on his face but still quite obvious from how fast his gaze had flown to Chanyeol. He didn’t look at Baekhyun, simply listening to his mother enthusiastically describe him the cooking process of her dish.

 

Baekhyun smiled down at his food and continued eating, ardor trickling down is stomach until he felt fuller with affection than with dishes cooked with love. He wondered if it was possible for it to overflow. He hoped not, he felt like keeping it all to himself.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

"I could sleep on the floor," Chanyeol said a bit later, eyeing his small bed that was made to fit a single person only.

 

He had a nice bedroom, one that was fitting to the image Baekhyun had of him. There were even more pictures, of him now or of him with his childhood friends when he was still a preteen or a bubbly teenager. It wasn’t as messy as his current apartment but there were still mismatched things around. An empty guitar case leaned against the wall, movies and video games posters all around, and even a tiny basketball hoop hanging on the wall.

 

He stepped closer to Baekhyun and ran his hands down his chest with a playful smile, childishly leaving a few wet spots on the fabric. Baekhyun kicked him away, scrunching his nose. They had washed the dishes together only minutes ago. Chanyeol had argued with his mother about washing them with Yoora and had won the battle after lots of protest from the kindhearted woman. Baekhyun had then joined in, offering to wash the dishes with him rather than letting Yoora do it. She had swooned. Baekhyun felt himself melt a little bit at how caring Chanyeol was with his parents.

 

It was much past sunset, closer to midnight now and Baekhyun hadn’t expected to spend that much time in here but he had barely even noticed the clock ticking. They had eaten cake, sang her a birthday song, and then let her open her gifts. She had told everyone that it was unnecessary of them to spend money on her but the happiness she felt through the whole night had been obvious. Baekhyun knew he had scored a very high mark when she opened up the beautiful, old but authentic phonograph Baekhyun had gotten for her after much debate on the subject with Chanyeol.

 

She had insisted for them both to just spend the night here and leave in the morning even if they both didn’t even live too far off, just in another district of Seoul. Baekhyun hadn’t even hesitated before accepting. There was just something binding about this house. He wanted to spend as much time here as possible. Or maybe it was just the family living inside of it.

 

"Come on, we’ve already shared a bed before," Baekhyun said, shaking his hands a bit. He was wearing another one of Chanyeol’s pajamas, too big on him. This one had little stars on a red background. "We can both fit in here."

 

Chanyeol grinned.

 

"That’s exactly what I wanted to hear."

 

Baekhyun laughed softly at that, shaking his head fondly when Chanyeol proceeded to yawn while pulling him to the small bed. Baekhyun got in first, sticking himself against the wall and then patting the small room left for Chanyeol while obnoxiously wiggling his eyebrows. Chanyeol snorted while sliding under the blanket and letting Baekhyun pull him close, holding onto him so he wouldn’t fall off the bed.

 

They wiggled around a little bit to fit and Baekhyun even kneed Chanyeol in the stomach on purpose as some kind of revenge for the wet hands earlier before they settled down as comfortably as they could. However, as soon as they stopped shifting around, Chanyeol’s eyes widened in realization and he sat up.

 

"You should sleep on the other side, away from the wall."

 

"Why?" he asked, giving the other a confused look.

 

Without giving him any explanation, Chanyeol simply pulled him away from the wall and then slid over him to settle on that tiny spot. He wiggled around a bit more to push Baekhyun away and make more room for himself, his arms wrapping around Baekhyun to prevent him from falling off the bed. Baekhyun watched him in confusion, a bit too sleepy to even say or do anything. It was only when he was satisfied with their new position that Chanyeol smiled at him sheepishly.

 

"The window doesn’t close properly so there’s always a little bit of cold air blowing in directly over the bed at night."

 

Baekhyun glanced at the window right above the bed. Chanyeol’s embrace around him was warm. He felt himself swimming in his pajamas and Chanyeol’s own pajamas were a simple blue color with a squared pattern you’d see on most pajamas. The fabric was soft against Baekhyun’s hands, soothing. It always felt like a blanket wrapped around him. His favorite sweater. But it felt like the warmth was somewhere inside of him.

 

"But you get cold more easily than I do," he said after a while, not really knowing why he was whispering when they hadn’t even turned the lights off yet. The dim glow from the puppy-shaped bedside lamp was still on, drawing long shadows on Chanyeol’s cheeks every time he blinked sleepily.

 

Maybe it was because he could feel it, that balminess. On the brink of overflowing, puffing up inside of him and fanning snug breezes through his entire body. Or maybe it was Chanyeol. They were pressed so close together, Baekhyun could see every single emotion displayed in his eyes, playing hide and seek with the ardent sparkles in those dark orbs.

 

"Yeah. But I’m used to it, I’ll be okay. I don’t want you to get sick."

 

Baekhyun felt himself taking a deep breath in. The warmth was almost overflowing, too abundant. The affection he was cloaked in through Chanyeol’s tender embrace almost suffocating. But he had never breathed in so easily. It was a little stupid. It was just a spot on the bed, an insignificant, ridiculously insignificant sacrifice. And yet it was so easy to breathe it in, indulge in it.

 

"So, how was your first family dinner?" Chanyeol asked after a few seconds of comfortable silence.

 

"How do you know it was my first?"

 

It wasn’t his first family dinner. He had dined with Junmyeon’s family before. Maybe it was his first real family dinner.

 

Chanyeol smiled softly, a bit unsure but barely so. Baekhyun knew exactly how to read him now. He had a handsome smile. He looked so soft and cozy, pressed against Baekhyun, their heads resting on the same pillow, their breaths caressing each other timidly. His hair was a mess. It was longer now, much longer than when they had first met. That seemed so long ago. Baekhyun shifted just a little bit, pushing himself closer to him just a little bit. Chanyeol’s hold on him never loosened.

 

"You looked kinda clueless and a little lost, a bit overwhelmed maybe. I hope they didn’t make you uncomfortable, they can be a bit too enthusiastic sometimes."

 

He chuckled, velvety, smooth. Baekhyun felt it tickle his face, spreading more of that delectable simmer through him. He hummed, choosing his words carefully. Chanyeol seemed to be able to read him well too now. Baekhyun had no idea how that came to be. Had no idea how to prevent that. Had no clue whether it was a bad thing or not. He’d think about it later.

 

"Let’s just say it was my first real family dinner. I’m not used to familial events and you’re a small family but you just felt so wide and close at the same time. To me, at least."

 

"Do you have a small family?" Chanyeol questioned, curious, mellow. Like his fingertips barely kissing Baekhyun’s nape, caressing his skin. His voice sounded like a vibrating piano note, a loving lullaby.

 

"Just my father, brother, and me," he whispered. He should stop there. There was no question, just a slightly curious look but no question. He spoke out again before realizing it. "We lost my mother when I was eight."

 

There was no pity. Baekhyun had expected it but there was not a single hint of it. Chanyeol continued looking at him through his beautiful, hooded eyes. His fingers seeded down warmth from Baekhyun’s nape to the back of his head, soaking his hair and his mind with it until Baekhyun felt it ingrained inside him.

 

"Do you wanna tell me what happened?"

 

"She fell down the stairs," he answered just as a foggy, croaky, snappy voice whispered the truth in his head. A truth concealed by wafts of smoke that blurred that voice.

 

Baekhyun closed his eyes for a second, burrowing deeper against Chanyeol’s chest. He said nothing, simply looked at Baekhyun, watched over him, fingers careful, like the light murmur of sunlight against damp silk. Baekhyun looked at him again.

 

"We never really had family dinners after that," he explained, voice holding no particular emotion. "I barely even talk to them anymore."

 

"How did you feel tonight then?" he asked, shifting just a little bit, pulling Baekhyun even closer. He didn’t know how that was possible. He already felt engulfed.

 

"It was nice," he confessed. More than nice. But he didn’t know the words to describe this feeling. He never had to. "Foreign but nice. You have a really nice family."

 

Chanyeol’s lips curved into a faint but heavy smile. Heavy with joy at those words. As if that was all that he had wanted. Baekhyun to just feel nice tonight. To feel the fervency.

 

"If you want, you could come here more often. I’m pretty sure both my mom and sister will pester me to bring you more anyway. They loved you."

 

His words lived on for a few more seconds after leaving his mouth through an emollient, quiet laugh. There was more lukewarm air than full sound. It was cushioned against Baekhyun’s chin. Their faces were so close. Had Chanyeol’s laughter always sounded so bright?

 

And he didn’t know what it was about those words. He didn’t know why. He didn’t know if it was the drowsiness dripping from Chanyeol’s eyes and diluting him into something that felt as soft as a puff of a cloud, maybe a mouthful of cotton candy melting against his tongue. He didn’t know if it was the handsome smile that was frail as a flower, rosy and mesmerizing as the touch of a petal. He didn’t know if it was the embrace around him, comfortable as his favorite sweater, warm as the first beam of a spring, sturdy yet tender as heated water drenching his body at the end of a stubborn day. He didn’t know if it was everything that had happened to him tonight, everything that he had seen. He didn’t know if it was just Chanyeol.

 

But Baekhyun could feel it. The warmth in him, pooling, gathering, saturating him and eventually overflowing. Spilling and swamping Chanyeol himself. As if Baekhyun wanted to pull him in, heist that white heat, lock it in a corner of his body and braze it into himself.

 

Chanyeol’s lips were soft as plum blossoms when Baekhyun pressed their lips together. They moulded against Baekhyun’s perfectly, just like plum blossoms had inscribed themselves onto his skin so easily. There was no pain.

 

There was no surprise, no hesitation. Baekhyun kissed Chanyeol balmily, breaking the touch for a fleeting moment only to press his lips against Chanyeol’s again, on one corner, then the other, and then perfectly embraced the other’s plump, silky lower lip, cocooning it in his own warmth. Chanyeol kissed Baekhyun back as if he had taken the first whiff of his favorite flower and wouldn’t get enough of it until his head was clouded and hazed from the fragrance.

 

His fingers skimmed over Chanyeol’s cheek, sliding down, down like stray blossoms guided around by the wind until his fingers branched down to his jaw, pinky nestling against his neck. His skin felt cloudy. His lips felt even smoother, but not like weak silk at the mercy of the wind. His lips played and pressed and pecked and pulled against Baekhyun’s like mischievous leaves swirling with the wind in the air, not guiding the dance but not let completely limbless either. It didn’t feel as if they had kissed a thousand times before. It felt like their first time.

 

Chanyeol’s fingers tightened just a little bit in his hair, not enough to tug but just enough to hold him in place. Baekhyun’s fingers slowly rode the faint beat he could feel on his neck. It wasn’t awkward, there was no teeth, no accidental bite. Just discovery, careful steps into a new territory, the excitement and eagerness brought in by the fresh taste of an unexplored adventure. It felt like their first time but one that they were both delighted to take part in, one that they turned into their usual banter, playful, familiar, comfortable and so, so warm.

 

Chanyeol didn’t taste like anything when Baekhyun ventured into his mouth. He hadn’t expected him to. Baekhyun couldn’t taste anything much, maybe just a pint of strawberry, a remnant of toothpaste, but Baekhyun could feel. He could feel that fervency trickling through his fingers, through their mouths, through the cushioning fingers still in his hair. He could feel it flowing inside of him. He could almost taste it when he carefully nibbled onto Chanyeol’s lower lip, asking, questioning. Chanyeol replied by pulling away just a little bit, until Baekhyun could only feel the impression of his lips but not touch them any longer. They met again, their lips parted, like burgeoning flowers reaching out to the clear, beaming embrace of the sun.

 

Their lips grazed, brushed, caressed, Baekhyun leaned in, touching, giving a taste, before stealing it back. Chanyeol followed the movement, trailed after him, as if in his mind, he was already kissing Baekhyun again. He pressed their lips together again, fingers sliding down to Baekhyun’s nape as he gingerly, sweetly nibbled on Baekhyun’s lower lip once before pressing a huggy peck above Baekhyun’s upper lip. It was delicate, precise, right where Baekhyun knew a mole was dotted on his skin. He leaned in, chased, pressed their lips together again, deepening the kiss. He felt Chanyeol’s lips curving up into a candescent moon against his. He wondered if it was that smile. That same smile, the one he had on when playing piano, with his eyes closed and his entire body left to the hands of the melody, its new owner until it died down.

 

Baekhyun hoped it was.

 

 In the back of his mind, Baekhyun thought that this memory belonged to him. Chanyeol would remember their first kiss as such. Every time Chanyeol would step into his childhood bedroom, he would feel Baekhyun’s lips against his. Careful, familiarly unfamiliar, and slow, like the drag of Chanyeol’s lower lip when he pulled away and Baekhyun kissed it one last time, holding it captive under his white pearls for one last breath before letting go. This belonged to him.

 

Baekhyun’s lips still tingled a little when they pulled away to look at each other. He remained hovering over Chanyeol a little bit, supporting himself on one elbow, the other hand still laid halfway between Chanyeol’s jaw and his neck.

 

There was no surprise in Chanyeol’s eyes, they were just a little more hooded than earlier. There were no questions between them either. Their faces were still too close, Baekhyun could feel Chanyeol’s breath ghosting against his lips, damp. His cheeks were a little flushed, faintly dusted in pink, not from embarrassment or timidity. Maybe his own warmth overflowing from Baekhyun had simply flooded into his cheeks. Maybe it was his own warmth that he felt in Baekhyun. Sometimes, Baekhyun wished Chanyeol could feel it.

 

They looked at each other for a few seconds, observing. Simply observing. Chanyeol leaned up again. His fingers were still tangled in Baekhyun’s hair, his the imprint of his touch still swirling in Baekhyun’s soul. His lips were still just as soft the second time they kissed. 

 

This one was amble, like a final note. Or maybe a preview. Baekhyun kissed him back, letting his eyes flutter shut, hand dangling from Chanyeol’s neck to his chest, fingers gripping that soft, comfortable pajama shirt. He pulled away a bit, grazed his lips over Chanyeol’s skin, lacing kisses from the corner of his lips to the reddened apple of his cheek before going back on his steps, untying everything to let his mouth fall back against the other’s. 

 

He hovered over it, their lips still parted, Chanyeol’s seeking, Baekhyun’s smiling. He shook his head a little, barely, just to let the tips of their noses brush together in a different kiss. Then, he pecked him one last time, breathed him in, drenched himself in the sensation, soaking it up, imbibing his mind before slowly pulling away.

 

Their eyes opened almost at the same time, their gazes met, and almost simultaneously, they laughed. Softly, quietly, but with affinity.

 

Chanyeol’s fingers were still set against his neck, his smile a bit dreamy, very handsome. His dimple seemed deeper, content pooled inside.

 

"I thought I’d be the one to lose and kiss you first," he said, whispered, voice knitted in a smile.

 

"Was this a competition too?" Baekhyun laughed softly. Chanyeol’s smile widened a little.

 

"No, but you’re really good at being exactly what people crave." 

 

"Maybe I’m just exactly what you crave."

 

Chanyeol quirked an eyebrow, playful, amused.

 

"And what makes you so confident?" he challenged Baekhyun who hummed playfully, as if in thought.

 

"Maybe the way you couldn’t help but stare at me in the subway, at the beginning," he said, smug.

 

"There’s no way you noticed that without staring back at me, just saying," Chanyeol huffed, frowning in that mock irritated way that suited him so much.

 

Baekhyun snickered and that seemed to be enough for Chanyeol to follow along, chuckling and letting his dimple peek through again. The smile lingered on his lips afterwards as he silently looked into Baekhyun’s eyes. Without thinking, without hesitating Baekhyun leaned in to press a kiss right against that dimple, right below the rosiness on his cheeks, stealing the warmth nestled in there and pulling a soft chuckle out of an even softer Chanyeol again.

 

They kissed a lot that night, until their minds floated into haziness, until Baekhyun’s lips felt numb but not from kissing, from the delicate blanket Chanyeol’s mouth always felt like as it laid on his.

 

It was an odd kind of victory trickling through Baekhyun’s veins that night. 

 

As they fell asleep, he was the one to hug Chanyeol’s back tightly into his chest, his arms wrapped around his waist securely, his forehead perfectly nestled against his nape, but Baekhyun still felt himself enveloped by that same, radiant torridity.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

That sensation was still the first thing Baekhyun felt when he opened his eyes in the morning and was met with the calm on Chanyeol’s features as he was asleep.

 

He had shifted around a lot in his sleep, just like he had on the two previous times they had shared a bed, and he was facing Baekhyun now, his face close enough for Baekhyun to feel every single breath he exhaled. Whenever they slept together, it always felt like Chanyeol couldn’t keep himself away from Baekhyun. He fell asleep pressed up against Baekhyun, and woke up pressed up against Baekhyun, maybe closer. 

 

His hair was messy, ruffled and sprawled over the pillow, his cheek squished against the pillow, puffed up the slightest bit. He looked beautiful. His lips were parted a little, wafts of air swinging in and out of his mouth. Baekhyun’s eyes dropped to it, to that soft lower lip he had kissed too many times to keep count last night, up until the last second of consciousness before sleep had taken over.

 

They had kissed. It almost felt surreal after how long it actually took to happen. The end of a summer, an entire autumn, and the shy beginning of a winter. Five months. He felt his lips flowering into a smile, something in him still basking in the ardor of the remembrance. 

 

There was no profound love. Not yet, but there was room for it to maturate. Affection and attraction were present - Chanyeol had never said anything but Baekhyun knew him enough to tell he wasn’t the kind of person to just go along with things. If he had kissed Baekhyun, it meant that he at least liked him. 

 

That was enough for now. Now that Baekhyun thought about it, it had been a while since the last time someone had loved him. This wasn’t remotely close to the way Junki or Joohyun or anyone before loved him but it was a good start. Baekhyun wasn’t even surprised to feel how much he had actually missed this feeling, this feeling of care and the delight that always came with the knowledge that someone nurtured such feelings for him.

 

Chanyeol woke up slowly up. Baekhyun quietly watched as his eyelids fluttered, rows of lashes delicately kissing each other and parting only to meet again a few times as Chanyeol blinked. It took him a few seconds to be able to keep his eyes open and Baekhyun smiled as he noted how hooded they remained, as if it took Chanyeol a strong willpower to keep his eyes open even that little much.

 

They remained quiet. Baekhyun’s joyful gaze met Chanyeol’s hazy one and he watched as the sparkles in his eyes cleared up with each blink that chased the sleep away from Chanyeol’s mind. They gazed at each other, Baekhyun wondering what would Chanyeol’s reaction be, if he’d say anything about last night, ask explanations and complicate things, or act like nothing had happened.

 

Chanyeol did none of that. His gaze dropped to Baekhyun’s lips as if the memory of how they had felt against his last night was just coming back now. 

 

"You can kiss me good morning now. There’s nothing holding you back," Baekhyun said, the quietest, in order not to brusque him in his slumberous state. He watched Chanyeol take two more seconds to stare at his lips before looking up into Baekhyun’s eyes.

 

Chanyeol grinned, the curve of his lips soft with the remnants of sleep. He didn’t kiss Baekhyun. Instead, he wrapped his arms around his waist, slid down a little bit on the pillow to pull Baekhyun close to him until he could burrow his face in the crook of Baekhyun’s neck. He chuckled fondly as he felt Chanyeol breathe out a sleepy sigh against his neck, tickling his skin both with exhales and his messy hair. He wrapped his arms around Chanyeol, returning the embrace and letting his hand brush up and down his spine.

 

"I’m holding back because of morning breath," he heard the other mutter, voice muffled against Baekhyun’s neck.

 

This was delectable. He hadn’t had something like this in a long time. He hadn’t felt this kind of warmth shrouding him from everything else in too long. It was almost making his mind hazy from how overwhelming it felt.

 

He let Chanyeol wake up properly, slowly rubbing his back and stroking his bird’s nest of a hair, smiling a little as Chanyeol tangled their legs together and nestled deeper against Baekhyun’s neck. After a while, he pulled away and looked up at Baekhyun. It wasn’t a shy smile, just a delicate, contented one. Baekhyun leaned down to kiss it. Just because he could now. Just because he wondered if Chanyeol’s kiss would still feel just as revitalizing after a full night’s rest and with no drowsiness clouding his mind anymore.

 

It did. It still felt like slipping into his favorite sweater. It was slow, sleepy in the way Baekhyun pressed benign kisses over Chanyeol’s lips, slotting their mouths together. Chanyeol melted against him, as if the warmth Baekhyun felt from him was too consuming for even Chanyeol to survive. He was putty under Baekhyun’s lips but not limbless, he was gentle but not numb, his hold around Baekhyun still strong and sturdy.

 

When Baekhyun pulled away from him, Chanyeol’s lips remained parted, his lidded eyes looking up at Baekhyun from under delicate lashes. He looked hazy, as if he was still in a dream, or maybe as if he was the dream itself. Baekhyun smiled and that seemed enough to attract Chanyeol’s lips back to his, he leaned up to press their lips together in a deeper, more playful kiss, as if Baekhyun’s lips had helped him sober up from his slumber and he was wide awake now.

 

Baekhyun let him take the lead, simply savoring the smooth texture of his lips, the soft jolts and tingles when Chanyeol nibbled on his lower lip only to pull away a little before Baekhyun could return the gesture. It was still lazy, the drag of Chanyeol’s lips against his was  dreamy, leisurely.

 

Chanyeol parted from Baekhyun with a last lap against his lower lip but remained close, enough for Baekhyun to actually be unable to properly see him without his eyes straining. He breathed in. It was easy.

 

There was something addicting about Chanyeol’s kisses. He didn’t know what. It could be how easeful, slow, but full they were. It could be how Chanyeol clung onto him for dear life up until the very last graze of their lips together and even after that. It could be the way Chanyeol looked at him after each kiss, his gaze soft, a bit melted. A little flush on his cheeks, so radiant and clear. It could just be the fact that Baekhyun hadn’t kissed someone who nurtured some kind of genuine emotions for him in a while.

 

He didn’t know. But he wanted to kiss Chanyeol again. And he could now - he had held back for months. He wasn’t even sure why he had done so. He leaned down a little bit, eyes focused on Chanyeol’s permeating smile, as if even he knew that Baekhyun couldn’t keep away, as if he understood that feeling. 

 

Before their lips met again, a knock against the door froze them in place.

 

"Boys, breakfast is ready. Come out before it gets cold."

 

Chanyeol’s mother’s voice was muffled behind the door but it was still easy to hear the joy vibrating through it.

 

"We’ll be out in a minute," Chanyeol called out to her, eyes still trailing over Baekhyun’s face.

 

Baekhyun smiled down at him. He almost felt like a teenager. Maybe it was because he was technically in a teenager’s bedroom.

 

Quiet footsteps walked away from the door and Chanyeol yawned a little, letting go of Baekhyun to stretch his arms over his head. Baekhyun did the same, although his only motive was to bump his fingertips against Chanyeol’s face with the excuse of stretching his poor limbs. Chanyeol whined just a little when Baekhyun’s hand knocked against his forehead and they laughed together before sitting up.

 

Nothing had really changed. It almost came as a relief to Baekhyun. He wasn’t sure why.

 

He grabbed his phone from the bedside table but didn’t unlock it, simply used it as some kind of improvised mirror and tilted his head a bit to take a look at his neck. Chanyeol was still laying down, he could feel his gaze on him. Baekhyun frowned when he saw that the make up he had concealed his tattoo with last night was smudged and faded away in some parts, letting some black lines completely appear while only graying out others.

 

"Do you have makeup in your room?" he asked, looking down at Chanyeol. "Foundation or even concealer?"

 

He hadn’t planned to stay the night and had therefore not brought anything with him. Even if the makeup he used was of high quality, it wasn’t surprising that it had been ruined after a full night’s sleep during which his neck had continuously rubbed against pillows and sheets. There wasn’t anything else about his appearance that he couldn’t fix, the tattoo was the only major problem. He couldn’t go out like that.

 

Chanyeol hummed softly, finally sitting up.

 

"I don’t have anything here. My sister probably does, though," he added and Baekhyun was about to ask him if he could perhaps borrow it from her even if his skin was a little darker than hers and the shade wouldn’t completely match but before he could do so, Chanyeol spoke again. "But you don’t have to hide it. They won’t mind."

 

And they didn’t.

 

It took Chanyeol five entire minutes to convince Baekhyun to just let it go but when they came down for breakfast, no one had commented on it. Chanyeol’s parents had seen it, he caught them looking but there had been no judgement or disapproval in their eyes. Even Yoora had simply asked what was his tattoo about since it couldn’t exactly be entirely seen and Baekhyun explained with a little bit of hesitance but their mother had reassured him with a smile, telling him that she really loved plum flowers.

 

Breakfast was as delicious and garnished as last night’s dinner. Baekhyun still felt a little overwhelmed but very comfortable. The food melted deliciously in his mouth. Chanyeol’s hand sometimes rested on his thigh under the table, gathering alleviation into one single point.

 

When it was eventually time to leave, Baekhyun watched as Chanyeol hugged his parents as if he wouldn’t see them for a whole year when everyone knew he’d be back here some time next week or would drop by the restaurant at the very least. 

 

What had been surprising was the way Chanyeol’s mother hugged him the same way she had hugged her son. She felt so small in his arms, Baekhyun blanked out for a second, not sure how he was supposed to hug her back even if he had hugged Junmyeon’s mother before. This felt a bit different, a bit more genuine. Chanyeol hadn’t even tried to conceal his amused smile.

 

Chanyeol’s father gave him a friendly pat on the back and recommended him a few last Edith Piaf songs and when they left the house, it felt as if part of it was lingering in his breath.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chanyeol was the one to drive Baekhyun’s car on the way back to his house but they didn’t part ways there. Unspoken, it had become a habit for Baekhyun to just randomly crash at Chanyeol’s apartment and spend more time with him and this was another one of those times.

 

The drive back wasn’t quiet, it never was quiet between them, and it especially wasn’t awkward. Baekhyun was used to people asking questions or acting coy and shy after a first kiss. Maybe it was because Baekhyun was usually never the one to initiate the first kiss, always pulling and pushing the other person to yield and kiss him first just for the satisfaction it always brought to him.

 

Chanyeol wasn’t awkward, or coy, or anything in between. It still felt like they were friends, childish friends when Chanyeol pushed him to step into the apartment first as if this was some kind of race.

 

"How’s this place always a mess? It looks like there’s a child living here," Baekhyun grumbled, loudly on purpose as he stepped into the living room. Almost automatically, he grabbed the minicar that had somehow ended up right at the entrance to dump it with the rest of the mini cars in front of the shelf, near the track.

 

"You’re the child here," Chanyeol huffed as he plopped down on the couch.

 

Baekhyun gave him a look, a disappointed one.

 

"That’s the only thing you can come up with?" He shook his head, stepping towards him.

 

The blue scarf draped over the couch caught his eyes. It was the one he had lent to Chanyeol months ago. He had never given it back and Baekhyun still caught him wearing it from time to time. He grabbed it and draped it over Chanyeol’s head, hiding his face with it.

 

Chanyeol laughed softly, trying to free himself from it but Baekhyun held it on over his head for a few seconds. When Chanyeol managed to win the small battle by kicking Baekhyun away with his long legs and pulled the scarf off, his hair was even more of a mess. Some strands were standing up straight on top of his head, left static by the wool that had rubbed against it.

 

Baekhyun laughed. He liked it. Both the hair and the offended expression on Chanyeol’s face, his frown and that unconscious way in which his lips pouted faintly whenever Baekhyun teased him too much and he lost.

 

Chanyeol threw the scarf back at him and he went to hang it at the entrance hall, where Chanyeol kept his jackets and coats.

 

"Do you have any makeup remover? Or lotion?" he asked when he came back.

 

"I think my sister might have left some around. It’s probably in the bathroom," Chanyeol replied, hand reaching out to the remote to switch the television on.

 

Baekhyun nodded before heading towards the bathroom. He could almost feel his skin itching with the knowledge that his tattoo was a mess, half covered and grayed out by makeup. It took a while to find makeup remover but it indeed was buried somewhere at the bottom of the drawers. Once his tattoo was cleaned up and bared out, Baekhyun felt much better and refreshed as he headed back to the living room. He plopped down next to Chanyeol on the couch, eyes already taking in the historical drama Chanyeol was watching.

 

However, before he could settle properly, he felt hands grabbing his legs to pull them up on the couch. Chanyeol easily pulled more until Baekhyun was laying on his back, head laid over the armrest.

 

"What are you doing?" he asked, incredulous.

 

He could’ve felt offended that Chanyeol easily manhandled him into the exact position he wanted him to be but instead, he was merely curious as he watched Chanyeol comfortably lay on top of him. He shifted until the side of his head rested on Baekhyun’s chest and the rest of his body was just perfectly fitted between Baekhyun’s legs.

 

"Cuddling you," Baekhyun heard the other say, words a bit deformed from the way his cheek was squished against Baekhyun’s chest. He was already back to watching the television.

 

And the position could’ve easily felt erotic, he could feel Chanyeol’s whole body pressed against his. It could’ve easily been initiated with a different intention, but Baekhyun couldn’t even feel a smidgen of arousal at the moment, not coming from himself nor from Chanyeol. Not because Baekhyun wasn’t attracted to Chanyeol and the other didn’t return the feeling. Just because this felt just so comfortable, and cozy. Chanyeol just wanted to cuddle him.

 

Baekhyun let him, body completely at ease, not a hint of tension coursing through him, not feeling uncomfortable the slightest bit even if Chanyeol’s body was bigger than his and therefore, just a little bit too heavy. It just felt laid-back, maybe comforting, natural and entirely cushy. He turned his head towards the television and silence fell over them as they both watched it for a few minutes, basking in each other’s presence, in each other’s body heat.

 

Baekhyun’s fingers found their way to Chanyeol’s messed up hair, leisurely carding through it even if there was still a little bit of static left from the scarf and some strands stuck themselves to his skin. Chanyeol didn’t move much, shaking his head a little bit from time to time, rubbing his cheek against Baekhyun’s chest before sliding up a little bit to rest his forehead against Baekhyun’s neck.

 

Chanyeol liked cuddling. Chanyeol was a good cuddler, not a selfish or awkward one. He liked being wrapped in a hug but also liked wrapping Baekhyun in a hug, just pressing against him, holding him, making sure that he was comfortable and not shy about their bodies coming in contact a bit too much, a bit too intimately. Baekhyun liked it. He liked the proximity. He liked the way it made him feel as if Chanyeol could find warmth in him too and simply wanted to wrap himself in it. He enjoyed the way Chanyeol was so at ease with him, as if he felt safe, as if he trusted Baekhyun, and had let himself completely in his hands.

 

He felt the other shift a bit after a while and looked down at him, their eyes meeting when Chanyeol folded his arms on Baekhyun’s chest and then rested his chin on them, supporting his head on his forearms to look at Baekhyun. It felt odd to have to look down at him when usually it was the contrary. He looked cute from this angle too.

 

"I can kiss you everyday, right?"

 

He didn’t really look anxious or hesitant, nor exactly curious. That wasn’t the question Baekhyun had expected. Maybe that was all Chanyeol needed to know as a confirmation. 

 

Baekhyun pursed his lips into a thoughtful expression.

 

"I’m not sure. I’ll have to see if I can fit your kisses into my schedule everyday."

 

"You don’t even have a schedule," Chanyeol snorted before leaning to kiss him.

 

His lips were pulpy as they embraced Baekhyun’s lower one, his teeth careful but enticing as they sank into the tender flesh cautiously, barely, just taking a taste. Chanyeol breathed out through his nose, almost like a sigh of contentment. It was hot. Baekhyun breathed it all in and played back with him, deepening the kiss but leaving it short, pulling away and watching through half-lidded eyes as Chanyeol chased him, letting out a soft, tiny, maybe unconscious whine. Baekhyun laughed when Chanyeol moved to press their lips together again, stopping just in time to let Chanyeol kiss his lips rather than his teeth for a last, long peck.

 

They pulled away, Baekhyun opened his eyes and saw the content, almost victorious smile on Chanyeol’s lips. As if it had been an argument and he had had the last word, winning it all. Baekhyun smiled at him, his hand melting down from Chanyeol’s hair to his back instead. Chanyeol rested his chin on his folded arms again, looked at Baekhyun for a few silent seconds. Baekhyun had painted his lips a shade darker with his own. It looked beautiful.

 

"You know," Chanyeol said and this time, there was a bit of hesitation in his voice. He stopped for a second as if to choose his words carefully. Baekhyun rubbed his back encouragingly. "You don’t have to lie to make people appreciate you."

 

Baekhyun took those words in but didn’t let the surprise seep out into his features.

 

"What?" he said, voice taking in the perfect intonation of confusion.

 

Had Chanyeol figured it all out? There was no way. He was smart, very smart but Baekhyun had never let anything out, not anything that would ruin things for him.

 

"The cucumbers. If you told my mom you couldn’t eat it, she would’ve understood."

 

He had that usual concerned frown on his face but with an addition to it. Almost as if he was holding himself back. He scrutinized him, trying to figure out what exactly Chanyeol was thinking about. He wasn’t sure what he should say, intrigued, a bit unsure. Chanyeol was sharing raw feelings with him but it wasn’t his own that he was talking about. It was Baekhyun’s.

 

"I didn’t want to be rude," he settled on saying when Chanyeol obviously waited for him to speak.

 

The frown deepened just a little bit. Not in anger, just concern, or maybe concentration. Chanyeol was trying to read him. It didn’t make sense, Baekhyun had always made himself easy to read for the other, never really concealing what he wanted Chanyeol to see. Maybe he had not concealed everything.

 

"You didn’t do that just to be polite, though, did you? She just told you that you were perfect."

 

And Chanyeol didn’t say anything more but it was obvious was he meant with those words. Baekhyun wasn’t sure how it happened. Had the other figured everything out after Baekhyun had once drunk dialed his number and complained about this? There was no other way possible. It was Baekhyun’s own mistake, his own inattention.

 

Denying it would be useless. Blaming Chanyeol wouldn’t be the right thing to do either. There was also no reason for Baekhyun to put some distance between them just to be sure either. As long as Chanyeol didn’t figure everything out, he supposed it would be okay. Foreign but okay.

 

Not wanting to linger on this topic too much, Baekhyun simply curved his lips into a small, playful smile.

 

"Maybe I just wanted to see what you’d do."

 

Chanyeol looked at him for a few silent seconds, studying him. Baekhyun’s smile didn’t falter even once. It almost looked like he wanted to say something else before giving up, maybe understanding that this wasn’t a topic Baekhyun was keen on breaching. Then, he smiled back and it was a genuine one, a boyish one.

 

"Was that the final test that led you to kissing me?" he said, eyes narrowed.

 

Baekhyun laughed at that. Maybe it actually was part of the reason why. He didn’t say anything, Chanyeol’s lips were already grazing his again, just a breath away. 

 

He hummed and then pressed his smile against Chanyeol’s.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Naturally, everything and nothing really changed between them at the same time.

 

There was no significant change between them, they still messaged each other a lot, they still joked around and acted maybe a bit too childish for their age, they were still as playful as ever, and they still continued exploring restaurants. Although, Baekhyun spent much more time eating in Chanyeol’s apartment than outside or in his own now.

 

There was just little additions that made all the subtle differences that satisfied Baekhyun. They kissed a lot. They greeted each other with a kiss, parted with a kiss, laughed between kisses, sometimes into kisses. It ranged from small pecks to deeper kisses, on the lips, down Chanyeol’s cheek and right where his jaw spread into his neck, sometimes a few pecks pressed against the flowers on Baekhyun’s neck.

 

Chanyeol didn’t really seem to contain himself anymore after that first day back from his parents’ house. Every single occasion seemed to be an occasion for him to cuddle Baekhyun, wrap himself around him or burrow himself against his chest to spend a few minutes there, sometimes a full night. Chanyeol pulled him into his embrace anywhere and everywhere, in the car after a late night drive, in his bed after a tiring day filled with hyper children resulting in small headaches, on the couch where he liked laying his head against Baekhyun’s chest, and even outside, through subtle touches. He really liked holding Baekhyun’s hand.

 

Sometimes Baekhyun was the one holding the soft ball of fluff that Chanyeol was, pulling him against his chest, spooning him just the way he knew Chanyeol liked, and pressing kisses down whatever patch of skin he could reach. He could always feel Chanyeol melting into a puddle with every single kiss, rendering him so cloudy and malleable in Baekhyun’s hands.

 

There was still no love. It was still burgeoning bit by bit in Chanyeol’s eyes, but Baekhyun watered it carefully, with just the right amount of care he knew it needed in order to blossom into another pretty flower he’d pluck with delight.

 

Sometimes, he felt as if Chanyeol was the one watering him with that warmth. Sometimes, it felt too much. Not overwhelming and scary, not at all. Baekhyun had just never felt so much love and care in a single person.

 

There wasn’t even anything different about Chanyeol. There was nothing more Baekhyun did to him than he had done to dozens of people before. Nothing exceptional, nothing out of the ordinary, except maybe a stronger than usual compatibility with Baekhyun.

 

Baekhyun had done everything he did with Chanyeol hundreds of times in his life, with different people. Chanyeol wasn’t the first person he spent more than one night with. He wasn’t the only person Baekhyun had driven to and fro work often, although Chanyeol was usually the one on the driver’s seat. He wasn’t Baekhyun’s first discovery of affection through physical touches. But he was the first person to be enough on his own.

 

Nightmares still came and went, Baekhyun still sometimes woke up feeling undeserving of the air he breathed.

 

Sometimes, Chanyeol was sleeping right next to him, the steady pattern of his breathing chasing the iced fog away from Baekhyun’s body. Sometimes, the mere thought that someone as selfless and beautiful as Chanyeol had appreciated him, liked him, and would fall in love with him was enough for Baekhyun to find an anchor through the smoky haze.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

"I feel like this one took you the longest to yield, hasn’t it?"

 

As always, Junmyeon’s voice was accompanied by the white noise of chopsticks clanking against plates and bowls. Although, he was the only one to use chopsticks for this. Baekhyun simply used his fingers to eat the fried chicken they had ordered to Junmyeon’s house, not having the patience to deal with utensils when faced with such delicious food.

 

"It really did," Baekhyun hummed, although the sound was directed more at the food than at his companion.

 

Though, now that he thought about it, he wasn’t sure if Chanyeol had really yielded. Baekhyun had kissed him first after all, despite Chanyeol letting him know that it had been in his intentions as well. It didn’t really matter, the result was the same. Chanyeol was now his. The affection now belonged to him.

 

"How do you think this one will end?"

 

Baekhyun gave Junmyeon a confused look. He usually never really asked so many questions, Baekhyun was the one to endlessly talk about his unusual love life.

 

"I don’t know.” He bit into a piece of chicken and moaning at the honey’s sweetness that spread through his mouth. Junmyeon gave him a disgusted look. Baekhyun resumed chewing with his mouth open. "He’s pretty nice. A good snuggler."

 

Junmyeon laughed at that, well-aware that Baekhyun appreciated snuggles once in a while. He leaned to put a few more spicy wings into Baekhyun’s plate.

 

"Remember that painter who was so obsessed with you he had dozens of drawings of you? What was his name?" he suddenly inquired.

 

Sometimes, Junmyeon didn’t judge Baekhyun for his wrongdoings. Sometimes, it was fun to mention them.

 

"Jongin," Baekhyun recalled, breathing the name out with a chuckle. "I still have one of his paintings of me somewhere in the house."

 

"You spent three months with him. You said he was a good cuddler and then you suddenly left him one morning."

 

Baekhyun remembered him well. He was one of the most handsome people he had ever laid his eyes upon and a joy to be loved by. Jongin had always made it his duty to let Baekhyun know how much he appreciated him, both his heart and his body, through beautifully sincere words or mesmerizing sketches and paintings that always amazed Baekhyun. He was a very tender person too, very sleepy in the mornings and could spend hours in bed just holding onto Baekhyun and watching him as if he were one of his own perfect creations.

 

It had grown boring after a while. Baekhyun had indeed left him one morning after a last night together. He still remembered the note he had left to Jongin, something about Jongin having painted him enough not to ever need to see him again to trace the shape of Baekhyun with a brush. He had always regretted not having seen his reaction to that note.

 

"He was nice," Baekhyun mused.

 

"I wonder what happened to him."

 

"Last I heard of him was two years ago," Baekhyun said after a few seconds of thinking. "I think he moved to Paris or somewhere equally artful."

 

Junmyeon gave him a look. Baekhyun deciphered amazement but something that oddly looked like understanding.

 

"You really made someone migrate to another country after falling in love with you."

 

There was no real praise in those words, no special judgement either, just the playful narrow of Junmyeon’s eyes as he looked at him. And yet, it sounded nice. Someone loving him so much they couldn’t stand to be in the same country as him while not being able to reach out to him. He remained silent.

 

Junmyeon shook his head softly.

 

"I wonder how the pianist will end."

 

Baekhyun didn’t answer. He wasn’t sure. It was too early to see the end yet. He would figure it out when he’d grow bored and wanted another fresh breath of air. He wondered if he would find something that would feel as fresh and sufficient as Chanyeol in someone else. He probably would. He was good at looking exactly for what he wanted.

 

He leaned forward to steal the chicken’s neck part from Junmyeon’s plate, laughter fueled by the other’s groan as he obnoxiously munched on it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Piano notes were graciously dancing around him that night but Baekhyun’s eyes never once strayed away from Chanyeol’s serene expression as he led that delicate dance with his fingers sliding skillfully over the black and white ballroom of his keyboard.

 

He was holding onto a fresh can of beer that perspired a little bit into his hands as he watched Chanyeol play around on the keyboard, comfortably settled into a now familiar couch. He hadn’t planned to spend the night with Chanyeol today but the latter had called him earlier to complain about boredom. It was nice to know that Chanyeol’s first reaction towards boredom was to reach out to him.

 

Baekhyun’s phone vibrated loudly on the table, startling Chanyeol a little. Baekhyun caught him jolt on his seat and gave him a mocking smile that only widened when he weakly glared at him, music cut off and one hand pressed against his chest as if his heart was about to jump out of it.

 

"Scaredy cat," Baekhyun singsonged and Chanyeol gave him a mock disdainful look before continuing to play.

 

Baekhyun had been the one to ask him to play. He liked watching Chanyeol and listening to him play the piano. He had spent the day locked at home and eyes stuck to his laptop. Work had piled up and Baekhyun, who had resorted to working from home long ago, had had to make phone calls, send emails, and analyze marketing strategies through the whole day. 4C’s holiday collection would be launched next week, they still had a lot to do. He hadn’t even had the occasion to eat lunch and Chanyeol had scolded him when he arrived before giving him the leftovers from his own dinner.

 

He grabbed his phone and took a look at the notification. It was a message from Sehun. He opened it up, reading a request to meet. They hadn’t met since that last time, when they had almost gotten caught by Chanyeol. He glanced at Chanyeol, tracing his broad shoulders and his straight back with his gaze. 

 

They had no title yet. Chanyeol hadn’t asked for one and Baekhyun, naturally, hadn’t breached the subject either. Chanyeol hadn’t even said anything about liking him either, Baekhyun could just feel it the same way he made Chanyeol feel it. It wouldn’t really be cheating.

 

And yet, Baekhyun didn’t feel the need to respond to that message. He was used to juggling two people at the same time and he could do it now too, he could have both Chanyeol and Sehun without actually ever belonging to either of them in return. It would be easy but there was nothing in Baekhyun that pushed him towards that path.

 

Chanyeol was enough right now. Chanyeol was always so abundant, so affectionate and loving that Baekhyun didn’t yearn to look for more. Not even through simple physical contact with someone else. It had been a week since their first kiss in Chanyeol’s childhood bedroom but they hadn’t had sex yet, nothing really went further than kisses and leisure making outs. They cuddled more than they made out. Baekhyun didn’t mind, oddly. 

 

Everything that Chanyeol did was just so abundant with affection that he didn’t even need anything sexual between them to actually feel it. It was just there, bare and open. In the way Chanyeol looked at him when he laughed, in the way he still always asked if Baekhyun had eaten at the end of the day. In the way he always wanted to feel Baekhyun wrapped around him when they went to sleep together. In the way he had looked at Baekhyun in disapproval earlier when he had opened the door to find him with a thin jacket on and nothing but a shirt underneath, an outfit that wasn’t fitting for Seoul’s harsh winter, according to Chanyeol.

 

It was there. In tiny details, and Baekhyun could feel it.

 

He ignored the message and put his phone back down just in time as Chanyeol stopped playing and plopped down next to him instead, grabbing his own can of beer from the table and immediately snuggling into Baekhyun’s side. He laughed. Chanyeol was so tall, had long limbs and sometimes it was difficult to adjust to it but he somehow always found a way to make himself smaller when he felt like letting Baekhyun cuddle him rather than being the one draped over him.

 

"Why did you never go into piano? Or music in general," Chanyeol asked once Baekhyun had adjusted his arm around him. His hair tickled Baekhyun’s chin. It always did. Chanyeol always liked tucking himself under Baekhyun’s chin, in the crook of his neck, against his chest. That was when Baekhyun felt the warmest.

 

"It’s always been just a hobby," he replied, shrugging on purpose just to make Chanyeol’s head jump a little. He felt a pinch against his side and whined before continuing to speak. "I’m just working for 4C."

 

"What do you do exactly, though? You always work from home and I suppose you can do whatever you want since you kind of own the company but still. It’s probably not too practical."

 

Baekhyun chose not to correct him on owning the company even if he itched to do so.

 

Instead, he focused on his reply. Or lack thereof.

 

"I don’t really have a fixed position, actually." Chanyeol looked up at him, eyes made wider and expression somehow even more adorable than usual because of the angle. "I never really bothered with one."

 

Chanyeol didn’t seem to completely understand how that worked but didn’t press on the issue further. His fingers were holding onto the hem of Baekhyun’s shirt, Baekhyun’s own fingers resting on the skin Chanyeol’s shoulder, tucked in right under the collar of his sweater.

 

"What do you exactly do then?" he asked again, nuzzling back into Baekhyun’s neck. He felt cozy.

 

"I just have a say in most things. They always go through me for the last check-ins. I just replace my father when he’s sick, which happens often. My brother’s always out of the country too so usually I’m the one who does his work."

 

"Your dad’s sick?" Chanyeol asked. Baekhyun realized what had slipped out of his mouth.

 

Words had escaped him. Words always seemed to escape him when he was with Chanyeol nowadays. He wondered if that was caused by the overflowing warmth. He frowned, a small sign of displeasure. His fingers started rubbing Chanyeol’s shoulder, barely, softly.

 

"Lung cancer," he settled on saying.

 

It didn’t really matter. If he shared this with him, Chanyeol would think that Baekhyun was comfortable and trusted him enough to bare this part of his life to him.

 

Instantly, Chanyeol looked up at him again, his hold around Baekhyun’s waist tightening. There was a concerned frown on his features but nothing akin to pity or anything remotely close to that. He simply looked worried for Baekhyun, not sorry for him.

 

"I didn’t know that," he murmured. As if he thought he should’ve known and comforted Baekhyun accordingly, way before.

 

"From the way he continues smoking so much, he doesn’t seem to know it himself either," Baekhyun couldn’t help but snort, dry, chaffed.

 

As if he could sense it, Chanyeol slid his fingers under Baekhyun’s shirt, kneading comfort into his skin with each brush against his waist. The gesture was almost anchoring, not sexual at all. Baekhyun wasn’t really used to being so close to someone without it leading to something else.

 

"Why would he do that?" he heard Chanyeol mutter.

 

He couldn’t see him anymore, he had tucked himself back against Baekhyun’s neck but he could hear the upset edge of his voice, could imagine his slightly jutted out lower lip as he spoke. He wasn’t expecting an answer, just talking to himself and yet, an answer flew out of Baekhyun’s mouth nonetheless.

 

"I don’t know. I’ve never really understood him."

 

Chanyeol looked at him again, as if he had heard something in those words. Baekhyun wasn’t sure what it was, didn’t really have the occasion to linger on it because Chanyeol leaned up to press a kiss against his jaw. Then, he shifted to catch Baekhyun’s lips against his for a small, lazy kiss.

 

"You should drink your beer before it gets warmer," he mumbled against Baekhyun’s lips, as if Baekhyun should be the one to stop the kiss because he himself couldn’t pull away. Baekhyun kissed him again, just because he liked the look in the eyes of a freshly kissed Chanyeol. His voice was dreamier when he spoke again, almost into the kiss. "Or maybe you shouldn’t drink it. It’s too cold outside for beer. Why did you even want to drink that. You’re gonna get sick."

 

Baekhyun pulled away from the kiss completely.

 

"That just convinced me to drink it all until the last drop," he merely said before bringing the can up to his lips and taking a loud, obnoxious slurp.

 

Chanyeol wrinkled his nose and pulled away before the bottom of the can could hit him in the face as Baekhyun drank from it.

 

"You’re really childish," he snorted as if he wasn’t just as childish as Baekhyun could sometimes be.

 

Baekhyun quirked an eyebrow, threateningly shaking his can of beer right under his nose.

 

"Oh, really? Well, at least I’m not the one who—"

 

The last of his sentence was cut off by a loud sneeze. Chanyeol yelped when the can shook in his hand, fortunately not spilling but still very much threatening to.

 

Baekhyun sniffled loudly, squeezing his eyes shut at the impact of the sneeze and scrunching his nose just a little bit.

 

When he opened his eyes again, Chanyeol had a victorious glint in his eyes and a smug arch on his smile.

 

"I told you you’d get sick."

 

"I’m not sick. Just drink your beer," Baekhyun huffed, shoving the can into his hand as Chanyeol laughed.

 

When Chanyeol was almost done with his beer, Baekhyun wondered if he knew that his ears took on a soft red hue when he drank, sticking out even more charmingly than usual.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sometimes, Baekhyun happened to be wrong.

 

That morning, when he woke up to a terrible headache and a clogged up nose, it was easy to conclude that this was one of those times. He had gotten sick.

 

He didn’t like being sick. He didn’t even catch a cold too often, maybe once a year as soon as the temperatures reached their lowest peak, and he really wasn’t expecting it. There was no denying it now, though. His throat felt sore and no matter how much he tried clearing it, groaning or coughing, he still felt as if there was something disgusting knotted in there. He already had a small pile of soiled tissues on his bedside table and he had spent half an hour trying to will himself to get out of bed without any success.

 

He was sick. And he didn’t feel nice at all. He wasn’t sick enough to feel like he was dying but sick enough to feel whiny. He always got whiny whenever he was sick. He didn’t like it.

 

After rolling around in his bed for a while, temples pounding and nose running without any remorse, he opened his messaging app and scrolled through it. He didn’t really like being alone when he was sick. There was no one to listen to him besides his own ears and even he grew tired of himself. He sighed softly, that small puff of air leaving his mouth followed by a string of coughs, his throat rattling. It didn’t taste pleasant at all.

 

Junmyeon. He should probably message Junmyeon. He was way too fussy and nagged too much when Baekhyun was sick but at least he’d be there to listen to him and maybe massage his temples. But Junmyeon had gone to Busan last night for a business trip and Baekhyun didn’t have it in himself to actually call him and add concern on top of the stress and work already piling up on his best friend. Disappointment spread cold through his already icy limbs. He knew the apartment was already heated enough and it would only worsen things to turn the heat up a little more. He should probably get up and wear something else, something thicker. Maybe his favorite sweater. It was snug and soft. His head was pounding a little too much.

 

He should probably also take some medicine, at least some aspirin for his headache. He wanted to sleep. But he didn’t want to sleep either. He was hungry. Had he gone grocery shopping lately? Probably not. He ate dinner with Chanyeol almost everyday, whether it be outside or at the other’s apartment.

 

He frowned a little bit and opened his conversation thread with Chanyeol. He needed something warm. He wondered if Chanyeol would take care of him. Or at least listen to his whining. He was very hungry and very cold. He didn’t like being hungry, cold, or alone. He hated it even more when he had to experience all three of those horrible things simultaneously. 

 

Without much thought, he opened his camera and shifted a bit, carefully in order not to worsen his headache, until he was laying on his stomach, arms stretched out in front of him and phone in hand. He looked at the image of himself on the screen. He didn’t look nice at all. His cheeks were flushed, the tip of his nose red and he could already feel a bit of irritation on the skin right between his nostrils and his lips from blowing his nose too many times. He was a bit paler than usual and his hair was a mess, eyes puffy and bleary. 

 

He sighed. He really just wanted a bit of warmth. Was that too much to ask? It wasn’t. He just wanted to see how Chanyeol would react. He closed his eyes, frowned sadly and jutted his lower lip out in a pout. He pressed his thumb against the screen to take the picture and then looked at it. He looked sad. Messy. And kind of sick. He inwardly groaned, the urge to brush his hair or do anything that would make him look less messy was strong. He ignored it. It was just the perfect picture for the situation.

 

He sent it to Chanyeol, joining a small caption about being sick. Nothing much. He didn’t really have the strength to choose his words with care and as soon as the picture was sent, he simply let his forehead crash against the pillow, too tired to support himself up. His nose was shoved into the pillow, it was difficult to breathe but then again it was difficult to breathe when laying on his back too, because of a clogged up nose. It was a wonder how noses could run endlessly while still being clogged up and refusing to let air in. 

 

Surprisingly, the reply came rather quickly and Baekhyun felt his lips curving into a smile. He really felt it, because his lips were a bit crusty and dried up, stretched uncomfortably and almost sandy when he swiped his tongue over the skin to wet it a little bit.

 

I told you were gonna get sick TT

you never listen to me

now you’re sick

I’d tell you you deserve it but :( 

cute people shouldn’t be sick

you shouldn’t be sick :c

are you okay?

if you sent me a picture of yourself looking like a (hot and cute) mess then it must be serious

is it bad?

 

He smiled at the string of messages popping up on the screen one by one. Chanyeol had indeed warned him about dressing up more appropriately for the weather over the course of the past three days, since the first time he had sneezed while cuddling up to him. Maybe he should have listened to him. But then again, he didn’t regret it. It was kind of cute, the way Chanyeol immediately started panicking.

 

Not my fault

It’s because of the weather

Scold the weather not me

I’m just a victim here

Victim of winter

Actually I think you should start fighting winter

You’d do everyone a favor

I’m ready to finance your battle

 

oh my god

so you’re the kind to talk nonsense when sick

I see

hehe

 

Baekhyun frowned. Was he? He didn’t say anything wrong or weird though. It would be in everyone’s interest to fight winter. Especially in Baekhyun’s, currently.

 

Why are you making fun of a sick person

TT

 

oh shit

and here’s the emoji

this is serious

 

Baekhyun snorted. It was weird how he could almost imagine Chanyeol’s expression as he uttered those words. With his big eyes. He had some beautiful eyes. He was so cute. 

 

He could also imagine how warm Chanyeol always felt and with that single thought, Baekhyun felt himself craving it. Yearning for it much more than usual. Just because he was sick. Just because he felt really cold. Was that the sign of a fever? He wasn’t sure.

 

Before he managed to type a message and ask Chanyeol the symptoms of a fever, new messages popped up on the screen.

 

alright

you can’t feed yourself when you’re normal so it’s gonna be a disaster when you’re sick

give me your address

I’ll go grocery shopping and come over

do you have medicine? painkillers or cough syrup? things like that?

 

Baekhyun looked at the messages in surprise, raising his eyebrows a little bit. Not too much, frowning hurt his head. He hadn’t really expected Chanyeol to say that. Do that. He had wanted to see his reaction, expected him to maybe scold him and give him instructions but he hadn’t thought the other would go as far as going grocery shopping for him and then come over. To take care of him. 

 

It felt. Nice.

 

Unexpected but nice.

 

Victorious. He felt a little victorious. But had triumph always felt so scorching? He could feel it spreading in his chest, making it a little easier for him to breathe. He quickly typed his address, erasing his words and rewriting them a few times because his fingers didn’t want to cooperate and he had too many typos. It was probably from the fever. Or not. He wasn’t sure if he had a fever or not. Chanyeol would tell him, though.

 

Baekhyun felt like laughing. He wasn’t sure why.

 

After sending the other his address and having been told that Chanyeol had luckily only two morning classes scheduled for today that he was already done with and that he would be there in about an hour, Baekhyun relaxed a little bit. He snuggled under his blankets and basked in the warmth it provided him. It was not as warm as having Chanyeol in his arms and feeling how much the other loved and cared for him. It wasn’t as warm as the smile Baekhyun knew Chanyeol would be sporting while scolding him for not having been more careful. But it was still a good rebound until Chanyeol arrived.

 

Maybe he actually didn’t have to get up and slide into his favorite sweater. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The next time he woke up, it was to the ring of the doorbell.

 

He felt disoriented for a second, his eyes snapping open and taking around his blurry surroundings. Had it been an hour already? Why didn’t Chanyeol just let himself in? He sat up, a little groggy. Right. This was Chanyeol’s first time coming over. Actually it was the first time anyone came over to Baekhyun’s apartment. He never brought no one, always refused when they asked. No one except Junmyeon. Why did he invite Chanyeol in? That was a stupid move. But maybe not. This was just part of it all. This would only bring Chanyeol closer to him. There wasn’t anything wrong with this.

 

The doorbell rang again and Baekhyun dragged himself out of bed with difficulty. It almost felt like his bedsheets were stuck to him, clinging to him in refusal to let go of him. His hair felt a little damp. Maybe his bedsheets had actually been stuck to him. He didn’t feel nice. He probably looked like a mess. This was a bad idea.

 

And yet, when he opened the door and Chanyeol’s apologetic smile greeted him, Baekhyun already felt better.

 

"Did I wake you up? Sorry, I thought you might be sleeping but there wasn’t any other way for me to go in. I could’ve waited for you to wake up but I thought the quicker I made you some juk, the better it would be for you."

 

Baekhyun hadn’t actually expected Chanyeol to show up, for some reason. But not only was Chanyeol standing in front of him, sporting that big, puffy green coat and that blue scarf of Baekhyun’s that really didn’t go along together, but he was also holding onto grocery bags. His gaze took Baekhyun in, his eyebrows furrowing a little. Baekhyun really must look like a mess. There was no judgement in his gaze though, only worry. Warm worry.

 

And Baekhyun felt pulled to that warmth, like a frail, weak flower reaching for the delicate streaks of the sun.

 

Chanyeol let out a small sound of surprise when Baekhyun stuck himself to him out of nowhere, his arms wrapping around Chanyeol’s shoulders and his head easily resting on his chest. Chanyeol was so much taller than him. So much warmer. He heard a chuckle. Fond. Baekhyun felt warm too. Was it the fever or was it Chanyeol’s own temperature soaking him so easily, at the first contact? 

 

He felt whiny, a bit groggy. He didn’t really like this. He felt a little weak. He wasn’t used to feeling weak or not in control of his every thought, every action.

 

He could hear the vibrations in Chanyeol’s chest from his low, sweet laughter. Or maybe it was just his headache. He couldn’t feel it through that big puffy coat, probably.

 

"Did you miss me that much?" 

 

Baekhyun simply hummed. He had missed this. They had seen each other yesterday morning but Baekhyun was sick now. He was just being clingy.

 

"Let’s go in. It’s cold," Chanyeol said again and Baekhyun took a few seconds to will himself to let go of the other and step away. He leaned down to grab one of the bags but Chanyeol pulled it out of his reach. "Whiny patients shouldn’t carry heavy things."

 

Baekhyun gave him a look. He didn’t know what look it was. Chanyeol seemed to appreciate it, however, melting a little under Baekhyun’s eyes and stepping inside, the concern on his features growing a little. He didn’t know what he was doing. He felt a little drunk, tipsy, maybe it was the fever. Chanyeol could now check if he had a fever. That oddly sent a jolt of happiness through his chest. Or maybe it was the fever.

 

"Show me to the kitchen?" Chanyeol said again when Baekhyun didn’t react.

 

He felt slow. Very slow. As if the world around him had turned idle. He wondered if that was what suffocation felt like. It wasn’t. Baekhyun knew exactly what that felt like.

 

"Right," he croaked, throat sore, blinking a little. Chanyeol looked amused. He didn’t have the heart nor the will to call him out on it. He also looked very huggable. Baekhyun knew he was.

 

He led him to the kitchen, moving to take the bags from him again but Chanyeol refused, laughing when Baekhyun let out a small whine of protest. It didn’t have the wanted effect on the other. He grabbed Baekhyun by the shoulders and moved him around until he was seated at one of the high stools against the kitchen counter. He felt very malleable under Chanyeol’s touch. Melted. That could also be the fever. Everything was the fever.

 

Before Chanyeol could step away after putting the grocery bags on the same counter, he grabbed his hand.

 

"Do I have a fever?" he mumbled, blinking at the other blearily while leading his hand to rest against his forehead.

 

Chanyeol looked amused. Fond. He was smiling but trying not to smile, his teeth sinking into his lower lip to conceal it. Baekhyun waited for the verdict.

 

"You do feel very warm," Chanyeol hummed, smile wiped off by a frown of concern. His hand trailed down from Baekhyun’s forehead to his cheek, then to the side of his neck, seeking for heat. Baekhyun hadn’t let go of his hand yet, holding on. He was almost sure that the more Chanyeol touched him with so much care, the more his skin flared under his hand. "Is your throat sore?"

 

Baekhyun nodded.

 

"Headache?"

 

He nodded again, closing his eyes when Chanyeol cupped his cheek, leaning into the comfort.

 

"Nose?"

 

"Annoying," he huffed before sniffling a little. Or a lot. He needed to blow his nose again.

 

Chanyeol cooed mockingly but not meanly. With his free hand, he reached for the box of tissues at the other edge of the counter, grabbing one to give it to Baekhyun. The loss of warmth on his cheek was worth the tissue. He blew his nose, a bit messily, with just one hand. He didn’t want to let go of Chanyeol’s. He chuckled. Baekhyun felt the sound wrapping all around him like a loving embrace, his favorite sweater.

 

"Do you feel cold?" Chanyeol asked again, voice cushiony against Baekhyun’s ears.

 

"You’re warm," was his reply.

 

"I need to cook though," Chanyeol said and he was endeared. Baekhyun could see it in his eyes, in the corners of his smile, and the concern dragging his eyebrows up.

 

Baekhyun sighed when Chanyeol eventually let go of his hand. He gave him a look, a sad one, hoping that it would be enough for Chanyeol to just hug him and fall into bed with him to hug him more, maybe take a nap together. It wasn’t food that Baekhyun needed to earn strength from. This would be enough.

 

It didn’t work. Chanyeol took off his coat, draping it over one of the stools beside Baekhyun. Then, he took off his scarf but didn’t let it join the coat. Instead, he wrapped the wool around Baekhyun’s neck, making sure that it covered his whole neck and was even tugged a bit over his chin. Once satisfied, he patted Baekhyun’s head.

 

"So obedient when you’re sick," he said but despite the sparks still lighting up his gaze, he looked concerned. "I’ll make you food and then you can sleep. Alright?"

 

Baekhyun nodded. Sleeping sounded good. Sleeping with Chanyeol sounded better.

 

"Let’s just clean this all up first," he said as he started getting every product out of the grocery bags.

 

There was too many things, things that Baekhyun certainly didn’t need. Too many vegetables that he didn’t know how to cook with, too many snacks that he knew Chanyeol loved more than he did along with his favorite brand of yogurt. Baekhyun silently watched Chanyeol try and figure out where everything went in the cupboards, too lazy to give instructions. The scarf grazing his lower lip was too cozy, smelled a little like Chanyeol. It was fun to watch the other’s expression go from confused to victorious to intrigued as he explored the cupboard.

 

It was only after a few seconds that Baekhyun couldn’t take products being placed where he usually didn’t place them and finally spoke to give the other proper instructions. Chanyeol grinned and Baekhyun wondered if he had done it on purpose, just to see how long Baekhyun would last before the perfectionist in him mixed in with the tinier control-freak in him took over. He said nothing and happily followed Baekhyun’s instructions as he placed everything on the right spots.

 

Once he was done, Chanyeol offered him to go to bed and rest a little more while he cooked but Baekhyun refused with a scrunch of his nose and a little groan. His throat really hurt. Chanyeol didn’t seem to agree with his stubborn decision to stay in the kitchen but despite the blankets waiting for him in the bed, he knew that watching Chanyeol move around like a busy bee to take care of him as much as he could would bring him more comfort. 

 

They argued a little about it, Chanyeol with concerned words and frowns, Baekhyun with whines and other various guttural sounds accompanying his constant head shaking. In the end, he grew a little dizzy and Chanyeol gave up with a chuckle on the condition that Baekhyun would drink some tea and let Chanyeol bring a blanket to wrap around himself. Baekhyun agreed but tweaked the conditions, convincing Chanyeol to let him make his tea himself. He was sensitive about tea. It had to be perfect and Chanyeol didn’t know how he took his tea. Chanyeol shook his head fondly and watched as Baekhyun made his tea with the various, fairly easy steps, the right amount of leaves, the right amount of water, and the perfect amount of sugar for the next time. 

 

The tea eased his throat a bit. The blanket Chanyeol had draped over his shoulders made him sweat a bit. When he took it off and Chanyeol noticed after a few seconds, he scolded Baekhyun and draped it right back around him because it would keep him warm and sweating would make recovery quicker. According to Chanyeol, at least. Baekhyun didn’t know. No one had ever really taken care of him like that. Not even Junmyeon. Baekhyun never let the blanket slip past his shoulders again.

 

At first, he was satisfied with watching Chanyeol move around, watching him get everything he needed to cook juk out. Every time Chanyeol passed in front of him to get something or another from the counter, The tea tasted perfect, it was one of his favorites. It soothed his throat but what tugged his dry lips into a smile was the sight of Chanyeol looking around, hands pressed against his hips and lips pursed in thought. He didn’t ask Baekhyun for what he was looking for until he grew frustrated. Baekhyun didn’t give him the answer until he was asked to. Just because it was adorable.

 

At first that had been enough but as Baekhyun watched him, his gaze trailing over Chanyeol’s back, his broad shoulders, and the sturdy movement of his arms as he washed and scrubbed the rice he would use to cook, he started feeling restless. Chanyeol’s back looked comfortable. Baekhyun knew it was comfortable, he had slept more than once with his forehead pressed against that back, fitting perfect right between Chanyeol’s shoulder blades while Chanyeol was encased against Baekhyun’s chest even more perfectly.

 

It was comfortable. It looked comfortable to Baekhyun’s bleary, stinging eyes. Not really stinging but burning. He could feel them water from time to time. It was because of the fever. Baekhyun knew he had one now, Chanyeol had said so. And maybe it was because of the fever but the urge to snuggle against that back and imbibe himself with the care it exuded was stronger than Baekhyun’s will to stay where he was and finish his tea.

 

He stood up, quietly, gaze focused on Chanyeol who hadn’t noticed anything yet and without hesitation, without any second thoughts, he wrapped his arms around his waist from behind and then pressed his chest against Chanyeol’s back, pulling him closer. He turned his head, resting it comfortably between his shoulder blades. He breathed in and then let out a relieved, relaxed sigh.

 

He felt Chanyeol stop whatever he was doing and try looking over his shoulder.

 

"What are you doing?" he heard the other laugh incredulously.

 

"I still have the blanket around me," Baekhyun mumbled, as if that would convince Chanyeol to just let him be. To just let him enjoy this. His head was still pounding a little and his legs felt weak but this was more comfortable than he had been since waking up.

 

"But I’m cooking, Baekhyun."

 

"You can cook like this too," Baekhyun said, hearing his own voice tilt into a whine, a childish, weak one he always heard whenever he was sick. He hated it. "I’m not touching your arms or your hands, am I?"

 

"So you’re just going to stick to me while I move around?" Chanyeol questioned him, teasing. Baekhyun heard the smile in his voice. He nodded. He didn’t like his voice enough to speak much now, even if the tea had helped. "You’ll get tired though."

 

He felt big hands resting on his where they were laced against Chanyeol’s tummy. They were a little wet, a little cold - Chanyeol had just finished washing the rice and had put it to soak. Baekhyun let out a long, loud whine.

 

"Alright, you whiny baby," Chanyeol snorted, understanding him and patting Baekhyun’s hands to let him know.

 

Satisfaction drew a smile on Baekhyun’s lips and for the rest of the time Chanyeol spent cooking, Baekhyun remained in the same position, hugging him from behind and breathing in the appeasement though his clogged, irritated nose.

 

He closed his eyes as Chanyeol peacefully chopped and sliced the garlic cloves and onions into small pieces, smiling a bit when the movement made the other jiggle and consequently reverberated into Baekhyun who shook a bit. He must’ve let out a laugh at some point because Chanyeol snorted. 

 

When he sliced the carrots, he twisted a little to push one small matchstick into Baekhyun’s mouth. Baekhyun munched on it,  feeling fuzzy with joy at the way Chanyeol doted on him. He showed his appreciation by planting his chin on the other’s back and chewing exaggeratedly to dig his chin into his back. That seemed to tickle Chanyeol who started laughing and squirmed a little to escape it. Baekhyun held on, however, and stopped once he had swallowed so he could comfortably lay against the Chanyeol’s back again.

 

Baekhyun groaned a little when Chanyeol started cutting red and green bell peppers but Chanyeol ignored him, claiming that they were sweet. Baekhyun was only a little soothed when he saw the other chopping broccoli into small pieces, his chin hooked on the his shoulder as he raised into the tip of his toes to see what he was doing. He liked watching Chanyeol cook. It made Baekhyun feel tingly with affection. He hadn’t eaten any kind of homemade porridge in so long.

 

When Chanyeol moved towards the stove, Baekhyun mumbled small instructions about how to use it, moving with him, arms still locked tightly around the other’s waist as Chanyeol started cooking the ground beef and then added the onions and garlic, followed by ginger and the other vegetables later on. Baekhyun had no idea why he hadn’t just dumped everything at once. It would’ve been quicker. When he mumbled that into Chanyeol’s shoulder, he snorted and told him to go back to sleeping while standing.

 

The juk had to boil for a while, at least thirty minutes, according to Chanyeol. During that short time, Chanyeol turned around in his hold to hug him into his chest instead, leaning back against the counter. Baekhyun nuzzled into the crook of his neck. He smelled nice. He wasn’t wearing perfume or anything with a particular scent, but it was heavy as Baekhyun breathed it in. Maybe it was his body temperature, a sensation rather than a scent. Chanyeol rested his chin on the crown of his head, fingers carding through Baekhyun’s hair. 

 

Chanyeol’s chest was as cushy as his back, if not even more so. His heartbeat was steady, not a single note out of place, not a single beat straying and ruining the rhythm. It was as soothing as Chanyeol’s piano notes. 

 

Enfolded into the affection singing into his ears with every single steady beat against Chanyeol’s chest, Baekhyun let his eyes finally dip shut.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

He must’ve fallen asleep at one point. When his eyes fluttered open to the world again, he was still resting against Chanyeol’s chest, his arms wrapped around him. Or one of it was wrapped around Baekhyun. He still felt very hot, and a bit cold, but Chanyeol was just the right temperature and texture under his cheek. His fingers were still tangled in Baekhyun hair but they weren’t leaned against the counter anymore. 

 

Chanyeol was softly calling out to him, waking him up as they stood in front of the counter, against the high stools instead.  How did Baekhyun not sense that the other had moved him? His head was pounding. His nose felt stuffy. His throat was clogged and tender at the same time, as if something was continuously planting its nails against the flesh and scratching at it. He turned towards the counter. There was a small bowl of juk, the porridge looking smooth, creamy, various vegetables adding color to it. It looked nice. How could food look so nice? Steam was still billowing out of the bowl. It looked delicious. Unfamiliar. A novelty.

 

"You cooked that for me?" he mumbled against Chanyeol’s chest, blinking, disoriented. Chanyeol smiled down at him, nodding a little.

 

"Yep. Eat up so you can take your meds and go to sleep," he said while pulling away from Baekhyun.

 

Baekhyun felt himself clinging to the other for a second. It was odd. As if he wasn’t in control of his own body. He didn’t like the feeling at all. 

 

He let Chanyeol guide him to the stool, let him adjust his scarf so it wouldn’t get in the way of his mouth, let him wrap the blanket tighter around him, making a knot against his chest so it wouldn’t fall off, like a cape. He let Chanyeol care for him. Baekhyun wasn’t used to such level of care. It should feel bad. Baekhyun didn’t like depending on others. 

 

But maybe. Maybe just this once. Just this once in his life he could let Chanyeol do it. Chanyeol had said he had a fever, after all.

 

"Careful, it’s hot," Chanyeol warned him as he took a seat next to him.

 

Baekhyun grabbed his spoon. Looked at him. Felt his cheeks bunching up into a smile. He didn’t know where it was coming from. He didn’t know what was the intention behind his own smile. He was still drowsy from sleep but he felt bubbly, hyper, a bit joyful. It almost felt like he was drunk. Tipsy. Sleepy-drunk.

 

Chanyeol looked back at him, an intrigued glint in his eyes. Or maybe something else. Baekhyun had a hard time making a distinction between emotions at the moment. Then Chanyeol guffawed, voice low but not loud, controlled, soft, maybe because he knew Baekhyun had a headache.

 

"Just eat, you look crazy."

 

Baekhyun huffed at him but still planted his spoon into the juk, nudging the sprinkles of green onion and spooning some of the porridge before bringing it into his mouth. It was mushy, crushed easily in his mouth, both the rice and the vegetables. The sweetness of bell peppers married the rich aroma of broccolis perfectly. He took another mouthful. Then another. It wasn’t scalding, just perfect. Maybe Chanyeol had waited a bit before waking him up. How had he even prepared this with Baekhyun sleeping on his chest? While standing up? Maybe Chanyeol was just really amazing.

 

"You’re not eating with me?" he mumbled after a while, looking at Chanyeol. He was watching Baekhyun, chin nudged into the palm of his hand, lips curved into a faint smile. Maybe unconsciously. Maybe lovingly. Baekhyun felt the food’s homey flavor pooling in odd parts of his body, his chest, his stomach, even the tips of his fingers.

 

"Nope, I made it for you."

 

"But you could eat with me," Baekhyun frowned a little. His head pounded and he relaxed his features again.

 

"I’ll eat when I’m hungry. Promise," Chanyeol consoled him, his hand reaching out to adjust the scarf and then squeeze Baekhyun’s shoulder.

 

He resumed eating. He felt a little better now that his stomach was filling up with home-cooked food. He was still sleepy. He should sleep more. Maybe Chanyeol could sleep with him.

 

"You have a really nice house," Chanyeol said after a while of silently watching Baekhyun eat and holding him out napkins whenever he either made a mess around his chin or needed to blow his nose. "Is it a monthly or yearly lease?"

 

Baekhyun almost choked at those words. He shouldn’t snort and slurp food into his mouth at the same time. Especially when his nose was stuffy. It was Chanyeol’s fault. The tone he had taken with those words and the way he had leaned closer had been too similar to the middle-aged, gossipy women who usually asked this kind of question. He grinned, not even helping Baekhyun as he coughed. He looked proud of himself.

 

Baekhyun shook his head and took a sip of water.

 

"It’s just mine. I bought it."

 

Chanyeol raised his eyebrows at that before laughter streamed into his soft features the next second.

 

"Sometimes, I forget you’re actually rich," he said with a soundless chuckle. "You’re always so simple."

 

"I can be a lot of things.” But that was just the way he was.

 

Chanyeol snorted.

 

"You can’t be messy, that’s for sure."

 

Baekhyun looked down at the drops of mushy rice on the counter, then back up at Chanyeol, pointedly.

 

"Not like that. You’re not even messy when you eat, you’re just a child," he chided Baekhyun, earning an offended groan from him. "I mean in the way you are, as a person. Even now, you’re sick but still not actually messy. You’re wearing accorded pajamas, actual pajamas that kinda look like a suit on you," he snorted again and Baekhyun looked down at his pajamas curiously. It was just pajamas. Black with white stripes. "All the buttons are done. Your hair’s the only messy thing right now."

 

He looked down at himself again. He hadn’t even noticed. Was that considered not being messy? 

 

Baekhyun scraped his spoon against the bottom of the bowl to catch the last bits of rice, swallowing them down before giving Chanyeol an amused look. Or a teasing one. He wasn’t sure.

 

"Funny how you pay attention to my shirt’s buttons. Perhaps, you’d like to undo them?"

 

Pushing his now empty bowl away, he leaned close enough for Chanyeol to almost go cross eyed while trying to look at him. Chanyeol laughed and leaned back as far as possible, grabbing onto the counter to prevent himself from falling.

 

"Stop trying to infect me with your germs," he threatened Baekhyun with narrowed eyes. Baekhyun still caught them dropping to his lips and he leaned even closer, almost losing balance on his stool but grabbing onto Chanyeol’s thigh to steady himself.

 

"That’s a weird way to describe a kiss," he frowned, just as playful.

 

Chanyeol groaned a little.

 

"I can’t kiss you. You’re sick."

 

Baekhyun smiled, stomach warm, content, and filled up. Just like the rest of him felt when Chanyeol still didn’t look away from his lips. He laid his other hand on his thigh too and tilted his head a little bit. Or a lot. He couldn’t really measure his movements at the moment.

 

"But can you stop yourself?"

 

He couldn’t. Instead of replying, Chanyeol leaned down and pressed his lips against Baekhyun’s for a quick, short peck that Baekhyun barely even felt. The victory and the contentment, on the other hand, he could feel coursing through his veins.

 

Before he could say anything, Chanyeol narrowed his eyes.

 

"I kissed you so you’re going to take your meds now."

 

"Am I a child?" Baekhyun snorted while slowly, carefully pulling away and settling back into his chair properly.

 

When he looked at Chanyeol again, he had a crooked smile on.

 

"You’ve been acting like a baby since I got here, yes."

 

Baekhyun didn’t reply. He grumbled under his breath while dragging the small bag from the drugstore towards him. Chanyeol watched him, making sure that he gulped everything down, even the foul scented coughing syrup. Baekhyun made sure that his expression was twisted enough for the other to understand he wasn’t pleased.

 

Baekhyun did feel like a child when Chanyeol tucked him into bed right after that. He despised it but the way Chanyeol slid under the covers beside him as soon as he let out a miserable whine made him feel a bit better about it. Chanyeol was the best source of warmth he could use now, maybe the only one Baekhyun even needed. He was just so cozy, so comfortable, and so affectionate in Baekhyun’s arms, nuzzled against the crook of his neck like he always was.

 

This wasn’t an entirely bad situation either, despite how gross and exhausted he felt. At least, he could play on it and use it as an argument not to let go of Chanyeol even once until the latter offered to play piano to him on the keyboard that they had chosen together weeks ago. Baekhyun pulled him back into his embrace as soon as he was done playing a calmative but unfamiliar piece to Baekhyun, not even having to use words. A look and a small, pitiful groan along with an unplanned sneeze was enough for Chanyeol to bathe him in an unending stream of attention and affection again.

 

He even managed to get a few more kisses out of him.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

When Baekhyun woke up again, it was dark in the room. 

 

He didn’t remember when he had passed out exactly but he knew the last smile he had seen before falling asleep was Chanyeol’s fond one. His head had been pounding, Chanyeol had been running his fingers through his hair, fingertips massaging his scalp in an attempt to melt some of the pain away. Maybe it had worked, the headache was nothing but a buzz at the back of his mind now, so faint he could almost pretend it wasn’t even there.

 

What was still there, however, was Chanyeol. He was there. Weirdly, Baekhyun had expected the other not to be by his side anymore. He wasn’t sure how much time had passed. He was a little disoriented, couldn’t exactly make out what time it was exactly. His whole body almost felt like it was buzzing. Not the bad kind of buzzing, almost relaxing, soothing. He had expected Chanyeol to leave. They had spent most of the day together, Baekhyun supposed he had fallen asleep some time when the afternoon bled into the evening. 

 

The blinds were pulled down. Baekhyun felt comfortable in his nest of blankets and Chanyeol. Darkness mutedly glided through the room, silence whispering quietly to keep it company. Dainty streaks of light sliding in through the blinds, the moon discreetly spying on them. 

 

Baekhyun hadn’t closed the blinds. Chanyeol had probably done it. He felt his lips curving into a smile. Maybe he had done it so Baekhyun wouldn’t wake up with the first rays of daylight in the morning. It was very considerate of him. Loving.

 

He was still asleep. His features were relaxed. He was handsome. Baekhyun still didn’t know what it was in Chanyeol that took so long for him to work through, to appropriate, to own. He still wasn’t sure he owned whatever it was. Why couldn’t he be sure? Baekhyun was always so sure.

 

He was handsome. His eyebrows were a little furrowed in his sleep, not the kind of furrow to be  associated with anger, but the kind of knit that looked peaceful, radiant. His eyes were closed. Chanyeol had pretty eyes, even when all Baekhyun could see through his own hooded ones were his eyelids and the delicate curls of his eyelashes. His nose wrinkled from time to time, scrunching up a little bit. Baekhyun spent a whole minute watching it scrunch up, like a small puppy sniffling for the last traces of its owner’s scent, and then relax again, as if whatever Chanyeol had been looking for, he had found it in his dreams. His lips were parted, upper lip plump, cupid’s bow sculpted tenderly, lower lip a bit plumper, jutting out in an unconscious pout that Baekhyun always caught on Chanyeol when he was asleep. 

 

They were facing each other. Baekhyun’s bed was big, enough for Baekhyun to feel cold on nights he spent with no one but himself, enough for the both of them to sleep comfortably without coming in contact with each other. But they were. Their arms were tangled, Chanyeol was holding onto him, one of his legs sandwiched between Baekhyun’s. He had long legs. He was wearing pajamas. Just sweatpants that didn’t even reach his ankles and a sweater. It was Baekhyun’s favorite sweater.

 

Baekhyun felt hot. Boiling. Overflowing. It was the fever. He felt a little gross, sticky, for he had sweated a lot, way too much. Why was Chanyeol sleeping so close to him when he felt, and probably looked, so unappealing and messy? Why hadn’t he gone home a long time ago? Why had he even bothered coming here to take care of Baekhyun? Why hadn’t he left as soon as Baekhyun fell asleep? He had seen it. Baekhyun couldn’t bear himself when he was sick so he couldn’t even imagine how he must’ve looked to Chanyeol, acting like a whiny, clingy, needy, annoying child, the complete opposite of what Chanyeol knew him to be.

 

He wasn’t sure it bothered him. It should have. This could’ve potentially ruined everything. Baekhyun never showed anything that wasn’t entirely crafted and remodeled according to the person who would lay his eyes on him. But this felt so natural. So familiar. As if this wasn’t the first time. Maybe it was the fever.

 

Baekhyun eventually let his eyes drop from Chanyeol’s face to his chest. His favorite sweater. It looked so comfortable on Chanyeol. It was a bit oversized for Baekhyun but it fit Chanyeol perfectly, as if it had been shaped with Chanyeol’s form in mind. Baekhyun stretched his hand out a little, pressing fingers against the other’s chest, rubbing the familiar fabric. 

 

"You awake?" a low voice suddenly mumbled and Baekhyun looked back up at Chanyeol’s face.

 

His eyes were nothing but small slits but his gaze still trickled on Baekhyun’s face with clarity. His words were barely intelligible. He still looked asleep, only with his eyes open a little bit, lower lip still jutted out, eyebrows still furrowed. His hair was a mess, strands falling in his eyes, others resting on the pillow, laid flat on the puffy fabric.

 

Before he knew it, Baekhyun’s hand reached to tangle those messy strands. Chanyeol closed his eyes, as if Baekhyun’s touch was equivalent to a lullaby for him. Baekhyun felt a smile splitting his face into two. He bit on his lower lip to hold it back. It didn’t work.

 

"Go back to sleep," he murmured after a few seconds.

 

Chanyeol opened his eyes again, looking at him for a blank second as if Baekhyun’s words registered into his mind with a bit of delay. Then, he huffed. Just a small puff of air carrying the fresh aroma of drowsiness.

 

"That should be my line," he mumbled again, words not louder than a whisper, a bit hoarse. His eyes fell shut again but he continued speaking, as if he hadn’t even noticed it. "Why’d you wake up? Feeling better?"

 

Baekhyun felt arms wrapping around him before he was pulled closer against his favorite sweater. It was a bit ridiculous how Chanyeol was physically stronger than Baekhyun yet the only thing he used that advantage for was to pull him and lock him in his embrace whenever he wanted to cuddle. Not the bad kind of ridiculous. The Chanyeol kind. Baekhyun shifted to adjust his head against the pillow. Chanyeol was laying close to him, on the same pillow even if there was a second one completely discarded behind him. Baekhyun didn’t move enough to let the embrace budge around him.

 

He studied Chanyeol, for a few seconds. 

 

"You should come over more often," he said, suddenly, slurring his words.He felt completely awake and the fogginess from the headache had dissipated. His nose was still stuffy but at least, not so runny for the time being. He still had the blue scarf he had given Chanyeol months ago wrapped securely around his neck. His voice wasn’t really a croak anymore, his throat still sore but not unbearably so.

 

He wasn’t sure why he was offering, advising, demanding such a thing either. Baekhyun just knew that Chanyeol fit perfectly into his favorite sweater and that he fit perfect into Chanyeol’s embrace. It was a good convergence. His favorite sweater and Chanyeol. 

 

Chanyeol slowly opened his eyes again. It was a beautiful sight to witness, those eyelashes batting delicately, like the flutter of a butterfly’s wings. Baekhyun felt warmth soaring through him when their eyes met.

 

"Why?" he answered.

 

He looked drowsy, Baekhyun could see sleep trying to tug his eyelids down and shut Chanyeol up into a cage of dreams again. He could see it in the way his eyes were barely open, his gaze almost blank, as if he was looking at Baekhyun but wasn’t sure whether he was really looking at Baekhyun or at an image sketched behind his eyelids by his own mind. He blinked, once, twice, adorably, and Baekhyun felt his smile growing.

 

"Maybe I just can’t live without you," he said, uttering the same words he had spoken out dozens of times in his life.

 

Usually, people would smile, grin, blush, or fall deeper into the love Baekhyun laid for them in a trap of thorns. Chanyeol, despite being only half-conscious, huffed softly.

 

"Are you sure it’s me you can’t live without?"

 

It took Baekhyun a few seconds to register those words. Both because they had been slurred unintelligibly and because Chanyeol’s eyes were suddenly much clearer, shining confusion right into Baekhyun’s eyes.

 

"What do you mean?"

 

"Maybe it’s just because I’m a great cuddler," Chanyeol mumbled, pulling Baekhyun even closer to him, eyes dipping shut again. There was no correlation between this sentence and the last one.

 

"That’s exactly what I meant," Baekhyun chuckled softly.

 

Was this how he had looked when he had felt sleepy drunk earlier? He probably hadn’t been as appealing as Chanyeol was right now, nuzzling against Baekhyun’s cheek, his hands clinging onto his pajamas. As if his fervid embrace wasn’t enough to keep Baekhyun in place.

 

Baekhyun closed his eyes as well, basking in the sentiments Chanyeol threaded around him. He let a few seconds pass, silence lulling them all the while, assuming that Chanyeol had fallen back asleep. However, the other spoke again, mumbled, but unable to hear him properly, Baekhyun pulled away a little bit. He faced him and hummed questioningly.

 

"I wonder what a frustrated you looks like," Chanyeol repeated, eyes fluttering open a little bit again, gaze finding Baekhyun’s like a stray ray of sunlight seeping through a blanket of clouds. His lips were pouty, sleepily so when he continued speaking, Baekhyun found great amazement in watching them form sounds and syllables and continuous puffs of warmth. "I’ve never seen it."

 

"And why do you want to see that?" Baekhyun asked, intrigued. Drowsiness definitely made Chanyeol more entertaining but most importantly, unguarded. 

 

"You’re always in control," he explained, ending his words with a sigh. He stopped talking for a few seconds, Baekhyun looked at him in silence until Chanyeol let out a quiet, tiny snort. He seemed to be laughing at the thought that was about to escape his mouth and Baekhyun smiled. "Maybe I should refuse coming over. That might frustrate you."

 

Baekhyun let one of his hands unfold from where it was pressed against Chanyeol’s chest to drape it elsewhere, molding it to the slope relying Chanyeol’s neck and shoulder.

 

"Do you really want me to kidnap you with my expensive car? I’m sure you’d jump in yourself as soon as you see it."

 

At those words, Chanyeol outright pouted. In a split second. Eyes opening, wide, and clear, and doe as they stared at Baekhyun, words nothing but a mumbled, weak complaint.

 

"Why are you using my weaknesses against me?" he said, declaring Baekhyun the winner before the battle was even remotely started.

 

"I’m just fighting cruelty with cruelty," Baekhyun snickered, booping the tip of Chanyeol’s nose.

 

He watched it wrinkle a bit in discontent before his eyes dropped to the other’s still flowering lips. He leaned forward to press a playful peck against the jutted out, pulpy petals. When he pulled away, Chanyeol was still pouting but this time, his eyes were even more hooded. He pressed against Baekhyun’s back to pull him closer and Baekhyun understood what he was silently asking for, leaning to offer him another kiss.

 

This one was longer, maybe a bit sloppier as Chanyeol was almost too lazy to kiss back and let Baekhyun do most of the work instead, closing his eyes and enjoying. Baekhyun felt his senses flaring a little more with each second spent kissing the other’s sleep-dusted mouth, pressing genereously lengthly pecks, tending to the jutted out lower lip, a curled corner of his lips, and the tender sketch of his cupid’s bow.

 

At one point, Chanyeol grew completely limp against his lips and when Baekhyun pulled away, he smiled at the familiar, asleep expression that softly gleamed on Chanyeol’s face. Baekhyun had never met anyone who could pass out in the midst of a kiss. He chuckled softly, the silent sound echoing in his own head, beating quietly, oddly. He felt it in his temples, on his fingertips, on the tender flesh of his lips where his teeth were digging into with endearment, and in his chest. 

 

For a few seconds, maybe a few minutes, maybe shorter than that or longer, Baekhyun watched the now familiar reflection of slumber on Chanyeol’s face. Its beauty gleamed enough for him not to register anything else, not even the sound of his own breathing. 

 

The only difference was the balmy smile on his lips that Baekhyun had painted with his own.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

For two entire days, Chanyeol remained by Baekhyun’s side.

 

He cooked for him, various soups and other dishes that he judged were the best for quick recovery but that didn’t fill Baekhyun with contentment the way a firm embrace, sometimes an easy smile did. He tucked him into bed and frowned in disapproval whenever Baekhyun whined — just a little bit — about being sick of laying down all day. He let Baekhyun wrap himself all around him, formed a more satisfying cocoon right inside the comfortable shell of Baekhyun’s blankets, and tried not kissing him too much. However, Baekhyun knew exactly how to make Chanyeol’s resolutions crumble down into pink dust that landed on the highest points of his cheeks or the tip of his ears. Even if he still felt quite terrible for these two days, Chanyeol’s presence, his affection, and his doting hands made everything a little more bearable.

 

He couldn’t spend entire days with Baekhyun, of course. He still managed to get Yixing and Jongdae to replace him on his afternoon classes, only going to his morning ones since Baekhyun slept well until noon, and quickly came back just in time to wrap himself around Baekhyun right when the latter craved a hug.

 

Baekhyun won over the small cold rather quickly and got back up to his feet after these two days, falling back to his usual routine, working, hanging out with Junmyeon, going out for various errands and people-watching. The only difference was that, somehow, Chanyeol was even more present in his life than before the short time Baekhyun spent at the mercy of a cold. He indeed came over more often and they spent an equal amount of time in each other’s apartment. It was easier this way for Baekhyun, just a question of practicality. 

 

He still worked from home and no one seemed to mind, especially not his father whom he hadn’t heard from in a while. Sometimes, he wondered if he was okay. Sometimes, the thought loomed over him like a dark, imposing cloud bulging with rain, a pinch of snow, or maybe falls of ice shards. Most of the time, Baekhyun didn’t like thinking about the man at all. 

 

They still discovered restaurants together, Baekhyun still collected Chanyeol’s smiles and soaked himself in their fervor whenever he could. 

 

Sometimes, nightmares still fogged his mind and smothered him. Through the fog and the smoke, Baekhyun discerned how Chanyeol’s sleepy mumbles into his neck could be more grounding that any other sweet tune.

Chapter Text

December rolled around, the cold weather growing and amassing, winter moulding it into a snowball. Time passed by too quickly, as if it had walked by one of the season’s mischievous traps, sliding over a frozen pool and landing days away from where it had first started its path.

 

A week before Christmas, Baekhyun was frustrated and strangely anguished. Chanyeol wasn’t there to witness it, his presence wasn’t required for Baekhyun to suffer and fail while digging into his brain for any idea, anything that would help him make out what exactly he would gift the other for Christmas. He had never struggled so much.

 

Usually, he didn’t spend Christmas with anyone, preferring to spend it alone or with Junmyeon but this was different. Baekhyun hadn’t gifted anything to Chanyeol. Gifts were a mandatory part of showing love. It was in Baekhyun’s interest but he didn’t know what exactly to gift the other. He had even missed the occasion to do it on his birthday but there was the possibility of seeing each other on Christmas or a few days before or after or whenever. Hopefully later than sooner.

 

One morning, when snow drizzled down the sky like icing on cake and prevented him from going out and browsing through malls and stores for the third time, Baekhyun finally cracked and grabbed his phone. He had tried distracting himself with work but he was getting too worked up about the issue, unable to ignore it. He didn’t even know if this mattered, they hadn’t discussed Christmas.

 

It didn’t matter. Baekhyun had to make an attempt. 

 

What do you want for Christmas? he texted the other, praying to whoever would hear him that Chanyeol could just tell him whatever he wanted so he could buy it and get it done with.

 

But that wouldn’t imply a lot of effort. Why couldn’t he just come up with anything? He had bought dozens of gifts before, some of them for special occasions, a lot of them in exchange for love.

 

Your happiness, Chanyeol replied. Shared with me. Let’s spend Christmas together?

 

And maybe Chanyeol had a flame strong enough nestled in him to melt away the snow and the frustration, maybe even a part of Baekhyun. He could feel it deliquescing inside of him, with an odd sound, as a smile flourished on his lips in rhythm.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Baekhyun wondered if it was possible to actually get addicted to someone’s warmth.

 

In a way, he knew that he had always been dependent on that kind of feeling. This time, it was different. This time, it wasn’t that sensation in general that he felt himself growing dependent on but Chanyeol.

 

That weekend, they hadn’t seen each other at all. Baekhyun had been busy with work, 4C’s holiday collection would launch in exactly two days. Chanyeol had also had classes the whole of Saturday along with dinner at his parents’ house on Sunday. It was an alien feeling, the restlessness, the fidgety movements that came with it as Baekhyun was sprawled on his couch on Monday morning. His fingers were typing over his keyboard and stopping every few seconds to allow him to glance at his phone, his teeth digging and pulling at the skin of his lower lip, foot swinging back and forth against the armrest.

 

They hadn’t completely cut off contact. Chanyeol had texted him yesterday and even sent him a picture of him cuddling with Toben but Baekhyun hadn’t seen him, hadn’t felt him. This wasn’t completely unfamiliar either. It wasn’t the first time he’d grow antsy after a few days spent away from people who cared and loved him but he wasn’t used to yearning one particular person’s presence. Maybe it was just because Chanyeol became some kind of habit to him.

 

Maybe if he chose not to ignore it and actually play on it, it would benefit him. He wouldn’t even have to lie. Chanyeol would like it. They always did. Chanyeol might like it and might feel like an indispensable part of Baekhyun’s life. In a way, like many others before him, he was.

 

Making his mind up, Baekhyun launched his hand towards him phone, grabbing it and typing a message in the matter of a few seconds. 

 

The reply took half an hour to come and it was only halfway through that time that Baekhyun remembered Chanyeol had classes to give, students to take care of, and couldn’t give his entire attention to him at any time of the day. It was a bit upsetting, but when his phone lit up with Chanyeol’s notification, he forgot all about it.

 

I wanna hug you

 

please do so

but that’s so random hehe

 

He smiled. Curiosity. That meant Chanyeol liked it and wanted to know exactly why that thought was suddenly sent to him.

 

We haven’t hugged since Friday!!

 

He expected a reply after that but it didn’t come. Chanyeol must’ve only replied to him in the few minutes of break he had in-between classes. This time, Baekhyun didn’t mind. He spent the following hour working even more efficiently on the last review of the company’s marketing plan, going through data and analysis of the reactions they had gotten so far since the announcement of their collection almost two weeks ago. 

 

When the reply came, Baekhyun stopped typing on his laptop mid-sentence and grabbed his phone again.

 

you’re so cute

wanna have lunch together?

then you can hug me AND eat

double the happiness for you

 

Baekhyun laughed a bit at that. He was right.

 

When? 

What hour? Minute? Second?

Where?

 

I’ll be free starting from 12:15:00 :D

I have classes in the afternoon so we can’t really go too far from the academy

wanna go to that sashimi place? we went there once and you liked it

I’m already hungry I feel like my stomach’s shrinking and kinda dying on me

 

Alright 

Your handsome knight will save you from starvation 

And breathe life back into you with the Absolute Kiss

 

stop being lame or I won’t eat with you

 

:( 

 

Baekhyun grew restless and fidgety for a whole new reason after that. He counted down the minutes that separated him from what he craved so much. 

 

This time, it was with fuzziness in his fingertips rather than restlessness.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

"What about you? What do you do?"

 

If there was one thing that Baekhyun didn’t like about Christmas it was the mandatory Christmas outings that came with it for the company. It wasn’t much, a dinner offered to all the employees in a restaurant rented by the company, also paid by the company as a gift and show of gratefulness for everything they had done for 4C through the whole year. Or something equally as useless. A mere dinner spent talking about even more work wasn’t really a gift, in Baekhyun’s opinion.

 

On the contrary, it rather felt like a nightmare to him. Especially since this year, both his father and his brother couldn’t attend and once again, he was chosen as some kind of rebound. The only good thing about this was that he could arrive as late as possible and leave as early as possible without anyone having the courage to comment on it.

 

That had been the case half an hour earlier. He had arrived late, too late but most people were already too merry and tipsy to even notice his presence. Most employees didn’t even know what he looked like in person, the most they had seen of him were scarce pictures online or quick glimpses in the highest floors of the company.

 

The beautiful woman sitting in front of him was one of those people.

 

"I’m an intern too. I started last week," he smiled shyly, eyes carrying stars of disbelief and pride at being able to work in such a big, successful company.

 

She was already too tipsy to notice but Baekhyun still put on an act. After showing himself to a few higher-ups and sharing small conversations filled with tasteless jokes and overused wishes of happiness in the new year, Baekhyun had managed to untangle himself from their grasp. He had plopped down in front of an unfamiliar young woman who seemed to be alone and awkward.

 

"It’s difficult to adjust, isn’t it?" she said and Baekhyun politely filled her glass up a little. She was technically his senior in this conversation. In the fifteen minutes they had spent together, he had figured out that Jihyo didn’t pay much mind to hierarchy amongst interns but her cheeks still flushed at the gesture.

 

"It is," Baekhyun said, fingers holding onto his chopsticks. He brought a few grains of rice into his mouth. He wasn’t really hungry. "But you seem to have adjusted well."

 

"I got used to it, I guess. They don’t let me do much, I mostly collect data from the tests but even watching them tweak with formulas and textures of products is amazing."

 

She seemed to like what she was doing. She had a big grin on.

 

"I’m sure they’ll let you do more exciting stuff soon. You seem really passionate about it," he reassured her, fueling the heat pitted under her cheeks.

 

She took a sip of her drink and Baekhyun looked around. It wasn’t difficult to locate the source of the eyes he had been feeling on him for the last minute or so. He caught his father’s secretary’s gaze and she immediately turned away, leaned closer to the woman sitting next to her and whispering something. The subject of their conversation was obvious at that point.

 

He looked back to Jihyo and leaned a little closer to her, lowering his voice.

 

"These two always seem to be gossiping about something," he commented with a friendly smile.

 

She followed the trail of his gaze and the confusion on her face cleared up when she saw who Baekhyun was talking about. She rolled her eyes, the gesture uncoordinated because of the alcohol slowly dripping into her veins.

 

"They always have something to gossip about," she snorted.

 

"You seem to have heard them a lot," he hummed, looking at her curiously.

 

She looked down, smiling. No one else had talked to her even once since Baekhyun arrived. Maybe she was happy to have finally made a friend. She leaned closer and lowered her voice too.

 

"They’re always talking about the CEO and his son."

 

No surprise, just a taste of something unpleasant in the back of his mouth.

 

"What do they say?" he asked, raising his eyebrows in curiosity.

 

She looked around quickly, hesitating only a second before answering.

 

"You heard about the CEO, right? His health is deteriorating. He hasn’t been to the company in weeks."

 

Baekhyun actually hadn’t heard that. There was no one to tell him and there was no will in him to question anyone about it.

 

"What does that have to do with his son?" he asked, letting confusion pull his eyebrows into a frown.

 

"Well, apparently, he usually comes in to work in the CEO’s stead but he hasn’t been seen in a while, I think. On the last meeting the CEO attended, someone asked about his son and I heard he suddenly got really angry and called him useless or something like that."

 

The unpleasant taste in his mouth grew stronger. He had heard those words many times, from his father’s own mouth but it was different to hear it reported by someone else.

 

"That’s what they’re gossiping about?" he asked, unimpressed.

 

She seemed to understand it and immediately shook her head, eyes widening with the eagerness of someone pleasing a new friend to tie their friendship together for a long time.

 

"That short haired one is the CEO’s secretary. She always spreads rumors about him." She leaned even closer and let her voice drop down a whisper. "About his sexuality."

 

Baekhyun put his chopsticks down and laced his hands together on his lap, under the table. That one was new. New and very unpleasant. He had never shown any sign of his private life in the company, he had no idea where this was coming from.

 

"What about it?" he asked, whispering back as if he shared the outrage she seemed to feel at the mention of sexuality.

 

She looked around again quickly. "They say he’s… a homosexual."

 

"Really?" he gasped, ignoring the slight sting of his fingernails digging into the flesh of his palm. "How do they know?"

 

He didn’t like this. Not because he was ashamed of being attracted both to men and women, merely because a lot of people, most people in this company and in this country would see that as a stain, a flaw, something he would have a hard time correcting. It wasn’t something he wanted to, and could, change.

 

Anger prickled a little through him. He really hated this. This mentality.

 

"Well, she says she heard the CEO calling him disgusting and a monster a few times," Jihyo shrugged. "And they say he also looks a bit feminine."

 

For a second, Baekhyun didn’t break the façade. Then, as if something had pierced it from inside, he felt it crack once and then crumble down entirely.

 

"And what? Does that mean he can’t be a man? Does that make him a monster?"

 

She pulled away at once, her eyes widening as her lips parted, not a sound slipping through. His voice hadn’t been loud. It had still remained as a whisper. He had still managed to at least control that about his reaction.

 

And Baekhyun shouldn’t do this. He shouldn’t snap and lose control like this. He didn’t like it. He felt disappointment swirling in his stomach a little but anger stabbed through fiercer, pulling his attention away. He had never reacted this way. It washed over him like relief. This reaction.

 

It was a bit destabilizing, unsettling. The sourness kept spreading in his mouth, down his throat. She was speechless, still looking at him in surprise. Baekhyun wasn’t sure what she was seeing in his expression. He wasn’t sure why being called a monster pushed that reaction out of him now, after so many years of tolerating it.

 

Deeming it the right moment, he got up and left without a word, dragging himself far away from a place that made his skin itchy enough for it not to feel like his own.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

"You really said that to her?"

 

Junmyeon’s voice was full of intrigue as it hummed against Baekhyun’s ear through his phone. He sighed, looking at the taxi driver through the rearview mirror to give him his address. He hadn’t taken the car just in case he would drink but now, he regretted it deeply. It had taken him five whole minutes to hail an available taxi.

 

"I did, Junmyeon," he repeated for what felt like the third time. There had been nothing but surprise in Junmyeon’s voice from the very first moment Baekhyun called him a few minutes ago and naturally recounted him what had happened. "I don’t know why either. It just. Felt like too much?" he said, exhaling those words.

 

"Well, you weren’t wrong. Hearing that from your father is one thing but a complete stranger spreading that through your entire workplace is another," Junmyeon hummed, his careful tone passing through the line. Baekhyun looked out of the window. "But don’t think about it too much," Junmyeon said again when Baekhyun didn’t speak. "It’s just bullshit. It’ll probably die down soon, they don’t even have anything to base that rumor on."

 

"You’re right," Baekhyun sighed again. "It’s not even the rumor that pisses me off. I mean, it’s not like I’m going to be there and see them give me a nasty look. I just really hate it when they make assumptions. This is all his fault. If he at least didn’t treat me like that in front of people, this wouldn’t happen."

 

Baekhyun heard it enough already. Monster. That cursed word. He didn’t need to hear it from another voice.

 

"Hey, it’s okay," Junmyeon said softly. Baekhyun tilted his head up a little. He felt stifled. "If you want I can tell my mom she talked bad about you and make her attend the next company meeting. Then, we’ll see who’s the best gossiper."

 

That pulled a little laugh out of Baekhyun. He knew Junmyeon wouldn’t do that, he knew it was something said with the intention of soothing him. He was also aware that no one could beat Junmyeon’s mother when it came to gossiping.

 

"No, what if she gets aggressive? Remember that one time she went to our school because you let it slip that some girl kept telling you that you dressed like an old man?"

 

"How could I forget that," Junmyeon sighed a chuckle out, exasperation and fondness crackling through the phone. "She argued with the girl’s mother about rudeness. She also personally chose my clothes every morning for an entire month. It was hell."

 

"It was heaven for me. You always sulked in class and I didn’t understand why. She did dress you way better than you dressed yourself," he confessed, smiling a little to himself.

 

"That’s not a very nice thing to say," Junmyeon protested, voice loud but not losing its gentleness.

 

Baekhyun did nothing but laugh and Junmyeon joined along a mere second later, their laughter mixing in naturally. With every note that left his mouth, Baekhyun felt as if whatever had been pressing down on his chest was being pushed away.

 

"Thank you," he said once they both calmed down, soft, sincere.

 

"No worries," Junmyeon answered and Baekhyun could almost hear the smile in his voice. "Call me again. Whenever you need."

 

"I will. I have no hesitation when it comes to pestering you," Baekhyun said, mirthful.

 

Junmyeon’s laughter was the last thing he heard before the line cut off, the sound leaving a smile on his face even after he brought his phone down to his lap. He exhaled. They were not even halfway through the journey back to his apartment, the roads were a little too clogged up at this hour.

 

Baekhyun looked away from the window and down at his phone again. He could still feel the ghost of Jihyo’s voice whispering in his head. He could sense it merging into a deeper, scratchier, greasier voice from time to time. Whispers were cold. A shiver ran down his spine. He pulled the lapels of his jacket closer together. He gazed down at his phone. He unlocked it, opened his messaging app like he had done so dozens of times before, whenever the same cold breeze swept through him.

 

Wanna come over tonight? Now? he sent as a reply to Chanyeol’s latest message he had been ignoring through the company dinner. It took a few seconds for a single thumbs up emoji to be sent to him and Baekhyun locked his phone again, leaned back against his seat and relaxing through the rest of the ride.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chanyeol arrived only a few minutes after Baekhyun reached home. 

 

Still a bit restless, he had cleaned around the house, or at least, tried to find something to clean, and then took a look inside the fridge. There was nothing to see. He hadn’t gone grocery shopping in a while. They would have to order in.

 

It was in the middle of that thought that the bell rang and Baekhyun rushed towards the door, swinging it open at once, pulling Chanyeol inside, closing the door again, and pressing him against it all in a flurry of movements. He reached on the tip of his toes and pressed their lips together for a revitalizing kiss.

 

Chanyeol, despite the hurry through which Baekhyun had put him, didn’t really seem to mind. He firmly pressed his lips back against Baekhyun’s, cradling his cheek with a careful hand. Baekhyun leaned into the touch and melted against his chest. He was wearing another puffy coat that cushioned Baekhyun’s body against his and when Baekhyun felt his thumb stroking the apple of his cheek, he slowly exhaled through his nose. 

 

It was a bit foreign. A mere kiss being enough for Baekhyun to forget whatever tormented him. It took much more than that usually, but Baekhyun knew that this was enough. It would be enough to just kiss Chanyeol like this, ardent, his lips slotting emotions into Baekhyun.

 

It was only when Baekhyun felt something wet on his chest that he regretfully broke apart from the other, looking down at his shirt and seeing a few darker spots on his coat. He noted the slight dampness on a few strands of his hair when he looked up. It must’ve started raining while Baekhyun was fidgeting inside. He met Chanyeol’s gaze for a second before closing his eyes again when the other leaned down for a last, tender peck.

 

"I missed you too," Chanyeol whispered against his lips before grazing the tips of their nose together.

 

Baekhyun huffed and pulled away. It wasn’t really a snort, nor was it laughter. Relief.

 

"Was it raining?" he asked, still leaning into Chanyeol’s touch against his cheek.

 

Chanyeol nodded, gaze draped over Baekhyun’s features. 

 

"Did something happen?" he asked softly. Concern fitted the droop of his eyebrows.

 

Baekhyun stared back at him. "How do you know something happened?"

 

"You don’t usually kiss me like this," Chanyeol explained. 

 

Baekhyun couldn’t really figure out what was the difference between this kiss and all the others they had shared before. Chanyeol didn’t say anything else.

 

"You’re smart." When Chanyeol gave him an unimpressed look he reached to press a small kiss against his cheek, right where he knew a dimple was hidden, beneath layers of cotton-candy fibered skin. When he pulled away, it was there, almost like the dent of Baekhyun’s lips rather than Chanyeol’s smile. "Something did happen."

 

"Do you want to talk about it?" Chanyeol asked as he moved to take his coat off, hanging it besides Baekhyun’s before grabbing his hand and pulling him to the living room.

 

Chanyeol knew his house by heart now, knew exactly where Baekhyun’s phone charger always was, could find pots and products with no problem in the kitchen, knew the exact spot Baekhyun’s favorite shirt was tucked into in his closet. Chanyeol spent a lot of time in his apartment. 

 

They plopped down on the couch together, Chanyeol’s fingers still laced with his.

 

"Just rumors. At the company. About me," Baekhyun eventually said, watching as Chanyeol played with his hand, tracing the length of every single one of Baekhyun’s fingers, circling the very tip of his nails.

 

"What kind of rumor?" he asked, voice as soothing as the caresses on his fingers.

 

"About my sexuality, I guess," he snorted. It didn’t matter that much now. Not now that he was away from those cold people and so much closer to Chanyeol’s comforting presence. 

 

Chanyeol stopped playing with his fingers and looked at him instead, eyebrows furrowed. 

 

"Did they say anything really humiliating?"

 

He seemed upset, for Baekhyun.

 

"I don’t wanna talk about it," he said, however, wanting to shut that topic off and focus on something else. "Are you hungry?"

 

Chanyeol frowned for a second before letting it go with a sigh and bringing Baekhyun’s hand up to his lips to press a kiss on the back of it. Baekhyun felt something in him liquefy bit by bit at the action. Must be the icy whispers. 

 

"What do you wanna eat?" Chanyeol asked once their laced hands fell back on his lap, as if it was now natural for him to cook for Baekhyun. Once again, the thought that they spent a lot of time together struck him again.

 

"You can’t play the chef, unfortunately. There’s nothing in the fridge."

 

"You didn’t go grocery shopping?" Chanyeol frowned, voice instantly taking on that reproachful edge. 

 

"I’m a busy man," Baekhyun said in his defense, raising his eyebrows in a mock disdainful expression.

 

"Stop lying," Chanyeol snorted. He tugged on Baekhyun’s hand a little. "I wanted to cook for you. How am I supposed to make you feel better then? I can’t even feed you."

 

Baekhyun wondered if Chanyeol really didn’t know that his presence alone made Baekhyun feel better. Maybe it shouldn’t be surprising. Most people didn’t know.

 

"But you can call and order pizza if you want to make me happy," he said, nudging the other with his elbow.

 

Chanyeol snickered at him but still slipped his phone out of his pocket. Baekhyun watched him, leaning his head against his shoulder as Chanyeol gave their order, Baekhyun’s favorite and a pizza that he would probably try out for the first time. He never ordered the same thing twice. Two pizzas was probably too much but they could eat the leftovers tomorrow for breakfast. Maybe Baekhyun could even coax Chanyeol into going grocery shopping with him. They had never done that. He wondered if Chanyeol was the kind to grab everything and dump it into the cart or carefully analyze every single aisle for the very best product, both quality and pricing wise.

 

"Done," Chanyeol declared after hanging up and Baekhyun sat up properly again to look at his playful smile. "What’s next on our How to Make Baekhyun Happy List?"

 

Baekhyun let out a small chuckle. He didn’t even have to think. He still hummed for a bit, just to play along, only to slide onto Chanyeol’s lap afterwards, arms draped over his shoulders as he felt Chanyeol’s hands naturally hold onto his waist. Their eyes met, Baekhyun dived into two pools of endless affection, heated at the perfect temperature by the small crinkles that were lined around Chanyeol’s eyes whenever he smiled.

 

"Kissing me," he said, breathing those words right into Chanyeol’s mouth.

 

And as if that was all Chanyeol had wanted to hear, he kissed Baekhyun.

 

His lips were velvety against Baekhyun’s, his lower lip plushy as it pressed right below Baekhyun’s own lower lip, embraced it with a kiss. The puffs of air Baekhyun could feel landing on his skin were delicate, weightless. Baekhyun’s hand slithered towards Chanyeol’s neck, fingers drawing abstract curlicues on the smooth skin before continuing their surge to the back of Chanyeol’s head, tangling with his hair. Most of it was already dry now.

 

He tilted his head when he felt one of Chanyeol’s hands find its way down along his thigh, not adventurous, only comfortable once it found a nice spot, his thumb cascading down the inner side of his thigh but not diving down farther. Baekhyun scattered satisfied pecks over Chanyeol’s lips, on one corner, on the other, then further away, right next to his lips, where his cheek softened his face. Another hand slid to his lower back, pulling him closer to Chanyeol. Baekhyun’s fingers glided down again, falling down the slope of Chanyeol’s neck and resting on his shoulder, gripping the soft fabric of his hoodie. His lips continued their ascension towards Chanyeol’s cheek, up to the highest point only to deviate a little to the side, closer to his temple.

 

He pulled away for a fleeting while, catching a bit of redness marking his lips’ destination. He pressed a kiss right on the tip of Chanyeol’s ear, where the skin was flushed, soft, so malleable. It stuck out a little, almost like the beginning of a fold, dropping a little forward. Chanyeol let out a small whine, not shy nor embarrassed. He always acted as if he hated it whenever Baekhyun touched his ears but the smile he failed at containing kept telling Baekhyun otherwise. He repeated the gesture, kissing the reddened tip of his ear but this time, much more loudly, drawing a groan out of Chanyeol who tugged on his shirt with the hand on Baekhyun’s back to pull him away.

 

Baekhyun laughed softly at the droopy eyebrows and the naturally wide, sublime eyes. The tip of Chanyeol’s ears rubified even more. He puckered his lips, asking for a kiss. Playful, Baekhyun also puckered his lips exaggeratedly and quite heavily pressed them on Chanyeol’s as he brought both his hands to cup his cheeks. He shook his head a little, keeping their lips slotted together in a childish, mirthful kiss that made Chanyeol muffle a laugh into his mouth. It sounded sweet. 

 

When he pulled away, Chanyeol was grinning, his cheeks a little squished under Baekhyun’s hands and his lips still a little puckered up as a result. Kissing Chanyeol was so nice, even if they weren’t even properly kissing anymore but just playing with each other, childish, comfortable, and joyful. Baekhyun really liked kissing Chanyeol. He had never felt so natural when kissing anyone else.

 

Chanyeol seemed to nurture the desire to stray their kisses towards a more serious path, however, and he freed himself from Baekhyun’s playful hold to press a kiss right below his ear instead, on the small slope between his jaw and his neck. Baekhyun closed his eyes and let his body unwind, enjoying the warmth that pooled wherever Chanyeol’s lips pressed. Usually, he never really kissed the left side of Baekhyun’s neck as it was most of the time slathered in a coat of makeup to conceal his tattoo and it was the case today too but Chanyeol’s didn’t seem to mind. He peppered kisses down the length of his neck and Baekhyun tilted his head to give him more access to his skin.

 

Soon, he felt sturdy fingers coming together on the collar of his shirt and Chanyeol undid the first few buttons one by one. Baekhyun was still wearing his business attire, the tie already taken off earlier but the light blue shirt and the grey slacks still hugging his figure. They had never really taken each other’s clothes off before. Neither of them had even slipped in any kind of nudity, even minimal, but it happened to their hands to stray under clothes once in a while. This was new and Baekhyun felt an unprecedented kind of excitement bubbling in his chest.

 

Chanyeol didn’t seem to have that in mind as he pulled away from where he had been kissing Baekhyun’s neck once he was done unbuttoning part of his shirt, swollen lips arched into a smile.

 

"I just like seeing it," he said and Baekhyun didn’t get what he was referring to. Not until Chanyeol grabbed one lapel of the shirt and pulled it down to reveal the black lines that had been hidden underneath.

 

He leaned down and pressed the petals of his mouth right on the plum blossom inked on the skin draped over the ledge of his collarbone, only a centimeter shy of his chest. Baekhyun could almost feel the flower coming to life under his lips, swelling, as if it wanted to reach out to Chanyeol and cling to him for light, for life.

 

"Why?" Baekhyun whispered, gaze melting over Chanyeol.

 

"Because it’s hot," was Chanyeol’s first answer, mirth fluttering in his eyes as enchantingly as a flame’s dance as he looked up at Baekhyun. He pressed his lips against the same flower again before mouthing along the crooked branches, following their path upwards. "Pretty," he mumbled against Baekhyun’s skin, breathing heat right into him, enough to push the air out of him and replace it with graceful steam. It didn’t feel asphyxiating. Chanyeol pressed a kiss right where the dark branches were sliced off, on the delimitation between Baekhyun’s skin and the makeup concealing the tattoo. "Because it’s you."

 

It was at that moment that Baekhyun realized it.

 

Chanyeol loved him. Chanyeol was in love with him.

 

That realization wasn’t pulled out of despair flowing from the other, nor sadness. Not possessiveness either, nothing Baekhyun was used to drawing conclusions from. 

 

While that realization grew in his mind a little more with each kiss Chanyeol planted along his collarbones, its source remained unknown to Baekhyun. He didn’t know why it was at that exact moment that he felt it. Maybe it was in those words, uttered directly out of Chanyeol’s heart, gradually fading from mirth into sincerity. Perhaps it was in the daintiness Chanyeol put into kissing him, into handling him. Not just today but every day. It may also be rooted in the way Chanyeol looked at him, each glance falling on Baekhyun like petals scattered from the sky, careful, soft, pure, and so selfless in their beauty.

 

That was when he heard it again. 

 

That rhythm. That unfamiliar sound. 

 

An enthralling tune that took his attention off everything else yet made him entirely aware of the way Chanyeol wrapped his arms around his waist and pulled him closer to rest the side of his head against Baekhyun’s chest, a cocoon of amenity that echoed with that sound.

 

Baekhyun didn’t know where it came from. He could hear it in his fingertips, right where Chanyeol’s ear was pressed against his chest, on the barrier between his skin and the fallacious cover draped over his plum blossoms. He had heard it before, once, maybe twice, but had never figured out what it was. 

 

Was it joy? A peak of happiness brought on by what he had just realized? Relief? An accumulation of warmth on the verge of overflowing? Triumph? A vicious kind of satisfaction? A manifestation of that horrendous creature he was told to be?

 

Suddenly, the sweet, alien tune was broken by the shrill ringing of the bell. Chanyeol pulled away from him with a startle, jumping enough to make Baekhyun lose his balance and grip his shoulders to prevent himself from falling off the couch. He looked up at Baekhyun with wide, startled eyes and Baekhyun couldn’t help but laugh as he slid off his lap to sit on the couch again.

 

"It’s not funny, I almost died," Chanyeol grumbled under his breath.

 

"I’m the one who almost fell down and split my head against the floor," Baekhyun retorted before the bell rang again and he furrowed his eyebrows. "It usually takes them much longer to deliver."

 

Chanyeol hummed in agreement. "Well, I’m very hungry anyway so it’s not a bad thing."

 

Baekhyun smiled. "Can you go open it?"

 

"Why can’t you? This is your house," Chanyeol quirked an eyebrow.

 

"I’m naked," Baekhyun deadpanned, gesturing to the undone buttons of his shirt. "And I almost died."

 

Chanyeol snorted but still got up to his feet. "You’re just lazy," he called out as he headed out of the living room.

 

Baekhyun smiled to himself as he watched him leave and buttoned his shirt up again. It was silent. There was no unfamiliar sound anymore. He furrowed his eyebrows. Maybe he had imagined it.

 

He looked up when the silence was chased away by footsteps and the characteristic scrunching of plastic bags. When Chanyeol walked in again, it wasn’t pizza boxes that he was carrying and he wasn’t alone either.

 

"Junmyeon?" Baekhyun asked in surprise as he stood up.

 

His best friend looked cozy in his coat, fingers hanging onto grocery bags as he smiled a little. It wasn’t his usual smile. Baekhyun didn’t know what was different about it. He looked up at Chanyeol who was standing next to Junmyeon, a bag of groceries held in his hand too. He smiled sheepishly.

 

"I didn’t really want to let anyone in since it’s your house and not mine, but you said he’s your best friend before so," he trailed off before turning to Junmyeon and moving to take the grocery bag he was holding from him. "I’ll just bring these to the kitchen."

 

Junmyeon let him do, giving him a grateful smile. Baekhyun still said nothing, watching with disoriented eyes as Junmyeon and Chanyeol interacted, two different parts of his life coming together so easily. 

 

"What brings you here?" he asked when Chanyeol left to the kitchen, stepping closer to him.

 

Junmyeon took his coat off before answering.

 

"I thought I’d come by to make sure you’re okay." He was looking down at his scarf as he took it off rather than at Baekhyun. He had a faint, careful smile on. "I didn’t know you had company."

 

Baekhyun wasn’t sure what to say. 

 

This was out of the ordinary. Junmyeon had never directly met one of the people Baekhyun was involved with before and here he was, standing in the same house as Baekhyun and Chanyeol. Unease dug into his stomach sharply. He gave Junmyeon a grin and leaned closer.

 

"Were you worried about me?" he cooed, playfully pinching his cheek.

 

Junmyeon huffed out a laugh and batted his hand away. Despite the unfamiliar situation, Baekhyun was still happy to see his best friend.

 

"I was," Junmyeon shook his head, as if it didn’t make sense that he worried about Baekhyun. "But you seem to be in good company."

 

There was no particular emotion in his voice. It still took Baekhyun a beat to find a reply.

 

"Yeah," he said, feeling a little awkward out of nowhere. "That’s Chanyeol."

 

"You usually don’t let them in your house," Junmyeon commented, lowering his voice. Baekhyun was grateful.

 

"It just happened. It’s easier like this. I think I told you before."

 

Junmyeon hummed.

 

"Well," he sighed, still smiling a little. "I guess I’ll just leave then. I don’t want to disturb whatever you’re doing and make it all awkward," he said, gaze trailing over Baekhyun. He wondered if what they had been doing could be seen. 

 

He frowned.

 

"You don’t have to leave." Junmyeon quirked an eyebrow. "I mean, it’s okay. You’ve seen him a few times already anyway. And well, this could be interesting."

 

Junmyeon chewed on his lower lip for a second, watching him.

 

"Are you sure? I don’t want to ruin what you worked on."

 

And maybe Baekhyun should let the other leave. He never mixed Junmyeon into whatever he did with other people. He never let the other see him in such situations. Not because he was ashamed of what he did, what he needed to do, but merely because Junmyeon was apart. He was an anchor in his life, someone Baekhyun held up higher than others. But this was Chanyeol. 

 

He had already met Chanyeol’s friends, a couple times. It would be weird if Junmyeon left after seeing Chanyeol. At one point, Chanyeol might want to meet his friends too. This would help secure their relationship even more. It was a good idea.

 

"Come on, we all know you’re smart enough for this," he nudged the other, taking the coat and scarf from Junmyeon to drape them over the armrest of the couch. "I’ll need to share my pizza with you but it’s okay. You can pay for it by treating me to dinner another time."

 

Junmyeon gave him a look but didn’t refuse. Together, they headed towards the kitchen. 

 

Chanyeol had already sorted half of the groceries, put products into their place, and he turned around when he heard them walk in, smiling a little as he closed the fridge.

 

"Good thing you brought groceries with you because the kitchen was basically empty. Since this one’s a lazyass," he said, nodding towards Baekhyun with mock reproach.

 

Baekhyun looked at Junmyeon. "I’m sharing my pizza with you. Remember that before replying to him."

 

Junmyeon snorted at him, shaking his head a little. "Go on, show Chanyeol what kind of person you really are."

 

Chanyeol laughed at that and Baekhyun narrowed his eyes at Junmyeon while the latter smiled. He wasn’t upset. Maybe a bit relieved that Junmyeon and Chanyeol might get along. This would make things less awkward.

 

"Oh, you buy that brand of sesame oil too? It’s my favorite," Chanyeol said as he held the product, grinning at Junmyeon as if he had just found a big common interest shared between the two of them.

 

"I think it’s the best. The price is decent too, I always get this one," Junmyeon nodded as he stepped forward to help Chanyeol sort the rest of the groceries.

 

Baekhyun took a seat at one of the stools behind the counter and watched them, a light smile tainting his lips.

 

Sesame oil wasn’t the only shared interest Junmyeon and Chanyeol had, as it turned out. Baekhyun watched them as Chanyeol, lively as ever, found all kinds of conversation topics to get to know Junmyeon better. Junmyeon’s replies were polite at first, not unexpectedly, but as soon as Chanyeol mentioned Star Wars out of nowhere, as if that was a default topic the same way the weather was, Junmyeon lit up and, still not unexpectedly, started rambling about his favorite universe and movies.

 

Baekhyun watched them turn into complete nerds right under his eyes, oddly pleased. Maybe because it was the first time Junmyeon actually interacted with anyone who had Chanyeol’s position in his life and it was going along well. Maybe because Chanyeol was obviously doing everything he could to somehow get Junmyeon to open up. The only time he regretted letting Junmyeon stay was when Chanyeol suddenly asked about his childhood and Junmyeon, rather eagerly, spilled anything remotely embarrassing he could remember.

 

The rest of the evening went along pretty well. Baekhyun had never imagined how nice it would be to have both Junmyeon and someone who loved him and cared for him on a different level at the same place, at the same time, with him. It was a delight to have both Junmyeon and Chanyeol smiling at him, making him smile, catering to him in that way they both always did, a bit differently. Junmyeon helpfully tapped his back when he choked a bit on one of the olive slices that was on his pizza and Chanyeol filled his glass with cider without him ever having to ask for it. At one point, the cheese slid off the slice Baekhyun was biting on and simultaneously, Junmyeon handed him a napkin while Chanyeol held his hand under his chin so he wouldn’t spill anything on his dress shirt. It should’ve felt awkward, maybe a bit embarrassing but Baekhyun only basked in the care and attention given to him.

 

Junmyeon seemed rather comfortable as well, no longer worried. Probably because he could embarrass Baekhyun with childhood stories. Baekhyun returned it to him and Chanyeol witnessed a sort of embarrassment battle. Neither of them won, in the end. They talked about anything and everything, the latest soccer games, politics, and the movies set to be released next year.

 

By the time Junmyeon left, grinning and familiar enough with Chanyeol to let the latter hug him while patting his back, Baekhyun felt happier than ever, the reason why he had been so upset hours ago entirely forgotten. 

 

"You know," Chanyeol said when they were sprawled on the couch a while later. "Sometimes you tell me I’m smart, right? I think I’m smarter than you sometimes."

 

Baekhyun looked down at him in confusion, fingers momentarily stopping their movements in Chanyeol’s hair from where he was resting his head on Baekhyun’s lap.

 

"What do you mean?"

 

Chanyeol sat up and nudged him with his elbow, eyes sparkling with amusement.

 

"Or maybe you’re just blind."

 

"I sure am blinded by your cuteness," Baekhyun said, knowing that this answer would make him the winner despite the incomprehension.

 

Instantly, Chanyeol frowned and pushed him with a hand on his shoulder.

 

"Do you have to always win?" he whined.

 

Baekhyun grinned, smug.

 

"I can only win with you in my life."

 

Chanyeol groaned.

 

This time, instead of pushing Baekhyun away, he chose to kiss the laughter off his mouth.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Christmas rushed over to them a few days later, dusting snowflakes over them as presents, and with it came Baekhyun’s promise to spend the day together with Chanyeol.

 

They hadn’t really made any plans for the day. Chanyeol didn’t seem to be the kind to even like doing plans, which drove Baekhyun a little crazy. He preferred having a complete schedule whenever it came to outings but Baekhyun still didn’t refuse when Chanyeol offered a spontaneous trip to a ski resort in Gangwon-do.

 

It was a drive of an hour and a half away from Seoul so they had to leave pretty early in order to enjoy a full day there and come back that same night since Chanyeol had to attend another event the next day. It was the longest trip they had taken together but it felt short enough with Chanyeol driving, occasionally letting go of the wheel with a hand to dramatically sing along to radio songs with grand, exaggerated movements. Baekhyun scolded him around three times before convincing the other to not ever let go of the wheel but that didn’t make the trip any less pleasant. Baekhyun’s cheeks cramped a little by the time they got off at the resort.

 

Now, however, it wasn’t exactly his cheeks that hurt. His pride was starting to bleed.

 

"Why do I keep falling?" he grumbled as Chanyeol grabbed his hands and pulled him back up to his feet.

 

He had a mask on, making it impossible for Baekhyun to see anything but his eyes and even that was covered by ski goggles. He could see that his eyes were curved into a beam so it wasn’t difficult to figure out the other was very entertained by the situation. Baekhyun kind of wished it was impossible to see it.

 

"It’s okay, you’ll learn. It’s not that difficult," Chanyeol said through his mask before bursting into laughter when Baekhyun lost his balance, his two feet plastered to the snowboard and his two arms flailing around until Chanyeol caught them and steadied him again. 

 

"Don’t laugh!" he groaned even if laughter could still be heard in his own voice. It was difficult not to follow along when Chanyeol’s laugh was so contagious. He also looked rather funny in his full snowboarding attire, with that puffy jacket on.

 

"I’m laughing because of you!" Chanyeol argued back and it took him a few seconds to finally calm down and sigh a little, as if laughing so much had exhausted him. Then he brought a hand up and patted Baekhyun’s head. "Watch and learn from the snowboarding master, child."

 

"Just shut up and go," Baekhyun groaned, pushing him away a bit too harshly. Satisfaction defrosted his body when Chanyeol flailed around a little, losing his balance. He didn’t fall. He hadn’t fallen even once since they had started a while ago. It fueled the competitive flame in Baekhyun.

 

Chanyeol shook his head at him one last time before turning around, giving Baekhyun a last look over his shoulder, and lunging himself down the slope. He glided perfectly on the snow, comfortably, as if he had done this all his life, as if he was part of the snowboarding track and the puffy snow beneath his board held onto him tightly to prevent him from hurting himself. Baekhyun watched in amazement as he somehow jumped and swirled around once before landing on the snow perfectly and continuing to slide down.

 

He was good at this. He was too good at this. Chanyeol was way too good at everything he did and while half of Baekhyun felt a bit annoyed and competitive about it, the rest of him couldn’t help but liquify into a puddle at how attractive it was. There really was nothing Chanyeol wouldn’t attempt and end up being perfect at.

 

Soon, Chanyeol stopped, so easily Baekhyun almost wanted to cry because every time he tried to stop himself from sliding, he either couldn’t until meters away or he simply crashed down. A small chuckle escaped his lips, muffled by his own mask when Chanyeol turned around and flailed his arms around like a hyper child, waving at Baekhyun and urging him to join.

 

Baekhyun took a deep breath in, gave himself an internal, small pep talk, and then slowly, carefully started sliding down the slope the same way Chanyeol had. However, while Chanyeol had looked confident and in his element, Baekhyun felt awkward with his arms stretched out for better balance. He could feel the wind slapping his face a little even through the mask and the goggles. He was at least a bit steadier this time and as he approached Chanyeol, he could see him waving excitedly and could even hear him scream praises and encouragements at him as Baekhyun passed right by him. 

 

He wasn’t supposed to slide right past him.

 

It took Baekhyun a few seconds to slow down enough to stop. This time, he did actually take a shorter time to stop but before he could steady himself, he found himself plopping down on the snow face first and rolling once before actually stopping. He remained like that, discouraged, a bit tired, laying on the snow until he heard a familiar laugh and Chanyeol glided towards him. Baekhyun let out a long, loud groan.

 

"You were better this time," Chanyeol tried comforting him as he leaned down to grab his arms and pull him up. He couldn’t conceal his laughter.

 

"You’re not supposed to spend Christmas laughing at me!" Baekhyun complained half-heartedly, words slurred and muffled. "We’re supposed to share happiness. You’re the only happy one right now."

 

He continued grumbling to himself as Chanyeol pulled him up and he dusted the snow on his skiing attire. Once he realized that Chanyeol wasn’t saying anything, wasn’t even laughing, Baekhyun looked up at him curiously. He caught him leaning closer. Chanyeol’s eyes were smiling through his goggles and his lips felt curved when Chanyeol quickly pressed them against Baekhyun’s, the fabric of their masks preventing them from actually touching and their goggles clashing together a little bit. Had it not been impossible for anyone to recognize them with this attire, Baekhyun would’ve been worried about doing this in public. However, he felt a smile burgeoning on his lips.

 

"You’re so cute," he heard Chanyeol mumble.

 

Baekhyun leaned closer to him again. Instead of kissing him like Chanyeol was probably expecting him to, he pressed his hands against his chest and pushed hard enough for Chanyeol to actually fall for the first time. He even rolled down the track a little bit.

 

This time, it was Baekhyun laughing while trying to pull him up to his feet only to lose his balance and crash down, half of his body landing on Chanyeol who groaned.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The trip back home was quieter, exhaustion pressing down on them a little bit. It wasn’t less enjoyable, though. The radio perfumed the car with the calmative air of ballads and the DJ’s voice recounted stories soothingly. Chanyeol was still rather energetic, reacting to the narrations with touched coos, loud laughter, or comfortable conversation by asking Baekhyun if he had a similar experience.

 

Maybe it was because night made everything a bit calmer but Baekhyun, despite the exhaustion, still felt comfortable and cozy as Chanyeol drove them back to his apartment.

 

It wasn’t too late yet but they had spent a full day at the ski resort. They hadn’t only spent it snowboarding or even skiing, Chanyeol had dragged him to the arcade and the billiard room offered by the resort. Baekhyun almost jubilated when he beat Chanyeol in almost every single game they played, causing the other to treat him to hot cocoa as the loser of the games was supposed to. They hadn’t had the occasion to visit the Garden of Morning Calm near the resort but they made plans to come back another time at night to witness the Lighting Festival.

 

When they arrived home, the first thing that Chanyeol did was plop down on the couch and groan that he was tired.

 

"You should wash up," Baekhyun suggested, nudging his shoulder.

 

"Washing up is too tiring. And I didn’t even bring any change of clothes or pajamas," Chanyeol groaned again but still sat up properly. When he looked at Baekhyun, his eyes gleamed as pristine as snow under the sun. There was no pain when Baekhyun stared right into the reflection. "This was the best Christmas date ever."

 

"It’s not like it would be your first time wearing my clothes as pajamas," Baekhyun snorted before narrowing his eyes. "You’re only saying that because you got to watch me fall around a hundred times," Baekhyun huffed. His entire body was kind of sore. He had never thought falling on snow would hurt so much. 

 

"That was the best part of it, of course," Chanyeol agreed without hesitation. Baekhyun pulled on his hair a little, satisfied when he groaned in pain.

 

"The best part hasn’t come yet. We haven’t exchanged gifts," Baekhyun smiled, unable to contain the excitement feathering through him, tingling him a little.

 

He had struggled a lot to come up with a good present but in the end, he was proud of his choice. Even if getting his hands on it had also been a different kind of struggle.

 

Chanyeol’s smile grew wider, a little more excited and Baekhyun laughed at him.

 

"But first, we have to wash up. And eat. I’m hungry."

 

"Then you can wash up while I prepare a few side dishes and then I’ll wash up and then we can eat ramyeon," Chanyeol declared, already standing up and pushing Baekhyun towards the hallway that would lead to the bathroom.

 

It didn’t take him too long to wash up. The water cascading down his body almost felt like an efficient massage and Baekhyun could’ve spent a whole hour in the shower but he knew Chanyeol probably felt as tired as him and yearned to trade places. He washed up as quickly as he could and when he got out, Chanyeol had already prepared a few side dishes to go along with the cup ramyeon on the table.

 

After telling Baekhyun that he could wait a bit to boil the water, he went to the bathroom and washed up too. There was a content grin on his face when he came back to Baekhyun pouring boiled water into the cups. His hair was too long, even longer now that it was damp. He was wearing Baekhyun’s favorite sweater again. It wasn’t really something appropriate to wear to sleep but Chanyeol seemed to be comfortable in it so Baekhyun never called him out on it.

 

They ate, making easy conversation, Chanyeol telling him about his students’ Christmas cards to him and his mother’s offer for Baekhyun to come over for dinner this weekend. He hadn’t gone back to Chanyeol’s parents’ house since the first time but it sounded appealing to him. He sometimes still thought about how content and at home he had felt in that cozy, welcoming family house. Moreover, seeing Toben jump around Chanyeol live rather than through videos was also something that he missed.

 

"We’re done eating," Chanyeol announced when Baekhyun was chewing on the last noodle a few minutes later.

 

He had already finished eating a while ago and had impatiently watched Baekhyun eat calmly while taking his time much more than necessary. There was something comely about watching Chanyeol fidget a little in his seat, fingers drumming randomly on the counter’s surface before gliding over it with as much delicacy as when they did it over a piano keyboard.

 

"We are," Baekhyun replied casually, nodding. Chanyeol’s smile widened.

 

"Then it’s presents time!" he called out excitedly, standing up and grabbing the empty cups along with the chopsticks right from Baekhyun’s hand to clean everything up in a matter of seconds.

 

"I’m starting to think you’ve been together with me all this time just for a Christmas gift," Baekhyun teased the other as Chanyeol grabbed his hand and pulled him to the bedroom.

 

"I’m excited about what you’re going to give me too but I just want to give you your gift first," the other explained, looking at him over his shoulder with a wide grin that made his eyes crinkle in the corner, affection drizzling into the lines.

 

"Is that why you locked me out of the bedroom for five whole minutes this morning just to find where to hide it?" Baekhyun asked, still a bit amused by what Chanyeol had done before leaving for the ski resort.

 

"What? It worked at least. You still haven’t found it," he huffed as they stepped into the bedroom. "On the other hand, I found my present. You just put it next to your sweaters," Chanyeol mumbled, shaking his head as if he was disappointed.

 

"I don’t need to hide it. I trust you."

 

"It’s just the Christmas spirit!"

 

Baekhyun shook his head, letting go of Chanyeol’s hand to open up his closet and take out the medium-sized box wrapped in red and golden paper. He turned to Chanyeol and quirked an eyebrow.

 

"Aren’t you getting the gift?"

 

"Nope." He eyed what Baekhyun was holding. "Just sit down and close your eyes."

 

"Why?" Baekhyun curiously asked as he stepped closer to him again.

 

"It’s for the gift," Chanyeol said before pressing on his shoulders to make him sit on the bed. "Close your eyes," he urged him.

 

He was really adorable. With his fluffy hair, Baekhyun’s favorite cozy sweater on, the sweatpants that weren’t long enough to cover his ankles, and his bare feet. Baekhyun felt an ebullient warmth fluttering in him. He put the box next to him, carefully, and then closed his eyes.

 

There was a few seconds of silence before the first strums of guitar caressed Baekhyun’s ears. It was accompanied by a deep, mellifluous voice humming to him and asking him to open his eyes. Baekhyun opened his eyes. It was Chanyeol’s voice, wreathing all around him like a crown of petals, enveloping him in the melody of a cajoling lullaby. 

 

His gaze dived into Chanyeol’s, into the two pools of overflowing affection and love. Baekhyun could sense it trickling onto him, drop by drop, pure, and so lucent he could almost feel every dewdrop dribble down his back. It was summery warm, aestiferous, in the melody, the voice, the emotion breezing through it all and tingling every corner of Baekhyun’s soul, every part of his figure.

 

Chanyeol wasn’t singing now, he wasn’t playing the guitar either. He stepped closer to Baekhyun and settled on the bed, next to him, phone held in one hand and his other one gripping a thin, square object covered in blue, sparkling paper. The song was playing from his home speakers, Chanyeol had probably connected it to his phone. Baekhyun recognized the song, he had heard it once, from another voice, a voice that hadn’t breathed comfort into him the same way Chanyeol’s was doing now. Little Star was the title, he remembered it despite not having a clue as to who the original singer was.

 

At the moment, that didn’t matter. At the moment, all Baekhyun could do was listen to the comforting words Chanyeol’s voice was crooning to him. He could only see the soft smile spread on his lips, the satiny gaze draped over Baekhyun, caressing his skin into shivers for the entire duration of the song. He could only hear Chanyeol promising him that he would watch over him all night. Confessing to him that he couldn’t take his eyes off him when he was fast-asleep in his arms. Coaxing him to just close his eyes because Baekhyun would dream and Chanyeol would forever watch over him.

 

The song fizzled down with a velvety hum and a few last silken notes. Baekhyun felt those last few melodious seconds permeate into his breath, linger in his throat, echo inside of him until his whole body felt too narrow and yet too broad to contain it all.

 

For a short while, Baekhyun couldn’t say anything. For a brief moment, he could only think about the fact that Chanyeol had recorded this song for him. The only thing he could feel was that overflowing emotion bubbling out of him. He didn’t know what it was. Maybe it was a blend of too many emotions for him to even decipher it. Chanyeol smiled at him, soft, as if he could sense how soft Baekhyun himself felt, and handed him what he had been holding until now. 

 

Baekhyun took it, his fingers slow and rushing, light and heavy, as he carefully tore the paper down. It was a CD case, on its front, written a bit messily on a baby blue colored paper were the words Melodies for Baekhyunnie’s Sleepless Nights. Baekhyun felt himself gulping something heavy down. He glanced at Chanyeol, losing himself amongst the astral gleams in his wide eyes for a second before opening the case and finding himself wandering amongst even more stars. They were drawn over the CD with a black marker, along with note keys, clouded around the same words written on the case.

 

"It’s all lullabies and calming songs," Chanyeol said. It almost sounded like he was still singing, with that same abloom voice. Baekhyun looked at him, took in the attentive eyes and the concern obvious in the way he was chewing on his lower lip. "What you just listened to was the first track, there’s twelve of them. I’m not singing in all of them, it’s just piano or guitar sometimes. The CD’s just to be kind of old fashioned," he chuckled sheepishly. "There’s also a file of it, I’ll send it to you later. I thought it would be nice for when you have nightmares."

 

"How do you know I have nightmares?" Baekhyun heard himself mutter. This was such a small gesture but the CD he was holding felt heavier than anything he had ever carried, filled with Chanyeol’s love, care, and affection.

 

Chanyeol shrugged.

 

"Sometimes, you move and mumble a lot in your sleep. It usually stops after I hum to you a little."

 

"I never noticed," Baekhyun breathed out. 

 

It wasn’t surprising for his nightmares to be noticeable to Chanyeol, not that much, but he had never even been aware that not only did Chanyeol wake up because of them but he also soothed Baekhyun in his sleep.

 

Chanyeol beamed, wiggling his eyebrows in that obnoxiously smug way he always did.

 

"I guess I’m a sneaky lullaby too."

 

And Baekhyun laughed. Hard, loud, suddenly, without any proper reason. He laughed and Chanyeol watched him, still grinning, gleaming so brightly even as Baekhyun’s voice broke a little and the laughter died down. This wasn’t a proper reaction. He didn’t know what was the proper reaction to give the other. This had never happened. 

 

Chanyeol was the only person to go out of their way and record twelve lullabies just so Baekhyun could sleep at night.

 

He didn’t know how he was supposed to thank the other. He didn’t know what he was supposed to say. He hadn’t imagined this would ever happen. He didn’t even know what exactly was happening. His chest felt stuffy, his throat felt clogged up. His mind was a swarm, thoughts whizzing through his head one after the other without ever stopping and giving Baekhyun the occasion to read them. 

 

He felt happy. That was the only emotion he managed to make out. That was the only emotion that nudged him to wrap his arms around Chanyeol and pull him into a hug.

 

He said nothing for a while, still unable to gather his thoughts, yet alone his words. He hooked his chin on Chanyeol’s shoulder and felt the other rest his head on his shoulder too, folding himself over Baekhyun, the same way he always did whenever he hugged someone he appreciated a lot. His hands rubbed Baekhyun’s back, as if he could somehow sense how much of a mess Baekhyun had been rendered to with a mere Christmas present. Maybe he could. Baekhyun wasn’t really in control of himself.

 

"Thank you," he whispered after a while, still hugging the other tightly, maybe a bit too tightly but he couldn’t help it. This was so foreign. Losing control of his entire being, his whole system crashing down and leaving him bare in this way. He should hate it. He didn’t. He just didn’t understand it. "This means so much," he continued, voice quivering with sincere throbs.

 

"I’m glad you like it," he heard Chanyeol say, voice muffled against Baekhyun’s sweater. "You can listen to these whenever I’m not here to make sure you’re okay."

 

"I love it," he said again before taking a deep breath and pulling away with reluctance. He loved Chanyeol’s hugs. "I’m going to listen to all of them as soon as possible. Maybe we can do it together later?" he asked just because he knew Chanyeol would add all kinds of comments about the song choice, the musicians they belonged to, and all those little passionate details.

 

Chanyeol nodded, his arms still wrapped around Baekhyun’s shoulders and the movement causing him to shake Baekhyun a little. Baekhyun smiled. He was alluring. So loving. He could feel it still fluttering through his entire body. The remnants of that odd bundle of emotions.

 

"But first, you have to give me my present," Chanyeol reminded him, curiously eyeing the box sitting next to Baekhyun on the bed.

 

Baekhyun chuckled. He had forgotten about it. He wondered if Chanyeol would laugh too when he realized that they had had similar ideas. 

 

He grabbed the box and handed it out to Chanyeol, watching in anticipation as his eyes lit up with excitement. The silver ribbon was easy to undo, he pulled one string of it and took it off the box only to carefully lay it on the bed, as if that in itself was part of Baekhyun’s gift to him. Endearment bubbled in him as Chanyeol slowly lifted the lid off the box, one of his eyes closed as if what he was about to see could burst to his face. As soon as he managed to catch a glimpse of what was inside, he gasped, eyes widening and the lid carelessly discarded somewhere on the bed.

 

"It’s really pretty," he breathed out in amazement.

 

Baekhyun laughed. Maybe some of his laughter remained trapped in his chest - he felt it bloat a little. 

 

"You don’t even know what it is yet," he said softly because Chanyeol looked so amazed, so absorbed into his scrutiny that Baekhyun didn’t want to startle him. He just wanted to watch him.

 

"It’s still pretty," he mumbled, biting on his lower lip and reaching inside the box to take its content out.

 

The small, egg-shaped object looked smaller than it was in Chanyeol’s broad, sturdy hands. He handled it with care, pushing the box away to rest the black egg on his lap. It was planted on a golden stand, four little silver beads stuck to the platform to ensure that it would stand properly once put on a flat surface. The platform stretched into four little curved branches that tied it to the smaller stand the egg was perched on. It was black, glistening as the light reflected on it but it was decorated with intricate swirls and curlicues all over the surface, golden and silver to match the stand.

 

Right in the centre of it, there were two rings, Chanyeol traced them in amazement with the tip of his fingers. They delimited the two halves of the egg-shaped box and indicated where it would open into two. Baekhyun followed Chanyeol’s finger with his gaze as he trailed it up to the top of the egg, where a golden ‘C’, a small crescent moon, was planted on a short spike.

 

"It’s really beautiful," Chanyeol repeated, fascination dripping from his voice, gleaming right into Baekhyun’s eyes. It wasn’t an unpleasant sight.

 

"Open it," Baekhyun softly urged him. As much as he could watch the bare emotions on Chanyeol’s features for as long as he wanted to, he still felt impatient to see the other’s reaction to the rest of it. "There’s a little lock between the two lines. You just have to press on the button to undo it and then you can open it."

 

Chanyeol followed the instructions, unlocking the egg with the utmost care, as if he was scared to break it. Baekhyun contained his laughter, his endearment, his joy, and watched as Chanyeol pulled the top half of the egg open to reveal a small, black, curled figure resting on a golden cushion crafted into the same glistening, sturdy material as the rest of the egg.

 

Chanyeol pulled the egg up closer to his face, eyes widening in disbelief as he seemed to realize something.

 

"Is that Toben?" he asked, voice a bit higher than usual, pulled up by the amazement in his eyes. 

 

"That’s him," Baekhyun hummed, looking at the tiny dog. It was carved into a material that didn’t let it look as fluffy as the real Toben did but Baekhyun was still glad Chanyeol had recognized the small black dog bundled into himself, peacefully sleeping. "Caress his head," he directed Chanyeol with a quiescent voice.

 

Once again, Chanyeol followed the direction without hesitation, reaching to pat the tiny figure’s tiny head with the very tip of his finger, careful, as loving as he was when caressing his real little ball of black fluff. The grin on his face parted a little in amazement when the dog reacted to his touch and the golden cushion promptly started turning in a slow rhythm, matching the first few piano notes that were diffused from a speaker hidden somewhere inside the mechanism.

 

The tune was familiar enough for Chanyeol to recognize it. His eyebrows raised a little, not in surprise, not in irritation, it was that expression again. The one he always had whenever something hit somewhere deep inside of him, wherever that was. The touched one that made him look so soft and made Baekhyun wish he could wrap that softness all around him and never take it off. Like his favorite sweater.

 

He looked at the tiny dog for a few seconds before looking at Baekhyun, smile wide but lips pressed together in a tight line, as if that smile could lead to something else and he wanted to keep it inside of him for the time being. A dimple was there, peeking at Baekhyun even as Chanyeol looked down at the music box again. Baekhyun remained silent, letting Chanyeol listen to the melody, the corner of his lips tugging his face up into a smile as Chanyeol let out a soft sound, a chuckle, maybe something that could sound like a sob had it not been for the grin still draped over his features. He brought the egg-shaped box up, closing his eyes and pressing his ear right against it for a few seconds, as if he wanted the sweet, sorrowful tune to fuse right into his mind and never stop playing.

 

It was only a few seconds left to the end of the song that he pulled the box down again and Baekhyun chewed on his lower lip. His cheeks hurt from smiling too much.

 

The last note glided over the otherwise silent room and then, Baekhyun heard his own voice sweetly spoken from the box.

 

"Merry Christmas, Chanyeol-ah."

 

This time, when Chanyeol looked up at him again, his eyes weren’t gleaming but glistening, happiness gathered there, on the brink of overflowing. 

 

Baekhyun smiled again, despite the pain in his cheeks. This hadn’t been the reaction he had expected. He thought Chanyeol would jump around in excitement, at most, not look at him in silence once the tiny Toben laying inside the egg stopped spinning. He was touched, emotional, just because of such a tiny thing and Baekhyun felt affection flourishing somewhere inside of him. Chanyeol could draw enormous happiness from the littlest things.

 

"You’re the one playing?" Chanyeol eventually asked after a short while spent looking at the box and sniffling a little to himself. He looked adorable. He was adorable. That was all Baekhyun could think about for a second before nodding, surprisingly not trusting himself to actually say anything. Chanyeol tilted his head a little, smile growing, still tight-lipped, still shining with emotion. "Why this song?"

 

"River Flows in You was the first song I heard from you. It’s the first video that started everything." He was still gripping on the CD case. He must’ve grabbed it again without even noticing. He smiled. "It was your first lullaby that helped me sleep."

 

Chanyeol laughed at that. Not a sound that carried amusement to Baekhyun’s ears, just a sweet note that spoke of disbelief, maybe delight. Maybe Chanyeol was feeling the exact same bundle of emotions that vibrated in Baekhyun’s chest ever since the very first note Chanyeol had dedicated to him. The first track of the airs he had compiled for Baekhyun’s sleepless, Chanyeol-less nights.

 

"We had similar ideas," Chanyeol mumbled, looking down at the egg that he carefully closed again, lips digging into his smile. He wondered if Chanyeol’s cheeks hurt too.

 

"We had," was Baekhyun’s only reply.

 

And maybe they really shared more than happiness, more than presents, more than unprepared emotions this Christmas. Maybe they shared the exact same thoughts as well because when Baekhyun finally felt that something in him overflowing and pushing him to carefully put the CD case on the floor, right next to the bed, Chanyeol sat the music box down on the nightstand.

 

The love glistening in Chanyeol’s eyes was the last thing Baekhyun saw before their lips pressed together and emotion was breathed into his mouth. 

 

Chanyeol’s lips were soft as always but the swirl of affection stirring Baekhyun’s stomach felt softer than anything else he had ever felt. Chanyeol loved him. 

 

Chanyeol loved him and Baekhyun could feel it in the way he fondly moved his lips against his, in the way his arms sneaked around Baekhyun’s neck to draw him closer until their chests were pressed together, as if he wanted to feel every single part of Baekhyun. He could feel it in his own chest, in the flames that Chanyeol was harvesting with every single kiss. In the safety, the comfort, and the affection that Chanyeol filled him with.

 

Baekhyun felt himself falling down when Chanyeol pulled him along as he shifted to lay down on the bed, not a single centimeter standing between their bodies, nothing breaking the streak of emotions Chanyeol was drawing on his skin with every caress of his fingertips against Baekhyun’s neck. He settled properly between the other’s parted legs, pressed his lips harder against Chanyeol’s, more yearningly as he kissed his lower lip, the shape of his cupid’s bow. 

 

Baekhyun could feel it. It was welling. He let it drip onto Chanyeol through a kiss to his cheek, right where his dimple was hidden, one to the tip of his nose that scrunched up adorably and pulled a chuckle out of him.

 

Their eyes met again. Chanyeol’s were glittering, smiling, whispering him words of love that Baekhyun could hear even though not a single sound escaped his beautiful mouth. He felt his whole body loosen up a little, liberated, unpleasant stains and lingering tension erased by trust and confiance. 

 

Chanyeol offered him an ocean of love. Baekhyun wanted to nosedive into that love. It seemed endless, safe, abounding enough for it to never dry down.

 

Chanyeol was the one to pull him closer again for another kiss, his fingers painless but sturdy in Baekhyun’s hair. Baekhyun felt himself melt into the kiss, felt Chanyeol collecting him by nibbling on his lower lip, harsh and careful, tender and eager as a velvety tongue swiped over Baekhyun’s lip to take the sting away. Baekhyun brought a hand up to cradle Chanyeol’s cheek, thumb tracing over the highest point of it, tongue drawn into the other’s mouth. He felt Chanyeol exhale softly through his nose, his breath breezing against Baekhyun’s cheek. 

 

Baekhyun untangled his lips from the other’s, pressed them against his cheek instead, traced over his jaw, and cascaded down the length of his neck, leaving kisses behind to anchor himself in case he would get lost in the density of the love palpable on every single patch of skin Chanyeol’s body offered to him. His neck was warm, Baekhyun drunk it all in, kissing, sucking tenderly, not enough to leave a mark on skin but enough to leave his own mouth tingling a little. He felt a hand sliding under his shirt, on his waist, fingers holding onto him, felicitous, loving. Baekhyun let his lips tickle Chanyeol’s ear with frisky kisses, composing a titter by kissing his lobe, making his shoulders quiver a little and draw into themselves as if he wanted to escape it but had no real will to at the same time.

 

It was a smile that Baekhyun pressed against the bump right in the center of Chanyeol’s neck, it was a heavy breath that Chanyeol exhaled as his fingers ascended Baekhyun’s back under his sweater, twirling around every single bump under his skin. Baekhyun felt fire soaring under Chanyeol’s fingers, the flames that he had planted there himself, watered with a few drops from that ocean of love that Baekhyun had been soaking himself in for what felt like forever. He still couldn’t explain it to himself. The way Chanyeol’s feelings for him felt greater than anything else Baekhyun had ever experienced.

 

He pulled away, brought his face closer to Chanyeol’s again. It was a smile that welcomed him. A serene, amorous one. He was handsome. Chanyeol was beautiful as he laid on Baekhyun’s bed, head comfortably nestled against the pillow, hair a bit of a mess but falling artistically over his forehead, grazing his eyelashes as he looked up at Baekhyun, waiting, maybe curious. The tip of his ears were red. Baekhyun felt something in him cooing, swooning silently, melting away. He was adorable. How could someone be so adorable? He was Baekhyun’s. He loved Baekhyun.

 

Chanyeol was the one to raise his head off the pillow a little to catch Baekhyun’s lips into another kiss, pulling him along as he laid back down again. Baekhyun’s fingers trailed down his cheek, traced the edge of his jaw, a fingertip pressed under Chanyeol’s lower lip, right under where their lips were locked together. It didn’t linger for long, continuing its path down the side of Chanyeol’s neck, taking its time, as if Baekhyun was an amazed explorer walking through an undiscovered garden full of colors, textures, and meanings. 

 

Soon, he was at the gates of Chanyeol’s collarbones. He pulled away a little, their lips remaining close enough for Baekhyun to breath in every single puff of air leaving Chanyeol’s mouth. His hand slid down, down under the collar of Chanyeol’s sweater, of Baekhyun’s favorite sweater, tugging the fabric down a little, a question in his eyes. Chanyeol’s smile was the key that allowed Baekhyun to unlock the gates. 

 

His fingers ascended to the hem of his sweater and pulled up again. He took Chanyeol’s sweater off, pulling up as the other untangled his hands and arms from Baekhyun’s hair and shoulders to raise them up above his head instead. The collar of the sweater got stuck on his ears for a second and Baekhyun laughed as he pulled a bit harder and managed to take it off, laughter growing when Chanyeol blinked a few times once he was freed from the piece of clothing, hair even messier than before. He let out a small whine when he realized that Baekhyun was laughing at him but soon joined along.

 

Baekhyun pressed another kiss against his lips, then a few sincere words.

 

"You’re adorable," he whispered.

 

"Adore me then," Chanyeol replied, mischievously wiggling his eyebrows.

 

Baekhyun shook his head fondly and dived down to press a kiss right between Chanyeol’s collarbones, his mouth fitting perfectly.

 

Chanyeol’s skin was soft under his lips, it felt like kissing a drop of water, letting it suffuse into him and quench a thirst he had been victim of for so long. It was smooth, almost like silk as Baekhyun kissed his chest, carefully, heartily. Baekhyun never once parted his lips from Chanyeol’s skin, enjoying the texture, the taste. Cotton candy. Chanyeol’s skin tasted and smelled sweet, a remnant of the shower gel he used. The one he had bought specifically to leave it in Baekhyun’s bathroom, the eye catching pink and purple packaging disturbing the row of white products Baekhyun used. Baekhyun never removed it.

 

His fingers tangled in Baekhyun’s hair, grazing the tip of his ear, his nape, then the tip of his ear again, tugging on it a little when Baekhyun took the little pink bud of his nipple into his mouth, sucking on it. He heard Chanyeol’s breath hitching, his fingers tugging on Baekhyun’s hair, his chest heaving the slightest bit, a sign of pleasure more than exertion. 

 

Baekhyun pulled away when he felt Chanyeol tugging on his shirt, letting go of the small, now puffy nipple with a last, gentle tug of his teeth and looking up at him. It didn’t take him long to understand what Chanyeol was asking for and with a smile, Baekhyun took his own sweater off, discarding it somewhere on the floor. Chanyeol’s gaze was heated as he trailed it over his body and Baekhyun basked in it, letting Chanyeol look at him him as much as he wanted to, his hand resting on Chanyeol’s thigh, thumb caressing his clothed skin.

 

Then, Chanyeol grabbed his hands and tugged him forward, making Baekhyun stumble down on him a little, their chest crashing together, their laughter mixing in between them, their skin grazing, the contact sending sparkles down Baekhyun’s spine. It was warm. And soft. Everything about Chanyeol was warm and soft and Baekhyun felt something in him puffing up with the breath that he stole away from Chanyeol with another kiss. 

 

This time, Chanyeol’s fingers slid up his arms, slowly, as if he was enjoying the fiber of Baekhyun’s skin, the muscles tensing up unconsciously under his touch. He pressed Baekhyun closer to him when Baekhyun deepened the kiss, slipping his tongue in the heat of Chanyeol’s mouth.

 

His hands slid down Baekhyun’s back, parted ways and held onto his waist, a hand remaining there while the other traveled around a bit until a thumb and the hill of a palm could press against Baekhyun’s abdomen. It had been a long time since he had last gone to the gym, the muscles were faint, almost on the verge of fading out. There was no visible lineation on his abdomen anymore but Baekhyun still felt Chanyeol groaning into his mouth as he traced the faint hardness on his abdomen. He didn’t consider himself in his prime condition but Chanyeol seemed to be enjoying him so much as he was.

 

Baekhyun felt the first sparks of arousal coming to life under Chanyeol’s touch and he dragged his lips away from the other’s, taking on the same path as earlier down towards Chanyeol’s chest, sucking, nibbling, and kissing. Chanyeol’s hands fell away from his body as Baekhyun lowered himself down along Chanyeol’s. It was even less muscled than Baekhyun’s body - only his arms bigger from playing drums. His stomach was rather flat under Baekhyun’s lips, the very faint pudge being the only shape Baekhyun could see, gathered in a little hill around his belly button. He scattered open-mouthed kisses around his navel, a sensitive part of his body judging but the way he could feel him contracting under the kisses. 

 

Chanyeol’s fingers found their way in his hair again and suddenly, Baekhyun felt an untamable urge. He pressed his lips better against Chanyeol’s tummy and without any warning, blew a raspberry into his skin. Instantly, Chanyeol squirmed under him and let out a cute, high pitched laugh, tugging on his hair to pull him away.

 

"What are you doing?" he slurred when Baekhyun looked up at him. His eyes were smiling at Baekhyun, sparkling, as if someone had locked glitter in those two precious gemstones. His cheeks were flushed, glowing.

 

"Cute," was the only thing Baekhyun said, leaning down again to mutter those words against Chanyeol’s tummy. Baekhyun didn’t know why he suddenly seemed so much more lovesome than usual. He didn’t know how that was even possible. 

 

Chanyeol beamed at him, teeth sunk into his lower lip, affection flowing from his eyes right into Baekhyun. It felt heavy, enough for him to tilt his head down and press his lips against his navel again. He liked that laugh. Hearing it felt nice and only fueled the arousal. It was a new sensation. Baekhyun didn’t feel devoured by the heat and the urge to touch and be touched. He only felt the deep desire to hear, see, and make Chanyeol feel pleasured. As if that alone would be enough for Baekhyun to feel good, to feel loved, to feel pleasured.

 

Chanyeol didn’t seem unaffected by it all. Baekhyun’s hand grazed his cock  when he brought it up to hook his fingers on the hem of his sweatpants. Not yet tugging them down, he simply pressed more kisses, decorating Chanyeol’s hipbone with them and then moving down to the slope between his hip bone and his tummy, dragging his lower lip against the skin. He felt muscles contract under his ministrations and Chanyeol’s hips bucked up a little. Baekhyun smiled, looking up to meet the other’s eyes and pressing another kiss on that same patch of skin, tugging it with his teeth a little afterwards and watching as Chanyeol’s lips parted, his fingers tightening their hold on a few strands of Baekhyun’s hair.

 

Baekhyun played with that erogenous patch of skin, tracing out its barriers by mapping where exactly he had to press his lips for Chanyeol’s body to contract. It arched up when he slid a little to the right but relaxed again when he slid a bit too much to the right. He let out tiny sounds of pleasure, sweet to Baekhyun’s ears, as low as his singing voice but not as deep as his talking voice. 

 

After a while, Baekhyun felt Chanyeol’s hands locking around his arms before he was pulled up, way too easily. In a split second, Chanyeol exchanged their position, Baekhyun laying on his back while the other pressed his body down between his parted legs. Heat jolted through Baekhyun’s body when their crotch grazed together but his sound of pleasure was muffled by Chanyeol’s lips, the kiss losing its delicacy now, sloppier, his lower lip sucked into Chanyeol’s mouth. There was a little more urgency in their liplock. Baekhyun tilted his head, allowing Chanyeol to deepen the kiss, their lips moving together in an organized mess, their tastes blending in each other’s mouth.

 

Baekhyun felt dainty fingers grazing a nipple, circling over it. He let out a deep breath through his nose and it seemed to tickle Chanyeol’s cheek because he felt his lips stretching into a smile and he pulled away just before their teeth could clank together.

 

"Let’s not be unfair," Chanyeol whispered, against his chin, where he pressed a kiss.

 

Baekhyun quirked an eyebrow, before the expression morphed into one of ease and content when he felt Chanyeol’s puffy lower lip drag against the skin of his neck, right where he knew branches were inked into his body. Baekhyun parted his legs a little, to allow the other to settle down against him properly, moaning a little when he felt Chanyeol’s arousal rubbing against his. He felt his own better now that he wasn’t too busy kissing Chanyeol’s soft body, taking in his delectable reactions, the steamy sounds escaping his lips.

 

Baekhyun smiled when Chanyeol nestled kisses between the branches on his tattoo, his lips pressing against plum blossoms, fitting perfectly. But Baekhyun felt like Chanyeol was the one breathing life into him. And love. And affection.

 

His mind then clouded, mist gathering there when Chanyeol bucked his hips up a little against Baekhyun’s, rubbing their erections together though the layers of clothes. Baekhyun felt the heat even through the fabric. He tilted his head back and closed his eyes when Chanyeol nibbled on his collarbones. He held onto the other’s waist, feeling every single drag of his body against his, every single spark of pleasure gradually growing the more Chanyeol rolled his hips against his. 

 

Through the clouds of pleasure in his mind, Baekhyun discerned the need to touch the other, to feel the smooth texture of his skin again. Obeying to it, he slid one hand up Chanyeol’s back, hooking it on his shoulder, holding onto him to assure he wouldn’t stop grinding against him and take the amplifying pleasure away. His other hand glided down Chanyeol’s waist, fingers sneaking under the hem of his sweatpants, palm pressing against a bare asscheek, fingers digging into the flesh, pulling closer, just so he could feel Chanyeol pressed against him harder.

 

Chanyeol pulled away from the crook of his neck, where his teeth had been playing with Baekhyun’s skin for a while, and brought his face closer to Baekhyun’s. A low whimper escaped his lips, Baekhyun felt it tickle his own mouth as he looked into his eyes, exertion distributing Chanyeol’s breath on his skin unevenly. His eyes were hooded, lids pulled down by pleasure but not enough to hide the fluttering heat in his orbs. Chanyeol always looked at Baekhyun like this. Soft. That was the only word Baekhyun could think of right now, when his mind was clouded with pleasure and the handsome shape of Chanyeol’s features. 

 

He kneaded the skin he was holding in his palm, fingers digging and then sliding a bit to the side as Chanyeol was still grinding against him. The movement made Baekhyun pull his asscheeks a bit apart, a single finger venturing down, grazing his entrance. Chanyeol’s hips bucked against his once, the gesture uncontrolled. When he gained his previous rhythm again, hips rotating against Baekhyun’s, rubbing, seeking friction and faint pleasure, his teeth sunk into his swollen lower lip. The cherry of his skin contrasted with the white of his teeth. 

 

He brought his other hand down and slipped it inside Chanyeol’s sweatpants too, giving the same attention to Chanyeol’s other asscheek. He only had to raise his head the tiniest bit to free Chanyeol’s lip from the hold of his teeth and sink his own into the flesh instead. His hands slipped down, tugging the back of the sweatpants down, Chanyeol’s underwear following along as he bared Chanyeol’s ass, making it easier for himself to knead the flesh without the constraints of clothes. He felt Chanyeol shiver against him.

 

Without any warning, Baekhyun reversed their position. Although, with a bit more difficulty since Chanyeol was taller and heavier than he was. He had the nerve to laugh as he watched Baekhyun struggle for a bit. Once Chanyeol was on his back and Baekhyun was nestled between his long legs, he pinched a nipple as some kind or revenge, pulling a whine out of Chanyeol. He raised himself off the other a little bit, intending to give him a smug look but somehow, his hand slipped and he crashed down against Chanyeol, his lips bumping against his chin and their crotches colliding. Baekhyun felt pleasure at the friction but it was laughter that escaped his mouth, Chanyeol’s deeper laugh not drowning his but emulsifying together to perfection.

 

This was unfamiliar. This almost didn’t feel like having sex, making out, or a prelude. This felt comfortable. As if this wouldn’t be their first time but their hundredth. Yet, Baekhyun had never explored Chanyeol’s body so much, discovering moles scattered across his skin, the shape of his hips, the taste and texture of his skin, and the various sounds the other let out depending on where Baekhyun pressed his lips or his fingers. He had never been so comfortable, so peaceful, so free in this position.

 

"I don’t think you’re supposed to kill me while trying to have sex with me," Chanyeol said, voice bubbling with the remnants of his laughter.

 

"I think you’re the one trying to kill me with your cuteness," Baekhyun retorted, already grinning at the reaction he knew Chanyeol would give him.

 

As expected, he groaned and Baekhyun kissed him before he could say anything. Chanyeol seemed to try mumbling a few things, probably complaining about the cheesiness but Baekhyun simply deepened the kiss, smiling against his lips. This time, his hand reached for the bedside table and he blindly pulled the drawer open, fumbling for lube and a condom. It would be easier to break the kiss and look for it but Chanyeol’s kisses had always been addictive. It was hard to sometimes stop himself from kissing the other and this was one of those times. 

 

Chanyeol didn’t seem to mind, merrily kissing Baekhyun, pressing his lips against the corner of Baekhyun’s, and then right above his upper lip, where Baekhyun knew a small mole was doted on his skin. When Baekhyun found what he was looking for and pulled away, Chanyeol was smiling at him. The goofy kind of smile, glistening with happiness, rosy with content, lively petals basking in sunlight. Baekhyun took a deep breath in, gaze constantly shifting from Chanyeol’s eyes to his lips. Both were equally mesmerizing. He didn’t know what to focus on.

 

Ultimately, he decided to focus on pleasuring Chanyeol. He pulled away, sitting between the other’s legs and looking down at his crotch, fingers dumping the lube and condom on the bed. His pants were tugged low, hooked right at the beginning of the swell of his erection since the backside was still tugged down under his ass. He looked comfortable, patient as he laid there, watching Baekhyun with half-lidded eyes, arms folded over his tummy, the corners of his lips tugged into a faint smile.

 

Baekhyun returned the smile and grabbed the waistband of both his sweatpants and underwear to take them off. The fabric slid over Chanyeol’s thighs with ease but his legs were too long and to make it easier for Baekhyun, he raised them a bit. Baekhyun struggled to take them off, stretching his arms when Chanyeol raised his legs straight up. He couldn’t reach his feet and Chanyeol, with a smug look on his face, had to fold his legs against his chest for Baekhyun to take them off.

 

"Your legs are already so long, why are you making it more difficult for me?" he scolded the other once he finally managed to take the clothes off and drop them on the floor, laughter in his voice.

 

Chanyeol quirked an eyebrow, mirth swirling in his eyes. "It’s not my fault if you suck—" he started but the last of his words was lost in a surprised moan when, without letting him finish his sentence and win the banter, Baekhyun leaned down to press his lips against the crown of his cock.

 

It was flushed, rosier than the rest of the skin, and tasted a bit sweeter than the rest as well. Or maybe that was because the pleasured tune leaving Chanyeol’s mouth sounded sweeter, more sugary rich than anything else. His cock was curved against Chanyeol’s pelvis and Baekhyun pressed open mouthed kisses down the underside, one of Chanyeol’s hands holding onto his shoulder, his fingers digging into it. 

 

He didn’t do much, however, pulling away after one last kiss to the base of his cock, where the skin started wrinkling a little and fading into his sack. He licked his lower lip, the bitter taste of precome spreading into his mouth as he grabbed the lube and uncapped the little bottle to coat his fingers with the translucent, gooey product. Then, he tapped Chanyeol’s thigh to silently ask him to fold his legs a little. Chanyeol parted his legs, bending them on the knee to make it easier for Baekhyun to reach his hole.

 

The first thing that Baekhyun noticed was the tiny mole on the patch of skin linking Chanyeol’s asscheek to his left thigh. His skin was still just a shade darker than Baekhyun’s but he had lost the tan that had darkened it back in August. With that came the realization of how long Chanyeol had been in Baekhyun’s life. He bit on his lower lip. It made him feel weird. He chose to focus on the pink of Chanyeol’s entrance and carefully, he brought a single finger to graze against it. Chanyeol made no sound but Baekhyun caught him tensing up a little bit. He looked at his face - his were eyes focused on Baekhyun’s hand, an obvious sign of lust rather than discomfort. 

 

He circled his entrance with his finger, his other hand holding onto his thigh, thumb soothingly caressing his skin in the same pace as he spread lube over before slowly, carefully pushing the finger in. He wasn’t sure whether this was Chanyeol’s first time or not, it didn’t really matter, Baekhyun still wanted to be careful. The ring of muscle gave way pretty easily and once the tip of his finger breached in, it was easier to push more into the layers and layers of warmth. He glanced at Chanyeol’s face for any sign of discomfort and focused back on his own finger when he found none. Baekhyun felt his stomach twisting in anticipation at the thought of feeling the fleshy warmth wrapped around his cock, cradling his arousal and cajoling it.

 

He slowly thrusted his finger in and out, watching the slight, negligible pull of the pinkish skin against his finger, smooth and pretty. When he pushed a second finger in, it was a bit more difficult to rock them into Chanyeol but a few seconds of attention and care was all it took for his walls to give way a little, adjusting to the size of Baekhyun’s fingers. Chanyeol’s chest was heaving a little, his teeth sinking into his lower lip, tongue sometimes slipping out to wet it before his teeth took over again. He looked impatient but calm and Baekhyun was reassured that it didn’t feel too painful. To make sure to prepare the other properly, he crooked his fingers a little, working on loosening his walls.

 

His other hand felt left out so Baekhyun brought it up and wrapped his thumb and index finger in a ring right at the base of Chanyeol’s cock. His hips twitched a little, his lips parting in a loud gasp. His hair had been damp from the shower earlier but now it looked even damper against his forehead, curtaining his eyes. Baekhyun wrapped the rest of his fingers around his cock and stroked them up until only the red tip of Chanyeol’s cock peaked out of his hand,. His skin was hot in Baekhyun’s palm and his hand was just a little cooler when it wrapped around Baekhyun’s wrist and tugged down, guiding Baekhyun’s hand to stroke him at the exact same pace as his fingers thrusted in and out of him. It was as accurate as when they played piano together, Baekhyun started the song and Chanyeol followed along, not a single note out of place or delayed.

 

By the time Chanyeol felt looser around his fingers, Baekhyun felt a little swell grazing his fingertips and he spent a few seconds just massaging it, stimulating the bundle of nerves until Chanyeol’s back arched off the bed and his nails dug into Baekhyun’s wrist. His neck was flushed, his eyes closed, lashes fanning over his skin. Translucent beads crowned the slit of his cock, sliding down and spreading over Baekhyun’s hand. He was beautiful. His voice, when pleasured, sounded hoarser, but soothing as the lullaby he had sang to Baekhyun earlier. 

 

The thought made something flourish in Baekhyun’s stomach. The thin sheen of sweat coating Chanyeol’s carved collarbones and his chest only made the thought light up more vividly in his head. As if Chanyeol himself nourished it, watered it. He was beautiful, lost in pleasure, his walls tightening around Baekhyun’s fingers once in a while. He had wrapped his long legs around Baekhyun’s waist at some point, pulling him closer. He wasn’t guiding the pace of his strokes anymore, Baekhyun had taken over and stopped a short while later, letting go of Chanyeol’s cock, painfully aware of how left out his own felt in his pants. He slowly pulled his fingers out of him, with a faint squelch, and caressed the clenching ring of muscles with his wet fingers, soothing it.

 

Chanyeol opened his eyes and met Baekhyun’s, a smile spread on his lips. Baekhyun himself returned it before he pulled away from the hold Chanyeol’s legs had on him and moved to finally take the rest of his clothes off. Chanyeol observed him, Baekhyun noticed his chest puffing up once with a deep intake of breath as his gaze dropped to Baekhyun’s cock. Satisfaction spread through him but Baekhyun didn’t linger on it too long, slowly growing impatient. He missed the sweet moans of pleasure Chanyeol let out so delightfully.

 

He grabbed the square pack of the condom and ripped it open, careful as to not damage it. He bit onto his lower lip while rolling it onto his cock and squirted lube on his palm afterwards to coat his length with the product. That simple gesture brought a huge wave of relief and pleasure through him. Baekhyun only then realized that he had put himself at the second plan just to focus on Chanyeol’s own pleasure. 

 

Once done, he grabbed onto Chanyeol’s hips and intended to pull him closer but his eyes caught sight of the mole on the underside of his thigh again and suddenly, Baekhyun was filled with an urge that he didn’t ignore. Leaning down, he pressed a kiss right against the tiny island lost on the ocean of Chanyeol’s skin.

 

"You have a mole here," he mumbled against his thigh before straightening up again yet melting at the grin Chanyeol offered him.

 

"You have one right here too," Chanyeol said, stretching his hand out and grazing the patch of skin right next to Baekhyun’s cock.

 

Baekhyun smiled, teasing.

 

"I guess you looked at me long and well."

 

Chanyeol didn’t say anything, mirroring his smile.

 

Baekhyun pulled him closer by the waist, keeping a hand there while the other wrapped around his cock and he guided it against Chanyeol’s entrance. He heard the other’s breath hitching when the lubed tip of his cock pressed against his entrance. He felt heat spreading to his stomach, his chest, his fingertips as he glanced at Chanyeol one last time before carefully pushing in. 

 

Despite the preparation, he  didn’t give too easily. Baekhyun made sure to be attentive as he pushed in, inhaling deeply as he felt the velvety layers of warmth wrapping around his cock, tight, tender, and incredibly wet and smooth. Chanyeol’s lips fell open, not a sound leaving him but his eyes hooding, his features tensing up and relaxing at the same time, both pleasure and discomfort battling over him. Baekhyun buried himself in up to the hilt and took a short moment to let Chanyeol adjust despite the lack of pain in his eyes.

 

It was febrile. Velvety. Baekhyun felt suffocated and cocooned into a comforting blanket at the same time. He could almost feel every fiber of flesh around his skin, the irregular texture, smoother yet harsher than Chanyeol’s skin under his thumb as he caressed his hip. He let his thumb slide down a little, to the skin right next to his hipbone, that spot he knew would make pleasure shoot through Chanyeol’s body. It did, Baekhyun felt his walls clenching around him once, if that was even possible, before slackening a little again. Baekhyun smiled at him. Seeing Chanyeol like this just made him happy. The red tip of his ears, the flush on his chest and neck, the affection fluttering in his eyes. 

 

Slowly, Baekhyun started moving, grinding against him more than thrusting, rotating his hips a little and pulling back only to push in again. Chanyeol’s hand wrapped around his wrist again, tight, as if he needed to hold onto Baekhyun to anchor himself. Then, Baekhyun started widening his thrusts, pulling almost all the way out only to slide in again, almost agonizing over how slow this was but feeling no real will or urge to quicken the pace. He could feel every single centimeter of his flesh dragging against his cock and pleasure rippling through him, in small waves that gradually expanded through his whole body.

 

Chanyeol seemed to be sharing the pleasure, his grip tight on Baekhyun’s wrist, his breathing pattern irregular, loud, and his chest heaving. His eyes were closed at first and Baekhyun closed his too, just to feel the pressure surrounding his cock a little better, his hips slow but never irregular or careless as they thrusted into Chanyeol. His own hands were gripping the other’s waist. The cloudy warmth Chanyeol’s body confined him in felt a little looser and yet even tighter at the same time, a delectable sensation Baekhyun could easily grow addicted to. The way Chanyeol was looking at him though, that he would never get accustomed to.

 

He stopped moving, the halt causing Chanyeol to let his eyes flutter open delicately and immediately suck Baekhyun into the tender emotions he was sure he could feel in his own body - the affection,  the bareness, and the satisfaction. Of being here, now, with Chanyeol. With Chanyeol.

 

 Leaning closer to him, Baekhyun supported himself on his elbows, on each side of Chanyeol’s head, the movement causing him to shift a bit and bury himself deeper into Chanyeol, deeper into lust and arousal and pleasure and the incredible amount of love waiting for Baekhyun right inside his dark eyes.

 

He resumed his thrusts, still slow, still careful, but not weak, letting the both of them feel every drag of flesh, every peak of pleasure, every clench, and every dig into more delight. Their lips grazed together - Baekhyun breathed Chanyeol in. He breathed the affection, the air, the fervor with which Chanyeol let him know he cherished Baekhyun, through nothing but his eyes. Strong arms wrapped around him. Baekhyun pressed a kiss against Chanyeol’s moan. Short kisses, because he adored kissing Chanyeol but neither of them were clearheaded enough for a proper kiss, for anything more than tender pecks, on a plump lower lip, a mole above an upper lip, a corner, a chin, a jaw, the ripe apple of Chanyeol’s cheek, and the hoarse chuckle escaping Baekhyun.

 

Baekhyun traced a finger over Chanyeol’s ear, the whole shape of it, widening his eyes as a way to let the other know he thought his ears were wide. Chanyeol abruptly clenched around Baekhyun’s cock, on purpose, as some kind of revenge for teasing him about his ears. He huffed a laugh out when Baekhyun, surprised but not displeased, snapped his hips forward and broke the regular pace he had set.

 

He heard it again, amidst the faint slap of skin against skin, underneath the dulcet moans embracing his ears. The sound he’d been hearing, feeling in his head, in his fingertips, so often when he looked at Chanyeol lately. At random moments. With seemingly no particular provenance. An unfamiliar rhythm. Forgotten when Chanyeol called his name in a peak of pleasure, each sound huffed out of his mouth growing louder and then falling completely silent, his body tensing up as his lips remained parted but no sound left him for a moment. 

 

Baekhyun felt heat devouring him. Chanyeol’s legs slipped down a bit from where he had them wrapped around Baekhyun’s waist, his features twisted by the delirium of his nearing orgasm. He  tightened around him, tight but not tight enough until Baekhyun wrapped his damp hand around Chanyeol’s cock and stroked him. The pace didn’t match the one of his thrusts but it seemed to be enough for Chanyeol to arch his back beautifully, his hips bucking up the slightest bit as he squeezed around Baekhyun, trapping him in pleasure. 

 

Baekhyun threw his head back, felt Chanyeol clamping around his cock delightfully, felt the searing drops of come smearing under his hand as he continued stroking him through breathy moans that finally billowed out of his mouth. Chanyeol’s body quivering as he came was a wonderful sight, the arch of his back, the way his abdomen clenched, hipbones protruding a bit, artfully sculpted by the pleasure quaking through him. Bliss soon diffused through Baekhyun’s veins, blazing through him like wildfire.

 

His hips twitched against Chanyeol. He thrusted into the other’s sensitive body, feeling him clench and unclench around his cock, each fiber of skin now so delectably clear against Baekhyun’s own, even through the condom. It only took a few thrusts for Baekhyun to feel heat curling in his stomach, twirling and hugging him from inside as his hips slammed against Chanyeol’s, breath escaping him in a long moan, Chanyeol’s own now weak whimpers echoing in his head. It anchored his mind, prevented bliss from slipping it away from his fingers and for a fleeting moment, Baekhyun felt himself going idle.

 

When he opened his eyes again, his whole body was tingling with the vestige of his climax. When his mind stopped spinning, he noticed that Chanyeol was looking at him, breathless, flushed, hair a mess but gaze soft, content, driblets of pleasure glittering in his dilated pupils. He was still twitching a little around Baekhyun. He started pulling out, not because he was tired of the heat, he would never be, but because he didn’t want them to feel any discomfort or pain from oversensitivity. When Baekhyun completely slipped out of Chanyeol, he heard a groan, not of pleasure. He looked up at Chanyeol again, dragging his gaze away from his twitching, reddened entrance, and saw the discontented frown pulling his eyebrows down.

 

Chanyeol seemed to realize what he had just let out and he bit on his lower lip, widening his eyes as if he was surprised himself of his reaction to Baekhyun leaving him empty. Baekhyun grinned, pleased, so full with the other’s love and affection that it suddenly gushed out through the first note of a chuckle. When Chanyeol mirrored that note to perfection, it soon grew into boisterous, uncontrollable laughter and Baekhyun was laughing so hard, so unexpectedly, so happily, that Chanyeol had to be the one to take the condom off him and tie it before dumping it on the bedside table to throw out later.

 

Baekhyun was still chuckling a little by the time Chanyeol pushed him to lay on his back and then snuggled up to him, nuzzling his nose against the crook of his neck. Baekhyun took a deep breath in. He wrapped his arm around the other’s shoulders, pulling him closer. Chanyeol draped an arm over his still slightly heaving chest. He was warm. It wasn’t enough. Baekhyun grabbed one of Chanyeol’s thighs and brought his leg closer, draping it over his hips, Chanyeol’s thigh grazing his softening cock. His chest was pressed against Baekhyun’s side now. He was so warm. Baekhyun closed his eyes for a short while, content.

 

Feeling the other’s gaze on him, he opened his eyes again and looked down, meeting his eyes, letting them light genuine affection over him. After a few seconds of silence, Chanyeol reached up, puckering his lips a little, and Baekhyun leaned down to meet him halfway for a tender, enlivening kiss. Playful, the hand that wasn’t holding onto Chanyeol’s shoulder reached to grab onto an asscheek, resulting in Chanyeol moaning softly into the kiss. Baekhyun let his fingers venture to the side, kneading the flesh, parting it a bit from its twin until a finger could find Chanyeol’s entrance again. Chanyeol parted from the kiss, breath honed against Baekhyun’s lips as he traced over the still sensitive hole that twitched under his touch.

 

"Looks like you’re missing me already," Baekhyun said, voice a bit scratchy from pleasure, from moaning, maybe from something else he couldn’t identity.

 

Chanyeol quirked an eyebrow, just as playful, as he dug his fingers into Baekhyun’s waist, enough for it to sting a little.

 

"Isn’t that just you thinking so because you’re the one already missing me?" he hummed, singsonged.

 

Baekhyun couldn’t help but kiss him again.

 

That night, Baekhyun soaked himself in Chanyeol’s warmth once more as sweet lullabies and a loving voice harmonized in the background. 

 

By the end of the twelve tracks, Baekhyun felt so full of warmth, it was hard to imagine himself ever sensing even the coldest of breezes fuming against his skin.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Baekhyun stepped into the new year with Chanyeol’s lips pressed against his.

 

Maybe because he started the year with a pleasant kiss, the rest of January was nothing but pleasant. Chanyeol was with him through most of it, through messages, long phone calls, snuggles on Baekhyun’s couch, naps on Chanyeol’s bed, and kisses whenever either of them wanted.

 

Christmas pulled them closer than before. Chanyeol loved him. He had still not pronounced those words out loud but Baekhyun didn’t need to hear it to know. Looking into Chanyeol’s eyes was enough for him to see exactly what kind of emotions the other wanted to wrap Baekhyun in through his gaze alone.

 

He felt farther from his family than ever. He had not gotten a single news of his father and not a single call from his brother for months, not even through the new year. He didn’t mind. He felt closer to happiness and fuller with love than ever.

 

Nightmares still haunted his nights but Chanyeol was often there to hold him through it, even when Baekhyun wasn’t conscious of it. When Chanyeol wasn’t there to embrace him, it was his voice and the musical notes of his love for Baekhyun that were there to lull him back to peaceful slumber. The playlist Chanyeol had sent him was his most played one yet.

 

He felt better than ever, like a plum blossom finally looking up to the melting snow and the lively spring beam.

 

He was so used to feeling like an artist plucking flowers from life and stealing their beauty for himself but now, he felt just like a flower, maybe a bouquet, and Chanyeol was always right beside him, like a pretty bow enhancing flowers’ loveliness. 

 

Sometimes, Baekhyun wondered why. Most of the time, he couldn’t understand why. Eventually, he told himself that it was nothing unusual, nothing out of the ordinary. He had crafted this for himself. He was only harvesting the same crops that he had fed on time and time again through his whole life.

 

In retrospect, he should’ve known that even the first few steps spring took were over still iced ground.

 

It wasn’t spring yet. Snow hadn’t melted. Flowers hadn’t bloomed.

 

January wasn’t March.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Baekhyun’s cheeks often hurt whenever Chanyeol came over to spend the night in his apartment.

 

Most of the time, they liked watching movies together and Chanyeol was the kind to get easily distracted, focusing on snacks more than cinematography, and had a comment to make about almost every single line said by the actors. Baekhyun could’ve been annoyed, he should have been annoyed but Chanyeol’s comments made the movies more enjoyable and made Baekhyun laugh hard enough for it not to ever bother him.

 

The only inconvenience was Chanyeol’s tendency to make Baekhyun wash the dishes manually rather than letting him dump everything in the dishwasher and then laze around some more on his couch. It was a waste of water, according to him, and Baekhyun couldn’t even argue since he had the habit of letting the machine run even for four plates and two glasses. He had tried arguing tonight, however, and that had merely resulted in Chanyeol leaving him for some bonding time with the sink so Baekhyun could see that it’s not dangerous but very friendly while he took a shower.

 

Baekhyun supposed that would at least be a good way for him to get rid of one more flaw. Moreover, he had required quite a big amount of kisses for Chanyeol to convince him so he wasn’t the true loser here.

 

Right when Baekhyun was done rinsing the last plate and had cut the water off, the doorbell rang. He wasn’t expecting anyone. Maybe it was another one of Junmyeon’s impromptu visits. He had talked about being bored earlier, through messages, but he had been at home, dining with his parents. Maybe he had decided to visit just to clear his head up after another round of marriage pressure from his mother.

 

After drying his hands on a napkin, he headed towards the door. There was no sound of water flowing coming from the bathroom - Chanyeol would probably get out soon.

 

He opened the door and felt something in him closing off at the dark, murky eyes that confined him in the familiar fog that spread around him. 

 

It was his father. Standing in front of him, with his pale yet yellowish skin, the deep wrinkles on his face, the bleary yet sharp look in his eyes, and the sour, disgusted twist of his mouth. 

 

He was supporting himself on a cane. He was dressed in a suit, wrinkled, too baggy on him. He had lost weight, gained illness. 

 

Maybe it was because they hadn’t crossed paths in too long but Baekhyun felt as if the fog, the smoke had grown stronger, sharpened into metal spikes as it closed on him.

 

"What are you doing here?" 

 

His voice was not as strong as he wished, not as accusing as he thought it would be. He felt himself tensing up yet weakening. His shirt felt tighter, his throat clamped up on him, and he felt infected ants coursing over his entire body.

 

The man’s voice was greasier, weaker, yet more harmful than ever as it croaked into Baekhyun’s ears.

 

"I haven’t seen your damn face in four months. You’re neglecting the company too."

 

He felt himself shrinking, his arms sticking close to his sides, his entire body recoiling into itself.

 

There was no concern in those words. 

 

He was looking at Baekhyun, talking to him as if he was deeply disturbed by his existence alone. It wasn’t worry in the ill man’s voice, there was nothing but accusations. As if Baekhyun had to show his face to him despite the poor treatment he received, as if it was Baekhyun’s duty to stand there and let his father look at him as if he was the scum of earth, a stain he couldn’t get rid of no matter how vigorously and mercilessly he brushed it.

 

As if the company was a privilege to the undeserving him and he was ungrateful not to present himself everyday and be humiliated under the eyes of strangers that fed on rumors and harmful words.

 

And Baekhyun could see all that in the old man’s eyes. He could feel it in his breath, in the memories fogging his mind. He could live those emotions in his shrinking body, the slight tremble in his fingers, and the knot in his neck. As if he had been conditioned to stay silent and let the other treat him like a monstrous creature.

 

He wasn’t. That wasn’t what he was.

 

He felt something in him open up, unlocking, slicing through his lungs and trying to suck out the heavy wafts of smoke that had gathered there.

 

"Why do you think we’re not seeing each other?" he questioned, voice still choked down by the fog. Weak. Unfamiliar. Unpleasant. That wasn’t his voice. He wasn’t himself whenever his father was there. His voice was a little stronger when he spoke again. He forced accusations out from where they were hidden. "Why do you think I’m not stepping into your company?"

 

Not enough. 

 

Still not strong enough. But the smog wasn’t only in his body, it was in his mind too. And he hated it. He hated it so much. He could feel every single fiber of that hatred running through his veins, planting into his limbs, infecting him like poisoned vines.

 

The old man snorted, sly, shaky, sending unpleasant bites through Baekhyun’s whole body. Baekhyun felt his nails digging into the tender flesh of his palms, the sting not enough to distract him from the acid coursing through him.

 

"You’re really an ungrateful piece of shit," he said, without remorse, hesitation, or respect for who was supposed to be his son.

 

And that was the last straw. Baekhyun felt anger spreading through him, leaving ashes in its wake, each burnt flake piling up in his lungs. He parted his lips, intending to spit it all right back out.

 

"What’s going on?" a voice cut him off before he could say anything. 

 

When he turned towards its source, his gaze fell on Chanyeol.

 

He was standing there, only a few steps away, eyebrows furrowed, hair damp, Baekhyun’s favorite sweater hugging his chest, and his eyes constantly flickering between Baekhyun and his father. His cheeks were flushed, a remnant of his shower. Baekhyun felt the fire under his skin suddenly glaciating.

 

He had heard. He had probably heard. 

 

Chanyeol wasn’t the kind to step into a private conversation. He had probably heard Baekhyun’s father’s voice. He had probably sensed the tension in Baekhyun’s own words. 

 

"So what they keep saying is true," the old man croaked, words barely intelligible between the wheezes and the cough at the end of his sentence. He was trembling, Baekhyun could see the cane he was gripping in one hand shaking a little. In spite of his unhealthy appearance, his voice echoed strongly in Baekhyun’s head, his voice reaching through the fog.

 

Suddenly, Baekhyun felt part of himself shrinking further. Suddenly, the smoke felt too heavy in his chest, crowding into his windpipe.

 

He heard Chanyeol stepping closer to him. He could feel his gaze on him. He probably was confused. Baekhyun couldn’t look. He couldn’t do anything but stare at the ill man, take in the way he was looking at Chanyeol, his eyes beady as he trailed them over Chanyeol. Baekhyun felt discomfort twisting his stomach painfully. Maybe not discomfort. He couldn’t tell. Words blurred in his head. They refused to come out of his mouth.

 

Baekhyun hated this with every fiber of his being. Sentences formed in his head. Accurate, proper, understandable. They always did, whenever his father said something. He had the answers tucked in a corner of his head, ready to be fired. It never happened. It never happened because something blocked them inside of him. No matter how hard he pushed, the words he knew he was supposed to throw at the other refused to obey. He hated this sensation of helplessness, the way he turned so ridiculously weak in front of a dying man.

 

With a scoff, his father directed his crawly gaze back at him. Chanyeol said nothing, he stood there, next to him. Baekhyun didn’t look at him. He had a hard time breathing. He could feel his limbs shivering weakly.

 

"That was the only side of you that wasn’t monstrous and now you’ve completely ruined it too."

 

"Just what side of me is monstrous?" a voice suddenly screamed. Baekhyun only realized that it was his when his chest felt the tiniest bit lighter. His head was exploding, fuming, as if something was trying to get out, as if part of it was fighting for the words to finally escape his mouth. He could barely hear himself. His nails dug deeper into his palms. "What the hell makes me a monster?!"

 

There was no reaction for a second. Then, the old man’s features twisted in a hideous expression.

 

"How would I know?" he argued, coughing when his voice came out much louder than its capacity, spit flying off his mouth. None of it touched him but Baekhyun felt more stained than ever. The man’s eyes were big, almost jutting out of his head, bloodshot, two dark beads swimming in infested pools of yellowed white. "That’s just what you are. How you were born. A monster."

 

Baekhyun shook his head. Did he? He wasn’t sure. He felt that word punching into his guts, piercing into his head and twirling around, shaking everything up, winning the battle that had been ongoing in his head, putting an end to a small victory that flourished for less than two sentences.

 

A monster. He hadn’t heard that word in so long. He hadn’t felt it spread into his body through streaks of black, heavy, oppressive smoke. He was full of it again. He couldn’t breathe. 

 

"You always ruin things and destroy everything and just why?" 

 

That same voice echoed loudly, too loudly amidst the turmoil in his head. It felt so close to him, like a whisper into his ears, and yet so far away, like an alarm he would never be able to turn off if he didn’t directly run towards it and crashed against the system. He heard a wheeze. Was it his? Or was it his father’s? 

 

He felt his ribcage pressing into his heart. That wasn’t possible. He knew that wasn’t possible but it was painful. He could hear the pain screeching in his head.

 

"Why? Why was it you?" 

 

A cry. Did it sound like a cry? Or was it Baekhyun’s soul wailing in pain? 

 

"Why were you even born? You even killed your mother."

 

He was still shaking his head. His whole body was still shaking and Baekhyun felt the panic fading into the fog, sneaking around his throat, his heart, and squeezing, as hard as possible, as painfully as possible. 

 

He caught movement from a bleary corner of his eye. His hand shot up on its own, clutching Chanyeol’s wrist tightly, preventing him from stepping towards his father. He couldn’t. Chanyeol shouldn’t. He shouldn’t hear this. He shouldn’t witness this. This wasn’t Baekhyun. He shouldn’t interact with the old man. He didn’t deserve it.

 

When his father’s gaze crawled down to where their bodies connected, Baekhyun felt millions of tiny ants creeping over his skin, some of them slithering into his throat, scratching, hurting, asphyxiating him.

 

"Disgusting," was the only words the dying man sentenced them with.

 

He felt Chanyeol tensing up under his touch. Baekhyun flinched.

 

It was that look. The one that made Baekhyun feel like he was undeserving of the air he couldn’t even breathe.

 

Why?

 

Monster.

 

That word echoed in his head. It wasn’t pronounced by his father. Or maybe it was. Baekhyun felt everything around him turn idle.

 

Because he was a monster.

 

He had been deemed as such the day he had pushed his mother down the stairs, pushed her to her death. He parted his lips. Only a thin streak of air slipped into his mouth, swarmed by a wheeze. He had killed her. But why couldn’t he remember? He remembered pushing her. He remembered standing over her as her wide, frightened eyes grew dull. He remembered it. Each memory flashed in his head, distorted by the lack of oxygen.

 

Then why didn’t he remember his exact thoughts while pushing her? Why couldn’t he recall the expression she had on when his small hands struggled against hers and pushed her down? Did it matter? It didn’t. There must be a reason. There must be a reason why his father had deemed him a monster all those years ago and still slapped him with the same accusations now. He couldn’t breathe. He couldn’t think. Breathing was painful. Monsters weren’t made to breathe.

 

But that was not him. That wasn’t Baekhyun. That wasn’t what he was. Was it? Was it?

 

He looked at the ill man. His lips were moving, he was talking. Baekhyun felt the bone on Chanyeol’s wrist digging into his palm. He couldn’t hear him. He couldn’t hear whatever the old man was saying, his ears clogged by thoughts that buzzed through his head, whizzing past without any mercy, any order.

 

It wasn’t. It wasn’t Baekhyun.

 

He felt his lips moving, his mouth hurting, his head exploding. The shrill screech of thoughts came to a stop when his own voice sliced through him in an even louder scream, filled with despair, sadness, and maybe, just maybe, plea.

 

"Get out," he heard himself scream but it felt like he was nothing but a witness, squished against the walls of his own house, pinned against cold ice with rusty nails that infused into his blood. "Leave," he wailed, louder. Louder. Louder. The smog kept getting louder. "Leave. Never come back."

 

There was a few more words spat out at him before the old, cruel man turned around and left on his shaky leg, his wooden cane shaking more than anything. Baekhyun didn’t hear those words. His own thoughts were cruel enough for him not to even be able to focus on anything else. 

 

As soon as the man was out of sight, Baekhyun strode towards the door and slammed it shut with trembling hands, his fingers tight around the knob yet loose, his skin inflamed, damp, sliding against the handle. He felt his chest heaving but there was no air reaching him. He could feel himself trying, wheezing, but failing to breathe properly. His legs were wobbly. His mind quivered. The echo of his father’s words was still loud and clear.

 

In a surge of physical weakness, Baekhyun leaned his forehead against the door. He heard a loud thump, he couldn’t feel it, it wasn’t enough to distract him from the fog, nor was it enough to scare it away. The surface felt overheated against his frozen skin. Icy spikes refused to melt in his throat, refused to let him breathe. Panic. He was panicking. Panicking made it even harder to breathe. 

 

He squeezed his eyes shut. He felt himself turn around but it didn’t feel like he was turning around. It felt like someone was poking his body with sharp icicles until he turned around, pressed his back against the door, and slid down, down, down until the floor finally caught him. His legs were pressed against his chest, heavy. It made it even more difficult to breathe. He didn’t have the strength to stretch them out and make anything easier for himself.

 

He couldn’t. Not when she had died.

 

He had forgotten. He had almost forgotten. Everything about it. About what he was. What he had shaped himself into. That he was a monster. But he wasn’t. He knew he wasn’t. Then why was his father telling him he was? Why wasn’t his mind telling him he wasn’t? He clutched his head between his hands, fingers pulling at his hair, hoping that if he pulled hard enough, it would uproot his thoughts and eradicate them once and for all. 

 

Baekhyun knew he wasn’t. He missed her so much that some nights, he couldn’t feel the life thrumming in his veins. How could he have done that to her? He couldn’t. There was no way.

 

Then, amidst the streaks of smoke and the sizzling voice in his head, a warm breeze reached to him. A voice muttered something, distorted, cloudy until he felt strong but mindful hands grab his and pull them away from his hair. He looked up, sight a bit foggy. He blinked. Once, twice. The comfort wrapped around his hands felt safe and protective. Like his favorite sweater. He blinked again and Chanyeol’s eyes were staring into his. He blinked again, parted his lips, but a wheeze, scratchy, croaky rattled his chest, sucked him in.

 

"Baekhyun," he finally heard. "Breathe," he heard again and when his gaze dropped to Chanyeol’s lips, they were moving. Red, the color of warmth. Baekhyun focused on them and soon his voice was clearer, as loud as Baekhyun’s panicked gasps for air. "Breathe with me."

 

He clenched the hands holding onto his, anchoring himself. His eyes were burning. Chanyeol was making exaggerated breathing motions. Baekhyun mimicked him as best as he could, gasping in time with Chanyeol’s inhales, at first. 

 

It felt like an eternity but after a while, he felt his chest loosening, ribcage peeling away from his lungs and letting them slowly fill in with air. Once he had memorized Chanyeol’s breathing pattern, Baekhyun closed his eyes and pulled air in, wheezes fading away into less panicked, but still breathless inhales. His chest hurt. His throat hurt. His head hurt much more. His fingers hurt too. Chanyeol was clasping them too tightly.

 

He couldn’t hear the other breathing loudly with him anymore. He blinked his eyes open, chest heaving but not gasping anymore. Then, he looked into Chanyeol’s eyes and felt the air sucked out of him all over again. 

 

"Why are you crying?" he heard himself ask, voice hoarse yet weak, tender, from the remnants of pain but also because of the glistening, wide eyes Chanyeol was looking at him with.

 

He wasn’t crying. Not yet. His eyes were gleaming, on the brink of overflowing as his hands held tightly onto Baekhyun’s. As if Baekhyun might crumble down if he let go for a single second. His eyes were too sparkly, sparkly enough for Baekhyun to suddenly feel unable to focus on anything else, but too sparkly for him to even look properly and understand the reason behind the shimmer in Chanyeol’s sad gaze.

 

Chanyeol didn’t reply. Instead, he let go of Baekhyun’s hands. A wave of panic hit Baekhyun instantly but before he even had the occasion to properly feel the sting, he was engulfed into a tight, mending embrace. 

 

Confusion fused into Baekhyun at the same pace as comfort but his arms were much slower as they wrapped around Chanyeol. He was hugging Baekhyun so tight, he feared his bones breaking for a second before he realized that he was clinging onto Chanyeol just as hard. He heard Chanyeol take a deep breath that he sighed right out through mumbled words that Baekhyun couldn’t decipher. The relief, however, was crystal clear as it tinkled into his ears.

 

When Chanyeol pulled back, his tears had already overflown, nothing but wet streaks left on his cheeks. Baekhyun’s throat puffed up painfully. It didn’t feel nice. Tears didn’t look nice on Chanyeol. He watched as his hand reached up, cradling Chanyeol’s cheek, his thumb carefully brushing his under eye free of a tear’s trace. He didn’t understand. He still felt cloudy, confused, his mind registering his own motions a bit too late, but he didn’t like this sight.

 

Chanyeol let out a small, wobbly laugh. He shook his head, not enough to make Baekhyun let go of his cheek, but enough to let him figure out Chanyeol himself found this a little odd, maybe a bit ridiculous.

 

"I just," he said, stopping to take a deep breath. His hand draped over Baekhyun’s, on his cheek. His eyes were still glistening, as if tears could form and cut Baekhyun’s breath off anytime. "I never saw you like this."

 

Baekhyun deflated. He looked away, shame suddenly peeking into him. He must look so pathetic to Chanyeol. 

 

"I’m sorry," he mumbled, loathing himself for letting go of everything just like that, letting Chanyeol see this side of him. Loathing that man for reducing him into something he never was.

 

Chanyeol shook his head, sharply, firmly. When Baekhyun looked up at him again, he realized Chanyeol was kneeling between his legs. His eyebrows were furrowed and his eyes had a soft glassy sheen to them again.

 

"Why are you apologizing?" he said strongly and Baekhyun was taken aback by the sudden anger in his voice. He had never heard it before. "You didn’t do anything wrong. He doesn’t have the right to hurt you like this. He doesn’t have the right to say these things to you. No one does."

 

Baekhyun’s hand fell away from Chanyeol’s cheek when the latter ran a hand over his face, as if what he was feeling was strong enough for him to even forget Baekhyun was touching him. He looked agitated, upset, almost angry.

 

And Baekhyun understood. Then, he understood.

 

"You’re crying because he hurt me?"

 

He sounded surprised to his own ears. Weak again, but not from pain, not from sadness. This was something different. This, he hadn’t felt it before. This light feeling spreading through him, clutching his chest but not unpleasantly, not stifling him. It felt clear. Fresh. 

 

Once again, Chanyeol didn’t reply.

 

Instead, as if he hadn’t even heard Baekhyun, he looked at him again, frowning, and reached to hold his face. The press of his palms against Baekhyun’s cheeks was careful despite the anger flaring in his eyes. 

 

He wasn’t angry at Baekhyun. He was angry for Baekhyun.

 

"Listen," he said and that single word alone sounded urgent. "I have no idea what happened. I don’t know why he said that but you’re not a monster. You’re not," he repeated, still as urgent, as if he thought Baekhyun had to hear those words as soon as possible. 

 

And maybe Baekhyun had to. Maybe he would’ve felt this odd, pleasant, comforting feeling wash over him sooner. 

 

"You’re not a monster. You’re just Baekhyun. You don’t deserve being treated like that. You don’t deserve being hurt like that."

 

His voice broke, stumbling down along his last words. He bit into his lower lip, as if that would help him contain the puffed up tears in his eyes.

 

Baekhyun heard an echo in his head as he looked straight into eyes that were crying for him. It wasn’t Chanyeol’s words.

 

It was that sound again. That acousmatic sound, that tune he had heard so many times without ever being able to identify its source of provenance. That regular beat he could feel in his head, in his chest, in his fingertips, in the pit of his stomach, and right in the crook of his neck when Chanyeol hugged him again and nuzzled his nose against it.

 

"You’re not a monster," he mumbled into Baekhyun’s skin. Baekhyun felt those words trickling into him, felt himself imbibing them, like a withered flower.

 

And it was stupid, so foolish of Chanyeol to pronounce those words with so much assurance when he knew nothing about Baekhyun. That melody pulsed in Baekhyun once, twice, thrice, strong, loud, reverberating through his whole chest. Chanyeol squeezed him tighter in his arms.

 

But did he really not know anything about Baekhyun?

 

He knew Baekhyun’s favorite and most despised dishes. He felt it beating. He knew the exact amount of sugar Baekhyun liked in his tea. Another beat. He knew how to play Baekhyun’s favorite songs on the piano. A beat. He knew Baekhyun better than anyone. He could feel it clearer now. Beating in his chest.

 

He had known the exact words Baekhyun needed to hear at the moment. Without Baekhyun ever hinting anything.

 

Chanyeol pulled away, slowly, his warmth lingering against Baekhyun’s chest, in his chest. Nestled right next to that sound. That beat. 

 

His eyes were sparkling, still shimmering. His eyebrows were furrowed, his lips pressed into a tight line but curved up just a little bit at the corners. His fingers were careful when they glided under Baekhyun’s eyes, wet when Chanyeol pulled them away. He hadn’t even realized he had started crying. He couldn’t feel anything but Chanyeol and the tune in his body. 

 

It was odd. Unfamiliar. It felt strange. In his chest. He looked into Chanyeol’s eyes, leaned into his touch when he cradled his cheek, took a quivering breath in when his thumb caressed the skin under his eye, spreading wet warmth around. He felt it. That beat thumped against his ribcage, once, twice, then quicker, even quicker, at a pace that Baekhyun couldn’t keep up with. A pace that was foreign, that should’ve worried him, should’ve felt unnatural.

 

It didn’t feel anything. He couldn’t feel anything else but that sound plowing against his ribcage and the realization that slammed into him at once.

 

It was beating in his chest, in his core, in the deepest part of him.

 

It kept quickening, spreading through his whole body, expanding into his soul. Like a withered flower going wild at the first tingle of sunlight.

 

His heart wasn’t the root of that drumming tune. Chanyeol was.

 

It was that song. 

 

The song that Baekhyun had heard many times in his life, whenever he rested his head on someone’s chest, the sound of a heart beating for him and only him.

 

This time it was the sound of his own heart. 

 

Beating for Chanyeol and only Chanyeol. 

 

Chanyeol leaned down, kissed him, tender, careful, loving, and all Baekhyun could hear was the drum Chanyeol played in his chest.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It was Chanyeol who pulled him up and away from the floor. It was Chanyeol who gripped his hand and dragged him to the couch as if this was his own home, as if he belonged here, as if he could do this for the rest of his life. 

 

It was Chanyeol who took him in his arms again, hugged him, held him together as if he knew part of Baekhyun was breaking. What he didn’t know, was that part of Baekhyun felt like it was weaving back together. With that odd, familiarly foreign sound in his heart, the beat against his chest soaring with every stroke of Chanyeol’s fingers in his hair, every strum against his heart.

 

Baekhyun’s heart was beating for someone. 

 

Baekhyun was in love. 

 

Was he? Was this love? He could only feel fear. He still felt breathless. But was it from love or from fear? 

 

"Do you want to talk about it?" Chanyeol mumbled into Baekhyun’s hair. 

 

It took a while for Baekhyun to hear the sound of Chanyeol’s voice over the worrisome cacophony beating through his whole body. There was no curiosity in his voice. Only concern. He was offering his ears to Baekhyun, just in case it might make him feel better.

 

Baekhyun pulled away. Chanyeol’s arms fell off from where they were circled around his shoulders. He didn’t feel the warmth of Chanyeol’s chest against his cheek anymore. He wondered if Chanyeol had heard his heartbeat. He felt his stomach twisting up.

 

He met Chanyeol’s eyes. Eyes that he was in love with. Eyes that loved him back.

 

"My mother died because of me," he blurted out through the dry weeds rooted in his throat, scratching, piercing, stifling. There was no change in Chanyeol’s expression. Baekhyun closed his eyes. Opened them again. Looked down. "I think," he added. He took a deep breath in. Exhaled. "I’m not sure. I don’t- I’m really not sure."

 

Then, like a path of flowers blossoming one by one, words spread out of Baekhyun’s mouth. Every single word that had never had the occasion to see the sunlight. 

 

It was easy to tell Chanyeol everything. It was more difficult to do it while looking at him. It was even harder not to let the words in his head stumble and crash against each other, disturbed by the thoughts flashing in his mind. Love. He was in love. The more he thought about it, the tighter his stomach knotted together. It was almost like an alien thought, not his own. He could hear it in his head more than he could think it. Like an echo. To the beat of his heart. A dawning. An awakening. He was in love with Chanyeol.

 

Chanyeol who silently listened to him. Chanyeol who looked at him with the same tenderness in his gaze as Baekhyun told him about the sharp edges of a staircase. Chanyeol whose touch was serene as a lake laying under the sky while he held onto Baekhyun’s hand, one of the hands that had pushed her in the memories Baekhyun was recounting. Chanyeol who had been by his side for so long. Chanyeol who knew him better than anyone, even if Baekhyun had no idea how that came to be, had never noticed. Chanyeol.

 

"Do you think you did it?" were Chanyeol’s first words when Baekhyun’s story died down.

 

He parted his lips. Formulated a reply in his head. It refused to come out, was refused to come out, roped inside by smoke. It took him a few seconds. Chanyeol waited patiently.

 

"All my life, I thought I did," Baekhyun said, pushing that one thought out of the jumble in his head. He heaved a breath in. "But sometimes. Sometimes, I remember. How much I loved her. How much I still love her. And it just feels impossible. It doesn’t feel like I could’ve done that. I remember it. Pushing her. But I don’t remember it. I don’t think I was capable of doing that."

 

Chanyeol’s thumb started drawing figures on the back of Baekhyun’s hand, easing the knot of panic that had tied around Baekhyun’s throat, pulled tighter by each word that left him.

 

He stayed silent for a bit, gathering his head together. There was nothing but uncertainty swimming in his mind, in his stomach, over the ripples spread around through his heartbeat. It was still too high. It calmed down a little, then he looked at Chanyeol, remembered, and suddenly, it slammed against his chest all over again. Was that normal? Was that dangerous?

 

Why was this happening to him? How could this happen to him?

 

"But sometimes," he said again, after what felt like an hour. "Sometimes, I can imagine it happening." His breath shivered as it slipped out of his mouth in a sigh. "I can be bad. Sometimes, I can be really bad. I can be a monster and I think I could’ve—"

 

"You’re not," Chanyeol cut him off, voice as sharp and tender as his gaze. "You’re not a monster. Someone with a smile so bright and sincere cannot be a monster, Baekhyun."

 

Baekhyun deflated. Closed his eyes. Shook his head. As if that would merge the two factions battling in his head together. It didn’t.

 

Chanyeol exhaled. Baekhyun breathed it in. For the first time ever, he wasn’t sure what he was breathing in, why he was breathing it in. He was offered an embrace again. He dived in.

 

Chanyeol hummed to him, one of the twelve lullabies he had offered Baekhyun. He only broke the tune to repeat those words, from time to time. You’re not a monster. As if he could always feel the exact moment Baekhyun craved to hear them again.

 

And Baekhyun wanted to believe him. Baekhyun wanted to trust Chanyeol’s belief in him. He wanted to trust his own faith in himself. 

 

But what if? What if?

 

Chanyeol didn’t know. Chanyeol didn’t know him. Chanyeol didn’t know what Baekhyun could do. 

 

Baekhyun himself didn’t know.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

That night, Baekhyun couldn’t sleep.

 

That night was spent, for the most part, wide awake. His eyes weren’t the only thing open. It felt as if all his senses were suddenly heightened as Chanyeol laid next to him, wrapped around him.

 

He had pulled Baekhyun to his chest a while ago, in his sleep, naturally, like he had done dozens of times before. And yet, everything about it felt different to Baekhyun tonight. Everything about it felt raw. Tender. 

 

He could see Chanyeol. Could look at him. It felt like Baekhyun was looking at him for the first time. As if the light cascading from the windows fell on him a bit differently than usual. It didn’t. It was the same night sky. It wasn’t the sky that was different. Maybe it was Chanyeol. Or maybe it was Baekhyun’s gaze, as it trailed over Chanyeol’s face. 

 

His hair had been cut shorter not long ago. It didn’t reach his eyes anymore, just ruffled over his forehead. It was a cleaner cut that made his ears stick out a little more than usual. Baekhyun hadn’t been able to take his eyes away from him the first time he had seen it. He had looked different than he did now. Had he? He wasn’t sure. What he knew was that Chanyeol’s features were sharper now, as if Baekhyun could really see them. The smooth skin of his forehead, his thin eyebrows, tugged up a little on the corners closer to his nose. Adorable.

 

His eyelids were curtained over his eyes smoothly, not a single disturbance. His eyes looked beautiful even closed. The same way a garnished garden would look just as beautiful whether the sun was shining on it or not. His eyelashes hovered over the plain skin of his under-eyes, fluttering once in a while, like frail leaves ruffled by a delicate puff of wind. His nose sat perfectly at the center of his face, little imperfections scattered over his cheeks like small stones lost on a field of mushy grass, beautifully shaped enough for anyone to feel wonder at the discovery.  

 

His lips budded into a sleepy pout, lower petal jutting out a little but not enough for it to properly bloom yet. It was dark around, Baekhyun couldn’t see their exact color but he knew they were an exquisite rosy shade.

 

He was handsome. Beautiful. A sight that Baekhyun had been a spectator of so many times before, without ever getting tired of it. Too long. This sight had been his for too long. And he wasn’t tired of it. Yet? Would it ever lose its appeal? He couldn’t tell.

 

He could see Chanyeol. Not only could he see him under a new light but Baekhyun could also feel him. His arms were strong around Baekhyun. One of them was resting right under Baekhyun’s neck, stretched on the pillow, while the other was curled around his shoulders, light yet heavy. It felt heavy. Not enough to crush him. Enough to make it easier for him to breath. Enough for him to feel it, resting across his body, cradling him, comforting him, protecting him. The warmth. It was there. Without Baekhyun having to seek it out, pull it in, wrap it all around himself until he could breath so easily it was almost stifling.

 

He could breathe him in. The scent. Of love. Acceptance. Dedication. Bare. Plain. Natural. Cotton candy. That bottle of body wash Chanyeol had left in his bathroom. Baekhyun felt a sudden jolt of laughter quivering in his chest, begging to be let out. He held it in. How had he not realized sooner? 

 

It all made sense now. How slow he had been. How casual. How messy, imperfect, and unconventional he had been with Chanyeol sometimes.

 

As if rejoicing at those words, his heart leaped in his chest. Again and again. Beating.

 

He didn’t understand. He couldn’t figure it out. How. It didn’t feel unpleasant. He had fallen in love.

 

He had fallen in love. Baekhyun was in love. It felt a bit unreal. Was that the reason why everything was always so nice with Chanyeol? So amplified? Was he really in love?

 

As if it wanted to give him an answer, Baekhyun felt a tingle in his heart. He had never felt that tingle when anyone had given him the words I love you. But he felt it now. As those words echoed in his own head, as he looked at the unconscious twitch of Chanyeol’s eyebrows. How could he be sure that this was love?

 

He didn’t know what love was.

 

He knew its main features, the symptoms, the process, the right amount of emotion it needed to be watered with in order to blossom exactly when he wanted it to. He had no clue about what love felt like from the perspective of the one offering the bouquet.

 

Bringing his hands together against his own chest, fingers holding onto his pajama top, Baekhyun tried thinking about love. For a while. A long while.

 

All he could think about was Joohyun, Junki, Jongin. Countless names. Most of them he had forgotten, all of them probably still carrying scars in the shape of his name in their heart. All these people had been hurt. Because they had fallen in love with him. Some of them had moved far away, some of them had been ruined, some of them still reached out to him sometimes, through a message, a call, unanswered.

 

Baekhyun had been the one to ruin them. He had been the one to carve himself into their life through pain, stollen memories, exploited feelings. Their end had always been soaked in tears, screams, curses, pleas, and pain. One of the most beautiful feelings they had all tasted had been monstrified for his own gratification.

 

How could someone as monstrous as him be in love? Could monsters even feel love? Did that make him more human? Or did that only worsen his case?

 

He wondered when it started. He knew that Chanyeol loved him. Baekhyun loved him back. Had Baekhyun ever wanted to love? Maybe. He had sometimes wished the ardency he breathed in from people would never leave him. He had never once felt wintery with Chanyeol.

 

But all Baekhyun had given to his loving flowers was an endless drought and an unending spell of cold. He had done so many unfixable things through love. Those same things could be done to him through love. Baekhyun could still do all of it to Chanyeol.

 

He felt an ice spike planting into his heart. He wasn’t sure whether it had been sharpened by the thought of what he could do to Chanyeol or the the thought of what Chanyeol could do to him.

 

It didn’t melt, despite the embrace Chanyeol never took away from him. It permeated. Further, through his whole body, in small streaks that bonded around him and suddenly tightened everything, including his breath. He knew that sensation. Panic. Smoke. He didn’t like it.

 

That night, he didn’t snuggle into the warmth. For the first time, it felt awkward to him. 

 

The next morning, Baekhyun peeled himself away from Chanyeol. It was more difficult than usual. As if now, his heart didn’t want to draw apart from its newfound, inner source of warmth. 

 

He vanished before Chanyeol could wake up, leaving nothing but a lie about having to work to greet him in his stead.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Those cold thoughts remained in his head for the next few days.

 

The possibility of keeping away from Chanyeol in order to restore everything in him back into order had crossed his mind but he hadn’t acted upon it. It would be weird if he suddenly put some distance between them when nothing was wrong, as far as Chanyeol knew. Moreover, he wasn’t sure he wanted to do that.

 

Most of the time, the thought of being in love was frightening enough for him not to even feel himself breathing anymore but sometimes, just sometimes, it felt incredibly soothing. Nice. Incomprehensible but delightful. He wasn’t sure why either.

 

He looked down at the source of his concerns. His heart swooned a little in his chest when all he could see was the messy strands of hair, the way Chanyeol was resting his head against his shoulder preventing him from seeing anything else. They were watching a movie on Chanyeol’s laptop, huddled together on the couch. From what Baekhyun had gathered, it was a romantic comedy, about falling in love with a best friend, or a rival. Baekhyun had not paid enough attention to figure it out.

 

As he watched, in a blur, the main character falling in love with someone to the soundtrack of Chanyeol’s loud laughter and commentary every few minutes, Baekhyun wondered when it had all started. 

 

When did he start loving Chanyeol? Did love start the moment you realized you were in love? But he had felt the odd heartbeat a few times before. But did it count if you didn’t know what that sound was? When did love start exactly? Did everything before the realization occurred not count? 

 

He didn’t think it counted. Everything had been an act for him, hadn’t it? It had all started with his desire to be loved by that handsome stranger playing soothing melodies on the piano, that charming man he had seen in the subway a few times. Everything had been calculated, traced, crafted. Even their Christmas night. Baekhyun had chosen to give the music box to Chanyeol because he knew it would make him feel happy, cared for, and moved, to some extent. He had seen that small, black and golden egg seated on Chanyeol’s bedside table earlier.

 

Then it didn’t count. Did it? Or did it not?

 

Questions and thoughts fuzzed in his head, fast, buzzing, whizzing past his consciousness before he even had the occasion to register them, another question born without him even having properly formulated the previous one.

 

He felt clueless. Stupid. Out of control. His head was a mess. He hated it.

 

His limbs felt awkward around Chanyeol. Not stiff, simply out of place. They were cuddling, Baekhyun’s arms wrapped around Chanyeol’s shoulders, pulling him against him. Chanyeol loved cuddling. Baekhyun was holding him only because he wanted Chanyeol to feel safe and loved and to get attached to the way Baekhyun made him feel. It had always been this way. It had always been why. Or had it? Wasn’t Baekhyun now cuddling him because he felt all those sentiments irradiating from Chanyeol?

 

"What’s wrong?"

 

Chanyeol’s deep voice pulled him right out of the maze in his head. When he looked down at him, he met his eyes. He was looking up at Baekhyun curiously, eyebrows faintly furrowed in concern.

 

He pulled his lips into a smile, giving the other a curious look.

 

"Nothing. Why?" he asked, hoping that Chanyeol couldn’t hear the thunder clashing against his chest. 

 

Why did his heart start beating in the most inconvenient times now? Did that come along with being in love?

 

"You’re kinda stiff," Chanyeol answered, poking him in the chest but not losing the concern on his features.

 

Baekhyun forced a chuckle out of himself. He hoped that contact wasn’t enough for Chanyeol to feel the heartbeat. It was a frightening possibility.

 

"It’s just an impression," he said, tightening his hold around Chanyeol, slowly swaying him a little in his arms, hoping that it would be enough for him to let go of the subject.

 

It wasn’t. For a short while, Chanyeol frowned at him, worrying his lower lip under his teeth.

 

"You’re really quiet nowadays," Chanyeol said softly, unsure. Baekhyun felt something in his stomach twisting at the unfamiliar tone. "We haven’t even seen each other in two days and you’re so tense. Did something happen at work?"

 

Baekhyun knew what he meant by that. They hadn’t talked about his father again, but Chanyeol knew now. He knew about it and was now asking if something similar had happen again. 

 

The knot in his stomach tightened, wrenching his throat along. He hadn’t been to work. He hadn’t stepped into the company. He had even stopped actually working from home. Work was naught but Baekhyun’s excuse to explain his sudden decrease in availability for Chanyeol, the sparse messages, and the fact that, while they used to see each other almost every day, they had only seen each other three times this past week.

 

"No," he said, softly, too softly, softer than what he intended. He wasn’t in control anymore. "I’m okay," he added, giving the other a reassuring smile.

 

Chanyeol didn’t seem to buy it.

 

"Then what’s wrong? Did I do something wrong?"

 

And Baekhyun wondered. He had spent hours wondering what exactly had Chanyeol done for him fall in love with him. Why him? Why him out of the dozens of people that had loved Baekhyun with all their heart?

 

Chanyeol was looking at him, eyes glimmering with an expectant shine but a little clouded by concern and the insecurity that Baekhyun could feel flowing through Chanyeol’s, now, stiff body.

 

He was waiting for an answer. Baekhyun should give him one. He should reassure him, tell him not to worry, and wave those insecurities away to protect himself. But his tongue felt heavy in his mouth, turning to steel the more Chanyeol looked at him with that gut-twistingly unpleasant emotion in his eyes. The spike of panic planted in his heart vibrated once and then pounded against his ribcage, sending waves of pain through him.

 

Baekhyun should speak. He should say something. Anything. He always had something to say. Always had the right words waiting for him to pluck out of his mind and offer to someone in a decorated, eye-catching bouquet. 

 

Now, Baekhyun couldn’t find them. He couldn’t find any word in his head, any proper formulation, any emotion to convey through them. Words had always been his weapon but Baekhyun felt like he had lost his hands, unable to grab anything to ambush his opponent.

 

He didn’t know how to talk to Chanyeol anymore. He didn’t know what words to give him, he didn’t know what words the other wanted to hear. He had no motive anymore. He wasn’t talking with Chanyeol as someone who had an aim to work towards. He was talking to Chanyeol as someone who had fallen in love with him.

 

Or did he still have a motive? Isn’t everything about love done with a motive?

 

He gulped his thoughts down and shook his head, gathering himself. He couldn’t lose his grip. 

 

"The only wrong you’re doing right now is speaking instead of kissing me," Baekhyun said, leaning down to whisper his words through a smile, right against Chanyeol’s lips.

 

He kissed the groan away from Chanyeol’s mouth, used to the other’s amusing reaction to his cheesy words. When they focused back on the movie, Chanyeol was holding onto his waist tighter than before.

 

Baekhyun didn’t stay over that night.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

"It feels like you belong to me."

 

Chanyeol’s voice was as weightless as the graze of his fingertip against Baekhyun’s neck. It glided down the slope, carefully tracing the marks that Baekhyun knew had blossomed on his skin, where Chanyeol’s mouth had pressed a while ago.

 

He smiled, staring at the other’s features as Chanyeol’s own gaze was focused on Baekhyun’s skin.

 

He didn’t know how he had ended up here. They hadn’t seen each other in two days, Baekhyun had avoided replying to Chanyeol’s messages as much as possible. He had tried thinking as much as he could in that time, about Chanyeol, about himself, about what he felt for Chanyeol. It was scary. Staying away made him feel even worse. It was frightening, the way he had gotten so used to Chanyeol that he grabbed his phone on the first random through crossing his mind to share it with Chanyeol.

 

It hadn’t been too bad. Baekhyun had been able to come to a few conclusions. Love wasn’t something he wanted to involve himself with in that way. Especially not with Chanyeol.

 

And yet, when his phone had chimed this morning with a picture of Chanyeol’s exaggerated sad expression along with a message about missing him, he had rushed to get out of his house. All it took was that. A call. A desperate call. Those, he was used to. What was foreign was his feeling the same despair conveyed to him through that call.

 

Even now, the fear clenching around his heart was enough to blur his mind for a short while. It was only when Chanyeol met his gaze that Baekhyun found his voice again.

 

"Why is that only a feeling?" he asked, smiling at the other even as something in his stomach felt like it was burning.

 

Chanyeol shrugged, or at least tried his best to shrug with one of his shoulder mushed against the bed. The blanket slid down a little bit, baring the smooth skin of Chanyeol’s shoulders.

 

"I think you’re the kind of person that will never truly belong to anyone," he said, voice falling down to a whisper.

 

Baekhyun felt each of those words freezing into spikes in the air before piercing through his chest. That wasn’t Chanyeol’s intent. That was simply the way Baekhyun’s mind interpreted it and while part of him hated himself for reacting like that to something so simple, the rest of him felt like it was falling to pieces.

 

Each of those falling pieces screamed at him that he belonged. Baekhyun felt like he belonged. 

 

At that moment, as he laid there, in Chanyeol’s arms, in Chanyeol’s love, with his heart jumping at each of his words before crashing down painfully again, Baekhyun felt like he belonged to Chanyeol.

 

Chanyeol’s eyes were dripping with sleep when Baekhyun dived into them. His bare skin was pleasant to the touch, much too pleasant. More pleasant than anything else he had ever laid his hands upon. 

 

"Maybe it’s just you who can’t see it," Baekhyun answered, breathed out. That breath was tainted with love, care, and affection as he watched Chanyeol’s features scrunch up with a little yawn. He was used to breathing in those perfumes. Not breathing them out.

 

Baekhyun wondered if Chanyeol could smell the fear reeking off him. That was all he could feel in himself. That was all he could see around himself, like a stripped tree stuck in the middle of a snow storm, locked in place by its own roots.

 

Chanyeol smiled at him. That usual smile, the one that was big yet small at the same time, his lips pressed together a little bit, part of his cheeks pooled into dimples. The peace Baekhyun felt in his chest was nothing compared to the storm of fear trashing his insides.

 

He returned the smile, grateful that it was night, that it was dark in the room for he wasn’t sure of what was displayed on his face. He was never sure anymore whenever he was with Chanyeol.

 

Chanyeol gravitated closer to him, pressed their lips together for a chaste, calming goodnight kiss before turning around, shifting a little until his back was pressed against Baekhyun’s chest. Naturally, Baekhyun’s body curled around his bigger one, nose nestling into his hair, arm draping over his waist to keep him close. His heart made a little delightful dance in his chest. 

 

Baekhyun hoped Chanyeol was too busy listening to the melodies in his head to pay attention to his unique creation in Baekhyun’s heart.

 

In the morning, he was gone when neither Chanyeol nor the sun were up yet.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Baekhyun didn't go home. 

 

Home was filled with Chanyeol and it made him feel stupid not to have realized it before.

 

Instead, Baekhyun went to his first anchor.

 

His finger hurt a little bit as he jabbed it incessantly against the doorbell but he couldn’t pay attention to the sting nor to the fact that the sun was barely even painting its unending canvas in warm hues as he stood in front of Junmyeon’s apartment door.

 

His hair was a mess. He hadn’t checked but he knew it. He could feel it, in the way some strands fell in front of his eyes and stung a little bit as he blinked too quickly, much more quickly than needed. He could feel it in the way his fingers itched, his skin crawled, where Chanyeol’s lips had pressed hours ago, where Chanyeol’s hands had loved. He almost wanted to scratch at his skin. Maybe if he became a new person, he’d return to what he used to be. Before Chanyeol.

 

He couldn’t stop ringing the bell. It almost sounded like a siren, loud in Baekhyun’s ears, latching into his temples and biting, scratching, beating. The sole of his feet was drumming against the floor, impatient, agitated, not a rhythm, a cacophony. 

 

The door opened. Junmyeon’s hair was a mess, his eyes hooded, and his sleepy features frowning irritatingly. Baekhyun said nothing. Junmyeon looked at him for a fleeting second, maybe trying to figure out if Baekhyun was really there. He frowned even more. He grabbed Baekhyun’s hand, silently, and pulled him inside.

 

"What’s wrong?" he asked, voice hoarse from sleep.

 

Baekhyun should feel bad for waking him up so early. He couldn’t. Not when he hadn’t gotten one good night’s sleep since the realization. 

 

He shook his head, freed his hand from Junmyeon’s. He felt stuffy, airless, his heartbeat was too loud. He started pacing in the entrance hall. That had a rhythm, a fixed pace. That might be soothing. It wasn’t. He parted his lips. Looked at Junmyeon, saw the confusion and the concern. He had a frown on. Chanyeol’s frowns were often accompanied by widened eyes. Baekhyun brought a hand up, tangled it in his hair, pulled. He had to stop thinking about Chanyeol. He had to stop. 

 

A hand grabbed his wrist, firm, familiar, not as comforting as Chanyeol’s. Chanyeol’s touch wasn’t comforting nowadays. It was frightening. Scary. Resonated in Baekhyun with terror.

 

"What happened?" he asked, urgency piercing through his voice.

 

Baekhyun parted his lips. Closed them again. Words didn’t come.

 

There must have been something telling on his face, Junmyeon pulled him towards the bedroom. Baekhyun let him do. He didn’t have control anymore. The comfortable mattress was a familiar anchor when Junmyeon made him lay down on it and joined him under the blankets afterwards. The blinds were open, Junmyeon didn’t like sleeping in total darkness so he never closed them, always letting the sun paint his sleep and wake him up tenderly. Baekhyun couldn’t see it now.

 

Junmyeon spoke, Baekhyun didn’t hear it. He couldn’t, not over the thoughts clashing through his head. Why had he fallen in love? Why was it Chanyeol? Love wasn’t a pleasant feeling, not when you were at the giving end of it. Love could ruin people. Baekhyun knew. He knew it very well. It could ruin him. Baekhyun. It could also ruin Chanyeol. He could ruin Chanyeol. 

 

A new storm of fear savaged his head as soon as those words flashed in his mind. He couldn’t do that to Chanyeol. He loved him. No matter how scared he was of it. Baekhyun loved Chanyeol and now, the mere thought of Chanyeol hurting, nonetheless because of him, was enough for his stomach to cramp up a little. Because he had no choice. He would end up ruining Chanyeol. That was what Baekhyun did. Smoke filtered through his windpipe, familiar but repulsive.

 

A soothing touch on his cheek helped him gather his mind enough to look at Junmyeon. He was closer now, much closer. Baekhyun could see the concern, the panic in his eyes. He was close, too close. He wanted to kiss Baekhyun. Junmyeon was about to kiss him. He always did when Baekhyun couldn’t breathe, couldn’t focus on breathing. 

 

Before their lips could meet, Baekhyun jolted away. At once, as if electrified.

 

"I fell in love," he said. Not an explanation. A realization. 

 

He didn’t want to kiss lips that weren’t Chanyeol’s.

 

It was the first time Baekhyun pronounced those words out loud. Junmyeon looked at him and maybe he was electrified too. Baekhyun’s lips tingled. It wasn’t unpleasant to say it. That was the scariest thing about it.

 

Junmyeon pulled away, laid back down. They were facing each other. Baekhyun could see him now, he was looking at him, maybe with a little bit of dread, not sure what Junmyeon would say. Maybe Junmyeon wasn’t really electrified, however. He tugged his lips into a smile, reassuring, faint.

 

"With Chanyeol?"

 

Baekhyun took a deep breath in, let it all out again with a strangled laugh, akin to a dry sob. 

 

Of course. Of course, this was Junmyeon.

 

"How did you see it before I did?" he muttered, more to himself than to the other, voice muffled behind his hands when they rubbed his face. He pulled at his own features, trying to gain control over them again. It didn’t work.

 

Junmyeon said nothing. His smile widened. Or retracted into itself.

 

"Because I see you," he said, voice breezing through Baekhyun, sweeping a few dry thoughts away. Baekhyun felt the crumbles gather in his throat.

 

"Why?" he croaked. "Why did I have to fall in love? I hate this."

 

Junmyeon frowned. His hands were careful as they grabbed Baekhyun’s and pulled them away from his face. It felt hot, numb from rubbing it too much. He held them and pulled Baekhyun closer to him. Baekhyun clung to him, as tight as a desperate man holding onto a lifeline in the midst of a peaceful yet terrifying ocean.

 

"No, you shouldn’t," he said, coaxing Baekhyun to look at him with the cajoling tone of his voice alone. "It’s a beautiful feeling."

 

"I’ve never felt something more disturbing in my life," he snorted.

 

This mix between joy and confusion and sadness and panic and fear and acceptance and rejection made Baekhyun feel like a puppet tied to a dozen strings. Each of them pulled him to a different side. It was exhausting. He felt exhausted. He wanted this to end. He didn’t know what kind of end he wanted it to take.

 

"That’s because you’ve always ignored its beautiful sides," Junmyeon said and he sounded so sure, so stable. Sometimes, Baekhyun forgot that Junmyeon knew him better than he knew himself. "You’ve refused to see it and now that it’s shoved into your eyes in its purest form, you’re afraid."

 

"It’s not pure," Baekhyun retorted as soon as the last syllable of Junmyeon’s sentence left his lips, before even realizing it. "It’s dangerous. It ruins the life of many people." A lump of memories pooled in his throat, right next to the crumbles. His voice was saturated by them when he spoke again. "I ruined them. Through love."

 

Junmyeon sighed, Baekhyun looked at him. He was smiling. It wasn’t a happy one. He looked a bit sad, pensive. His arms wrapped around Baekhyun and pulled him closer. Their faced rested only a breath apart now, their eyes finding each other. Baekhyun couldn’t find the name of the shadowed glint he caught in Junmyeon’s. 

 

Out of nowhere, Baekhyun wondered again. Why Chanyeol? Why not Junmyeon? 

 

In a way, he was glad it wasn’t Junmyeon. Losing Junmyeon would feel like losing the biggest part of himself. Losing Junmyeon would mean losing the only person who selflessly made sure that Baekhyun was breathing, who tirelessly gave Baekhyun his breath back whenever he had a hard time finding it. It would mean losing the acceptance and the understanding that had been given to him since day one, through a smile, a gaze, an embrace, sometimes a heated but cooling touch.

 

"It’s not dangerous when it’s sincere," Junmyeon said and his voice was soaked with unfamiliarity, a tone Baekhyun had never felt the drip of on his skin. He wasn’t looking at Baekhyun, not into Baekhyun’s eyes. He was looking somewhere right above Baekhyun’s eyes, not straying too far, but not falling right into him either. He sounded sorrowful and delighted at the same time. "It isn’t dangerous when it’s sincere. It’s beautiful, Baekhyun. It’s pure, and heartfelt, and it gives every breath you take in a new meaning. It gives every thought in your head a new meaning."

 

And he wasn’t wrong. As Baekhyun listened to him, looked at him and tried to comprehend his words, something deep in his core knew that he wasn’t wrong. He breathed easier since the realization. Every thought in his head meant something he had never noticed before.

 

He said nothing. He was afraid of what word, what sound could leave his lips. Junmyeon’s gaze slid down into his, he beamed, cheeks bunching up a little bit, eyes mooning at him, as captivating as sunrise’s palette spreading outside. His fingers weaved through Baekhyun’s hair. Baekhyun’s chest quivered a little.

 

"It’s the most painfully beautiful thing in the entire world."

 

"How do you know?" Baekhyun heard himself ask. This was different. He had never seen Junmyeon like this. "Have you felt it before?"

 

Without an answer, Junmyeon closed his eyes. Maybe he was still sleepy. Now, Baekhyun felt a little bad for having woken him up. Junmyeon was busy, so hardworking, so soothing when he reached to press an affectionate kiss on Baekhyun’s forehead. Baekhyun closed his eyes.

 

"I wished for you to feel it for a long time," were the words whispered against his skin. Junmyeon pulled away. When Baekhyun’s eyes opened, he was smiling. The same way he always smiled at Baekhyun. Baekhyun felt his lips tugging up into a short smile, one weak enough to almost immediately crumble down again. "I’m happy you feel it now."

 

As he looked at the same unfamiliar gleam in the other’s eyes, Baekhyun felt like he was missing something. There was something he couldn’t see, couldn’t understand. Junmyeon ruffled his hair, Baekhyun couldn’t find it in himself to smile again. He didn’t understand.

 

Junmyeon seemed to be happy for him but Baekhyun wasn’t. 

 

He was soothed, but not reassured. Junmyeon had calmed him but his words weren’t enough for Baekhyun’s mind to reshape itself entirely.

 

They fell into silence and Junmyeon’s hold around him remained tight throughout the entire morning. 

 

He was thankful, in that moment. 

 

He feared that pieces of himself he had carefully glued together all his life would finally shatter and mould into something new.

 

Something that he wouldn’t be able to morph into the shape he wanted. Something that had no shape. Something that would turn him into a puppet. Something that would tug and toss him around. Just like the memory of a summery voice and a heartfelt gaze always tugged the corners of his lips into a beam he couldn’t diminish.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

When the sun set again, Baekhyun’s decision was taken.

 

He was in love with Chanyeol. When he thought about it, it wasn’t really difficult to figure out how that happened anymore. It was Chanyeol. 

 

Loving Chanyeol was alright. It was okay. For him, it wasn’t bad. Not too much, at least. He appreciated the feeling, liked the thought, loved Chanyeol.

 

What he couldn’t bring himself to accept was the consequences of this feeling for Chanyeol. It could turn into a disaster. Baekhyun would hurt him, could ruin him, and he loved Chanyeol. He didn’t want to hurt him. The prospect alone was enough for Baekhyun’s mind to cloud with sinister storms.

 

Surely, that would happen. That was the only way Baekhyun knew to use love for. Baekhyun only knew how to be loved, he had never learned how to love. He knew a billion ways to suck the warmth out of someone and live them with naught but the shell of themselves. He had no idea how to breathe his own warmth into them without burning them to ashes from inside.

 

Sparing Chanyeol might be the right way to love him.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It was only three days later that Baekhyun managed to drag himself to Chanyeol’s apartment.

 

They hadn’t communicated at all in these three days. Baekhyun had ignored his messages, his calls, and had even taken to crashing at Junmyeon’s apartment through those few days to make sure Chanyeol wouldn’t be able to find him and crumble his resolution down.

 

It had felt like an eternity. Baekhyun had gone through many up and downs, building all his logic up from the start only to shatter it and then restart over. He had forbidden Junmyeon to talk about it. Junmyeon was always right. Baekhyun wanted to listen to himself. He didn’t want to hear that what he was doing was wrong.

 

The door opened and it was a stone cold façade that Baekhyun displayed to Chanyeol. At first, it was surprise that Chanyeol looked at him with before abruptly, he frowned, his eyebrows arching in that concerned way as soon as he assessed Baekhyun.

 

"Where have you been?" he asked, voice weak but soaked with the same relief that seemed to press his body up against the door.

 

There was not even a single trace of anger. Chanyeol wasn’t even angry at Baekhyun for having ignored him for three whole days. There was nothing but worry in those beautiful doe eyes, a faint darkness shadowing the skin under his eyes and Baekhyun hated himself a little bit. Maybe he had trouble sleeping. Baekhyun hoped his unexplained absence wasn’t what kept him up at night. That was what he wanted to avoid. That shouldn’t happen. That was something he would never be able to avoid.

 

"I was busy," was the only reply he deemed correct, pronounced with no particular emotion in his voice or face.

 

Chanyeol frowned further. There was an unfamiliar glint in his eyes, one that Baekhyun had seen on many other people but had never expected to see in Chanyeol. Insecurity. That blend between confusion and insecurity that spoke volumes about Baekhyun’s effect on Chanyeol. He gulped the emotions down, clenched his jaw, forced himself to stay silent and say nothing, no apology, no confession, nothing that would only harm Chanyeol more than he already had.

 

He stepped closer and Chanyeol stepped back, allowing him to enter. Baekhyun didn’t look at him as he walked past him and headed towards the living room, feeling every fiber of his skin screech in pain and sigh in relief under Chanyeol’s unwavering gaze.

 

He could do this. He had to do this. It was for the best.

 

"What do you mean by busy? Are you okay?" Chanyeol’s voice soared from behind him. Baekhyun didn’t look at him and plopped down on the couch instead. He pressed a hand against the armrest, took in the comfortable velvety fabric. This would be the last time.

 

"With work," Baekhyun said despite himself. He didn’t want to reply, he didn’t want to lie to the other but he didn’t want to leave him hanging without an answer.

 

Relief engulfed him when Chanyeol sat down next to him but left a bit of distance between them. That could mean that he felt it. Chanyeol knew him very well. Not as much as Baekhyun knew himself, though, and it was his duty to ensure Chanyeol wouldn’t suffer the consequences.

 

He seemed to buy it. Baekhyun wondered if Chanyeol would believe everything he’d say. He hoped he would.

 

"Did something happen?" Chanyeol asked softly,, reassuringly. He grabbed Baekhyun’s hand, no hesitation, just a lot of care.

 

Baekhyun’s heartbeat skyrocketed, begging him to cling to that broad hand and never let go. He felt his fingers twitch just the tiniest bit in Chanyeol’s hold and that was enough to rip his hand away from it. He looked away, unwilling to see the expression of shock, maybe of disappointment, that Chanyeol would be sporting.

 

Something in his chest twisted. He took a discreet, shivering long breath in. This was better. Hurting Chanyeol like this, at once, was better than hurting him until he crumbled down to ruins under Baekhyun’s touch.

 

And yet, Baekhyun’s tongue seemed tied up in his mouth. 

 

The words were there, right on the tip, lined up along his throat, but he struggled to push them out, fought himself and lost the battle when his eyes gravitated towards Chanyeol. He looked handsome as always. Confused. His hand was hovering where it had been holding Baekhyun’s a second ago, as if the surprise prevented him from pulling it away. Incomprehension stared at Baekhyun from his eyes, nestled right besides hesitation.

 

Baekhyun wanted to hug him. He wanted to wrap his arms around him and protect him from everything else, make sure that he was cared for, satisfied, happy.

 

"Baekhyun," he called out, weakly, not pained, maybe scared of hurting Baekhyun. "Are you—"

 

"Let’s break up."

 

His own words echoed in his head, like a sentence, irrevocable. Each echo pounded right against his heart, heavily enough for Baekhyun to feel it fissuring. It was painful. Each wave of pain rode up the former as he forced himself to look right into Chanyeol’s eyes, forced himself to sound sure, bored, unaffected. 

 

It was agonizing. He had never imagined it this way.

 

Chanyeol’s lips remained parted, the words Baekhyun had cut off hanging between them.

 

Baekhyun hadn’t heard them but he could feel them piercing through his heart. Chanyeol was so kind. So kind, so generous, so caring, so selflessly loving. Chanyeol didn’t deserve this. Yet, Baekhyun couldn’t imagine himself regretting to have ever met him.

 

"Break up?" Chanyeol repeated and Baekhyun wasn’t sure what emotion he was speaking with. There was no true surprise in his voice. "Why would we?"

 

Chanyeol gathered his hands on his lap. Baekhyun glanced at them for a fleeting moment. He wanted to hold them. He looked back up at Chanyeol, locked himself into his gaze, bit on the inside of his cheek to gather himself together. He had to do this. Even if his heart was clenching so painful in his chest, pumping poison into Baekhyun’s veins in protest. He had to do this.

 

He parted his lips, ignored the the numbness in his fingers, the way his throat felt puffed up, his chest too narrow. 

 

"None of it was real. Between us," he said, harshly, slowly, pronouncing every word clearly so Chanyeol would understand what he wanted him to. Chanyeol’s expression didn’t shift. Baekhyun gulped, poured sizzling pain into his voice. "I planned it all. Calculated it. We didn’t meet by accident. I didn’t take your piano classes just because I missed the piano. Nor because you were cute and I wanted to be closer to you."

 

He stopped himself. 

 

That part wasn’t supposed to slip out. 

 

He tightening his grip on his own fingers. Chanyeol’s eyebrows furrowed a little.

 

"I just wanted you to fall in love with me. Everything I told you, everything I gave you, every dinner or lunch we had together, they all had a specific purpose. None of it was sincere. I said exactly what you wanted to hear, I did exactly what you liked just so I could be perfect in your eyes and you could fall in love with me. In fact, when we first met, I was already seeing two other people. You were just an addition, in the same category as them. You were just handsome and I wanted you to love me like these two other people did."

 

It hurt to say all that. It hurt because it was true. He could feel every single syllable slipping past his mouth slicing against his thorax first, cutting the skin and leaving salt behind, amplifying the pain. It was all true, in a way, and Baekhyun hated himself for it. He hated himself for having treated Chanyeol in such a way. This wasn’t what Chanyeol deserved.

 

"It was all lies," he spoke again when Chanyeol remained silent. Baekhyun wondered if his heart was breaking. He hoped that Chanyeol didn’t love him too much. Not enough for his heart to break, at least. "Between us. It was all lies. You’re just another distraction, another game that I won and I want to end it now. There’s no point continuing to play if I’ve already won it, is there? So I want to end it."

 

For a moment, when Baekhyun was done speaking, he felt proud of himself. Proud for not having wavered, not in his resolution nor in his voice that remained steady and cold through the entire speech that he had crafted through days spent away from Chanyeol.

 

Regret clenched around his heart as soon as the realization that he had done it hit him. 

 

He had done it. He had broken up with Chanyeol. There would be no more smiles for him. Chanyeol wasn’t smiling now, simply looking at him. Baekhyun looked away, the sight burning his eyes. Chanyeol wasn’t his anymore. But Baekhyun would remain Chanyeol’s and he wasn’t sure whether he wanted to laugh at himself or cry for the miserable turn his life had taken. He was now on the receiving end of everything he had given to countless people and the worst of it was that Chanyeol wasn’t doing anything, it was all Baekhyun.

 

Silence fell over them. The longer Chanyeol said nothing, the more Baekhyun felt his heart growing and cracking and pressing down against his lungs and stifling him and gathering breath in his throat instead, to the point that it felt like his whole body would burst from the inside.

 

Baekhyun didn’t close his eyes but braced himself. He braced himself for what Chanyeol would say. He braced himself for the tears and the accusation and the pleas and the regret and the anger and the pain that his whole body would be soaking in as soon as Chanyeol threw it all to him.

 

He glanced up, heart beating right on the tip of his tongue. Chanyeol parted his lips to speak, Baekhyun gulped everything down and prepared himself to make this his last memory of Chanyeol, an unpleasant one he wished he never had. He looked away. He didn’t want to see what he had done to the other. He was ready. He told that to himself. He was ready for it all.

 

What he didn’t expect, however, was the laughter breezing through him instead of heartbreak punching through his heart.

 

Chanyeol laughed. He was laughing. 

 

Baekhyun looked up at him, heart frozen in his chest. He was laughing. Hard, loudly, his eyes closed, his lips parted wide open, his body leaned forward a little bit under the strength of the laughter raking through him. 

 

Baekhyun looked at him, blank. Surprise filtered through him as he sat there, flabbergasted, watching Chanyeol laugh without being able to figure out why.

 

"Why are you laughing?" he couldn’t help but ask when a few seconds passed and Chanyeol hadn’t calmed down nor given him an explanation. His face was now scrunched up into that pained expression he had whenever he laughed too hard.

 

"Your face," Chanyeol wheezed out, laughing even more as Baekhyun blinked, completely taken aback. "That speech. So dramatic. You’re—You’re trying so hard to look mean."

 

The last of his sentence was lost in another fit of laughter and Baekhyun frowned. What did he mean by that? Why was he laughing? Why wasn’t he asking for more explanations? Why was Chanyeol taking this as a joke while Baekhyun could still feel his insides ripping apart?

 

"I’m not trying to," he snapped, dry, harsh, through gritted teeth. Not because he was angry but because it was difficult not to smile when Chanyeol laughed. "It’s the truth."

 

Chanyeol let out a long, loud sigh, almost like a whine as he straightened his back again. Baekhyun wasn’t sure what he was supposed to do or say. He wasn’t used to this, Chanyeol was supposed to be angry at him, sad that Baekhyun had played with him, he should already be screaming and crying by now.

 

Instead, Chanyeol let out a tiny, weak fit of titters while bringing a hand up to rub his face.

 

"Baekhyun," he said, grinning with the remnants of his confusing laughter. Baekhyun couldn’t even frown when there was so much fondness in his name. He felt himself wavering a little but held on tight, even if he could feel his cheeks cramping up a bit from holding in a smile. Chanyeol looked at him, gaze melting Baekhyun the slightest bit. "You’re really not as good of a liar as you think you are."

 

Baekhyun lost his words for a moment.

 

"What?" he said, stupidly, feeling his entire grip on himself crumble down bit by bit, his eyebrows raising a little.

 

Chanyeol sighed. That sigh he always let out after laughing for too long. Relaxed, joyful. As much as it was confusing, maybe even a little irritating that Chanyeol was laughing so much when Baekhyun was delivering a painful speech he had worked on so hard, Baekhyun felt endearment blooming from its roots in his heart. 

 

"You’re not telling me anything I didn’t know already," Chanyeol answered, so casually as Baekhyun’s heart froze in his ribcage, stuck.

 

"What?" he asked, once again through gritted teeth, his voice wavering a little.

 

He didn’t know what was going on. He couldn’t read this. This wasn’t planned. He was a mess.

 

Chanyeol shook his head, let out another chuckle and Baekhyun hated himself when he couldn’t bring himself to hate that sound and let it anger him.

 

"You know, the first time you saw me on the subway wasn’t the first time I saw you." He had a smile on, that knowing, dimpled smile. Baekhyun felt it stir his stomach. "I saw you quite a few times before that. Always with a different person. Holding their hands, kissing them, alternating between them. They all looked very enamored."

 

Baekhyun’s heart dropped to his stomach heavily. That was not supposed to happen. That had never happened before. Why was everything about Chanyeol so different than what he was used to? Why had Baekhyun never thought about this? Then why? If he knew, if he had figured it out, then why had Chanyeol never said anything? Why had he fallen in love with Baekhyun? 

 

Maybe that was why Chanyeol had never acted on him first despite being a rather confident person. That same confidence was gleaming so openly in his amused eyes as he looked at Baekhyun. He felt stupid. Weak.

 

But he wasn’t. That didn’t change anything. That only played in Baekhyun’s favor. He frowned. Chanyeol quirked an eyebrow.

 

"Then you should know that I’m not lying. You’re one of those people. There’s nothing different. If you saw it, then you have the proof. I was playing with you. Nothing else."

 

Chanyeol hummed, nodding a bit. It looked fake, as if he wanted to spite Baekhyun. It had that effect, in a way. Baekhyun wanted Chanyeol to believe him. Only then would he be able to protect him. Even if he hated everything about this.

 

"You played with me," Chanyeol repeated, mused. "So you never loved me?"

 

Baekhyun bit his tongue, threatening it into obeying to him and not his heart.

 

"No," he said, voice cold and harsh as a wall. Baekhyun felt himself continuously crashing right into it, enough to feel his limbs trembling a little."No, I never loved you. I never loved anyone and I don’t love you either. I don’t."

 

"I see," Chanyeol nodded, frowning a little as he looked down. Baekhyun felt victorious and like a starving man all at the same time until Chanyeol looked back at him again, an eyebrow raised with mirth. He was fascinating. Baekhyun felt every fiber of his existence yearning for him. "Then why are you holding my hand exactly?"

 

Startled, Baekhyun looked down. His eyes widened when he saw that the fingers he had been gripping all along weren’t his own but Chanyeol’s hand trapped between the two of his. 

 

He hadn’t realized. He hadn’t noticed his body had betrayed him. He let go at once, as if burned by the touch he loved so much, and looked back up at the other with wide eyes.

 

He was grinning, cheeks bunched up, lines drawn on the corners of his eyes, and dimple peeking at Baekhyun. Even now, there was not an ounce of anger in his eyes. His hand remained on the couch, between them, as if he’d allow Baekhyun to hold it again if he wanted to. And he wanted to. He wanted to hold onto Chanyeol now more than ever, when even the nasty words Baekhyun had given him were not enough to make the other’s eyes turn anything other than affectionate and caring.

 

But he didn’t. Because he shouldn’t. This was ridiculous but he shouldn’t.

 

"That’s," he said, starting a sentence he couldn’t find the end of when Chanyeol tilted his head a little, patiently waiting for an answer. He looked unimpressed, delighted. Soft in his pajamas. That oversized, pastel pink shirt that made him look as fluffy as a cloud of cotton candy. "That’s because," he tried again, voice coming out like a squeak from how hard he was trying to keep a grip on himself. "Because physical contact is an efficient way to manipulate people?"

 

He sounded ridiculous. Unsure. Lame. Chanyeol looked at him as if even in this situation, Baekhyun made him happy.

 

He hummed again. Nodded again. It was growing terribly disarming. Adorable. He had missed Chanyeol. He still missed him. Baekhyun felt like he was bursting. Maybe in tears. Maybe in love.

 

"You’re trembling."

 

"It’s cold," Baekhyun threw out the first reason in his mind, pressing his lips together afterwards. 

 

Chanyeol leaned forwards a little bit, just a little bit, and Baekhyun realized then that he was almost folded in half, leaned towards Chanyeol himself. Chanyeol’s voice was lowered down to a teasing whisper when he spoke again.

 

"So it’s not because you want to hug me so much that you’re shaking?"

 

And at those words, Baekhyun felt something in himself melt down, entirely, flooding through him and soaking his voice when he surrendered himself to the next words Chanyeol coaxed out of him with that smile and that affection and that happiness and that emotion.

 

"I fell in love with you," he blurted out, looking into Chanyeol’s eyes because nothing at that moment was strong enough to make him look away. 

 

Not his own resolve, not his fears, not his insecurities, not the smoke, nor the fog. Nothing was stronger than this and Baekhyun rubbed his face with both hands, spreading the warmth that lingered on his palms from Chanyeol’s fingers, mumbling his next words against them. 

 

"I fell in love with you and I don’t know what to do. I really don’t know what to do. Just. Just help me. Do something. I really have no clue about this but I’m in love with you, Chanyeol."

 

It was messy. Baekhyun could barely even make out his own words but what he couldn’t ignore was the overwhelming relief draping all over him, soothing him, as if his own words were the key to a safe haven he had sought his entire life.

 

He heard another puff of chuckles, felt it tickling his skin, felt it pooling in his chest and bathing his heart in tenderness.

 

"Come here," Chanyeol whispered before pulling him into his arms.

 

Baekhyun let him do, burying himself in his embrace, squeezing his eyes shut and resting against Chanyeol’s chest. Then, he felt stupid. 

 

Stupid to even think he would ever be able to rip himself away from this feeling of fulfillment. He wrapped his arms around Chanyeol’s waist as the other enveloped his shoulders in his own arms. His body felt lighter. Baekhyun wondered if it was the warmth in him that made him feel like he could soar into the air.

 

He heard Chanyeol sigh, short, fond, amorous. Baekhyun felt each of those emotions echo in his own chest.

 

"Do you think I didn’t know that already?" Chanyeol mumbled against Baekhyun’s hair, his voice cajoling enough for Baekhyun to look up at him without untangling himself from his embrace. 

 

He took a deep breath in as Chanyeol smiled down at him. He could breathe. Now, he could breathe.

 

It still didn’t make sense. Some things were still a blur in his head. Chanyeol was smart. Baekhyun felt like a fool.

 

"But I never told you I love you before," he said because he hadn’t, not until this exact moment.

 

Something bubbled in his chest at the realization that he had said it. He had told Chanyeol that he loved him. That made him happy. Relieved. That the other knew now.

 

Chanyeol shrugged, mushing Baekhyun’s mouth into his chest with the movement. One corner of his lips was lifted up higher than the other. Baekhyun felt it tug at his heart.

 

"I guess I’m smarter than you then," was all he said.

 

Baekhyun could’ve said anything at that. He had questions to ask, answers to give, but at that moment, there was only one thing he craved to hear.

 

"Then you love me too," he said, asked, voice smaller than intended but it didn’t matter. 

 

He didn’t feel like himself. He felt so vulnerable, like a root buried under layers of snow. Chanyeol snorted. His smile was the first ray of sunlight freeing Baekhyun from the cold.

 

"Yes, you big baby," he said, laughing when Baekhyun groaned and stabbed his tummy with his finger. The smile lingered. "I love you too."

 

Baekhyun felt those words burying deep inside of him and sparking a fire. He didn’t think it would dim down anytime soon.

 

He had also never thought he’d end up like this when he had woken up this morning. He hadn’t thought Chanyeol would still be holding him, smiling at him, loving him as he asked Baekhyun to tell him everything.

 

Baekhyun did. He bared himself to Chanyeol. Because he could. Because Chanyeol loved him and he loved Chanyeol just as much. He told him about everything, the warmth he craved, the eternal winter his mother’s death had trapped him in, and the smoke from his father’s cigarettes hoarding into his lungs and not fading away unless he felt that warmth. 

 

He told him about everyone he encountered in life, everyone he remembered. He told him about them, what he did to them, what they gave him, and Chanyeol didn’t look pleased but he never showed a sign of repulsion either. He listened, tried to understand, sometimes laughed, sometimes mused as if he was discovering a new side of Baekhyun. It wasn’t a side Baekhyun was proud of, he had never been, but Chanyeol’s arms never once loosened around him and that was enough for him.

 

"And what exactly made you think breaking up would be the best thing to do?" Chanyeol asked once Baekhyun was done.

 

There was no judgement or amusement in his voice anymore, just mere curiosity.

 

Baekhyun bit his lower lip. He didn’t know how much time had passed since he had first stepped into Chanyeol’s apartment with that decision but he felt completely foreign to it now. For a second, he couldn’t even remember, not with Chanyeol’s fingers carding through his hair, his thigh a comfortable pillow under Baekhyun’s head.

 

However, it was still there. The hesitation, the insecurities, and the fear. That blood-curling fear of erasing Chanyeol’s smile one day.

 

"Love hurts people," he said softly, looking up at Chanyeol. 

 

He felt a little sleepy, cozy as the toll of the past sleepless nights was slowly winning over him. At the same time, he knew he wouldn’t sleep tonight either. Not because of fear and suffocation. But because he could breathe easily, because his heart beat for Chanyeol and he was overjoyed. 

 

"How so?" Chanyeol asked, gaze following the fingers he trailed over Baekhyun’s cheek. Baekhyun felt him press one of them right above his upper lip, right on the mole there.

 

"I just told you," he said, mumbled, Chanyeol’s finger preventing him from speaking properly.

 

Everything had turned back to normal. Chanyeol had made sure to let Baekhyun know through even more laughter than he was the only one to dramatize everything and get caught up in crazy thoughts. Baekhyun had groaned but couldn’t deny anything.

 

Chanyeol smiled, tugged one corner of Baekhyun’s lips up with a finger to match it.

 

"Love isn’t just something to hurt people with, you know."

 

His voice pooled in Baekhyun’s chest, like the very first sip of his favorite tea after a day of winter winds. 

 

Baekhyun pressed his lips into a tight line.

 

"I don’t know how to do anything else with love."

 

Chanyeol pulled his finger away from his mole to tap it once against the tip of his nose.

 

"I guess it’s time for me to change my vocation. From piano teacher to love teacher," he said, lowering his voice drastically and wiggling his eyebrows.

 

The ridiculous sight pulled laughter out of Baekhyun. Chanyeol grinned, even after the happy notes Baekhyun created died down a little and buried themselves back into him.

 

"Actually, I’d like that," he said, smiling a little before letting out a long sigh. "I hate to say this but I’m actually clueless about this whole loving someone thing."

 

"I can see that now," Chanyeol snorted. His fingers tangled in Baekhyun’s hair again. "But you’re kinda wrong. You don’t only hurt people through love. You make me happy."

 

Elation fluttered through him at those words and it was at that moment that Baekhyun promised himself to do everything to ensure Chanyeol would never regret this moment.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

As expected, Baekhyun couldn’t sleep that night.

 

Instead, he was watching the sleepy flutter of Chanyeol’s eyelashes as he struggled to stay awake with Baekhyun. He didn’t know why Chanyeol always did that, always wanted to be awake when he was and fall asleep when he did. Baekhyun didn’t mind. That meant every moment of his conscious was spent with Chanyeol.

 

They were on Chanyeol’s bed, midnight had left them behind a long time ago, but Baekhyun felt wide awake as his eyes traced over Chanyeol’s face. His eyes were droopy, his hair a mess, his pink shirt adorably tugged down his shoulder. He was resting his head on Baekhyun’s pillow, their legs tangled under the blanket. His calloused fingers were resting on Baekhyun’s arm, he was hugging it against his chest and said nothing as he let Baekhyun admire him.

 

He could still feel it. In his chest, in his stomach, in the tip of his fingers, and in his head. In his heart, that emotion blossoming into a flower that rested at the tip of his tongue. Without hesitation, he offered it to Chanyeol.

 

"I love you," he whispered into the darkness, hopefully right into Chanyeol’s endless heart.

 

It was such a nice feeling. Foreign but not alien anymore. Not since he had accepted it, not since Chanyeol had told him that he could feel it in everything Baekhyun had been doing with him lately. Not since Chanyeol had smiled at him while telling him that Baekhyun’s love made him happy.

 

Maybe it also made Baekhyun happy. Loving Chanyeol made him happy. Giddy. Elated. Enough for him to let out a quiet laugh when Chanyeol opened his eyes and looked at him. Baekhyun loved those eyes. They loved him back.

 

"I love you too," Chanyeol said, taking Baekhyun’s flower and returning it through a breathtaking and colorful bouquet.

 

Baekhyun felt flowers growing in his throat, in his chest, under Chanyeol’s touch. It didn’t smother him, simply cleansed the air he breathed.

 

"No but I love you," Baekhyun said, eyes wide, smile wider, the love he grew for Chanyeol even broader. "Can you believe that?"

 

He had never felt this before. He didn’t even know what it was in him that indicated that he was in love with Chanyeol. He just knew that he was so glad he could taste this feeling now. 

 

Loving Chanyeol felt sweeter than having been loved by a hundred strangers.

 

Chanyeol laughed, small, loud, drowsy, awake. In love with Baekhyun. Loved by Baekhyun.

 

"I mean," Chanyeol said, hugging Baekhyun’s arm tighter to his chest as a yawn cut him off mid-sentence. When his features relaxed again, it was in a smug, playful smile. "If I were you, I’d love me too."

 

He didn’t know what it was about Chanyeol. Maybe there was a billion reasons, maybe there was none. Either way, Baekhyun felt every fiber of his soul burgeoning into sparks.

 

"I’m really glad it’s you that I fell in love with," he realized, out loud.

 

Chanyeol looked at him, idle for a bit. He lit up into a smile, spread warmth through a tiny chuckle.

 

"I’m really your first love, aren’t I?" he commented, maybe realized out loud too.

 

Baekhyun smiled until his cheeks bunched his eyes up into two tinier grins, until he was so happy it was almost painful. It wasn’t really. Not when Chanyeol looked at him as if he wanted to wrap him up in a sweater knitted with his love through his gaze alone. His favorite sweater.

 

Silently, Baekhyun nodded. His throat tightened. His eyes burned a little. Was it because he loved Chanyeol too ardently? Was it enough to mist his eyes a little? 

 

Chanyeol saw him through the mist, reached out to him, and pressed a tender kiss against his forehead. His eyes closed. His smile never dimmed down as Chanyeol laid back down and turned until Baekhyun felt his back pressing against his chest, his hands grabbing Baekhyun’s to pull his arms around him, like a safety blanket.

 

That warmth. It was in him now.

 

With all his beating heart, he hoped that Chanyeol could feel it too. That he could soak it in the same way Baekhyun felt full with Chanyeol’s love.

Chapter Text

 

"You know, zucchini isn’t cucumber."

 

Baekhyun looked up at Junmyeon, his hand stretched out toward the other’s bowl, spoon cupping a small piece of zucchini. Without hesitation, he dumped it into Junmyeon bowl and grinned at the way his best friend eyed him.

 

"You might have put in cucumber instead of zucchini just to trick me."

 

"I wouldn’t ruin my doenjang-jjigae with cucumbers just because you suck," Junmyeon huffed as he spooned a bit of rice and dipped it into the stew before bringing it to his mouth. He hummed exaggeratedly at the good taste.

 

Baekhyun snorted. Junmyeon hummed even louder when he ate the same piece of zucchini — or cucumber — that Baekhyun had abandoned into his bowl. Baekhyun said nothing, knowing not to trust Junmyeon’s cooking when it came to tricking him with cucumbers.

 

"Do you treat Chanyeol’s cooking so disrespectfully too?" Junmyeon asked just as Baekhyun was savoring the potatoes and onions melting in his mouth.

 

"Chanyeol loves me so he never tricks with cucumbers," he replied, mouth full of crushed vegetables and rice.

 

Junmyeon wrinkled his nose in disgust.

 

"Don’t speak with your mouth full," he nagged and Baekhyun rolled his eyes, munching louder as a form of protest.

 

They ate in silence for a short while and Baekhyun enjoyed the food, letting it appease him. The last time he had been to Junmyeon’s house, it was with despair and uncertainty clawing and pressing down at his shoulders. Now, he felt as warm and harmonized as the stew he was sipping on.

 

It was a nice feeling.

 

"How is it going with Chanyeol?" Junmyeon asked after a while.

 

Baekhyun grinned. "It’s great. Really great," he replied with a contented sigh.

 

It had been a week since Chanyeol had laughed at his face while Baekhyun had taken what he thought would be the best decision for them. Now, Baekhyun wished he had spared himself the trouble and accepted his feelings earlier. There was nothing that made him happier than being able to tell Chanyeol that he loved him while nestling sincerity into every fiber of those words. There was nothing prettier than the smile offered him along with the return of a confession.

 

"You got used to it?" Junmyeon asked again, looking at him with curious eyes that turned only slightly judgmental when Baekhyun dropped a piece of tofu back into his bowl and a few drops of stew splattered on his hand.

 

"I think I did," Baekhyun said, honestly, as he grabbed the napkin Junmyeon handed him to wipe his hand. "Sometimes it still feels weird. I still get scared too, I really don’t want to hurt him. And I’m also… a bit awkward, I guess?"

 

"You? Awkward?" Junmyeon quirked an eyebrow.

 

Baekhyun bit his lower lip, sheepish.

 

"I mean, I don’t know. I feel different with him. Not as confident but much more sure of myself at the same time. I think it’s because I’m not doing this with a motive, you know?"

 

Junmyeon hummed. "You’re not giving him ready-made cheesy pickup lines."

 

"My pickup lines aren’t ready-made," Baekhyun groaned, affronted.

 

Junmyeon smiled, unconvinced. "It’s okay. You’ll get used to it with time and Chanyeol can help you too," he reassured him. "At least, you feel nice, right? Being in love."

 

"It feels amazing," he said without any trace of hesitation. He beamed, drawing happiness from the warmth constantly pulsing in his heart. "I hope you’ll feel it too, one day."

 

Junmyeon smiled at him, looked down at his food, and shrugged.

 

Later on, on his way to the subway station, Baekhyun walked past a little flower shop, petals painted on its façade but not as colorful as the liveliness on the other side of the glass walls. He stopped in front of it.

 

He wondered if Chanyeol liked flowers. He loved the ones on Baekhyun’s skin but would he also love the ones Baekhyun were to offer him? It wasn’t unheard of, giving flowers to the person you loved. They were pretty. Chanyeol was pretty too. Baekhyun wondered how he’d look with a flower tucked behind one of his big ears, making it stick out even more.

 

With a light smile on, he stepped in, a bell pealing in joy at his presence. He looked around for a bit, small red flowers catching his attention. They were beautiful, velvety to the touch and Baekhyun couldn’t smell it here but they looked as if they’d radiate a nice, gentle scent. A young woman came by his side, smiling as she told him how they were called. Baekhyun hummed. Before she could tell him their meaning, he asked her if she could make him a bouquet with beautiful flowers he wanted to offer to a beautiful Chanyeol just because they were beautiful.

 

He held onto the bouquet carefully in the subway, hugging it to his chest protectively but not enough to crush their frail beauty. Trepidation breezed through his whole body and never dimmed down until he stood in front of Chanyeol’s apartment door. The happiness singing in his heart at the prospect of seeing Chanyeol was louder than the melodious chiming of the bell as he rang it.

 

The door opened and Baekhyun stretched the bouquet of red flowers in front of him, covering his face with it and only peeking from behind it after a fleeting second. The mesmerizing bouquet uncovered the breathtaking smile on Chanyeol’s lips and the dimples doted on his cheeks like a pair of suns shining down on the corners of his lips.

 

"You got me flowers?"

 

"They’re for you," he said softly, handing him the bouquet.

 

His heart swooned a little in his chest as he watched Chanyeol lean down to take a whiff of the flowery scent dusted over the red petals, his eyes falling shut as his smile widened. Baekhyun felt something in his throat growing, his heart purring a little against his ribcage, content, happy, full.

 

"They’re really pretty," Chanyeol whispered in awe, gaze still focused on the bouquet, as if he wanted to take in every single silky petal Baekhyun had offered him. He looked happy. Baekhyun was happy. "I didn’t know you had this kind of romanticism in you." Chanyeol’s smile turned teasing as he finally looked at Baekhyun again. Then, his eyebrows raised and his eyes widened in concern. "Why do you look like you’re about to cry?"

 

Baekhyun took a deep breath in.

 

"I can’t believe you accepted my flowers."

 

Chanyeol blanked out for a second before giving Baekhyun a look that blended amusement and incredulity perfectly together.

 

"We’re dating, Baekhyun."

 

Baekhyun shushed him and picked a single flower out from the bouquet. Leaning up on his toes, he carefully tucked it behind Chanyeol’s ear, the skin of the tip was a little flushed with joy, only a shade lighter than the flower Baekhyun planted on him. It contrasted perfectly with his black, silky strands. He was beautiful.

 

He was beautiful and he belonged to Baekhyun but most importantly, everything that was Baekhyun belonged to his smile. 

 

Chanyeol smiled at him, accepting, full of love and full of Baekhyun’s love. He leaned a little closer to Baekhyun, joy glinting in his eyes like dewdrops on lovely flowers.

 

"If you start crying again, I’ll call you a cry baby for the rest of your life."

 

Baekhyun found himself wishing he would. That would mean they’d spend the rest of their life together. It wasn’t an unpleasant thought, far from that.

 

He said nothing, however. Instead, he let the nectar of Chanyeol’s lips pull him in and kissed him, imbibing himself in it tirelessly.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Baekhyun loved kissing Chanyeol.

 

He had always loved it. It never felt like a mere kiss, it always felt like something entirely different rattling through his whole body through something as simple as a liplock.

 

Baekhyun really loved kissing Chanyeol.

 

There was just something about kissing Chanyeol. It always felt like nothing was happening and too much was happening at the same time. Nothing was happening around them, everything turned idle, as if the whole world had stopped to watch Chanyeol kissing Baekhyun beautifully, preciously, breathtakingly. Too much was happening, in Baekhyun. His heart rate always picked up, his fingers were always fidgety, grabbing clothes, tugging hair, caressing tender skin. Everything in him felt enhanced, his lips, his chest, everywhere Chanyeol touched, and every mountain he raised in Baekhyun through a small contact.

 

Baekhyun was in love with kissing Chanyeol.

 

As he laid there, on his couch, laptop sitting on his chest, screen tilted towards his face so he could watch a movie, it suddenly hit him. He really, really wanted to kiss Chanyeol. 

 

It came as a surprise. Chanyeol wasn’t with him, he was at the academy and had a full day packed with classes that would end in less than two hours now. Chanyeol wasn’t with him, wasn’t there for him to cradle his cheek, grab the collar of his shirt, straddle him, and kiss him until Baekhyun felt breathless and bursting with life all at the same time.

 

The realization felt a bit hollow in his chest. Chanyeol wasn’t there. Baekhyun hadn’t kissed him at all today. They hadn’t kissed at all since last night, when Baekhyun had delayed Chanyeol’s departure from his apartment longer than necessary because he had kissed him and that kiss made him want to kiss him again and that kiss led to another one and then Chanyeol’s lips grew a bit redder, a bit puffier and they were always so comfortable under Baekhyun’s own lips like that so he had kissed him again.

 

Chanyeol hadn’t stayed over, because he had been neglecting his best friend duties to Jongdae and had to spend a bit of time with him last night. So they hadn’t kissed today. Baekhyun wanted to kiss him now, he craved it.

 

Not only kissing Chanyeol. He could feel his heart tucked in a corner of his chest, slow, tired, meaningless now that Chanyeol wasn’t there to press a hand, an ear, a kiss, a smile against it. He wanted to see Chanyeol. He needed to see him. They hadn’t seen each other since last night. It was almost a whole day since then.

 

He sat up. Discarded his laptop. Realized.

 

He missed Chanyeol.

 

Baekhyun missed Chanyeol.

 

Baekhyun actually missed someone. For the first time. It was an unfamiliar feeling, that hollow in his chest, the restlessness in his fingertips indicating him that he wanted to grab at a body he loved, the tingle in his lips yearning to be soothed by a kiss.

 

This was a nice feeling. It was uncomfortable, a bit painful even, but it was a feeling Baekhyun nurtured for Chanyeol. It was unfamiliar. He knew nothing about this. Would the discomfort fade away if Chanyeol was with him? Would a message be enough? He grabbed his phone, opened their conversation thread. He deflated when the last message he had sent Chanyeol two hours ago was still unanswered. Chanyeol was busy. It was okay.

 

It wasn’t okay for Baekhyun. It didn’t feel nice at all now. It felt like a mixture. He was happy because this feeling was new and groomed into him because of Chanyeol but he was a bit pained because he missed Chanyeol.

 

Was it normal to miss someone in such a short amount of time? Not that it was short. Baekhyun’s day had felt like an entire week. It felt weird. A bit stifling. He frowned, letting go of his phone. It was a growing feeling that had expanded through the whole day. Now that he thought about it, he had been sighing a lot, checked the time a lot, had tried watching three different movies but couldn’t reach the halfway mark in any of them without growing bored and restless.

 

Could you die from missing someone? Was that what this feeling would amount to? It felt rather plausible. Baekhyun was clueless but it didn’t feel impossible. Could he die from a lack of Chanyeol? How long would it take? He didn’t want that to happen. Chanyeol would be sad. 

 

Baekhyun missed Chanyeol. He smiled. Laughed. Grabbed a pillow and squeezed it in his hands. He felt giddy. At the back of his mind, he was glad that Chanyeol wasn’t there to witness his ridiculous state. He would make fun of him without any hesitation. He threw the pillow down next to him on the couch. He grinned. He missed Chanyeol. He wanted to kiss Chanyeol. Hug him too. Maybe take him out to dinner. Or maybe let Chanyeol cook for him and cling to him the whole time. They could also just cuddle. And kiss. Kiss a lot.

 

He took a deep breath in. He missed Chanyeol. If he missed Chanyeol, then Baekhyun had the right to see him. Just in case he could die from it. That shouldn’t happen. 

 

Therefore, for his own wellbeing and Chanyeol’s, he stood up and marched towards the entrance hall. He grabbed a jacket and pulled it on, ruffling his hair a bit afterwards. He was a mess. He was wearing sweatpants and his favorite sweater. It didn’t matter. Getting to Chanyeol as soon as possible was more important than looking nice.

 

It didn’t take too long to reach the academy by car and even if he wanted to, Baekhyun didn’t rush either. He wouldn’t be able to see Chanyeol until the end of his classes anyway and even if he felt like he could die from this hollow feeling in his chest, he would in no way do anything that would disturb Chanyeol’s work or harm him. He just wanted to feel closer to him and be there with him as soon as Chanyeol would be available.

 

He drove all the way to the academy and parked his car in front of it, next to the very few other cars lined there. He turned the engine off and leaned back against his seat. He glanced at his watch. There was still a little more than an hour left until Chanyeol’s last class would end. He hadn’t really thought about what he’d do while waiting. Maybe he should have.

 

He grabbed his phone and decided to scroll through the news article for now. It only distracted him from his Missing Chanyeol Alert for ten minutes. He looked up from the device to the academy. Chanyeol was inside, right there, only a few meters away and Baekhyun couldn’t see him. Somehow, this only made him feel worse, much worse. He sighed, looked down at his phone again. Less than an hour left. He opened up a gaming app and whiled a bit more time on it. He quickly grew bored and opened another one that lasted him less than five minutes.

 

Sighing again, he proceeded to hunt down more interesting games, downloading a few and then trying them out one by one. Only one of them managed to grab his attention for more than five minutes and when Baekhyun blinked up to the timestamp on the car’s dashboard, there was only fifteen minutes left until the end of Chanyeol’s class. He took a deep breath in, smiled, let his leg bounce a little bit restlessly, his heart slowly coming to life in his chest. He spent the rest of the time watching videos, the ones that trended today weren’t that interesting so after a while he switched to cute videos of animals, puppies and cats, the occasional bird doing silly things.

 

He looked up at the time. Five minutes. His heart leaped in his chest, hard enough for him to almost drop his phone in his haste to get out of the car as quickly as possible. He cleared his throat, looked down at himself. He was kind of a mess. It didn’t matter, not when he was about to finally see Chanyeol and kiss him. He strode towards the academy and swung the door open, almost hurting his arm in the process. Jongdae was at the front desk and when he looked up from his phone, Baekhyun grinned at him.

 

"Is he in his usually room?" he said without even giving the other the occasion to greet him.

 

Jongdae didn’t seem to mind, grinning right back at him although the curve of his lips was tainted with amusement and not excitement like Baekhyun’s was.

 

"He is," Jongdae said and that was all Baekhyun needed to engulf into the hallway.

 

He heard a faint call of don’t fall while running but ignored it, steps urgent as he headed towards the room Chanyeol had once given him piano classes in. It looked like he wasn’t the only one to be waiting for someone as right in front of the door, stood a middle-aged woman with a light smile on her lips. Baekhyun moved to stand at a comfortable distance away from her, returning her polite smile. He supposed she was there to pick her child up. It felt a little weird to tell himself that he was standing next to an enthusiastic mother while enthusiastically waiting for the moment he’d be able to kiss Chanyeol.

 

He grew fidgety after a while, started pacing a little and stopped when he noticed the way the woman was eyeing him. He didn’t feel embarrassed nor sheepish, just plain impatient. Chanyeol was at the other side of the door. Chanyeol’s lips were waiting for him at the other side of the door and Baekhyun would be able to kiss them. He bit onto his lower lip, settled on standing there and bouncing the sole of his foot against the floor. He took his phone out of his pocket, his fingers tingling a little, grabbing on the device too tightly as impatience seemed to tug at his body here and there. Two minutes left. Chanyeol was always punctual, so hard working.

 

He felt affection sprouting in his chest, only fueling his cravings.

 

After what felt like an eternity, the door finally opened and a young girl grinned up at the mother standing near Baekhyun. He couldn’t pay attention to them, too busy taking in the surprised widening of Chanyeol’s eyes when he stepped out of the room after the child. He smiled at Baekhyun, small, nothing that would indicate how happy he was to see him since they weren’t alone but Baekhyun saw his eyebrows melting in a contented quirk. 

 

Baekhyun felt his heart crashing against his ribcage, trying its hardest to push him towards Chanyeol but he didn’t give in. He stood there, bit onto his lower lip harder to keep the grip he struggled to maintain on himself as he listened to Chanyeol summarize their lesson to the mother. Baekhyun could barely comprehend his words, unable to register anything but that kind smile Chanyeol had on, his cheeks bunched up as he talked about how much progress the child had made. He looked like a child himself, passionate, excited to gush about his student. Baekhyun wanted to kiss him. He wanted to kiss him so bad.

 

Eventually, Chanyeol waved at the little girl as her mother took her hand and they walked away, her excited voice chiming as she told her mother further about what they had done. Baekhyun waited until they had rounded up the corner and disappeared out of the hallway before looking at Chanyeol whose gaze was already on him.

 

"What are you doing here? I was going to join you at home," he said, surprise still manifesting in his voice but nothing but joy blurring his handsome smile as he stepped closer to Baekhyun a little bit.

 

He was happy to see Baekhyun. 

 

Baekhyun really really wanted to kiss him.

 

And he did.

 

Because nothing could stop him now. Because he was in love with Chanyeol.

 

Their lips pressed together and Baekhyun felt himself turn into a puddle of mushy contentment as he draped his arms over Chanyeol’s shoulders and pressed their chests together, erasing every fiber of air standing between them. Chanyeol’s hands held onto his waist as he staggered a little from surprise, laughing a bit into Baekhyun’s mouth, muffled, happy.

 

Chanyeol pressed his lips back against his and Baekhyun remembered why he loved kissing Chanyeol so much.

 

His lips fit perfectly against Baekhyun’s, his lower one just the right shape and size to nestle right on the dip between Baekhyun’s lips. Chanyeol’s lips were often a faded ruby shade but they didn’t only look that way, they tasted that way. As Baekhyun kissed him, once, twice, thrice, a sweet, strawberry flavor seeped into his mouth and infused into his chest, cradling his heart as lovingly as Baekhyun cradled Chanyeol’s cheek. Or maybe it wasn’t strawberry. It also tasted like cotton candy. He knew it wasn’t Chanyeol’s mouth though, that couldn’t be possible. Maybe it was just the way Chanyeol made him feel when kissing him that tasted so dulcifying and savory.

 

Chanyeol playfully sunk his teeth into his lower lip, drawing the tiniest of sounds out of Baekhyun who raised himself even higher on the tip of his toes because close would never be close enough. He let Chanyeol nibble on his lower lip, felt his tongue tasting it, opened up to let him in. He had missed this. He had missed this so much and Baekhyun pulled away, so overwhelmed by how much he loved kissing Chanyeol that he couldn’t breathe for a second and had to calm down.

 

The tip of Chanyeol’s nose was mirthful as it brushed against his for a second before Baekhyun craved again and caught Chanyeol’s lips in another kiss. He felt washed out as he mouthed on that cushiony lower lip, each press of his lips against Chanyeol’s dragging more candor into his heart. He would never get tired of it. Chanyeol’s lips felt like petals, maybe a cloud of fluff, maybe a strawberry flavored marshmallow that Baekhyun was growing addicted to. And maybe Chanyeol felt the same way as he kissed the arch of Baekhyun’s lower lip once before pulling away a little, just a little, enough for Baekhyun to let out a small whine of protest.

 

He stretched towards him and Chanyeol leaned back, smiling, as beautiful as a flower-shaped embroidery weaved with gems and colorful stones. Soon, Chanyeol was leaned backwards too much and Baekhyun felt the sole of his feet rise from the ground before Chanyeol lost his balance and Baekhyun laughed as he steadied him and fell back down on his feet. As a reward to himself, Baekhyun kissed Chanyeol’s smile, shaped his own to it and breathed out, one of his hands slipping down to rest on Chanyeol’s waist, the other cupping the side of his neck as he tilted his head and deepened their kiss, slowing it down a little.

 

When he was quenched enough to pull out without gravitating right back into Chanyeol’s mouth, Baekhyun smiled up at him. There was contentment, affection, and questions in Chanyeol’s eyes as they remained close together, Baekhyun unable to let go of the other.

 

"I just missed you," was the only explanation Baekhyun pronounced against Chanyeol’s smiling lips.

 

Chanyeol’s I missed you too wasn’t pronounced out loud, it was dripping on his lips when he kissed Baekhyun again.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Baekhyun had attended lots of parties in his life. He was rather indifferent to it now, it was just a socializing event where you’d either have the time of your life or regret ever stepping into the venue.

 

When Seungwan had invited him to her birthday party along with Chanyeol only yesterday, when Baekhyun had been picking Chanyeol up from the academy again, he had felt rather proud of himself for being accepted so easily by Chanyeol’s friends. Chanyeol also spent a lot of time with the other teachers in the academy, they were all close to each other and it felt as exciting as meeting Chanyeol’s actual family.

 

They had never attended any party together, had not gone to any kind of nightclub, and this wasn’t close to that, it was just a gathering that involved lots of celebration, gifts, and alcohol. What had made baekhyun so giddy was the fact that he kept discovering new feelings through Chanyeol and he could possibly feel something completely foreign through this too.

 

What he hadn’t expected was that new emotion to be a very unpleasant one.

 

They had arrived close to an hour ago. Chanyeol had introduced Baekhyun to the rest of their group of friends that Baekhyun had never met, Jiho who was as passionate in music as Chanyeol was, or Taewoo who apparently owned an academy similar to Chanyeol and Jongdae’s except that it taught dance rather than music. A few other people too that all seemed friendly and nice, as expected of Chanyeol. 

 

Baekhyun wasn’t an awkward person. He could hold a conversation, he could captivate, he could do much more than that so it didn’t really bother him at all when Chanyeol left his side around half an hour ago. He had taken the occasion to get to know the others, make fun of Jongdae for the way he made heart eyes at Seunghwan, and converse a little with Soojung. Everything had gone well up until he looked around, curious about what Chanyeol was doing.

 

Acid sourness had dampened his mood as soon as he had seen the way Yixing was clinging to Chanyeol. It shouldn’t be offensive. Yixing was Chanyeol’s friend just as everyone here was. However, discomfort had pressed down on him heavily as he took in the way Yixing’s arms looked comfortable around Chanyeol’s shoulders, the way Chanyeol was tucked into his side, they way they smiled at each other and laughed together while talking about something that looked extremely funny.

 

It wasn’t a pleasant feeling. It scratched at Baekhyun’s throat and clenched his fingers around his untouched cup of soda. He hadn’t drank, just so Chanyeol could have fun without worrying about driving them back. And Chanyeol was having fun. Not with Baekhyun, but with Yixing.

 

It wasn’t difficult to recognize this. The poisoned claws twisting his guts around, the malicious voices planting thoughts in his head, the irritation storming in his stomach, and the weak protests squeezed out of his heart. He wasn’t entirely unfamiliar to jealousy but he had always been on the receiving end of it. Until this exact moment. He knew this. The possessiveness, the small amount of anger, and the incredible urge to just go there and rip Yixing’s arms away from Chanyeol.

 

He did none of it. He simply stood there, alone since Soojung had left a while ago, watching, biting on his lower lip. He didn’t want to do anything of that sort. That would possibly embarrass Chanyeol or worse, upset him, and Baekhyun didn’t want him to be upset. He was having fun, after all, and they weren’t even in any kind of compromising position, Jongdae or even Soojung always clung to Chanyeol as well. Baekhyun himself always had some kind of physical contact with Junmyeon. He didn’t know why exactly he was feeling it now.

 

But he was feeling it. And the worse thing about it was that the irritation was only minimal compared to the insecurity squeezing around him. Chanyeol was having fun. Why was Baekhyun even here then? He would’ve had just as much fun without Baekhyun here. He stopped chewing on his lower lip to form a straight line on his mouth instead. He didn’t like this. He felt discarded. Vulnerable, as he watched Chanyeol laugh at something Yixing said, body leaning forward from the strength of his laughter until he pressed his head against Yixing’s. Their cheeks were flushed. Chanyeol had probably drank a little bit while Yixing seemed very much drunk. He hated this. 

 

He hated this and he didn’t want to watch this at all. It was his right, wasn’t it? It was his right to let Chanyeol know if anything bothered him in their relationship. That was the way to fix it, right? Because maybe Chanyeol could fix this. Baekhyun didn’t like feeling this way over someone who was an important friend of Chanyeol’s. Why were they even friends? What could Yixing possibly say that made Chanyeol laugh so hard? Why didn’t Chanyeol only ever laugh like this with Baekhyun? He shook his head. That wasn’t true. He didn’t like these thoughts. He wanted them to end.

 

Uncertainty still clawing at his stomach, Baekhyun pushed himself away from the wall he was leaning against and stepped towards where Chanyeol and Yixing were seated on the couch instead. As soon as he was close enough, Chanyeol looked up at him and his face lit up with a goofy smile. Baekhyun felt a little better but glancing at the way Yixing’s hand was resting on Chanyeol’s thigh chased his smile away before it could even peek.

 

"Hyun-ah," Chanyeol called happily. "You gotta listen to Yixing’s joke, it’s—"

 

"I want to leave," Baekhyun cut him. His voice wasn’t harsh no matter how much he wished it was. It sounded weak, pleading, and Baekhyun hated it. He didn’t look at Yixing, only focused on the confused furrow of Chanyeol’s eyebrows.

 

"But we got here not long ago."

 

Baekhyun wished he could stay more and enjoy his time but his night was ruined. Not even by Yixing, nor by Chanyeol. It was just all in his head, he knew it, and yet, he could feel himself seething more every second that passed without Yixing removing his hand from Chanyeol’s thigh.

 

"I know but—" he said before stopping. He didn’t want to lie. "I just want to leave."

 

"Why," a voice whined and when Baekhyun looked down at Yixing, he had both his arms wrapped around Chanyeol’s now. As if he didn’t want him to leave. 

 

Baekhyun leaned to put his cup of soda down on the low table. It sloshed, too full, and a few drops jumped to his hand. Then, he grabbed Chanyeol’s hand and tugged as feebly as he could with anger boiling his heart painfully.

 

"Come on," was all he said, with no abundant force, looking at Chanyeol, hoping he’d understand.

 

He didn’t. Chanyeol observed him confusedly but didn’t move to stand up.

 

"But we’re having fun," he mumbled weakly and Baekhyun felt each of those words planting into his heart like thorns.

 

Did he prefer Yixing’s company over his? Was that what this meant? 

 

Baekhyun gulped down. His throat felt tight, a lump of sadness refusing to be put aside or ignored.

 

He glanced at Yixing who had finally let go of Chanyeol’s arm and was paying attention to his phone, thumbs drumming a message into the screen. He looked back at Chanyeol. There were questions in his eyes. Baekhyun could ignore them. Baekhyun could guilt him. He could guilt him into doing exactly what Baekhyun wanted him to do. It wouldn’t be difficult, he knew Chanyeol by heart. That would make everything easier.

 

But he wouldn’t. He wouldn’t. Because this was Chanyeol, not anyone else. He wouldn’t, because he loved Chanyeol and the mere thought of doing something like that to him was enough for Baekhyun to feel self-hatred tightening into a rope around his neck. Maybe he should leave on his own. If Chanyeol was having fun, then Baekhyun had no right to spoil that. He already regretted interrupting them. If he didn’t see it, maybe this wouldn’t disturb him so much.

 

He didn’t have the occasion to voice that out. Maybe Chanyeol knew him by heart too because after a lack of answer from Baekhyun who was completely lost about what to do, he suddenly pulled on Baekhyun’s hand and the latter pulled back, helping him up to his feet. Relief washed over him at once, soured by the realization that he had maybe already ruined Chanyeol’s night.

 

He didn’t return Yixing’s goodbye, not angry at the other, but a bit ashamed of his own reaction. He remained silent as Chanyeol loudly greeted everyone else at once, simply smiling wide enough for no one to suspect he wanted to leave this place as quickly as possible.

 

The ride back home was just as quiet on Baekhyun’s part. Chanyeol talked a bit here and there, obviously trying to lighten the mood a little but when Baekhyun remained unresponsive and merely smiled or laughed appropriately to whatever he was saying, he gave up after a while. Baekhyun hoped he wasn’t upset when, without asking for confirmation, he headed towards his own apartment. They spent almost every night together now, in each other’s apartment, and most of the time they ended up at Baekhyun’s since it was closer to the academy.

 

The silence didn’t quieten down, still loud in Baekhyun’s ears as they took the elevator up to his apartment. Chanyeol was the one to punch the code in and Baekhyun was the one to step inside first but before Baekhyun even had the occasion to contemplate running away and possibly hiding under his blanket while still expecting Chanyeol to join him, the latter grabbed his arm.

 

Baekhyun braced himself for anger, disappointment, maybe even their first argument as a couple, but all Chanyeol did was pull him into his embrace and rest his chin on top of his head. Surprise filtered through Baekhyun but didn’t prevent him from melting against Chanyeol and merging into his arms, nestling against his neck.

 

"Are you going to tell me what’s wrong now?" Chanyeol said coaxingly, his arms tight around Baekhyun.

 

He bit onto his lower lip, contemplating.

 

He shook his head, choosing not to answer over the great mortification that would come with having to explain the way he felt to Chanyeol.

 

Chanyeol hummed. Baekhyun felt the vibration in his chest through the thin fabric of his shirt. Baekhyun had forced it on him before leaving, to make sure Chanyeol wouldn’t wear another one of his hoodies. It looked nice with the jacket he was wearing now. The zipper dug onto Baekhyun’s stomach, a bit painful.

 

Chanyeol shifted a little, his chin dug into Baekhyun head when he spoke again.

 

"Were you, perhaps, being a little possessive back there?"

 

Of course. Of course Chanyeol knew.

 

Baekhyun looked up at him, tilting his head up painfully as he refused to pull away from Chanyeol even if it was to look at him. He frowned.

 

"Why do you have to be so smart?" he said, voice lilting dangerously close to a whine.

 

Chanyeol gave him that usual smug, boyish smile and Baekhyun’s heart swooned despite its lingering discomfort. He buried himself back against Chanyeol’s chest, hugged him tighter despite the chuckle he heard. He sighed. This was embarrassing and yet, he couldn’t help but feel colorful bubbles dancing leisurely in his chest at the fact that Chanyeol knew him so well, Baekhyun couldn’t hide anything even if he’d want to.

 

"You don’t have to worry or be jealous, you know," Chanyeol said, tone a bit more mature even if the affection lingered on. "It’s just Yixing."

 

Baekhyun pursed his lips. "I think I would’ve been jealous even if it was anyone else," he mumbled, hesitating a bit before his next words but choosing to talk about it rather than keeping it in. "I just. I guess I just got scared for a second."

 

"Scared of what?" Chanyeol asked incredulously and Baekhyun could feel him leaning back to look at him so he pulled away a little, enough for them to look at each other comfortably.

 

"I love you," he breathe out, without any hesitation. "You’re the only person I love. This is completely new to me and I really do love the fact that I’m in love with you. It’s really precious to me and I don’t want to lose it. I don’t want to lose you or even share you."

 

Even the act of sharing his deepest thoughts with someone was completely foreign to Baekhyun but he wanted this to work. He felt vulnerable, quite ridiculous as he stood there and complained, maybe even whined, but he wanted this to work so bad and if not with Chanyeol then with whom would he ever open up? 

 

Chanyeol didn’t let any hint of discontentment or anything remotely close to it show any sign of life on his face either and that was quite reassuring. There was the faint arch of a smile on his lips that sweetly reflected on his eyes. He leaned down to slot their lips together in a reassuring kiss and Baekhyun felt warmth dripping into him, watering the dried cracks of uncertainty and smoothing them out.

 

"It’s totally normal," Chanyeol said against his lips, pressing another kiss right on the mole above his upper lip before pulling away and looking into his eyes, conveying nothing but honesty and care through his gaze. "You can be jealous. I will be too. That’s completely normal but you have to trust me, alright? We just have to trust each other."

 

"I do trust you," Baekhyun said, voice shimmering with sincerity. He had trusted Chanyeol with his heart without even noticing it, he could trust him with everything else too.

 

"Then it’s alright," Chanyeol smiled, resting his hand on the slope of Baekhyun’s neck, cupping plum blossoms on his skin. He had left them bare earlier, when they were getting ready, because Chanyeol had asked him to with the most irresistible smile ever. "You can be jealous, just don’t let it ruin your night. Because I love you too and you won’t lose me."

 

Baekhyun pressed his lips into a tight smile, deflating a little into Chanyeol’s embrace.

 

"I’m sorry for ruining your night."

 

Chanyeol shook his head firmly. "You didn’t. Actually, you handled it pretty well for a first-timer. I’m proud of you," he said, patting Baekhyun head mischievously.

 

He let out a small chuckle, comforted by how Chanyeol treated this as if he was really teaching Baekhyun something and the latter was his apprentice.

 

He didn’t mind. Chanyeol was the world’s most perfect teacher, after all. He even gave Baekhyun another kiss when he asked for some kind of recompense. 

 

When Baekhyun wiggled his eyebrows obnoxiously and slyly while asking Chanyeol if he wanted him to turn into a misbehaving student for the night, he was pushed away with a groan halfway between mortification and amusement.

 

That was okay. Chanyeol still let Baekhyun take his clothes off and cuddle him afterwards.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Despite Chanyeol’s reassurance about not being upset, Baekhyun still felt a little guilty the next morning. 

 

He knew Chanyeol wasn’t upset or mad at him but he still had felt like doing something to make up for it. And make Chanyeol happy. He felt like Chanyeol was too tolerating with him and as much as it made him feel accepted and loved, he didn’t want Chanyeol to be the only one to make efforts while Baekhyun wandered around, clueless. And a bit too emotional, at times.

 

It was with goodwill and motivation that Baekhyun had extracted himself from Chanyeol and got out of bed while the other was still fast asleep. Enthusiasm had filled him up as he had stepped into the kitchen. Chanyeol always cooked for him and Baekhyun felt like cooking for Chanyeol this one time, or at least attempting to. It shouldn’t be that hard anyway. Cooking wasn’t too much of a big deal.

 

That was what he had told himself while gathering the ingredients he needed in order to make pajeon, following the instructions he had found on the internet. It was something easy to make, just a kind of pancake with vegetables. It would be perfect for breakfast along with fried eggs.

 

And yet, half an hour later, Baekhyun tried muffling his coughing against a hand as the thick scent of burnt eggs and eggshells wafted into the air unpleasantly. He took the pan away from the stove before flames could possibly burst out of his unrecognizable pajeon and dumped it into the sink as quietly as possible. It was a mess. He had broken an egg earlier, it had rolled right into the sink and shattered in hues of yellows and whites. 

 

He sighed, looking at the fruit of his ruined plans with a frown, hands holding onto his hips. He was supposed to cook for Chanyeol, make him happy, not make a mess out of the kitchen. Now, not only would Chanyeol starve but he’d also be kind enough to offer help in cleaning Baekhyun’s mess. He frowned and looked over his shoulder, listening carefully for any kind of sound that would indicate that Chanyeol had woken up. There was fortunately no such indication and Baekhyun’s shoulders slagged down in relief.

 

Glaring at the dry mixture in the pan that was still weakly fuming, Baekhyun bit onto his lower lip. This had been a bad idea. He had lost a lot of time. He had to make up for this. Chanyeol would wake up soon and nothing was even ready. He looked around, twirling on his own feet once as if he would magically catch something in the kitchen that would come to life and tell him exactly what to do.

 

He could attempt at cooking something else. Maybe fried eggs would be easier to make. They had a bit of leftover from last night’s rice, they could eat that together. Chanyeol’s mother had also sent them containers full of side dishes and what nots. But that wasn’t anything special. They ate that everyday, when Chanyeol didn’t feel like doing anything complicated. Baekhyun wanted this to be special. He wanted Chanyeol to feel like Baekhyun cared for him and made an effort. But maybe cooking wasn’t the right way to do it.

 

He caught sight of his phone laying on the counter, right next to a big dump of soybean paste. He dived towards it. Ordering was good. Making a call was still a good effort and it wouldn’t amount to anything burning or shattering. He unlocked the device and quickly scrolled through a list of nearby restaurants. Maybe not a restaurant. They could eat pastries today. Chanyeol had said something about wanting to eat cake last night. It was too early for a cake. Not that Baekhyun would mind eating cake for breakfast but Chanyeol would judge him a little bit for it. While eating the cake, of course.

 

It took him a few seconds to look through a promotional list of bakeries before something caught his eyes. He tapped on the bakery’s official website and navigated through for a short while. They sold vegan pastries, muffins, cakes, bread, and all kinds of things that looked deliciously perfect for breakfast. Baekhyun might have gone a little heavy as he ordered around ten different pastries to make sure there would be at least one thing that Chanyeol would like amongst it all. 

 

Letting out a sigh of relief, Baekhyun put his phone down again and listened for any sign of life coming from the bedroom. The delivery would arrive in half an hour at most, fifteen minutes if Baekhyun was on his lucky day. Would what he ordered be enough? It felt kind of lacking. Should he have ordered more? From a different bakery too? He grabbed his phone again. He wanted to get something that would make Chanyeol smile. He had smiled really wide when Baekhyun had gotten him flowers the other day.

 

Face lighting up, he quickly dialed the nearby flower shop’s number and placed his second order of the day. It was a bit difficult to decide what to get Chanyeol when he couldn’t see and had no idea what the complicated names the florist gave him corresponded to but Baekhyun asked for something colorful and pretty. Like a sunrise. That seemed to be enough for the male voice on the other end of the line to understand and his delivery would reach their house in around half an hour as well.

 

That was a long time. Baekhyun felt a little restless once he hung up, standing there in the middle of the kitchen. He looked around, wrinkling his nose at the mess he had made. There were lumps of flour on the floor, dirty bowls and chops of green onions on the counter. The pack of eggs was still open and Baekhyun’s eyes widened when he noticed that he hadn’t even turned the stove off earlier. He quickly rushed to do it, bumping his toe against something cruelly hard on the way and muffling a pained groan by biting on his lower lip hard.

 

It was painful. Baekhyun was disappointed in himself for being so clumsy and lame when it came to this kind of things. 

 

He could hear his past self snickering at him. The Baekhyun who made people cook for him with nothing but a smile was whimpering and laughing at the same time from the back of his mind, where it was buried. He let out a dry chuckle. Maybe Chanyeol would laugh too if he were to wake up now and see the mess. Baekhyun smiled at the thought, at the image of Chanyeol laughing so hard he was holding onto his stomach and closing his eyes in a pained expression.

 

He still didn’t want to make the other clean up after him, however, so he decided to get into it. It would at least make the time fly by faster as he waited for his deliveries.

 

Around twenty minutes later, Baekhyun was barely done picking up the crumbles of eggshells in the sink when he heard footsteps pitter-pattering towards him. When he turned around, he was greeted with Chanyeol’s sleepy features. His eyes always puffed up when he slept too much and he had a light flush on his cheeks, his ears reddened from being pressed against his pillow for too long, his hair a mess, and one leg of his sweatpants riding up his calf a little bit.

 

"What are you doing?" Chanyeol mumbled, voice hoarse, rattling against Baekhyun’s heart pleasantly.

 

Baekhyun furrowed his eyebrows a little.

 

"Why are you already awake?" he asked, washing his hands before stepping towards Chanyeol and promptly drying them on the other’s shirt.

 

Chanyeol let out a soft sound, halfway between a groan and a chuckle, but let Baekhyun’s wet fingers graze the skin of his tummy.

 

"What do you mean already? I slept too much," Chanyeol yawned as he wrapped his arms around Baekhyun and hugged him, bending enough to rest his head on Baekhyun’s shoulder, folding himself snuggly around him.

 

Baekhyun smiled despite himself and returned the embrace, his hands tracing Chanyeol’s back up and down in a comforting motion.

 

"But I’m not ready yet," he mumbled, disappointed in himself yet again, and nuzzled against Chanyeol’s neck to make himself feel a little better. It wasn’t that bad. The earlier Chanyeol woke up, the earlier Baekhyun would get his morning hug. 

 

He felt Chanyeol straighten a little bit and pulled away enough to look at him and see the surprised quirk of his eyebrows.

 

"Did you try cooking?" he asked, a dumbfounded expression chasing the sleep away from his handsome features.

 

Baekhyun remembered that he hadn’t thrown away the failed, burnt pajeon yet, and groaned a bit in embarrassment. 

 

"I just wanted to make it up for last night," he mumbled.

 

"Last night?" Chanyeol repeated, furrowing his eyebrows a little. "But I wasn’t upset. You were the upset one actually."

 

"Don’t remind me," Baekhyun snorted, twitching Chanyeol’s lips into a smile. "I still wanted to make something nice for you."

 

Chanyeol hummed softly, pulling Baekhyun closer to him, before his eyes narrowed playfully.

 

"This looks like you were trying to poison me though."

 

"I wasn’t!" Baekhyun groaned, lightly punching the other’s chest but only amounting to more laughter from Chanyeol.

 

It was cut off by the doorbell ringing faintly and Baekhyun perked up as Chanyeol gave him a curious look. He parted his lips to say something but before giving him the chance to, Baekhyun pulled away.

 

"Stay here!" he chimed before heading out of the kitchen and towards the door instead. 

 

It was a delivery from the bakery and Baekhyun collected it with a relieved smile and paid, glad that it arrived pretty quickly. Chanyeol wasn’t upset, not for last light and nor for the ruined breakfast but Baekhyun still wanted to feed him something nice for once. Things were turning out okay.

 

When he stepped back into the kitchen, Chanyeol was cleaning up the last bits of Baekhyun’s mess, visibly letting the pan soak to get rid of the burned crips better. He looked at Baekhyun when he heard him, curiosity widening his doe eyes as he looked at the box Baekhyun was holding.

 

"What’s that?"

 

"Breakfast," Baekhyun grinned excitedly.

 

Chanyeol moved to grab the box from him but Baekhyun pulled it away, tutting.

 

"Just stay here while I prepare it. Don’t look," he warned the other, balancing the box on one hand to threaten him with a playful finger.

 

Chanyeol merely snorted, unimpressed, but still humored Baekhyun and turned away. Baekhyun could sense his impatience in the way his fingers were drumming against the countertop so he quickly got to work. Without losing any time, he moved to get a few plates from the cupboard and then proceeded to place each items accordingly. One plate was full of muffins of different flavors such as coconut, apple, chocolate, and blueberry. On three other plates, accordingly, Baekhyun placed the two banana scones, two chocolate brownies, and the two small pound cakes, one orange flavored and the other apples and cinnamon.

 

Only once he was done meticulously placing everything in plates did he call for Chanyeol to turn around. When he did, his gaze immediately fell on the pastries.

 

"You bought all that?" he said in awe, stepping closer to the counter to see everything more properly. "But that’s so much," he mumbled even if he was already leaning closer, eyes never leaving the mouthwatering pastries.

 

"We can eat it all together the whole day," Baekhyun beamed, taking in the joy lighting up Chanyeol’s features.

 

He felt a little proud of himself for having been the one to water the smile on Chanyeol’s face into a blossoming flower.

 

Baekhyun moved to take a seat in one of the high stools, patting the one next to him but before Chanyeol could properly sit down, the doorbell rang again. Naturally, Chanyeol stepped towards the door instead of the counter and when Baekhyun remembered that he had ordered something else, his eyes widened and he almost fell off the chair in his haste to stop Chanyeol. He grabbed his arms, a little sheepish when Chanyeol gave him a weird look.

 

"I’ll get the door," he simply said as an explanation and Chanyeol gave him a suspicious look laced with confusion but quietly stepped back into the kitchen.

 

With a sigh of relief, Baekhyun headed towards the door. The flowers were pretty, colored in pink, purple, light blue, and faint orange hues. It was a big bouquet that almost looked like a puff of cloud, as fluffy and soft as Chanyeol would look while holding it. He grinned to himself while paying and as soon as he was done, he hid the bouquet behind his back and walked back to the kitchen. Chanyeol was sitting at the counter, turning around when he heard Baekhyun step in. 

 

His oversized shirt floated on his body, he still had the faint sleepy lines of his pillow against his cheek. Baekhyun felt his heart puffing up and melting down at the same time, the sensation strong enough for him to lose his footing for a second and almost fall down. Chanyeol laughed.

 

"What are you doing?" he asked incredulously, dimples out as he watched Baekhyun safely take the last steps towards him.

 

He grinned, sheepish, happy, stood next to Chanyeol, and then held the bouquet out to him in a flourish.

 

"Here. Flowers."

 

For a fleeting second, Chanyeol stared at the sunrise-soaked petals, before looking back up at Baekhyun, lips pressed together but splitting his face in a wide smile that illuminated the flowers he took from Baekhyun.

 

They looked nice in Chanyeol’s hands. It made him look softer than he usually did. In his hands, the bouquet turned into a cloud of cotton candy. Melted ice cream. 

 

"You got me flowers again," he said, voice delicate but tinkling with crystal notes of happiness as he leaned down to take a whiff of their natural scent, eyes closing.

 

Baekhyun couldn’t smell it from here but it didn’t matter. The air he breathed in was imbibed with the sugary aroma of Chanyeol’s happiness, strong enough to tickle his nose and jolt his lips into a smile.

 

"To show you that I love you," Baekhyun said, in an obvious tone.

 

Out of nowhere, Chanyeol burst into a fit of laughter and it took Baekhyun an idle moment to get past the beauty of that melody and realize that Chanyeol was laughing at him.

 

"Why are you laughing?" he asked with a frown.

 

"You’re really good at being awkward and cheesy at the same time," was Chanyeol’s merry reply. 

 

Baekhyun fought a smile and sat down at the counter, quirking an eyebrow.

 

"Are you making fun of me?"

 

"I am," Chanyeol replied without hesitation, mirroring Baekhyun’s expression but adding to it a smile pigmented with smugness.

 

Baekhyun gathered all the plates together, shielding them from Chanyeol with his arms.

 

"Then starve."

 

Baekhyun was weak, however. All it took was for Chanyeol to scrunch his face adorably and let out a small whine of protest for Baekhyun to shove a muffin into his mouth.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

March started with Baekhyun’s fresh subscription to the gym.

 

After spending a few days bored out of his mind at home, with no work to distract him and no Chanyeol to keep him company, he had finally decided to find himself something to do at least for a few hours of the day. He couldn’t bother Junmyeon when he was working, had snorted at his face when Junmyeon offered to take him to work with him, and Chanyeol had also flicked his forehead when Baekhyun had come up with the idea of simply sitting in a corner of his room at the academy to watch him teacher the day away. Apparently, that would be a bit too creepy.

 

The next best thing was going to the gym. It wasn’t entirely novel to him so Baekhyun didn’t feel completely lost when he stepped into the wide establishment a while ago, the remnants of his frequent visits from a year back guiding him through the equipment and the several rooms. He had no real plan in mind when he had entered the building. He had started with the elliptical to warm up a little, taking the occasion to watch his surroundings before growing bored and moving to the treadmill instead.

 

It had now been around twenty minutes since he had started running at a moderately slow pace that still took some effort for his rusty legs to match but he was enjoying it. He hadn’t felt the faint strain in his body in a long time, the sweat and the burn of his working muscles were a pleasant welcome and he didn’t regret the decision he had taken this morning on a whim. The only inconvenience was that he had forgotten his earphones and without music, it felt much duller and more difficult but at least, he could still listen to the faint, questionable music crooning from the speakers all over the gym.

 

"I see you still have a nice stamina," he suddenly heard on his left and when he turned around, he was greeted with a familiar but unexpected face.

 

Sehun was standing on the treadmill right next to his, gaze focused on the screen as he tweaked with the buttons to program the machine to his will. His cheeks were a little flushed, skin glowing with a faint sheen of sweat, and the hair falling over his forehead a little damp, an indication that he had been here for a while already.

 

Surprisingly, Baekhyun felt awkward. 

 

He hadn’t expected this encounter, especially not in this kind of place. He didn’t let it show on his face, however, smiling a little as he looked straight in front of him when Sehun started running, at a pace bit faster than Baekhyun.

 

"I see you’re maintaining your body too," Baekhyun carefully said, not wanting to sound too familiar but unwilling to give an overly detached image either.

 

He had just started his subscription here, it would be an inconvenience to find another gym so soon.

 

"This amazing body doesn’t come on its own, you know," Sehun said, that casual confidence echoing in his voice.

 

Baekhyun smiled but let the conversation die, looking down at the small screen. He still had around ten minutes to run. When nine minutes were left, he finally yielded to the insistent gaze he could feel on the side of his face and looked back at Sehun. He had an obviously exaggerated sad expression on.

 

"You’ve been ignoring me," he complained. He didn’t sound tired, nor actually sad.

 

Baekhyun took a few seconds to muse for a reply.

 

"You don’t really sound sad," he settled on saying, no particular emotion in his voice.

 

"Well, obviously. It’s your loss, not mine." He caught Sehun shrugging from the corner of his eye. "I’m just disappointed we didn’t get to know each other a little more."

 

This was awkward. Really awkward. Baekhyun rarely ever met his old acquaintances again. Or rather, they rarely ever approached him if they happened to be in the same place. He raked his brain for a proper reply, wishing this situation would end soon.

 

"I have a boyfriend," he blurted out, looking at Sehun straight in the eyes to make sure he would get the message across.

 

Sehun raised an eyebrow.

 

"Did I ask?"

 

Baekhyun furrowed his eyebrows, taken aback.

 

"Why else are you talking to me if you’re not interested in me that way?"

 

"I wanted to have a nice gym buddy," Sehun said, tone indicating that he thought it was the most natural, logical thing in the world.

 

"A gym buddy," Baekhyun deadpanned, unable to comprehend why exactly Sehun would want him to be his gym buddy.

 

His thoughts seemed to transpire on his face. Sehun looked at him once and then snorted.

 

"Just because we fucked once doesn’t mean we can’t be friends, you know."

 

He was barely even breathless. Baekhyun was starting to feel a little tired. And competitive. He forced himself to breathe regularly.

 

"Why would you want to be friends with me?" he asked, not condescending, simply confused.

 

Sehun gave him a look. Baekhyun almost felt stupid.

 

"I don’t know," he sighed, exasperated but still looking at Baekhyun as if he was deeply amused by the situation. "Why are you friends with people usually?"

 

Baekhyun parted his lips then closed them again, locking in his answer before it could slip out. 

 

He made friends for connections. He had never made friends for any other reason than his own benefit and their potential as something more than a friend. He didn’t even have friends. His only friend was Junmyeon and even their friendship had started with Baekhyun trying to manipulate him only to realize it really did not work on Junmyeon. He supposed he had been friends with Chanyeol at some point but now, he was much more than that.

 

Baekhyun didn’t know how to make friends. True friends. He supposed it wasn’t that difficult, he would manage but why would he even need friends? Moreover, why would he even be friends with Sehun when they had had sex once and Baekhyun would’ve turned it into something much more draining for the other had Chanyeol not tweaked with his mind at that time?

 

He bit his lower lip in worry. Would Chanyeol even accept him talking to someone he had sexual intercourse with? Would that make him feel uncomfortable? Would he be upset? Would this even be appropriate?

 

He glanced at Sehun. He was wiping the sweat on his temples with the towel hanging around his neck. He looked nonchalant, casual, as if he wasn’t even expecting a reply to his question anymore. Baekhyun felt very awkward. He looked back down at the screen of his treadmill. He had five minutes left. He stopped the machine and got down. He didn’t want to do anything that would make Chanyeol uncomfortable. His legs felt heavy and he was breathless but he felt nice. This should be enough for today.

 

Without a word or a last greeting, he turned around to head out. 

 

Before he could even take a step forward, he felt something slapping against his lower back. He turned around with wide eyes. Sehun was grinning cheekily, holding onto the towel he had just whipped Baekhyun’s back with.

 

"Do some squats next time. It’s good advice from your new friend."

 

Weirded out, Baekhyun left without another word or look behind.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chanyeol’s ears were a wonder of the world.

 

Baekhyun really loved Chanyeol’s ears.

 

They were sculpted beautifully into Chanyeol’s head, carved by giggly angels themselves, but at the same time, they always looked like frail flowers susceptible of fluttering happily at the first breeze that would tickle them.

 

They were often red at the tip, gradually blending into Chanyeol’s usual skin color down the lobe. It gave off the illusion of single petal curtsying graciously each time Baekhyun glanced at them, the skin on the tip folded a little in a beautiful arch. They stood like a flowery crown on either side of Chanyeol’s head, giving him a boyish, soft look, smoothing out his handsome features, rounding up his eyes and the tip of his nose like a burgeon amongst twin flowers.

 

Baekhyun was in love with every part of Chanyeol. Maybe he was a little more in love with his cute ears than other parts of his oversized body that was still much too small to fit in that big, lavish, frail heart of his.

 

Baekhyun was in love with Chanyeol and therefore, as they sat on their couch, mugs of tea emptied through the drama they were watching on the television, he didn’t hesitate one second before stretching his hand towards him. With the tip of his finger, he pulled down on the tip of Chanyeol’s ear. The malleable skin gave in easily under his touch and folded a little before he let go and it sprung right back up.

 

Baekhyun bit his lower lip as a grin flowered on his face. Chanyeol didn’t look at him, too engrossed in the drama they were watching. Heart melting into goo against his ribcage, Baekhyun stretched his hand out again and trailed his finger over the arch of Chanyeol’s ear, the skin pleasantly warm and silky, before he pressed down with a light touch and folded it slightly again. He let go, watching as it jolted back into its normal shape. It really did feel like playing with a single petal on the crown of a flower. 

 

Unable to stop himself, as if enchanted, Baekhyun repeated the gesture a few more times before finally, Chanyeol seemed to realize what exactly Baekhyun was doing and he pulled away, looking at him with wide eyes.

 

"What are you doing? Are you crazy?" he asked, voice tumbling down into a whine as he covered his ear with a hand, as if to protect it from Baekhyun. He didn’t look too protective though, not with the way his cheeks were twitching a little to fight back a smile.

 

"What? Your ears are cute," Baekhyun justified himself without a hint of shame.

 

"Don’t do that," Chanyeol mumbled, the apple of his cheeks ripening into a soft flush.

 

With that, he gave his attention back to the screen, leaving Baekhyun’s gaze to gravitate towards his ear again. It was a little redder now, both because of the slight embarrassment Chanyeol always felt when it came to his ears and because Baekhyun had played with them.

 

It only took him a short while to reach towards them again. He was sitting sideways on the couch, back resting against the armrest and knees folded, feet resting between him and Chanyeol as he pushed himself away from the armrest. He tried his hardest to tame the bubbles of joy popping against his heart and rendering it into a giggly, jumpy mess as this time, he flipped a finger against Chanyeol’s ear over and over again. The arched tip gave under his touch, flapping up and down according to the way his finger moved and this time, Chanyeol almost instantly burst into laughter. It was a funny kind of laugh, amused yet embarrassed and whiny at the same time when he pulled away again.

 

Baekhyun didn’t let him get too far away, however, affection bursting in his chest at the embarrassed way Chanyeol pressed his lips into a smile, closed his eyes, and tilted his head away when Baekhyun wrapped his arms around him and pulled him close. Chanyeol stumbled down between his parted legs, his chest crashing against Baekhyun’s and his arms trapped between their bodies. He was still laughing and he was so embarrassed but merry and so, so pretty, incredibly snuggly as he muffled his laughter against Baekhyun’s neck. 

 

He wondered if affection could ever actually make his heart burst into pieces and drag him to the sweetest death he could ask for.

 

"Do you have an ear fetish?" Chanyeol asked once he had calmed down, his chin resting against Baekhyun’s chest. His eyes were even wider than usual from the angle he was looking at Baekhyun through, his cheeks flushed and glowing like fresh cherries wrapped in a cloud. There was nothing but affection and merriment sprouting on his face.

 

Baekhyun grinned, wide, until his cheeks hurt, and then, in a sudden movement, he leaned down until he could nose against Chanyeol’s cheek, making him tilt his head a bit with another fit of twitters. Satisfied, Baekhyun quickly smooched the reddened tip of his ear, with a loud, exaggerated sound that echoed with love.

 

"No, I just love you," he grinned as Chanyeol let out that chuckly groan again.

 

"I love you too but please, don’t make me go deaf," Chanyeol said, voice muffled where he pressed his face against Baekhyun’s chest.

 

Baekhyun made kissy faces and sounds at him for a while before stopping when Chanyeol pinched his tummy hard. He grumbled under his breath but they watched the rest of the drama snuggled together, sliding down along the couch at some point until Baekhyun’s head rested on the armrest and Chanyeol’s on his chest. Chanyeol was still lying on top of him, and he was heavy but Baekhyun didn’t mind. Without being able to figure out why, he just like the feeling of Chanyeol’s body pressed down against his. 

 

There wasn’t even anything sexual about this, he just enjoyed the weight of Chanyeol on top of him, the way their legs tangled together, how easily he could card his fingers through his hair, and even feel the faint sound of Chanyeol’s heartbeat if he concentrated hard enough.

 

As they laid there, Baekhyun thought back to his encounter with Sehun yesterday. He had wanted to talk to Chanyeol about it. This could be the occasion but he didn’t want to disturb Chanyeol when he was so focused on this lame morning drama that Baekhyun found pointless but would still watch if it meant Chanyeol would share his warmth with him. It seemed vain, he might not ever run into Sehun again. Maybe he had said those things as some kind of petty revenge.

 

It was Chanyeol who spoke first when the drama ended, pulling Baekhyun up from the slight drowsiness it had pushed him to.

 

"I want to ask you something," he said, no real hesitation in his voice, just a mere announcement. He wasn’t asking for permission, just prompting them into the conversation.

 

Baekhyun blinked a little to gather his wits together and then nodded to let the other know he could continue. His fingers had slipped under Chanyeol’s hoodie at some point, basking in the warmth pooled on the dip of Chanyeol’s back.

 

Chanyeol smiled at him.

 

"You know, you keep saying that you don’t know how to love, right?" he said, waiting for Baekhyun to nod before continuing. "What makes you say that? I mean, you are awkward and clueless sometimes but besides that, what makes you say that? You’ve fooled dozens of people, haven’t you?"

 

Baekhyun hummed softly. There was no mockery or accusation in those words. They could’ve come out as offending but Baekhyun could see the curiosity in Chanyeol’s attentive eyes. 

 

"I think," he started but stopped to actually think a little more. Chanyeol waited patiently until he spoke again, slowly, trying his best to express himself, what he felt. "It might be because all these people, while I did influence them with my behavior when they fell in love with me, it wasn’t real, you know?" 

 

Chanyeol furrowed his eyebrows. Baekhyun pressed his lips together. He had never thought he’d have trouble expressing himself one day. 

 

"It wasn’t sincere." That word fitted better. "Whatever I did, I didn’t do it out of genuine feelings or impulses."

 

"It wasn’t out of love," Chanyeol tried.

 

Baekhyun nodded. "Yeah. I kind of calculated it all? Analyzed it? I just observed them, tried figuring out what kind of person they’d fall in love with and tried fitting that image." Comprehension lit up in Chanyeol’s eyes. "With you, it’s different."

 

"How so?" Chanyeol asked through a light smile. Baekhyun knew that smile. It was the smug one, but very faint. 

 

"With you, I want to do things out of love. There’s no calculation, no twisted motivation, no actual observation and conclusions. It’s just all because I want to. Because I feel like doing it. Because I love you."  Chanyeol hid his smile against Baekhyun’s chest but let his eyes beam at him. Baekhyun’s voice softened, melting under the attention. "But I don’t know how to show it. I don’t know what to do, what to tell you so you can feel how much I actually do love you."

 

He took a moment to think. Chanyeol remained quiet, his fingers tapping a melody on Baekhyun’s collarbones in a calming motion.

 

"I don’t even know how much I love you," he realized out loud. "I can’t tell if it’s a normal amount or too much. I just want to love you harder though, so it’s definitely not enough."

 

Chanyeol smiled. Bare. Plain. The curve of his lips stretched over his face like an unending field of varicolored flowers. Baekhyun felt his breath hitching. He felt like each time he looked at that smile, he noticed a different floret, a different shade, a different texture. But the same mesmerizing effect. Always.

 

"You don’t have to do anything," Chanyeol said, voice akin to the rustle of the wind against frail cherry blossoms. "I can feel it. When we’re just like that. Always. Without you having to show it. That’s more than enough for me."

 

Maybe he was right. Maybe Baekhyun didn’t need to do anything for Chanyeol to feel how much he loved him. Baekhyun would still do it. Because it came from the heart. Because it was a pure need, a selfless instinct. It didn’t stem from insecurities or a fear of lacking, it was a mere desire from the love rooted in his heart.

 

And because his heart told him to do so, Baekhyun leaned down, pressed a kiss on the mole doting the bridge of Chanyeol’s nose. Chanyeol wrinkled his nose adorably, grinned, and doted the mole above Baekhyun’s upper lip with a peck.

 

It was enough for delight to peal through him in a crystalized palette of warm colors.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Yixing was a really nice person.

 

He had a nice smile. A kind gaze. A gentle voice with an even gentler accent fluttering through. And he always always looked happy to see whoever he was meeting.

 

All of that made it hard for Baekhyun not to smile back at him when he stepped into the academy and Yixing was the one greeting him at the front desk. He didn’t nurture any particular kind of dislike towards Yixing. It was just a bit of discomfort sourcing from himself rather than the other, a remnant of what had happened in Seungwan’s birthday party a few days ago.

 

"How are you doing?" Yixing asked him with that friendly dimpled smile as Baekhyun stepped towards him, hopefully no trace of hesitation in his stance or features.

 

"I’m doing great," he smiled, glancing at his watch. Chanyeol would be done with class in around ten minutes. He had no reason to rush towards his classroom. He looked back at Yixing. "You?"

 

"Just the same old," he said and Baekhyun couldn’t hide the genuineness in his smile at the way the other had structured his sentence. Yixing wasn’t mean. Baekhyun couldn’t hate him even if he wanted to. "Here to pick Chanyeol up?"

 

"Yep."

 

"You’re always picking him up. It’s kinda cute," Yixing grinned, fingers grabbing a pen on the desk but eyes conveying mirth right into Baekhyun’s.

 

"We’re very cute, yes," he chuckled, unable to come up with anything else.

 

He felt bad. Yixing was making efforts to get along with him while Baekhyun still saw the way his hands had been resting on Chanyeol so comfortably. He could even feel those same hands squeezing his heart at the memory, the same way he pressed a thumb against the small button at the summit of the pen he was holding, the mechanism ticking once. He was probably oblivious to the way Baekhyun felt.

 

"I haven’t seen Chanyeol so happy in a long time, you know," he said, smile softening a little.

 

"You’ve known each other for a long time?" Baekhyun couldn’t help but ask despite the pleasant feeling seeded into him by Yixing’s words.

 

Yixing hummed at that, looking up towards the ceiling as he raked his brain for an answer.

 

"It’s been around two years, I think. He’s the one who hired me when I came to Korea."

 

"You’ve been here for two years only?" he asked in surprise. Yixing laughed softly. "You’re so good at… being Korean, though."

 

"I try my best," he shrugged, nonchalant. "It was pretty difficult at first, actually. I had nothing, not even a place to stay at, when I first came here." He stopped, nodding towards the door. "Then I saw the ad plastered on the door. They were looking for musicians. So I went in, asking for the job with my broken Korean. Chanyeol’s the one who hired me. He even taught me a bit of Korean, lent me his couch until I could find a decent apartment."

 

That sounded just like Chanyeol. 

 

He couldn’t help but smile. Maybe his kind heart pushed him to take in more than just stray, wounded animals. It wasn’t hard to imagine Yixing looking like a lost puppy, with his curly, puffy hair, and his innocently mature gaze.

 

Yixing pressed on the pen again, a ticking sound jolting in the air and planting into Baekhyun’s heart. It let out a discreet but unpleasant and ugly groan. Baekhyun gulped it down. They were close. They had once shared a living space. Chanyeol had helped Yixing, maybe saved him in a way. 

 

It was completely irrational of him to feel that insecurity again, he knew it well, and yet he couldn’t suppress it. He could ignore it, though. Because it didn’t matter that much. Chanyeol was with him now. Chanyeol was in love with him and Yixing was happy for his friend’s ongoing relationship.

 

"I’m glad you managed to build your life here. It must’ve been hard," he said, genuine. He might still feel rather uncomfortable but he wouldn’t discredit Yixing’s hard work. The other smiled at him, wide, a bit sheepish, as if that simple compliment had just made his day. Baekhyun hoped that this discomfort would fade away one day. "Could you tell me where Chanyeol is? I think the room he teaches drums in is different from his piano room, right?"

 

Yixing nodded and then proceeded to easily describe the way to Baekhyun.

 

It was upstairs, Baekhyun tried letting go of the jealousy with each step he climbed up along the staircase and once he walked into the hallway, he took a deep breath in. It was okay. He still remembered the exact words Chanyeol had told him after the party.

 

As quietly as possible, he strode through the hallway, looking around for the blue door Yixing had described. It was at the very end of the corridor and Baekhyun stood in front of it, noting that this floor’s doors all had a small window. Curiously, Baekhyun stepped closer to the door. He peeked in and the first thing he saw was Chanyeol’s concentrated expression as his arms swung around, coming down to hit the drums with the sticks he was holding before elevating again into an intricate succession of ups, downs, beats, and ups again.

 

He was wearing a shirt. The skin of his arms was bared, just like the subtle musculature Baekhyun could see from here. He stepped back, dragged his gaze away with a bit of difficulty. His eyes protested, as if they were dry leaves stuck to the one source of humidity they could find.

 

Chanyeol looked good. Baekhyun had never seen him play drums with his own eyes rather than the screen of a phone. He looked too good.

 

The image of his arm muscles strained as he played lingered on Baekhyun’s mind up until the door opened and a teenage boy stepped out of the room. Baekhyun didn’t pay attention to him, focused on Chanyeol who stepped out after him a short while later. His smile was wide when their eyes met. It was adorable, the way Chanyeol always looked so happily surprised whenever Baekhyun came to pick him up despite Baekhyun always telling he that he would beforehand.

 

Adorable wasn’t really the main image that he had of Chanyeol at the moment, though. Before the other had the chance to say anything to greet him, he stepped closer. Chanyeol leaned down for a kiss but Baekhyun avoided it to reach up towards his ear instead.

 

"You look really hot when playing drums," he whispered, voice low and quiet, but the sparks Baekhyun felt in his veins spilling in every single word. The skin of Chanyeol’s ear was warm when his lips grazed it.

 

When he pulled away, the sparks seemed to have brimmed into Chanyeol’s eyes.

 

They looked at each other for a few seconds.

 

"This room is soundproof," Chanyeol said, the nonchalant tone he was trying to exude debunked by the flow of his gaze down Baekhyun’s body and up again.

 

Baekhyun stepped closer, hooked his fingers on the hem of Chanyeol’s shirt and pulled until the other leaned down enough for Baekhyun to whisper his next words against his lips.

 

"Is it?"

 

It was Chanyeol who pulled him into the room and locked it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

"How can you be a perfectionist when your phone’s so messy?"

 

Baekhyun looked up from his laptop where he had been busy ordering a phone charger. 

 

Chanyeol had forgotten his before coming over and his phone had died because Baekhyun had no android charger here. He had never even had an android phone and he didn’t understand why Chanyeol insisted on keeping his rather than changing for a different brand. Baekhyun had even let him explore his iPhone to open up his horizons while he ordered a charger that he would keep at home in case Chanyeol forgot his again.

 

"It’s not messy," he frowned, looking over at the screen of his phone. Chanyeol was quickly swiping through the different tabs on the home screen. He had four different tabs, each of them filled to the brim with various apps.

 

"It is," Chanyeol snorted. "I don’t have an iPhone but even I know you need to gather all the similar apps into one block thing."

 

"That’s useless. It’s perfect this way," he said, looking back at his laptop to complete the order.

 

"You think it’s perfect but it’s a mess. I’ll kindly put some order in there for you."

 

Baekhyun closed the lid of his laptop and pushed it away, to the other end of the bed. He said nothing, content with watching Chanyeol do whatever he wanted to his phone. He didn’t really see the point of it as Chanyeol gathered all his different gaming apps into one single block called ‘Games’ and then proceeded to create two other blocks, one for ‘Messages’, and the other he called ‘Trash’ and put in all the random apps Baekhyun never used but never deleted either. He tried his best not to feel offended.

 

"See, it’s much better this way," Chanyeol said once he was done, satisfaction twisting his features into a smile as he showed the screen to Baekhyun.

 

He grabbed the device and looked it through. There was only three different tabs left and the last one was only filled halfway through with rows of apps. 

 

It was definitely less messy. Baekhyun wrinkled his nose in mock condescension and looked at a smug Chanyeol.

 

"Thank you, I guess."

 

Chanyeol tutted with mock exasperation and then held his hand out, face blank.

 

"Pay me."

 

Baekhyun snickered, grabbed his hand, and then leaned to press a loud smooch against Chanyeol’s lips. When he pulled away, it was to see a grin that left its trace on his own lips.

 

"Wanna eat out tonight?" 

 

Chanyeol shook his head. "I’m not staying over tonight."

 

Baekhyun deflated. "Why?" he asked, making sure that Chanyeol would hear how devastated he was in the miserable volume of his voice.

 

Chanyeol laughed softly, bringing Baekhyun’s hand up to press an apologizing kiss against the chocolate colored tiny chip on Baekhyun’s thumb. It always made Baekhyun’s heart sway in a particular way whenever Chanyeol paid attention to that mole of his.

 

"I haven’t gone to one of Jongdae’s movie nights in too long. The guys are all whining. I gotta give the people what they want. My presence."

 

Baekhyun snorted, holding onto Chanyeol’s hand tighter to soak his warmth up enough to last him through a night spent without him. It wouldn’t work, he knew. 

 

"Who?" he asked curiously.

 

Chanyeol hummed, raising a hand and folding his fingers one by one with each name leaving his lips. "Jongdae, Taewoo, Jiho, and Jinyoung."

 

"Yixing?" he questioned.

 

Chanyeol quirked an eyebrow. Baekhyun caught his lips twitching up too.

 

"What if there’s Yixing?"

 

"Nothing," Baekhyun said, adjusting the pillow that served as a comfortable barrier between his back and the wall. "Just curious."

 

It was true. Despite the lingering crumbles of jealousy, Baekhyun wouldn’t be upset. He wouldn’t forbid Chanyeol from hanging out with a friend he had known way longer than Baekhyun, he had no such right. He might just text the other from time to time. But that was mainly because he’d miss him, not to watch over him or anything equally as disturbing.

 

Maybe Chanyeol could read exactly what he was thinking on his face because he leaned down to kiss Baekhyun shortly, tenderly. It was enough to cajole his heart up but not enough to dissipate the disappointment at the prospect of Chanyeol not staying over.

 

"You went out with Soojung yesterday too," he mumbled sadly when Chanyeol pulled away. "You always ditch me."

 

Chanyeol grinned, unapologetic.

 

"Well, I’m a popular guy who has friends. What can I say?"

 

That was a direct jab at the fact that Baekhyun spent most of his time at home. He ignored it in favor of whining loudly as he wrapped his arms around Chanyeol’s waist and pulled him closer, shaking him slightly in his embrace.

 

"Why can’t you just spend time with me?"

 

He could. They could spend a lot of time together. Baekhyun was positive he wouldn’t get tired of Chanyeol even if he were the only person he saw for a month straight. They could even just stay at home. Baekhyun would be content with not going out. They weren’t spending enough time together. 

 

Chanyeol didn’t seem affected by the same way of thinking. With that same amused smile on, the corners tugged up with only a slight tint of seriousness, he patted Baekhyun’s head.

 

"Do you want us to stick together every second of the day, every day?"

 

"Yes," Baekhyun replied without a single pause, nodding vigorously.

 

"That’s not healthy," Chanyeol answered, words echoing with notes of laughter.

 

"How is it not healthy? I feel much better when we’re together,” Baekhyun argued, still whiny, shamelessly so. If he had to whine to keep Chanyeol with him, he would.

 

He missed him. He just missed him a lot and there was nothing that he enjoyed more than spending time with the person he was in love with.

 

Chanyeol pursed his lips together, fingers carding through Baekhyun’s hair comfortingly.

 

"You know, I’m your boyfriend but I shouldn’t be your hobby."

 

Baekhyun pulled away at once, frowning.

 

"What the hell, Chanyeol," he said, surprise and outrage mixing unpleasantly inside of him. "You’re not my hobby. You’re so much more than that. I love you."

 

"That’s not what I mean, silly," the other laughed softly, leaving Baekhyun to look at him confusedly. "I mean, you only spend time with me. And Junmyeon," he added as an afterthought.

 

"That’s enough. I don’t need anyone else."

 

Even if he hadn’t seen Junmyeon in two whole weeks either, now that he thought about it.

 

This time, it was Chanyeol who frowned at him. "Yes, you do. You’ll get lonely. I love you too but you can’t put me at the actual center of your life," he said, voice softening.

 

Baekhyun sighed. A rational part of him knew that Chanyeol was right. 

 

They did spend a lot of time together. Baekhyun barely even interacted with anyone other than Chanyeol, whoever he met at the academy when he came to pick Chanyeol up, and Junmyeon, mostly through messages and calls.

 

"You need to make some friends," Chanyeol added, nuzzling against Baekhyun’s hair as if he knew his words were unpleasant to Baekhyun no matter how right he was. "You could even come dine with us on Friday again. It’s been a while, Soojung keeps asking about you."

 

Baekhyun hummed, musing about Chanyeol’s words while snuggling up against him, just to savor the time spent together before the other would have to leave.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The next time Baekhyun went to the gym, he ignored Sehun again.

 

Sehun had been trying to talk to him all throughout the week but each time, Baekhyun gave his whole attention to whatever workout he was doing, not replying him besides polite hums from time to time until Sehun grew tired and silent.

 

This time, Sehun didn’t even bother greeting him. Which Baekhyun could understand. He wouldn’t make too much effort for someone who was being as rude as he was. It was a wonder Sehun hadn’t given up much earlier.

 

He was talking to another guy instead, Minseok, as they both used the eclectic machines. He had introduced Minseok to him only a few days ago, tried coaxing Baekhyun into talking to him with an unfamiliar person. It hadn’t worked. Baekhyun had merely introduced himself back and hadn’t really found anything else to say. He really had a hard time figuring this out when he had nothing to motivate him.

 

However, today, he did have some kind of motivation. Although, it was very different from what he was used to. 

 

Chanyeol was right. No matter how unpleasant, and to some extent, confusing, it was. Playing games at home was a nice way to while the time away and he wouldn’t mind contenting himself with that single hobby but Chanyeol was right. It was kind of demoralizing to spend time at home alone when Chanyeol wasn’t there, either at work, or out with his own group of friends. He had even offered Baekhyun to join in a few times but Baekhyun didn’t like the thought of clinging to Chanyeol and his friends simply because he was alone, maybe even lonely. Even if he knew for sure that Chanyeol wouldn’t mind.

 

He could make some acquaintances. Just to have someone to talk to at the gym. He was already dedicated to coming in as often as he could and Sehun seemed to be as dedicated as him. They could be dedicated together. Just in the gym. Maybe. And Sehun did say funny things from time to time. Talked a lot. But not stupidly. Most of the time.

 

With a soft groan and a last squat, he put his dumbbells down and straightened up again. His arms burned a little, his chest heaving as he brought one end of his towel up to wipe the sweat on his neck and temples. He caught Sehun’s gaze before the latter quickly turned it away, raising his chin a little with a proud expression on. Baekhyun snorted to himself. He was obviously upset. Sulking, even. 

 

He grabbed his phone from where he had left it on the floor, just in case Chanyeol would message him, and lit up the screen. He had a few notifications, from Chanyeol and Baekbom, the most recent one. With a bit of apprehension, he opened his brother’s message.

 

Father’s at the hospital. 

 

He took a deep breath in. His arms burned a little. He chose not to answer. Instead, he opened up his conversation thread with Chanyeol and frowned at the onslaught of messages that greeted him.

 

baek

baek

hyun-ah

babe

baek

baek

guess what

 

What? What’s wrong?

 

He kept his eyes on the screen as he waited for a message, worry slowly peeking through him. It took Chanyeol only a few seconds to read the message and then send in his reply.

 

I love you

hehe

 

The worry burst into tiny fireworks in his heart, fading away and only leaving thick clouds of serenity behind. Grinning at how cute his boyfriend was, he quickly typed in his reply.

 

I love you too

You excited child

 

I’m a puppy

not a child

know the difference 

pft

 

Baekhyun bit into his lower lip to hold back another grin. He glanced up. Sehun and Minseok seemed to be in a heated conversation. He hesitated a few seconds before typing his next message.

 

Do you remember Sehun?

 

I don’t think so

who is it?

 

I talked about him when I explained everything 

You know, the guy who works at a clothing store

 

you mean the guy you had sex with in a dressing room

you can say it you know :p

I already know you’re a kinky little shit

 

Sometimes, Baekhyun wondered if all boyfriends were open like this or if he was too closed off while Chanyeol was simply perfect. Probably the latter.

 

I bumped into him at the gym 

A few times actually

 

oh really? that’s cool

 

He read over the message a few times, trying to decipher it, match it to Chanyeol’s voice in his mind. He couldn’t really figure out what kind of emotion Chanyeol would say those words with. He typed his next message, erased it, reworded it, and then sent it.

 

He wants to be my friend

 

It took more than a few seconds for the answer to come, right before Baekhyun started typing an apology.

 

baekhyun

you don’t need anyone’s permission to make friends

especially not mine

I’m your handsome boyfriend not your guardian

 

Baekhyun blinked.

 

But we had sex before

Wouldn’t it bother you?

 

it’s me you’re having sex with right now isn’t it?

 

That was simple. So simple. Baekhyun didn’t know why he had hesitated about it at all. He still had a lot to learn from Chanyeol, it seemed.

 

Well 

We’re not exactly having sex right now

Unless you’re asking for a dick pic with my fresh abs

 

you don’t have abs

 

Yet

 

Chanyeol sent him a bunch of encouraging and mocking stickers and Baekhyun looked at them one by one before locking his phone.

 

With newfound confidence, Baekhyun headed towards the treadmills where Minseok and Sehun had relocated. As he got closer to them, he picked up on a few familiar terms in their conversation.

 

"Are you guys talking about Battleground?" he casually asked as he got on the treadmill next to Sehun’s.

 

Instantly, Sehun cut his sentence off and turned to him, an eyebrow quirked.

 

"Are you done grinning like an idiot while talking to your boyfriend? Your ugly smile was kind of disarming. I almost pulled a muscle."

 

Sehun was definitely upset.

 

Baekhyun snorted, pushing the start button on the treadmill and starting to jog.

 

"Sehun," Minseok said from Sehun’s other side, a reprimand in his voice. "Stop being weird. Not everyone wants to be friends with a brat."

 

Sehun made an outraged expression. Baekhyun leaned forward just a little bit so he could see Minseok winking at him exaggeratedly, lips displaying an open smile as he showed a thumbs up to Baekhyun. He laughed, almost loud enough to drown out Sehun’s grumbling.

 

Maybe he could just ditch Sehun and make Minseok his friend instead.

 

"I bet Sehun’s the kind to rage quit when he’s playing," he said, unable to conceal his wide smile as he leaned to direct his words at Minseok, acting as if Sehun himself wasn’t there just to spite him.

 

"I’m not!" he protested.

 

"He totally is," Minseok singsonged. "He sulks for five entire minutes whenever his team loses. And curses a lot."

 

"Well, my team would certainly not lose if you weren’t part of it," Sehun scoffed.

 

Baekhyun enjoyed this.

 

"If you’re losing, it just means you’re doing something wrong," he said before Minseok could answer and start a probable childish banter that Baekhyun might enjoy witnessing.

 

"Oh, really?" Sehun turned to him, unimpressed. "And are you some kind of Battleground master to say that?"

 

"I haven’t lost a single game in a week," Baekhyun said, making sure that the ridiculous pride he held in that fact flowed in his voice.

 

Sehun fell silent, raising his eyebrows. Minseok lost his footing in his haste to look at Baekhyun and almost fell if not for the handles on the machine.

 

Baekhyun gladly boasted about his talents, techniques, and characters for the next half an hour.

 

As it turned out, Minseok and Sehun made pleasant gym buddies. He wouldn’t mind having this kind of conversation with them while working out. Only while working out.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A week later, Baekhyun was sitting at Minseok’s dining table, his laptop in front of him, fingers crazily clicking on his mouse as his ears were slowly going deaf from Sehun’s urgent screams of ‘Kill him! We’re gonna lose! Minseok hyung, what the hell are you doing?! Behind you! There! There!"

 

It soon turned to the three of them hollering excitedly when their team was announced winner of the game and Baekhyun leaned back against his chair, smiling widely as he stretched his arms over his head.

 

"We almost lost," Sehun groaned from his right, accusing gaze turned to Minseok who was sitting across from them.

 

MInseok looked at them with wide eyes.

 

"I did my best!" he whined, looking between them with defense.

 

"He’s right. He did get a little better," Baekhyun eventually conceded. MInseok was good at listening to advice and he had gotten better since Baekhyun explained him a few simple tricks that should be obvious but weren’t to the other. He turned to Sehun, pushing his shoulder a little bit. "You’re the one stressing him out with your constant screaming. You’re really annoying."

 

"What is this? Why are you teaming up against me?" Sehun said in a weak, sad voice, letting go of the barbecue-flavored chip he had extracted from the pack as if he had lost all appetite.

 

Baekhyun didn’t buy it one second. He had come to learn that Sehun was much slier than he thought. Under all the layers of cuteness and easy attachment.

 

"Let’s go for one more game?" Minseok asked, not paying attention to Sehun’s forlorn act either.

 

Sehun huffed, grumbling under his breath that Baekhyun is even louder than me and he makes animal noises at least I just curse even as they started another game.

 

Halfway through it, when things were a bit more difficult than the last game but still rather promising for them, Baekhyun’s phone vibrated from where it rested next to his laptop. He ignored it, only glancing at it the second time it vibrated to remind him of the unopened notification.

 

He saw Chanyeol’s name and glanced around. Both Sehun and Minseok were silent, focused on the game. Baekhyun quickly found a place for his character to hide and, hopefully, go unnoticed by other players, before grabbing his phone, a smile naturally reflected on the screen before he lighted it up and opened the message.

 

you having fun?

 

Yes :D

I’m killing everyone

 

great

now

your turn to die

 

Baekhyun furrowed his eyebrows in confusion only to widen his eyes when a photo popped up on the screen the next second.

 

It was a photo of Chanyeol, probably taken by his sister since he was spending the afternoon at his parents’ house. He was laying on the couch, his eyes closed, serene features pulled into a smile as he held onto the tiny ball of fluff that Toben was. The hyper puppy seemed to be sleeping on Chanyeol’s chest, Baekhyun knew from his frequent visits to Chanyeol’s parents’ house that there was no other way for Toben to be still enough for such a picture to be taken.

 

He pressed his lips together, smile widening as he raised the device closer to his face, as if that would help him somehow jump into the picture and join in the snuggling. Or maybe he could just melt and directly drip into the picture. That sounded more plausible at the moment, as he felt his heart swooning and swaying and swooshing as he saved the picture into his own camera roll.

 

Once it was saved, he opened it up again. The pale mole on the bridge of Chanyeol’s nose was a sight to behold. 

 

It was only when he heard a loud screech of his name that he managed to drag his eyes away from the photo and when he looked up, it was to his character dying on the screen and their team being completely defeated by their opponent.

 

"What the hell, Baekhyun?!" Minseok — surprisingly — groaned out loud as Sehun ran a hand through his hair in frustration.

 

"Sorry," Baekhyun said, mind still too caught up in the picture he had just been sent to actually sound apologetic.

 

"Why are you on your phone in the middle of the game?" Sehun scolded him, frowning. "We lost the game."

 

Baekhyun rolled his eyes. It didn’t matter. They were being dramatic. It was just a game.

 

"I didn’t lose anything," he declared. He opened up the picture again and proudly brandished his phone for them to see it. "You’re the only losers here. I have a cute boyfriend with a cute puppy."

 

Sehun pushed him in an attempt to make him fall off his chair, Minseok threw a chip at him. He had to grab onto Sehun’s arms to keep his balance and the chips somehow got stuck in his hair. Baekhyun laughed loudly as the other two continued groaning and complaining.

 

It didn’t matter. He had Chanyeol. He was the true winner here.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

On the first day of spring, Baekhyun stepped into the academy but this time, it wasn’t to pick Chanyeol up.

 

For the first time ever, a faint feeling of apprehension fluttered in his stomach at the sight of Chanyeol greeting him from behind the front desk.

 

"Are you ready?" Chanyeol asked with an easy smile as he stepped out from behind the desk and stood in front of Baekhyun.

 

Baekhyun would very much like to hold his hand, just to ease himself down a little, but they couldn’t show this kind of physical contact here. Baekhyun wouldn’t want anyone to say anything even remotely hurtful to Chanyeol.

 

"I’m not sure," he replied with a chuckle that carried nothing but nervousness to Chanyeol’s ears. Picking up on it, he moved a centimeter closer to Baekhyun.

 

"It’ll be okay," he said, the tone and volume of his low voice appeasing Baekhyun the slightest bit. "This is just your first try. If it doesn’t work out, I won’t ask you to step in for Jongdae until he comes back."

 

Baekhyun trailed his gaze over Chanyeol’s features, anchoring his mind into their familiarity and drifting it away from uncertainty.

 

Jongdae had caught the flu yesterday and was stuck to bed, unable to even move a single finger without wailing in pain, according to Chanyeol. He had called Baekhyun in panic yesterday, after Jongdae had to leave in the middle of the afternoon without finishing up his last class. Baekhyun had barely made out his words at first and Chanyeol had to explain more clearly, that he was asking Baekhyun to replace Jongdae for the next two days. He hadn’t been able to find another replacement and they also couldn’t afford to cancel classes when the academy would hold a small concert for its pianist students in a few weeks.

 

Chanyeol had explained that it was much smaller than their annual August show and focused exclusively on piano students since it was near impossible to fit all of them individually into one single show in August and they didn’t want to leave anyone out of it. This was a way for everyone to showcase their talents to a smaller, but still important audience while only a few people would be chosen for the August recital.

 

Baekhyun had never taught music — or anything else — to a child but he hadn’t been able to refuse when Chanyeol really seemed on the verge of a nervous breakdown. This was important to him and underneath the unease, Baekhyun still felt quite proud that Chanyeol trusted him with something as important as his work. It would be only two days, anyway. Only six classes since Yixing had filled in for Jongdae’s vocal classes and Chanyeol would step in for the ones he gave directly at students’ houses.

 

"Did you talk to the parents?" he asked, worrying his lower lip.

 

He wasn’t an actual teacher, after all, just someone who had been playing piano since a very young age. Some parents might be uncomfortable with leaving their children under the care of someone who had no real title, even if Baekhyun knew Yixing hadn’t studied to be a teacher either but was simply really good at music. Chanyeol had explained that as a private academy, they weren’t as strict with academic background. 

 

However, Baekhyun really had no experience with children at all.

 

"I did," Chanyeol said as he gestured for him to start walking so they could head towards the classroom. "They’re okay with it. They kind of trust me, I guess," he chuckled softly but seemed to notice that Baekhyun barely smiled. "Hey, it’ll be okay," he said, voice as consoling as the hand he rested on Baekhyun’s lower back.

 

"What if I somehow traumatize them?" Baekhyun blurted out, looking at the other unsurely.

 

Chanyeol laughed at his words and he furrowed his eyebrows nudging him until he stopped.

 

"Why would you?" he asked.

 

"I don’t know," Baekhyun sighed petulantly. 

 

Chanyeol opened the door of Jongdae’s classroom and they stepped in. It had the same exact design as Chanyeol’s and yet, Baekhyun still felt uneasy.

 

"It’ll be okay," Chanyeol repeated, with the same fond smile. Baekhyun wasn’t sure what to think about the fact that Chanyeol could find this state of his anything close to positive. "You know how to play To a Wild Rose, don’t you? That’s what she’ll be practicing. She knows most of it already, you just have to make her practice it and then teach her another bit of it. It’s just for an hour."

 

Baekhyun knew he was experienced and deft enough to be able to watch over the student as she’d practice. He could even teach her the whole piece. That wasn’t the problem. What worried him was the fact that it was a child. Children were rather scary.

 

Before he could say anything else, the door was pushed open and in stepped a young girl, a wide grin on her face and her hair pulled into two pigtails. Baekhyun took a tiny step back. Chanyeol returned her smile with as much sprite and instantly introduced Baekhyun to her. He did his best not to look as constipated as he felt. Fortunately, he was good at that.

 

She seemed to be an attentive child, she had barely uttered a word and was nodding understandingly to whatever Chanyeol said, glancing at Baekhyun for a second when he told her that Baekhyun would be her teacher for today. Apprehension gutted his stomach and Baekhyun wondered what on earth he was doing there.

 

Soon, Chanyeol was stepping towards the door with a last smile to the young girl — Miyoung — and this time, when Baekhyun met his gaze, it was to a soft dim of worry. He dragged the corners of his lips up into a reassuring smile. 

 

Chanyeol left, he had a class to attend too, and when the door closed, Baekhyun was left alone with the young girl. He looked at her, meeting her shy gaze. Her hands were laced behind her back and she was swaying a little on the sole of her baby blue shoes, looking up at him with wide eyes. 

 

Baekhyun smiled widely and clapped his hands together.

 

"So. Are you ready to impress me?" he asked, voice chiming excitedly even if nervousness still sizzled in his stomach. "I was told you’re really good and that you might even teach me a thing or two," he added, leaning closer and lowering his voice as if he was sharing a secret.

 

The little girl giggled, shyly stifling the sound behind one of her small hands. She was only eleven years old, Baekhyun remembered already playing Mozart at her age. She nodded then, before quietly making her way towards the piano. She settled properly on the bench and put her feet on the stack of books under the piano. The bench was already lowered to the maximum but she was still too small to reach the floor properly. She looked over her shoulder, giving Baekhyun an expectant look.

 

With a last deep inhale, Baekhyun moved to settled next to her and the lesson started.

 

She was pretty good. Her short fingers still fumbled around from time to time, a bit uncoordinated, but she had most of what she had learned memorized already, almost half of the piece. There were small mistakes, a few wrong keys, but her posture was pretty good. Her fingers were too tense from time to time and Baekhyun tried correcting her but was rather lenient since that habit could be corrected later on, once she wouldn’t struggling with the novelty of the piece anymore.

 

She was a calm child. She always looked at Baekhyun apologetically when making a mistake that she was aware of. Baekhyun always gave her a reassuring smile and shook his head, prompting her to go on. Small mistakes weren’t too important, they could be corrected with practice. 

 

Unexpectedly, the nervousness faded away pretty quickly. It was as if something had been switched in him the moment Chanyeol had closed the door and left him alone with his student. He gave advice, nodded his head along to the rhythm in support, never got frustrated when she did the same mistake over ten times, and cracked a few jokes here and there to lighten up the mood. She laughed at all of them, no matter how lame they were and soon, she even started talking to him, asking him for advice, telling him that she had forgotten the exact order of the notes. 

 

Baekhyun showed her, taught her, watched over her, with a constant easy smile on his face. Children weren’t scary, after all. It was even enjoyable, to some extent, immersing himself in the music and pulling a child that had so much potential in with him.

 

Music really was much more enjoyable when he wasn’t alone. Sharing his knowledge and passion about the subject felt natural and pleasant.

 

By the end of the class, when Miyoung left with a wide grin and an excited wave to him, he wondered why he had even been so nervous about this.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

"How are classes going anyway?" Junmyeon asked as he strayed Baekhyun away from another streetwear clothing store.

 

Baekhyun had already bought three Supreme hoodies today. Two for him and one that he was pretty sure Chanyeol would steal from him. He had even bought it a size too big, just in case. Chanyeol’s love for hoodies was starting to rub off on him, even if Baekhyun’s favorite hoodies weren’t the ones he bought but those he stole from Chanyeol’s closet.

 

"They ended yesterday," he said, a bit forlorn, as they strode through Myeong-dong, gaze seeking for another potential store they could visit. "Jongdae came back today. His nose is still red and runny but he insisted."

 

Baekhyun wouldn’t have minded filling in for him for an additional third day. Chanyeol had allowed Jongdae to come back and he was talking about finding an additional teacher for the academy this morning.

 

"You seem kinda sad about it," Junmyeon noted with a soft hum.

 

"I really liked it," Baekhyun confessed, regretful.

 

"Really? You were panicking like crazy about children," Junmyeon guffawed and Baekhyun nudged him with his elbow until he stopped.

 

He might have sent one or two or ten panicked messages asking for Junmyeon to kidnap him so he would have a good reason to avoid the situation altogether. 

 

"I know but it was actually really nice," he said as this time, he was the one to stray Junmyeon away from a suits tailoring store. He already had too many suits. "I thought it would be awkward and difficult but it actually wasn’t. It felt pretty natural."

 

"I kind of knew you’d be good with children," Junmyeon said, giving him a light smile. He almost looked proud of Baekhyun. He couldn’t help but grin. 

 

"There was one or two teenagers too but it actually went well. They all looked at me as if I was some kind of piano god."

 

Junmyeon snorted. "So that’s why. You just liked being worshipped by oblivious children," he said, eyeing him judgmentally.

 

"What?" Baekhyun said, widening his eyes innocently as he balanced the few shopping bags he had in his hand. "It made me feel very smart to blabber about piano and how to press notes and how to hold yourself when playing without someone telling me I already know all of that shut up Baekhyun," he said, letting his voice turning into a higher, squeaky tone.

 

"I don’t speak like that!" Junmyeon instantly said, affronted.

 

"Yes, you do," Baekhyun huffed.

 

Baekhyun didn’t even attempt sharing piano knowledge with Chanyeol. He was content with letting Chanyeol pour it all on him and watching the passionate flame in his eyes flutter and permeate through his own body.

 

Junmyeon rolled his eyes and pulled him towards another store.

 

"Maybe Jongdae will fall sick again and Chanyeol’ll call you to replace him."

 

"I certainly hope so," Baekhyun said, with enough shamelessness for both of them to burst into laughter.

 

It was only once they stepped inside the store that Baekhyun stopped laughing and realized where they were.

 

He turned to Junmyeon, already pulling him towards the door again.

 

"Why don’t we just go to another—"

 

"Look who’s visiting after a long time."

 

Baekhyun looked up to meet Sehun’s cheeky smile and he groaned.

 

"Why are you still working here?" he couldn’t help but ask accusingly.

 

Sehun quirked an eyebrow and didn’t even reply to him. Instead, he slid his sharp gaze to Junmyeon who had been looking between them in confusion since the moment Sehun had stepped him.

 

Baekhyun’s realized it was too late to save Junmyeon when he saw Sehun’s gaze sparkle a little before simmering down into a dim as he stepped closer.

 

"Is that the best friend you showed us pictures of?" he asked as he stood directly in front of a confused Junmyeon, his lips stretching into that wide smirk Baekhyun had once found attractive. Now it looked rather creepy as Sehun let his gaze curiously drip all over Junmyeon’s body.

 

Once he seemed to gather his stance right back up, Junmyeon looked at him with wide eyes.

 

"You show pictures of me to random people?" he asked, accusation clear in his voice but his gaze going right back to Sehun as soon as he was done speaking.

 

"I’m not a random person," Sehun interjected. He tilted his head a little and smiled widely, boyish, probably attractive in Junmyeon’s eyes as he leaned just a little closer to him. Junmyeon had always liked tall men. Younger ones too. "You look even hotter in real life than you do in pictures."

 

Baekhyun forced himself not to wince as he watched Junmyeon look down, a bit coy. This always happened. Junmyeon might sleep around a lot but as soon as there was some kind of open, obvious flirting directed at him outside of a nightclub, he turned a little sheepish and timid. It was almost as if he had some kind of night and day modes.

 

"Thank you," he muttered and Baekhyun’s eyes widened when he saw the red flowering on the tip of his best friend’s ears as he glanced down at the name tag on Sehun’s chest. He was wearing a pretty fitting, tight shirt that carved over his sculpted chest perfectly. Junmyeon glanced back up at his face. "Sehun-ssi."

 

Sehun grinned, obviously noticing the effect he had on Junmyeon.

 

Baekhyun had expected this to happen. This was exactly why he hadn’t introduced Junmyeon to Sehun and Minseok despite having talked to either party about each other. He was scared for Junmyeon’s safety.

 

However, Junmyeon looked pretty comfortable when Sehun stepped even closer to him and draped an arm over his shoulder. He looked pleased, a smile lighting up his features delicately as he looked up at Sehun. Baekhyun knew that look. 

 

He knew exactly what Junmyeon looked like when he wanted to tuck himself against an attractive man’s side.

 

"Please, let’s be casual and comfortable with each other, Junmyeon," Sehun said.

 

Baekhyun wasn’t even surprised when Junmyeon, who usually went crazy when age hierarchy and seniority weren’t respected, said nothing and even smiled pleasantly. Sehun threw him a tiny glare. 

 

"Baekhyun might have tried straying our paths from each other but we’re all friends, aren’t we? We’ll see each other much more often now." That sounded like a threat to Baekhyun. Sehun looked back down at Junmyeon. "Now, follow me. I know exactly what kind of clothes would suit your body. You have a really nice one, by the way. Do you work out?"

 

Baekhyun was left there, standing at the entrance of the store, watching as Sehun casually palmed along Junmyeon’s arm to feel the muscles. Baekhyun could tell Junmyeon was flexing hard at that moment.

 

He wasn’t sure whether he wanted to laugh or retch out the jjamppong they had eaten for lunch.

 

He settled on following after them, worried for Junmyeon’s wellbeing.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

March ended in plum blossoms, Baekhyun walking in amazement with Chanyeol through the Gwangyang Maehwa Festival. 

 

The pink and white blossoms weren’t as radiant as Chanyeol’s smile. The spring sun wasn’t as warm as Chanyeol’s kisses on his neck, but even the summer sun would be overshadowed by Chanyeol on the hottest day of the year. 

 

April started with smiles. Chanyeol’s hair was longer and tickled Baekhyun’s collarbones when they woke up together in the morning. 

 

They were rarely apart, and even if they were, Baekhyun always carried twin flames in his chest. One sparked by Chanyeol’s love for him and one ablaze with his love for Chanyeol. 

 

As days passed by, Baekhyun grew less clumsy. Insecurities were still present, sometimes he was so scared of losing the only person who made his heart feel enlivened that he lost sleep over it. 

 

It wouldn’t happen though. Because Baekhyun did his best to love Chanyeol the way he deserved to be. And because Chanyeol loved him back with the same ardor.

 

Baekhyun still bought him flowers. He never knew their meaning. They were pretty. Chanyeol’s smile was always prettier. 

 

When Chanyeol smiled, Baekhyun wanted to collect a petal of every single flower on earth and sprinkle it down his head, just so it would tickle him while falling down and he would laugh. Just so he would be happy. 

 

Baekhyun was the happiest when he made Chanyeol happy.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

That night, Chanyeol wasn’t happy.

 

He had called Baekhyun earlier, voice trembling and weak as he told Baekhyun about the horrible day he had been through. He had sounded sad. Incredibly sad and Baekhyun had seen Chanyeol cry only once in his life but he could still imagine the sorrowful twist of his features. The mere thought had planted into his heart and squeezed it until it was too painful to even breathe when Chanyeol felt sad.

 

Chanyeol couldn’t be sad. 

 

That had been the only thought flashing through his head since Baekhyun had hung up the phone and got out of his house in a furry to reach Chanyeol’s apartment as soon as possible. Chanyeol couldn’t be sad. That just felt wrong. Chanyeol should always smile and no one was supposed to hurt Chanyeol and especially not enough for his voice to sound so dejected, much duller than usual as each word spiked thorns of discomfort into his heart. He didn’t like it.

 

Baekhyun didn’t like Chanyeol being sad at all and he wanted him to be happy again as soon as possible so it was with rushed fingers that Baekhyun typed in the code to Chanyeol’s apartment to let himself in. 

 

Stepping in, he took off his jacket and hung it next to the blue scarf at the entrance, before walking further into the apartment.

 

"Yeol-ah," he called in a careful voice, hoping that the concern wouldn’t seep into it as that might only upset Chanyeol more.

 

He heard a muffled groan replying to him from somewhere deeper in the apartment and he smiled, passing by the empty living room to head for the bedroom instead. The door was wide open, the only proof of Chanyeol’s presence in the room was the big lump curled under the blanket. Baekhyun bit his lower lip. He wasn’t sure whether it was because this was adorable or because Chanyeol was really upset and he hated it more than anything.

 

Quietly, he stepped towards the bed and as soon as he was close enough, he plunged down right into the Chanyeol lump that groaned under him, still muffled but louder than before.

 

"What are you doing," he heard and there was no real laughter or any trace of joy in Chanyeol’s voice so Baekhyun pursed his lips and got off Chanyeol to slip under the blanket instead.

 

It took a while for his eyes to adjust to the darkness once he had buried himself in the cushiness of Chanyeol’s bed but the first thing he saw was the pull of Chanyeol’s lower lip into a faint, somber pout. That was enough for the comfort to fade away. He couldn’t see him properly but Baekhyun could tell he was still upset, disappointed, and that was enough for the cold to bite into him again.

 

"What are you doing here? It’s the middle of the night," Chanyeol mumbled, voice as lackluster as it had been earlier.

 

"You said you were sad," was the only explanation Baekhyun gave him.

 

Chanyeol pressed his lips together, his features melting into a completely different emotion. Something plainer, something more open, something that tugged at Baekhyun’s heart, touched him the same way his words seemed to have touched Chanyeol. He smiled reassuringly and pulled Chanyeol into his arms, letting him burrow against the crook of his neck, letting out a chuckle when one of his legs tangled with Baekhyun’s while the other hooked over Baekhyun’s hips. He felt so small in his arms, as if he wanted to curl his entire being around Baekhyun. 

 

And Chanyeol was, in a way, already curled around Baekhyun’s entire existence. It didn’t feel like enough, however, so Baekhyun let his hand draw comforting patterns on Chanyeol’s back, rubbing the bumps of his spine, his fingers sometimes kissing his nape with their tips, and sometimes slipping under the hem of his shirt to bathe in the temperature of his skin.

 

They remained silent, exchanging no words, communicating through nothing but the hearts that beat against each other, adoring touches, a consoling caress, a nuzzle that sought more attention. After a while, Baekhyun started humming to the last song they had played together on the piano, only last night. Chanyeol snuggled deeper against his neck, as if he wanted to hear Baekhyun better, the vibrations at his core, not the voice. Baekhyun closed his eyes, let Chanyeol’s presence grow a smile on his lips, and continued soothing the other.

 

By the end of the song, Chanyeol still hadn’t moved once and Baekhyun concluded that he had fallen asleep sometime through his humming. After a short while, he felt a kiss grazing his neck tenderly.

 

"Are you feeling better?" Baekhyun whispered, his fingers tracing a path up towards Chanyeol’s nape before weaving their way into his mussed hair. 

 

He felt Chanyeol sigh against his neck before he pulled away a little, just enough to look at Baekhyun. His eyes had adjusted to the darkness cocooned under their blanket and he could distinguish Chanyeol’s features better now.

 

They still lacked their usual shine, the liveliness constantly lighted in his eyes dimmed down, and the lines of exhaustions on his skin sharp enough to slice through Baekhyun’s breath. He didn’t let his fingers fall off Chanyeol’s hair and continued carding them through it.

 

"A little," Chanyeol mumbled and he wasn’t pouting sadly anymore but the pout could still be heard in the way his words were slurred, syllables meshed together.

 

"Do you want to talk about it?" he asked, tilting his head a little to catch Chanyeol’s gaze again.

 

He sighed again, falling silent afterwards. Baekhyun said nothing. He wanted Chanyeol to talk about it because he hadn’t really understood everything the other had said earlier on the phone, too panicked by the thought of his being sad to pay proper attention to his words. Sharing would also make him feel a little better as well but Baekhyun wouldn’t force him either. If Chanyeol was content with just hugging him, Baekhyun would hold him throughout the entire night.

 

"You know that student?" Chanyeol eventually said after a while, voice gaining back a little bit of its signature deep and sturdy tone. His gaze was focused on the collar of Baekhyun’s shirt, his fingers grazing the inked branch on Baekhyun’s collarbone. 

 

"Which student?"

 

"The one who’s a bit… difficult," Chanyeol sighed again, shifting a little closer to Baekhyun who wrapped him in his embrace again.

 

It was getting a bit too stuffy under the blank, where the air was heavy and too little for two people to be comfortable but neither of them minded.

 

"Jinho? What about him?"

 

It wasn’t difficult to recognize who he was talking about. It was that little boy whose mother had enrolled him into guitar classes after a recommendation from a therapist. They had all hesitated at first at the academy. They knew the therapist should’ve guided them towards someone specialized in music therapy, Jongdae had even gotten upset at the idea of the therapist not doing their job properly. In the end, Chanyeol hadn’t been able to reject the desperate mother and decided to personally take charge of him.

 

"He wasn’t in a good mood today," Chanyeol said, furrowing his eyebrows as if the memory alone was enough to pain him again. Baekhyun tightened his hold around him. "So I tried being understanding. I tried being even more patient than usual. I explained his mistakes to him, showed him the right melody again and again, explained him everything. But he was getting it wrong on purpose."

 

"On purpose?"

 

Chanyeol nodded. "They were simple notes. A very simple melody. I repeated it over twenty times and there’s no way he could still get it wrong. But he did, he was testing me and I didn’t snap at all because I could see it and I wanted him to understand that it didn’t work. I guess he did understand it," Chanyeol snorted a self-deprecating sound.

 

"What did he do?" Baekhyun asked carefully.

 

This was a sensible subject. Chanyeol had been having trouble with this student for close to a month now and it often dampened his mood but it had never been so bad. Baekhyun had often wanted to suggest him to give up but it wouldn’t be fair, not to Chanyeol nor to that student.

 

Chanyeol took a long, shuddery breath in.

 

"He got angry. Really angry. I don’t even know how it happened but suddenly he was screaming really loudly, saying really mean things, and he damaged the guitar we lent him."

 

"He damaged it? Did he break it?" Baekhyun asked, frowning.

 

Sometimes, he wished he really could witness all of Chanyeol’s classes. Just so he could be there when that kind of thing happened.

 

"Not really. He tried but I managed to save it in time. There’s just a lot of scratches."

 

"But I thought you were making progress. He was being nice lately, he even told you about his day only last week."

 

Chanyeol remained silent for a short moment, gaze straying away again. His fingers were holding onto Baekhyun’s shirt loosely but his presence was clasping all of Baekhyun’s senses. He saw the unpleasant shift in his expression as soon as it occured.

 

"Maybe I’m a bad teacher," he said at first, quietly, as if his own voice was feeling too ashamed to make the journey to Baekhyun’s ears. "I could’ve handled it better. He hates me now. I know it. In the way he looked at me. I’m a really bad teacher, Baekhyun. I should’ve talked to him, done something. Maybe he just needs to talk, maybe I ruined everything. Maybe I should’ve just—"

 

"Chanyeol," Baekhyun cut him off gently but firmly before the panic in his voice could amplify even more and drown a part of Baekhyun along. "Stop that," he asked, maybe even pleaded. He didn’t like this. Chanyeol was never insecure. Chanyeol was always bright and dynamic, he always had a solution to everything, tackled every problem with a positive attitude, and never lost even a tidbit of his confidence.

 

Chanyeol quietened down with another shaky breath. Baekhyun cradled his cheek tenderly, letting his thumb pave over his cheekbone and his gaze retrieve Chanyeol’s away from the density of uncertainty.

 

"You’re an amazing teacher," he breathed out, every single syllable coated with utmost sincerity. Chanyeol’s eyebrows curved upwards on the inner corners, his lips pressing into a tight line. "All your students love you." And Baekhyun knew. He had witnessed the happy smiles, excited conversations, and passionate musical notes with his own eyes. "You help them all so much and they know it. They know you care. Because you’re really good at showing it. And Jinho will see it too eventually. As long as you’re careful and you’re doing your best, it’ll be okay."

 

Chanyeol said nothing. He simply looked at Baekhyun as if he absorbed every single one of his words into his chest and let them all out with deep exhales. Baekhyun pressed a hand against his chest, feeling the lulling beat of his heart. It was so big, so warm, so full of a love that Chanyeol was willing to give to everyone who needed it, to the point that he sometimes forgot how tiring it could be to always give so much. 

 

He was softhearted. Kindhearted. He was just Chanyeol-hearted. Baekhyun didn’t think there was a word to describe its selfless, generous beauty.

 

And he was so lucky to be loved by that heart.

 

Still wordless, Chanyeol let out a small, sad groan, lips pressed together tightly. Baekhyun smiled, moving his face closer to the other’s, enough to make out the emotions in his eyes.

 

"Are you gonna stop being sad now?" he asked, a playful threat.

 

Chanyeol let out another whine and Baekhyun narrowed his eyes, looking at him for a fleeting second before his gaze fell down to his slightly jutted out lower lip. His own lips followed the course of his gaze until Baekhyun pressed a kiss on the delectable, puffy rosiness of Chanyeol’s lips. It wasn’t enough and soon, he landed another kiss on the corner of Chanyeol’s mouth, on the patch of dipping skin between his upper lip and his nose. Gradually, he moved upwards, kissing the tip of his nose once and then once again but this time it was a loud, exaggerated smooch, the first one of the many others Baekhyun puckered over Chanyeol’s cheeks to bunch them up into a smile.

 

He soon leaned over Chanyeol, supporting himself on one elbow as he felt Chanyeol’s hands hold onto his waist. That made it easier for him to scatter kisses all over Chanyeol’s face until he was laughing. It was a clear, crystal sound pealing with delight while Baekhyun pressed a kiss against his forehead, his temple, the arch of his eyebrow, his closed eye. They weren’t even actual kisses after some time. Baekhyun just kept his lips puckered and pressed them over any patch of available skin, his cheek, his jaw, the tip of his ear, the ticklish spot right below his ear, the crook of his neck, and then one last time, right on the note of laughter dancing away from his lips.

 

Chanyeol pressed a loving hand against his nape, keeping him there as Baekhyun felt Chanyeol’s chest heaving with silent laughter while they kissed, this one a deeper, more passionate embrace of their mouths. Baekhyun could still hear it in his own mind, that endearing melody. They were both smiling into the kiss and it was sloppy, deep but disorganized because Chanyeol was smiling too hard and Baekhyun was smiling because he could feel the happiness Chanyeol bubbled in his chest.

 

When Baekhyun pulled away, still hovering over Chanyeol, it was to a shimmery, enchanting gaze diving into his. His eyes widened, his hand soaring to cup Chanyeol’s cheek again.

 

"Why are you crying?" he asked, voice hoarse yet tender as Chanyeol’s hand closed around his on his cheek, his fingers sliding into the slots between Baekhyun’s.

 

He wasn’t crying. Not yet. His eyes were gleaming, on the brink of overflowing as his hand held tight onto Baekhyun’s. As if he might crumble down if Baekhyun let go for a single second. 

 

"You just," he said, voice quivering a little, enough for him to stop and take a deep breath. Baekhyun watched him, confused, a little panicked, wondering if he had somehow said or done something to upset Chanyeol. His heart wailed a little bit and an apology was already on his lips when Chanyeol spoke again, after a small, quiet chuckle. "You just. Love me so much. So much. And I can feel it. All of it. For real."

 

Baekhyun felt like the tiny tear trickling down Chanyeol’s temple. Liquified, warm, falling, caught on the safe surface of the pillow. Part of Chanyeol.

 

"You’re crying because you feel loved?" he asked, throat tight around his words, body loose enough for him to feel every fiber of the love Chanyeol breathed into him, on every single centimeter of his being.

 

Happy. That was the title of the song his heart tirelessly played for Chanyeol.

 

Happy and in love.

 

That was the title of the song they played together. An orchestra of Chanyeol’s embarrassed whine, Baekhyun’s delighted teasing, and the duet of their efflorescent hearts.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The next morning, Baekhyun woke up to seven missed calls and three messages from his brother.

 

He didn’t wake up to them, per se, Chanyeol’s smile and dazed gaze were what had greeted him as soon as he had woken up and it was only after many kisses and even more snuggles and chuckles that Baekhyun had looked at his phone.

 

A heavy sentiment loomed over him as his eyes took in the messages several times.

 

Father is not well.

You should come say goodbye while you still can.

As soon as possible. He doesn’t have long.

It’s your choice, I’m telling you because I don’t want you to regret it.

 

Each of those words seemed to swim under his eyes in slow motion. Everything around him, including his own heartbeat, his own breath seemed to turn idle for a fleeting moment. When he felt his heartbeat again, it wasn’t furious. It was beating steadily. Nothing out of the ordinary.

 

Baekhyun had always wondered what it would feel like for his father to die. Because he would. It was decided the moment the doctor had announced his lung cancer. It was a wonder the man had even lived this long with the rate at which he continued smoking. 

 

Baekhyun had always wondered what it would feel like to get this announcement. His father would die. His father was dying. Maybe he’d be dead in an hour, maybe it would take a few more days. He took a deep breath in. 

 

He didn’t feel much. No sadness. No sorrow. Nothing even remotely close to what he imagined mourning to feel like. He just felt empty. Accepting. There was a faint twist in his stomach. Besides that, no particular emotion. Would that change once his father would have actually passed away? He wasn’t sure.

 

"What’s wrong?" Chanyeol asked, sitting up in bed, beside him.

 

Baekhyun looked at him. He wanted to smile. He couldn’t. His features felt a little frozen.

 

"My father," he said. The way Chanyeol instantly tensed up at those words didn’t go unnoticed. Reassuring fingers grabbed his firmly. "He’s dying."

 

The only shift in Chanyeol’s expression was the further furrow of his eyebrows. His fingers tightened a little bit around Baekhyun’s and his eyes were searching his, attentive, curious, a little concerned. 

 

"Will you go?"

 

Baekhyun looked back down at his phone. Read the messages over again.

 

Regret. Would he regret it?

 

He would. Would he regret not greeting his dying father a farewell or would he regret not witnessing his own agony on the verge of vanishment? He couldn’t tell.

 

"I have to," he eventually replied.

 

Chanyeol’s thumb was soothing as it caressed the back of his hand. 

 

"Will you be okay? Do you want me to come with you?" he asked softly and Baekhyun knew he wasn’t concerned about his father, he was concerned about Baekhyun himself.

 

He looked up at Chanyeol again. This time, he felt his lips pulling into a small smile. Serene. Stressed. An odd fusion.

 

"It’s alright. I have to do this on my own."

 

This farewell was his. He didn’t know who or what exactly he would be saying goodbye to for the last time but something inside of him, perhaps a newly growing forest cleansing the smoke away, was telling him that he deserved this.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Baekbom was waiting for him in front of the door once Baekhyun arrived.

 

It had been more than a year since he had last seen his brother’s face. It was familiar. The foreign way in which his gaze took those features that looked alike to his own was familiar. 

 

He had changed. Just a little bit. The corners of his eyes were tainted by darkness, just like the bags hanging under them. The lines on the corners were a little more definite now. The same lines traced over his forehead, around his mouth precisely, tinted with exhaustion.

 

Baekhyun felt that familiar hand squeezing his heart. His brother looked so alike to him and yet, Baekhyun didn’t know what his favorite dish was. He didn’t know what his favorite color was. He didn’t know if he had gotten a girlfriend, a fiancée, maybe a bride. He didn’t even know what were the emotions fluttering in his eyes as he looked back at Baekhyun, as he slowly approached him and then stood in front of him. They were familiar. Baekhyun had never been able to figure out why Baekbom looked at him like that. What he looked at him like.

 

He didn’t know if he was happy to see him either. He didn’t know if he wished to have seen him under different circumstances.

 

He did. He wished it. 

 

The little boy in him did, the one who had constantly tried trailing after his brother after their mother had died without ever being able to hold Baekbom’s hand. The lonely little boy who had always silently watched Baekbom leave from the doorstep of their repressingly vast house. First to his dorm in one of Seoul’s prestigious schools, then to the airport through which he would soar into a different country, into a different dorm, into freedom. The last time Baekhyun had seen him vanish was when he had moved out of the family house and to his own apartment instead. 

 

He had given Baekhyun the address, scribbled on a flimsy piece of paper. Baekhyun had lost it, never asked for it again. Baekbom had never asked where that piece of paper ended up, had never asked if Baekhyun could find his way there, on his own. Baekhyun had tried. Once. No one had opened the door. Baekbom had been in Japan at that time. He was never somewhere Baekhyun could reach out to. Always away.

 

Now, he stood in front of Baekhyun. His lips twitched into the miserable attempt of a smile.

 

"He’s inside," he said, as if Baekhyun couldn’t figure it out himself.

 

It wasn’t because he doubted Baekhyun’s intelligence. It was because he didn’t know what else to say to a brother linked to him by nothing but blood. Baekhyun knew. Because he would’ve said the same exact thing had their roles been exchanged.

 

"Yeah," Baekhyun said. "You’ve been here long?"

 

"Since last night," Baekbom replied and he wasn’t looking at Baekhyun anymore.

 

"I see," was all he said, the end of his sentence rising a little, as if he wanted to say something else and it wasn’t the end. Baekhyun couldn’t find its end. He closed his mouth.

 

Baekbom sighed.

 

"Go on. Go inside. I’ll be here."

 

Baekhyun nodded, not surprised. Baekbom had never been there, never stood between his father and him.

 

He stepped aside, letting Baekhyun reach for the door. Baekhyun took a deep breath in, silently, discreetly, and with a last glance at Baekbom, he pushed the door open.

 

His father was there, laying on a pristine bed.

 

He didn’t know why that was the first thought in his head at the sight. The man was there. He really was. On his deathbed. He expected something to twist his heart, gut his stomach, pierce through him. Sorrow, regret, sadness. None of that. Nothing.

 

Baekhyun closed the door behind him, stepped closer, gaze stuck on the flimsy figure on the bed. 

 

He looked like a ghost. Pale, an old, tarnished, yellowed kind of pale. He had a mask on the lower half of his face, his chest was heaving irregularly as it breathed air into his damaged lungs. His face was wrinkled, withered, cheeks sunken, forehead lined, and the skin under his eyebrows was almost layered on his closed eyelids. He didn’t look alive. He had stopped looking alive a long time ago but now, it was different.

 

Baekhyun stood next to the bed, arms hanging on his sides, head tilted down to gaze at the unconscious man.

 

He waited. A second, a minute, maybe more, maybe less. He didn’t look away. He looked and waited. The greasy, laborious breathing of his father and the beeps of the medical machines in the room filled up the silence. He waited, expectant.

 

Nothing. He felt nothing. Only regret as he watched the sleeping man. Regret for the love he had never gotten. No longing, however. No more.

 

He wasn’t sure how long he stood there, silent, watching, thinking, reminiscing everything he hated about this man, unable to recall a single thing that soothed his heart with positivity or relief. 

 

After a while, he caught the man’s fingers twitching a little bit.

 

Baekhyun’s gaze dropped to them. He could imagine a long cigarette slotted between his index and middle fingers. He could feel the smoke twirling from its vivid end and bursting into Baekhyun, cramping his mind up until he had no room for anything else.

 

That was it, he realized. That was his most prominent memory of his father. 

 

Even now, on his deathbed, Baekhyun could feel the smoke wrapping around him. Clamping down on him, noxious, not directly harming him but able to cause major damage to him if it so wanted. Bitter, ashy, in his mouth, in his nose, burning his eyes and filling him up with unease.

 

Baekhyun hated the scent of cigarettes. It had always clung to him when he used to live in his father’s house. No amount of perfume was enough to drown it out. It clung to his clothes, his hair, his skin, his throat, stubborn, merciless. He could smell it even now. His memories reeked of it. It reeked of memories.

 

Those fingers twitched again and Baekhyun heard a gargle. He looked up to the man’s face, caught the tired, weak flutter of his eyes. His eyelids opened up with difficulty, as if they were stuck together, as if death was already working its way into him, already taking parts of him one by one. Their gaze met. Baekhyun saw nothing but fog in those dark, shallow eyes. They widened. Recognition. It took a few seconds. 

 

Trepidation then swirled in his eyes along with the smoke and suddenly, one of his hands shot up to the mask, dragging it away from his face. Instantly, Baekhyun heard a wheeze, choked, stifled, dirty, wet, greasy, rattling Baekhyun’s chest just a little bit. Not because it hurt. Because it was familiar.

 

He watched silently as the man parted his lips, his wide eyes never once startling away from Baekhyun’s calm ones. He expected it. An insult, an accusation, a puff of smoke spat onto his face. Now, Baekhyun could feel it. That tight ring around his throat. In his throat. Frozen smoke. He waited for it. Waited for it to strike him.

 

It didn’t. The one thing that struck him was how cold and leathery the man’s hand felt when it snapped around Baekhyun’s wrist.

 

It felt like a frostbite. Baekhyun’s eyes widened. The man’s arm was trembling, as if even holding onto his wrist took a gigantic amount of effort. Baekhyun swallowed down. He didn’t know what it was. The look in those eyes. Clear. The smoke was a ghostly white now, like a spirit, a haze at the start of a new day. Baekhyun breathed surprise in as he looked at where they touched. His father hadn’t touched him in so long. Baekhyun didn’t even remember when was the last time it happened.

 

He heard the weak call of his name and looked up at his face again. He wanted to pull away. He wanted to rip his wrist out of the man’s hold but it felt impossible, frightening. He feared part of his skin would rip away from his limb, remain stuck on his father’s hand like a leaf grasped in ice, the tiny stem ripping away from its body when tugged with an attempt at freeing it.

 

And maybe Baekhyun wasn’t like his father. Maybe he wasn’t as cruel. Because he felt his hand slipping up a little bit in that tight hold that tugged at his skin painfully. He felt his hand hold onto the trembling man’s. He didn’t know why. Maybe it was that little boy inside of him, still desperate, still yearning, still wishing. Dim, on the verge of fading away, but still alive.

 

The man parted his lips again, they were pale, dry, split, and Baekhyun heard another wheeze, another rattle before he heard shattered words.

 

"I’m scared," the man said and Baekhyun could see it now. It wasn’t clarity in his eyes. It was a different kind of haze. A loony swirl in his eyes taking over the rationality. He couldn’t clutch at his sanity but he squeezed Baekhyun’s hand until Baekhyun felt like his bones would be permanently indented by his hold on him, just like his entire being was.

 

"Of what?" he asked, curious, maybe selfish because this might be the only real conversation he would ever have with the man.

 

He closed his eyes, wheezed, his other hand holding onto the mask as if he wanted to put it back on just to breathe easier. He didn’t. His eyes idly opened again, glassy.

 

"The other side," he breathed out, so quietly Baekhyun had to lean forward to hear it. "Waiting—waiting for me."

 

Baekhyun said nothing. 

 

Had he realized? Had he finally realized?

 

Laughter puffed in his chest, broadening his throat and constricting it in that tight ring at the same time, never leaving his mouth. It felt dry, scratchy, almost powdery as it dusted in his windpipe and made the intake of air more difficult. 

 

Only death had managed to open his father’s eyes for the fleeting moment before it would close them until the end of time.

 

He said nothing. Nothing that passed through his head.

 

"It’ll be alright," he forced out of his throat. His skin was crawling, as if the man’s hand was coated in an acid that ate it away. He wanted it to stop. He didn’t want to be touched by him. He didn’t pull away. It didn’t matter. "Don’t be scared. You won’t suffer anymore."

 

It didn’t matter because soon, Baekhyun’s suffering would come to an end.

 

The man shook his head, or at least attempted to. He couldn’t move a lot, it was only a slight, rapid sway of his head, a tremor more than an actual motion.

 

His eyes closed again, he muttered something, his breath louder than his words. Baekhyun leaned closer, listening, wanting to hear the last words he would take from this man.

 

"Forgive me. Forgive me for my sins," he repeated a few times, voice nothing but a dim croak, distorted. 

 

They weren’t directed at Baekhyun. It was the prayer of a struggling man under the dread of death. It was cruelly satisfying. Just a little bit. Knowing that this rotten man would leave the world with fear and regret tied in shatters around his every limb.

 

"Baekhyun," he heard again, his name akin a foreign language on that venomous tongue. He was babbling, gargling, repeating his name, like a mantra, a prayer, a wish, or a sentence. Baekhyun knew he wasn’t conscious of his own words. "Forgive me. Please, forgive me."

 

And Baekhyun didn’t want to. He didn’t want to. He bit onto his lower lip, hard, the skin on the verge of sinking under his teeth. He didn’t want to.

 

"It’s okay," was the only thing he said, not a confirmation, not a pardon, just a brush off.

 

Suddenly, the man started squirming, trembling, his body jolting a little as if it was in pain but too weak to escape from it. His hold on Baekhyun’s hand was painful and yet, Baekhyun didn’t pull away. He took it all in. Drank it all in, appeasing the burn in his throat.

 

"No. No. No," the man said, repeating that single word over ten times, in a wheeze, a cough, a gasp, at one point, something akin to a sob, a pathetic wail. His words were clear to Baekhyun’s ears when he spoke again. "I lied. Lied. Lie."

 

He frowned. Ignored it. He was delirious. Baekhyun could barely understand his slurred words so he chose to remain silent. 

 

But the man repeated those last words. Over and over again, to himself, to Baekhyun, maybe to someone or something his crazed mind was seeing under those closed eyes.

 

He gulped down. Loud. It echoed in his head, on the same pattern as the repeated words tumbling from his father’s mouth, as if he was in a hurry to push them all out before death caught him and took them away.

 

"What are you talking about?" Baekhyun asked when his name was slipped in between the disturbing repetitions.

 

Dread pressed down on his stomach, his fingers were numb. A dying man shouldn’t be so strong. A dying man shouldn’t make Baekhyun’s stomach curl into itself from apprehension, fear.

 

He shook his head, opened his wide, beady eyes, and locked them into Baekhyun’s. Smoke. Baekhyun could smell it, sense it, breathe it in. 

 

"I did it. Not you. Not you. Me. I did it. Me. Me."

 

His words were meshed together, unintelligible. He repeated them. He repeated everything. He always had repeated the same thing. This time, it was different. This time, Baekhyun feared their meaning. This time, it wasn’t pain that they tuned in his mind but frosty bites of panic.

 

For a second, Baekhyun felt the world tuning idle around him. He felt all his organs freezing, puffing up into smoke before solidifying, squeezing into his body painfully, swarming inside until his skin felt too tight.

 

"What are you saying?" he asked, demanded, now clenching the man’s fingers back just as hard.

 

A wail was the first answer given to him.

 

"I didn’t want to. She was gonna leave. Leave me. She left with you. She was gonna leave," he mumbled, voice rising with each word, or at least attempting to. He couldn’t raise his voice, it was too broken and greasy for that.

 

Baekhyun felt the frost permeating in his veins, chilling his blood into cracked, sharp edged spikes.

 

"What?" he heard himself say, a murmur, a realization, a confusion, a gasp for breath.

 

The man shook his head again. His eyes were so wide Baekhyun feared they would roll out of his eyes and glare at him forever, follow him around for the rest of his life.

 

"I was angry. Please," he begged, pleaded, and Baekhyun wasn’t sure he whether was talking to him anymore. He was looking up at the ceiling, maybe at the sky, maybe to some entity he believed to be up there, waiting for his rotten soul to reach it. "Forgive me. I—I didn’t mean to. I wanted to hold her. Hold her back. But. She fell. I did it I did it I did it."

 

All of a sudden, something thawed Baekhyun, melted the honed frost inside him. 

 

It liquified, at an alarming rate. Drop by drop. Quickly. Sinking Baekhyun. Ice cold water filled him up, washing over his mind. Chilly. Like the realization. Like the realization. Of what was being said to him. Being confessed to him.

 

And it overflowed.

 

This time, he laughed. Loud. Delirious. Almost as delirious as the man holding his hand and begging for grace and mercy. He laughed until his chest hurt. It didn’t take long. It had already been hurting for years, almost two decades.

 

"Why?" Baekhyun said when the laughter evaporated at once, with a last sizzle in his throat. His word was broken, quiet, half of it stuck in his throat. He took a deep breath in. He exhaled it in a louder voice. "Then why?" he demanded, accused, sought to understand.

 

"Sorry," was the miserable answer given to him. He felt that word landing against his face, his chest his stomach, scalding hot, vivid. "Please. God. Forgive me."

 

It was a macabre sight. 

 

He felt his stomach lurching at the spit flying out of his father’s mouth with every single word. His father. He wasn’t asking Baekhyun for forgiveness. It wasn’t Baekhyun. It had never been Baekhyun.

 

"Why?" he asked again and his voice felt louder than earlier but more muffled at the same time, as if it didn’t belong to him, as if it had been stolen from him, like so many other parts of his life, replaced by nothing but hatred and anger and accusation and torment. "Why did you say it was me then? Why?"

 

It felt surreal. He didn’t understand. He didn’t understand why his father had blamed him for his entire life. He didn’t understand why the man had done it. Why had he killed her? Was Baekhyun misunderstanding something? Was he missing something? Was there something he wasn’t seeing? What was happening? What had happened? 

 

"I never wanted to," the man wailed, shaken by a fit of coughs afterwards, his voice too loud for his body to bear it. Baekhyun watched, fuming. There was no regret anymore. Still nothing else. Everything else. Everything else that burned. "She wanted to take you," the man spat out once he had won over his coughing. "You. Why you? I despise you. Why you?"

 

Baekhyun laughed again. This time, it sounded like the sob of a wounded animal calling for the help of a mother that had been snatched away mercilessly, long ago. Too long ago.

 

"You blamed me because she wanted to take me and leave you behind?"

 

His voice was sombre, nothing but a rumble, a ripple ripping through him murderously. He was shaking. His hold on his father’s hand was still strong.

 

"It was easier," the man breathed out, his eyes closing again. They didn’t open up when Baekhyun spoke one more time.

 

"It was easier to blame me than yourself?" he asked, voice high, with despair, realization, confusion because it didn’t make sense. It didn’t make sense. 

 

"You look so much like her," the man croaked again, voice breaking on his last syllable, the first note of a sob, wet, disgusting, undeserving.

 

He didn’t deserve to cry. He didn’t deserve to let those tear slobber up his face, slip into his gasping mouth, mix in with the spit, the saliva, the poison that had always smoked out of it.

 

And Baekhyun watched it. Watched it all unfold in front of him. Felt the smoke dissipating, clearing away as everything made sense. Everything made sense, the realization bursting in his head in a storm of snow. His ears were crowded by the wailing and the begging still escaping the man.

 

He couldn’t hear it. He couldn’t hear anything but that loud, clear, painful voice in his head. It was all a lie. All of it. Baekhyun had ruined himself all his life for a cowardly lie.

 

He couldn’t breathe. His other hand shot up to the man’s arm, he ripped his hand out of his hold and grabbed his shoulder with it before shaking him, rattling him as if more words would spill out of him, as if it would help Baekhyun make sense of everything, as if Baekhyun wanted to shake himself up to make sure this wasn’t a livid nightmare taking over his head.

 

"Why?" he demanded, screamed, voice scratchy, the cold in his body grabbing onto every fiber of his skin and biting. "Why? Why? Why?"

 

His ears hurt from the volume of his own voice, he had no idea what he was doing. He had no idea why he was shaking the man up when he was already dying and everything was done and nothing could rewind to a point where he could prevent all of this from happening. He was still begging, still asking for forgiveness, wheezing, crying, dying, but Baekhyun couldn’t hear him over his own loud, desperate voice asking to understand, asking why.

 

It was only when he felt strong hands grabbing onto his arms and pulling him away from the hospital bed and its ghostly occupant that Baekhyun let go of him. He was still screaming, thrashing around, ruining himself but not as much as this man had ruined him. He was pulled out of the room just as a nurse ran inside and grabbed the mask before slotting it over the man’s face again. 

 

The door closed and Baekhyun turned around, opening the eyes that had squeezed shut without him even noticing, wrenching himself away from Baekbom’s hold as he felt his heart ripping apart in thousands of shreds. A sob rattled through his whole body, dragging through his chest, clawing against his throat, weakly tumbling down his mouth and crashing on the ground. It was painful, much more painful than Baekbom’s grasp on his arms.

 

"Baekhyun, stop," he hissed, loud, sharp, shaking him a little bit. Baekhyun’s chest was heaving, half breaths keeping him alive, sliced off by the pain engulfing into his mouth like an endless weave of thick, black, gooey smoke. "He’s already dying. Stop."

 

Baekhyun felt like he was dying too. Baekhyun felt like he had died a long time ago. Every day. All for a lie. All for a pathetic man’s cowardice. 

 

He shred himself away from Baekbom’s hold, heaving, collided against the wall right next to the closed door, and crumbled down, his legs giving out. He held his head between his hands, holding himself, trying not to slip away, counting in his head, counting his irregular breaths, counting the peaks of pain swarming him up one by one, counting how many times he had believed a lie.

 

He stayed at the hospital the whole day, crouched down in that corridor. Unable to move on, unable to leave, unable to properly register what exactly he had based his whole life upon.

 

It was only when the sun was too exhausted to hold itself up in the sky that Baekbom walked up to him again. Baekhyun hadn’t noticed night had fallen, he hadn’t even noticed it wasn’t dark outside of his own shell beforehand.

 

Baekbom’s lips were pressed into a line, shadows gathered under his eyes as he shook his head weakly, with finality. 

 

Baekhyun realized then, when he felt nothing, that it wasn’t his father that he had been mourning but the little boy the man had stolen the life of along with his mother’s.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

White Chrysanthemums stared back at Baekhyun, as silent as the rest of the columbarium.

 

Time seemed to stop in this place. The world turned idle, not frozen, just taking a break, a second to breathe and mourn.

 

Baekhyun wasn’t mourning. At least, it wasn’t the man on the picture right behind the small rectangular glass door that he was mourning. His gaze slid to the niche right next to it, the picture of his mother clear through the glass, resting right in front of her urn.

 

He hadn’t visited in years. He couldn’t bear to. 

 

He had always thought himself undeserving of visiting her and maybe, just maybe what he was mourning now was the time lost. Her smile was beautiful, eternally youthful, radiating kindness, pure as the pristine white of the flowers Baekhyun had stuck on the tiny door, a gift from him to her. He knew their meaning. 

 

Next time, he would bring different flowers. More colorful. Just to show her the shades of a life she couldn’t live with him.

 

He dragged his gaze away from his mother and looked at the man who took her away from him. He hated the fact that they were next to each other now. His father had prepared it this way on his own, they hadn’t been able to change it. 

 

Baekbom sighed from where he stood next to him, his very first sound since he had arrived a while ago to join Baekhyun. He turned to look at him. He wasn’t frowning but there were lines of exhaustion on his face. They were fainter than they had been a few days ago. His shoulders were less saggy, his back not as droopy, as if the weight pressing down on him had faded a little. Baekhyun knew he was in a similar state.

 

He looked at his father’s photo again.

 

"I’m sorry," he said, a soft murmur.

 

It took Baekbom a few seconds to answer, as if Baekhyun’s voice had to seek deep inside of him to pull him out.

 

"For what?" he inquired, not looking at Baekhyun either, voice heavy with exhaustion but light, a bit lighter to Baekhyun’s ears. No accusation, no blame, nothing.

 

"I don’t know," he answered truthfully. For not having tried harder. For not making this easier for Baekbom. For not having attended the funeral rites. "I’ve grown used to apologizing when I’m near him."

 

"But he’s not here anymore."

 

It still felt surreal. It still felt as if his father was waiting for him somewhere. As if smoke could shoot out of the picture and tighten into an unbreakable knot around his neck. But his father had already disappeared into smoke and ashes.

 

The thought came as a relief, massaging his shoulders into relaxation. The sadness was only minimal and not fueled by the loss of a person. Baekhyun should feel bad. He didn’t.

 

"I’m sorry too," Baekbom said after a short moment of silence.

 

This time, Baekhyun looked at him, surprise turning his head towards him with careful fingers.

 

"Why?" he questioned when he couldn’t find the answer on his brother’s features.

 

Baekbom pressed his lips together and turned to meet his gaze. His eyes were clear. Baekhyun hadn’t looked into his brother’s eyes a lot until now, not enough to feel like they were real brothers at least, but he had never been greeted with fog or storms gushing with anger and disgust. 

 

Now, there was none of it either. Now, there was just a profound dip of regret in his eyes as he looked at Baekhyun, maybe a drop of shame.

 

"I’ve never been there for you."

 

Baekhyun couldn’t hold in a dry snort, a small puff of air blending in bitterness and a dollop of pain. He didn’t deny it. He wouldn’t offer words of comfort to Baekbom when he had never gotten the comfort he needed from him throughout the years.

 

He didn’t blame the other either, however. He took a deep breath in and sighed it out in his next words.

 

"Why would you be there for someone who ruined your life?"

 

"Why do you think you ruined my life?" Baekbom said, still looking at him, this time with a small frown.

 

Baekhyun shook his head, smiling. He could taste the sourness on the curve of his lips.

 

"Didn’t you hear? They say I killed our mother," he answered, lowering his voice just a little bit, as if he was sharing a secret, or worse, a piece of gossip coated in an acid that left an unpleasant taste in his mouth.

 

Baekbom’s frown deepened and he looked away, falling silent. After a few seconds, Baekhyun’s stomach churned. Maybe he shouldn’t have said that. After all, it was now an unpleasant joke for him but for Baekbom, it was still reality. They had never discussed it but no doubt, Baekbom believed his father.

 

Before Baekhyun yielded to the urge to flee the place and leave everything here, with the dead, Baekbom spoke again.

 

"I’ve never believed that," he said, voice firm but still blurry to Baekhyun’s ears. Their gaze met again. Baekbom must’ve seen something in his face that pushed him to speak again, this time with more assurance. "I’ve never believed you did it."

 

Baekhyun parted his lips, closed them again, pressing them together in a tight line. Something in his chest bubbled into his throat, not unpleasant but not entirely welcome either.

 

"Why?" he heard himself ask, voice barely audible.

 

"You’re not a monster."

 

And it was almost pathetic, the way Baekhyun’s heart still quivered at those words, took them all in, like a land that had suffered from drought for so long it imbibed water in greedily, rushed by the fear of losing it forever again. It wouldn’t happen. Baekhyun knew now. He had known for a while. Even if he was never given the proof until that day at the hospital.

 

It had never crossed his mind. Baekbom not believing in his father’s accusations had never even been a possibility for Baekhyun.

 

"How can you be so sure?" he inquired, just because. Just because he wanted to know what Baekbom based that assumption on, if he had seen something that Baekhyun had failed to see for years.

 

Baekbom heaved a deep breath in, tucked his hands in the pockets of his slacks. Baekhyun followed his gaze, letting it land on their mother’s picture.

 

"I’ve seen you," he said, assertive, voice collecting scattered crumbles of regret. Or at least something along the lines of regret. Baekhyun hadn’t spent enough time with him to decipher every nuance in his voice. "I don’t know you. I know nothing about your life but you’re my brother. We grew up together until a certain age. I saw how devastated you’ve been since her death."

 

"Maybe that was just the guilt of what I did," Baekhyun retorted, the same way he had argued with himself thousands of time before, with the same words, the same suspicion, the same uncertainty.

 

Baekbom looked at him. This time, he was smiling. The slope of his lips was faint but sincere. Baekhyun felt something slashing into his heart, in the shape of a smile that looked so much like the one staring back at him in the mirror.

 

"If you had really killed her, if you were really a monster, you wouldn’t say it out loud." 

 

His voice was lower now. As if enunciating them slowly, carefully, quietly would help Baekhyun understand better. Maybe he wished that Baekhyun would understand.

 

Baekhyun gulped down around the lump in his throat. Baekbom’s gaze traveled over his features, as if he was taking it in, as if he was seeing Baekhyun for the first time. And maybe it was the case. Maybe they were seeing each other for the first time, without a veil of smoke clouding their path towards each other.

 

"You wouldn’t think that you were a monster. You wouldn’t punish yourself like this."

 

Or maybe there was still smoke. Because Baekhyun felt warmth tickling his eyes, not as harshly. This was a pacifying tickle. It pooled in his eyes but this time, it wasn’t to protect him against the cigarettes, it was to witness the moment Baekhyun blew off the last of the ghostly swirls.

 

He did it with a varicolored chuckle, a taint of relief, a dollop of sadness, a pinch of regret, and the palest shade of delight. It sounded wet, wobbly.

 

"Then why?" he asked, wanting to understand why Baekbom had never been there for him, why his elder brother had never shielded him against it all, why he had turned his back to Baekhyun and never looked properly again. "Why?" was the only word he could convey properly.

 

And maybe they were closer than Baekhyun thought. Maybe their tie was stronger than he had imagined because Baekbom pressed his lips together, his eyebrows raising a little bit in sorrow. He seemed to understand. He had seemed to always understand. But then, why?

 

"Because I was ashamed," he answered, voice as shaky as Baekhyun felt. "I was devastated when she died. I was selfish. I needed time for myself so I left. And then I felt ashamed for leaving, for never being there for you. I was always out and about, always away for school, always away for business, always away on father’s orders. I was never there for you and up to today, I still feel terrible. But you feel worse. And I’m sorry for never standing up for you, never listening to you, never asking you if you were okay, if you needed something. I’m sorry."

 

Each word echoed with sincerity, regret, and apology in Baekhyun’s head. Each word pulled at his heart, painfully, yet in a way that left it relieved afterwards.

 

Baekbom had been selfish. And maybe Baekhyun was too, now.

 

He held his tears in. Baekbom mirrored him. His eyes were glistening, but never flooded down his face.

 

And Baekhyun didn’t say anything. Because he was upset, and angry, and sad, and didn’t want to forgive Baekbom. Because he deserved to have this to himself. At least this. This little grudge. Just this. For a short while.

 

He inhaled deeply, filled his lungs in with an air that tasted novel, that dulcified the pain a little bit, diluted it enough for him to look at his father’s picture.

 

"He’s the one who pushed her down the stairs," he said, stating a fact, voice carrying no particular emotion. Just information. "Those were his last words to me."

 

On the glass door of the his father's niche, he caught the reflection of Baekbom closing his eyes and biting his lower lip. He let a few seconds pass by before speaking again. Not for Baekbom, but because it was still difficult to push those words out of him when he still had a hard time believing them after years of fallacious accusations.

 

"He said he hated me because she wanted to take me with her and leave him. He always saw Mother when looking at me. That’s why," he said, detached as he recalled the late man’s words. They were still fresh in his head. They would always be. "But maybe it wasn’t because he saw her. Maybe he hated me because he wanted to see himself in me. He wanted to believe that I was the monster. Not him."

 

Baekbom said nothing. From the corner of his eye, Baekhyun caught the slight tremor in his shoulders. He hoped Baekbom was mourning him, crying for him, for what they had both lost all because of a rotten man’s desperate cowardice.

 

Because there was no other reason. There was no other explanation. It didn’t make sense but that was the way things were. Sometimes, there was no intricate reasoning behind the pain one inflicted on others. Sometimes, being human was enough of a reason.

 

Baekhyun soaked in the pure love in his mother’s smile a last time before turning around. Before he could even take a step forward, Baekbom held onto his hand, careful, firm.

 

"I won’t be going out of the country for a while. I’ll be taking over the company but I won’t ask you to be by my side. That is your choice to make. Whenever you want," he said, looking at Baekhyun through his bloodshot eyes. Baekhyun knew they were a reflection of his own, both in bleariness and emotions. Baekhyun felt relief laving over him. Baekbom smiled at him. Wide, liberated, determined. "I took your address from the company records. I won’t lose it. I’ll visit you."

 

Baekhyun didn’t say anything. He didn’t think words would be enough to express it. He smiled, a bit smaller, but just as free. Not constricted by smoke. He brought his hand up, gently patted the back of his brother’s hand, before pulling away from his hold.

 

They would see each other again.

 

When he stepped out of the building, the first thing he did was close his eyes and inhale the aroma spring had perfumed the air with. He inhaled it until he was so full of it, it felt like he had an entire garden in his body.

 

He had never breathed more easily.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Despite everything coming to an end, some things were still confusing to Baekhyun.

 

He had been trying to clear things up a bit, trying to adjust to everything. Oddly, there was not much difference. Breathing was easier, Baekbom sometimes did quite funny attempts at talking with him, and Baekhyun had gotten rid of every single crumble of doubt in himself but there was not much difference. This helped him realized that he had stopped thinking of himself as a monstrous being a while ago. He hadn’t noticed, not until he woke up one morning and realized that he felt no difference.

 

The only aspect of this situation he couldn’t figure out was the nightmares. They had stopped. He hadn’t had one of those recurring nightmares since the moment the truth had been uncovered but he had been thinking about them a lot.

 

He had been thinking about the fact that he vividly remembered pushing his mother down the stairs a lot. He had been thinking about the way he could never dream about that precise moment a lot.

 

It was a blurry matter, something he couldn’t unknot and follow the strings of until they led him to an answer. He still had no real answer. But he had done his best and this morning, he had called one of his old acquaintances

 

Baekhyun had figured this was hardly something he could find out about with a few minutes spent navigating through websites and forums, he had figured this was a matter that implicated the mind and its intricate mechanism. There wasn’t many people who could help but Seolhyun was one of them.

 

They had met three years ago and her number had changed but it hadn’t been difficult for Baekhyun to find the number of her psychology cabinet. All he had been able to get out of her were useful words, after a lot of explanations and even an apology. Seolhyun had always been too softhearted. Baekhyun was glad she had at least given him some information before hanging up on him. Chanyeol had called it karma before leaving for work with a last fit of laughter. He had enjoyed watching Baekhyun apologize to one of his poor victims a bit too much.

 

Now, as Baekhyun opened his navigator, he could only hope that she hadn’t said the first random thing crossing her mind in order to get rid of him as quickly as possible.

 

Memory distortion were the two words he typed onto his search bar. After a short while browsing through confusing articles that had nothing to do with what he was looking for, he added trauma to his research.

 

The first article that popped up was from a medical website. Its title was Memory Distortion for Traumatic Events: The Role of Mental Imagery.

 

Baekhyun stared at the title for a short moment. Apprehension squeezed around his heart, clutched his stomach in its grasp for a fleeting second.

 

It was an odd experience. Having to google something he thought he might be suffering from. Finding out about one of his most traumatic experiences through an article on the internet.

 

But that was the first step. If he felt courageous enough, Baekhyun might actually consult someone. Just to make things clearer. Just to be able to properly understand and let go of it, to make sure it would never pop up in his head again, unresolved.

 

He took a deep breath in and started reading the long article, attentive to every word, reading some sentences twice because they were complicated and he wanted to understand it. A few of them caught his attention.

 

People confuse the information generated after a traumatic event – both intentionally, for example, via conversation with others, and unintentionally, for example, via intrusive imagery – with what really occurred during the event.  

 

He read over it again. And again, catching on the words that mattered to him.  People confuse the information generated after a traumatic event – intentionally, for example, via conversation with others – with what really occurred during the event.  

 

His eyebrows furrowed, his fingers pressing hard enough on the trackpad of his laptop for it to click once under the pressure. Conversation with others. Would accusations fit in that category? He had fainted that day, when he had been an eight year old child witnessing the death of his mother. As far as he remembered, the first words his father had uttered to him when he woke up were accusations. Of having killed her. Of being a monster.

 

Had he confused those accusations with what had really happened? Up to this day, he still couldn’t remember his father actually pushing her down the stairs, intentionally or not. Even now, when he closed his eyes, he could still vividly imagine himself pushing her instead. He let out a shaky breath and continued reading.

 

Event details that have been repeatedly or vividly imagined can come to mind more easily over time, and – if there is no trace of the effort that went into imagining those details – people can easily mistake the accompanying sense of familiarity for the familiarity that we know accompanies genuine recollection. 

 

He read over that sentence four times. It was difficult to comprehend. Difficult to understand, difficult to associate it to himself.

 

Imagine.

 

That was the key word.

 

That was what it had all been. His imagination. Images forced into his mind by the repeated accusations coming from a man scrambling to hide his own sins through cowardice. Was that what it had all been?

 

Was that what Baekhyun’s whole life had been based on? Had he conditioned himself into believing it? Had his father conditioned himself into believing this?

 

A bitter taste cascaded down his throat, with enough vigor and force to churn his stomach a little bit. Was that why his dreams never covered the part where he actually pushed his mother down the stairs? He didn’t know.

 

He wanted to laugh. He tried laughing. He parted his lips. Nothing came out. Not even a sob. 

 

Baekhyun had ruined his life over this. It felt so vain now. Useless. A waste.

 

He closed his laptop. The article was still opened on his navigator, unfinished. He would read it again. He would