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Aestiferous

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"You know, zucchini isn’t cucumber."

 

Baekhyun looked up at Junmyeon, his hand stretched out toward the other’s bowl, spoon cupping a small piece of zucchini. Without hesitation, he dumped it into Junmyeon bowl and grinned at the way his best friend eyed him.

 

"You might have put in cucumber instead of zucchini just to trick me."

 

"I wouldn’t ruin my doenjang-jjigae with cucumbers just because you suck," Junmyeon huffed as he spooned a bit of rice and dipped it into the stew before bringing it to his mouth. He hummed exaggeratedly at the good taste.

 

Baekhyun snorted. Junmyeon hummed even louder when he ate the same piece of zucchini — or cucumber — that Baekhyun had abandoned into his bowl. Baekhyun said nothing, knowing not to trust Junmyeon’s cooking when it came to tricking him with cucumbers.

 

"Do you treat Chanyeol’s cooking so disrespectfully too?" Junmyeon asked just as Baekhyun was savoring the potatoes and onions melting in his mouth.

 

"Chanyeol loves me so he never tricks with cucumbers," he replied, mouth full of crushed vegetables and rice.

 

Junmyeon wrinkled his nose in disgust.

 

"Don’t speak with your mouth full," he nagged and Baekhyun rolled his eyes, munching louder as a form of protest.

 

They ate in silence for a short while and Baekhyun enjoyed the food, letting it appease him. The last time he had been to Junmyeon’s house, it was with despair and uncertainty clawing and pressing down at his shoulders. Now, he felt as warm and harmonized as the stew he was sipping on.

 

It was a nice feeling.

 

"How is it going with Chanyeol?" Junmyeon asked after a while.

 

Baekhyun grinned. "It’s great. Really great," he replied with a contented sigh.

 

It had been a week since Chanyeol had laughed at his face while Baekhyun had taken what he thought would be the best decision for them. Now, Baekhyun wished he had spared himself the trouble and accepted his feelings earlier. There was nothing that made him happier than being able to tell Chanyeol that he loved him while nestling sincerity into every fiber of those words. There was nothing prettier than the smile offered him along with the return of a confession.

 

"You got used to it?" Junmyeon asked again, looking at him with curious eyes that turned only slightly judgmental when Baekhyun dropped a piece of tofu back into his bowl and a few drops of stew splattered on his hand.

 

"I think I did," Baekhyun said, honestly, as he grabbed the napkin Junmyeon handed him to wipe his hand. "Sometimes it still feels weird. I still get scared too, I really don’t want to hurt him. And I’m also… a bit awkward, I guess?"

 

"You? Awkward?" Junmyeon quirked an eyebrow.

 

Baekhyun bit his lower lip, sheepish.

 

"I mean, I don’t know. I feel different with him. Not as confident but much more sure of myself at the same time. I think it’s because I’m not doing this with a motive, you know?"

 

Junmyeon hummed. "You’re not giving him ready-made cheesy pickup lines."

 

"My pickup lines aren’t ready-made," Baekhyun groaned, affronted.

 

Junmyeon smiled, unconvinced. "It’s okay. You’ll get used to it with time and Chanyeol can help you too," he reassured him. "At least, you feel nice, right? Being in love."

 

"It feels amazing," he said without any trace of hesitation. He beamed, drawing happiness from the warmth constantly pulsing in his heart. "I hope you’ll feel it too, one day."

 

Junmyeon smiled at him, looked down at his food, and shrugged.

 

Later on, on his way to the subway station, Baekhyun walked past a little flower shop, petals painted on its façade but not as colorful as the liveliness on the other side of the glass walls. He stopped in front of it.

 

He wondered if Chanyeol liked flowers. He loved the ones on Baekhyun’s skin but would he also love the ones Baekhyun were to offer him? It wasn’t unheard of, giving flowers to the person you loved. They were pretty. Chanyeol was pretty too. Baekhyun wondered how he’d look with a flower tucked behind one of his big ears, making it stick out even more.

 

With a light smile on, he stepped in, a bell pealing in joy at his presence. He looked around for a bit, small red flowers catching his attention. They were beautiful, velvety to the touch and Baekhyun couldn’t smell it here but they looked as if they’d radiate a nice, gentle scent. A young woman came by his side, smiling as she told him how they were called. Baekhyun hummed. Before she could tell him their meaning, he asked her if she could make him a bouquet with beautiful flowers he wanted to offer to a beautiful Chanyeol just because they were beautiful.

 

He held onto the bouquet carefully in the subway, hugging it to his chest protectively but not enough to crush their frail beauty. Trepidation breezed through his whole body and never dimmed down until he stood in front of Chanyeol’s apartment door. The happiness singing in his heart at the prospect of seeing Chanyeol was louder than the melodious chiming of the bell as he rang it.

 

The door opened and Baekhyun stretched the bouquet of red flowers in front of him, covering his face with it and only peeking from behind it after a fleeting second. The mesmerizing bouquet uncovered the breathtaking smile on Chanyeol’s lips and the dimples doted on his cheeks like a pair of suns shining down on the corners of his lips.

 

"You got me flowers?"

 

"They’re for you," he said softly, handing him the bouquet.

 

His heart swooned a little in his chest as he watched Chanyeol lean down to take a whiff of the flowery scent dusted over the red petals, his eyes falling shut as his smile widened. Baekhyun felt something in his throat growing, his heart purring a little against his ribcage, content, happy, full.

 

"They’re really pretty," Chanyeol whispered in awe, gaze still focused on the bouquet, as if he wanted to take in every single silky petal Baekhyun had offered him. He looked happy. Baekhyun was happy. "I didn’t know you had this kind of romanticism in you." Chanyeol’s smile turned teasing as he finally looked at Baekhyun again. Then, his eyebrows raised and his eyes widened in concern. "Why do you look like you’re about to cry?"

 

Baekhyun took a deep breath in.

 

"I can’t believe you accepted my flowers."

 

Chanyeol blanked out for a second before giving Baekhyun a look that blended amusement and incredulity perfectly together.

 

"We’re dating, Baekhyun."

 

Baekhyun shushed him and picked a single flower out from the bouquet. Leaning up on his toes, he carefully tucked it behind Chanyeol’s ear, the skin of the tip was a little flushed with joy, only a shade lighter than the flower Baekhyun planted on him. It contrasted perfectly with his black, silky strands. He was beautiful.

 

He was beautiful and he belonged to Baekhyun but most importantly, everything that was Baekhyun belonged to his smile. 

 

Chanyeol smiled at him, accepting, full of love and full of Baekhyun’s love. He leaned a little closer to Baekhyun, joy glinting in his eyes like dewdrops on lovely flowers.

 

"If you start crying again, I’ll call you a cry baby for the rest of your life."

 

Baekhyun found himself wishing he would. That would mean they’d spend the rest of their life together. It wasn’t an unpleasant thought, far from that.

 

He said nothing, however. Instead, he let the nectar of Chanyeol’s lips pull him in and kissed him, imbibing himself in it tirelessly.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Baekhyun loved kissing Chanyeol.

 

He had always loved it. It never felt like a mere kiss, it always felt like something entirely different rattling through his whole body through something as simple as a liplock.

 

Baekhyun really loved kissing Chanyeol.

 

There was just something about kissing Chanyeol. It always felt like nothing was happening and too much was happening at the same time. Nothing was happening around them, everything turned idle, as if the whole world had stopped to watch Chanyeol kissing Baekhyun beautifully, preciously, breathtakingly. Too much was happening, in Baekhyun. His heart rate always picked up, his fingers were always fidgety, grabbing clothes, tugging hair, caressing tender skin. Everything in him felt enhanced, his lips, his chest, everywhere Chanyeol touched, and every mountain he raised in Baekhyun through a small contact.

 

Baekhyun was in love with kissing Chanyeol.

 

As he laid there, on his couch, laptop sitting on his chest, screen tilted towards his face so he could watch a movie, it suddenly hit him. He really, really wanted to kiss Chanyeol. 

 

It came as a surprise. Chanyeol wasn’t with him, he was at the academy and had a full day packed with classes that would end in less than two hours now. Chanyeol wasn’t with him, wasn’t there for him to cradle his cheek, grab the collar of his shirt, straddle him, and kiss him until Baekhyun felt breathless and bursting with life all at the same time.

 

The realization felt a bit hollow in his chest. Chanyeol wasn’t there. Baekhyun hadn’t kissed him at all today. They hadn’t kissed at all since last night, when Baekhyun had delayed Chanyeol’s departure from his apartment longer than necessary because he had kissed him and that kiss made him want to kiss him again and that kiss led to another one and then Chanyeol’s lips grew a bit redder, a bit puffier and they were always so comfortable under Baekhyun’s own lips like that so he had kissed him again.

 

Chanyeol hadn’t stayed over, because he had been neglecting his best friend duties to Jongdae and had to spend a bit of time with him last night. So they hadn’t kissed today. Baekhyun wanted to kiss him now, he craved it.

 

Not only kissing Chanyeol. He could feel his heart tucked in a corner of his chest, slow, tired, meaningless now that Chanyeol wasn’t there to press a hand, an ear, a kiss, a smile against it. He wanted to see Chanyeol. He needed to see him. They hadn’t seen each other since last night. It was almost a whole day since then.

 

He sat up. Discarded his laptop. Realized.

 

He missed Chanyeol.

 

Baekhyun missed Chanyeol.

 

Baekhyun actually missed someone. For the first time. It was an unfamiliar feeling, that hollow in his chest, the restlessness in his fingertips indicating him that he wanted to grab at a body he loved, the tingle in his lips yearning to be soothed by a kiss.

 

This was a nice feeling. It was uncomfortable, a bit painful even, but it was a feeling Baekhyun nurtured for Chanyeol. It was unfamiliar. He knew nothing about this. Would the discomfort fade away if Chanyeol was with him? Would a message be enough? He grabbed his phone, opened their conversation thread. He deflated when the last message he had sent Chanyeol two hours ago was still unanswered. Chanyeol was busy. It was okay.

 

It wasn’t okay for Baekhyun. It didn’t feel nice at all now. It felt like a mixture. He was happy because this feeling was new and groomed into him because of Chanyeol but he was a bit pained because he missed Chanyeol.

 

Was it normal to miss someone in such a short amount of time? Not that it was short. Baekhyun’s day had felt like an entire week. It felt weird. A bit stifling. He frowned, letting go of his phone. It was a growing feeling that had expanded through the whole day. Now that he thought about it, he had been sighing a lot, checked the time a lot, had tried watching three different movies but couldn’t reach the halfway mark in any of them without growing bored and restless.

 

Could you die from missing someone? Was that what this feeling would amount to? It felt rather plausible. Baekhyun was clueless but it didn’t feel impossible. Could he die from a lack of Chanyeol? How long would it take? He didn’t want that to happen. Chanyeol would be sad. 

 

Baekhyun missed Chanyeol. He smiled. Laughed. Grabbed a pillow and squeezed it in his hands. He felt giddy. At the back of his mind, he was glad that Chanyeol wasn’t there to witness his ridiculous state. He would make fun of him without any hesitation. He threw the pillow down next to him on the couch. He grinned. He missed Chanyeol. He wanted to kiss Chanyeol. Hug him too. Maybe take him out to dinner. Or maybe let Chanyeol cook for him and cling to him the whole time. They could also just cuddle. And kiss. Kiss a lot.

 

He took a deep breath in. He missed Chanyeol. If he missed Chanyeol, then Baekhyun had the right to see him. Just in case he could die from it. That shouldn’t happen. 

 

Therefore, for his own wellbeing and Chanyeol’s, he stood up and marched towards the entrance hall. He grabbed a jacket and pulled it on, ruffling his hair a bit afterwards. He was a mess. He was wearing sweatpants and his favorite sweater. It didn’t matter. Getting to Chanyeol as soon as possible was more important than looking nice.

 

It didn’t take too long to reach the academy by car and even if he wanted to, Baekhyun didn’t rush either. He wouldn’t be able to see Chanyeol until the end of his classes anyway and even if he felt like he could die from this hollow feeling in his chest, he would in no way do anything that would disturb Chanyeol’s work or harm him. He just wanted to feel closer to him and be there with him as soon as Chanyeol would be available.

 

He drove all the way to the academy and parked his car in front of it, next to the very few other cars lined there. He turned the engine off and leaned back against his seat. He glanced at his watch. There was still a little more than an hour left until Chanyeol’s last class would end. He hadn’t really thought about what he’d do while waiting. Maybe he should have.

 

He grabbed his phone and decided to scroll through the news article for now. It only distracted him from his Missing Chanyeol Alert for ten minutes. He looked up from the device to the academy. Chanyeol was inside, right there, only a few meters away and Baekhyun couldn’t see him. Somehow, this only made him feel worse, much worse. He sighed, looked down at his phone again. Less than an hour left. He opened up a gaming app and whiled a bit more time on it. He quickly grew bored and opened another one that lasted him less than five minutes.

 

Sighing again, he proceeded to hunt down more interesting games, downloading a few and then trying them out one by one. Only one of them managed to grab his attention for more than five minutes and when Baekhyun blinked up to the timestamp on the car’s dashboard, there was only fifteen minutes left until the end of Chanyeol’s class. He took a deep breath in, smiled, let his leg bounce a little bit restlessly, his heart slowly coming to life in his chest. He spent the rest of the time watching videos, the ones that trended today weren’t that interesting so after a while he switched to cute videos of animals, puppies and cats, the occasional bird doing silly things.

 

He looked up at the time. Five minutes. His heart leaped in his chest, hard enough for him to almost drop his phone in his haste to get out of the car as quickly as possible. He cleared his throat, looked down at himself. He was kind of a mess. It didn’t matter, not when he was about to finally see Chanyeol and kiss him. He strode towards the academy and swung the door open, almost hurting his arm in the process. Jongdae was at the front desk and when he looked up from his phone, Baekhyun grinned at him.

 

"Is he in his usually room?" he said without even giving the other the occasion to greet him.

 

Jongdae didn’t seem to mind, grinning right back at him although the curve of his lips was tainted with amusement and not excitement like Baekhyun’s was.

 

"He is," Jongdae said and that was all Baekhyun needed to engulf into the hallway.

 

He heard a faint call of don’t fall while running but ignored it, steps urgent as he headed towards the room Chanyeol had once given him piano classes in. It looked like he wasn’t the only one to be waiting for someone as right in front of the door, stood a middle-aged woman with a light smile on her lips. Baekhyun moved to stand at a comfortable distance away from her, returning her polite smile. He supposed she was there to pick her child up. It felt a little weird to tell himself that he was standing next to an enthusiastic mother while enthusiastically waiting for the moment he’d be able to kiss Chanyeol.

 

He grew fidgety after a while, started pacing a little and stopped when he noticed the way the woman was eyeing him. He didn’t feel embarrassed nor sheepish, just plain impatient. Chanyeol was at the other side of the door. Chanyeol’s lips were waiting for him at the other side of the door and Baekhyun would be able to kiss them. He bit onto his lower lip, settled on standing there and bouncing the sole of his foot against the floor. He took his phone out of his pocket, his fingers tingling a little, grabbing on the device too tightly as impatience seemed to tug at his body here and there. Two minutes left. Chanyeol was always punctual, so hard working.

 

He felt affection sprouting in his chest, only fueling his cravings.

 

After what felt like an eternity, the door finally opened and a young girl grinned up at the mother standing near Baekhyun. He couldn’t pay attention to them, too busy taking in the surprised widening of Chanyeol’s eyes when he stepped out of the room after the child. He smiled at Baekhyun, small, nothing that would indicate how happy he was to see him since they weren’t alone but Baekhyun saw his eyebrows melting in a contented quirk. 

 

Baekhyun felt his heart crashing against his ribcage, trying its hardest to push him towards Chanyeol but he didn’t give in. He stood there, bit onto his lower lip harder to keep the grip he struggled to maintain on himself as he listened to Chanyeol summarize their lesson to the mother. Baekhyun could barely comprehend his words, unable to register anything but that kind smile Chanyeol had on, his cheeks bunched up as he talked about how much progress the child had made. He looked like a child himself, passionate, excited to gush about his student. Baekhyun wanted to kiss him. He wanted to kiss him so bad.

 

Eventually, Chanyeol waved at the little girl as her mother took her hand and they walked away, her excited voice chiming as she told her mother further about what they had done. Baekhyun waited until they had rounded up the corner and disappeared out of the hallway before looking at Chanyeol whose gaze was already on him.

 

"What are you doing here? I was going to join you at home," he said, surprise still manifesting in his voice but nothing but joy blurring his handsome smile as he stepped closer to Baekhyun a little bit.

 

He was happy to see Baekhyun. 

 

Baekhyun really really wanted to kiss him.

 

And he did.

 

Because nothing could stop him now. Because he was in love with Chanyeol.

 

Their lips pressed together and Baekhyun felt himself turn into a puddle of mushy contentment as he draped his arms over Chanyeol’s shoulders and pressed their chests together, erasing every fiber of air standing between them. Chanyeol’s hands held onto his waist as he staggered a little from surprise, laughing a bit into Baekhyun’s mouth, muffled, happy.

 

Chanyeol pressed his lips back against his and Baekhyun remembered why he loved kissing Chanyeol so much.

 

His lips fit perfectly against Baekhyun’s, his lower one just the right shape and size to nestle right on the dip between Baekhyun’s lips. Chanyeol’s lips were often a faded ruby shade but they didn’t only look that way, they tasted that way. As Baekhyun kissed him, once, twice, thrice, a sweet, strawberry flavor seeped into his mouth and infused into his chest, cradling his heart as lovingly as Baekhyun cradled Chanyeol’s cheek. Or maybe it wasn’t strawberry. It also tasted like cotton candy. He knew it wasn’t Chanyeol’s mouth though, that couldn’t be possible. Maybe it was just the way Chanyeol made him feel when kissing him that tasted so dulcifying and savory.

 

Chanyeol playfully sunk his teeth into his lower lip, drawing the tiniest of sounds out of Baekhyun who raised himself even higher on the tip of his toes because close would never be close enough. He let Chanyeol nibble on his lower lip, felt his tongue tasting it, opened up to let him in. He had missed this. He had missed this so much and Baekhyun pulled away, so overwhelmed by how much he loved kissing Chanyeol that he couldn’t breathe for a second and had to calm down.

 

The tip of Chanyeol’s nose was mirthful as it brushed against his for a second before Baekhyun craved again and caught Chanyeol’s lips in another kiss. He felt washed out as he mouthed on that cushiony lower lip, each press of his lips against Chanyeol’s dragging more candor into his heart. He would never get tired of it. Chanyeol’s lips felt like petals, maybe a cloud of fluff, maybe a strawberry flavored marshmallow that Baekhyun was growing addicted to. And maybe Chanyeol felt the same way as he kissed the arch of Baekhyun’s lower lip once before pulling away a little, just a little, enough for Baekhyun to let out a small whine of protest.

 

He stretched towards him and Chanyeol leaned back, smiling, as beautiful as a flower-shaped embroidery weaved with gems and colorful stones. Soon, Chanyeol was leaned backwards too much and Baekhyun felt the sole of his feet rise from the ground before Chanyeol lost his balance and Baekhyun laughed as he steadied him and fell back down on his feet. As a reward to himself, Baekhyun kissed Chanyeol’s smile, shaped his own to it and breathed out, one of his hands slipping down to rest on Chanyeol’s waist, the other cupping the side of his neck as he tilted his head and deepened their kiss, slowing it down a little.

 

When he was quenched enough to pull out without gravitating right back into Chanyeol’s mouth, Baekhyun smiled up at him. There was contentment, affection, and questions in Chanyeol’s eyes as they remained close together, Baekhyun unable to let go of the other.

 

"I just missed you," was the only explanation Baekhyun pronounced against Chanyeol’s smiling lips.

 

Chanyeol’s I missed you too wasn’t pronounced out loud, it was dripping on his lips when he kissed Baekhyun again.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Baekhyun had attended lots of parties in his life. He was rather indifferent to it now, it was just a socializing event where you’d either have the time of your life or regret ever stepping into the venue.

 

When Seungwan had invited him to her birthday party along with Chanyeol only yesterday, when Baekhyun had been picking Chanyeol up from the academy again, he had felt rather proud of himself for being accepted so easily by Chanyeol’s friends. Chanyeol also spent a lot of time with the other teachers in the academy, they were all close to each other and it felt as exciting as meeting Chanyeol’s actual family.

 

They had never attended any party together, had not gone to any kind of nightclub, and this wasn’t close to that, it was just a gathering that involved lots of celebration, gifts, and alcohol. What had made baekhyun so giddy was the fact that he kept discovering new feelings through Chanyeol and he could possibly feel something completely foreign through this too.

 

What he hadn’t expected was that new emotion to be a very unpleasant one.

 

They had arrived close to an hour ago. Chanyeol had introduced Baekhyun to the rest of their group of friends that Baekhyun had never met, Jiho who was as passionate in music as Chanyeol was, or Taewoo who apparently owned an academy similar to Chanyeol and Jongdae’s except that it taught dance rather than music. A few other people too that all seemed friendly and nice, as expected of Chanyeol. 

 

Baekhyun wasn’t an awkward person. He could hold a conversation, he could captivate, he could do much more than that so it didn’t really bother him at all when Chanyeol left his side around half an hour ago. He had taken the occasion to get to know the others, make fun of Jongdae for the way he made heart eyes at Seunghwan, and converse a little with Soojung. Everything had gone well up until he looked around, curious about what Chanyeol was doing.

 

Acid sourness had dampened his mood as soon as he had seen the way Yixing was clinging to Chanyeol. It shouldn’t be offensive. Yixing was Chanyeol’s friend just as everyone here was. However, discomfort had pressed down on him heavily as he took in the way Yixing’s arms looked comfortable around Chanyeol’s shoulders, the way Chanyeol was tucked into his side, they way they smiled at each other and laughed together while talking about something that looked extremely funny.

 

It wasn’t a pleasant feeling. It scratched at Baekhyun’s throat and clenched his fingers around his untouched cup of soda. He hadn’t drank, just so Chanyeol could have fun without worrying about driving them back. And Chanyeol was having fun. Not with Baekhyun, but with Yixing.

 

It wasn’t difficult to recognize this. The poisoned claws twisting his guts around, the malicious voices planting thoughts in his head, the irritation storming in his stomach, and the weak protests squeezed out of his heart. He wasn’t entirely unfamiliar to jealousy but he had always been on the receiving end of it. Until this exact moment. He knew this. The possessiveness, the small amount of anger, and the incredible urge to just go there and rip Yixing’s arms away from Chanyeol.

 

He did none of it. He simply stood there, alone since Soojung had left a while ago, watching, biting on his lower lip. He didn’t want to do anything of that sort. That would possibly embarrass Chanyeol or worse, upset him, and Baekhyun didn’t want him to be upset. He was having fun, after all, and they weren’t even in any kind of compromising position, Jongdae or even Soojung always clung to Chanyeol as well. Baekhyun himself always had some kind of physical contact with Junmyeon. He didn’t know why exactly he was feeling it now.

 

But he was feeling it. And the worse thing about it was that the irritation was only minimal compared to the insecurity squeezing around him. Chanyeol was having fun. Why was Baekhyun even here then? He would’ve had just as much fun without Baekhyun here. He stopped chewing on his lower lip to form a straight line on his mouth instead. He didn’t like this. He felt discarded. Vulnerable, as he watched Chanyeol laugh at something Yixing said, body leaning forward from the strength of his laughter until he pressed his head against Yixing’s. Their cheeks were flushed. Chanyeol had probably drank a little bit while Yixing seemed very much drunk. He hated this. 

 

He hated this and he didn’t want to watch this at all. It was his right, wasn’t it? It was his right to let Chanyeol know if anything bothered him in their relationship. That was the way to fix it, right? Because maybe Chanyeol could fix this. Baekhyun didn’t like feeling this way over someone who was an important friend of Chanyeol’s. Why were they even friends? What could Yixing possibly say that made Chanyeol laugh so hard? Why didn’t Chanyeol only ever laugh like this with Baekhyun? He shook his head. That wasn’t true. He didn’t like these thoughts. He wanted them to end.

 

Uncertainty still clawing at his stomach, Baekhyun pushed himself away from the wall he was leaning against and stepped towards where Chanyeol and Yixing were seated on the couch instead. As soon as he was close enough, Chanyeol looked up at him and his face lit up with a goofy smile. Baekhyun felt a little better but glancing at the way Yixing’s hand was resting on Chanyeol’s thigh chased his smile away before it could even peek.

 

"Hyun-ah," Chanyeol called happily. "You gotta listen to Yixing’s joke, it’s—"

 

"I want to leave," Baekhyun cut him. His voice wasn’t harsh no matter how much he wished it was. It sounded weak, pleading, and Baekhyun hated it. He didn’t look at Yixing, only focused on the confused furrow of Chanyeol’s eyebrows.

 

"But we got here not long ago."

 

Baekhyun wished he could stay more and enjoy his time but his night was ruined. Not even by Yixing, nor by Chanyeol. It was just all in his head, he knew it, and yet, he could feel himself seething more every second that passed without Yixing removing his hand from Chanyeol’s thigh.

 

"I know but—" he said before stopping. He didn’t want to lie. "I just want to leave."

 

"Why," a voice whined and when Baekhyun looked down at Yixing, he had both his arms wrapped around Chanyeol’s now. As if he didn’t want him to leave. 

 

Baekhyun leaned to put his cup of soda down on the low table. It sloshed, too full, and a few drops jumped to his hand. Then, he grabbed Chanyeol’s hand and tugged as feebly as he could with anger boiling his heart painfully.

 

"Come on," was all he said, with no abundant force, looking at Chanyeol, hoping he’d understand.

 

He didn’t. Chanyeol observed him confusedly but didn’t move to stand up.

 

"But we’re having fun," he mumbled weakly and Baekhyun felt each of those words planting into his heart like thorns.

 

Did he prefer Yixing’s company over his? Was that what this meant? 

 

Baekhyun gulped down. His throat felt tight, a lump of sadness refusing to be put aside or ignored.

 

He glanced at Yixing who had finally let go of Chanyeol’s arm and was paying attention to his phone, thumbs drumming a message into the screen. He looked back at Chanyeol. There were questions in his eyes. Baekhyun could ignore them. Baekhyun could guilt him. He could guilt him into doing exactly what Baekhyun wanted him to do. It wouldn’t be difficult, he knew Chanyeol by heart. That would make everything easier.

 

But he wouldn’t. He wouldn’t. Because this was Chanyeol, not anyone else. He wouldn’t, because he loved Chanyeol and the mere thought of doing something like that to him was enough for Baekhyun to feel self-hatred tightening into a rope around his neck. Maybe he should leave on his own. If Chanyeol was having fun, then Baekhyun had no right to spoil that. He already regretted interrupting them. If he didn’t see it, maybe this wouldn’t disturb him so much.

 

He didn’t have the occasion to voice that out. Maybe Chanyeol knew him by heart too because after a lack of answer from Baekhyun who was completely lost about what to do, he suddenly pulled on Baekhyun’s hand and the latter pulled back, helping him up to his feet. Relief washed over him at once, soured by the realization that he had maybe already ruined Chanyeol’s night.

 

He didn’t return Yixing’s goodbye, not angry at the other, but a bit ashamed of his own reaction. He remained silent as Chanyeol loudly greeted everyone else at once, simply smiling wide enough for no one to suspect he wanted to leave this place as quickly as possible.

 

The ride back home was just as quiet on Baekhyun’s part. Chanyeol talked a bit here and there, obviously trying to lighten the mood a little but when Baekhyun remained unresponsive and merely smiled or laughed appropriately to whatever he was saying, he gave up after a while. Baekhyun hoped he wasn’t upset when, without asking for confirmation, he headed towards his own apartment. They spent almost every night together now, in each other’s apartment, and most of the time they ended up at Baekhyun’s since it was closer to the academy.

 

The silence didn’t quieten down, still loud in Baekhyun’s ears as they took the elevator up to his apartment. Chanyeol was the one to punch the code in and Baekhyun was the one to step inside first but before Baekhyun even had the occasion to contemplate running away and possibly hiding under his blanket while still expecting Chanyeol to join him, the latter grabbed his arm.

 

Baekhyun braced himself for anger, disappointment, maybe even their first argument as a couple, but all Chanyeol did was pull him into his embrace and rest his chin on top of his head. Surprise filtered through Baekhyun but didn’t prevent him from melting against Chanyeol and merging into his arms, nestling against his neck.

 

"Are you going to tell me what’s wrong now?" Chanyeol said coaxingly, his arms tight around Baekhyun.

 

He bit onto his lower lip, contemplating.

 

He shook his head, choosing not to answer over the great mortification that would come with having to explain the way he felt to Chanyeol.

 

Chanyeol hummed. Baekhyun felt the vibration in his chest through the thin fabric of his shirt. Baekhyun had forced it on him before leaving, to make sure Chanyeol wouldn’t wear another one of his hoodies. It looked nice with the jacket he was wearing now. The zipper dug onto Baekhyun’s stomach, a bit painful.

 

Chanyeol shifted a little, his chin dug into Baekhyun head when he spoke again.

 

"Were you, perhaps, being a little possessive back there?"

 

Of course. Of course Chanyeol knew.

 

Baekhyun looked up at him, tilting his head up painfully as he refused to pull away from Chanyeol even if it was to look at him. He frowned.

 

"Why do you have to be so smart?" he said, voice lilting dangerously close to a whine.

 

Chanyeol gave him that usual smug, boyish smile and Baekhyun’s heart swooned despite its lingering discomfort. He buried himself back against Chanyeol’s chest, hugged him tighter despite the chuckle he heard. He sighed. This was embarrassing and yet, he couldn’t help but feel colorful bubbles dancing leisurely in his chest at the fact that Chanyeol knew him so well, Baekhyun couldn’t hide anything even if he’d want to.

 

"You don’t have to worry or be jealous, you know," Chanyeol said, tone a bit more mature even if the affection lingered on. "It’s just Yixing."

 

Baekhyun pursed his lips. "I think I would’ve been jealous even if it was anyone else," he mumbled, hesitating a bit before his next words but choosing to talk about it rather than keeping it in. "I just. I guess I just got scared for a second."

 

"Scared of what?" Chanyeol asked incredulously and Baekhyun could feel him leaning back to look at him so he pulled away a little, enough for them to look at each other comfortably.

 

"I love you," he breathe out, without any hesitation. "You’re the only person I love. This is completely new to me and I really do love the fact that I’m in love with you. It’s really precious to me and I don’t want to lose it. I don’t want to lose you or even share you."

 

Even the act of sharing his deepest thoughts with someone was completely foreign to Baekhyun but he wanted this to work. He felt vulnerable, quite ridiculous as he stood there and complained, maybe even whined, but he wanted this to work so bad and if not with Chanyeol then with whom would he ever open up? 

 

Chanyeol didn’t let any hint of discontentment or anything remotely close to it show any sign of life on his face either and that was quite reassuring. There was the faint arch of a smile on his lips that sweetly reflected on his eyes. He leaned down to slot their lips together in a reassuring kiss and Baekhyun felt warmth dripping into him, watering the dried cracks of uncertainty and smoothing them out.

 

"It’s totally normal," Chanyeol said against his lips, pressing another kiss right on the mole above his upper lip before pulling away and looking into his eyes, conveying nothing but honesty and care through his gaze. "You can be jealous. I will be too. That’s completely normal but you have to trust me, alright? We just have to trust each other."

 

"I do trust you," Baekhyun said, voice shimmering with sincerity. He had trusted Chanyeol with his heart without even noticing it, he could trust him with everything else too.

 

"Then it’s alright," Chanyeol smiled, resting his hand on the slope of Baekhyun’s neck, cupping plum blossoms on his skin. He had left them bare earlier, when they were getting ready, because Chanyeol had asked him to with the most irresistible smile ever. "You can be jealous, just don’t let it ruin your night. Because I love you too and you won’t lose me."

 

Baekhyun pressed his lips into a tight smile, deflating a little into Chanyeol’s embrace.

 

"I’m sorry for ruining your night."

 

Chanyeol shook his head firmly. "You didn’t. Actually, you handled it pretty well for a first-timer. I’m proud of you," he said, patting Baekhyun head mischievously.

 

He let out a small chuckle, comforted by how Chanyeol treated this as if he was really teaching Baekhyun something and the latter was his apprentice.

 

He didn’t mind. Chanyeol was the world’s most perfect teacher, after all. He even gave Baekhyun another kiss when he asked for some kind of recompense. 

 

When Baekhyun wiggled his eyebrows obnoxiously and slyly while asking Chanyeol if he wanted him to turn into a misbehaving student for the night, he was pushed away with a groan halfway between mortification and amusement.

 

That was okay. Chanyeol still let Baekhyun take his clothes off and cuddle him afterwards.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Despite Chanyeol’s reassurance about not being upset, Baekhyun still felt a little guilty the next morning. 

 

He knew Chanyeol wasn’t upset or mad at him but he still had felt like doing something to make up for it. And make Chanyeol happy. He felt like Chanyeol was too tolerating with him and as much as it made him feel accepted and loved, he didn’t want Chanyeol to be the only one to make efforts while Baekhyun wandered around, clueless. And a bit too emotional, at times.

 

It was with goodwill and motivation that Baekhyun had extracted himself from Chanyeol and got out of bed while the other was still fast asleep. Enthusiasm had filled him up as he had stepped into the kitchen. Chanyeol always cooked for him and Baekhyun felt like cooking for Chanyeol this one time, or at least attempting to. It shouldn’t be that hard anyway. Cooking wasn’t too much of a big deal.

 

That was what he had told himself while gathering the ingredients he needed in order to make pajeon, following the instructions he had found on the internet. It was something easy to make, just a kind of pancake with vegetables. It would be perfect for breakfast along with fried eggs.

 

And yet, half an hour later, Baekhyun tried muffling his coughing against a hand as the thick scent of burnt eggs and eggshells wafted into the air unpleasantly. He took the pan away from the stove before flames could possibly burst out of his unrecognizable pajeon and dumped it into the sink as quietly as possible. It was a mess. He had broken an egg earlier, it had rolled right into the sink and shattered in hues of yellows and whites. 

 

He sighed, looking at the fruit of his ruined plans with a frown, hands holding onto his hips. He was supposed to cook for Chanyeol, make him happy, not make a mess out of the kitchen. Now, not only would Chanyeol starve but he’d also be kind enough to offer help in cleaning Baekhyun’s mess. He frowned and looked over his shoulder, listening carefully for any kind of sound that would indicate that Chanyeol had woken up. There was fortunately no such indication and Baekhyun’s shoulders slagged down in relief.

 

Glaring at the dry mixture in the pan that was still weakly fuming, Baekhyun bit onto his lower lip. This had been a bad idea. He had lost a lot of time. He had to make up for this. Chanyeol would wake up soon and nothing was even ready. He looked around, twirling on his own feet once as if he would magically catch something in the kitchen that would come to life and tell him exactly what to do.

 

He could attempt at cooking something else. Maybe fried eggs would be easier to make. They had a bit of leftover from last night’s rice, they could eat that together. Chanyeol’s mother had also sent them containers full of side dishes and what nots. But that wasn’t anything special. They ate that everyday, when Chanyeol didn’t feel like doing anything complicated. Baekhyun wanted this to be special. He wanted Chanyeol to feel like Baekhyun cared for him and made an effort. But maybe cooking wasn’t the right way to do it.

 

He caught sight of his phone laying on the counter, right next to a big dump of soybean paste. He dived towards it. Ordering was good. Making a call was still a good effort and it wouldn’t amount to anything burning or shattering. He unlocked the device and quickly scrolled through a list of nearby restaurants. Maybe not a restaurant. They could eat pastries today. Chanyeol had said something about wanting to eat cake last night. It was too early for a cake. Not that Baekhyun would mind eating cake for breakfast but Chanyeol would judge him a little bit for it. While eating the cake, of course.

 

It took him a few seconds to look through a promotional list of bakeries before something caught his eyes. He tapped on the bakery’s official website and navigated through for a short while. They sold vegan pastries, muffins, cakes, bread, and all kinds of things that looked deliciously perfect for breakfast. Baekhyun might have gone a little heavy as he ordered around ten different pastries to make sure there would be at least one thing that Chanyeol would like amongst it all. 

 

Letting out a sigh of relief, Baekhyun put his phone down again and listened for any sign of life coming from the bedroom. The delivery would arrive in half an hour at most, fifteen minutes if Baekhyun was on his lucky day. Would what he ordered be enough? It felt kind of lacking. Should he have ordered more? From a different bakery too? He grabbed his phone again. He wanted to get something that would make Chanyeol smile. He had smiled really wide when Baekhyun had gotten him flowers the other day.

 

Face lighting up, he quickly dialed the nearby flower shop’s number and placed his second order of the day. It was a bit difficult to decide what to get Chanyeol when he couldn’t see and had no idea what the complicated names the florist gave him corresponded to but Baekhyun asked for something colorful and pretty. Like a sunrise. That seemed to be enough for the male voice on the other end of the line to understand and his delivery would reach their house in around half an hour as well.

 

That was a long time. Baekhyun felt a little restless once he hung up, standing there in the middle of the kitchen. He looked around, wrinkling his nose at the mess he had made. There were lumps of flour on the floor, dirty bowls and chops of green onions on the counter. The pack of eggs was still open and Baekhyun’s eyes widened when he noticed that he hadn’t even turned the stove off earlier. He quickly rushed to do it, bumping his toe against something cruelly hard on the way and muffling a pained groan by biting on his lower lip hard.

 

It was painful. Baekhyun was disappointed in himself for being so clumsy and lame when it came to this kind of things. 

 

He could hear his past self snickering at him. The Baekhyun who made people cook for him with nothing but a smile was whimpering and laughing at the same time from the back of his mind, where it was buried. He let out a dry chuckle. Maybe Chanyeol would laugh too if he were to wake up now and see the mess. Baekhyun smiled at the thought, at the image of Chanyeol laughing so hard he was holding onto his stomach and closing his eyes in a pained expression.

 

He still didn’t want to make the other clean up after him, however, so he decided to get into it. It would at least make the time fly by faster as he waited for his deliveries.

 

Around twenty minutes later, Baekhyun was barely done picking up the crumbles of eggshells in the sink when he heard footsteps pitter-pattering towards him. When he turned around, he was greeted with Chanyeol’s sleepy features. His eyes always puffed up when he slept too much and he had a light flush on his cheeks, his ears reddened from being pressed against his pillow for too long, his hair a mess, and one leg of his sweatpants riding up his calf a little bit.

 

"What are you doing?" Chanyeol mumbled, voice hoarse, rattling against Baekhyun’s heart pleasantly.

 

Baekhyun furrowed his eyebrows a little.

 

"Why are you already awake?" he asked, washing his hands before stepping towards Chanyeol and promptly drying them on the other’s shirt.

 

Chanyeol let out a soft sound, halfway between a groan and a chuckle, but let Baekhyun’s wet fingers graze the skin of his tummy.

 

"What do you mean already? I slept too much," Chanyeol yawned as he wrapped his arms around Baekhyun and hugged him, bending enough to rest his head on Baekhyun’s shoulder, folding himself snuggly around him.

 

Baekhyun smiled despite himself and returned the embrace, his hands tracing Chanyeol’s back up and down in a comforting motion.

 

"But I’m not ready yet," he mumbled, disappointed in himself yet again, and nuzzled against Chanyeol’s neck to make himself feel a little better. It wasn’t that bad. The earlier Chanyeol woke up, the earlier Baekhyun would get his morning hug. 

 

He felt Chanyeol straighten a little bit and pulled away enough to look at him and see the surprised quirk of his eyebrows.

 

"Did you try cooking?" he asked, a dumbfounded expression chasing the sleep away from his handsome features.

 

Baekhyun remembered that he hadn’t thrown away the failed, burnt pajeon yet, and groaned a bit in embarrassment. 

 

"I just wanted to make it up for last night," he mumbled.

 

"Last night?" Chanyeol repeated, furrowing his eyebrows a little. "But I wasn’t upset. You were the upset one actually."

 

"Don’t remind me," Baekhyun snorted, twitching Chanyeol’s lips into a smile. "I still wanted to make something nice for you."

 

Chanyeol hummed softly, pulling Baekhyun closer to him, before his eyes narrowed playfully.

 

"This looks like you were trying to poison me though."

 

"I wasn’t!" Baekhyun groaned, lightly punching the other’s chest but only amounting to more laughter from Chanyeol.

 

It was cut off by the doorbell ringing faintly and Baekhyun perked up as Chanyeol gave him a curious look. He parted his lips to say something but before giving him the chance to, Baekhyun pulled away.

 

"Stay here!" he chimed before heading out of the kitchen and towards the door instead. 

 

It was a delivery from the bakery and Baekhyun collected it with a relieved smile and paid, glad that it arrived pretty quickly. Chanyeol wasn’t upset, not for last light and nor for the ruined breakfast but Baekhyun still wanted to feed him something nice for once. Things were turning out okay.

 

When he stepped back into the kitchen, Chanyeol was cleaning up the last bits of Baekhyun’s mess, visibly letting the pan soak to get rid of the burned crips better. He looked at Baekhyun when he heard him, curiosity widening his doe eyes as he looked at the box Baekhyun was holding.

 

"What’s that?"

 

"Breakfast," Baekhyun grinned excitedly.

 

Chanyeol moved to grab the box from him but Baekhyun pulled it away, tutting.

 

"Just stay here while I prepare it. Don’t look," he warned the other, balancing the box on one hand to threaten him with a playful finger.

 

Chanyeol merely snorted, unimpressed, but still humored Baekhyun and turned away. Baekhyun could sense his impatience in the way his fingers were drumming against the countertop so he quickly got to work. Without losing any time, he moved to get a few plates from the cupboard and then proceeded to place each items accordingly. One plate was full of muffins of different flavors such as coconut, apple, chocolate, and blueberry. On three other plates, accordingly, Baekhyun placed the two banana scones, two chocolate brownies, and the two small pound cakes, one orange flavored and the other apples and cinnamon.

 

Only once he was done meticulously placing everything in plates did he call for Chanyeol to turn around. When he did, his gaze immediately fell on the pastries.

 

"You bought all that?" he said in awe, stepping closer to the counter to see everything more properly. "But that’s so much," he mumbled even if he was already leaning closer, eyes never leaving the mouthwatering pastries.

 

"We can eat it all together the whole day," Baekhyun beamed, taking in the joy lighting up Chanyeol’s features.

 

He felt a little proud of himself for having been the one to water the smile on Chanyeol’s face into a blossoming flower.

 

Baekhyun moved to take a seat in one of the high stools, patting the one next to him but before Chanyeol could properly sit down, the doorbell rang again. Naturally, Chanyeol stepped towards the door instead of the counter and when Baekhyun remembered that he had ordered something else, his eyes widened and he almost fell off the chair in his haste to stop Chanyeol. He grabbed his arms, a little sheepish when Chanyeol gave him a weird look.

 

"I’ll get the door," he simply said as an explanation and Chanyeol gave him a suspicious look laced with confusion but quietly stepped back into the kitchen.

 

With a sigh of relief, Baekhyun headed towards the door. The flowers were pretty, colored in pink, purple, light blue, and faint orange hues. It was a big bouquet that almost looked like a puff of cloud, as fluffy and soft as Chanyeol would look while holding it. He grinned to himself while paying and as soon as he was done, he hid the bouquet behind his back and walked back to the kitchen. Chanyeol was sitting at the counter, turning around when he heard Baekhyun step in. 

 

His oversized shirt floated on his body, he still had the faint sleepy lines of his pillow against his cheek. Baekhyun felt his heart puffing up and melting down at the same time, the sensation strong enough for him to lose his footing for a second and almost fall down. Chanyeol laughed.

 

"What are you doing?" he asked incredulously, dimples out as he watched Baekhyun safely take the last steps towards him.

 

He grinned, sheepish, happy, stood next to Chanyeol, and then held the bouquet out to him in a flourish.

 

"Here. Flowers."

 

For a fleeting second, Chanyeol stared at the sunrise-soaked petals, before looking back up at Baekhyun, lips pressed together but splitting his face in a wide smile that illuminated the flowers he took from Baekhyun.

 

They looked nice in Chanyeol’s hands. It made him look softer than he usually did. In his hands, the bouquet turned into a cloud of cotton candy. Melted ice cream. 

 

"You got me flowers again," he said, voice delicate but tinkling with crystal notes of happiness as he leaned down to take a whiff of their natural scent, eyes closing.

 

Baekhyun couldn’t smell it from here but it didn’t matter. The air he breathed in was imbibed with the sugary aroma of Chanyeol’s happiness, strong enough to tickle his nose and jolt his lips into a smile.

 

"To show you that I love you," Baekhyun said, in an obvious tone.

 

Out of nowhere, Chanyeol burst into a fit of laughter and it took Baekhyun an idle moment to get past the beauty of that melody and realize that Chanyeol was laughing at him.

 

"Why are you laughing?" he asked with a frown.

 

"You’re really good at being awkward and cheesy at the same time," was Chanyeol’s merry reply. 

 

Baekhyun fought a smile and sat down at the counter, quirking an eyebrow.

 

"Are you making fun of me?"

 

"I am," Chanyeol replied without hesitation, mirroring Baekhyun’s expression but adding to it a smile pigmented with smugness.

 

Baekhyun gathered all the plates together, shielding them from Chanyeol with his arms.

 

"Then starve."

 

Baekhyun was weak, however. All it took was for Chanyeol to scrunch his face adorably and let out a small whine of protest for Baekhyun to shove a muffin into his mouth.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

March started with Baekhyun’s fresh subscription to the gym.

 

After spending a few days bored out of his mind at home, with no work to distract him and no Chanyeol to keep him company, he had finally decided to find himself something to do at least for a few hours of the day. He couldn’t bother Junmyeon when he was working, had snorted at his face when Junmyeon offered to take him to work with him, and Chanyeol had also flicked his forehead when Baekhyun had come up with the idea of simply sitting in a corner of his room at the academy to watch him teacher the day away. Apparently, that would be a bit too creepy.

 

The next best thing was going to the gym. It wasn’t entirely novel to him so Baekhyun didn’t feel completely lost when he stepped into the wide establishment a while ago, the remnants of his frequent visits from a year back guiding him through the equipment and the several rooms. He had no real plan in mind when he had entered the building. He had started with the elliptical to warm up a little, taking the occasion to watch his surroundings before growing bored and moving to the treadmill instead.

 

It had now been around twenty minutes since he had started running at a moderately slow pace that still took some effort for his rusty legs to match but he was enjoying it. He hadn’t felt the faint strain in his body in a long time, the sweat and the burn of his working muscles were a pleasant welcome and he didn’t regret the decision he had taken this morning on a whim. The only inconvenience was that he had forgotten his earphones and without music, it felt much duller and more difficult but at least, he could still listen to the faint, questionable music crooning from the speakers all over the gym.

 

"I see you still have a nice stamina," he suddenly heard on his left and when he turned around, he was greeted with a familiar but unexpected face.

 

Sehun was standing on the treadmill right next to his, gaze focused on the screen as he tweaked with the buttons to program the machine to his will. His cheeks were a little flushed, skin glowing with a faint sheen of sweat, and the hair falling over his forehead a little damp, an indication that he had been here for a while already.

 

Surprisingly, Baekhyun felt awkward. 

 

He hadn’t expected this encounter, especially not in this kind of place. He didn’t let it show on his face, however, smiling a little as he looked straight in front of him when Sehun started running, at a pace bit faster than Baekhyun.

 

"I see you’re maintaining your body too," Baekhyun carefully said, not wanting to sound too familiar but unwilling to give an overly detached image either.

 

He had just started his subscription here, it would be an inconvenience to find another gym so soon.

 

"This amazing body doesn’t come on its own, you know," Sehun said, that casual confidence echoing in his voice.

 

Baekhyun smiled but let the conversation die, looking down at the small screen. He still had around ten minutes to run. When nine minutes were left, he finally yielded to the insistent gaze he could feel on the side of his face and looked back at Sehun. He had an obviously exaggerated sad expression on.

 

"You’ve been ignoring me," he complained. He didn’t sound tired, nor actually sad.

 

Baekhyun took a few seconds to muse for a reply.

 

"You don’t really sound sad," he settled on saying, no particular emotion in his voice.

 

"Well, obviously. It’s your loss, not mine." He caught Sehun shrugging from the corner of his eye. "I’m just disappointed we didn’t get to know each other a little more."

 

This was awkward. Really awkward. Baekhyun rarely ever met his old acquaintances again. Or rather, they rarely ever approached him if they happened to be in the same place. He raked his brain for a proper reply, wishing this situation would end soon.

 

"I have a boyfriend," he blurted out, looking at Sehun straight in the eyes to make sure he would get the message across.

 

Sehun raised an eyebrow.

 

"Did I ask?"

 

Baekhyun furrowed his eyebrows, taken aback.

 

"Why else are you talking to me if you’re not interested in me that way?"

 

"I wanted to have a nice gym buddy," Sehun said, tone indicating that he thought it was the most natural, logical thing in the world.

 

"A gym buddy," Baekhyun deadpanned, unable to comprehend why exactly Sehun would want him to be his gym buddy.

 

His thoughts seemed to transpire on his face. Sehun looked at him once and then snorted.

 

"Just because we fucked once doesn’t mean we can’t be friends, you know."

 

He was barely even breathless. Baekhyun was starting to feel a little tired. And competitive. He forced himself to breathe regularly.

 

"Why would you want to be friends with me?" he asked, not condescending, simply confused.

 

Sehun gave him a look. Baekhyun almost felt stupid.

 

"I don’t know," he sighed, exasperated but still looking at Baekhyun as if he was deeply amused by the situation. "Why are you friends with people usually?"

 

Baekhyun parted his lips then closed them again, locking in his answer before it could slip out. 

 

He made friends for connections. He had never made friends for any other reason than his own benefit and their potential as something more than a friend. He didn’t even have friends. His only friend was Junmyeon and even their friendship had started with Baekhyun trying to manipulate him only to realize it really did not work on Junmyeon. He supposed he had been friends with Chanyeol at some point but now, he was much more than that.

 

Baekhyun didn’t know how to make friends. True friends. He supposed it wasn’t that difficult, he would manage but why would he even need friends? Moreover, why would he even be friends with Sehun when they had had sex once and Baekhyun would’ve turned it into something much more draining for the other had Chanyeol not tweaked with his mind at that time?

 

He bit his lower lip in worry. Would Chanyeol even accept him talking to someone he had sexual intercourse with? Would that make him feel uncomfortable? Would he be upset? Would this even be appropriate?

 

He glanced at Sehun. He was wiping the sweat on his temples with the towel hanging around his neck. He looked nonchalant, casual, as if he wasn’t even expecting a reply to his question anymore. Baekhyun felt very awkward. He looked back down at the screen of his treadmill. He had five minutes left. He stopped the machine and got down. He didn’t want to do anything that would make Chanyeol uncomfortable. His legs felt heavy and he was breathless but he felt nice. This should be enough for today.

 

Without a word or a last greeting, he turned around to head out. 

 

Before he could even take a step forward, he felt something slapping against his lower back. He turned around with wide eyes. Sehun was grinning cheekily, holding onto the towel he had just whipped Baekhyun’s back with.

 

"Do some squats next time. It’s good advice from your new friend."

 

Weirded out, Baekhyun left without another word or look behind.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chanyeol’s ears were a wonder of the world.

 

Baekhyun really loved Chanyeol’s ears.

 

They were sculpted beautifully into Chanyeol’s head, carved by giggly angels themselves, but at the same time, they always looked like frail flowers susceptible of fluttering happily at the first breeze that would tickle them.

 

They were often red at the tip, gradually blending into Chanyeol’s usual skin color down the lobe. It gave off the illusion of single petal curtsying graciously each time Baekhyun glanced at them, the skin on the tip folded a little in a beautiful arch. They stood like a flowery crown on either side of Chanyeol’s head, giving him a boyish, soft look, smoothing out his handsome features, rounding up his eyes and the tip of his nose like a burgeon amongst twin flowers.

 

Baekhyun was in love with every part of Chanyeol. Maybe he was a little more in love with his cute ears than other parts of his oversized body that was still much too small to fit in that big, lavish, frail heart of his.

 

Baekhyun was in love with Chanyeol and therefore, as they sat on their couch, mugs of tea emptied through the drama they were watching on the television, he didn’t hesitate one second before stretching his hand towards him. With the tip of his finger, he pulled down on the tip of Chanyeol’s ear. The malleable skin gave in easily under his touch and folded a little before he let go and it sprung right back up.

 

Baekhyun bit his lower lip as a grin flowered on his face. Chanyeol didn’t look at him, too engrossed in the drama they were watching. Heart melting into goo against his ribcage, Baekhyun stretched his hand out again and trailed his finger over the arch of Chanyeol’s ear, the skin pleasantly warm and silky, before he pressed down with a light touch and folded it slightly again. He let go, watching as it jolted back into its normal shape. It really did feel like playing with a single petal on the crown of a flower. 

 

Unable to stop himself, as if enchanted, Baekhyun repeated the gesture a few more times before finally, Chanyeol seemed to realize what exactly Baekhyun was doing and he pulled away, looking at him with wide eyes.

 

"What are you doing? Are you crazy?" he asked, voice tumbling down into a whine as he covered his ear with a hand, as if to protect it from Baekhyun. He didn’t look too protective though, not with the way his cheeks were twitching a little to fight back a smile.

 

"What? Your ears are cute," Baekhyun justified himself without a hint of shame.

 

"Don’t do that," Chanyeol mumbled, the apple of his cheeks ripening into a soft flush.

 

With that, he gave his attention back to the screen, leaving Baekhyun’s gaze to gravitate towards his ear again. It was a little redder now, both because of the slight embarrassment Chanyeol always felt when it came to his ears and because Baekhyun had played with them.

 

It only took him a short while to reach towards them again. He was sitting sideways on the couch, back resting against the armrest and knees folded, feet resting between him and Chanyeol as he pushed himself away from the armrest. He tried his hardest to tame the bubbles of joy popping against his heart and rendering it into a giggly, jumpy mess as this time, he flipped a finger against Chanyeol’s ear over and over again. The arched tip gave under his touch, flapping up and down according to the way his finger moved and this time, Chanyeol almost instantly burst into laughter. It was a funny kind of laugh, amused yet embarrassed and whiny at the same time when he pulled away again.

 

Baekhyun didn’t let him get too far away, however, affection bursting in his chest at the embarrassed way Chanyeol pressed his lips into a smile, closed his eyes, and tilted his head away when Baekhyun wrapped his arms around him and pulled him close. Chanyeol stumbled down between his parted legs, his chest crashing against Baekhyun’s and his arms trapped between their bodies. He was still laughing and he was so embarrassed but merry and so, so pretty, incredibly snuggly as he muffled his laughter against Baekhyun’s neck. 

 

He wondered if affection could ever actually make his heart burst into pieces and drag him to the sweetest death he could ask for.

 

"Do you have an ear fetish?" Chanyeol asked once he had calmed down, his chin resting against Baekhyun’s chest. His eyes were even wider than usual from the angle he was looking at Baekhyun through, his cheeks flushed and glowing like fresh cherries wrapped in a cloud. There was nothing but affection and merriment sprouting on his face.

 

Baekhyun grinned, wide, until his cheeks hurt, and then, in a sudden movement, he leaned down until he could nose against Chanyeol’s cheek, making him tilt his head a bit with another fit of twitters. Satisfied, Baekhyun quickly smooched the reddened tip of his ear, with a loud, exaggerated sound that echoed with love.

 

"No, I just love you," he grinned as Chanyeol let out that chuckly groan again.

 

"I love you too but please, don’t make me go deaf," Chanyeol said, voice muffled where he pressed his face against Baekhyun’s chest.

 

Baekhyun made kissy faces and sounds at him for a while before stopping when Chanyeol pinched his tummy hard. He grumbled under his breath but they watched the rest of the drama snuggled together, sliding down along the couch at some point until Baekhyun’s head rested on the armrest and Chanyeol’s on his chest. Chanyeol was still lying on top of him, and he was heavy but Baekhyun didn’t mind. Without being able to figure out why, he just like the feeling of Chanyeol’s body pressed down against his. 

 

There wasn’t even anything sexual about this, he just enjoyed the weight of Chanyeol on top of him, the way their legs tangled together, how easily he could card his fingers through his hair, and even feel the faint sound of Chanyeol’s heartbeat if he concentrated hard enough.

 

As they laid there, Baekhyun thought back to his encounter with Sehun yesterday. He had wanted to talk to Chanyeol about it. This could be the occasion but he didn’t want to disturb Chanyeol when he was so focused on this lame morning drama that Baekhyun found pointless but would still watch if it meant Chanyeol would share his warmth with him. It seemed vain, he might not ever run into Sehun again. Maybe he had said those things as some kind of petty revenge.

 

It was Chanyeol who spoke first when the drama ended, pulling Baekhyun up from the slight drowsiness it had pushed him to.

 

"I want to ask you something," he said, no real hesitation in his voice, just a mere announcement. He wasn’t asking for permission, just prompting them into the conversation.

 

Baekhyun blinked a little to gather his wits together and then nodded to let the other know he could continue. His fingers had slipped under Chanyeol’s hoodie at some point, basking in the warmth pooled on the dip of Chanyeol’s back.

 

Chanyeol smiled at him.

 

"You know, you keep saying that you don’t know how to love, right?" he said, waiting for Baekhyun to nod before continuing. "What makes you say that? I mean, you are awkward and clueless sometimes but besides that, what makes you say that? You’ve fooled dozens of people, haven’t you?"

 

Baekhyun hummed softly. There was no mockery or accusation in those words. They could’ve come out as offending but Baekhyun could see the curiosity in Chanyeol’s attentive eyes. 

 

"I think," he started but stopped to actually think a little more. Chanyeol waited patiently until he spoke again, slowly, trying his best to express himself, what he felt. "It might be because all these people, while I did influence them with my behavior when they fell in love with me, it wasn’t real, you know?" 

 

Chanyeol furrowed his eyebrows. Baekhyun pressed his lips together. He had never thought he’d have trouble expressing himself one day. 

 

"It wasn’t sincere." That word fitted better. "Whatever I did, I didn’t do it out of genuine feelings or impulses."

 

"It wasn’t out of love," Chanyeol tried.

 

Baekhyun nodded. "Yeah. I kind of calculated it all? Analyzed it? I just observed them, tried figuring out what kind of person they’d fall in love with and tried fitting that image." Comprehension lit up in Chanyeol’s eyes. "With you, it’s different."

 

"How so?" Chanyeol asked through a light smile. Baekhyun knew that smile. It was the smug one, but very faint. 

 

"With you, I want to do things out of love. There’s no calculation, no twisted motivation, no actual observation and conclusions. It’s just all because I want to. Because I feel like doing it. Because I love you."  Chanyeol hid his smile against Baekhyun’s chest but let his eyes beam at him. Baekhyun’s voice softened, melting under the attention. "But I don’t know how to show it. I don’t know what to do, what to tell you so you can feel how much I actually do love you."

 

He took a moment to think. Chanyeol remained quiet, his fingers tapping a melody on Baekhyun’s collarbones in a calming motion.

 

"I don’t even know how much I love you," he realized out loud. "I can’t tell if it’s a normal amount or too much. I just want to love you harder though, so it’s definitely not enough."

 

Chanyeol smiled. Bare. Plain. The curve of his lips stretched over his face like an unending field of varicolored flowers. Baekhyun felt his breath hitching. He felt like each time he looked at that smile, he noticed a different floret, a different shade, a different texture. But the same mesmerizing effect. Always.

 

"You don’t have to do anything," Chanyeol said, voice akin to the rustle of the wind against frail cherry blossoms. "I can feel it. When we’re just like that. Always. Without you having to show it. That’s more than enough for me."

 

Maybe he was right. Maybe Baekhyun didn’t need to do anything for Chanyeol to feel how much he loved him. Baekhyun would still do it. Because it came from the heart. Because it was a pure need, a selfless instinct. It didn’t stem from insecurities or a fear of lacking, it was a mere desire from the love rooted in his heart.

 

And because his heart told him to do so, Baekhyun leaned down, pressed a kiss on the mole doting the bridge of Chanyeol’s nose. Chanyeol wrinkled his nose adorably, grinned, and doted the mole above Baekhyun’s upper lip with a peck.

 

It was enough for delight to peal through him in a crystalized palette of warm colors.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Yixing was a really nice person.

 

He had a nice smile. A kind gaze. A gentle voice with an even gentler accent fluttering through. And he always always looked happy to see whoever he was meeting.

 

All of that made it hard for Baekhyun not to smile back at him when he stepped into the academy and Yixing was the one greeting him at the front desk. He didn’t nurture any particular kind of dislike towards Yixing. It was just a bit of discomfort sourcing from himself rather than the other, a remnant of what had happened in Seungwan’s birthday party a few days ago.

 

"How are you doing?" Yixing asked him with that friendly dimpled smile as Baekhyun stepped towards him, hopefully no trace of hesitation in his stance or features.

 

"I’m doing great," he smiled, glancing at his watch. Chanyeol would be done with class in around ten minutes. He had no reason to rush towards his classroom. He looked back at Yixing. "You?"

 

"Just the same old," he said and Baekhyun couldn’t hide the genuineness in his smile at the way the other had structured his sentence. Yixing wasn’t mean. Baekhyun couldn’t hate him even if he wanted to. "Here to pick Chanyeol up?"

 

"Yep."

 

"You’re always picking him up. It’s kinda cute," Yixing grinned, fingers grabbing a pen on the desk but eyes conveying mirth right into Baekhyun’s.

 

"We’re very cute, yes," he chuckled, unable to come up with anything else.

 

He felt bad. Yixing was making efforts to get along with him while Baekhyun still saw the way his hands had been resting on Chanyeol so comfortably. He could even feel those same hands squeezing his heart at the memory, the same way he pressed a thumb against the small button at the summit of the pen he was holding, the mechanism ticking once. He was probably oblivious to the way Baekhyun felt.

 

"I haven’t seen Chanyeol so happy in a long time, you know," he said, smile softening a little.

 

"You’ve known each other for a long time?" Baekhyun couldn’t help but ask despite the pleasant feeling seeded into him by Yixing’s words.

 

Yixing hummed at that, looking up towards the ceiling as he raked his brain for an answer.

 

"It’s been around two years, I think. He’s the one who hired me when I came to Korea."

 

"You’ve been here for two years only?" he asked in surprise. Yixing laughed softly. "You’re so good at… being Korean, though."

 

"I try my best," he shrugged, nonchalant. "It was pretty difficult at first, actually. I had nothing, not even a place to stay at, when I first came here." He stopped, nodding towards the door. "Then I saw the ad plastered on the door. They were looking for musicians. So I went in, asking for the job with my broken Korean. Chanyeol’s the one who hired me. He even taught me a bit of Korean, lent me his couch until I could find a decent apartment."

 

That sounded just like Chanyeol. 

 

He couldn’t help but smile. Maybe his kind heart pushed him to take in more than just stray, wounded animals. It wasn’t hard to imagine Yixing looking like a lost puppy, with his curly, puffy hair, and his innocently mature gaze.

 

Yixing pressed on the pen again, a ticking sound jolting in the air and planting into Baekhyun’s heart. It let out a discreet but unpleasant and ugly groan. Baekhyun gulped it down. They were close. They had once shared a living space. Chanyeol had helped Yixing, maybe saved him in a way. 

 

It was completely irrational of him to feel that insecurity again, he knew it well, and yet he couldn’t suppress it. He could ignore it, though. Because it didn’t matter that much. Chanyeol was with him now. Chanyeol was in love with him and Yixing was happy for his friend’s ongoing relationship.

 

"I’m glad you managed to build your life here. It must’ve been hard," he said, genuine. He might still feel rather uncomfortable but he wouldn’t discredit Yixing’s hard work. The other smiled at him, wide, a bit sheepish, as if that simple compliment had just made his day. Baekhyun hoped that this discomfort would fade away one day. "Could you tell me where Chanyeol is? I think the room he teaches drums in is different from his piano room, right?"

 

Yixing nodded and then proceeded to easily describe the way to Baekhyun.

 

It was upstairs, Baekhyun tried letting go of the jealousy with each step he climbed up along the staircase and once he walked into the hallway, he took a deep breath in. It was okay. He still remembered the exact words Chanyeol had told him after the party.

 

As quietly as possible, he strode through the hallway, looking around for the blue door Yixing had described. It was at the very end of the corridor and Baekhyun stood in front of it, noting that this floor’s doors all had a small window. Curiously, Baekhyun stepped closer to the door. He peeked in and the first thing he saw was Chanyeol’s concentrated expression as his arms swung around, coming down to hit the drums with the sticks he was holding before elevating again into an intricate succession of ups, downs, beats, and ups again.

 

He was wearing a shirt. The skin of his arms was bared, just like the subtle musculature Baekhyun could see from here. He stepped back, dragged his gaze away with a bit of difficulty. His eyes protested, as if they were dry leaves stuck to the one source of humidity they could find.

 

Chanyeol looked good. Baekhyun had never seen him play drums with his own eyes rather than the screen of a phone. He looked too good.

 

The image of his arm muscles strained as he played lingered on Baekhyun’s mind up until the door opened and a teenage boy stepped out of the room. Baekhyun didn’t pay attention to him, focused on Chanyeol who stepped out after him a short while later. His smile was wide when their eyes met. It was adorable, the way Chanyeol always looked so happily surprised whenever Baekhyun came to pick him up despite Baekhyun always telling he that he would beforehand.

 

Adorable wasn’t really the main image that he had of Chanyeol at the moment, though. Before the other had the chance to say anything to greet him, he stepped closer. Chanyeol leaned down for a kiss but Baekhyun avoided it to reach up towards his ear instead.

 

"You look really hot when playing drums," he whispered, voice low and quiet, but the sparks Baekhyun felt in his veins spilling in every single word. The skin of Chanyeol’s ear was warm when his lips grazed it.

 

When he pulled away, the sparks seemed to have brimmed into Chanyeol’s eyes.

 

They looked at each other for a few seconds.

 

"This room is soundproof," Chanyeol said, the nonchalant tone he was trying to exude debunked by the flow of his gaze down Baekhyun’s body and up again.

 

Baekhyun stepped closer, hooked his fingers on the hem of Chanyeol’s shirt and pulled until the other leaned down enough for Baekhyun to whisper his next words against his lips.

 

"Is it?"

 

It was Chanyeol who pulled him into the room and locked it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

"How can you be a perfectionist when your phone’s so messy?"

 

Baekhyun looked up from his laptop where he had been busy ordering a phone charger. 

 

Chanyeol had forgotten his before coming over and his phone had died because Baekhyun had no android charger here. He had never even had an android phone and he didn’t understand why Chanyeol insisted on keeping his rather than changing for a different brand. Baekhyun had even let him explore his iPhone to open up his horizons while he ordered a charger that he would keep at home in case Chanyeol forgot his again.

 

"It’s not messy," he frowned, looking over at the screen of his phone. Chanyeol was quickly swiping through the different tabs on the home screen. He had four different tabs, each of them filled to the brim with various apps.

 

"It is," Chanyeol snorted. "I don’t have an iPhone but even I know you need to gather all the similar apps into one block thing."

 

"That’s useless. It’s perfect this way," he said, looking back at his laptop to complete the order.

 

"You think it’s perfect but it’s a mess. I’ll kindly put some order in there for you."

 

Baekhyun closed the lid of his laptop and pushed it away, to the other end of the bed. He said nothing, content with watching Chanyeol do whatever he wanted to his phone. He didn’t really see the point of it as Chanyeol gathered all his different gaming apps into one single block called ‘Games’ and then proceeded to create two other blocks, one for ‘Messages’, and the other he called ‘Trash’ and put in all the random apps Baekhyun never used but never deleted either. He tried his best not to feel offended.

 

"See, it’s much better this way," Chanyeol said once he was done, satisfaction twisting his features into a smile as he showed the screen to Baekhyun.

 

He grabbed the device and looked it through. There was only three different tabs left and the last one was only filled halfway through with rows of apps. 

 

It was definitely less messy. Baekhyun wrinkled his nose in mock condescension and looked at a smug Chanyeol.

 

"Thank you, I guess."

 

Chanyeol tutted with mock exasperation and then held his hand out, face blank.

 

"Pay me."

 

Baekhyun snickered, grabbed his hand, and then leaned to press a loud smooch against Chanyeol’s lips. When he pulled away, it was to see a grin that left its trace on his own lips.

 

"Wanna eat out tonight?" 

 

Chanyeol shook his head. "I’m not staying over tonight."

 

Baekhyun deflated. "Why?" he asked, making sure that Chanyeol would hear how devastated he was in the miserable volume of his voice.

 

Chanyeol laughed softly, bringing Baekhyun’s hand up to press an apologizing kiss against the chocolate colored tiny chip on Baekhyun’s thumb. It always made Baekhyun’s heart sway in a particular way whenever Chanyeol paid attention to that mole of his.

 

"I haven’t gone to one of Jongdae’s movie nights in too long. The guys are all whining. I gotta give the people what they want. My presence."

 

Baekhyun snorted, holding onto Chanyeol’s hand tighter to soak his warmth up enough to last him through a night spent without him. It wouldn’t work, he knew. 

 

"Who?" he asked curiously.

 

Chanyeol hummed, raising a hand and folding his fingers one by one with each name leaving his lips. "Jongdae, Taewoo, Jiho, and Jinyoung."

 

"Yixing?" he questioned.

 

Chanyeol quirked an eyebrow. Baekhyun caught his lips twitching up too.

 

"What if there’s Yixing?"

 

"Nothing," Baekhyun said, adjusting the pillow that served as a comfortable barrier between his back and the wall. "Just curious."

 

It was true. Despite the lingering crumbles of jealousy, Baekhyun wouldn’t be upset. He wouldn’t forbid Chanyeol from hanging out with a friend he had known way longer than Baekhyun, he had no such right. He might just text the other from time to time. But that was mainly because he’d miss him, not to watch over him or anything equally as disturbing.

 

Maybe Chanyeol could read exactly what he was thinking on his face because he leaned down to kiss Baekhyun shortly, tenderly. It was enough to cajole his heart up but not enough to dissipate the disappointment at the prospect of Chanyeol not staying over.

 

"You went out with Soojung yesterday too," he mumbled sadly when Chanyeol pulled away. "You always ditch me."

 

Chanyeol grinned, unapologetic.

 

"Well, I’m a popular guy who has friends. What can I say?"

 

That was a direct jab at the fact that Baekhyun spent most of his time at home. He ignored it in favor of whining loudly as he wrapped his arms around Chanyeol’s waist and pulled him closer, shaking him slightly in his embrace.

 

"Why can’t you just spend time with me?"

 

He could. They could spend a lot of time together. Baekhyun was positive he wouldn’t get tired of Chanyeol even if he were the only person he saw for a month straight. They could even just stay at home. Baekhyun would be content with not going out. They weren’t spending enough time together. 

 

Chanyeol didn’t seem affected by the same way of thinking. With that same amused smile on, the corners tugged up with only a slight tint of seriousness, he patted Baekhyun’s head.

 

"Do you want us to stick together every second of the day, every day?"

 

"Yes," Baekhyun replied without a single pause, nodding vigorously.

 

"That’s not healthy," Chanyeol answered, words echoing with notes of laughter.

 

"How is it not healthy? I feel much better when we’re together,” Baekhyun argued, still whiny, shamelessly so. If he had to whine to keep Chanyeol with him, he would.

 

He missed him. He just missed him a lot and there was nothing that he enjoyed more than spending time with the person he was in love with.

 

Chanyeol pursed his lips together, fingers carding through Baekhyun’s hair comfortingly.

 

"You know, I’m your boyfriend but I shouldn’t be your hobby."

 

Baekhyun pulled away at once, frowning.

 

"What the hell, Chanyeol," he said, surprise and outrage mixing unpleasantly inside of him. "You’re not my hobby. You’re so much more than that. I love you."

 

"That’s not what I mean, silly," the other laughed softly, leaving Baekhyun to look at him confusedly. "I mean, you only spend time with me. And Junmyeon," he added as an afterthought.

 

"That’s enough. I don’t need anyone else."

 

Even if he hadn’t seen Junmyeon in two whole weeks either, now that he thought about it.

 

This time, it was Chanyeol who frowned at him. "Yes, you do. You’ll get lonely. I love you too but you can’t put me at the actual center of your life," he said, voice softening.

 

Baekhyun sighed. A rational part of him knew that Chanyeol was right. 

 

They did spend a lot of time together. Baekhyun barely even interacted with anyone other than Chanyeol, whoever he met at the academy when he came to pick Chanyeol up, and Junmyeon, mostly through messages and calls.

 

"You need to make some friends," Chanyeol added, nuzzling against Baekhyun’s hair as if he knew his words were unpleasant to Baekhyun no matter how right he was. "You could even come dine with us on Friday again. It’s been a while, Soojung keeps asking about you."

 

Baekhyun hummed, musing about Chanyeol’s words while snuggling up against him, just to savor the time spent together before the other would have to leave.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The next time Baekhyun went to the gym, he ignored Sehun again.

 

Sehun had been trying to talk to him all throughout the week but each time, Baekhyun gave his whole attention to whatever workout he was doing, not replying him besides polite hums from time to time until Sehun grew tired and silent.

 

This time, Sehun didn’t even bother greeting him. Which Baekhyun could understand. He wouldn’t make too much effort for someone who was being as rude as he was. It was a wonder Sehun hadn’t given up much earlier.

 

He was talking to another guy instead, Minseok, as they both used the eclectic machines. He had introduced Minseok to him only a few days ago, tried coaxing Baekhyun into talking to him with an unfamiliar person. It hadn’t worked. Baekhyun had merely introduced himself back and hadn’t really found anything else to say. He really had a hard time figuring this out when he had nothing to motivate him.

 

However, today, he did have some kind of motivation. Although, it was very different from what he was used to. 

 

Chanyeol was right. No matter how unpleasant, and to some extent, confusing, it was. Playing games at home was a nice way to while the time away and he wouldn’t mind contenting himself with that single hobby but Chanyeol was right. It was kind of demoralizing to spend time at home alone when Chanyeol wasn’t there, either at work, or out with his own group of friends. He had even offered Baekhyun to join in a few times but Baekhyun didn’t like the thought of clinging to Chanyeol and his friends simply because he was alone, maybe even lonely. Even if he knew for sure that Chanyeol wouldn’t mind.

 

He could make some acquaintances. Just to have someone to talk to at the gym. He was already dedicated to coming in as often as he could and Sehun seemed to be as dedicated as him. They could be dedicated together. Just in the gym. Maybe. And Sehun did say funny things from time to time. Talked a lot. But not stupidly. Most of the time.

 

With a soft groan and a last squat, he put his dumbbells down and straightened up again. His arms burned a little, his chest heaving as he brought one end of his towel up to wipe the sweat on his neck and temples. He caught Sehun’s gaze before the latter quickly turned it away, raising his chin a little with a proud expression on. Baekhyun snorted to himself. He was obviously upset. Sulking, even. 

 

He grabbed his phone from where he had left it on the floor, just in case Chanyeol would message him, and lit up the screen. He had a few notifications, from Chanyeol and Baekbom, the most recent one. With a bit of apprehension, he opened his brother’s message.

 

Father’s at the hospital. 

 

He took a deep breath in. His arms burned a little. He chose not to answer. Instead, he opened up his conversation thread with Chanyeol and frowned at the onslaught of messages that greeted him.

 

baek

baek

hyun-ah

babe

baek

baek

guess what

 

What? What’s wrong?

 

He kept his eyes on the screen as he waited for a message, worry slowly peeking through him. It took Chanyeol only a few seconds to read the message and then send in his reply.

 

I love you

hehe

 

The worry burst into tiny fireworks in his heart, fading away and only leaving thick clouds of serenity behind. Grinning at how cute his boyfriend was, he quickly typed in his reply.

 

I love you too

You excited child

 

I’m a puppy

not a child

know the difference 

pft

 

Baekhyun bit into his lower lip to hold back another grin. He glanced up. Sehun and Minseok seemed to be in a heated conversation. He hesitated a few seconds before typing his next message.

 

Do you remember Sehun?

 

I don’t think so

who is it?

 

I talked about him when I explained everything 

You know, the guy who works at a clothing store

 

you mean the guy you had sex with in a dressing room

you can say it you know :p

I already know you’re a kinky little shit

 

Sometimes, Baekhyun wondered if all boyfriends were open like this or if he was too closed off while Chanyeol was simply perfect. Probably the latter.

 

I bumped into him at the gym 

A few times actually

 

oh really? that’s cool

 

He read over the message a few times, trying to decipher it, match it to Chanyeol’s voice in his mind. He couldn’t really figure out what kind of emotion Chanyeol would say those words with. He typed his next message, erased it, reworded it, and then sent it.

 

He wants to be my friend

 

It took more than a few seconds for the answer to come, right before Baekhyun started typing an apology.

 

baekhyun

you don’t need anyone’s permission to make friends

especially not mine

I’m your handsome boyfriend not your guardian

 

Baekhyun blinked.

 

But we had sex before

Wouldn’t it bother you?

 

it’s me you’re having sex with right now isn’t it?

 

That was simple. So simple. Baekhyun didn’t know why he had hesitated about it at all. He still had a lot to learn from Chanyeol, it seemed.

 

Well 

We’re not exactly having sex right now

Unless you’re asking for a dick pic with my fresh abs

 

you don’t have abs

 

Yet

 

Chanyeol sent him a bunch of encouraging and mocking stickers and Baekhyun looked at them one by one before locking his phone.

 

With newfound confidence, Baekhyun headed towards the treadmills where Minseok and Sehun had relocated. As he got closer to them, he picked up on a few familiar terms in their conversation.

 

"Are you guys talking about Battleground?" he casually asked as he got on the treadmill next to Sehun’s.

 

Instantly, Sehun cut his sentence off and turned to him, an eyebrow quirked.

 

"Are you done grinning like an idiot while talking to your boyfriend? Your ugly smile was kind of disarming. I almost pulled a muscle."

 

Sehun was definitely upset.

 

Baekhyun snorted, pushing the start button on the treadmill and starting to jog.

 

"Sehun," Minseok said from Sehun’s other side, a reprimand in his voice. "Stop being weird. Not everyone wants to be friends with a brat."

 

Sehun made an outraged expression. Baekhyun leaned forward just a little bit so he could see Minseok winking at him exaggeratedly, lips displaying an open smile as he showed a thumbs up to Baekhyun. He laughed, almost loud enough to drown out Sehun’s grumbling.

 

Maybe he could just ditch Sehun and make Minseok his friend instead.

 

"I bet Sehun’s the kind to rage quit when he’s playing," he said, unable to conceal his wide smile as he leaned to direct his words at Minseok, acting as if Sehun himself wasn’t there just to spite him.

 

"I’m not!" he protested.

 

"He totally is," Minseok singsonged. "He sulks for five entire minutes whenever his team loses. And curses a lot."

 

"Well, my team would certainly not lose if you weren’t part of it," Sehun scoffed.

 

Baekhyun enjoyed this.

 

"If you’re losing, it just means you’re doing something wrong," he said before Minseok could answer and start a probable childish banter that Baekhyun might enjoy witnessing.

 

"Oh, really?" Sehun turned to him, unimpressed. "And are you some kind of Battleground master to say that?"

 

"I haven’t lost a single game in a week," Baekhyun said, making sure that the ridiculous pride he held in that fact flowed in his voice.

 

Sehun fell silent, raising his eyebrows. Minseok lost his footing in his haste to look at Baekhyun and almost fell if not for the handles on the machine.

 

Baekhyun gladly boasted about his talents, techniques, and characters for the next half an hour.

 

As it turned out, Minseok and Sehun made pleasant gym buddies. He wouldn’t mind having this kind of conversation with them while working out. Only while working out.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A week later, Baekhyun was sitting at Minseok’s dining table, his laptop in front of him, fingers crazily clicking on his mouse as his ears were slowly going deaf from Sehun’s urgent screams of ‘Kill him! We’re gonna lose! Minseok hyung, what the hell are you doing?! Behind you! There! There!"

 

It soon turned to the three of them hollering excitedly when their team was announced winner of the game and Baekhyun leaned back against his chair, smiling widely as he stretched his arms over his head.

 

"We almost lost," Sehun groaned from his right, accusing gaze turned to Minseok who was sitting across from them.

 

MInseok looked at them with wide eyes.

 

"I did my best!" he whined, looking between them with defense.

 

"He’s right. He did get a little better," Baekhyun eventually conceded. MInseok was good at listening to advice and he had gotten better since Baekhyun explained him a few simple tricks that should be obvious but weren’t to the other. He turned to Sehun, pushing his shoulder a little bit. "You’re the one stressing him out with your constant screaming. You’re really annoying."

 

"What is this? Why are you teaming up against me?" Sehun said in a weak, sad voice, letting go of the barbecue-flavored chip he had extracted from the pack as if he had lost all appetite.

 

Baekhyun didn’t buy it one second. He had come to learn that Sehun was much slier than he thought. Under all the layers of cuteness and easy attachment.

 

"Let’s go for one more game?" Minseok asked, not paying attention to Sehun’s forlorn act either.

 

Sehun huffed, grumbling under his breath that Baekhyun is even louder than me and he makes animal noises at least I just curse even as they started another game.

 

Halfway through it, when things were a bit more difficult than the last game but still rather promising for them, Baekhyun’s phone vibrated from where it rested next to his laptop. He ignored it, only glancing at it the second time it vibrated to remind him of the unopened notification.

 

He saw Chanyeol’s name and glanced around. Both Sehun and Minseok were silent, focused on the game. Baekhyun quickly found a place for his character to hide and, hopefully, go unnoticed by other players, before grabbing his phone, a smile naturally reflected on the screen before he lighted it up and opened the message.

 

you having fun?

 

Yes :D

I’m killing everyone

 

great

now

your turn to die

 

Baekhyun furrowed his eyebrows in confusion only to widen his eyes when a photo popped up on the screen the next second.

 

It was a photo of Chanyeol, probably taken by his sister since he was spending the afternoon at his parents’ house. He was laying on the couch, his eyes closed, serene features pulled into a smile as he held onto the tiny ball of fluff that Toben was. The hyper puppy seemed to be sleeping on Chanyeol’s chest, Baekhyun knew from his frequent visits to Chanyeol’s parents’ house that there was no other way for Toben to be still enough for such a picture to be taken.

 

He pressed his lips together, smile widening as he raised the device closer to his face, as if that would help him somehow jump into the picture and join in the snuggling. Or maybe he could just melt and directly drip into the picture. That sounded more plausible at the moment, as he felt his heart swooning and swaying and swooshing as he saved the picture into his own camera roll.

 

Once it was saved, he opened it up again. The pale mole on the bridge of Chanyeol’s nose was a sight to behold. 

 

It was only when he heard a loud screech of his name that he managed to drag his eyes away from the photo and when he looked up, it was to his character dying on the screen and their team being completely defeated by their opponent.

 

"What the hell, Baekhyun?!" Minseok — surprisingly — groaned out loud as Sehun ran a hand through his hair in frustration.

 

"Sorry," Baekhyun said, mind still too caught up in the picture he had just been sent to actually sound apologetic.

 

"Why are you on your phone in the middle of the game?" Sehun scolded him, frowning. "We lost the game."

 

Baekhyun rolled his eyes. It didn’t matter. They were being dramatic. It was just a game.

 

"I didn’t lose anything," he declared. He opened up the picture again and proudly brandished his phone for them to see it. "You’re the only losers here. I have a cute boyfriend with a cute puppy."

 

Sehun pushed him in an attempt to make him fall off his chair, Minseok threw a chip at him. He had to grab onto Sehun’s arms to keep his balance and the chips somehow got stuck in his hair. Baekhyun laughed loudly as the other two continued groaning and complaining.

 

It didn’t matter. He had Chanyeol. He was the true winner here.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

On the first day of spring, Baekhyun stepped into the academy but this time, it wasn’t to pick Chanyeol up.

 

For the first time ever, a faint feeling of apprehension fluttered in his stomach at the sight of Chanyeol greeting him from behind the front desk.

 

"Are you ready?" Chanyeol asked with an easy smile as he stepped out from behind the desk and stood in front of Baekhyun.

 

Baekhyun would very much like to hold his hand, just to ease himself down a little, but they couldn’t show this kind of physical contact here. Baekhyun wouldn’t want anyone to say anything even remotely hurtful to Chanyeol.

 

"I’m not sure," he replied with a chuckle that carried nothing but nervousness to Chanyeol’s ears. Picking up on it, he moved a centimeter closer to Baekhyun.

 

"It’ll be okay," he said, the tone and volume of his low voice appeasing Baekhyun the slightest bit. "This is just your first try. If it doesn’t work out, I won’t ask you to step in for Jongdae until he comes back."

 

Baekhyun trailed his gaze over Chanyeol’s features, anchoring his mind into their familiarity and drifting it away from uncertainty.

 

Jongdae had caught the flu yesterday and was stuck to bed, unable to even move a single finger without wailing in pain, according to Chanyeol. He had called Baekhyun in panic yesterday, after Jongdae had to leave in the middle of the afternoon without finishing up his last class. Baekhyun had barely made out his words at first and Chanyeol had to explain more clearly, that he was asking Baekhyun to replace Jongdae for the next two days. He hadn’t been able to find another replacement and they also couldn’t afford to cancel classes when the academy would hold a small concert for its pianist students in a few weeks.

 

Chanyeol had explained that it was much smaller than their annual August show and focused exclusively on piano students since it was near impossible to fit all of them individually into one single show in August and they didn’t want to leave anyone out of it. This was a way for everyone to showcase their talents to a smaller, but still important audience while only a few people would be chosen for the August recital.

 

Baekhyun had never taught music — or anything else — to a child but he hadn’t been able to refuse when Chanyeol really seemed on the verge of a nervous breakdown. This was important to him and underneath the unease, Baekhyun still felt quite proud that Chanyeol trusted him with something as important as his work. It would be only two days, anyway. Only six classes since Yixing had filled in for Jongdae’s vocal classes and Chanyeol would step in for the ones he gave directly at students’ houses.

 

"Did you talk to the parents?" he asked, worrying his lower lip.

 

He wasn’t an actual teacher, after all, just someone who had been playing piano since a very young age. Some parents might be uncomfortable with leaving their children under the care of someone who had no real title, even if Baekhyun knew Yixing hadn’t studied to be a teacher either but was simply really good at music. Chanyeol had explained that as a private academy, they weren’t as strict with academic background. 

 

However, Baekhyun really had no experience with children at all.

 

"I did," Chanyeol said as he gestured for him to start walking so they could head towards the classroom. "They’re okay with it. They kind of trust me, I guess," he chuckled softly but seemed to notice that Baekhyun barely smiled. "Hey, it’ll be okay," he said, voice as consoling as the hand he rested on Baekhyun’s lower back.

 

"What if I somehow traumatize them?" Baekhyun blurted out, looking at the other unsurely.

 

Chanyeol laughed at his words and he furrowed his eyebrows nudging him until he stopped.

 

"Why would you?" he asked.

 

"I don’t know," Baekhyun sighed petulantly. 

 

Chanyeol opened the door of Jongdae’s classroom and they stepped in. It had the same exact design as Chanyeol’s and yet, Baekhyun still felt uneasy.

 

"It’ll be okay," Chanyeol repeated, with the same fond smile. Baekhyun wasn’t sure what to think about the fact that Chanyeol could find this state of his anything close to positive. "You know how to play To a Wild Rose, don’t you? That’s what she’ll be practicing. She knows most of it already, you just have to make her practice it and then teach her another bit of it. It’s just for an hour."

 

Baekhyun knew he was experienced and deft enough to be able to watch over the student as she’d practice. He could even teach her the whole piece. That wasn’t the problem. What worried him was the fact that it was a child. Children were rather scary.

 

Before he could say anything else, the door was pushed open and in stepped a young girl, a wide grin on her face and her hair pulled into two pigtails. Baekhyun took a tiny step back. Chanyeol returned her smile with as much sprite and instantly introduced Baekhyun to her. He did his best not to look as constipated as he felt. Fortunately, he was good at that.

 

She seemed to be an attentive child, she had barely uttered a word and was nodding understandingly to whatever Chanyeol said, glancing at Baekhyun for a second when he told her that Baekhyun would be her teacher for today. Apprehension gutted his stomach and Baekhyun wondered what on earth he was doing there.

 

Soon, Chanyeol was stepping towards the door with a last smile to the young girl — Miyoung — and this time, when Baekhyun met his gaze, it was to a soft dim of worry. He dragged the corners of his lips up into a reassuring smile. 

 

Chanyeol left, he had a class to attend too, and when the door closed, Baekhyun was left alone with the young girl. He looked at her, meeting her shy gaze. Her hands were laced behind her back and she was swaying a little on the sole of her baby blue shoes, looking up at him with wide eyes. 

 

Baekhyun smiled widely and clapped his hands together.

 

"So. Are you ready to impress me?" he asked, voice chiming excitedly even if nervousness still sizzled in his stomach. "I was told you’re really good and that you might even teach me a thing or two," he added, leaning closer and lowering his voice as if he was sharing a secret.

 

The little girl giggled, shyly stifling the sound behind one of her small hands. She was only eleven years old, Baekhyun remembered already playing Mozart at her age. She nodded then, before quietly making her way towards the piano. She settled properly on the bench and put her feet on the stack of books under the piano. The bench was already lowered to the maximum but she was still too small to reach the floor properly. She looked over her shoulder, giving Baekhyun an expectant look.

 

With a last deep inhale, Baekhyun moved to settled next to her and the lesson started.

 

She was pretty good. Her short fingers still fumbled around from time to time, a bit uncoordinated, but she had most of what she had learned memorized already, almost half of the piece. There were small mistakes, a few wrong keys, but her posture was pretty good. Her fingers were too tense from time to time and Baekhyun tried correcting her but was rather lenient since that habit could be corrected later on, once she wouldn’t struggling with the novelty of the piece anymore.

 

She was a calm child. She always looked at Baekhyun apologetically when making a mistake that she was aware of. Baekhyun always gave her a reassuring smile and shook his head, prompting her to go on. Small mistakes weren’t too important, they could be corrected with practice. 

 

Unexpectedly, the nervousness faded away pretty quickly. It was as if something had been switched in him the moment Chanyeol had closed the door and left him alone with his student. He gave advice, nodded his head along to the rhythm in support, never got frustrated when she did the same mistake over ten times, and cracked a few jokes here and there to lighten up the mood. She laughed at all of them, no matter how lame they were and soon, she even started talking to him, asking him for advice, telling him that she had forgotten the exact order of the notes. 

 

Baekhyun showed her, taught her, watched over her, with a constant easy smile on his face. Children weren’t scary, after all. It was even enjoyable, to some extent, immersing himself in the music and pulling a child that had so much potential in with him.

 

Music really was much more enjoyable when he wasn’t alone. Sharing his knowledge and passion about the subject felt natural and pleasant.

 

By the end of the class, when Miyoung left with a wide grin and an excited wave to him, he wondered why he had even been so nervous about this.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

"How are classes going anyway?" Junmyeon asked as he strayed Baekhyun away from another streetwear clothing store.

 

Baekhyun had already bought three Supreme hoodies today. Two for him and one that he was pretty sure Chanyeol would steal from him. He had even bought it a size too big, just in case. Chanyeol’s love for hoodies was starting to rub off on him, even if Baekhyun’s favorite hoodies weren’t the ones he bought but those he stole from Chanyeol’s closet.

 

"They ended yesterday," he said, a bit forlorn, as they strode through Myeong-dong, gaze seeking for another potential store they could visit. "Jongdae came back today. His nose is still red and runny but he insisted."

 

Baekhyun wouldn’t have minded filling in for him for an additional third day. Chanyeol had allowed Jongdae to come back and he was talking about finding an additional teacher for the academy this morning.

 

"You seem kinda sad about it," Junmyeon noted with a soft hum.

 

"I really liked it," Baekhyun confessed, regretful.

 

"Really? You were panicking like crazy about children," Junmyeon guffawed and Baekhyun nudged him with his elbow until he stopped.

 

He might have sent one or two or ten panicked messages asking for Junmyeon to kidnap him so he would have a good reason to avoid the situation altogether. 

 

"I know but it was actually really nice," he said as this time, he was the one to stray Junmyeon away from a suits tailoring store. He already had too many suits. "I thought it would be awkward and difficult but it actually wasn’t. It felt pretty natural."

 

"I kind of knew you’d be good with children," Junmyeon said, giving him a light smile. He almost looked proud of Baekhyun. He couldn’t help but grin. 

 

"There was one or two teenagers too but it actually went well. They all looked at me as if I was some kind of piano god."

 

Junmyeon snorted. "So that’s why. You just liked being worshipped by oblivious children," he said, eyeing him judgmentally.

 

"What?" Baekhyun said, widening his eyes innocently as he balanced the few shopping bags he had in his hand. "It made me feel very smart to blabber about piano and how to press notes and how to hold yourself when playing without someone telling me I already know all of that shut up Baekhyun," he said, letting his voice turning into a higher, squeaky tone.

 

"I don’t speak like that!" Junmyeon instantly said, affronted.

 

"Yes, you do," Baekhyun huffed.

 

Baekhyun didn’t even attempt sharing piano knowledge with Chanyeol. He was content with letting Chanyeol pour it all on him and watching the passionate flame in his eyes flutter and permeate through his own body.

 

Junmyeon rolled his eyes and pulled him towards another store.

 

"Maybe Jongdae will fall sick again and Chanyeol’ll call you to replace him."

 

"I certainly hope so," Baekhyun said, with enough shamelessness for both of them to burst into laughter.

 

It was only once they stepped inside the store that Baekhyun stopped laughing and realized where they were.

 

He turned to Junmyeon, already pulling him towards the door again.

 

"Why don’t we just go to another—"

 

"Look who’s visiting after a long time."

 

Baekhyun looked up to meet Sehun’s cheeky smile and he groaned.

 

"Why are you still working here?" he couldn’t help but ask accusingly.

 

Sehun quirked an eyebrow and didn’t even reply to him. Instead, he slid his sharp gaze to Junmyeon who had been looking between them in confusion since the moment Sehun had stepped him.

 

Baekhyun’s realized it was too late to save Junmyeon when he saw Sehun’s gaze sparkle a little before simmering down into a dim as he stepped closer.

 

"Is that the best friend you showed us pictures of?" he asked as he stood directly in front of a confused Junmyeon, his lips stretching into that wide smirk Baekhyun had once found attractive. Now it looked rather creepy as Sehun let his gaze curiously drip all over Junmyeon’s body.

 

Once he seemed to gather his stance right back up, Junmyeon looked at him with wide eyes.

 

"You show pictures of me to random people?" he asked, accusation clear in his voice but his gaze going right back to Sehun as soon as he was done speaking.

 

"I’m not a random person," Sehun interjected. He tilted his head a little and smiled widely, boyish, probably attractive in Junmyeon’s eyes as he leaned just a little closer to him. Junmyeon had always liked tall men. Younger ones too. "You look even hotter in real life than you do in pictures."

 

Baekhyun forced himself not to wince as he watched Junmyeon look down, a bit coy. This always happened. Junmyeon might sleep around a lot but as soon as there was some kind of open, obvious flirting directed at him outside of a nightclub, he turned a little sheepish and timid. It was almost as if he had some kind of night and day modes.

 

"Thank you," he muttered and Baekhyun’s eyes widened when he saw the red flowering on the tip of his best friend’s ears as he glanced down at the name tag on Sehun’s chest. He was wearing a pretty fitting, tight shirt that carved over his sculpted chest perfectly. Junmyeon glanced back up at his face. "Sehun-ssi."

 

Sehun grinned, obviously noticing the effect he had on Junmyeon.

 

Baekhyun had expected this to happen. This was exactly why he hadn’t introduced Junmyeon to Sehun and Minseok despite having talked to either party about each other. He was scared for Junmyeon’s safety.

 

However, Junmyeon looked pretty comfortable when Sehun stepped even closer to him and draped an arm over his shoulder. He looked pleased, a smile lighting up his features delicately as he looked up at Sehun. Baekhyun knew that look. 

 

He knew exactly what Junmyeon looked like when he wanted to tuck himself against an attractive man’s side.

 

"Please, let’s be casual and comfortable with each other, Junmyeon," Sehun said.

 

Baekhyun wasn’t even surprised when Junmyeon, who usually went crazy when age hierarchy and seniority weren’t respected, said nothing and even smiled pleasantly. Sehun threw him a tiny glare. 

 

"Baekhyun might have tried straying our paths from each other but we’re all friends, aren’t we? We’ll see each other much more often now." That sounded like a threat to Baekhyun. Sehun looked back down at Junmyeon. "Now, follow me. I know exactly what kind of clothes would suit your body. You have a really nice one, by the way. Do you work out?"

 

Baekhyun was left there, standing at the entrance of the store, watching as Sehun casually palmed along Junmyeon’s arm to feel the muscles. Baekhyun could tell Junmyeon was flexing hard at that moment.

 

He wasn’t sure whether he wanted to laugh or retch out the jjamppong they had eaten for lunch.

 

He settled on following after them, worried for Junmyeon’s wellbeing.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

March ended in plum blossoms, Baekhyun walking in amazement with Chanyeol through the Gwangyang Maehwa Festival. 

 

The pink and white blossoms weren’t as radiant as Chanyeol’s smile. The spring sun wasn’t as warm as Chanyeol’s kisses on his neck, but even the summer sun would be overshadowed by Chanyeol on the hottest day of the year. 

 

April started with smiles. Chanyeol’s hair was longer and tickled Baekhyun’s collarbones when they woke up together in the morning. 

 

They were rarely apart, and even if they were, Baekhyun always carried twin flames in his chest. One sparked by Chanyeol’s love for him and one ablaze with his love for Chanyeol. 

 

As days passed by, Baekhyun grew less clumsy. Insecurities were still present, sometimes he was so scared of losing the only person who made his heart feel enlivened that he lost sleep over it. 

 

It wouldn’t happen though. Because Baekhyun did his best to love Chanyeol the way he deserved to be. And because Chanyeol loved him back with the same ardor.

 

Baekhyun still bought him flowers. He never knew their meaning. They were pretty. Chanyeol’s smile was always prettier. 

 

When Chanyeol smiled, Baekhyun wanted to collect a petal of every single flower on earth and sprinkle it down his head, just so it would tickle him while falling down and he would laugh. Just so he would be happy. 

 

Baekhyun was the happiest when he made Chanyeol happy.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

That night, Chanyeol wasn’t happy.

 

He had called Baekhyun earlier, voice trembling and weak as he told Baekhyun about the horrible day he had been through. He had sounded sad. Incredibly sad and Baekhyun had seen Chanyeol cry only once in his life but he could still imagine the sorrowful twist of his features. The mere thought had planted into his heart and squeezed it until it was too painful to even breathe when Chanyeol felt sad.

 

Chanyeol couldn’t be sad. 

 

That had been the only thought flashing through his head since Baekhyun had hung up the phone and got out of his house in a furry to reach Chanyeol’s apartment as soon as possible. Chanyeol couldn’t be sad. That just felt wrong. Chanyeol should always smile and no one was supposed to hurt Chanyeol and especially not enough for his voice to sound so dejected, much duller than usual as each word spiked thorns of discomfort into his heart. He didn’t like it.

 

Baekhyun didn’t like Chanyeol being sad at all and he wanted him to be happy again as soon as possible so it was with rushed fingers that Baekhyun typed in the code to Chanyeol’s apartment to let himself in. 

 

Stepping in, he took off his jacket and hung it next to the blue scarf at the entrance, before walking further into the apartment.

 

"Yeol-ah," he called in a careful voice, hoping that the concern wouldn’t seep into it as that might only upset Chanyeol more.

 

He heard a muffled groan replying to him from somewhere deeper in the apartment and he smiled, passing by the empty living room to head for the bedroom instead. The door was wide open, the only proof of Chanyeol’s presence in the room was the big lump curled under the blanket. Baekhyun bit his lower lip. He wasn’t sure whether it was because this was adorable or because Chanyeol was really upset and he hated it more than anything.

 

Quietly, he stepped towards the bed and as soon as he was close enough, he plunged down right into the Chanyeol lump that groaned under him, still muffled but louder than before.

 

"What are you doing," he heard and there was no real laughter or any trace of joy in Chanyeol’s voice so Baekhyun pursed his lips and got off Chanyeol to slip under the blanket instead.

 

It took a while for his eyes to adjust to the darkness once he had buried himself in the cushiness of Chanyeol’s bed but the first thing he saw was the pull of Chanyeol’s lower lip into a faint, somber pout. That was enough for the comfort to fade away. He couldn’t see him properly but Baekhyun could tell he was still upset, disappointed, and that was enough for the cold to bite into him again.

 

"What are you doing here? It’s the middle of the night," Chanyeol mumbled, voice as lackluster as it had been earlier.

 

"You said you were sad," was the only explanation Baekhyun gave him.

 

Chanyeol pressed his lips together, his features melting into a completely different emotion. Something plainer, something more open, something that tugged at Baekhyun’s heart, touched him the same way his words seemed to have touched Chanyeol. He smiled reassuringly and pulled Chanyeol into his arms, letting him burrow against the crook of his neck, letting out a chuckle when one of his legs tangled with Baekhyun’s while the other hooked over Baekhyun’s hips. He felt so small in his arms, as if he wanted to curl his entire being around Baekhyun. 

 

And Chanyeol was, in a way, already curled around Baekhyun’s entire existence. It didn’t feel like enough, however, so Baekhyun let his hand draw comforting patterns on Chanyeol’s back, rubbing the bumps of his spine, his fingers sometimes kissing his nape with their tips, and sometimes slipping under the hem of his shirt to bathe in the temperature of his skin.

 

They remained silent, exchanging no words, communicating through nothing but the hearts that beat against each other, adoring touches, a consoling caress, a nuzzle that sought more attention. After a while, Baekhyun started humming to the last song they had played together on the piano, only last night. Chanyeol snuggled deeper against his neck, as if he wanted to hear Baekhyun better, the vibrations at his core, not the voice. Baekhyun closed his eyes, let Chanyeol’s presence grow a smile on his lips, and continued soothing the other.

 

By the end of the song, Chanyeol still hadn’t moved once and Baekhyun concluded that he had fallen asleep sometime through his humming. After a short while, he felt a kiss grazing his neck tenderly.

 

"Are you feeling better?" Baekhyun whispered, his fingers tracing a path up towards Chanyeol’s nape before weaving their way into his mussed hair. 

 

He felt Chanyeol sigh against his neck before he pulled away a little, just enough to look at Baekhyun. His eyes had adjusted to the darkness cocooned under their blanket and he could distinguish Chanyeol’s features better now.

 

They still lacked their usual shine, the liveliness constantly lighted in his eyes dimmed down, and the lines of exhaustions on his skin sharp enough to slice through Baekhyun’s breath. He didn’t let his fingers fall off Chanyeol’s hair and continued carding them through it.

 

"A little," Chanyeol mumbled and he wasn’t pouting sadly anymore but the pout could still be heard in the way his words were slurred, syllables meshed together.

 

"Do you want to talk about it?" he asked, tilting his head a little to catch Chanyeol’s gaze again.

 

He sighed again, falling silent afterwards. Baekhyun said nothing. He wanted Chanyeol to talk about it because he hadn’t really understood everything the other had said earlier on the phone, too panicked by the thought of his being sad to pay proper attention to his words. Sharing would also make him feel a little better as well but Baekhyun wouldn’t force him either. If Chanyeol was content with just hugging him, Baekhyun would hold him throughout the entire night.

 

"You know that student?" Chanyeol eventually said after a while, voice gaining back a little bit of its signature deep and sturdy tone. His gaze was focused on the collar of Baekhyun’s shirt, his fingers grazing the inked branch on Baekhyun’s collarbone. 

 

"Which student?"

 

"The one who’s a bit… difficult," Chanyeol sighed again, shifting a little closer to Baekhyun who wrapped him in his embrace again.

 

It was getting a bit too stuffy under the blank, where the air was heavy and too little for two people to be comfortable but neither of them minded.

 

"Jinho? What about him?"

 

It wasn’t difficult to recognize who he was talking about. It was that little boy whose mother had enrolled him into guitar classes after a recommendation from a therapist. They had all hesitated at first at the academy. They knew the therapist should’ve guided them towards someone specialized in music therapy, Jongdae had even gotten upset at the idea of the therapist not doing their job properly. In the end, Chanyeol hadn’t been able to reject the desperate mother and decided to personally take charge of him.

 

"He wasn’t in a good mood today," Chanyeol said, furrowing his eyebrows as if the memory alone was enough to pain him again. Baekhyun tightened his hold around him. "So I tried being understanding. I tried being even more patient than usual. I explained his mistakes to him, showed him the right melody again and again, explained him everything. But he was getting it wrong on purpose."

 

"On purpose?"

 

Chanyeol nodded. "They were simple notes. A very simple melody. I repeated it over twenty times and there’s no way he could still get it wrong. But he did, he was testing me and I didn’t snap at all because I could see it and I wanted him to understand that it didn’t work. I guess he did understand it," Chanyeol snorted a self-deprecating sound.

 

"What did he do?" Baekhyun asked carefully.

 

This was a sensible subject. Chanyeol had been having trouble with this student for close to a month now and it often dampened his mood but it had never been so bad. Baekhyun had often wanted to suggest him to give up but it wouldn’t be fair, not to Chanyeol nor to that student.

 

Chanyeol took a long, shuddery breath in.

 

"He got angry. Really angry. I don’t even know how it happened but suddenly he was screaming really loudly, saying really mean things, and he damaged the guitar we lent him."

 

"He damaged it? Did he break it?" Baekhyun asked, frowning.

 

Sometimes, he wished he really could witness all of Chanyeol’s classes. Just so he could be there when that kind of thing happened.

 

"Not really. He tried but I managed to save it in time. There’s just a lot of scratches."

 

"But I thought you were making progress. He was being nice lately, he even told you about his day only last week."

 

Chanyeol remained silent for a short moment, gaze straying away again. His fingers were holding onto Baekhyun’s shirt loosely but his presence was clasping all of Baekhyun’s senses. He saw the unpleasant shift in his expression as soon as it occured.

 

"Maybe I’m a bad teacher," he said at first, quietly, as if his own voice was feeling too ashamed to make the journey to Baekhyun’s ears. "I could’ve handled it better. He hates me now. I know it. In the way he looked at me. I’m a really bad teacher, Baekhyun. I should’ve talked to him, done something. Maybe he just needs to talk, maybe I ruined everything. Maybe I should’ve just—"

 

"Chanyeol," Baekhyun cut him off gently but firmly before the panic in his voice could amplify even more and drown a part of Baekhyun along. "Stop that," he asked, maybe even pleaded. He didn’t like this. Chanyeol was never insecure. Chanyeol was always bright and dynamic, he always had a solution to everything, tackled every problem with a positive attitude, and never lost even a tidbit of his confidence.

 

Chanyeol quietened down with another shaky breath. Baekhyun cradled his cheek tenderly, letting his thumb pave over his cheekbone and his gaze retrieve Chanyeol’s away from the density of uncertainty.

 

"You’re an amazing teacher," he breathed out, every single syllable coated with utmost sincerity. Chanyeol’s eyebrows curved upwards on the inner corners, his lips pressing into a tight line. "All your students love you." And Baekhyun knew. He had witnessed the happy smiles, excited conversations, and passionate musical notes with his own eyes. "You help them all so much and they know it. They know you care. Because you’re really good at showing it. And Jinho will see it too eventually. As long as you’re careful and you’re doing your best, it’ll be okay."

 

Chanyeol said nothing. He simply looked at Baekhyun as if he absorbed every single one of his words into his chest and let them all out with deep exhales. Baekhyun pressed a hand against his chest, feeling the lulling beat of his heart. It was so big, so warm, so full of a love that Chanyeol was willing to give to everyone who needed it, to the point that he sometimes forgot how tiring it could be to always give so much. 

 

He was softhearted. Kindhearted. He was just Chanyeol-hearted. Baekhyun didn’t think there was a word to describe its selfless, generous beauty.

 

And he was so lucky to be loved by that heart.

 

Still wordless, Chanyeol let out a small, sad groan, lips pressed together tightly. Baekhyun smiled, moving his face closer to the other’s, enough to make out the emotions in his eyes.

 

"Are you gonna stop being sad now?" he asked, a playful threat.

 

Chanyeol let out another whine and Baekhyun narrowed his eyes, looking at him for a fleeting second before his gaze fell down to his slightly jutted out lower lip. His own lips followed the course of his gaze until Baekhyun pressed a kiss on the delectable, puffy rosiness of Chanyeol’s lips. It wasn’t enough and soon, he landed another kiss on the corner of Chanyeol’s mouth, on the patch of dipping skin between his upper lip and his nose. Gradually, he moved upwards, kissing the tip of his nose once and then once again but this time it was a loud, exaggerated smooch, the first one of the many others Baekhyun puckered over Chanyeol’s cheeks to bunch them up into a smile.

 

He soon leaned over Chanyeol, supporting himself on one elbow as he felt Chanyeol’s hands hold onto his waist. That made it easier for him to scatter kisses all over Chanyeol’s face until he was laughing. It was a clear, crystal sound pealing with delight while Baekhyun pressed a kiss against his forehead, his temple, the arch of his eyebrow, his closed eye. They weren’t even actual kisses after some time. Baekhyun just kept his lips puckered and pressed them over any patch of available skin, his cheek, his jaw, the tip of his ear, the ticklish spot right below his ear, the crook of his neck, and then one last time, right on the note of laughter dancing away from his lips.

 

Chanyeol pressed a loving hand against his nape, keeping him there as Baekhyun felt Chanyeol’s chest heaving with silent laughter while they kissed, this one a deeper, more passionate embrace of their mouths. Baekhyun could still hear it in his own mind, that endearing melody. They were both smiling into the kiss and it was sloppy, deep but disorganized because Chanyeol was smiling too hard and Baekhyun was smiling because he could feel the happiness Chanyeol bubbled in his chest.

 

When Baekhyun pulled away, still hovering over Chanyeol, it was to a shimmery, enchanting gaze diving into his. His eyes widened, his hand soaring to cup Chanyeol’s cheek again.

 

"Why are you crying?" he asked, voice hoarse yet tender as Chanyeol’s hand closed around his on his cheek, his fingers sliding into the slots between Baekhyun’s.

 

He wasn’t crying. Not yet. His eyes were gleaming, on the brink of overflowing as his hand held tight onto Baekhyun’s. As if he might crumble down if Baekhyun let go for a single second. 

 

"You just," he said, voice quivering a little, enough for him to stop and take a deep breath. Baekhyun watched him, confused, a little panicked, wondering if he had somehow said or done something to upset Chanyeol. His heart wailed a little bit and an apology was already on his lips when Chanyeol spoke again, after a small, quiet chuckle. "You just. Love me so much. So much. And I can feel it. All of it. For real."

 

Baekhyun felt like the tiny tear trickling down Chanyeol’s temple. Liquified, warm, falling, caught on the safe surface of the pillow. Part of Chanyeol.

 

"You’re crying because you feel loved?" he asked, throat tight around his words, body loose enough for him to feel every fiber of the love Chanyeol breathed into him, on every single centimeter of his being.

 

Happy. That was the title of the song his heart tirelessly played for Chanyeol.

 

Happy and in love.

 

That was the title of the song they played together. An orchestra of Chanyeol’s embarrassed whine, Baekhyun’s delighted teasing, and the duet of their efflorescent hearts.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The next morning, Baekhyun woke up to seven missed calls and three messages from his brother.

 

He didn’t wake up to them, per se, Chanyeol’s smile and dazed gaze were what had greeted him as soon as he had woken up and it was only after many kisses and even more snuggles and chuckles that Baekhyun had looked at his phone.

 

A heavy sentiment loomed over him as his eyes took in the messages several times.

 

Father is not well.

You should come say goodbye while you still can.

As soon as possible. He doesn’t have long.

It’s your choice, I’m telling you because I don’t want you to regret it.

 

Each of those words seemed to swim under his eyes in slow motion. Everything around him, including his own heartbeat, his own breath seemed to turn idle for a fleeting moment. When he felt his heartbeat again, it wasn’t furious. It was beating steadily. Nothing out of the ordinary.

 

Baekhyun had always wondered what it would feel like for his father to die. Because he would. It was decided the moment the doctor had announced his lung cancer. It was a wonder the man had even lived this long with the rate at which he continued smoking. 

 

Baekhyun had always wondered what it would feel like to get this announcement. His father would die. His father was dying. Maybe he’d be dead in an hour, maybe it would take a few more days. He took a deep breath in. 

 

He didn’t feel much. No sadness. No sorrow. Nothing even remotely close to what he imagined mourning to feel like. He just felt empty. Accepting. There was a faint twist in his stomach. Besides that, no particular emotion. Would that change once his father would have actually passed away? He wasn’t sure.

 

"What’s wrong?" Chanyeol asked, sitting up in bed, beside him.

 

Baekhyun looked at him. He wanted to smile. He couldn’t. His features felt a little frozen.

 

"My father," he said. The way Chanyeol instantly tensed up at those words didn’t go unnoticed. Reassuring fingers grabbed his firmly. "He’s dying."

 

The only shift in Chanyeol’s expression was the further furrow of his eyebrows. His fingers tightened a little bit around Baekhyun’s and his eyes were searching his, attentive, curious, a little concerned. 

 

"Will you go?"

 

Baekhyun looked back down at his phone. Read the messages over again.

 

Regret. Would he regret it?

 

He would. Would he regret not greeting his dying father a farewell or would he regret not witnessing his own agony on the verge of vanishment? He couldn’t tell.

 

"I have to," he eventually replied.

 

Chanyeol’s thumb was soothing as it caressed the back of his hand. 

 

"Will you be okay? Do you want me to come with you?" he asked softly and Baekhyun knew he wasn’t concerned about his father, he was concerned about Baekhyun himself.

 

He looked up at Chanyeol again. This time, he felt his lips pulling into a small smile. Serene. Stressed. An odd fusion.

 

"It’s alright. I have to do this on my own."

 

This farewell was his. He didn’t know who or what exactly he would be saying goodbye to for the last time but something inside of him, perhaps a newly growing forest cleansing the smoke away, was telling him that he deserved this.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Baekbom was waiting for him in front of the door once Baekhyun arrived.

 

It had been more than a year since he had last seen his brother’s face. It was familiar. The foreign way in which his gaze took those features that looked alike to his own was familiar. 

 

He had changed. Just a little bit. The corners of his eyes were tainted by darkness, just like the bags hanging under them. The lines on the corners were a little more definite now. The same lines traced over his forehead, around his mouth precisely, tinted with exhaustion.

 

Baekhyun felt that familiar hand squeezing his heart. His brother looked so alike to him and yet, Baekhyun didn’t know what his favorite dish was. He didn’t know what his favorite color was. He didn’t know if he had gotten a girlfriend, a fiancée, maybe a bride. He didn’t even know what were the emotions fluttering in his eyes as he looked back at Baekhyun, as he slowly approached him and then stood in front of him. They were familiar. Baekhyun had never been able to figure out why Baekbom looked at him like that. What he looked at him like.

 

He didn’t know if he was happy to see him either. He didn’t know if he wished to have seen him under different circumstances.

 

He did. He wished it. 

 

The little boy in him did, the one who had constantly tried trailing after his brother after their mother had died without ever being able to hold Baekbom’s hand. The lonely little boy who had always silently watched Baekbom leave from the doorstep of their repressingly vast house. First to his dorm in one of Seoul’s prestigious schools, then to the airport through which he would soar into a different country, into a different dorm, into freedom. The last time Baekhyun had seen him vanish was when he had moved out of the family house and to his own apartment instead. 

 

He had given Baekhyun the address, scribbled on a flimsy piece of paper. Baekhyun had lost it, never asked for it again. Baekbom had never asked where that piece of paper ended up, had never asked if Baekhyun could find his way there, on his own. Baekhyun had tried. Once. No one had opened the door. Baekbom had been in Japan at that time. He was never somewhere Baekhyun could reach out to. Always away.

 

Now, he stood in front of Baekhyun. His lips twitched into the miserable attempt of a smile.

 

"He’s inside," he said, as if Baekhyun couldn’t figure it out himself.

 

It wasn’t because he doubted Baekhyun’s intelligence. It was because he didn’t know what else to say to a brother linked to him by nothing but blood. Baekhyun knew. Because he would’ve said the same exact thing had their roles been exchanged.

 

"Yeah," Baekhyun said. "You’ve been here long?"

 

"Since last night," Baekbom replied and he wasn’t looking at Baekhyun anymore.

 

"I see," was all he said, the end of his sentence rising a little, as if he wanted to say something else and it wasn’t the end. Baekhyun couldn’t find its end. He closed his mouth.

 

Baekbom sighed.

 

"Go on. Go inside. I’ll be here."

 

Baekhyun nodded, not surprised. Baekbom had never been there, never stood between his father and him.

 

He stepped aside, letting Baekhyun reach for the door. Baekhyun took a deep breath in, silently, discreetly, and with a last glance at Baekbom, he pushed the door open.

 

His father was there, laying on a pristine bed.

 

He didn’t know why that was the first thought in his head at the sight. The man was there. He really was. On his deathbed. He expected something to twist his heart, gut his stomach, pierce through him. Sorrow, regret, sadness. None of that. Nothing.

 

Baekhyun closed the door behind him, stepped closer, gaze stuck on the flimsy figure on the bed. 

 

He looked like a ghost. Pale, an old, tarnished, yellowed kind of pale. He had a mask on the lower half of his face, his chest was heaving irregularly as it breathed air into his damaged lungs. His face was wrinkled, withered, cheeks sunken, forehead lined, and the skin under his eyebrows was almost layered on his closed eyelids. He didn’t look alive. He had stopped looking alive a long time ago but now, it was different.

 

Baekhyun stood next to the bed, arms hanging on his sides, head tilted down to gaze at the unconscious man.

 

He waited. A second, a minute, maybe more, maybe less. He didn’t look away. He looked and waited. The greasy, laborious breathing of his father and the beeps of the medical machines in the room filled up the silence. He waited, expectant.

 

Nothing. He felt nothing. Only regret as he watched the sleeping man. Regret for the love he had never gotten. No longing, however. No more.

 

He wasn’t sure how long he stood there, silent, watching, thinking, reminiscing everything he hated about this man, unable to recall a single thing that soothed his heart with positivity or relief. 

 

After a while, he caught the man’s fingers twitching a little bit.

 

Baekhyun’s gaze dropped to them. He could imagine a long cigarette slotted between his index and middle fingers. He could feel the smoke twirling from its vivid end and bursting into Baekhyun, cramping his mind up until he had no room for anything else.

 

That was it, he realized. That was his most prominent memory of his father. 

 

Even now, on his deathbed, Baekhyun could feel the smoke wrapping around him. Clamping down on him, noxious, not directly harming him but able to cause major damage to him if it so wanted. Bitter, ashy, in his mouth, in his nose, burning his eyes and filling him up with unease.

 

Baekhyun hated the scent of cigarettes. It had always clung to him when he used to live in his father’s house. No amount of perfume was enough to drown it out. It clung to his clothes, his hair, his skin, his throat, stubborn, merciless. He could smell it even now. His memories reeked of it. It reeked of memories.

 

Those fingers twitched again and Baekhyun heard a gargle. He looked up to the man’s face, caught the tired, weak flutter of his eyes. His eyelids opened up with difficulty, as if they were stuck together, as if death was already working its way into him, already taking parts of him one by one. Their gaze met. Baekhyun saw nothing but fog in those dark, shallow eyes. They widened. Recognition. It took a few seconds. 

 

Trepidation then swirled in his eyes along with the smoke and suddenly, one of his hands shot up to the mask, dragging it away from his face. Instantly, Baekhyun heard a wheeze, choked, stifled, dirty, wet, greasy, rattling Baekhyun’s chest just a little bit. Not because it hurt. Because it was familiar.

 

He watched silently as the man parted his lips, his wide eyes never once startling away from Baekhyun’s calm ones. He expected it. An insult, an accusation, a puff of smoke spat onto his face. Now, Baekhyun could feel it. That tight ring around his throat. In his throat. Frozen smoke. He waited for it. Waited for it to strike him.

 

It didn’t. The one thing that struck him was how cold and leathery the man’s hand felt when it snapped around Baekhyun’s wrist.

 

It felt like a frostbite. Baekhyun’s eyes widened. The man’s arm was trembling, as if even holding onto his wrist took a gigantic amount of effort. Baekhyun swallowed down. He didn’t know what it was. The look in those eyes. Clear. The smoke was a ghostly white now, like a spirit, a haze at the start of a new day. Baekhyun breathed surprise in as he looked at where they touched. His father hadn’t touched him in so long. Baekhyun didn’t even remember when was the last time it happened.

 

He heard the weak call of his name and looked up at his face again. He wanted to pull away. He wanted to rip his wrist out of the man’s hold but it felt impossible, frightening. He feared part of his skin would rip away from his limb, remain stuck on his father’s hand like a leaf grasped in ice, the tiny stem ripping away from its body when tugged with an attempt at freeing it.

 

And maybe Baekhyun wasn’t like his father. Maybe he wasn’t as cruel. Because he felt his hand slipping up a little bit in that tight hold that tugged at his skin painfully. He felt his hand hold onto the trembling man’s. He didn’t know why. Maybe it was that little boy inside of him, still desperate, still yearning, still wishing. Dim, on the verge of fading away, but still alive.

 

The man parted his lips again, they were pale, dry, split, and Baekhyun heard another wheeze, another rattle before he heard shattered words.

 

"I’m scared," the man said and Baekhyun could see it now. It wasn’t clarity in his eyes. It was a different kind of haze. A loony swirl in his eyes taking over the rationality. He couldn’t clutch at his sanity but he squeezed Baekhyun’s hand until Baekhyun felt like his bones would be permanently indented by his hold on him, just like his entire being was.

 

"Of what?" he asked, curious, maybe selfish because this might be the only real conversation he would ever have with the man.

 

He closed his eyes, wheezed, his other hand holding onto the mask as if he wanted to put it back on just to breathe easier. He didn’t. His eyes idly opened again, glassy.

 

"The other side," he breathed out, so quietly Baekhyun had to lean forward to hear it. "Waiting—waiting for me."

 

Baekhyun said nothing. 

 

Had he realized? Had he finally realized?

 

Laughter puffed in his chest, broadening his throat and constricting it in that tight ring at the same time, never leaving his mouth. It felt dry, scratchy, almost powdery as it dusted in his windpipe and made the intake of air more difficult. 

 

Only death had managed to open his father’s eyes for the fleeting moment before it would close them until the end of time.

 

He said nothing. Nothing that passed through his head.

 

"It’ll be alright," he forced out of his throat. His skin was crawling, as if the man’s hand was coated in an acid that ate it away. He wanted it to stop. He didn’t want to be touched by him. He didn’t pull away. It didn’t matter. "Don’t be scared. You won’t suffer anymore."

 

It didn’t matter because soon, Baekhyun’s suffering would come to an end.

 

The man shook his head, or at least attempted to. He couldn’t move a lot, it was only a slight, rapid sway of his head, a tremor more than an actual motion.

 

His eyes closed again, he muttered something, his breath louder than his words. Baekhyun leaned closer, listening, wanting to hear the last words he would take from this man.

 

"Forgive me. Forgive me for my sins," he repeated a few times, voice nothing but a dim croak, distorted. 

 

They weren’t directed at Baekhyun. It was the prayer of a struggling man under the dread of death. It was cruelly satisfying. Just a little bit. Knowing that this rotten man would leave the world with fear and regret tied in shatters around his every limb.

 

"Baekhyun," he heard again, his name akin a foreign language on that venomous tongue. He was babbling, gargling, repeating his name, like a mantra, a prayer, a wish, or a sentence. Baekhyun knew he wasn’t conscious of his own words. "Forgive me. Please, forgive me."

 

And Baekhyun didn’t want to. He didn’t want to. He bit onto his lower lip, hard, the skin on the verge of sinking under his teeth. He didn’t want to.

 

"It’s okay," was the only thing he said, not a confirmation, not a pardon, just a brush off.

 

Suddenly, the man started squirming, trembling, his body jolting a little as if it was in pain but too weak to escape from it. His hold on Baekhyun’s hand was painful and yet, Baekhyun didn’t pull away. He took it all in. Drank it all in, appeasing the burn in his throat.

 

"No. No. No," the man said, repeating that single word over ten times, in a wheeze, a cough, a gasp, at one point, something akin to a sob, a pathetic wail. His words were clear to Baekhyun’s ears when he spoke again. "I lied. Lied. Lie."

 

He frowned. Ignored it. He was delirious. Baekhyun could barely understand his slurred words so he chose to remain silent. 

 

But the man repeated those last words. Over and over again, to himself, to Baekhyun, maybe to someone or something his crazed mind was seeing under those closed eyes.

 

He gulped down. Loud. It echoed in his head, on the same pattern as the repeated words tumbling from his father’s mouth, as if he was in a hurry to push them all out before death caught him and took them away.

 

"What are you talking about?" Baekhyun asked when his name was slipped in between the disturbing repetitions.

 

Dread pressed down on his stomach, his fingers were numb. A dying man shouldn’t be so strong. A dying man shouldn’t make Baekhyun’s stomach curl into itself from apprehension, fear.

 

He shook his head, opened his wide, beady eyes, and locked them into Baekhyun’s. Smoke. Baekhyun could smell it, sense it, breathe it in. 

 

"I did it. Not you. Not you. Me. I did it. Me. Me."

 

His words were meshed together, unintelligible. He repeated them. He repeated everything. He always had repeated the same thing. This time, it was different. This time, Baekhyun feared their meaning. This time, it wasn’t pain that they tuned in his mind but frosty bites of panic.

 

For a second, Baekhyun felt the world tuning idle around him. He felt all his organs freezing, puffing up into smoke before solidifying, squeezing into his body painfully, swarming inside until his skin felt too tight.

 

"What are you saying?" he asked, demanded, now clenching the man’s fingers back just as hard.

 

A wail was the first answer given to him.

 

"I didn’t want to. She was gonna leave. Leave me. She left with you. She was gonna leave," he mumbled, voice rising with each word, or at least attempting to. He couldn’t raise his voice, it was too broken and greasy for that.

 

Baekhyun felt the frost permeating in his veins, chilling his blood into cracked, sharp edged spikes.

 

"What?" he heard himself say, a murmur, a realization, a confusion, a gasp for breath.

 

The man shook his head again. His eyes were so wide Baekhyun feared they would roll out of his eyes and glare at him forever, follow him around for the rest of his life.

 

"I was angry. Please," he begged, pleaded, and Baekhyun wasn’t sure he whether was talking to him anymore. He was looking up at the ceiling, maybe at the sky, maybe to some entity he believed to be up there, waiting for his rotten soul to reach it. "Forgive me. I—I didn’t mean to. I wanted to hold her. Hold her back. But. She fell. I did it I did it I did it."

 

All of a sudden, something thawed Baekhyun, melted the honed frost inside him. 

 

It liquified, at an alarming rate. Drop by drop. Quickly. Sinking Baekhyun. Ice cold water filled him up, washing over his mind. Chilly. Like the realization. Like the realization. Of what was being said to him. Being confessed to him.

 

And it overflowed.

 

This time, he laughed. Loud. Delirious. Almost as delirious as the man holding his hand and begging for grace and mercy. He laughed until his chest hurt. It didn’t take long. It had already been hurting for years, almost two decades.

 

"Why?" Baekhyun said when the laughter evaporated at once, with a last sizzle in his throat. His word was broken, quiet, half of it stuck in his throat. He took a deep breath in. He exhaled it in a louder voice. "Then why?" he demanded, accused, sought to understand.

 

"Sorry," was the miserable answer given to him. He felt that word landing against his face, his chest his stomach, scalding hot, vivid. "Please. God. Forgive me."

 

It was a macabre sight. 

 

He felt his stomach lurching at the spit flying out of his father’s mouth with every single word. His father. He wasn’t asking Baekhyun for forgiveness. It wasn’t Baekhyun. It had never been Baekhyun.

 

"Why?" he asked again and his voice felt louder than earlier but more muffled at the same time, as if it didn’t belong to him, as if it had been stolen from him, like so many other parts of his life, replaced by nothing but hatred and anger and accusation and torment. "Why did you say it was me then? Why?"

 

It felt surreal. He didn’t understand. He didn’t understand why his father had blamed him for his entire life. He didn’t understand why the man had done it. Why had he killed her? Was Baekhyun misunderstanding something? Was he missing something? Was there something he wasn’t seeing? What was happening? What had happened? 

 

"I never wanted to," the man wailed, shaken by a fit of coughs afterwards, his voice too loud for his body to bear it. Baekhyun watched, fuming. There was no regret anymore. Still nothing else. Everything else. Everything else that burned. "She wanted to take you," the man spat out once he had won over his coughing. "You. Why you? I despise you. Why you?"

 

Baekhyun laughed again. This time, it sounded like the sob of a wounded animal calling for the help of a mother that had been snatched away mercilessly, long ago. Too long ago.

 

"You blamed me because she wanted to take me and leave you behind?"

 

His voice was sombre, nothing but a rumble, a ripple ripping through him murderously. He was shaking. His hold on his father’s hand was still strong.

 

"It was easier," the man breathed out, his eyes closing again. They didn’t open up when Baekhyun spoke one more time.

 

"It was easier to blame me than yourself?" he asked, voice high, with despair, realization, confusion because it didn’t make sense. It didn’t make sense. 

 

"You look so much like her," the man croaked again, voice breaking on his last syllable, the first note of a sob, wet, disgusting, undeserving.

 

He didn’t deserve to cry. He didn’t deserve to let those tear slobber up his face, slip into his gasping mouth, mix in with the spit, the saliva, the poison that had always smoked out of it.

 

And Baekhyun watched it. Watched it all unfold in front of him. Felt the smoke dissipating, clearing away as everything made sense. Everything made sense, the realization bursting in his head in a storm of snow. His ears were crowded by the wailing and the begging still escaping the man.

 

He couldn’t hear it. He couldn’t hear anything but that loud, clear, painful voice in his head. It was all a lie. All of it. Baekhyun had ruined himself all his life for a cowardly lie.

 

He couldn’t breathe. His other hand shot up to the man’s arm, he ripped his hand out of his hold and grabbed his shoulder with it before shaking him, rattling him as if more words would spill out of him, as if it would help Baekhyun make sense of everything, as if Baekhyun wanted to shake himself up to make sure this wasn’t a livid nightmare taking over his head.

 

"Why?" he demanded, screamed, voice scratchy, the cold in his body grabbing onto every fiber of his skin and biting. "Why? Why? Why?"

 

His ears hurt from the volume of his own voice, he had no idea what he was doing. He had no idea why he was shaking the man up when he was already dying and everything was done and nothing could rewind to a point where he could prevent all of this from happening. He was still begging, still asking for forgiveness, wheezing, crying, dying, but Baekhyun couldn’t hear him over his own loud, desperate voice asking to understand, asking why.

 

It was only when he felt strong hands grabbing onto his arms and pulling him away from the hospital bed and its ghostly occupant that Baekhyun let go of him. He was still screaming, thrashing around, ruining himself but not as much as this man had ruined him. He was pulled out of the room just as a nurse ran inside and grabbed the mask before slotting it over the man’s face again. 

 

The door closed and Baekhyun turned around, opening the eyes that had squeezed shut without him even noticing, wrenching himself away from Baekbom’s hold as he felt his heart ripping apart in thousands of shreds. A sob rattled through his whole body, dragging through his chest, clawing against his throat, weakly tumbling down his mouth and crashing on the ground. It was painful, much more painful than Baekbom’s grasp on his arms.

 

"Baekhyun, stop," he hissed, loud, sharp, shaking him a little bit. Baekhyun’s chest was heaving, half breaths keeping him alive, sliced off by the pain engulfing into his mouth like an endless weave of thick, black, gooey smoke. "He’s already dying. Stop."

 

Baekhyun felt like he was dying too. Baekhyun felt like he had died a long time ago. Every day. All for a lie. All for a pathetic man’s cowardice. 

 

He shred himself away from Baekbom’s hold, heaving, collided against the wall right next to the closed door, and crumbled down, his legs giving out. He held his head between his hands, holding himself, trying not to slip away, counting in his head, counting his irregular breaths, counting the peaks of pain swarming him up one by one, counting how many times he had believed a lie.

 

He stayed at the hospital the whole day, crouched down in that corridor. Unable to move on, unable to leave, unable to properly register what exactly he had based his whole life upon.

 

It was only when the sun was too exhausted to hold itself up in the sky that Baekbom walked up to him again. Baekhyun hadn’t noticed night had fallen, he hadn’t even noticed it wasn’t dark outside of his own shell beforehand.

 

Baekbom’s lips were pressed into a line, shadows gathered under his eyes as he shook his head weakly, with finality. 

 

Baekhyun realized then, when he felt nothing, that it wasn’t his father that he had been mourning but the little boy the man had stolen the life of along with his mother’s.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

White Chrysanthemums stared back at Baekhyun, as silent as the rest of the columbarium.

 

Time seemed to stop in this place. The world turned idle, not frozen, just taking a break, a second to breathe and mourn.

 

Baekhyun wasn’t mourning. At least, it wasn’t the man on the picture right behind the small rectangular glass door that he was mourning. His gaze slid to the niche right next to it, the picture of his mother clear through the glass, resting right in front of her urn.

 

He hadn’t visited in years. He couldn’t bear to. 

 

He had always thought himself undeserving of visiting her and maybe, just maybe what he was mourning now was the time lost. Her smile was beautiful, eternally youthful, radiating kindness, pure as the pristine white of the flowers Baekhyun had stuck on the tiny door, a gift from him to her. He knew their meaning. 

 

Next time, he would bring different flowers. More colorful. Just to show her the shades of a life she couldn’t live with him.

 

He dragged his gaze away from his mother and looked at the man who took her away from him. He hated the fact that they were next to each other now. His father had prepared it this way on his own, they hadn’t been able to change it. 

 

Baekbom sighed from where he stood next to him, his very first sound since he had arrived a while ago to join Baekhyun. He turned to look at him. He wasn’t frowning but there were lines of exhaustion on his face. They were fainter than they had been a few days ago. His shoulders were less saggy, his back not as droopy, as if the weight pressing down on him had faded a little. Baekhyun knew he was in a similar state.

 

He looked at his father’s photo again.

 

"I’m sorry," he said, a soft murmur.

 

It took Baekbom a few seconds to answer, as if Baekhyun’s voice had to seek deep inside of him to pull him out.

 

"For what?" he inquired, not looking at Baekhyun either, voice heavy with exhaustion but light, a bit lighter to Baekhyun’s ears. No accusation, no blame, nothing.

 

"I don’t know," he answered truthfully. For not having tried harder. For not making this easier for Baekbom. For not having attended the funeral rites. "I’ve grown used to apologizing when I’m near him."

 

"But he’s not here anymore."

 

It still felt surreal. It still felt as if his father was waiting for him somewhere. As if smoke could shoot out of the picture and tighten into an unbreakable knot around his neck. But his father had already disappeared into smoke and ashes.

 

The thought came as a relief, massaging his shoulders into relaxation. The sadness was only minimal and not fueled by the loss of a person. Baekhyun should feel bad. He didn’t.

 

"I’m sorry too," Baekbom said after a short moment of silence.

 

This time, Baekhyun looked at him, surprise turning his head towards him with careful fingers.

 

"Why?" he questioned when he couldn’t find the answer on his brother’s features.

 

Baekbom pressed his lips together and turned to meet his gaze. His eyes were clear. Baekhyun hadn’t looked into his brother’s eyes a lot until now, not enough to feel like they were real brothers at least, but he had never been greeted with fog or storms gushing with anger and disgust. 

 

Now, there was none of it either. Now, there was just a profound dip of regret in his eyes as he looked at Baekhyun, maybe a drop of shame.

 

"I’ve never been there for you."

 

Baekhyun couldn’t hold in a dry snort, a small puff of air blending in bitterness and a dollop of pain. He didn’t deny it. He wouldn’t offer words of comfort to Baekbom when he had never gotten the comfort he needed from him throughout the years.

 

He didn’t blame the other either, however. He took a deep breath in and sighed it out in his next words.

 

"Why would you be there for someone who ruined your life?"

 

"Why do you think you ruined my life?" Baekbom said, still looking at him, this time with a small frown.

 

Baekhyun shook his head, smiling. He could taste the sourness on the curve of his lips.

 

"Didn’t you hear? They say I killed our mother," he answered, lowering his voice just a little bit, as if he was sharing a secret, or worse, a piece of gossip coated in an acid that left an unpleasant taste in his mouth.

 

Baekbom’s frown deepened and he looked away, falling silent. After a few seconds, Baekhyun’s stomach churned. Maybe he shouldn’t have said that. After all, it was now an unpleasant joke for him but for Baekbom, it was still reality. They had never discussed it but no doubt, Baekbom believed his father.

 

Before Baekhyun yielded to the urge to flee the place and leave everything here, with the dead, Baekbom spoke again.

 

"I’ve never believed that," he said, voice firm but still blurry to Baekhyun’s ears. Their gaze met again. Baekbom must’ve seen something in his face that pushed him to speak again, this time with more assurance. "I’ve never believed you did it."

 

Baekhyun parted his lips, closed them again, pressing them together in a tight line. Something in his chest bubbled into his throat, not unpleasant but not entirely welcome either.

 

"Why?" he heard himself ask, voice barely audible.

 

"You’re not a monster."

 

And it was almost pathetic, the way Baekhyun’s heart still quivered at those words, took them all in, like a land that had suffered from drought for so long it imbibed water in greedily, rushed by the fear of losing it forever again. It wouldn’t happen. Baekhyun knew now. He had known for a while. Even if he was never given the proof until that day at the hospital.

 

It had never crossed his mind. Baekbom not believing in his father’s accusations had never even been a possibility for Baekhyun.

 

"How can you be so sure?" he inquired, just because. Just because he wanted to know what Baekbom based that assumption on, if he had seen something that Baekhyun had failed to see for years.

 

Baekbom heaved a deep breath in, tucked his hands in the pockets of his slacks. Baekhyun followed his gaze, letting it land on their mother’s picture.

 

"I’ve seen you," he said, assertive, voice collecting scattered crumbles of regret. Or at least something along the lines of regret. Baekhyun hadn’t spent enough time with him to decipher every nuance in his voice. "I don’t know you. I know nothing about your life but you’re my brother. We grew up together until a certain age. I saw how devastated you’ve been since her death."

 

"Maybe that was just the guilt of what I did," Baekhyun retorted, the same way he had argued with himself thousands of time before, with the same words, the same suspicion, the same uncertainty.

 

Baekbom looked at him. This time, he was smiling. The slope of his lips was faint but sincere. Baekhyun felt something slashing into his heart, in the shape of a smile that looked so much like the one staring back at him in the mirror.

 

"If you had really killed her, if you were really a monster, you wouldn’t say it out loud." 

 

His voice was lower now. As if enunciating them slowly, carefully, quietly would help Baekhyun understand better. Maybe he wished that Baekhyun would understand.

 

Baekhyun gulped down around the lump in his throat. Baekbom’s gaze traveled over his features, as if he was taking it in, as if he was seeing Baekhyun for the first time. And maybe it was the case. Maybe they were seeing each other for the first time, without a veil of smoke clouding their path towards each other.

 

"You wouldn’t think that you were a monster. You wouldn’t punish yourself like this."

 

Or maybe there was still smoke. Because Baekhyun felt warmth tickling his eyes, not as harshly. This was a pacifying tickle. It pooled in his eyes but this time, it wasn’t to protect him against the cigarettes, it was to witness the moment Baekhyun blew off the last of the ghostly swirls.

 

He did it with a varicolored chuckle, a taint of relief, a dollop of sadness, a pinch of regret, and the palest shade of delight. It sounded wet, wobbly.

 

"Then why?" he asked, wanting to understand why Baekbom had never been there for him, why his elder brother had never shielded him against it all, why he had turned his back to Baekhyun and never looked properly again. "Why?" was the only word he could convey properly.

 

And maybe they were closer than Baekhyun thought. Maybe their tie was stronger than he had imagined because Baekbom pressed his lips together, his eyebrows raising a little bit in sorrow. He seemed to understand. He had seemed to always understand. But then, why?

 

"Because I was ashamed," he answered, voice as shaky as Baekhyun felt. "I was devastated when she died. I was selfish. I needed time for myself so I left. And then I felt ashamed for leaving, for never being there for you. I was always out and about, always away for school, always away for business, always away on father’s orders. I was never there for you and up to today, I still feel terrible. But you feel worse. And I’m sorry for never standing up for you, never listening to you, never asking you if you were okay, if you needed something. I’m sorry."

 

Each word echoed with sincerity, regret, and apology in Baekhyun’s head. Each word pulled at his heart, painfully, yet in a way that left it relieved afterwards.

 

Baekbom had been selfish. And maybe Baekhyun was too, now.

 

He held his tears in. Baekbom mirrored him. His eyes were glistening, but never flooded down his face.

 

And Baekhyun didn’t say anything. Because he was upset, and angry, and sad, and didn’t want to forgive Baekbom. Because he deserved to have this to himself. At least this. This little grudge. Just this. For a short while.

 

He inhaled deeply, filled his lungs in with an air that tasted novel, that dulcified the pain a little bit, diluted it enough for him to look at his father’s picture.

 

"He’s the one who pushed her down the stairs," he said, stating a fact, voice carrying no particular emotion. Just information. "Those were his last words to me."

 

On the glass door of the his father's niche, he caught the reflection of Baekbom closing his eyes and biting his lower lip. He let a few seconds pass by before speaking again. Not for Baekbom, but because it was still difficult to push those words out of him when he still had a hard time believing them after years of fallacious accusations.

 

"He said he hated me because she wanted to take me with her and leave him. He always saw Mother when looking at me. That’s why," he said, detached as he recalled the late man’s words. They were still fresh in his head. They would always be. "But maybe it wasn’t because he saw her. Maybe he hated me because he wanted to see himself in me. He wanted to believe that I was the monster. Not him."

 

Baekbom said nothing. From the corner of his eye, Baekhyun caught the slight tremor in his shoulders. He hoped Baekbom was mourning him, crying for him, for what they had both lost all because of a rotten man’s desperate cowardice.

 

Because there was no other reason. There was no other explanation. It didn’t make sense but that was the way things were. Sometimes, there was no intricate reasoning behind the pain one inflicted on others. Sometimes, being human was enough of a reason.

 

Baekhyun soaked in the pure love in his mother’s smile a last time before turning around. Before he could even take a step forward, Baekbom held onto his hand, careful, firm.

 

"I won’t be going out of the country for a while. I’ll be taking over the company but I won’t ask you to be by my side. That is your choice to make. Whenever you want," he said, looking at Baekhyun through his bloodshot eyes. Baekhyun knew they were a reflection of his own, both in bleariness and emotions. Baekhyun felt relief laving over him. Baekbom smiled at him. Wide, liberated, determined. "I took your address from the company records. I won’t lose it. I’ll visit you."

 

Baekhyun didn’t say anything. He didn’t think words would be enough to express it. He smiled, a bit smaller, but just as free. Not constricted by smoke. He brought his hand up, gently patted the back of his brother’s hand, before pulling away from his hold.

 

They would see each other again.

 

When he stepped out of the building, the first thing he did was close his eyes and inhale the aroma spring had perfumed the air with. He inhaled it until he was so full of it, it felt like he had an entire garden in his body.

 

He had never breathed more easily.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Despite everything coming to an end, some things were still confusing to Baekhyun.

 

He had been trying to clear things up a bit, trying to adjust to everything. Oddly, there was not much difference. Breathing was easier, Baekbom sometimes did quite funny attempts at talking with him, and Baekhyun had gotten rid of every single crumble of doubt in himself but there was not much difference. This helped him realized that he had stopped thinking of himself as a monstrous being a while ago. He hadn’t noticed, not until he woke up one morning and realized that he felt no difference.

 

The only aspect of this situation he couldn’t figure out was the nightmares. They had stopped. He hadn’t had one of those recurring nightmares since the moment the truth had been uncovered but he had been thinking about them a lot.

 

He had been thinking about the fact that he vividly remembered pushing his mother down the stairs a lot. He had been thinking about the way he could never dream about that precise moment a lot.

 

It was a blurry matter, something he couldn’t unknot and follow the strings of until they led him to an answer. He still had no real answer. But he had done his best and this morning, he had called one of his old acquaintances

 

Baekhyun had figured this was hardly something he could find out about with a few minutes spent navigating through websites and forums, he had figured this was a matter that implicated the mind and its intricate mechanism. There wasn’t many people who could help but Seolhyun was one of them.

 

They had met three years ago and her number had changed but it hadn’t been difficult for Baekhyun to find the number of her psychology cabinet. All he had been able to get out of her were useful words, after a lot of explanations and even an apology. Seolhyun had always been too softhearted. Baekhyun was glad she had at least given him some information before hanging up on him. Chanyeol had called it karma before leaving for work with a last fit of laughter. He had enjoyed watching Baekhyun apologize to one of his poor victims a bit too much.

 

Now, as Baekhyun opened his navigator, he could only hope that she hadn’t said the first random thing crossing her mind in order to get rid of him as quickly as possible.

 

Memory distortion were the two words he typed onto his search bar. After a short while browsing through confusing articles that had nothing to do with what he was looking for, he added trauma to his research.

 

The first article that popped up was from a medical website. Its title was Memory Distortion for Traumatic Events: The Role of Mental Imagery.

 

Baekhyun stared at the title for a short moment. Apprehension squeezed around his heart, clutched his stomach in its grasp for a fleeting second.

 

It was an odd experience. Having to google something he thought he might be suffering from. Finding out about one of his most traumatic experiences through an article on the internet.

 

But that was the first step. If he felt courageous enough, Baekhyun might actually consult someone. Just to make things clearer. Just to be able to properly understand and let go of it, to make sure it would never pop up in his head again, unresolved.

 

He took a deep breath in and started reading the long article, attentive to every word, reading some sentences twice because they were complicated and he wanted to understand it. A few of them caught his attention.

 

People confuse the information generated after a traumatic event – both intentionally, for example, via conversation with others, and unintentionally, for example, via intrusive imagery – with what really occurred during the event.  

 

He read over it again. And again, catching on the words that mattered to him.  People confuse the information generated after a traumatic event – intentionally, for example, via conversation with others – with what really occurred during the event.  

 

His eyebrows furrowed, his fingers pressing hard enough on the trackpad of his laptop for it to click once under the pressure. Conversation with others. Would accusations fit in that category? He had fainted that day, when he had been an eight year old child witnessing the death of his mother. As far as he remembered, the first words his father had uttered to him when he woke up were accusations. Of having killed her. Of being a monster.

 

Had he confused those accusations with what had really happened? Up to this day, he still couldn’t remember his father actually pushing her down the stairs, intentionally or not. Even now, when he closed his eyes, he could still vividly imagine himself pushing her instead. He let out a shaky breath and continued reading.

 

Event details that have been repeatedly or vividly imagined can come to mind more easily over time, and – if there is no trace of the effort that went into imagining those details – people can easily mistake the accompanying sense of familiarity for the familiarity that we know accompanies genuine recollection. 

 

He read over that sentence four times. It was difficult to comprehend. Difficult to understand, difficult to associate it to himself.

 

Imagine.

 

That was the key word.

 

That was what it had all been. His imagination. Images forced into his mind by the repeated accusations coming from a man scrambling to hide his own sins through cowardice. Was that what it had all been?

 

Was that what Baekhyun’s whole life had been based on? Had he conditioned himself into believing it? Had his father conditioned himself into believing this?

 

A bitter taste cascaded down his throat, with enough vigor and force to churn his stomach a little bit. Was that why his dreams never covered the part where he actually pushed his mother down the stairs? He didn’t know.

 

He wanted to laugh. He tried laughing. He parted his lips. Nothing came out. Not even a sob. 

 

Baekhyun had ruined his life over this. It felt so vain now. Useless. A waste.

 

He closed his laptop. The article was still opened on his navigator, unfinished. He would read it again. He would read it until it felt real.

 

He looked out of the window. Parted his lips. Sucked air in. Breathed it out again. This simple gesture. This natural human mechanism had felt like torture to him. For almost the entirety of his life. Because of a lie. Imagination. Distortion.

 

The sky was clear today. A pale blue. Lively.

 

Baekhyun had expected more. He had expected to cry, wail, maybe scream in frustration, curse in regret. None of it happened. He simply looked out of the window. He didn’t need to understand why to be able to enjoy the depth of the sky. 

 

He didn’t need to be given a proof to understand he wasn’t undeserving of his life. He had accepted it, himself, a while ago. He had understood it a while ago. He wasn’t sure exactly when it happened but it did. 

 

This wasn’t a necessity, this was just an envy. To find out. What exactly he had been the slave of for so long. What exactly he had freed himself of even before his father had died.

 

He had cleared himself up. Not with the help of anyone. Just the assistance maybe, the impetus. He had cleared himself up when he decided that it felt much better than working so hard to stain himself until he could fit the muddy color imposed to him.

 

He felt limpid. He would clarify up a little more. With time.

 

His phone lighted up, catching his attention from where it was resting on the coffee table. He reached towards it. His heart tinkled when he saw Chanyeol’s name on the notification.

 

you okay?

want me to ditch work?

we could do something together

 

He smiled, feeling the crystal peals in his heart melting into warmth.

 

I’m okay

You don’t need to cancel your classes for me

Don’t worry

 

I don’t have class :c

I’m at the front desk for an hour before I can leave

wanna come?

 

Don’t be :c

:c

I’m on my way then

 

:)))

 

He had cleared up after realizing that watering a smile with love felt so much better than plucking it out for himself to keep away.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The spring rays gleamed prettily on the academy’s door when Baekhyun stepped towards it. What caught his eyes, however, wasn’t the light. It was the sheet taped on the door.  

 

It was Chanyeol’s handwriting in big, clumpy blocks, simple words announcing that the academy was looking for another teacher along with a list of required competences and other informations. Baekhyun had been there when Chanyeol had posted a better version of this ad on the internet only last week. He had helped structure sentences, make the list.

 

He read it over. Five times. Until he recited the words in his head more than read them on the paper. He raised his hand. Dropped it again. His heart sang against his ribcage. He raised his hand. A song of comfort, envy, and maybe, familiarity.

 

He reached for the ad and easily peeled it away from the door. It was made carelessly, Chanyeol had obviously not been the one to tape it there but he was the one to smile at Baekhyun from behind the front desk when he opened the door and stepped in.

 

"Welcome to Allegro Music Studio," he said in that usual friendly, sprightly voice he used on anyone stepping in. This time, he had a playful lilt to it, accentuated by the grin splitting his face in two, bunching his cheeks up, digging dimples on his skin and pulling Baekhyun in. 

 

He took a deep breath in and showed him the ad, his smile just as elated, just as playful.

 

"Hello," he said, drawling his voice out only a little bit. "I’m here for the job offer."

 

Chanyeol looked at the sheet Baekhyun was holding out to him. For a short breath, he said nothing. Then, he understood.

 

"Oh, really?" he inquired, the mirth from Baekhyun’s voice dipping into his own. He let his gaze examine Baekhyun as if he was seeing him for the first time, with an obviously appreciative glint that coddled Baekhyun’s heart. "You want this job?"

 

Baekhyun stepped a little closer to the counter and rested one forearm against it, leaning closer to Chanyeol.

 

"Do you come with the job?" he asked, voice ornate with flirty glints. He wiggled his eyebrows exaggeratedly, just to see Chanyeol lose his composure.

 

He did, for a short moment. His smile twitched, trying to widen, but Chanyeol kept the act and gave him a haughty look.

 

"I’m very professional, you know," he scoffed, wrinkling his nose in mock disdain. 

 

He was adorable. With his messy hair. The hoodie Baekhyun had been wearing this morning, a size too big on him but perfect on Chanyeol. 

 

He had taken it off Baekhyun himself just to slip it on. Baekhyun wasn’t sure whose hoodie it was anymore, not when half of his closet was at Chanyeol’s house and half of the other’s at his. They wore whatever came in hand first. Most of the time, Baekhyun picked Chanyeol’s clothes to wear, on purpose.

 

"What instrument can you play?" Chanyeol inquired when Baekhyun spent too long admiring him and forgot what his previous words even were.

 

He tapped his chin in inquiry, acting in deep thought. "I’m decent at piano," he eventually nodded.

 

"I see," Chanyeol hummed. "How many years have you been playing?"

 

"Since I was eight," Baekhyun grinned, boasting even if Chanyeol knew his piano skills better than anyone else.

 

Chanyeol nodded appreciatively.

 

"Alright," he said. "You’re hired."

 

Baekhyun blinked, acting surprised.

 

"Already?" he said with wonder only to let his voice fall into a cheesy purr again. "I must be very charming."

 

Chanyeol quirked an eyebrow. It didn’t match the smile he was trying hard to hide.

 

"Don’t flatter yourself. We’re just having an emergency," he stated, looking away from Baekhyun and down at the desk instead. He seemed to be fiddling with something that Baekhyun couldn’t see. When he looked up again, it was with an unconfined grin. "Here’s my personal number," he said.

 

Those words echoed in Baekhyun’s head with an image back from August. 

 

He looked down at what Chanyeol was handing him. It was a yellow post-it with the academy’s logo on it. There were a few digits scribbled on it, scrawny, askew. Baekhyun recognized it. Both the phone number and the moment everything had started changing for him.

 

He grabbed the small piece of paper and looked up at Chanyeol.

 

"Doesn’t the academy have a phone number?" he echoed the words he had pronounced to Chanyeol the first time he had been given his number.

 

Chanyeol shrugged. This time he wasn’t surprised, he wasn’t speechless either. But he was just as handsome, just as captivating, and Baekhyun wondered if he had felt it back then. That they would end up here, like this, together, complete, happy.

 

"It does but this is just for emergencies. Just in case," Chanyeol said, carefree, radiant.

 

"Am I hired then?"

 

"I’ll call you in the following days to let you know," Chanyeol answered, contradicting his words from earlier but it didn’t matter. This was all an act anyway, and Baekhyun was still enchanted.

 

"But you gave me your number," he teased the other, soft, as delicate as the rhythm his fingers drummed on the countertop.

 

Chanyeol leaned a bit closer, over the countertop, leaning his forearm over it, mirroring Baekhyun’s stature.

 

"Now, you can’t talk like that to your employer on your first day," he said, voice dropping lower. It wasn’t a seductive tone, just a fond one, enamored, falling on Baekhyun’s skin like a sprinkle of light petals from the sky, kissed by the sun.

 

And Baekhyun loved him so much. He loved him so much. So much that he could feel those petals gathering in his chest, in his lungs, tapestrying his heart, amplifying its efflorescence.

 

"Then can I kiss my love?" he asked, gravitating closer, just as soft, amorous, letting his breath kiss Chanyeol first.

 

Just to soothe the impulse. Just to give himself a first taste. Just because they shouldn’t kiss out here, so openly. Just because Baekhyun knew he didn’t have what it took to stop himself now.

 

Maybe Chanyeol didn’t either. Maybe their love for each other conquered every other sense because Chanyeol weaved through the puffs of breath braiding together between them. 

 

The last gleam Baekhyun saw was the joy fluttering in Chanyeol’s eyes. He closed his own and dived into the warmth ingrained in the depth of his soul. Their lips pressed together and Baekhyun felt it. In his mouth, in his throat, in his chest, on the tip of his fingers, in the seamless slot of their lips together. 

 

That sound. That beat. That love singing in his heart, singing to his heart.

 

He felt it when Chanyeol rested a hand against his chest, right above the heart that had been suffocated for so long. That heart felt like the past. It was gone. Vanished. Baekhyun couldn’t sense its frostbitten thorns anymore. 

 

All he could feel was this heart. 

 

This heart, it was loved by Chanyeol. 

 

This heart, it was in love with Chanyeol’s heart, every single fiber of that selfless heart that was shaped perfectly to fit in Chanyeol’s loving, satiny, adorably oversized shell. 

 

This heart, it would beat for Chanyeol even when the twin flames nestled inside would consume it whole. Even when nothing but ashes would be left of it to be scattered on a spread of dainty plum blossoms, at the end of a cold spell and at the gates of a tirelessly sprouting field.