If you were coming in the fall,
I’d brush the summer by
With half a smile and half a spurn,
As housewives do a fly.
If I could see you in a year,
I’d wind the months in balls,
And put them each in separate drawers,
Until their time befalls.
If only centuries delayed,
I’d count them on my hand,
Subtracting till my fingers dropped
Into Van Diemen’s land.
If certain, when this life was out,
That yours and mine should be,
I’d toss it yonder like a rind,
And taste eternity.
But now, all ignorant of the length
Of time’s uncertain wing,
It goads me, like a goblin bee,
That will not state its sting.
- Emily Dickinson
“I’m happy just to sit here at a table with old friends,
And see which one of us can tell the biggest lies.”
“I still don’t understand why you want to go to this thing so badly,” Chanyeol said. They’d only been driving for about an hour, but he was already contemplating yanking the car door open, jumping out and running all the way back home again. Unfortunately, it was the sort of great escape that only happened in action films, he thought as he glanced wistfully at the door handle — it was at times like this that all those unfulfilled childhood dreams of being a stunt performer came back to haunt him. If he had been one, then his chances of leaping from a moving car and actually surviving would be far greater.
“Well, I kinda didn’t have a choice,” Kyungsoo replied; he took a sip of coffee from a takeaway styrofoam cup and put it back in the cup holder. “All the other prefects are going, so it would look bad if I didn’t go too. And what kind of friends would you both be if you made me go alone? The answer is ‘not very good ones’..”
“None of us even liked that place… or most of the people there, for that matter,” Chanyeol pointed out. “I just don’t see why you’d want to spend several hours reminiscing about a place you didn’t like with people you used to hate.”
“Don’t be such a buzzkill, Yeol… Jongdae and I are pumped for this event,” Kyungsoo said. “At least wait until we get there before you start wrecking it for us.”
“Not gonna lie, I’m pretty much only going for the booze,” Jongdae piped up. “And also to see who’s gone bald prematurely.”
Chanyeol sighed and decided to give up; he was already in the car now, and there was no chance of Kyungsoo turning back — he would just have to ride this one out. And sure, he was pretty much being kidnapped by his own best friends, but unlike the vast majority of kidnappings, at least this one was unlikely to end with his murder. There was indeed something to be thankful for in every shitty situation.
“This song blows,” Jongdae said, breaking the silence, and he reached over to change the radio station. Kyungsoo took one hand off the wheel to smack him away.
“Hey. When we’re in your car, you can pick the music,” he grumbled, and then he reverted his attention back to Chanyeol, peering at him in the rearview mirror. “Come on, Yeol… don’t you want to see all our old school buddies again? I thought you’d show a little more enthusiasm.”
“I have no interest in seeing anyone from school again, quite frankly,” Chanyeol said.
Jongdae turned his head around to frown at Chanyeol from the front passenger seat. “Well, that’s not very nice… we went to school with you too, you know.”
“You two don’t count,” Chanyeol replied. “I see you all the damn time.”
“Trust me… you’ll be glad you went,” Kyungsoo said — although why he made it sound so cryptic, Chanyeol couldn’t tell. “It’ll be just another fun weekend away with your two best mates… think of it like that.”
Chanyeol didn’t believe for a second that he would end up being glad about going; he’d spent ten long years trying to repress his memories of that place, and now all his efforts were about to be undone in the space of a single weekend. He still wasn’t even sure he’d forgiven his parents for sending him to a boarding school in the first place — of course they had wanted the best education for him, he couldn’t blame them for that, and growing up in a small country town had left him with few options for good schools unless he boarded. But Chanyeol hadn’t understood this at the time, back when he’d been packed off and sent away at the tender age of 13; all he’d been able to gather from the situation was that he was being punished by his own family for a crime he had no idea he’d even committed. He had never seen the St. George Academy For Boys as being worthy of all its capital letters. If anything, it had been little more than a prison for kids — the differences were minimal, and purely a matter of aesthetics. St. George was just juvenile detention in a fancy uniform: too many rules, not enough free time, heavy workloads, uninspiring food, forced exercise, bullying and harassment from students and staff alike, and, to top it all off, a glaring lack of privacy. The only real difference was that the school let you go home for the holidays, but this was only meagre compensation when one took into account the long list of drawbacks.
“Can either of you honestly say you ever enjoyed high school..?” Chanyeol asked. He was past arguing by now; he just wanted to know.
“I don’t remember it being that bad,” Kyungsoo replied. “I mean, sure, it seemed crappy at the time… but I do have some fond memories of the place.”
“I hated it,” Jongdae admitted. “But hey, a party is a party.”
Chanyeol sighed and leaned his head against the window, feeling the vibration of every pebble and pothole they ran over rattling against his skull. Some of these country roads really needed to be resealed; the bouquets of flowers and memorial crosses affixed to every second telegraph pole weren’t an encouraging sight.
“I suppose so,” he said, and then he closed his eyes, letting the bumpy ride lull him to sleep.
It was already early evening by the time they arrived. The streets leading into the centre of town were lined with flame trees, and at this time of year they were laden with bright crimson flowers, the fallen buds scattered over the surface of the road like a red carpet rolled out to welcome them back. The first thing Chanyeol noticed was how little these streets had changed since he last saw them, on the day he left for what he thought would be the last time. At the time, he’d turned around in his seat to stare through the back window of the family car, watching as the school gradually disappeared behind the trees, and he’d wondered briefly if he would ever come back one day. It didn’t take long for him to decide that no, he wouldn’t. There was nothing left for him to come back to.
“Alright, you both have about half an hour to get ready,” Kyungsoo said, after they’d finally arrived and checked in at their hotel. “We’ll meet back here in the foyer at 7, and then we’ll go to the party together.”
After they separated, Chanyeol went to his room and unlocked the door; he pushed it open, immediately dumping his canvas travel bag on the floor and laying out his suit along the double bed to keep it from creasing. The room was as expected: dated furnishings, a tad cramped, but it was clean. He went to the bathroom and switched on the light, blinking his bleary eyes as the fluorescent lights flickered for a moment before turning on completely. There were neatly folded hand-towels on the bench next to the sink, miniature bottles of shampoo and conditioner. Tiny, individually-wrapped bars of soap the size of after-dinner mints. Chanyeol glanced at his reflection and pulled a face; the harsh lighting made him look sallow and unhealthy and old, and even the tiniest of blemishes seemed to jump out at him from the mirror. He had a quick shower, dressed himself and left the room without checking his appearance again.
The reunion party was being held in one of the hotel’s private function rooms, which was convenient — Chanyeol already suspected he would probably have to get very drunk just to get through it, and as soon as it was all over, all he had to do was stumble back to his room. It seemed a casual affair; no one was handing out name-tags or anything official like that. A navy-blue banner hung above the stage at the front of the room, on which the words ‘Welcome Old Boys of St. George - Class of 2005’ were printed in red lettering. Chanyeol cast his eyes around the room as they walked in, searching all the unfamiliar faces for anyone he recognised. Quite a few of his fellow Old Boys had brought dates or partners with them. Some people smiled at him, and stopped to say hello and ask how he was, but most of them paid more attention to Kyungsoo, whom everyone recognised because he’d been a prefect and House captain. To those who didn't know him well, Chanyeol could tell he was still just 'that really tall guy’, but apart from the inconvenience of needing to remind people of his name every ten seconds, the thought didn’t really bother him.
While Kyungsoo and Jongdae chatted with a group of their old classmates, Chanyeol stood there on the edge of the circle with his glass of vodka and lime, feeling happily invisible, and let the conversation wash over him. It came at him in snippets, mostly going in one ear and right out the other — So-and-so was doing this, and Whatshisname had just made his first million doing that, and That Other Guy was now married with two kids, and so on. He dreaded the moment when all the heads in the circle might suddenly be directed at him, and he would be required to say something interesting about himself. Chanyeol’s stomach churned at the thought; what could he possibly tell these people that would make him sound more exciting than he really was? He enjoyed his job as a high-school teacher, but other than that, there wasn’t really much to him; all he did was get up and go to work. His idea of getting out of the house these days was walking his dog around the block every night before bed. He’d become everything he’d feared he’d be when he was younger — old and boring, well before his time.
While he was having these thoughts, Chanyeol looked up at the door just in time to see someone else walk into the room. Thankfully his glass was empty by then, because he nearly dropped it on the floor.
Every head seemed to turn in his direction as he went past. He was wearing a tight-fitting grey suit, and his hair was now dyed to a light brown. He was slimmer and slightly taller than Chanyeol remembered him being, and he had on a pair of black glasses with thick rectangular frames. Other than that, he was almost exactly the same — perhaps even more attractive, if that was possible. His gaze had finally fallen on Chanyeol, and he was walking right towards him now with his eyes narrowed, as though trying to discern illusion from reality. But then something in his eyes changed, and he began smiling the biggest smile Chanyeol had ever seen.
Chanyeol swallowed, trying to dislodge the lump in his throat. That smile. Only Byun Baekhyun had a smile so powerful that it could punch a man right in the gut and, in doing so, instantly transport him ten years back in time.
Somewhere in the back of his mind, Chanyeol had been both dreading and anticipating this very moment ever since he first learned about the reunion’s existence. Still, he hadn’t really expected it to actually happen. Why should it have happened? Since when were expelled students even invited to high-school reunions? But here he was again, the boy from his dreams, only he was no longer a boy, but a man — real and three-dimensional, flesh and blood, already close enough that Chanyeol could see his lips quivering as he prepared to utter what would be his first words in an entire decade. Soon Chanyeol would be able to reach out and touch those lips, if he really wanted to; after all, he’d kissed them so many times, heard them whispering his name, traced their outlines with his fingertips in the darkness — but he wouldn’t dare to do any of those things now. Something made him think the vision before him would ripple and distort if he disturbed it by reaching out, and then Baekhyun would vanish again, fading away as quickly as he’d appeared. And if he did that, he’d take the answers to all those burning questions along with him.
“Hey,” Baekhyun said softly, and whoever had been talking just then — Chanyeol had stopped paying attention a while ago — suddenly fell silent. Chanyeol could feel several pairs of eyes flicking between him and Baekhyun with bewildered interest, like they were two players in a tennis match.
“Um… hi,” he just barely managed to reply, even though his mind was full of repetitions of oh-God-oh-God-oh-God — there was no time to even figure out how he really felt about seeing Baekhyun again so suddenly. Over the years he had saved up so many things that he would say if the moment of their reunion had ever arisen, but now it was here, and he was completely blank. So Chanyeol did the only thing he could think of doing at the time, which was to turn on his heel and run off in the opposite direction, quickly taking sanctuary in the men’s bathroom — he did this mainly because it was the first door he could find that wasn’t marked with a sign reading either ‘Ladies’ or ‘Staff Only.”
As soon as he got there and saw that the bathroom was thankfully empty of other patrons, Chanyeol began pacing back and forth, flailing his hands about and muttering to himself about what a stupid, embarrassing thing he’d just done. A few seconds later the door swung open, and there was Baekhyun again, standing in the doorway and looking at him with an expression of obvious concern.
“Well,” he said, “that wasn’t quite the reaction I was hoping for, I must admit.”
“I’m sorry,” Chanyeol replied, unable to keep from cringing when he finally forced himself to meet Baekhyun’s eye. “I’m really sorry… I don’t know why I ran off like that. I guess I wasn’t expecting to see you again after however long it’s been, and I freaked out, and… I’m sorry.”
Baekhyun offered him a wry smile in response and stepped cautiously inside the bathroom, as though worried he’d scare Chanyeol off — not that he had anywhere to run to, with Baekhyun blocking the only exit.
“I know I’m probably not supposed to be here,” he said, closing the door behind him. “I actually wouldn’t have even known about this whole reunion business at all, if Kyungsoo hadn’t told me about it.”
Chanyeol froze at the mention of Kyungsoo’s name. “Wait — Kyungsoo told you..?”
Baekhyun nodded. “Well, yeah… he managed to get a hold of my e-mail address somehow, and he sent me a message to tell me there was a reunion coming up. And now here we are.”
Chanyeol buried his head in his hands and groaned. “Of course, that sneaky bastard… I should have known.”
“Known what..?” Baekhyun asked.
“Nothing,” Chanyeol mumbled into his hands. “It’s nothing.”
“Well, do you want to come out of the bathroom now?” Baekhyun asked gently, and although Chanyeol still had his face buried in his hands, he could hear in the other man’s voice that he was trying not to laugh — possibly a nervous reaction to the awkward situation they’d already found themselves in. “Not exactly the best place for a joyous reunion, is it..?”
“No,” Chanyeol sighed, uncovering his face at last. “I guess not..”
“Come on,” Baekhyun said, holding a hand out towards him, and then he smiled again. “Come and have one drink with me, at least. I know you don’t owe me anything, Chanyeol… in fact, I owe you, a hell of a lot. But it would be nice just to talk to you for a little while, if that’s okay with you. You’re kind of the reason I came in the first place.”
Chanyeol felt another lump forming in his throat. He hadn’t heard Baekhyun calling him by his name in so long; it was something that had only really happened when they were alone together, usually during arguments or moments of intimacy, and even now the sound of those lips forming the syllables of his first name made his insides clench. At all other times — particularly within earshot of their classmates — Baekhyun had addressed him by his surname, just as he did everyone else.
“Okay,” Chanyeol said at last. “Just… give me a few minutes, and I’ll come out.”
“Alright. I’ll go over and wait for you by the bar,” Baekhyun said quietly, and he smiled at Chanyeol again before closing the door behind him.
Chanyeol was left alone with his thoughts for all of thirty seconds before Kyungsoo barged into the bathroom.
“Thought I’d find you in here,” he said, and then he wiggled his eyebrows suggestively. “Just caught Byun on the way out… catching up on old times already, eh..?”
Chanyeol rolled his eyes. “No, you idiot… by the way, don’t try to pretend this whole thing wasn’t arranged by you, because he just confirmed it, and I heard it with my own ears.”
Just then, a guy Chanyeol vaguely recognised but couldn’t remember the name of walked into the bathroom and disappeared into one of the stalls, slamming the door shut and fumbling with the lock. Kyungsoo waited with his eyes directed at the ceiling for a moment — there was the sound of a loud fart, followed by a mumbled “ ‘scuse me”. He smiled at Chanyeol and shook his head.
“Don’t act like you don’t still think about him, Yeol, because we all know you do,” he said, lowering his voice a little. “This way, maybe you’ll at least get some closure.”
Chanyeol sighed. “But I haven’t even had the time to prepare myself..”
“What’s there to prepare for? Just go out and talk to him for a bit… that’s all he wants you to do. He’s not asking you for the world.”
“Okay… fine,” Chanyeol said, and he pointed a threatening finger right in Kyungsoo’s face. “But if I start signalling frantically at you at any time during our conversation, you’d better come up with a bloody good excuse to save me with.”
Kyungsoo nodded. “Sudden and unexplained family emergency — got it.”
“Sometimes I don’t know why I’m even friends with you,” Chanyeol muttered, and Kyungsoo patted his back as he gently steered him towards the bathroom door.
“Well, by the end of tonight, I’m sure you’ll know,” he said. “Now let’s get out of here… I don’t know what that guy ate, but it’s fucking killing me.”
When Chanyeol headed back to the bar, he found Baekhyun sitting alone in front of it, nursing a glass of red wine. His eyes lit up when he saw Chanyeol approaching, and he patted the empty stool beside him.
“All by yourself, as usual..?” Chanyeol asked, lowering himself onto the stool, and Baekhyun laughed.
“Yeah, I know… what else is new,” he said. “What’ll you have?”
Chanyeol gestured towards Baekhyun’s glass of wine. “Same as you will be fine.”
“Another one, please,” Baekhyun said to the bartender standing closest to them, who nodded and went to pour another glass.
Chanyeol watched as Baekhyun took another sip of his wine. “Still making your own booze in the back of your closet..?” he asked in an effort to make conversation, and Baekhyun laughed again, shaking his head vigorously.
“Oh, no — definitely not. I leave the booze-making to the experts these days,” he said. “But enough about all that… I want to know about you. What’s been happening?”
Chanyeol hated that question; it made the whole ordeal feel like the beginning of a job interview or something, which did nothing to help his already frazzled nerves. It wasn’t the sort of thing you could answer in a single sentence, and he wasn’t in the mood to speak in entire paragraphs. The bartender set another glass of wine down upon the bar in front of him, and Chanyeol thanked him with a polite nod.
“Um… well, what do you want to know?” he asked, and Baekhyun shrugged.
“I don’t know,” he said. “Tell me anything. What have you been doing with yourself for the past ten years..?”
“Well, I’m a high-school teacher now,” Chanyeol said. “I teach the classics — Greek and Roman history and literature, and also Ancient Greek and Latin. ”
Baekhyun leaned forward on his seat when he heard this; he did a good job of appearing to be interested, Chanyeol thought. “Really… so you kept up with the Latin. A very interesting development. Which school are you at?”
“St. Cecilia’s,” Chanyeol said. “It’s a private girls’ school smack-bang in the middle of—”
Baekhyun cut him off with a burst of laughter. “I know where St. Cecilia’s is,” he said. “I walk past it every day. I’m just over at the university hospital, in the pharmacology department… I work there as a clinical research assistant. I’m surprised we haven’t bumped into each other.”
Chanyeol’s eyes widened at the news. So he’d been around the corner the whole time. God clearly had an odd sense of humour.
“So you got out of the country, then,” he said at last. “I wondered if you ever would..”
Baekhyun nodded. “Yep, I finally got out of the sticks. But there are still times when I miss country life terribly… where I live there’s hardly any trees, you know? Sometimes I can’t even get a whiff of freshly-cut grass without tearing up.”
“I miss it too,” Chanyeol admitted. “Never thought I’d actually say that aloud, but here we are.”
“Nothing quite like the smell of cow shit in the morning, is there?” Baekhyun said, grinning at him, and Chanyeol offered a polite chuckle in response.
They trailed off into awkward silence for a while, during which Chanyeol had no idea what to say, and so he chose to look around the room instead. What were all these other people talking to each other about, anyway? Baekhyun didn’t seem to find the silence uncomfortable; he was staring at Chanyeol intently, as though waiting patiently for him to carry on the conversation himself.
“Why are you looking at me like that..?” Chanyeol asked, when the staring became too much to bear.
“I just can't believe I’m seeing you right now, that’s all. It’s so surreal,” Baekhyun said, and then he smiled again. He reached over and straightened Chanyeol’s tie, something he used to do occasionally when they were at school together. “You look fantastic, by the way… these past ten years have been very kind to you. Seriously, did you ever stop growing?”
Chanyeol smiled back; it was on the tip of his tongue to tell Baekhyun that he looked great too, but he couldn’t get the words out. “Eventually. I’d already done most of my growing while we were at school. So… are those glasses just to make you look smarter, or do you actually need them to see?”
“Oh, I need them to see,” Baekhyun said, laughing. “My eyes aren't what they used to be, unfortunately. I see you've gotten rid of yours..?”
“I had laser surgery done a few years ago, so I don’t need them anymore,” Chanyeol replied. “But it took me ages to stop feeling naked without them.”
“You’ve changed so much and so little at the same time, you know that?” Baekhyun said, still smiling at him. There was a twinkle in his eyes as he said it. He took another sip of wine and put the glass back down on the bar. “Still the strong, serious, silent type… but I’m really digging the whole sexy-teacher vibe you’ve got going on these days.”
Chanyeol laughed nervously; he felt his face warming up at the compliment. It was just like Byun Baekhyun to start the flirting so early on in their conversation. “Well, I’ve never been good at small talk,” he replied. “I usually avoid these sorts of occasions like the plague.”
“But still, you came anyway,” Baekhyun said quietly; he leaned forward a little on his seat, until their knees were almost touching. “Forgive me for asking, but was it because even the tiniest part of you was maybe hoping to see me, or is that just wishful thinking on my part..?”
Chanyeol opened his mouth and then paused for a moment, unsure of how to respond. “I was sort of bullied into coming by Kyungsoo… but I had no idea he’d told you to come. I suppose deep down, I did hope I might bump into you. I was just so convinced it wouldn’t happen that I guess I went into instant meltdown mode when it did.”
Baekhyun nodded, apparently satisfied with this response. He took one of Chanyeol’s hands in his own and turned it over, laying it flat on the bar with the palm facing upwards, and traced the lines in it gently with his finger.
“You wanna go somewhere else for a bit..?” he asked eventually, and then his eyes met Chanyeol’s again.
Chanyeol looked back at him with raised eyebrows. “Like where?”
“Oh, I know somewhere we can go..” Baekhyun said, cracking that mysterious little smile of his — the same one that had haunted Chanyeol’s dreams for years.
Chanyeol frowned and glanced down at his watch. “But the party just started. Why would we leave it so soon?”
“It’ll just be for a little while… I doubt we’ll miss very much,” Baekhyun replied brusquely; he quickly downed the rest of his wine and pushed the empty glass across the bar, signalling his thanks to the bartender with a little salute. “We would have to go in your car, though, since I don’t have one. I made the trip here by train.”
“Well, I didn’t come here in my own car either,” Chanyeol said. “But I guess Kyungsoo might let us borrow his. Is it far?”
Baekhyun shook his head. “A couple minutes’ drive, tops. If he won’t let us use his car, we could probably go for a walk, but it might take a while.”
Chanyeol hesitated for a moment. “I don’t know…”
“Oh, come on,” Baekhyun said. “It’ll be fun, I promise.”
Chanyeol finished his wine in one swallow and let out a heavy sigh. “‘It’ll be fun, I promise’, he says… how long has it been since I last heard that sentence..?”
Baekhyun laughed and grabbed him by the hand, pulling him up out of his seat so they could go and find Kyungsoo. “A very long time, Park,” he said, “and I’ll bet you’ve missed it.”
As it happened, Kyungsoo was only too willing to let them borrow the Lexus, although Chanyeol suspected this was probably because he was already well on his way to being hammered, and therefore feeling unusually generous.
“So where are we going, then?” he asked as they pulled out of the hotel parking lot, and Baekhyun barely missed a beat with his response.
“To pay a visit to the alma mater,” he said. “Where else?”
Chanyeol sighed. “I had a feeling you’d say that..”
“I just want to have a look, that’s all. Don’t you?”
“Well… not really..”
“But we’re already in the car now. Come on, Park… for old time’s sake,” Baekhyun said — clearly his powers of persuasion had not lost their potency over the years. It made Chanyeol smile in spite of himself.
“Alright — but just a quick look. And then we’ll go straight back.”
“Excellent,” Baekhyun said, rubbing his hands together. “Now, if my ailing memory serves me well, you just have to take this next left turn here..”
At Baekhyun’s direction, they turned onto a narrow road lined on both sides with willow trees, which Chanyeol immediately recognised; the trees were a little taller now, perhaps, but otherwise it looked exactly as he remembered. Before long, the school itself began to appear ahead of them, the roofs of its various buildings peeking out from behind the treetops. Chanyeol pulled up to one side at the end of the road, and Baekhyun hopped out of the car first, closing the door behind him and quickly heading in the direction of the front gate. Chanyeol sat in the car for a moment longer and quietly collected himself, and then he got out, following cautiously behind. He stood next to Baekhyun, and they both looked up at the school crest at the top of the gate, with the Latin motto underneath it that read Inveniam Viam.
‘I will find a way’ — it seemed fitting, given the circumstances. Chanyeol had indeed found his way back here, even if he hadn’t originally planned to. He was beginning to suspect that there were other forces at work now. Whatever happened tonight was beyond his control.
Baekhyun let out a long, low whistle as he stared through the bars of the gate. “Wow,” he said. “Let’s go in.”
Chanyeol turned to stare at him in disbelief. “You said you just wanted to look…”
“Mmm, well, I did say that,” Baekhyun admitted. “But I lied.”
Chanyeol shook his head. “No. No way.”
“Because why the hell would you want to break into our old school..?”
“Those are very strong words, Park,” Baekhyun replied, finally turning his head to look at Chanyeol. “We won’t actually be breaking into anything, technically..”
“Even if we don’t enter any of the buildings themselves, I’m pretty sure it would still be considered trespassing,” Chanyeol said.
“Come on, Park,” Baekhyun groaned. “I spend 50-plus hours a week holed up in a lab these days… I just want to live a little. Where’s your sense of adventure?”
Chanyeol let out a dry little laugh. “It crawled off and died, along with my youth. Which is precisely why I don’t go around doing stuff like this anymore.”
“You’re still a few years shy of eighty, you know,” Baekhyun pointed out. He walked over to the gate, rattling it gently to see if it would open, but it appeared to be locked from the inside. “Hmm. Well, I don’t know what I was expecting,” he said, laughing a little. “I guess we’ll just have to climb over it.”
Chanyeol blinked at him in bewilderment. “You’re joking, surely..”
Baekhyun didn’t reply. Instead he moved aside and shrugged off his jacket, which he tossed right over the fence. It landed in a heap on the grass.
“Right,” Chanyeol sighed. “Of course you aren’t.”
“This fine institution was my home for five years and nine months of my life,” Baekhyun said. He was looking down at his hands, which were now wrapped tightly around the bars of the fence. “I think I’m entitled to a measly self-conducted reunion tour of the place..”
Chanyeol was unmoved by this. “Five years and nine months, you say? Well, try six.”
“Alright, Mister ‘I-was-allowed-to-graduate’,” Baekhyun deadpanned; he lifted one foot, wedging it between the vertical bars of the fence to rest on another bar that ran along horizontally. He put his other foot on the next highest bar, and then he hoisted himself up and over the fence with impressive agility, jumping down onto the grass and turning around to face Chanyeol once more. There was a smug expression of see-what-I-just-did on his face. “Go ahead,” he said, picking up his jacket off the ground and throwing it back on. “It’s not as hard as it looks. For someone as leggy as you, it’ll be a breeze.”
Chanyeol began chewing on his lower lip. “Do I really have to do this..?”
“If you need an incentive, I promise I’ll make out with you if you do,” Baekhyun said with a wicked grin, and Chanyeol tilted his head back, releasing a loud groan of exasperation into the starry sky above.
“You know who else hasn’t changed..? You,” he muttered.
“Look… I don’t want you to spend the rest of your life hating this place,” Baekhyun said. “It had its flaws, certainly… but it brought us together. And you could say it tore us apart too, but it didn’t — I did that. I got myself expelled, Chanyeol. That had nothing to do with either you or the school.”
“But I’m the one who drove you to it,” Chanyeol replied quietly. “By pushing you away..”
“Well, I’m the one who didn’t bother trying to contact you after I left — pretty damn ungrateful of me, considering you more or less saved my fucking life,” Baekhyun said. “Not that I knew that until later… but still.”
Chanyeol kicked at the ground with his foot. “Well, I didn’t try either,” he mumbled to the grass beneath his feet, and he heard Baekhyun sigh.
“Yes,” he said, “because you probably thought I was still upset with you, I imagine. And I was, for a long time… but then I got over it. I guess it was just very hard to cope with, having my worst fears confirmed… that you didn’t love me in the same way I loved you.”
It was amusing, Chanyeol thought, that they were both competing with each other to take the blame for their untimely separation. Ten years ago, things would have been very different.
“But I lied,” he said. “I did love you… I just couldn’t tell you. It wasn’t the right time or place.”
“I know that now,” Baekhyun said; his voice so soft it was almost a whisper. “I think I always knew.” Leaning against the fence, he reached through the bars and gently took Chanyeol’s hand in his own. Chanyeol stared down at their joined hands for a moment in silence, and then he lifted his head, looking through the fence and past Baekhyun, at that eerily silent, forgotten world that lay waiting beyond them.
“Maybe I only disliked this place so much because I was remembering it wrong,” he said. “Or maybe I’m just remembering the wrong things.”
“Well, that’s easily fixed,” Baekhyun replied matter-of-factly, letting go of Chanyeol’s hand. “It’s natural to let the worst parts about a certain time or place overshadow all the good stuff, Park… all it means is that we should make some new memories. Better ones. So climb the damn fence already.”
“Um. Alright, but… how, exactly..?” Chanyeol asked, scratching the back of his neck, and Baekhyun started laughing at him from the other side of the bars. The sound of it had Chanyeol’s heart pounding all over again — oh how he’d missed the sweetness of that laughter. Baekhyun was a man now, and although his laugh was somewhat huskier these days, it still tugged at something deep inside Chanyeol, as it had always done.
“What, you’ve never climbed over a fence before?” Baekhyun asked, and then he started laughing again. “God, what kind of poor excuse for a country boy are you..?”
“This is a good suit, I’ll have you know,” Chanyeol grumbled. “And I’m not as flexible as I used to be.”
Baekhyun groaned in exasperation. “You could practically step right over the fence, Park… God knows you’re bloody tall enough. I got over just fine, and I’m like a foot shorter than you.”
“Well, we’re not all ninjas like you, are we..?” Chanyeol muttered, but at the risk of his pride being wounded any more than it already was, he began to climb the fence. Getting his leg over the top of it ended up being easy enough, but he lost his footing on the way down, and he fell into a heap on top of a small patch of petunias, crushing the life out of them. “Whoopsy..” he whispered, getting to his feet and dusting himself off, and Baekhyun just stood there and shook his head in quiet amusement.
“My ninja days are behind me, I’m afraid,” he said, grabbing Chanyeol by the hand. “But I can still get my legs behind my head, if that’s of any interest to you..”
Chanyeol barely had the time to blush before Baekhyun began dragging him away, along the path leading up towards the school buildings; he tried to step lightly to keep the gravel from crunching so noisily beneath his shoes, but it was futile when Baekhyun was pulling him along at such a hurried pace. Eventually Baekhyun got sick of sticking to the path, and began to take a shortcut across the grass instead — the same well-tended lawn that they used to be scolded for walking on. Chanyeol was half-expecting a bunch of sirens to go off or something, but no such thing happened, and for a while there was only the barely-audible sound of plush grass being trampled underfoot.
“I never thought you’d even want to set foot in here again, after what happened…” Chanyeol said, already feeling breathless as they charged across the grounds together, past the collection of imposing old sandstone buildings that held all of their former classrooms. This was meant to be a subtle invitation for Baekhyun to talk about what had happened of his own volition, but for whatever reason, he didn’t take it. For a while he said nothing at all, and Chanyeol sighed quietly to himself. He should have known it wouldn’t be that easy.
“Well, you know… that was all a long time ago,” Baekhyun replied at last. “And I guess I just want to see how this place has changed… if it’s even changed at all.”
“Fine,” Chanyeol sighed, “but at least promise me we won’t get too close to any of the Houses. There’ll be people sleeping in them, don’t forget.”
“Don’t worry, Park… I’m not that stupid. Like I said, I just want to have a look.”
The school had always been big, but now that he was seeing it again for the first time in a while, it seemed even bigger than Chanyeol remembered. Things that had been mere background details before were suddenly flung to the forefront of his memory: there were the willow trees with their branches trailing almost to the ground, and the grand white marble statue of St. George on his horse that stood in front of the main building. There was the rowing lake, the science/maths block, the arts/history block, the gym and the tennis courts. When Chanyeol looked up, he could see the spire on top of the bell tower belonging to the school chapel, where they were once forced to congregate on three weekday mornings per week (Sundays optional), poking up from behind the school buildings. Some things, of course, were different: the old library had since been rebuilt, and what had once been an outdoor Olympic-sized swimming pool had now been converted to an indoor one.
And then, at last, they arrived at the school’s four Houses. First there was King, and then Gray, and then Wills… and then they came to a halt in front of Burke.
Chanyeol looked up at what had once been his home-away-from-home for six long years of his adolescent life, and suddenly found himself unable to speak.
“I’m pretty sure that’s it,” Baekhyun whispered, and Chanyeol’s eyes followed to where he was pointing, up at one of the barred windows on the third floor. “That one up there, second from the left.”
And so there it was, their old room… where they'd whiled away many a night hour talking until the sun rose, sharing countless kisses, and the first awkward-but-tender fumblings of young love. Was it all still the same inside, Chanyeol wondered — with those uncomfortably narrow, steel-framed beds just like the kind you’d find in an old hospital or asylum, with the springs that creaked liked mad when you so much as rolled over a tiny fraction in your sleep. Maybe they even had the same ancient desks with the wood veneer peeling back at the corners, which Chanyeol used to pick at feverishly during periods of exam-induced stress. He would have laughed if they still had those annoying, flickering lights that the caretaker was always supposed to fix, but somehow never got around to doing — where exactly did all those exorbitant school fees go to, anyway?
From the corner of his eye, Chanyeol noticed Baekhyun shivering a little beside him. “I’m getting chills just from looking at it,” he whispered, and then he squeezed Chanyeol’s hand gently. “Are you..?”
“Yeah,” Chanyeol replied absently. His eyes were still glued to the window above them.
“The time has come again.”
Chanyeol looked up from where he was sprawled on his bunk, his nose buried in a novel, to see Baekhyun walk through the door of their room.
“Oh. Hey, Byun,” he said.
The discovery that he would be sharing a room with Byun Baekhyun for their senior year had initially left Chanyeol with mixed feelings. At first glance, Baekhyun seemed like the whole package; he was attractive, witty and brilliant, with sharp, bright eyes that always seemed to be laughing at you, even when he wasn’t smiling. Being one of the prettier boys among the student body, he was often a target for unwanted attention from other students, the unwilling object of catcalls and leers and indecent whispers in the corridors… but despite being universally lusted after, Chanyeol had noticed that he didn’t seem to have many friends, if any at all. What was even more interesting was that he didn’t appear to care.
There were probably a few explanations for this friendlessness, but none that stood out to Chanyeol in particular; he had only spoken to Baekhyun a handful of times, during shared classes and the like, and he’d always seemed pleasant enough. It would have been too easy to pin it all on Baekhyun being a scholarship student, one of the very few at the school without wealthy parents — although a fee-payer himself, Chanyeol’s family wasn’t especially well-off either, and he had friends. But in a place like St. George, conformity to the point of invisibility was everything: it meant survival. The problem was that Baekhyun didn’t merely bob along in the roiling sea of blue blazers, like everyone else did; instead, he actively struggled against the current. He was strange, and subversive, and far too intelligent for his own good. Assuming every grade had at least one weird kid with antisocial leanings — the one often seen sitting alone in the corner, scratching obscenities into his desk with a compass point when the teacher’s back was turned — then Baekhyun was that kid. Although a victim of the occasional verbal taunt, he was considered physically untouchable among school bullies for a number of reasons, the most notable being:
1. He’d been a martial arts prodigy when he was younger, winning a number of competitions, and would not hesitate to use his skills if provoked.
2. He’d learned how to kill, gut and butcher animals while growing up on his family’s farm, and apparently had a hunting knife stowed away inside his trunk.
3. He had a very keen interest in chemistry, was rumoured to have established a secret meth lab hidden somewhere on school property (as yet undiscovered), supposedly dealt drugs to other students on a regular basis, and even knew how to make his own explosives.
Of course, Chanyeol suspected that some of these things were probably not entirely factual, but it didn’t hurt to remain vigilant either way.
Baekhyun sat down on the end of his bed and kicked off his shoes, pushing them underneath it with his foot. “So. I guess you’re the lucky bastard who gets to share a room with me, then,” he said.
“Mm-hmm,” Chanyeol hummed in reply. He tried to keep his eyes on the page in front of him, even though he wasn’t really paying attention to what he was reading anymore. He could sense Baekhyun watching him from the corner of his eye.
“You’ve been on that same page for a while now… slow reader, huh..?” Baekhyun said with a smirk; he was still perched on the end of his bed with his hands on either side of him, swinging his feet back and forth, banging his bare heels against the metal frame. Chanyeol glanced at him and then quickly turned over to the next page.
“I just like to fully comprehend what I’m reading, that’s all,” he said.
“Fair enough. What are you reading, anyway..?”
Chanyeol turned the cover of the book to the side so Baekhyun could read the title. The other boy narrowed his eyes a little, leaning forward to see it better, and then he nodded.
“Ah, The Da Vinci Code… read that one a while ago, Park. Wouldn’t wipe my arse with the paper it’s printed on. You wanna know what happens..?”
Chanyeol poked his head up over the top of the book. “What..? No, I just sta—”
“Teabing is The Teacher and the Holy Grail is buried beneath the Louvre,” Baekhyun said flatly, almost in one breath, completely cutting Chanyeol off before he could get a word in. “There — that’s The Da Vinci Code summed up in a sentence. Now you won’t have to bother.”
Chanyeol slowly lowered the book and shot his new roommate a look of utter incredulity, but Baekhyun seemed unfazed.
“I’ve just saved you a good precious few hours of your life, Park — you ought to thank me. Anyway, I’m hitting the showers… and then when I come back, I’ll lend you a book that’s actually worth your time,” he said. With an exasperating smile on his face, he grabbed his towel from the end of his bed, threw it over one shoulder and waltzed out of the room, even having the audacity to whistle merrily on his way out.
Chanyeol lay there for a moment, waiting until he could no longer hear the sound of Baekhyun’s bare feet padding down the hall. He closed the book and threw it at the doorframe, and then without meaning to, he fell asleep. He woke up early the next morning to Baekhyun’s gentle snores in the other bed, and a battered hardback copy of The Iliad beside his pillow.
As much as Chanyeol resented life in a boarding school, there was one thing to be said for it — it was never boring. He hadn’t even been back a whole week yet, and there was already trouble afoot inside the House.
“Happy Friday, boys,” Kyungsoo said grimly when Chanyeol strolled into the senior common room first thing on Friday morning, followed by Jongdae and a few others. “It gives me great displeasure to announce that someone’s gone and roped off the stairwell this morning, in a very intricate criss-crossing sort of formation between the banisters… rather spectacular, really. Only problem is, it makes getting up and down look like quite the mission. A fitting end to the first week of the academic year, I’m sure you’ll all agree.”
The news was met with a chorus of groans; naturally the situation was worse for the seniors, whose living area took up the entire top floor of the House. Scaling three narrow flights of creaky, two-hundred-year-old stairs was trying enough at the best of times.
“Fucking hell… we haven’t even been back a week, and it’s started already,” Chanyeol said. “Who do you think did it..?”
“The whole thing reeks of OBG, I reckon,” Jongdae muttered, his eyes narrowing with suspicion. Jongdae blamed OBG, the school’s resident ‘prankster ghost’, for a lot of things; Chanyeol figured he was still shitty about that time last year when he’d opened his trunk and discovered that someone had mysteriously filled it with shaving foam.
“Fuck if I know,” Kyungsoo said, “but whoever he is, he ties knots like a pro. Anyway, the ropes are far too thick to cut with scissors, so I’ll see if I can get the caretaker to have a go with a pair of garden shears. For now, though, I’m afraid we’ll just have to limbo all the way down. Your legs are probably long enough to step right over the ropes, Park, you lucky bastard… as for the rest of you, I sincerely hope you’ve all done your morning stretches.”
“If OBG wasn't a ghost, I'd find him and gut him — simple as that,” Jongdae said as they all headed towards the stairs, and Kyungsoo turned back to look at him like he was an idiot.
“You actually believe OBG is really a ghost..?”
Jongdae blinked back at Kyungsoo with innocent eyes. “Well, yeah. Don’t you..?”
Kyungsoo just shook his head and said nothing more. They began to make their way downstairs, an exercise that took about ten minutes longer than it should have because of all the ducking and weaving between the ropes. On a typical Friday morning, there was chapel at 7.45, followed by breakfast at 8.30, and then attendance was taken at 9 on the dot, after which classes began. At this rate, they would really be cutting it fine to get to the morning service on time.
When they finally got outside the House, they joined the noisy throng of boys streaming out from the other three Houses, all making their way across the grounds towards the school chapel. There was usually a morning service at the chapel three times a week — on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays — and all students and staff were required to attend regardless of their personal beliefs. For his part, Chanyeol didn’t mind going; if nothing else, it gave him an opportunity to daydream, without the usual worry of being picked on to answer a question about something he hadn’t been paying attention to.
“Hey, Park. A little birdy told me that Byun’s your bunk-buddy this year..”
Chanyeol rolled his eyes at the sound of Wu Yifan’s voice coming from behind him, already sounding breathless from shoving his way through the crowd. Like Kyungsoo, Yifan was also a prefect of their House, although how he’d ever come to such a position of power and responsibility, Chanyeol had no idea. He certainly hadn’t voted for the guy himself. “He’s my roommate, if that’s what you mean,” he said. “Why?”
Yifan could barely control the irritating smirk on his face. “The kid’s a fag, Park… I’d sleep with one eye open if I were you.”
Chanyeol’s eyes scanned the crowd of boys surrounding him, looking to see if Baekhyun was nearby, but he couldn’t find him anywhere. “Oh, leave him alone, Wu,” he sighed. “He’s alright..”
“Fuck off, Yifan,” Kyungsoo said through gritted teeth; as House captain, he was one of the few people in the school who wasn’t afraid of Yifan, despite being half his size.
“Fine. But when you wake up in the middle of the night to find one of those pretty fingers worming its way up your arse, don’t say I didn’t warn you, Park. Later, gays..!” Yifan singsonged, and then he jostled ahead of them, pushing his way through the rowdy mob to get into the chapel first.
“Such a shithead, that guy,” Kyungsoo muttered, glaring after Yifan’s retreating figure. “I’m surprised he can even get through the chapel doors without immediately bursting into flames.”
“I don’t think he’s lying though,” Jongdae said, lowering his voice a little. “I think Byun is… well, you know.”
“Who the hell cares? Byun’s business, not ours,” Kyungsoo said flatly, signalling the end of the topic, to Chanyeol’s silent relief.
When they got into the chapel, Chanyeol noticed that Baekhyun was already seated in there, and he sat down two pews behind him with Kyungsoo and Jongdae. For the entirety of the morning service, it seemed like his eyes kept finding Baekhyun accidentally, even though all he had to look at for the next forty minutes was the back of his head. Still, it was the most beautiful back of someone’s head that he had ever seen — the sun beaming in through the stained glass windows seemed to shine right on Baekhyun’s crown, like a glorious halo of multicoloured light. As though finally sensing that someone was watching him, Baekhyun turned his head during the closing hymn, his gaze instantly meeting Chanyeol’s; his lips curved into a mischievous little smile before he turned around again, making Chanyeol’s heart jackhammer against his ribcage, and it was then that he knew he was in trouble.
When chapel was over, the whole school quickly returned to their respective Houses for breakfast. After lining up and being served, Chanyeol sat down at one of the long tables in the refectory, flanked on either side by Jongdae and another friend by the name of Jongin; he quickly noticed Baekhyun taking a seat at the next table, where Chanyeol could clearly see him. Chanyeol’s eyes flickered away as one of the junior boys on kitchen duty set down some cutlery in front of him, and he thanked the boy with a smile. When he looked back again, he saw that Baekhyun was now looking at him too. Everyone in the room got to his feet and bowed his head, and Kyungsoo began to say grace from his seat at the prefects’ table, one of his usual duties as captain. Chanyeol opened one eye and noticed that Baekhyun wasn’t reciting along with everyone else… neither was Chanyeol himself, for that matter. They were both too busy staring at each other.
As soon as grace was over, Baekhyun sat himself down and picked up one of the three pork sausages on his plate — with his fingers, not a fork. With his eyes still on Chanyeol, he swirled his tongue around the end of it, then slowly pushed the whole damn thing into his mouth, barely even chewing it before swallowing. He made a show of licking his lips, and then quickly followed the first sausage with a second one, and finally the third.
Chanyeol swallowed thickly, now feeling less interested in his own breakfast, which sat there going cold on the table in front of him. The eggs and sausages had been arranged on the plate in such a formation that, all of a sudden, seemed vaguely rude… how could he not have noticed it before? He’d never felt this unclean so quickly after a morning service.
Baekhyun picked up a hash brown then, and Chanyeol finally looked away; the hash brown was arguably the most sacred of all savoury breakfast foods, and if Baekhyun was about to start violating one of those too, then he didn’t want to see it.
After he’d spent enough time picking at his food without really eating much, Chanyeol got up from the table a little earlier than everyone else, and he went to the refectory kitchen to clear his plate and hand it to Mrs. Lee, the kitchen lady. Baekhyun caught up with him on the way out, reaching out to put a hand on his shoulder. As gentle as it was, the unexpected contact still made Chanyeol flinch embarrassingly.
“Breakfast was awfully good today, wasn’t it, Park?” Baekhyun said, beaming up at him. “I love a good sausage, don’t you..?”
“Um… yeah, it was great. Great eggs,” Chanyeol replied, with all the varying expression and intonation of a six-foot automaton. It was no use — there was no way to avoid making direct eye contact without it being completely obvious. He forced the least fake-looking artificial smile he could manage.
“I know, right? Excellent eggs. Not too hard, not too soft… just the way I like ‘em. Not a fan of the muffins though. Well, see you later, then,” Baekhyun said airily, and then he wandered off down the hall on his own with his hands in his pockets, whistling the tune to All Creatures of our God and King. Chanyeol stood in the middle of the floor and watched after the other boy in nervous silence — he could have sworn Baekhyun was swinging his hips even more than usual while he walked, but maybe this was just his eyes playing tricks on him. It all left Chanyeol in a very difficult position, this sudden show of interest from his roommate, for Baekhyun was beautiful and intriguing and clever… but that wasn't even the worst part. The worst part was that he bloody well knew it.
“Hey, Park… can I ask you something..?”
Chanyeol looked up from his revision notes, trying to hide the exasperation in his voice. “What..?”
So far, Baekhyun had proven to be alright as far as roommates went, but when it came to leaving Chanyeol in peace to get his nighttime revision done, he wasn’t very accommodating. He also had an annoying habit of leaving his books on Chanyeol’s side of the room, and sometimes even on his bed; this occasionally led to Chanyeol reading them, which was perhaps the intended response, but still, it was something of a nuisance.
Baekhyun suddenly looked unsure of himself. “How do you do it?” he asked in a quiet voice. “How do you actually maintain friendships in this place, when all these rich little shits know that you’re not like them?”
“I don’t know… maybe because I don't alienate people,” Chanyeol replied. “Perhaps you should try it sometime.”
“Show me, then,” Baekhyun said.
“Show you what?”
“How to not alienate people.”
Chanyeol laughed at the request. “Well, Byun, I’m not really sure it's something that can be taught..”
“Maybe I’ll shadow you for a few weeks and observe your social interactions, then,” Baekhyun said. “Purely for science.”
Byun Baekhyun got away with a lot of things, it seemed, on the basis that they were ‘for science.’
“Uh, sure, I guess…” Chanyeol replied — he was surprised by the idea, since Baekhyun had never expressed any interest in improving his social skills before. Chanyeol wondered if he was lonely… he certainly seemed to be alone a lot. Whenever they had free time in the afternoons, Chanyeol often noticed him reading by himself, sitting in the shade of a large jacaranda tree (nicknamed Jack) at the far end of the playing field when the weather was good. No one else would go within spitting distance of Jack anymore; this was because a former student known only as ‘Old Boy George’ (OBG for short), himself a resident of Burke House, had hanged himself from one of the tree’s branches back in the fifties, shortly before he was due to graduate. OBG’s ghost was thought to have haunted the school ever since, and whenever something fishy happened that couldn’t be readily explained, the blame often fell squarely on his shoulders. The fact that Baekhyun willingly sat beneath this cursed tree, unconcerned by its role in the demise of a fellow student, naturally did nothing to aid his reputation… but he didn’t seem to mind, and continued to sit there anyway. Still, Chanyeol had always assumed he willingly spent all his free time alone, but perhaps it wasn’t a matter of choice. Byun Baekhyun was already a riddle wrapped in an enigma, but maybe there were even more layers to him than Chanyeol had previously thought.
He was suddenly gripped by the urge to know more.
“Hey, Byun,” he said, when they had both been quiet for a while. “Can I ask you something..?”
Baekhyun, who had returned to his own studies in the meantime, didn’t look up from his chemistry notes. “Uh-huh..”
“Is it true that you… well…”
Baekhyun finally lifted his head and turned around to look at Chanyeol curiously. “That I what..?”
Chanyeol trailed off into silence, unsure of how to continue. The words seemed to get stuck in his throat.
“What are they saying about me now, Park?” Baekhyun let out an exaggerated sigh. “Come on, out with it… I’ve probably heard it all anyway.”
“Is it true that you… you know…” Chanyeol began making vague gesticulations with his hands, as though these would be enough for Baekhyun to understand what the hell he was getting at, before finally whispering, “that you sell shit..?”
Baekhyun suddenly looked like he was trying really hard not to laugh. He swivelled his chair around until he was facing Chanyeol head on. “You’re referring to drugs, I assume. Why, would you like some..?”
“Well… yeah — I mean no, I don’t want any,” Chanyeol said quickly. “But yeah, that was what I meant.”
Baekhyun shook his head and sighed again. “No, it’s not fucking true… why the hell would you believe a thing like that?”
Chanyeol shrugged. “I guess anything’s easy to believe when you’ve heard it a hundred times from a hundred different people..”
“Alright, Park,” Baekhyun said wearily, “you’re a good kid, and I trust you very little — which is already a hell of a lot more than I trust most people in this place. So if I show you something top-secret right now, will you dob me in?”
“No,” Chanyeol replied. “Of course not.”
“Good.” Apparently satisfied with this response, Baekhyun got up and ambled over to the small closet in the corner of his side of the room, where he kept his uniforms and other personal effects. Chanyeol stood up from his own chair and waited behind him, watching in puzzled silence as his roommate pulled out the clothes hanging inside in handfuls, dumping them in a pile over his bed. Baekhyun then leaned into the closet and began to fiddle with something inside it; with a bit of effort the back of the closet seemed to lift away, and he moved a wooden board to one side, resting it upon the floor. Behind it there was a secret compartment of sorts, filled up with a row of glass bottles. Each bottle was filled with a different coloured liquid, and had a balloon stretched over its mouth.
Chanyeol squinted at the strange bottles, unsure of what to make of them. “Um. What the hell are those..?”
“It’s my hooch factory, Park,” Baekhyun replied. “Do you know what hooch is, or do I need to explain?”
“I know what hooch is,” Chanyeol said. “How did you make it?”
Baekhyun shrugged. “It’s just fruit juice, sugar and brewer’s yeast… all of which you can easily pinch from the refectory kitchen when Mrs. Lee’s back is turned, if you’re stealthy enough. Then I just buy a few bottles of juice from the snack machines, pour out a bit of the juice from each bottle, put in some yeast and sugar, and pop a balloon over the top. You have to poke a hole in the balloon with a pin to let the gas escape as the juice ferments, otherwise you’ll have exploding bottles…. but the hole isn’t big enough to let any air in, so nothing funky will grow in there. Then I just hide it all back here where it’s dark and warm, and leave it to do its thing for a while. And that, my friend, is how easy it is to make hooch in your average dorm-room closet.”
Chanyeol nodded his head, pretending to understand. He had no idea why Baekhyun would choose to tell him all of this. “Interesting..”
“Well, it’s just a bit of fun, really,” Baekhyun said; he gazed at the bottles proudly, like they were his children. “I started doing it at home over the summer as a harmless experiment, and the fruits of my labour were originally intended for personal consumption only, but very recently I’ve been flogging it to a few students here and there for twenty bucks a bottle. I’m robbing them blind, I know. It’s glorious.”
Chanyeol frowned. “Is selling bootleg liquor to underage students a good thing to do..?”
“There’s nothing wrong with being enterprising, Park,” Baekhyun said. “These kids willingly pay for the stuff... I’m hardly twisting their arm. If it wasn’t me supplying them, they’d just turn elsewhere to get fucked up. Anyway, times are tough, and selling my body isn’t bringing in the bacon like it used to.”
“But what if someone finds all of this during a surprise dorm inspection?” Chanyeol asked, ignoring that last bit of information. “You’d probably be expelled on the spot.”
Baekhyun shrugged. “I guess I'll worry about that if it happens… I could always claim it’s a personal chemistry experiment for extra credit. You want to try some?”
Chanyeol shook his head. “No thanks, I’m good.”
“Suit yourself,” Baekhyun said. He picked up the wooden board and repositioned it so that the bottles were hidden again, then began replacing his blazers and school trousers on the rail inside the closet. “For something I make myself inside the back of my closet, it's really not bad. It's usually not much stronger than your average beer, but it’s enough to get pissed on… anyway, beggars can’t be choosers, here on the inside.”
“You talk about this place like it’s a prison,” Chanyeol said.
Baekhyun turned his head and shot him a glance. “And..?”
Chanyeol sighed. “Good point.”
“Exactly,” Baekhyun said. “That thing about selling my body was a joke, by the way… just in case that wasn’t already apparent.”
“Oh.” Chanyeol paused for a moment. “Well, I knew that.”
“Sure you did,” Baekhyun replied, sounding wholly unconvinced. As soon as he was finished putting his clothes away, he shut the closet door and turned around to face Chanyeol again. “So. Any other rumours you wish for me to dispel..?”
“Well,” Chanyeol said, “there was another thing I was wondering, actually—”
“—If I’m a homo?” Baekhyun asked, cutting him off, and then he smirked. “Now, that particular rumour is 100% true, I’m afraid..”
Chanyeol had in fact been meaning to ask where Baekhyun occasionally sneaked off to after lights-out — he had woken up in the middle of the night a few times to find that his roommate was missing from his bed. But before he had a chance to open his mouth again, Baekhyun began backing him towards the wall, pinning him against it and leaning in impossibly close to him, until Chanyeol could feel the other boy’s breath blowing in his face. For a moment he thought Baekhyun might try to kiss him, and his heart began to pound so hard that he could feel it beating in his throat. To his embarrassment, his eyes seemed to close of their own accord, but then he felt Baekhyun’s lips move across to his ear instead.
Chanyeol’s eyes immediately snapped open.
“You should watch yourself, Park,” Baekhyun whispered in his ear, “I’ve heard it’s contagious.” When he leaned back again, he was still wearing that same devious little smile. He returned to his desk without another word, leaving Chanyeol right where he stood, and went back to his studying as though nothing had happened.
“I think it’s strange you never knew.”
Baekhyun was quiet while they walked beneath the willows together, holding each other’s hands. It wasn’t an uncomfortable silence at all; instead what made it unbearable was that Chanyeol still had questions he was dying to get the answers to, and none of the requisite guts to ask them with.
“Are we ever going to talk about what happened, or is it just going to go unmentioned forever..?” he blurted out at last — perhaps the two drinks he’d had earlier were finally kicking in, and he now had just enough liquid courage to open his mouth.
Baekhyun didn’t look at him. He kept humming to himself without replying.
“I don’t really want to talk about it,” he said after a while. “I don’t even know what there is to talk about.”
His voice was so quiet it was almost a warning, but Chanyeol was undeterred. “Well, I want to talk about it. Do you know how long I blamed myself for, thinking that I was the reason you did it..?”
Baekhyun let out a forceful sigh, but still he avoided meeting Chanyeol’s gaze.
“And you know what was the hardest part about it..? That I never got to kiss you goodbye. I never even got to say goodbye,” Chanyeol said quietly, and Baekhyun finally turned his head to look at him, chewing on his lip. Now he looked vaguely guilty, which wasn’t Chanyeol’s intention… but if it meant he got the answers he needed, then—
“It was really hard for me too,” Baekhyun said, interrupting Chanyeol’s thoughts.
“Well… can I do it now?” Chanyeol asked.
“Do what? Kiss me goodbye..?”
Chanyeol nodded. “Yeah.”
Baekhyun gave him a wry smile. “Why… are you planning on going somewhere, Park? Because I’m not done with you yet. Ten years is a long time to catch up on.”
“Just let me lay this one ghost to rest,” Chanyeol whispered. “Please.”
Baekhyun exhaled deeply and nodded. “Fine. But you have to let me do something afterwards.”
“Okay,” Chanyeol whispered. Baekhyun looked at him for a moment, biting his lower lip again; then, taking Chanyeol’s face in both hands, he leaned forward at last and kissed him softly on the lips. Their open mouths moved together in an easy rhythm, and to Chanyeol it felt like it had barely been ten minutes since their last kiss, let alone ten whole years… here at last was one thing that didn’t feel any different. That kiss kept no secrets, and it seemed to say a lot more than either of them had said so far.
“Alright,” Chanyeol said, when they eventually separated. “So what was that thing you wanted to do?”
“This,” Baekhyun replied. “Although perhaps I should have done it earlier, when I first saw you..”
Having said this, he grabbed Chanyeol’s face again and kissed him once more, so hard it almost hurt; he paused for a moment with their foreheads still touching, and he exhaled deeply, as though he’d been holding his breath for an inhuman length of time. At last he leaned back a little, looking right into Chanyeol's eyes.
“Hello,” he whispered, and then he smiled.
“Return the love you took from me.”
Every now and then, Chanyeol found himself unable to sleep. There could be any number of reasons for this; the House, like most of the school buildings, was a dreadfully old and somewhat creepy place, and it could often be heard creaking and groaning in the dead of night, when the rest of the world was silent enough to let it speak. At other times, the room was either too hot or too cold, or perhaps someone nearby might be snoring too loudly, or talking in his sleep — in the latter case, Baekhyun was usually the culprit, and on a few occasions Chanyeol had even resorted to throwing something at him just to shut him up.
That night, however, Chanyeol couldn’t pinpoint any particular reason why sleep was still eluding him at 2.30 in the morning — all he knew was that it was unbearable. He wasn’t even feeling tired, but he couldn’t go anywhere or do anything; once the prefects went around knocking on doors and declaring lights-out, that was it — everyone was confined to their rooms until morning, unless they needed to use the bathroom down the hall. There was nothing for him to do except lie there in silent agony for the next four-and-a-half hours.
Chanyeol briefly thought about turning his lamp on and killing time by reading — reading often made him nod off anyway — but he didn’t want to wake Baekhyun up. Still, the passing minutes dragged on like hours, and he was growing desperate.
“Hey, Byun,” he whispered, caving in at last. “Are you awake..?”
To his surprise, the response was almost immediate. “Yeah. Why?”
“I dunno,” Chanyeol said. He rolled over until he was facing Baekhyun’s side of the room, but all he could see was a faint outline in the darkness. “I just can’t fucking sleep, that’s all.”
“Me neither,” Baekhyun replied, and then there was silence for a moment. “You know what’s good for that..?” he added, and Chanyeol could almost hear that mischievous smile coming through in his voice.
“You’re going to say ‘hooch’, aren’t you..” he said wearily. “Bloody hell, I’ll bet it cures all ills. While we’re on the subject, I’m constipated at the moment — will it fix that too?”
There was the sound of rustling sheets as Baekhyun leaned over to switch on the lamp next to his bed, and Chanyeol squinted, rubbing his eyes until they adjusted to the light. He put his glasses on, and Baekhyun’s form in the bed across from him gradually came into focus.
“Well, I can’t promise it’ll make you poop, Park,” Baekhyun said. “But I do sometimes indulge when I can’t sleep, and it usually works like a charm. It is alcoholic, after all.”
“Well, alright,” Chanyeol sighed. “I guess it can’t hurt to try..”
“That’s the spirit,” Baekhyun said, and he rolled out of bed in his blue checked flannelette pyjamas, walking over to his closet and pulling it open. After rummaging around for a bit, he procured a bottle of something and came over to Chanyeol’s bed, sitting himself down on the edge of it.
“Here,” he said, offering the bottle to Chanyeol. “Ladies first.”
Chanyeol took the bottle from him and looked at it doubtfully. The liquid inside didn’t look too appealing… it was golden yellow and slightly bubbly, like the first piss of the day. “What flavour is this supposed to be..?”
Baekhyun took it back and sniffed it. “I believe this one started its life as apple juice,” he said, handing the bottle back to Chanyeol.
“Well, bottoms up, I guess,” Chanyeol sighed, and he tilted the bottle to his lips, taking a mouthful of the contents. He regretted it almost immediately.
“Ugh. What is that..?” he said, coughing, and he held the offending substance away from himself, as far as his arm could reach.
“One of the problems with making your own hooch is that you have little control over how strong the end product is, or what it will taste like,” Baekhyun replied, taking the bottle away from him. “Generally the more sugar you add, and the longer you leave it, the stronger it gets.” He took a small sip from the bottle and looked thoughtful for a moment. “Hmm. This one is quite strong, and not very sweet. Not terrible, but not my best.”
“Give it here,” Chanyeol said, and he grabbed the bottle from Baekhyun again, this time taking an even bigger mouthful. Maybe it was bearable once you got used to it, he thought… like jumping into an unheated swimming pool. No such luck, however — he swallowed and made a sour face. “Oh man, that’s nasty… I thought you said your hooch was good.”
“It is, usually,” Baekhyun replied. “Do you want to try another flavour? I think I’ve still got some blackcurrant wine back there somewhere. That’s my best seller.”
“Fine,” Chanyeol said. “Even if it tastes like pee, at least it won’t look like it.” Baekhyun handed him another bottle, this time filled with a reddish-purple liquid, and Chanyeol held it to his lips, taking the tiniest sip it was humanly possible to take. After that, he took a proper mouthful, followed by another.
“Hey,” he said, “that’s actually pretty good..”
Baekhyun grinned at him. “Told you.”
Before long, Chanyeol had already drunk half the bottle, and had no intention of stopping there.
“Go easy, Park,” Baekhyun warned him. “That ain’t Kool-Aid, you know..”
But it was too late. Chanyeol had already emptied the bottle in ten seconds flat, finishing up with a burp of satisfaction.
“And you just drank the whole thing… fantastic,” Baekhyun said drily. “Well, I’m glad you enjoyed it so much.”
“I feel a bit funny,” Chanyeol replied. “Is that normal..?”
“It would take a lot more than that for me to start feeling drunk,” Baekhyun told him. “And so quickly, too. You must be one hell of a lightweight..”
Chanyeol groaned and took off his glasses for a moment so he could rub his eyes. “I think I'm starting to see things,” he said.
“I’m not sure,” Chanyeol said, narrowing his eyes a little. His head was swimming now, but in a good way. “I actually can’t feel my entire body right now, like, at all. I’m just a head.”
“Maybe this wasn’t a good idea,” Baekhyun said, chewing his lip. He was starting to look a little blurry, despite the fact that Chanyeol was still wearing his glasses. “Maybe you’re reacting badly to the hooch. Do you feel sick at all..?”
“If I ask you to do something for me, will you do it?” Chanyeol asked, ignoring the question.
Baekhyun looked hesitant. “Well, depends what it is…”
“Punch me in the face,” Chanyeol said, and Baekhyun immediately let out a snort of laughter. He quickly covered his mouth with one hand to keep from being overheard.
“What do you think this is, Fight Club..?” he whispered.
“Please..?” Chanyeol pleaded, poking out his bottom lip, but Baekhyun only shook his head.
“I’m not doing that. No way.”
“I just want to know if I can feel pain still,” Chanyeol whined, and Baekhyun hissed at him to keep quiet.
“You do realise I was a hapkido black-belt by the age of nine, right?” he said in a harsh whisper. “I’m not just any old droob who doesn’t know how to throw a punch..”
“I don’t care,” Chanyeol said; he took off his glasses and tossed them onto the floor like a child throwing a tantrum. “Just do it! Hit me!”
“Alright, fine… if it’ll shut you up,” Baekhyun muttered, although even in his state of intoxication, Chanyeol could tell that he felt conflicted about doing it. But then Baekhyun’s expression changed to one of quiet determination; he made a fist, drew it back and socked Chanyeol right in the mouth.
Chanyeol doubled over until his face was buried between his knees. “Argh! What did you do that for..?”
“Because you asked me to,” Baekhyun said flatly. His voice was toneless — not a single trace of either concern or remorse. “Happy now..?”
“I didn’t think you’d do it so hard.” Chanyeol sat up again and gingerly touched a hand to his lip. His eyes widened when he saw blood on his fingers.
“That wasn’t hard. If it was hard, you’d be spitting out teeth,” Baekhyun replied. He went to pick up Chanyeol’s glasses off the floor, and handed them back to him.
“Well, you still made me bleed..” Chanyeol put the glasses back on, blinking at his surroundings. Things seemed a little less wobbly now, at least. “Maybe I should go see the whatsy… you know, the doctor-lady,” he said.
“She’s called a nurse,” Baekhyun told him, “and it’s past 3 o’clock… there’s no point going to the infirmary now. Anyway, you can’t be wandering around drunk in the middle of the night. You’ll get us both in deep shit. And if anyone asks, you fell down the stairs — got it?”
“But I'm bleeding..”
“Oh, don’t be a wuss,” Baekhyun said, rolling his eyes. “It’s just a split lip. I should probably teach you how to block, Park… you’ll thank me for it the next time you ask someone to punch you in the face.”
Chanyeol didn’t reply. Baekhyun had pretty eyes, and a pretty mouth, and he liked looking at them — he no longer had the necessary mental faculties to both stare at his beautiful roommate lovingly and formulate an appropriate response. The brief moment of mental clarity had subsided, giving way to a thick haze of sleepiness. His eyelids felt like lead.
“Are you alright..?” Baekhyun asked.
“Mmyeah,” Chanyeol mumbled. “I mean… hmm..?”
“You’ve been staring at me all glazed-like for the past minute or so,” Baekhyun said. “It’s a little concerning. Are you sure you’re okay?”
“I’m fine, thank you, and you…?” Chanyeol replied, a dreamy smile forming on his face; his lip began to sting like mad in the place where it had split, and he stopped smiling again.
With a deep sigh of resignation, Baekhyun pushed Chanyeol’s covers aside and slid beneath them, with Chanyeol immediately rolling over a little to accommodate him — he might very well have been off his face, but that was no excuse not to be polite.
“It’s okay… you go to sleep now, you big old baby,” Baekhyun said in that soothing voice of his; he took Chanyeol’s glasses off his face and put them on the nightstand, then cuddled up beside him, making himself comfortable. “I’ll stay awake a little while longer, just to make sure you don't bleed to death from that tiny cut on your lip.”
“Okay… g’night,” Chanyeol whispered, and soon enough he sank like a stone into the deepest sleep he’d had in ages. Just before he drifted off, he thought he could feel Baekhyun gently stroking his hair, but he couldn’t be sure that it wasn’t just a dream.
The more Chanyeol got to know Baekhyun as the school year progressed, the more he began to realise how little he actually knew about him. Practically all of his knowledge of his roommate's character had come from rumours, very few of which had turned out to be true.
“Does all the shit people say about you ever bother you at all..?” he asked Baekhyun one night, while they were in their room doing anything but the private study they should have been doing, and Baekhyun looked thoughtful for a moment while he considered his response.
“I don’t know… not really,” he said. “People need someone to misunderstand, I guess. I’ve learned not to take it personally.”
“Okay,” Chanyeol replied. He was quiet for a minute or two, plucking idly at the strings of the old acoustic guitar his father had bequeathed to him shortly before he started high school. “I was just wondering because, well… it kinda bothers me.”
Baekhyun lowered his book of Emily Dickinson poetry and looked over at Chanyeol again with renewed interest. “What does..?”
Just the harshness of the words themselves — the mere feeling of them in his mouth — made Chanyeol cringe. But he didn’t see the point in sugar-coating things; Baekhyun deserved the truth, even if it was horrible. “That they call you a fag, homo, queer, poof… all of the above, basically.”
Baekhyun’s eyes widened at first, but then his expression softened. “The names don’t offend me personally, Park. It’s more the hostility in people’s body language that gets to me.”
“What do you mean..?” Chanyeol asked.
Baekhyun marked the page he was up to, putting the book down on the nightstand beside him, and then he rolled over on his side until he was facing Chanyeol. “When the guys in this place get wind of you possibly being gay, Park, most of them get all weird about it,” he said. “They start shrinking away from you, shrugging you off, making damn well sure they face the other way while we’re using the showers or the gym change-rooms — that sort of thing. As though my sexuality means I automatically want to jump all of their bones or something… in reality, I wouldn’t touch 99% of the guys at this school with a ten-foot pole. And it’s nothing personal; they’re just not my type.”
“I see,” Chanyeol said, still plucking away at his guitar. He wasn’t really paying attention to what he was playing anymore; it had become pure background noise.
“The thing that makes me laugh is, some of the most outwardly homophobic people in this place are the ones who actually want my ass in secret,” Baekhyun said. “They just won’t admit it for fear of judgement. But that doesn’t stop some of them from trying to cop a feel when no one’s looking, and they seem to assume that because I’m gay, I’ll automatically be all up for it… at least until I turn around and punch them in the nuts. That’s what I did to our honourable prefect Mr. Wu Yifan one time, when he got a little handsy with me in the showers… did I ever tell you that? How he just dropped his towel out of nowhere, and presented me with the most raging hard-on you’ve ever seen? And did I tell you how he grabbed me by the wrist and tried to make me touch it? Have you ever been punched in the goods while you’ve got a boner, Park? I haven’t, personally, but it doesn’t look very fun… I mean, he was in the foetal position on the shower floor by the time I was done with him. I had to turn off the water in case he drowned.”
Baekhyun rolled onto his back with his arms resting beneath his head, and let out a loud sigh.
“It’s funny… whenever I bump into the guy now, he always looks as though there’s this great war raging inside him,” he mused, laughing a little at the thought. “It’s like he still hasn’t figured out whether he wants to fuck me or kill me..”
Chanyeol, meanwhile, was still struggling with the first part of the story. “Wait a second,” he said, putting the now-forgotten guitar on the floor beneath his bed. “Yifan’s—?”
“—Gay? Oh, you bet,” Baekhyun replied. “If anyone’s trapped in the closet, it’s that guy. But the problem with being in the closet is that the longer you’re stuck in there, the harder it is to claw your way out.”
“Wow. I honestly had no idea,” Chanyeol said. “I mean, he’s always calling you a fag behind your back, and hassling me about how he reckons you’ll rape me in my sleep one day, or whatever… and I never would have seen it coming, but I suppose now it all kind of makes sense.”
Baekhyun merely shook his head. “He would say something like that, the arsehole,” he said quietly. “Still, I can't really bring myself to be angry.”
“Why not?” Chanyeol asked. “I know I would be..”
“I’m not angry because I know the things he says are motivated mostly by fear,” Baekhyun said. “Fear, and of course hatred… not even for me, necessarily, but for himself. Fear can make people do terrible things, especially the fear of not being accepted — and above all, the fear of not being loved. Just because I have mostly freed myself from that fear does not mean that Yifan has, and so I try to excuse the things he says, because I know he still has a tough battle ahead of him. I know because I have been there before. But this doesn't mean I’ll let him, or anyone else, take advantage of me… and so that’s why I had to defend myself when he tried to force himself on me without my consent. There's a difference between forgiving someone for hurting you and allowing them to hurt you, Park. Do you see what I'm saying?”
Chanyeol nodded. “Yeah,” he said. “I do.”
Baekhyun stared up at the ceiling for a moment in silence. “Anyway, do you think I don't know what they all say about me?” he said at last, his voice growing quiet. “I know… I’ve even heard it myself, many a time. ‘Ooh he’s a pretty thing, that Byun — it’d be just like fucking a girl’… and all that crap. And it might sound like a compliment, but it really isn’t one at all. All it does is make me even more convinced that most of the people in this place are animals. It also makes me wonder if some of them have ever seen an actual girl in their lives, let alone touched one.”
“You don’t look like a girl to me, if it’s any consolation,” Chanyeol said, and Baekhyun laughed.
“Thanks,” he said drily. “Anyway, enough about those shitheads; I don’t give a rat’s about any of them. As it happens, there’s someone else I’m interested in… someone at this very school, in fact. The only problem is, I don’t know how he feels about me. But I think I’d like to find out.”
As soon as he heard this, Chanyeol felt a pang of jealousy stab him in the stomach. “Ah,” he said, trying not to sound devastated. “Well, maybe you should just tell him, then… whoever he is.”
Baekhyun turned his head, looking Chanyeol right in the eye. “Well, you see Park, I kinda just did,” he whispered.
“Really? How did it go..?” Chanyeol asked, trying to feign interest, and Baekhyun promptly burst into laughter.
“God, you crack me up,” he said. “You don’t get it, do you..?”
Chanyeol raised both eyebrows. “Oh. Oh. Right.”
Baekhyun sighed and got to his feet, walking across the room to Chanyeol’s bed. He lowered himself onto the mattress next to Chanyeol, and then he turned to look at him intently.
“Um… hi..?” Chanyeol said, because he didn’t know what else to say.
“Hi,” Baekhyun whispered. He was looking right into Chanyeol’s eyes now. Chanyeol stared back at him until it became uncomfortable, and then his eyes moved to the window instead, but before long he found himself looking at Baekhyun again. It was hard not to when the other boy was sitting inches away from his face, so close that Chanyeol could smell the toothpaste on his breath.
“Well..?” Baekhyun said at last, breaking the silence so suddenly that Chanyeol couldn’t help jumping a little. “Are you just gonna leave me hanging, or what?”
“I… I don’t really know what to say..”
“You can start by admitting it,” Baekhyun said, as though it were obvious. “That you like boys. That you like…” — and here he paused and tapped Chanyeol on the end of the nose with a finger, making him flinch. “Me,” he said at last, and his lips curved into a knowing little smile.
Chanyeol opened his mouth to say something, but the only thing that came out was a pathetic gurgling sound. It quickly died in the back of his throat.
“It’s okay,” Baekhyun said gently. He bit his lip, apparently to keep from laughing. “I could tell.”
“You could..?” Chanyeol asked, horrified at the revelation.
Baekhyun nodded. “Yeah… but so what? So you like what you like. It’s nothing to be ashamed of.”
Chanyeol swallowed, still reluctant to speak; he couldn’t really rely on his mouth to form any proper words. Baekhyun inched a little closer to him on the bed, his gaze flickering down to Chanyeol’s lips, and back up to his eyes again.
“Would it be alright if I kissed you?” he asked, his voice barely a whisper. “You can say no if you don't want me to.”
Chanyeol felt his cheeks burning, but he nodded his agreement, and Baekhyun smiled again. He took Chanyeol’s face in both hands, tilting his head a little to the side and closing his eyes before he leaned forward; Chanyeol only remembered to do the same when their lips had already touched, and by then he was as good as blind anyway, because Baekhyun’s hands began to roam all over his face, pushing his glasses up away from his eyes. Chanyeol pulled away for a moment and took the glasses off altogether, chucking them carelessly onto the nightstand beside his bed, and then he turned back to Baekhyun so they could keep kissing. It wasn’t like he needed his eyes to make out anyway.
Kissing Baekhyun turned out to be every bit as exciting as Chanyeol had fantasised on an almost nightly basis — except it was about a hundred times better, because this time it was real. Kissing Baekhyun was a revelation, and not just because he was a great kisser… for Chanyeol, it was more about the internal sensations than the external ones. He’d never experienced any such feelings whenever he'd kissed strangers at parties; kissing Baekhyun made his insides crackle and fizz, and then it was like a delicious warmth had spread from his lips to every corner of his body, sending a pleasant tingling sensation to all of his extremities at once — and a generous dose of blood to his crotch. Baekhyun and his nicotine kisses, forbidden but so irresistible. Baekhyun and his soft hands, and his soft lips… far softer than the lips of any girls Chanyeol had ever kissed in his lifetime. Baekhyun, Baekhyun, Baekhyun…
“I really like it when you say my name like that,” Baekhyun whispered, and Chanyeol could feel the smile on his lips when they kissed again.
“You do..?” he asked, with a hint of embarrassment — he hadn’t even realised he was saying Baekhyun’s name aloud. But it seemed to turn Baekhyun on, so perhaps it wasn’t such a bad thing.
“Mm-hmm,” Baekhyun replied, and then he pressed one hand firmly against Chanyeol’s chest, gently pushing him down upon the bed until he was lying completely flat. Baekhyun looked down at him for a moment, shaking his head to move his fringe away from his eyes, and then he leaned down and kissed Chanyeol again, this time sliding his tongue right into his mouth. Then there was a loud knock on the door that made them both freeze.
A voice: unmistakably Jongdae’s. Oh, not now, Chanyeol groaned — inwardly this time, since Baekhyun’s tongue was still in his mouth. Fuck-off-fuck-off-fuck-off—
“Yeol!” Jongdae barked again; this was followed by another round of enthusiastic rapping upon the door, and Baekhyun finally pulled away. “Open up! I need to tell you something.”
“Just… just a minute..” Chanyeol called out, sounding far more breathless than he’d meant to. He could feel Baekhyun attempting to stifle a chuckle by burying his face against his shoulder.
There was a gleeful hoot through the door. “Aha! Caught you in the middle of ‘alone time’, have I..? Never mind, I'll see you in Latin tomorrow morning. Carpe penem..!”
“Huh..? No, I —” Chanyeol began to protest, but then Baekhyun clamped one hand over his mouth. “Shh,” he hissed, his hot breath in Chanyeol’s ear making him squirm a little against the bed. “Just let him go.”
They stayed that way for a moment, with Baekhyun’s hand still covering Chanyeol’s mouth. Chanyeol listened to Jongdae’s footsteps growing fainter and fainter, until at last they disappeared completely.
When all was quiet again, Baekhyun moved his hand away and chuckled to himself. “‘Seize the dick’… good one."
Chanyeol sighed and let his head fall back against the pillow. “He thinks I’m jerking off, doesn’t he..?”
“It would appear so,” Baekhyun said gravely; he lifted himself up until he was kneeling over Chanyeol on the bed, looking down at him with that devious little smirk of his. There was a glimmer of something unreadable in his eyes. “But not to worry, Park — this is a prison full of sex-starved pubescent boys, is it not? So let he who is not an onanist cast the first stone. Now, where were we..?”
“Um… the making out..?” Chanyeol replied, sounding both nervous and hopeful at once. Baekhyun nodded and tapped his chin thoughtfully, as though he’d forgotten all about what they were doing only moments earlier.
“Ah, yes, of course — the making out. I know… how about we play a game? Because I know a really good one called ‘What Happens When I Kiss Park Chanyeol Here’, and I have a feeling you would probably enjoy it,” he said, and he resumed his position on the bed, his warm body pressing Chanyeol firmly into the mattress.
“Mmm. I love that game..” Chanyeol whispered, groaning a little when he felt Baekhyun’s soft lips trailing kisses down the front of his throat, occasionally nipping gently at his skin with those perfect teeth. Chanyeol had never played the damn game ever in his life, but if Baekhyun wanted to play, then he was all for it.
“Uh-huh,” Baekhyun whispered back, chuckling softly into the hollow at the base of Chanyeol’s neck. “I thought so.”
“Maybe you’re right; I shouldn’t judge.”
“Do you remember how we used to get thrown in there sometimes on our birthdays..?” Chanyeol mused, looking out at the moonlight rippling on the surface of the lake; at that point they were sitting together on the small wooden jetty that jutted out across it, their legs swinging over the edge, occasionally dipping their bare feet into the water. “And there was that stupid song they used to sing… you know the one. ‘Why was he born so beautiful… why was he born at all? Because in 1988, there was no birth control’.”
“That never happened to me,” Baekhyun replied.
“Not even once..?” Chanyeol asked, and Baekhyun shook his head.
“Nope,” he said. “I suppose they knew I’d punch them all in the throat if they dared try.”
Chanyeol laughed. “True. Either way, at least you had the good sense not to have a birthday at the beginning of winter… how I didn’t end up with hypothermia, I’ll never know.”
Baekhyun put his head on Chanyeol’s shoulder, and let out a little sigh of contentment. Chanyeol really wanted to steal another kiss, but for some reason he couldn’t bring himself to do it; he settled with putting an arm around Baekhyun instead. Baby steps and all that.
“Who was your favourite teacher, do you think..?” Baekhyun asked, after they’d been silent for a while.
Chanyeol frowned a little while he considered the question. “I’m not sure. Probably Cho… I know he was the Head of House and not technically a teacher, but I had the most respect for him.”
“I liked Mr. Cho as well,” Baekhyun said. “And Mrs. Lee, too, even though she wasn’t a teacher either.”
“You probably only liked her because she made it so easy for you to nick stuff from the kitchen,” Chanyeol pointed out.
“That’s not true… she made excellent brownies too, you know.”
“Of course,” Chanyeol replied, chuckling to himself. “Didn’t you sneak into the kitchen once when she was elsewhere, and dump a load of salt into her brownie batter?”
“Yeah, that was me… God, I was terrible,” Baekhyun said. He laughed at the memory. “It’s funny you remember that, actually... I'd almost forgotten about it myself.”
“You’d be surprised how much I remember,” Chanyeol said quietly.
“I really liked Mr. Kim, too,” Baekhyun said. “You know, the Latin teacher.”
Chanyeol laughed. “Ah, yes, how could I forget Mr. Kim… he was another of my favourites. Do you still understand any Latin, Byun?”
Baekhyun shook his head. “Not that much. I haven’t really used it since I left this place.”
“I’m sure you remember more than you think,” Chanyeol said, and he leaned over to whisper in Baekhyun’s ear. “If I said ‘da mi basia mille’, what would you do..?”
Baekhyun moved his head away from Chanyeol’s shoulder and turned to look at him, smiling mischievously, and then he leaned forward and kissed him on the lips. He lingered there for a little while, their mouths just barely touching, before kissing him again, and when they finally pulled apart he was still smiling. His beauty was like a punch to the gut, Chanyeol thought, especially up close. Time typically had a way of altering one’s perception of things, making them seem better or funnier or more beautiful than they really were… but in Baekhyun’s case, the exact opposite was true. It seemed that none of Chanyeol’s memories, no matter how precious, had ever done him the justice he deserved.
“So you do remember,” Chanyeol said at last, his tone playfully accusing, and Baekhyun laughed softly.
“I remember some things, I guess. The important things.”
“I see,” Chanyeol said, and then he adopted an expression that was stern, but playfully so. “I asked for a thousand kisses, by the way… not two. We might need to brush up on your numbers, mister.”
“I know that,” Baekhyun replied. “I was actually planning to slowly dole out the remaining 998 over the rest of the evening..”
“Well, can I have a few more now, then?” Chanyeol asked quietly. “I’d like to make up for lost time.
Baekhyun nodded, and Chanyeol kissed him again, gently cradling his face in both hands. I still love you, he wanted desperately to say — I never stopped loving you. He wanted to tell Baekhyun that the Ancient Greeks had several words for love, all with different meanings but the same quintessence — and that none of them, either separately or in combination, could ever adequately describe how he felt. But it seemed silly to say these things now, when they were only just meeting again after a whole decade apart… even though he’d never had the chance to properly say how he felt in the first place. Well, no, that was a lie — he’d had plenty of chances, and he’d squandered every single one. He’d said he loved Baekhyun many times, in many ways… and in doing so he’d used a number of different words, and sometimes no words at all — but not once had he ever been able to say it at a time when he knew Baekhyun was actually listening.
And now Baekhyun was here again, with his sweet kisses and his infectious smiles and his eye-crinkling laughter… but he wasn’t the same Baekhyun that Chanyeol had fallen in love with all those years ago. It would be foolish to think that he still was. Chanyeol had come to know almost everything about Baekhyun back when they were roommates, but he knew next to nothing about the Baekhyun he was kissing now — who he was, or what he’d seen. He didn’t know if this Baekhyun could ever love him again.
“You know, I didn’t sleep for like a whole month after you left,” Chanyeol said, when they’d stopped kissing. He picked up one of Baekhyun’s hands and kissed the tips of his fingers instead, one by one.
“Me too,” Baekhyun whispered. “Who did you end up rooming with..?”
“Oh, I was alone for a while,” Chanyeol replied. “And then a Chinese exchange student from the grade below moved in just before I graduated. Yixing, I believe his name was… he was nice enough, I suppose, and very tidy. He even made a surprisingly good spooning buddy in your absence.”
Baekhyun shot him a bit of a dirty look upon hearing this, and Chanyeol nudged him playfully.
“Come on, I’m only kidding around,” he said, chuckling softly, and then he leaned over to kiss the side of Baekhyun’s neck. “You were much better at it..”
Eventually Baekhyun seemed to realise he was joking, and Chanyeol felt him relax a little.
“I don’t know what you’re getting so worked up about, anyway,” he said. “It’s not like you’ve never shared a bed with anyone else over the past ten years..”
“I know that… I’m not getting worked up,” Baekhyun replied, and then he rested his head on Chanyeol’s shoulder once more. “But tell me something, Park… does a boy ever forget his first love?”
“No,” Chanyeol said quietly; he tilted his head to one side, so that it rested on top of Baekhyun’s. “Of course not.”
“You tell me all the time: ‘I’ve got plans.’ ”
“We’re less than six months away from graduating, and I still have no idea what I’m going to do next year,” Chanyeol said. “Do you think that’s bad..?”
Everything was happening far too quickly. Chanyeol knew they would have to start thinking about university applications soon, but the mere thought of all that made him want to roll onto the floor, and lie there face-down without moving for the rest of his life.
Baekhyun yawned for the tenth time and rolled over, nestling against Chanyeol’s side. “I thought you’d want to do something music-related, the way you’re always dragging that guitar around nowadays,” he whispered.
Chanyeol wrapped an arm around him, pulling him closer. “I don’t know… playing my guitar is a hobby. I don’t want to destroy my love of it by turning it into a livelihood.”
“Hmm. I know what you mean.”
Chanyeol loved Sundays. Apart from the obvious reason that there were no classes, he could spend a good portion of the morning lying in late with Baekhyun in his arms, the only real repercussion being that they might accidentally miss breakfast. Many of the other students and even some of the staff, if they lived close enough, would return home during the weekends, leaving the House with an air of relative peace and quiet compared to the noisy, urgent hustle of a weekday morning. Any students who did remain behind in the senior dorms mostly kept to themselves, many of them studying in their rooms for most of the day, or filling their free time in other ways.
Watching Baekhyun wake up on lazy days like this was one of Chanyeol’s favourite things in the world; the way his eyes would slowly open, feeling every muscle in his body tensing and then relaxing as he stretched himself, his back arching against the bed. Then there was the soft smile that would grace his features when he noticed Chanyeol looking at him, followed by his hand on the back of Chanyeol’s head, gently pulling him down for the morning’s first kiss — with more to come, if Chanyeol was lucky. And lately he’d been very lucky in that department.
“Mmm. I thought I might be a teacher… maybe science, or history. Perhaps something to do with chemistry,” Baekhyun said. “I haven’t really decided, myself..”
“I thought about teaching too, but I don’t know if I’d be good at it. You’d make a great teacher, though, I think,” Chanyeol replied. “I’m almost certain I’d be failing Latin if it weren’t for you.”
“Well, here’s a tough question for you, Park,” Baekhyun said in a sleepy voice. “Can you tell me the difference between te amo and te diligo..?”
Chanyeol pondered the question for a moment before replying. “They both mean ‘I love you’.”
“Well, yes, sort of… but the meanings are different. I guess the best way to define diligere is to regard someone or something very highly… to choose them above all others. It’s more of a conscious decision, I suppose, than an emotional response. Amare, on the other hand, is associated with passionate or romantic love. And now you know how to tell someone you love them in Latin, in two different ways,” Baekhyun said, and then he chuckled to himself. “Not the handiest thing to know, I suppose, given that it’s a dead language.”
“Not really,” Chanyeol said. “It’s still alive among the few of us who speak and understand it.”
“Hmm… very true. Ugh, these beds are so fucking small,” Baekhyun whined; he wriggled around a little in Chanyeol’s embrace, trying to make himself more comfortable. “Not that I mind being all up in your shit, Park, but it’s kinda ridiculous.”
“Maybe we should push both of our beds together,” Chanyeol suggested. “And make a bigger bed.”
Baekhyun laughed softly at Chanyeol’s suggestion. “That wouldn't go down well in the event of a surprise room inspection..”
“Yeah. I guess you're right,” Chanyeol said. He said nothing else for a while, too busy drawing invisible lines over Baekhyun’s skin with his fingers, connecting the scatter of tiny brown freckles on his shoulders. He leaned forward and kissed them one by one.
“Speaking of Latin, have you started revising? You know our trial exams are coming up soon..” Baekhyun said, breaking the silence at last, and Chanyeol shook his head.
“Not really,” he said. He began stroking Baekhyun’s hair, gently brushing it away from his eyes to see them better. “It’s all good, though… I’ll just let you spend all your time tutoring me instead of studying.”
“Tsk. That won't do at all,” Baekhyun replied, frowning up at him. “Did you even read that book of Catullus’ poems I gave you? I haven’t seen you pick it up even once.”
Chanyeol smiled. “I may have flicked through it once or twice. A few of those poems were filthy, by the way,” he said, and Baekhyun laughed.
“He was a pervy old bastard, that Catullus… but some of his poems are really quite beautiful. Do you want to hear a few lines from one of my favourites?”
“Go on, then.”
Baekhyun rolled away for a moment and sat up next to Chanyeol on the bed. He picked up one of Chanyeol’s hands and kissed it, then began to recite:
“Da mi basia mille, deinde centum,
dein mille altera, dein secunda centum,
deinde usque altera mille, deinde centum.
Dein, cum milia multa fecerimus,
conturbabimus illa, ne sciamus,
aut ne quis malus invidere possit,
cum tantum sciat esse basiorum.”
Chanyeol was quiet for a while when Baekhyun had finished reciting, his eyes wandering shamelessly over his roommate’s body; he’d stopped being shy about checking Baekhyun out, and now he made no secret of doing so at every available opportunity. Baekhyun seemed to revel in the attention anyway, always smiling and flexing his muscles slightly for Chanyeol’s benefit.
Baekhyun lay down beside Chanyeol again, and they held each other in silence for a few minutes. “Did you understand any of that?” he said at last.
“Bits and pieces,” Chanyeol replied sleepily; he puckered his lips until Baekhyun got the hint, leaning forward to kiss him softly.
“It means ‘give me a thousand kisses,’ ” Baekhyun whispered, translating for him, and he punctuated every few words with another soft kiss to Chanyeol’s lips. “ ‘Then another hundred… then another thousand… then a second hundred… then yet another thousand more… then another hundred. Then, when we have made many thousands, we will mix them all up so that we don't know, and so that no one can be jealous of us when he finds out how many kisses we have shared.’ ”
Chanyeol thought about this for a moment, and then he sleepily nodded his approval. “It’s nice… I really like it.”
“I wasn't merely reciting a bit of sappy poetry at you, Park,” Baekhyun said, smiling at him. “That was an order. I demand that many kisses from you — that’s 3,300 in total, in case you can’t do the maths.”
“Do you have any preferences for where on your person you’d like me to put these 3,300 kisses..?” Chanyeol asked, and Baekhyun laughed; the corners of his eyes crinkled in that lovely way that always made Chanyeol's heart ache.
“No,” he said, his expression growing serious again. “You may kiss me wherever you want… but my sole condition is that you must count each kiss aloud in Latin. If this is what I have to resort to in order to help you pass this damned subject, then I guess I’ll just have to do it.”
“Okay,” Chanyeol agreed; he wasn’t sure he could even count that high in Latin, but he accepted the challenge anyway. He rolled over until Baekhyun lay beneath him again, pinning him down against the bed, and he counted slowly, softly kissing Baekhyun’s lips after each number. “Unus… duo… tres… quattuor… quinque… sex…”
“That’s good… keep going,” Baekhyun whispered, tangling his fingers up in Chanyeol’s hair, and he pulled on it slightly when he felt Chanyeol sucking gently on his lower lip. “Quam tu pulchra es,” Chanyeol whispered back, breathing the words into Baekhyun’s mouth, and Baekhyun laughed into the kiss for a moment before pulling away.
“Pulcher, not pulchra… I agree that I’m a thing of beauty, Park, but I’m not a girl. As you’ve probably discovered.”
“Right… I always forget about the whole gender thing,” Chanyeol sighed, and he buried his face against Baekhyun’s chest. “My bad.”
Baekhyun’s hand wandered down over Chanyeol’s butt, giving it a hard pinch, and Chanyeol let out an embarrassing yelp in protest. “Me excusa,” he corrected himself, and Baekhyun laughed again.
“That’s better,” he whispered, and then Chanyeol resumed kissing him, trying not to think about how much he wanted to say te amo, even though he knew he would never have the guts to do it. He silently mouthed the words he longed to say in every kiss, hoping that Baekhyun would understand somehow.
“Can I ask you something?” Baekhyun said, pulling away for a moment. He seemed nervous all of a sudden; Chanyeol could tell from the furrows in his brow. It made him want to kiss them away.
“Sure,” he replied. “What’s up..?”
Baekhyun’s eyes flickered away for a second, but then he looked up at Chanyeol again. “Well… I was kind of wondering if you’d maybe go to the Spring Dance with me this year,” he said quietly. “You know… as my date.”
Chanyeol stared back at Baekhyun blankly for a moment, and then he took him into his arms, kissing him on the lips and holding him tight.
“Yes, of course,” he whispered into Baekhyun’s ear, and then he kissed him again. “Of course I’ll go with you. I’d love to.”
“You made me feel like The One. ”
“You know, I used to dream about you a lot,” Chanyeol said, and Baekhyun looked at him with both eyebrows raised.
“Oh really? What was I doing..?”
Chanyeol thought for a moment. “Well… just smiling, mostly,” he said — which was the truth, but not all of it. Of course there were other dreams, too, but they were more like nightmares. Baekhyun looking back at him with hurt and anger in his eyes. Baekhyun lying unconscious on the grass, in a bed of fallen flowers. Baekhyun being wheeled into the back of an ambulance and driven away in the dead of night, while Chanyeol looked on from a distance, feeling the fear and anguish clawing at his throat — sometimes he even woke up choking, with his own hands around his neck, gasping for air — his body would be wracked with sobs, but his eyes were always bone dry. Chanyeol didn’t tell Baekhyun about those dreams. He also didn’t tell him that the dreams where Baekhyun was smiling at him — teasing him, taunting him with his brief appearances, playing hide-and-seek in the darkest places of Chanyeol’s consciousness — were somehow even more emotionally disturbing than the nightmares were.
But the dreams where they made love were the worst of all. They were always so realistic that Chanyeol could feel the warmth of Baekhyun’s body — could taste and smell him as if he were really there — and then waking up again left him with an ache so intense it was indescribable.
“I’ve been wondering… what made you start liking me in the first place?” Chanyeol asked. “I never thought to ask you.”
“Hmm. It was a number of things,” Baekhyun said. “First of all, I liked that you never treated me differently. But, well, I know this sounds really odd… in the end, it was the way you walked that really got to me.”
Chanyeol frowned. “My walk..?”
“Yeah,” Baekhyun replied, and he chuckled to himself. “Sort of with uncertain steps, and slightly hunched over, as if you were trying to make yourself look shorter or something… like a baby giraffe finding its feet, I imagine. There was no swagger whatsoever. I remember thinking it was very sweet. I thought to myself, ‘here is a guy who has absolutely no clue how sexy he is’. I wanted you so bad it wasn’t even funny.”
“Did you just stand there staring at me while I walked..?” Chanyeol asked, amused, and Baekhyun merely grabbed him by the hand in place of a response, casting a flirtatious glance back at him before he turned around.
“Come on,” he said. “We’ve got more exploring to do.”
“And I feel so much depends on the weather… so is it raining in your bedroom?”
The game should have been called off — but it wasn’t.
The worst part was that they all had to show their support by sitting there around the perimeter of the field in the cold and drizzle, sheltered only by umbrellas and plastic ponchos. It was complete bullshit, Chanyeol thought. What if they all caught colds?
“And they all make out that rugby’s a sport for straight men,” Baekhyun whispered to Chanyeol. “Just look at that one over there… he’s practically got his head up that other guy’s bum.”
Chanyeol merely grunted in reply; not even huddling under a shared umbrella with the most beautiful boy in the school was enough to wring out his dampened spirits. He wasn’t really paying attention to the rugby match taking place in the field right in front of them — he didn’t know what the hell was going on, or who was in the lead. He couldn’t even remember which school the visiting team had come from. All he knew was that the cheering was deafening, the game itself was boring him to tears, and he was only sitting there ‘watching’ it because practically everyone else in the whole entire school was.
Baekhyun nudged Chanyeol again. “Hey… I’ve been meaning to talk to you about something. It’s kind of a private matter.”
“What do you mean..?” Chanyeol asked, his ears suddenly pricking up. His mouth began to feel dry. He had no idea what to expect, but from the solemn expression on Baekhyun’s face, what he needed to say couldn’t be anything good. Maybe he’d decided he didn’t want to go to the Spring Dance with Chanyeol anymore. Or worse, maybe Baekhyun was breaking up with him, when he wasn’t even sure they were officially an item. Chanyeol’s mind was already leaping between various conclusions, each one more terrible than the last, and Baekhyun hadn’t even opened his mouth yet.
Baekhyun looked around, as though checking to make sure no one was eavesdropping on their conversation, and then he turned back to Chanyeol again and moved his lips right next to his ear. “If you’re willing to come with me somewhere right now, I’ll be able to explain everything properly.”
Baekhyun nodded. “If anyone notices us sneaking off, we’ll just say we’re going to the bathroom. They won’t miss us while this game’s on, anyway… and it’s imperative that no one sees where we’re going. It’s kind of a secret location, you see.”
Chanyeol swallowed. A secret location… perhaps he would finally find out where Baekhyun went in the middle of the night.
“Alright,” he said, “let’s go.”
Sneaking away from the crowd turned out to be easy enough, and once they were safely hidden in the cloistered walkways of the school buildings, Chanyeol said, “so what is this mysterious place you’re taking me to..?”
“You’ll find out when we get there,” Baekhyun replied.
“It’s not a secret meth lab, is it..?” Chanyeol asked, narrowing his eyes in suspicion, and Baekhyun laughed.
“No, not today, Park. Thought I’d save that for another time.”
“Oh, ha ha,” Chanyeol said, although he couldn’t be sure if this was actually a joke.
Baekhyun was quiet for the rest of the walk back to the House, and Chanyeol followed him in silence up the stairs to the senior dorms. When they reached the third floor, Chanyeol said, “please tell me the secret location isn’t our room, because that would be the biggest let-down ever.”
“It’s not our room,” Baekhyun said, lowering his voice a little. “Just follow me and keep quiet.” He led Chanyeol past all the dorm rooms, past the bathrooms, and then past the common room, all the way to the end of the corridor.
“Um, now what..?” Chanyeol asked. They had reached a dead end; there was nothing at the end of the corridor, apart from a window looking out onto the field, and a bookcase filled with dusty old encyclopaedias. Baekhyun didn’t reply; instead he reached up and pulled out one of the books on the middle shelf, behind which was a small hole bored into the wood. Into this he inserted a key from his pocket, turning it, and then the whole bookcase swung outwards, revealing a tiny, narrow door.
“Oh, come on,” Chanyeol muttered in disbelief. “Really..?”
Baekhyun looked back at him with an eyebrow raised. “It’s predictable, I know,” he said. “But that’s why it’s effective.” With one last look down the corridor to make sure they were alone, he took out a second key, unlocking the door and pulling it open. “Let’s go.”
The doorway — if you could call it that — was so low that Chanyeol had to nearly bend himself in half just to get inside. Baekhyun fared slightly better, only needing to stoop a little.
“Watch your head, Park,” he said, as they slowly made their way through a low, pitch-black tunnel. “Are you claustrophobic at all..?”
“Um. Not that I know of..”
“Probably a good thing.”
Eventually Baekhyun stopped suddenly in front of him, and there was the jingle of keys being pulled from his pocket again, followed by the sound of yet another door unlocking, and the creak of it being pushed open. With the flick of a switch, the room in front of them was flooded with light.
Chanyeol stepped inside the room after Baekhyun, looking around with his jaw dropped in wonder. It appeared to be some kind of study — there was a mahogany Dickens desk, a fireplace, a bookcase full of books, a pair of velvet-upholstered chairs and a standing lamp. On the wall above the mantelpiece hung two red pennants: one of them was the school’s own official design with ‘St. George Academy’ on it in white letters, and there was another one beneath it that read ‘The Liar’, which looked as though someone had sewn it by hand.
“What is this place..?” Chanyeol asked.
“This, Park, is The Lair,” Baekhyun told him; he immediately made himself comfortable in one of the chairs, and gestured for Chanyeol to sit in the other. “Now, I know that pennant hanging above the fireplace says ‘The Liar’… just ignore that. Whoever made it apparently couldn’t spell. But anyway, this room was said to have been a hidden torture chamber, where an evil former Housemaster used to abuse students in secret, back in the day… I don’t know if that’s even true, it might just be an old tale. I suppose later the school put a bookcase in front of the doorway, so no one would know it was there. Anyway, the original OBG discovered it and made it his secret study, back when he was alive, and now every year, a new successor inherits access to it. This year, that successor happens to be me.”
Chanyeol looked at him dumbly. “I don’t follow..”
Baekhyun sighed. “Okay, I’ll spell it out for you ― OBG isn’t a ghost, Park… he’s me. All those mysterious pranks that the juniors are always wetting themselves over, thinking it’s OBG coming back from the grave to terrorise the school… it’s all me. Putting that traffic cone on top of the St. George statue’s head ― me. Rigging the chapel bells to go off non-stop at 3 in the morning ― also me. Roping off the stairwells, hacking the snack machines, dumping strawberry-scented bubble-bath in the swimming pool… well, you get the idea. I’m responsible for them all.”
“But why..?” Chanyeol asked.
Instead of replying, Baekhyun got up and took a small tin and a piece of rolling paper from one of the desk drawers, and then he sat down again and proceeded to roll himself a cigarette. “This is the only bloody place I can smoke in this entire school without getting busted,” he muttered. “You want one..?”
Chanyeol politely declined the offer. When Baekhyun had finished rolling the cigarette, he lit it with a match, filling the study with the smell of toasted tobacco.
“OBG is… how shall I put this… he’s something of an old tradition within our House,” he said. “It’s kind of a fun little game that’s been going on for years, as a way to keep OBG’s legacy alive. Every year, a student from Burke going into his senior year is chosen to take on the role, and he must complete a list of pranks left to him by his predecessor. Then, before he graduates, he passes the baton to another Burke resident from the grade below, along with a completely new list of pranks that he composes himself. There are only two rules: first and foremost, any prank that may endanger someone’s physical or mental well-being is a big no-no, but anything else is fair game. Secondly, the chosen person must divulge his secret to no one else. Even choosing a successor is done anonymously ― whoever chose me just left the keys, a typed letter and his list of pranks underneath my pillow. If you’re chosen, you can take on the role or reject it, but the legend goes that if you do reject it, the ghost of the original OBG will haunt you until you go crazy and hang yourself, just like he did. Which of course is complete and utter bullshit… just a stupid myth to scare people into keeping the chain going. Personally, I took the role on merely for the fun of it. I can never resist a challenge, and clearly I’m a born delinquent… there was no way I was going to turn it down.”
Baekhyun paused for a moment and flicked the ash from his cigarette onto the stone floor, crushing it to dust beneath his shoe. “Anyway, if there is such a thing as the ghost of OBG, he’s gonna haunt the hell out of me for breaking my silence just now,” he said. “But I needed someone to confide in about this whole thing, and I don’t trust anyone else. You see, there’s kind of been a problem, Park. You might have noticed that things are going awry a little more often than they used to… well, that’s because there’s a copycat prankster, and I don't know who it is. But I'm worried that he might know who I am.”
Chanyeol shifted a little in his seat. “Well, who do you think it might be..?”
Baekhyun sighed and leaned back against the chair; he held the rollie between his fingers and watched the wisps of smoke spiralling out of it, as though hypnotised. “That’s the thing… I really don’t know,” he said eventually. “A lot of his pranks, assuming there’s only one of him, have been personal in nature ― which, as you now know, is against the rules. I heard that someone put a dead rat in the matron’s bed last night… well, I can tell you now, that definitely wasn’t on the list I was given. That’s not a prank — it’s a personal attack. The thing I’m most concerned about is whether this person is acting of their own accord, or if it’s because they’ve discovered my identity somehow. I used to come here all the time — usually after lights-out — but now I’m afraid to do so on my own, because I no longer know if I’m the only one who knows about it. The whole situation has made me super-paranoid about everything.”
“So what are you going to do..?” Chanyeol asked.
“I don’t know,” Baekhyun said, “but it’s a worry. If for some reason this guy blows the whistle on me, I'll be out on my arse faster than you can say ‘I’ll be out on my arse.’ So I’m going to stop pranking, first things first. And I suppose all I can do now is just lie low for the remainder of my time here, and hope the whole thing fizzles out.”
Chanyeol nodded. “Okay. Well, your secret’s safe with me,” he said.
“Good,” Baekhyun replied; he got up out of his chair and stubbed out the cigarette on a brass ashtray that sat on the desk. He turned around to face Chanyeol again, shrugging off his blazer, and then he began to unbutton his shirt. Chanyeol watched him do this in stunned silence, sitting there on the armchair with his arms resting on either side of him. His mouth went dry, and he swallowed thickly.
Baekhyun pulled off his unbuttoned shirt, tossing it carelessly aside, and then he started on his trousers. “Interestingly,” he said, still looking Chanyeol right in the eye, “I think this room might be soundproof, Park. Perhaps you'd like to test that theory before we go back outside..?”
Chanyeol nodded, too dumbstruck to respond with actual words, and quickly fumbled with the buckle on his belt. It was a refreshing (and exciting) break from their bedroom — here there was no reason to hold back; they could make as much noise as they liked, and Baekhyun certainly made the most of this. But in the back of his mind, even while he was lost in a haze of pleasure, Chanyeol did have the niggling feeling that, somehow, they weren’t quite as alone as they thought.
Contrary to Baekhyun’s hopes, the whole thing didn’t fizzle out.
On the Friday morning of that same week, right after the morning service had ended, the school principal Mr. Jeong walked over to the front of the chapel just as everyone was standing up to leave, and gestured for them all to sit down again. He began pacing back and forth in front of the altar, staring straight ahead of him with his gaze focused on nothing in particular, and then at last he stopped and directed his steely eyes in the direction of the students, glaring at them all one by one.
In that moment, Chanyeol swore he could hear the sound of six hundred nervous swallows, condensed into one collective gulp of apprehension.
“In the space of a single week,” Mr. Jeong began, enunciating slowly in a voice that was dangerously calm, “some despicable wretch has egged my cottage, put dead vermin into Miss Pyo’s bed, stolen the answers for the eleventh-grade mathematics paper from Mrs. Lim’s desk, and, most disturbingly, defaced the statue of our patron saint and his steed in such a way that I don’t feel I can even describe it in words without completely debasing myself..”
Chanyeol had seen what had happened to the statue, while making his way to class the day before — the horse’s nethers had been spray-painted a bright neon pink, and in the position it stood, reared up on its hind legs in the throes of battle, its dangling marble balls were now clearly visible from all corners of the school. Emblazoned across the horse’s flank on both sides, in the same garish hue, was the following delightful phrase: JEONG LOVES HORSE COCK. Chanyeol had found it rather amusing at the time; he had never been especially fond of Mr. Jeong, a sentiment shared by most of his fellow pupils. But the look on the principal’s face — his nostrils flaring with barely-contained rage, froth collecting at the corners of his lips, and the wide, staring eyes — made it seem anything but funny now. He looked not unlike a horse himself.
“I don’t know what it is with this current generation of St. Georgians, but I have put up with this for long enough,” Jeong said; now his voice was raised to the point that he was practically yelling, and it echoed off the stone walls and high ceilings of the chapel, making him even louder. “Don’t think that we buy this ‘Old Boy George’ supernatural crap… what complete and utter nonsense, not to mention an affront to a former student’s cherished memory. Whoever is doing this — and I know it’s one of you, you miserable little runts — it stops now. Now. Do you hear me..?”
If there was one thing that could be said about Mr. Jeong, it was that when he gave a lecture, he really gave it his all — even though he was sitting several rows from the front, Chanyeol could clearly see the flecks of spit flying in all directions. While Mr. Jeong continued to rant and rave, Chanyeol exchanged a worried glance with Baekhyun, who was seated next to him, but neither of them dared say a word. Still, the look in Baekhyun’s eyes said it all — there was trouble brewing.
After Mr. Jeong had finally finished his tirade, eating into half of their precious allocated breakfast time, everyone got up and left in an uncharacteristically orderly fashion, walking down the aisle quietly in single file.
“Well… that was intense,” Chanyeol said, when they were safely outside the chapel. Baekhyun nodded his agreement in silence, but he didn’t reply.
“I thought you said—” Chanyeol began, and then Baekhyun cut him off.
“None of those were my doing,” he hissed, almost with a trace of irritation. “Not a single one. Anyway, I’ve stopped pranking, remember..?”
“So ‘Jeong loves horse cock’ wasn’t from the brain of Byun Baekhyun… I have to say I find that rather hard to believe,” Chanyeol said drily.
“I swear on my life it wasn’t me,” Baekhyun replied. He traced a cross over his own heart with a finger. “Although I kind of wish I had thought of it, admittedly.”
“So who did it, then..?” Chanyeol asked, but Baekhyun only shook his head.
“I honestly have no idea… I only ever managed the occasional prank myself, but now it seems like there’s something fishy happening almost every day. It’s really getting out of hand.”
“Well, let’s hope Jeong’s rant was enough to scare the culprit into submission,” Chanyeol said, although he somehow doubted that this would be the case. He could tell by Baekhyun’s grim expression that he doubted it too. For the rest of the walk back to the House, there were no further words exchanged between them; instead they stewed silently in their own separate anxieties.
“I bet he does love horse cock, though,” Baekhyun said when they walked into the refectory, breaking the silence at last, and Chanyeol had no choice but to laugh.
“Don’t be so reckless.”
Chanyeol looked down at his watch, and saw that it was now nearly nine o’clock. So much for a quick visit… but he didn’t mind so much anymore. He was actually enjoying himself now; the school grounds, which had once seemed so unsettling under the cover of darkness, were now eerily beautiful in their nighttime tranquility. He let Baekhyun wander along ahead, and made no complaints about the time.
“Are you still getting up to any mischief these days?” he asked. “Pranking up a storm and all that..?”
Baekhyun laughed and shook his head. “Nah… a lab’s not really the best environment for pranks. Too many things can go wrong.”
“What a shame,” Chanyeol said drily. “You were so good at it, too.”
“I was, wasn’t I?”
“Uh-huh.” Chanyeol came to a halt and let Baekhyun walk further ahead of him for a moment. “So, where to now?” he asked.
Baekhyun shrugged; he strolled along with his hands in his pockets, like he had all the time in the world. “Dunno. Thought we could go down to the field, maybe… lie down in the grass and make out for a bit.”
“I always used to wonder why you spent so much time down there all by yourself,” Chanyeol said, and Baekhyun laughed. He stopped walking and turned around to face Chanyeol again.
“Admittedly, I used to go there because it was the closest thing to a paddock I could find,” he replied. “I just needed a big, open space to myself every now and then.”
“Ah… I see,” Chanyeol said. He caught up to Baekhyun and grabbed him by the hand, and they continued walking, swinging their arms with every step like a pair of childhood sweethearts.
“I was raised on a farm, Park, as you know,” Baekhyun said while they walked. “My brothers and I, we used to run amok, go wild… I wasn't used to being caged up like this. Sometimes it got really bad, and I’d have to go up to the fence and stick my face right through it, just to be able to breathe. Did you ever find it as unbearable as I did..?”
Chanyeol was reminded of a time before he and Baekhyun really knew each other, when he had seen him standing next to the fence with his head against the bars, gripping them so tightly that his hands were visibly shaking, even from a distance. He seemed not to have noticed that he was being watched at the time. For some reason, Chanyeol didn’t feel the need to mention it now.
“Well, I grew up in a small town too, but we didn’t have a farm,” he replied. “I suppose I didn't feel it as much.”
“I always found it really hard,” Baekhyun said with a sigh. “I had no one to talk to about what I was feeling, and there was nowhere private where I could go and have a good cry, either… so I just held it all in. You couldn’t show any weakness at all in this place… people would chew you up and spit you out for it.”
“Crying isn't a weakness,” Chanyeol said quietly. If anything, he had always thought his own inability to cry was much more of a weakness; trying to get over his separation from Baekhyun had only been all the more difficult because of it.
“Hey,” Baekhyun said, his voice bringing Chanyeol back down to Earth again; he pulled at Chanyeol’s sleeve to get his attention, and Chanyeol’s eyes followed to where he was pointing. “What the hell happened to Jack..?”
“What do you mean?” Chanyeol asked, and then he saw it too: in the corner of the field, in the exact place where Jack once stood, there was nothing but a stump, barely a few feet above the ground.
“I am a tree; counting my rings will do no good
I won’t live long, but I would be with you if I could.”
His final Spring at St. George came hurtling along before Chanyeol knew it. Even Jack was beginning to bloom now, a beautiful if terrifying reminder that exams were lurking around the corner — and perhaps as a result of this, the atmosphere in the House was noticeably different. It was quieter, somehow, and more tense. It was in this new unsettling silence that Chanyeol began to hear whispers being aimed in his direction on his way down the corridors. At first, he paid them no mind; the people in that place would always find someone, or something, to whisper about.
But when Chanyeol arrived at his Latin class on an ordinary Wednesday morning and lifted the lid of his desk, only to discover a piece of lined notepaper inside it with HOMO scrawled on it in thick red marker, he knew something was wrong. He quickly shut the lid again as the classroom began to fill up, in case someone else saw it. The desks were not assigned, he reminded himself — the note wasn’t necessarily directed at him. But then, Chanyeol was a creature of habit, and had sat at that same desk — in the second last row, right next to the windows — for the entire year
Chanyeol sighed and rubbed his temple with one hand. There was no use in kidding himself… this was definitely personal.
That evening, still shaken from finding the note, he was in the bathroom drying his hair in front of the basins when he saw Yifan sauntering towards him, a towel wrapped loosely around his waist. It looked about ready to fall off.
“How goes it, Park?” Yifan asked casually. “Everything good? Byun still bumming you in your sleep..?”
Chanyeol exhaled loudly with irritation, but kept his eyes on his own reflection. “Piss off, Wu,” he muttered. “Don’t even joke about shit like that.”
Yifan grinned smugly at him in the mirror. “Why… because it actually happened?”
“No,” Chanyeol snapped, “because it’s fucking sick — that’s why.”
Yifan lifted his hands up in a gesture of defence, and said, “alright, alright… no need to get your panties in a twist, Park. Although I’m sure Byun would love to untwist them for you..”
He wandered off to the showers then, chuckling to himself, with his towel slipping down so low around his waist that Chanyeol could see the beginning of his buttcrack peeking out from under it. He was very tempted to lob a bar of soap at the back of Yifan’s head, but he just barely managed to restrain himself.
Chanyeol returned to his room to find Baekhyun already sitting up in bed in his pyjamas, with a chemistry textbook spread open on his lap, pencilling study notes into the margins. He looked up at Chanyeol briefly and smiled. Chanyeol sat down next to him on the bed, making the mattress sink, and Baekhyun leaned forward to greet him with a kiss.
“Hey,” he said, and he closed the textbook, putting it down next to him on the bed. “You alright?”
“Yeah,” Chanyeol replied, although he could hear the catch in his own voice, and knew he was doing a shit job at acting. “Why..?”
Baekhyun cocked his head to one side while he studied Chanyeol intently. He frowned. “Dunno. You just seem a little off.”
“Well,” Chanyeol began hesitantly, “I was kinda just thinking…”
“About what?” Baekhyun asked.
Chanyeol swallowed; the way Baekhyun was looking at him all innocently only made it even harder to spit out what he needed to say. “I was thinking… I don’t think we should take each other to the Spring Dance next week.”
Baekhyun’s face fell. “Why not..?”
“I just don’t think it would be a good idea,” Chanyeol said. “Anyway, I’ll still be there with you… I just won’t be your date.”
“Well, what are you going to do?” Baekhyun asked; Chanyeol could tell he was beginning to get upset. “Are you gonna take someone else..?”
“No,” Chanyeol said quietly. “I won’t take anyone at all. I’m sorry… it’s just not a good idea. Are you upset with me..?”
“Well, obviously,” Baekhyun said. “I mean, if I have to go to the bloody school dance at all, I would at least like to take my own boyfriend as my date..”
“I really want to take you too — believe me,” Chanyeol told him. “But our relationship isn’t even public. As it is, it’s a miracle people haven’t already found out.”
“How do you know they haven’t?” Baekhyun asked.
“Well, to be honest, I’m starting to wonder about that,” Chanyeol sighed, “but I don’t see why we should give them the satisfaction of knowing for sure. Life is hard enough in this bloody place, Baekhyun. Why make it even harder than it is, when we’ve only got a few months left to endure..?”
“I hate having to hide myself for the benefit of people I don’t care about,” Baekhyun said. He sounded angry now. “I don't know why you would even ask me to do that.”
“Because someone put a note with the word ‘HOMO’ on it inside my desk today — that’s why,” Chanyeol snapped; he took a deep breath to calm himself down, and lowered his voice before he continued. “Like it wasn’t bad enough that I have to walk behind these fuckheads in the hallways every day, and hear them calling you a ‘pretty little cocktease’, talking about how much they want to ‘stuff that tight little ass full of dick’ — do you think that's easy for me, to have to listen to shit like that being said about someone I really care for, and having to bite my tongue about it..?
“Well, why bite your tongue, then?” Baekhyun said angrily. “Why not call them out on it? Better yet, why not just give them all a black eye, like they deserve? Haven’t I spent enough time teaching you how to defend yourself? So bloody do it, then!”
“Are you nuts? I can't afford to get a suspension this close to exam time,” Chanyeol said, “and neither can you. Do you know what being on a scholarship means in a place like this? It means they’re not getting your daddy’s money, so one strike and you’re out. So stop trying to rile people up on purpose, and put your head down and concentrate on getting out of here. That’s precisely what I’ll be doing.”
Having said this, he got up from Baekhyun’s bed with an irritated sigh and walked over to his closet, yanking the drawers open to find his pyjamas. While he was changing, he heard Baekhyun mutter, “like you’d even have the balls to defend me, anyway..”
Chanyeol turned around to glare at him. “Excuse me..?”
“You only bite your tongue because you're in love with me… and you're scared they'll all figure it out, and start calling you a fag to your face instead of me,” Baekhyun snapped. “Well, boo-hoo — have a cry, Park, and join the fucking club. Oh, but fucking around with me behind closed doors is okay, that doesn't make you a homo, does it? Sure there are no girls around here, but you can just close your eyes and pretend that I’m the next best thing, because any hole’s a goal, right? Isn’t that what you’ve been doing all along, Chanyeol — pretending..?”
Chanyeol sighed and rubbed his forehead. “Baekhyun…”
But Baekhyun was only just getting warmed up, it seemed. He rolled out of bed, and for a moment Chanyeol was expecting him to walk right up and punch him in the face again, but all Baekhyun did was poke him in the chest with a finger, so hard that it hurt. “You don’t have a problem sharing a bed with another boy, Park… loving one is what you can't handle. You know you can’t lie to yourself anymore, and you hate it. You’re just like they are — a fucking homophobe. A gay fucking homophobe, which is the worst kind..”
“What do you want from me..?” Chanyeol hissed, trying to keep his voice down. He was certain the people in the rooms next door would hear them if they weren’t careful. “I’ve never wanted you to be anything other than what you are. I’m not asking you to keep our relationship private because I want you to hide yourself, or how we feel about each other… I just can’t take all the shit they’re saying about you — and now me — and I’d hate for what we have together to be dragged through the mud like that. For your information, I happen to care about you a lot..”
“Oh, you ‘care about me a lot’..? Well, that's very gay of you,” Baekhyun snapped sarcastically.
Chanyeol threw his hands up in defeat. “Fine — you know what? Piss off, then. I’m sorry I’m not as thick-skinned as you are, Baekhyun. Forgive me for not being out and proud and fucking fabulous. It’s not like I can fucking help it.”
“Just tell me,” Baekhyun said, his voice growing dangerously quiet. “Do you love me, or not?”
Chanyeol opened his mouth to speak, but no sound came out.
“Please, Chanyeol,” Baekhyun said; he sounded desperate now. “I need to know if you feel the same way. Otherwise I’m just wasting my time.”
Chanyeol swallowed hard. “I don’t know,” he said quietly, and Baekhyun nodded his head in silence.
“Great. Well, that clears everything up, then,” he muttered, and he walked out of their room before Chanyeol had a chance to respond, gently closing the door behind him. Chanyeol stood there staring at the door for several minutes, unsure of what to do. After a while he crawled into Baekhyun’s bed, pulling the covers up around himself. Underneath the pillow was something hard and flat; he dug it out, recognising it as Baekhyun’s beloved collection of Emily Dickinson poems, its pages yellowed and creased from overuse. He opened the book at the first dog-eared page and read the poem he found there:
‘You left me, sweet, two legacies, —
A legacy of love
A Heavenly Father would content,
Had He the offer of;
You left me boundaries of pain
Capacious as the sea,
Between eternity and time,
Your consciousness and me.’
Chanyeol closed the book again and put it down on the floor next to Baekhyun’s bed. He wrapped his arms around Baekhyun’s pillow, burying his face in its cottony softness and breathing in his lover’s scent. He whispered “te amo” once into the darkness before he fell asleep.
When Chanyeol woke up again, a quick glance at the alarm clock beside the bed told him that it was 3:05am. He’d been asleep for a couple of hours. Blinking his sleep-crusted eyes, he lifted his head and looked around the room, waiting for his vision to adjust to the darkness. He was still in Baekhyun’s bed, but Baekhyun wasn’t with him. He wasn’t in Chanyeol’s bed either. He wasn’t in the room at all.
This was nothing unfamiliar, Chanyeol reassured himself; Baekhyun had wandered off at night many times before. But this time, for some reason, something didn't feel right.
Something really didn’t feel right, and Chanyeol had to find out why.
He kicked the covers off Baekhyun’s bed and rolled out of it, stepping into his slippers and throwing his uniform blazer over his pyjamas. Grabbing his torch from inside his desk, he quietly opened the door to their room and peeked out, shining the torch in both directions. Seeing that no one was around, he stepped out into the corridor and gently closed the door behind him.
Now that he was wandering around the House at night, Chanyeol was reminded how fucking creepy the place was when it was dark. He was scared to use the torch too much in case someone saw him, but he was scared not to use it as well… who knew what was lurking around? He walked all the way to the end of the corridor, until he reached the bookcase; he pulled out a few of the books and knocked on the back of it. It was highly unlikely Baekhyun would even hear him knocking from deep within the bowels of the secret study, and Chanyeol had no hope of getting in there without the key… but he was at a loss as to where else Baekhyun might be, and anyway, it was worth a try.
As expected, nothing happened.
Sighing, Chanyeol put the books back in their place, and turned away from the bookcase in the direction of the window at the end of the corridor. Then he had a thought, and stood in front of it, looking out onto the field. He could clearly see Jack from there, and underneath the tree there appeared to be something on the grass ― a person, perhaps ― but he was too far away to see who it was.
Chanyeol’s eyes widened in alarm and he turned away from the window. No longer worried about who might hear him, he ran all the way down the three flights of stairs to the ground floor, and out into the quad. He charged across the lawn in his slippers without keeping to the pathways, not caring how many unfortunate blades of grass he left trampled in his wake. When he finally got to the field, he could see the tree at the other end, and beneath it, someone was lying there.
Chanyeol's heart dropped into his guts. He broke into a sprint, tripping once over his slippers and falling onto the dewy grass, then getting back up again. When he reached the tree, he saw that it was indeed Baekhyun beneath it, lying in a bed of fallen purple flowers. His eyes were closed, his jaw slack, lips parted. There were several empty glass bottles scattered on the grass around him.
Chanyeol fell to his knees next to him; Baekhyun’s face, although usually pale, was so white in the torchlight that it almost seemed to be tinged with blue, and in a panic Chanyeol leaned over and pressed two fingers to his neck. Baekhyun’s skin was abnormally cold, and his pulse was slow and faint, even alarmingly so… but it was there nonetheless, beating against Chanyeol’s fingertips. Chanyeol breathed a sigh of relief, and for a few seconds he was so light-headed he felt physically sick, but thankfully the sensation passed quickly, and he returned to the matter at hand.
So he wasn't dead, it seemed… maybe he was just blind drunk. Chanyeol could cope with that. All he had to do was get Baekhyun back to the House. Unfortunately, this seemed a lot easier in theory than in practice.
“God, Baekhyun, what have you done..?” Chanyeol whispered; he shook Baekhyun gently at first to see if he would respond, and then a little more insistently, but Baekhyun didn’t move.
“Baekhyun, please… wake up.” Chanyeol picked up one of the bottles and sniffed it, wrinkling his nose at the smell. "Hooch," he muttered to himself, tossing the bottle back onto the grass. It smelled like rocket fuel — much stronger than he remembered it being the one time he'd ventured to try it. Maybe Baekhyun had put something else in it this time.
For a moment, Chanyeol considered lying down on the grass next to Baekhyun and just giving up on life, but he didn't. He slowly got to his feet and leaned over, covering Baekhyun with his blazer to keep him warm, and then he picked him up in his arms as gently as he could, in the same way a groom might pick up a new bride — he was scared to be moving Baekhyun at all in the state he was in, but he couldn’t just leave him there alone either. Worried about the possibility that Baekhyun might puke and then choke on it, he carried the boy over his shoulder with his head turned to one side, and for a moment he staggered around a little under the weight of his cargo — although Baekhyun wasn’t very tall, he was solid, and heavier than he looked. “You’ll be okay, I promise,” Chanyeol whispered, and then he carefully stumbled all the way back in the direction of the House. Although he shuddered with dread at the thought, there was no other choice right now: he would have to go and wake up Mr. Cho.
“And if I swallow anything evil, put your finger down my throat.”
They sat down in front of Jack — who was now nothing but a stump — and Baekhyun rested his head on Chanyeol’s shoulder, letting out a quiet sigh.
“I can’t believe they got rid of Jack,” he whispered. “I’m actually pretty gutted right now.”
“I’m sure there must have been a legitimate reason for it,” Chanyeol said. “Another hanging, perhaps.”
“Yeah,” Baekhyun replied quietly; he took Chanyeol’s hand and held it in his own, resting their joined hands in the space between both of their outstretched legs.
“It was around here, wasn't it..?” Baekhyun said, after they’d been quiet for a while. “Where you found me, I mean.”
Chanyeol patted one of the gnarled old roots next to him with his free hand, and traced the cracks in the wood with his finger. “I found you right in this spot, with a whole heap of empty bottles on the grass around you,” he said. “You were surrounded by fallen jacaranda flowers… it would have been quite beautiful, if it wasn’t so devastating.”
There was silence for a moment. For some reason, Chanyeol’s eyes began to sting. He could feel Baekhyun staring at him.
“Why are you crying..?” Baekhyun asked quietly.
Chanyeol put one hand to his face, and noticed that his cheeks were wet. And here they were at last — the tears. Hello old friends, Chanyeol thought to himself, where have you been all my life? So nice of you to turn up now, of all bloody times…
“Because… how could you do that..?” he said finally, his voice cracking — God, how embarrassing. He couldn’t remember the last time he cried at all, let alone in front of someone else. He leaned forward and buried his face between his knees, his words coming out muffled against them. “You stupid bloody idiot..!”
Baekhyun sighed and began rubbing Chanyeol’s back in slow, comforting circles. “I know it was stupid,” he said, “but I wasn’t thinking straight. I was really upset at the time.”
“Well, did you think drinking yourself to death would make it better..?”
“I didn’t know what I was getting myself into,” Baekhyun said. “One minute I was taking my first sip… and then before I knew it, I’d drunk it all. And then later on, I woke up blind, with no idea where the fuck I was, and the worst headache you could ever possibly imagine. I have no memory of what happened in the middle… there was just the before and after.”
Chanyeol kept his face buried against his knees for a while, and Baekhyun went from rubbing his back to drawing patterns on it with one of his fingers — swirls and other random shapes, by the feel of it. Chanyeol could almost hear him thinking, he was doing it so loudly.
“I know I said I didn’t want to talk about this, but I owe you an apology,” Baekhyun said at last. “As well as my sincerest thanks, of course. They did tell me at the hospital that if you hadn’t found me when you did, things might have turned out very differently.”
Chanyeol finally lifted his head and turned to look at Baekhyun, wiping his eyes with the sleeve of his jacket. “Why did you do it, though?” he asked quietly. “That’s what I don’t understand.”
“Drink so much. Mr. Cho told me later that they suspected alcohol poisoning.”
Baekhyun sighed. “They didn’t tell you what really happened, did they?”
Chanyeol shook his head. “I was never told what happened in detail, no..”
“When I woke up at the hospital and complained about being unable to see, they told me I was presenting symptoms of methanol intoxication,” Baekhyun said. “That was the cause of my loss of consciousness, and later the blindness. Now, I was a chemistry student all through high school, Park, so I knew all about the toxicity of the stuff — I certainly wouldn’t have put it into my own hooch. Small amounts of methanol can be a natural byproduct of the fermentation process, but the amount I ingested... it just doesn’t add up. I wasn’t trying to die, you know… despite what it probably looked like at the time.”
“So… you reckon someone put it in there..?” Chanyeol asked.
Baekhyun laughed. “I know someone put it in there,” he said, looking pointedly at Chanyeol. “I just haven’t figured out who.”
Chanyeol looked back at him for a moment. He narrowed his eyes. “You don’t think I spiked your hooch, surely..”
“You were the only person I ever showed my stash to,” Baekhyun said. “You knew where it was hidden.”
Chanyeol swallowed. “I would never do that,” he whispered. “You know I would never do that. I would never even think to do it… what motivation could I possibly have..?”
Baekhyun let out a heavy sigh and leaned forward, burying his head in his hands. “I know you would never do it,” he said, “but then, who did..? It's been driving me fucking crazy for years.”
After a moment’s silence he lifted his head again. “It was a simple plot, really,” he said quietly. “All it takes is a splash of methyl alcohol to cause blindness, and ingesting as little as an ounce can be fatal. Anyone could have broken into one of the science labs and taken some of it with them, if they really wanted to. As for my hooch stash, it wouldn’t have been that hard to find, if the person knew what they were looking for. My decision to begin selling it to other people was clearly a big mistake.”
“You know what’s scary? If you had sold the spiked hooch instead of drinking it yourself, someone else would have been poisoned instead of you,” Chanyeol pointed out. “Perhaps a number of people..”
“I know,” Baekhyun whispered. “That’s the part that haunts me the most… it could have turned out so much worse than it did. Thank God I drank it all, huh? My teenage alcoholism saved the day..”
“Well, didn’t you report the incident?” Chanyeol asked. “Was it never investigated..?”
Baekhyun swallowed and shook his head. “It was never investigated because I claimed it was a suicide attempt..”
Chanyeol frowned. “But why..?”
“Because I knew that if I mentioned anything about being poisoned, you would probably be the first person that they would suspect,” Baekhyun said, turning to look at him. “What if I got you expelled too… or worse? I couldn't let that happen to you when the whole thing was my fault to begin with. Anyway, whoever it was, they clearly wanted me gone… that’s the only indisputable fact I can take away from the whole situation. Someone with whom we probably shared classes, or walked past in the corridors every day, hated me so much that they wanted me to die.”
“God,” Chanyeol whispered; he let out a forceful exhale and shook his head. “Why did no one tell me any of this? All I ever heard was that you weren’t coming back. The part about attempted murder was conveniently left out..”
Baekhyun shrugged. “I assume they wanted people to know as little about the incident as possible. If word got out that a student was poisoned on school property, parents would be pulling their kids out of there in droves. I suppose apart from the infraction of two major school rules, my poisoning was the overriding factor in their decision to get rid of me, but they never actually told me in explicit terms why I was being expelled. All Jeong said at the time was that he believed I would be ‘better suited to another institution’… and so after I fully recovered, off to another institution I went. I had to repeat the entire senior year, but I did it at a state school close to home, and it was fine… no one treated me differently there, and I did well in my final exams. In the end, I suppose things worked out for the best.”
“So I guess this is the reason you wear glasses now, huh,” Chanyeol said.
Baekhyun nodded. “The doctors said at the time that, because I was treated early enough, they had hopes for my vision to gradually be restored… but they couldn’t tell me how much of it I’d get back. The whole thing was very touch-and-go. With prolonged treatment over several weeks, I went from being almost completely blind to what I am now. I’m still helpless without my glasses, but I’m just overjoyed to be able to see at all.”
“What was it like being blind?” Chanyeol asked. “I can’t even imagine. It must have been horrible.”
“Horrible is an understatement,” Baekhyun replied, shaking his head. “It was truly fucking awful… the worst thing I’ve ever gone through, by a mile. But two things helped me through it. The first thing was that I knew there was a chance it was reversible. Also, I thought about you a lot. In fact, during that period of my life, you were pretty much all I thought about… even though doing so gave me as much pain as it gave me comfort.”
“You know, I’ve been wondering something,” Chanyeol said. “When you walked into the room at the party earlier, you couldn't see me properly, could you? I was wondering why you were staring at me so oddly. But then you smiled, and I just thought maybe you took a while to recognise me.”
“I couldn’t actually make out your facial features properly until I got closer,” Baekhyun replied; when his eyes met Chanyeol’s, they were sad, but he smiled anyway. “I merely guessed it was you, because I could see from the outline of your figure that you were the tallest person in the group. So there I was, walking towards you and grinning like an idiot… and all the while I was silently praying that I hadn't mistaken you for some other tall bastard, like Yifan.”
Chanyeol laughed at that. “May I..?” he said softly, and he took off Baekhyun’s glasses, putting them down in his lap. He held Baekhyun’s face in both hands, looking into his eyes. “Can you see me..?”
“Yeah, because you’re right in my face, you idiot,” Baekhyun said, grinning at him.
Chanyeol leaned forward and kissed him softly on the lips. “I’m so sorry,” he whispered, and then he kissed him again. “I really am.”
“Don’t be,” Baekhyun whispered back. “I could have stayed blind, but I didn’t.”
“I still blame myself,” Chanyeol said quietly. He took Baekhyun’s glasses and put them back on his face, finishing with another soft kiss on the corner of his mouth.
Baekhyun shook his head, and he took Chanyeol’s hand in his own, squeezing it gently. “But thanks to you, I survived,” he said. “And the best part of it all is that I lived to show up tonight… and with any luck, whoever did it might have been there, watching me walk right into that room. And when he did, he would have realised that he failed to take me down. That’s the only thing that matters to me now.”
“If I ever found out who did it, I’d kill him with my own two hands,” Chanyeol said quietly. “I swear on my own life. He’d be dead and buried.”
“Well, we’ll probably never know who did it,” Baekhyun replied, patting Chanyeol’s hand. “So you may as well do what I’ve tried so hard to do for the past ten years, and just forget it ever happened.”
Baekhyun let go of Chanyeol’s hand then and leaned back against Jack’s stump, closing his eyes. There was a hint of a smile on his face. He looked peaceful, Chanyeol thought.
“It’s funny, you know,” Baekhyun said, opening his eyes again. “If I’d died, I could have become the next OBG. But for real.”
“Would you have come back to haunt me?” Chanyeol asked, and Baekhyun chuckled softly.
“Definitely,” he said. He took Chanyeol’s hand in his own, lacing their fingers together.
“I don't think I'd have minded,” Chanyeol said, looking down at their joined hands. “Well, apart from you being dead, of course… I much prefer you alive, I think.”
Baekhyun laughed and went back to resting his head on Chanyeol’s shoulder. “Me too.”
“And if you don’t mind me, I don’t mind you.”
In the weeks following the incident in the field, Chanyeol dreamed about Baekhyun almost every night. Sometimes they were good dreams, but mostly they weren’t. Waking up alone in the morning was the hardest part by far, because that was when the dreams stopped, and the nightmare of life without him began.
“Park Chanyeol… Park Chanyeol, pay attention, please.”
The sound of Mr. Cho calling his name during roll-call shook Chanyeol awake from his daydreams. “Present,” he said quickly, and then he raised his hand. “Um, Mr. Cho… could I please ask something..?”
“Can it wait until after I take attendance, Chanyeol?” Mr. Cho said with a trace of impatience, looking sternly at Chanyeol over the top of his glasses.
“Well… I was just wondering where Baekhyun is, sir,” Chanyeol said.
“Byun Baekhyun will unfortunately no longer be with us,” Mr. Cho replied. He offered Chanyeol a little smile, but his eyes looked sad. He continued taking attendance, which Chanyeol took as a sign that he wished to answer no further questions on the matter.
But Chanyeol wasn’t done yet.
He remained in his seat until all the other students had left the room, making their way to class, and then he walked over to Mr. Cho’s desk. Mr. Cho looked up at him with one eyebrow raised expectantly.
“Yes, Chanyeol. How can I help you?”
Chanyeol looked up at the door to make sure they were alone before he spoke. “Do you know if he’s okay?” he asked, lowering his voice a little. “I haven’t heard anything at all. His stuff’s still in our room..”
“Last I heard, he’s been discharged from the hospital, and is back at home with his family,” Mr. Cho replied. “It was a particularly bad case of alcohol poisoning, apparently… but he’ll be alright, or so I’ve been told. I’m afraid that’s all the information I have for you.”
“Please, Mr. Cho,” Chanyeol said quietly. “I just want to know if he’s coming back.”
Mr. Cho leaned back in his chair and sighed. “I’m sorry, Chanyeol. Considering the circumstances, it was decided that Baekhyun might be better off finishing his senior year at another school.”
Chanyeol swallowed. “So he’s been kicked out, in other words.”
Mr. Cho looked uncomfortable all of a sudden. “Well… ‘asked to leave’ is probably a nicer way to put it..”
“The poor guy could have died, and so you go and expel him..?”
“Chanyeol, I’m only the housemaster,” Mr. Cho said; he seemed visibly tired, and Chanyeol felt a twinge of pity for him. “My responsibilities are all contained within the four walls of my House. I don’t have a say in whether a student stays at the school or not… that’s the principal’s prerogative, not mine.”
Chanyeol sighed and nodded his head. “Okay… fine,” he said, and began making his way out of the classroom. “Thanks anyway..”
Chanyeol paused before reaching the door, and turned his head to look back at Mr. Cho.
“Baekhyun will be fine; I’m sure of it,” Mr. Cho said quietly. “And the main person he has to thank for that is you.”
Chanyeol nodded in place of a response, and then he left the room without another word. When he got out into the corridor, he saw Kyungsoo and Jongdae waiting for him, looking concerned.
“Everything alright..?” Kyungsoo asked.
“Not really… but it doesn’t matter,” Chanyeol muttered. “Let’s go.”
They began making their way to their respective classes in silence, and on the way they were intercepted by Wu Yifan, strolling casually out of the bathroom next to the refectory, wiping his wet hands on the front of his trousers.
“Well, Park… I heard that Byun’s a goner,” he said, and then he smiled, but his eyes remained cold. “Such very sad news. But on the bright side, I also heard there's a new resident queer in Burke House… what’s more, I’m looking right at him.”
Chanyeol just stared at Yifan in disbelief. His blood began to boil with fury, and he clenched his fists by his sides, so hard it began to hurt. “Oh, you are such a—”
“—Such a what, Park..?” Yifan asked, cutting him off. His voice was dangerously soft.
“Ignore him, Yeol… keep moving, Wu, or I’ll report your arse,” Kyungsoo warned, but Yifan paid him no mind.
“What am I?” he said to Chanyeol. “Do tell.”
A homo, Chanyeol wanted to yell at him. You're a fucking homo, just like him. Just like me. He wanted to remind Yifan of what he’d done to Baekhyun in the showers, right in front of the others — it was right there on his lips. He was ready to spit the venom out… all he had to do was open his mouth.
“Wu,” he said, after a moment’s pause. “You are such a piece of shit.”
Jongdae let out a burst of laughter from where he stood behind Chanyeol. “Truer words never spoken.
“Shut it, Jongdae,” Kyungsoo and Chanyeol said in unison.
Yifan’s eyes narrowed. His jaw clenched, and his adam’s apple bobbed up and down as he swallowed. “Say that again, Park,” he said quietly. “I fucking dare you.”
“Alright,” Chanyeol replied. “You’re a piece of shit. Now kindly go fuck yourself, and let us get to class.”
Yifan made a move towards him then, and in the second he had to react, Chanyeol was reminded of the times Baekhyun used to play-fight with him in their room, teaching him various martial-arts moves. Before Yifan could hit him, he grabbed the boy by the wrist, twisting his arm up behind his back; he didn't know who was more surprised by the sudden action — him or Yifan — but whatever the case, it worked. Yifan yelped from the pain, and he yanked his arm away from Chanyeol's hold, muttering savagely to himself as he stalked off down the hall; Chanyeol felt Kyungsoo grabbing him from behind in a bid to keep him from following. It was clear that Yifan’s ego was more bruised than any other part of him, and so Chanyeol let him go, but he kept his eyes fixed to Yifan’s retreating figure until he disappeared from sight, and it occurred to him then that, if he were able — if he'd had anything remotely resembling a weapon close at hand — he would probably have tried to kill him. He didn't know why, exactly; he just knew that it was a certainty. It was a profoundly disturbing thought, that one person could inspire so much hatred in him. It made him feel physically sick.
At last, Kyungsoo’s grip finally relaxed on Chanyeol’s arms, but Chanyeol couldn’t bring himself to turn around and look at him.
“Seriously, Yeol… he’s not worth it,” Kyungsoo said. “Anyway, we'll be out of here soon. You won't have to see people like him anymore.”
“Is that a promise..?” Chanyeol muttered.
“Well, I don't know,” Kyungsoo said, and then he sighed. “You know what they say about death and taxes being the only two guarantees in life? Well, dealing with arseholes is the unnamed third. But this place will have prepared us well for the many more we’ll meet throughout our lives, I’m sure.”
“Are you angry because what he said was true..?” Jongdae asked quietly, and Chanyeol nodded.
“Yes, Jongdae,” he replied. “I’m gay. And Byun is too.”
“So you're angry because you liked Baekhyun — is that it?” Kyungsoo asked. “Were you two together..?”
“I tried to hide it,” Chanyeol said, his voice cracking audibly; all he wanted to do was fall on his knees and cry. “I knew what people would say..”
“But why? We don't care who you like,” Jongdae said. “If your friends don’t care, then why were you so worried?”
Chanyeol didn’t reply for a moment. His head was swimming with other things… Baekhyun lying under the tree, and all those horrible things he’d said to him, and the three little words he had not.
“It was him I was worried about,” he said. “Not myself.”
When Chanyeol arrived back at his room later that afternoon, he discovered that someone had finally come and removed all of Baekhyun’s belongings. His bed was stripped bare and his trunk was gone, leaving a clean, dust-free rectangle on the part of the floor where it once stood.
Chanyeol walked over and pulled open the door of Baekhyun’s closet. His uniforms were no longer hanging on the rail inside, but there at the bottom were stacks of books — piles and piles of them. There were so many of them that it seemed ludicrous to Chanyeol that they could have been missed; he could only assume that they had been left there on purpose. He didn’t dare to check the secret compartment at the back.
Chanyeol took one of the books on the top of the pile closest to him — Lysistrata, it was called, by some old dead Greek fellow named Aristophanes. He carried it over to Baekhyun’s bed and sat down on the sagging old mattress, and then he curled up on his side and began to read, forgetting about dinner entirely, even when his stomach began to growl — no one seemed to notice he was missing, and if they did, they left him alone. He thought to stop only when the sun had gone down and it was too dark to see.
“I only have a problem when people insist on taking their hate, and placing it on your name.”
“Did you ever go to the Spring Dance in the end..?” Baekhyun asked; it was 9.30 pm now, and they were finally making their way back across the lawn in the direction of the front gates.
“No,” Chanyeol replied quietly. “I saw no point if you weren’t going to be there. I ended up just staying in my room and reading the whole night.”
“Well, that’s depressing,” Baekhyun said, and then he grabbed Chanyeol’s hand, giving it a comforting squeeze. “Guess we’ll just have to make up for it later, huh? I do feel like a bit of a dance, actually..”
As they were approaching the principal’s cottage, Chanyeol grinned and said, “I broke in there once, you know. It was after you’d left, of course.”
Baekhyun stared at him with an expression of disbelief and amusement. “You? The same person who was squeamish about trespassing on school property..? Surely not.”
“I did,” Chanyeol insisted. “I skipped chapel one morning, when I knew he’d be there, and I found he’d left a window open — so I just crawled right in. I stole a pair of his dirty underpants from his laundry hamper, and then I put them over the top of the statue of St. George’s head, like a hat. It was my own little prank in your honour, I suppose. Jeong had a conniption, of course… the look on his face when he lectured us the next morning was priceless. I honestly thought he was going to combust.”
“That’s amazing,” Baekhyun said, laughing at the thought. “I wish I’d thought of that.”
“I’m sure you would have, if you’d been given the opportunity..”
“Well, thank you, Park. I am very touched by your sweet gesture of disobedience. I only wish I'd been there to see it.”
As they walked past the cottage, Baekhyun glanced at it and said, “tell me something… is Jeong still the principal of this school?”
Chanyeol nodded. “Yeah, as far as I know,” he said. “Why?”
Baekhyun didn’t reply, but when he looked at Chanyeol, he had that twinkle in his eye again — the one that always appeared whenever he was up to something.
“I know that look,” Chanyeol said, sounding suspicious. “What are you up to, Byun..?”
Baekhyun began to walk around the perimeter of the cottage, apparently looking for something. Eventually he found it — a window left slightly ajar.
“Stupid old prick,” he said quietly, almost fondly. “Some people never learn, do they?” Having said this, he took something small from his pocket, tossing it through the open window, and Chanyeol head the faint tinkle of glass breaking on a hardwood floor. Almost immediately, he got a whiff of something unspeakably foul, with sulfurous top notes — like the worst fart ever, in the entire history of the world. Having gone to a boys’ boarding school, Chanyeol had come across plenty of terrible ones in his lifetime, but the unholy stink coming from the window was on a whole new unfathomable level.
“And now we run,” Baekhyun said quickly, grabbing Chanyeol's hand and breaking into a sprint; he almost pulled Chanyeol’s arm right out of its socket in the process. A little later, the sound of a man’s voice yelling something could be heard coming from inside the cottage, even at a distance.
“What the hell did you just do..?” Chanyeol spluttered, and Baekhyun let go of his hand so they could run faster.
“That, Park, was a homemade stink bomb,” he said. “Ammonium sulfide… a few other bits and bobs — I tell you what, he'll be smelling that for at least a week, easy.”
“Fucking hell, Byun… you evil genius..”
And of course it would start raining right then, in the middle of their hasty getaway… of course it would. There was never any respite for the wicked, Chanyeol thought, but Baekhyun didn't seem to care about the sudden unfavourable turn in the weather; he was slip-sliding all over the wet grass, huffing and laughing breathlessly as he ran, occasionally shaking his damp hair out of his eyes. He was clearly having the time of his life, and Chanyeol would have thought it was a beautiful thing to witness, if he hadn’t been so busy running like a maniac. As it was, he was only seconds away from shitting himself.
“Forgive me for being melodramatic,” he called out, already breathless with the exertion. His chest felt like it was about to explode. “But since we’re possibly about to be either arrested or shot… is now a bad time to tell you that I still love you..?”
“Yes… it is,” Baekhyun yelled back at him, but he didn’t turn around. Chanyeol could see the front gate ahead of them now, gleaming in the moonlight with the promise of sweet freedom. “It’s a terrible time, Park. Your timing could not possibly be any worse.”
Chanyeol’s heart sank inside his chest. “Oh. Well, I’m sorry..”
“I still love you too,” Baekhyun said, when they’d just about reached the front gate. He grabbed the bars with both hands and started climbing. “Now get over the fucking fence.”
“Your new life begins right here.”
“Well, I still reserve my right to think that place is a cesspool of evil,” Chanyeol said to Baekhyun, when they were pulling back into the hotel parking lot. “But you know what? I actually had a really nice time.”
“Me too,” Baekhyun said. “Don’t you feel better now that we did that..?”
Chanyeol parked the car in a vacant space and switched off the engine. “I do,” he said, turning to look at Baekhyun, and then he smiled. “I feel a lot better. Shall we go back in now?”
Baekhyun laughed at the idea. “Please, Park... I was already robbed of you for the remainder of my tender years,” he said. He unbuckled his seat belt and leaned over the centre console, putting his lips to Chanyeol’s ear. “So let me have you to myself a little longer..”
“Really? In here..?”
“Sure,” Baekhyun replied. “Why not?”
“But people might see,” Chanyeol said.
Baekhyun shrugged. “So? We’re not doing anything bad. Just tell yourself we're the only two people left in the world, and you’ll stop caring.”
Chanyeol pointed at a man and woman as they passed by in front of the car. “Who are they, then?”
“Droids,” Baekhyun said.
Chanyeol sighed. “Well, alright. I hope these windows are sufficiently tinted...”
Baekhyun pushed down a latch at the side of the passenger seat until it collapsed suddenly, falling down against the back seat of the car, and then he patted his lap and whispered, “get over here”; being careful not to impale himself on the gearstick, Chanyeol moved over until he was resting on top of him. The way Baekhyun looked up at him with that soft smile made all of Chanyeol’s reservations melt away; right now, they could have been the last people on Earth, for all he cared.
“Why, hello there,” Baekhyun whispered, still smiling up at him. “You gonna kiss me or what..?”
“Hell yeah,” Chanyeol whispered back, and he did just that. Baekhyun's hands skimmed over the sides of his body and up to his shoulders, and then up to his face. Pushing Chanyeol away for a second, he took off his glasses, and Chanyeol put them up on the dashboard for him, and then they went back to kissing.
“I’ve thought about doing this many more times than I’d care to admit, you know,” Baekhyun whispered between kisses, and Chanyeol laughed softly.
“You’re not seeing anyone right now, are you?” he asked.
“No, not at all. I’ve actually been single for a few years now.”
“Me too,” Chanyeol said flatly. “What’s your excuse..?”
“I don't know,” Baekhyun whispered, and then he smiled again. “I guess I was always looking for something I couldn't find. And now you’re here… and I’m realising how much I’ve fucking missed this.”
“Well, seeing as you’ve found me again… will you do me the honour of being the Patroclus to my Achilles..?” Chanyeol asked; he reached down to pick up one of Baekhyun’s hands, kissing it softly.
Baekhyun smiled. “Only if I can be Achilles,” he said. His eyes met Chanyeol's again, and then they began to close a little, and he whispered, “kiss me.”
They kissed for a little longer, and then Chanyeol moved his lips down over Baekhyun’s neck; he paused to pop open a few of Baekhyun’s buttons, exposing more of his chest and shoulders, and then he kissed his way down further. Baekhyun tilted his head back against the seat with a deep sigh of contentment and said, “after the party, you can come back to my room, if you want. I’m not trying to throw myself at you, but it’d be nice to have some company tonight.”
Chanyeol hummed his agreement against Baekhyun’s skin. “Okay… but I can’t say I won’t be tempted to get you naked,” he whispered — truthfully, he would have loved to. It had been ten years since they last had sex, but the idea didn’t make Chanyeol nervous at all — he wanted nothing more than to bury his face in Baekhyun’s neck, his chest, his stomach and breathe him in, kissing him all over just like he used to. He wanted to hear Baekhyun sigh with pleasure, feel his fingernails digging into his back, his legs wrapped snugly around Chanyeol’s hips. Here in the enclosed space of Kyungsoo’s car, the smell of him was what hit Chanyeol the hardest. Baekhyun had always smelled distinctly floral, which led to some of their classmates giving him the vaguely insulting nickname ‘Flower-boy’ while they were at school; Baekhyun had told Chanyeol at the time that his soap was to blame, a special type that he used because he had sensitive skin that dried out easily. For a while after their separation, Chanyeol had started using that same soap, but the scent of it didn't seem to have the same chemistry with his skin as it did with Baekhyun’s — it only made him smell like his grandmother. But Baekhyun smelled so good, and he was so beautiful, and so hard to resist… and Chanyeol could tell from the quiet moans escaping Baekhyun’s lips, and from how heavy his breathing had become, that he was having just as hard a time trying not to unravel right then and there.
After a few more minutes of kissing and touching, their hands now well and truly wandering beneath each other’s clothes, Chanyeol paused and said, “maybe we should stop. It’s not like I’m not enjoying this immensely… I really am. I just don’t think Kyungsoo would appreciate it if we got sexy inside his Lexus.”
Baekhyun chuckled and straightened his jacket; he ran his hands through his messy hair, still damp from the earlier spell of rain. “You’re probably right,” he said. “Should we go back inside, then? When my boner’s gone down, of course… goodness me, how embarrassing.”
Chanyeol laughed a little himself, and then he carefully moved over to the driver’s side, letting Baekhyun put his glasses back on and return his own seat to its proper upright position. “Yeah, we might as well catch the last hour or so,” he said, fixing his own untidy hair with the aid of the rearview mirror. “I’m sure everyone’s off their faces by now, anyway… probably didn’t even notice we were gone.”
“It’ll be so obvious when we walk in together with our hair and clothes all messed up,” Baekhyun said with an embarrassed laugh, but Chanyeol wasn’t worried.
“Who the fuck cares? Let them think what they want.”
When they’d finally left the car and were making their way out across the parking lot to the hotel, Chanyeol said, “I still have all your books at home, you know… all the ones I found left inside your closet. I read every single one. I think Lysistrata was my favourite.”
“Oh really?” Baekhyun replied, “I forgot all about that. What did you think of it?”
“It’s a great play,” Chanyeol said. “I always assign it as required reading for my senior history students when we cover the Peloponnesian War. But anyway, I was going to say, you can come over to my place and pick them all up whenever you want.”
Baekhyun shook his head. “You keep them,” he said. “I eventually bought new copies of all the ones I liked anyway.”
When they arrived at the front door of the hotel, Baekhyun let go of Chanyeol’s hand, but Chanyeol quickly grabbed it back and held onto it tightly, giving it a gentle squeeze. He smiled when he felt Baekhyun squeeze back.
“Well… you could still come over,” he said quietly. “Just for the hell of it. Any time at all.”
“I’d like that,” Baekhyun whispered. “I’d like that a lot, actually.”
They stood there looking at each other for a moment, and Chanyeol was tempted to kiss Baekhyun again, but he figured he’d save it for when they got back to the party. “So. Ready to go back in there, then?” he asked, gesturing in the direction of the door, and Baekhyun nodded.
“I think so,” he said, and then he smiled. “Anyway, Park, you’ve owed me a dance for, oh, let’s see… about ten years now..”
Chanyeol laughed and held the door open for him, gently ushering him inside. “I do believe you’re right.”