Byun Baekhyun is exquisitely beautiful all on his own, as opposed to the embellished party invitation that Chanyeol holds in his shaking, sweaty hand. The man in front of him almost doesn’t look real. His skin too smooth and clear, his teeth too white and straight, his eyes too innocent and immoral all at the same time. Chanyeol doesn’t know what to do as this man waltzes just a little too close to him to be appropriate. They are strangers, after all. Chanyeol only knows who he is because of a friend of a friend. Yet, this man looks at him as though they are old acquaintances.
“You appear lost,” he says as if he is both asking Chanyeol a question and warning him to turn back now. Baekhyun is right; he is lost. Lost in swirls of browns and coppers looking up at him expectantly through long, long lashes. Lost in long, slender fingers decorated with rings made of expensive metals and precious stones. Lost in pink lips and a pinker tongue that slides over them before he says, “I don’t believe I recall your name.” Chanyeol is already in too deep.
It takes a long moment before Chanyeol realizes that this is the part of the night where he introduces himself to the host, and he stutters out his name. Baekhyun is first to offer his hand for a polite shake. If he notices the clamminess of his guest’s hand, he doesn’t acknowledge it. Chanyeol feels his knees hesitate in holding him up when Baekhyun repeats his name back to him in a purr.
“Is that right?” He asks as he cocks his head to the side. When Chanyeol nods, he smiles at the ground before looking up at Chanyeol through his lashes again. It’s at this point that Chanyeol understands that Baekhyun knows exactly what he is doing. Every move is calculated. “Byun Baekhyun.”
Dragging the smaller man’s hand up to his lips, Chanyeol presses a kiss to the back of it that lingers a half-second too long. “Charmed,” he states, no stranger to the types of games that Baekhyun seems to enjoy playing. He will not settle for any less than being considered a worthy competitor in the eyes of the party’s host.
Baekhyun lets his hand wander across Chanyeol’s cheek, almost affectionately, before it drifts back down to rest at his side again. He looks at the taller man for a moment, his lips twitching and twisting into a smile before he turns around and heads off back into the heart of the party. Chanyeol is left standing alone with a skinny glass of expensive champagne in his left hand, unaware that he was meant to follow the other man. He isn’t very acquainted with anyone at the party, so instead he stays in place and looks up, letting his eyes wander over the high vaulted ceiling and chandeliers that adorn it.
The host of the party makes his way back to Chanyeol a little less than five minutes later, looking almost surprised that the man has stayed in the same place. “Do your legs not function properly?” Baekhyun inquires. His fingers linger on his bowtie as if he had just been adjusting it.
Chanyeol takes a stride forward, closing the distance between them so that Baekhyun gulps and has to tilt his head back rather far so as to look in Chanyeol’s eyes. He takes a fraction of a step back, coughs, and pats down his suit jacket. “It would seem as though I was mistaken in my observation.”
“It does seem that way,” Chanyeol agrees.
Baekhyun nods, changes the subject in an attempt to cover up the embarrassment of his improper accusation. “Tell me, Chanyeol. How old are you?”
Though confused, Chanyeol informs him, “I am twenty-six years of age. And you?”
“How old do I appear?”
His face doesn’t let Chanyeol believe that the man is a day older than twenty, but his eyes make it seem as though he has seen enough for two lifetimes. Scanning him from head to toe, Chanyeol decides on, “Twenty-four.”
This makes Baekhyun smile widely. “Oh, I do wish to tell you a secret then. Can I trust you?”
At this, Baekhyun tugs at Chanyeol’s hand and the taller man follows him through a house as refined as the host himself. He’s surrounded by cream-colored walls with golden trim and detailing. Heavy curtains adorn windows taller than him. His patent black shoes drag along the ornamental carpet that spans the entirety of the room larger than three of his own home combined. It’s overwhelming, how one person could become accustomed to so much space and money. Then again, maybe that’s why Baekhyun throws such lavish parties so frequently; an attempt to suppress the loneliness that comes with living alone in a giant mansion and the uncertainty of what to do with all of his money since he has no children to pass it down to. Or, maybe, Byun Baekhyun is not that deep and is actually incredibly shallow. He just wants to be seen as extravagant and beautiful. He wants to incite envy and awe in all that he meets.
Baekhyun opens a door and gestures for Chanyeol to enter ahead of him. There is no one here and the silent hall echoes with the sound of his footsteps. It’s such a stark contrast from the party outside that it is unnerving. “Should I feel as nervous as I do?” Chanyeol asks.
The other offers half of a shrug, “That depends on what you are anticipating.”
Chanyeol just watches as Baekhyun brushes passed him to continue down the hallway. The lights on the wall are dim, but they do allow him to see that each side of the corridor is fitted with mirror after mirror, reflecting Chanyeol back and forth into forever. He finds himself unable to look away from his own tall figure in them, not because he is vain, but rather because he has never seen something so intriguing as the reflection of a reflection. It’s not until they reach the end of the hall and Baekhyun stops outside the last door on the right that Chanyeol thinks to turn his attention to the other’s reflection; however, he only catches a glimpse before the door is opened and Baekhyun is out of the view of the mirrors. It’s this half-second of a glimpse, though, that has Chanyeol feeling more unsettled than ever. For that half-second, that tiny fraction of a moment in time in the dim lighting of the host’s home, it almost seemed as though Baekhyun’s reflection was not Baekhyun at all, but someone else entirely. Someone sad and lonely.
Hesitantly, Chanyeol steps into the room behind Baekhyun and his anxious feelings are replaced by awe at the environment around him. It almost feels as though he has stepped into a different world. The room is completely symmetrical in layout and hexagonal. Just like the doorway in which they stand, there is an identical one on the far side of the room. There are two mirroring fireplaces and two mirroring bookshelves built into the walls that stretch from floor to ceiling. The only thing that is not completely identical from one half to the other is the portraits that decorate almost every square inch of the bare walls. There must be over one hundred of them, all rather large in size and identical in style.
“Who painted these?” Chanyeol asks in amazement.
Chanyeol looks from the paintings, to Baekhyun for a brief moment, and then back to the paintings. There’s no way, he decides. For someone to have met this many people and painted their stories out on canvas would take an entire lifetime, not the short amount of years that Baekhyun has been alive. When his gaze finally stops roaming the ornate, golden frames that litter the walls, they settle on Baekhyun across the room.
“This is what I have wished to show you,” Baekhyun says. This time, he sounds less confident and more reserved. He sounds scared, almost. Chanyeol strides across the room to stand beside Baekhyun and inspect what the man desires to show him. It’s a portrait like any of the others, except it bears a striking resemblance to Chanyeol himself.
“You? Yes,” Baekhyun answers.
Fingers grazing over the signature at the bottom, there is a single B in hardened oil paints. Under that, a date nearly a century prior is scribbled. Chanyeol’s eyes narrow and he shakes his head, both in disbelief and confusion, as he begins backing away from it. He cradles his hand as if the portrait has just burned it. “But how? We have never encountered each other before today.”
Baekhyun takes a step closer, but Chanyeol scrambles away and nearly trips over his own feet.
“Have you been following me?”
“No,” Baekhyun shakes his head and raises his hands. “I wish it were as simple as that. Well- Let me start over. This is the third time we have met.”
“Third?” Chanyeol questions and then searches his brain. Were they old schoolmates? There’s no way, not when Chanyeol went to a very poor school when he was younger. He doesn’t understand how they could have possibly met three times already, and how Baekhyun could have a portrait of him dated back so far.
Lowering his hands, Baekhyun turns his attention back to the portrait and lets a solemn expression flood over his features. “I painted this the second time we encountered each other. We were both studying abroad in Europe, and while we weren’t studying the same thing, somehow we crossed paths at the library. Never in my wildest dreams did I think that I would receive another chance to have you in my life.”
Chanyeol is not sure if he should let Baekhyun continue to talk or if he should leave this party the way he came. It had been unsettling when he received an invitation in the first place, but this is a new feeling entirely. He almost wants to believe the artist in front of him, this man who is ghosting his fingertips over lips he painted many years ago, lips that are identical to the ones Chanyeol is biting at. “Are you trying to tell me that you are immortal?”
“Immortal? No,” Baekhyun lifelessly chuckles. “I have died many times. Yet, somehow I remember each and every life before this current one. Some more than others, but I remember them nonetheless.”
He can’t do this. It makes no sense to Chanyeol and goes against everything he has ever learned. “Thank you for the invitation, but I think it is time for me to return home.”
Baekhyun looks desperate as he calls out, “Wait!” Chanyeol doesn’t, though. He continues towards the door in which he came from, except he ends up going through the one that is nearly identical. Chanyeol doesn’t even notice through his confusion, and ends up in another hall of mirrors. Baekhyun doesn’t follow. It only occurs to Chanyeol that he has gone the wrong way when the ballroom is no longer at the end of the corridor, and instead there is a large study. He could go back, but he doesn’t want to risk crossing paths with Baekhyun again, so he walks further into the office.
The desk is littered with stationary and faded letters. Normally Chanyeol would not be the type to look through someone else’s belongings, but as he passes the desk, he sees his own large signature at the bottom of a letter. “I never,” he begins, but then catches the date at the top right-hand corner of the parchment. It is a year later than the one on the portrait of him.
My dearest Baekhyun, it starts off with in his own handwriting. He doesn’t want to continue reading. It feels wrong. Yet, he wrote this.
I cannot believe that we have been apart for nearly a year now. One more month and then I will be returning home to you, my love. It seems bittersweet, though. I will be returning after a year and we are only estimated to have but three months left together. Maybe, by the grace of God, we will receive more time.
How have you been feeling? I still feel guilty during the times when I think about how I left you in such a dire time. Are your lungs okay? I do wish that you are not in pain. I promise, Baekhyun. When I return home, I will not leave your side again for as long as we are together. Let us pray that the doctors are wrong and we have more time.
I know that I do not tell you this enough, but I love you. I wish our circumstances were different so we could be happier together. Truly, I love you with all of my heart.
There are more letters underneath. Chanyeol holds them and shuffles through them. Each one is signed by him. Each one says that he loves Baekhyun. Each one is from almost a century ago, paper yellowed and ink faded.
“I died less than a week after receiving that,” Baekhyun whispers from behind Chanyeol. His eyes are watery. “This was your family’s estate, and when I came here I found your letters and your journals from that time. In your journals you wrote about coming home and hearing the news of my passing. You were so sad, Chanyeol. You-”
Baekhyun raises a hand to his mouth to hide the hiccup that comes out. A tear slides down his delicate face. “You wrote about wanting to die and then didn’t write anymore,” Baekhyun tells him in an unstable voice.
“We were lovers?” Chanyeol asks, still holding the letters in his hands. “Why do you remember this and I don’t?”
Nodding through his tears, Baekhyun sits in the desk chair and rests his hand on top of a leather-bound journal. Chanyeol continues reading the letters and almost feels physical pain when he thinks about the heartbreak that followed. He can only imagine what Baekhyun must feel when he still remembers the relationship like it was yesterday. When he walks passed a portrait of the lover of his past nearly every day and is reminded of how something as raw and pure as the love they shared ended so sadly.
“Most of my life I wished I didn’t remember,” Baekhyun admits. “But then I caught news of an up and coming composer by the name of Park Chanyeol and thought, ‘Maybe, just maybe, this time he would remember.’ That’s why I invited you here tonight. I’m sorry if I have startled you.”
“Startled, yes. Confused, yes. I’m not entirely sure how I should react to all of this.”
Sitting on the edge of the desk, he looks down at the host of the party long forgotten and begins inquiring about their past selves. Baekhyun is eager to please, answering every question, and no detail is left forgotten. Chanyeol wishes he could remember this as well. He asks about the first time they met, and Baekhyun says that the first encounter is much hazier. Baekhyun explains that they met as children and grew up together, but he can’t recall as many details as he can of the second time. There weren’t journals from that time to fill in the blank spaces that Baekhyun lost over the years. Chanyeol learns that he’s almost the exact same each time, the only things that ever change being his occupation and social status. He learns that Baekhyun has lived a few lives in which he has missed meeting Chanyeol again.
When Baekhyun runs out of start-to-finish story to tell, he begins telling Chanyeol the funny memories he has of the two of them and basks in the way Chanyeol smiles and laughs at each one the same way he did when they first happened. They talk for hours, until Chanyeol has a hard time remaining sitting upright. Baekhyun offers to call for a carriage to take Chanyeol home, and the man accepts. He thanks Baekhyun for everything and promises to keep in contact.
Before Chanyeol climbs into the carriage, he turns back and places a chaste kiss on Baekhyun’s cheek. “I’m sorry that I do not remember all that has happened as you do, but I promise that I will remember all that occurs from today onwards. I can only hope that this is enough.”
Baekhyun smiles softly and waves him off, “It’s more than I could ever ask for.”
Chanyeol is sweating his ass off in the practice room, pulling on his shirt over and over to try and cool himself a bit when his manager comes in with Junmyeon and a small brunette in tow. He lifts his arms over his head and stretches a bit as the manager and Junmyeon introduce their newest addition.
“This is Byun Baekhyun,” he says, and the brunette bows. When he stands back up straight, Chanyeol is taken aback. The man in front of him almost doesn’t look real. His skin too smooth and clear, his teeth too white and straight, his eyes too innocent and immoral all at the same time.
“Please take care of me,” Baekhyun says and then giggles. He makes eye contact with Chanyeol, grins, and then saunters over with his arms swinging at his sides. “I’m Baekhyun.”
“Chanyeol,” he replies, voice tapering off. He feels like he knows Baekhyun from somewhere. “This may seem strange, but have we met before?”
With a sparkle in his eye and a slight smirk, Baekhyun shrugs.
“I wanna tell you a secret. Can I trust you?”