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Look at my legs!

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“In 500 metres turn left then stay in the left-hand lane.”

Chanyeol glanced briefly at the GPS screen, the restaurant where he was meeting his parents was only a few minutes away now.

“In 200 metres turn left then stay in the left-hand lane.”

He tried to will his hand to reach for the indicator, but it didn’t move. He sped forward through the intersection, continuing straight.

“Recalculating,” trilled the cool unemotional voice of the GPS.

He turned it off without thinking and just kept driving, letting the restaurant where his parent’s big announcement was due to take place, get farther and farther away.

🐚🐚🐚

His phone rang just as he’d sunk his bare feet into the sand, he didn’t even glance at the screen, just killed the call and walked out across the empty stretch of beach. He didn’t know what made him come here except that something about the ocean always made him feel calmer. The sun had long since set and the moonlight reflected on the moving water making a glistening trail that led temptingly out to sea. He stood right on the water’s edge, small waves lapping gently at his toes and breathed in deeply letting the brisk, salty air fill his lungs. A cool breeze tickled pleasantly at the ends of his hair.

His phone rang again, and he switched it to silent mode. It would be his mother calling, no doubt then his father would try and probably his uncle too. He pictured them all in the opulent private room of the restaurant, waiting for him so they could make their announcement. Not that he really needed to be there, his acceptance of their decision was completely assumed already. He was to be the next CEO of the Park family holdings in China.

This was where all his hard work had gotten him, shipped off to another country and then probably another country after that as the company expanded, it would never end. Life would be one long business meeting. Each day would be exactly like the last.

“This is what you want,” he said quietly to himself as if repeating it multiple times a day might make it true.

He walked slowly along the water’s edge. In the darkness ahead, the moonlight was catching on something shiny lying in the shallow water. He approached it curiously, squinting and trying to make sense of what he was seeing. As soon as he realised it was some kind of large fish half beached on the sand, he ran closer intending to push it back into the water.

He bent down his hair falling in his eyes and pushed at the tail trying to move the fish along, but it was heavier than he’d expected. He pushed harder and it rolled over, with a small wet splash. Something warm brushed his skin. He blew the hair out of his eyes and looked down at it. There was a pale human hand resting on his arm.

He screamed, dropping the creature and backing away quickly up the beach, holding his chest. He watched it warily lying motionless on the water's edge for a few minutes. When it didn’t move, he approached it again slowly. He held his breath, managing to stifle yet another scream as he peered at the creature now lying face up in the shallow water.

It was half-human, half-fish. The top half of the creature was undeniably human, a bare-chested young man with smooth skin and dark brown hair laying in a wet messy tangle over his face. But the bottom half of the body was a tail, a large blueish green-scaled fishtail. It took physical effort to drag his eyes away from the alarming sight.

“Oh, ok so this is what a mental breakdown feels like,” he said weakly to himself. “It’s um…it’s not so bad.” He dithered nervously for a minute, clasping his hands together before peering over the creature once more. It appeared to be breathing, though shallowly. He leant in closer and it emitted a small moan of pain.

He backed up quickly. It was clearly still alive, and though he couldn’t see any physical injuries it appeared to be suffering. He wasn’t sure what to do. Should he push it back into the water or pull it out? He swept a hand back through his hair, he had a Master of Business from a top university for god’s sake, he was the CEO of the most successful companies in South Korea and here he was standing on the beach debating what to do with a half-dead mermaid, which was very clearly a manifestation of some late-onset mental illness.

He shook himself. He was going to go back to the car and pretend he never saw it. He turned and took several steps away before it moaned again, a small pathetic sound which pulled painfully at his heartstrings and made him stop in his tracks. He turned back. He couldn’t leave it to die even if it was imaginary, but he didn’t know what else to do, he couldn’t take a mermaid to the Emergency Room.

“Jongdae,” he said aloud. “I’ll call Jongdae.” What was the point in having a doctor for a best friend if he couldn’t take advantage of their expertise at times like this?

He pulled out his phone, ignoring all his missed calls and found Jongdae in his recent contacts.

“Hey, Chanyeol?” Jongdae answered on the third ring, sounding confused.

“Um, can I ask you a medical question?” he said without preamble.

“Who have you gotten pregnant?” Jongdae gasped avidly.

“No one! It’s nothing like that!”

“Ok, but it better be something genuinely embarrassing and preferably sexual. I didn’t get a medical degree to answer late-night calls about athletes’ foot if that’s what you’re calling about.”

“No, I just want to know what would cause someone to pass out if they had no physical injuries?”

“Are you planning a kidnapping?!”

“No! I’m…uh,” he said looking around trying to think of a plausible excuse. “I’m writing a story,” he said with a cringe.

“A story? Oh my god you’re writing fanfiction, aren’t you?” said Jongdae, with obvious glee in his voice.

“No,” denied Chanyeol.

“Let me guess! Haikyuu, right? It’s always Haikyuu,” Jongdae teased, then paused as if he remembered something. “Wait, aren’t you meant to be at dinner? What’s that noise?”

“I am, I’m in the restaurant bathroom,” he lied quickly, and he backed a little further up the sand trying to get away from the ocean sounds. “It’s the tap you can hear.”

“You’re writing fanfiction in a restaurant bathroom?! Have you lost your mind?!”

“Quite possibly,” admitted Chanyeol. “Look, just answer the question.”

“Well, lots of things could cause that, like not eating. But you know starvation isn’t very sexy. Heatstroke might do it too, from too much sun exposure.”

“Sun exposure?” asked Chanyeol, considering the idea. “They are at the beach…in the story I mean,” he added lamely.

“Beach volleyball, ay? Not very original but alright if it’s your first fic. They might be a bit sunburnt and feverish if it’s heatstroke. It’s a good excuse to make them take off their clothes.”

Chanyeol peered over the mermaid once more. Their skin, at least the human part, did look sort of pink.

“What does a fever look like?”

“Well, they’d probably look flushed. You could make them all breathless and moany if you like,” suggested Jongdae who was very clearly enjoying this.

“If it was heatstroke, how would you treat it?” asked Chanyeol, ignoring him.

“Keep them cool, lots of cold water, which incidentally is also what I would prescribe for you if you’re writing smutty fanfic in the bathroom of a restaurant.”

“I didn’t say it was smutty!”

“Is there any other kind of fanfic?! Send it to me when you’re done, I could use a laugh.”

“Ok,” agreed Chanyeol. This day just got worse and worse not only did he need to treat a mermaid for heatstroke, he now had to write volleyball erotica for Jongdae. He hung up and stuck his phone back in his suit-trouser pocket.

On impulse, he ran back to the car and got the towel he always kept in the boot out. He also opened one of the back passenger side doors in preparation. He ran back along the beach, secretly hoping it would be gone by the time he returned but it was still there. He soaked the towel in the cold seawater then hesitating not quite believing he was actually doing this, he wrapped the wet towel around the tail to keep it moist. Stooping down, he managed to scoop up the unconscious merman, who hung quite lifeless in his arms. With effort, he carried it along the uneven sand, walking much slower than usual, afraid he would trip in the darkness. Halfway up the beach, the creature stirred, it had been lying with its head back and when he looked down, he saw its damp hair had fallen back out its face now. Chanyeol stared. The merman was undeniably beautiful, as Chanyeol watched, he opened his eyes slowly and gazed dazedly at Chanyeol.

“It’s ok,” reassured Chanyeol. “You’re not well, but I’m going to help you.”

The merman didn’t seem capable of replying but he nodded slightly before his eyes closed once more.

Chanyeol continued up the beach, taking increasingly frequent glances at the merman’s face, telling himself he was just checking to see if he’d woken up. But he didn’t open his eyes again at all and they soon reached the car. Chanyeol leaned in and lay the merman across the back seat, cringing as he had to bend the tail to get the door shut.

He ran around to the driver’s side and jumped into the front seat. He selected ‘Home’ on the GPS and let it direct him back into the city.

He tried to drive carefully and composedly, the last thing he needed was to be pulled over by the cops while he had a half-dead fish person in his backseat.

He glanced back over his shoulder half expecting this obvious figment of his imagination to have disappeared, but he was still sprawled out in the back. He blinked quickly a few times then checked again. Still there…still handsome too, even in the dark with the passing beams of streetlights and headlights only providing brief illumination.

It took over an hour to reach his apartment building in an expensive and exclusive apartment complex in the Seoul Hannam district. He activated the garage door with the remote in his car and drove down into the underground car park, full of shiny, sleek new SUVs and sports cars. He clambered cautiously out of the car and looked about. No one appeared to be around. If he was going to do this, he’d better do it quickly. He took a deep breath and opened the backdoor of the car. Getting the merman out was harder than getting him in. Chanyeol staggered under his weight as he finally managed to haul him out while still keeping the wet towel firmly wrapped around his tail. He lumbered over to the elevator and clicked the button with his elbow. Tapping his foot nervously as it descended, and the doors finally opened. It was empty. He shuffled the merman in his arms so he could press the floor button, then pushed the ‘door close’ button repeatedly which seemed to have no effect on the speed of the elevator door closing.

He watched the lighted panel displaying the floors as they ascended silently praying it wouldn’t stop on any other floors. Thankfully, the doors open at last on his floor.

His was the only apartment on this floor and the elevator opened out into a white marble foyer with a keypad to access the imposing set of floor-to-ceiling double front doors which led into his apartment.

He entered the code and pushed his way through the doors heading immediately for the main bathroom. He flicked on the lights with his elbow, illuminating the gleaming white bathroom with its straight marble edges and large bathtub. He deposited the merman as gently as possible inside the bathtub and carefully unwrapped the wet towel, dropping it on the floor carelessly. He turned on the cold water tap and ran out into the kitchen for a glass tumbler as the tub started to fill up.

When he came back the merman was flopped over against the side of the tub. He filled the glass up at the sink and moved the bathmat over so he could kneel on it next to the bathtub.

Gingerly, he moved the damp hair back from the merman’s face, watching a small droplet of water detach itself and slip down his cheek like a tear settling in the attractive groove of his upper lip. He touched his forehead. He did feel warm. Though he wasn’t sure what the optimum temperature was for a merman.

Holding his face carefully, he brought the cup to his slightly parted lips and tried to get him to drink. The merman spluttered and sitting up slightly, he clasped Chanyeol’s arm with one hand. He opened his eyes briefly making eye contact before closing them again.

“Try to drink some water,” Chanyeol urged, tipping the glass slightly once more.

This time he drank the trickle of water slowly and Chanyeol continued tilting the glass until he had drunk the whole glass.

“Good,” he said encouragingly. The merman settled himself further back into the tub and Chanyeol gently loosened his grip, freeing his arm.

He got up and fetched a flannel, dipped it in the cold bathwater then wrung it out and draped it carefully over the merman’s warm forehead.

Chanyeol dithered about beside the tub for a minute, unsure what to do next, he was pretty sure he had done everything Jongdae had suggested. He’d never had to take care of anyone like this before, he felt strangely proud of himself.

He sank down, resting his head on his arms against the top of the tub watching the merman sleep. He seemed less restless than before which Chanyeol hoped was a good sign.

🐚🐚🐚

Chanyeol woke from a strange dream, the last lingering memory of which was a flash of pearlescent scales in the moonlight. He opened his eyes, grateful to be at home and for the confusing dream to be over. His pillow was unusually hard. He lifted his head and realised he was in the bathroom, sitting on the bathmat leaning heavily against the side of the tub, his face resting on the cool hard porcelain. He had no idea how he’d even managed to sleep like that, but no wonder he’d had weird dreams.

A sudden splash of cold bathwater hit him in the face. He looked up startled, blinking water out of his eyes. Surprised to find the bathtub in front of him both full of water and occupied. The events of the night before came back to him, even more startling than the face full of cold water had been.

The fish creature was gone, he was relieved about that, but he wasn’t sure that the very naked young man that had replaced it was a better thing.

“Oh, good you’re awake,” the young man said as if he hadn’t just purposefully splashed him. He put both legs up on the rim of the bathtub and stretched them out happily. “Just look at them they’re lovely aren’t they,” he added, clearly pleased to have Chanyeol’s attention.

“Y-yes, you have very nice legs,” Chanyeol said weakly, he felt a little faint. This was all supposed to have been a dream.

“Touch them!” ordered the boy enthusiastically.

“I really don’t need to...” said Chanyeol, trying to move away but the boy draped his leg right over Chanyeol’s left arm. “O-ok,” Chanyeol agreed, relenting and touching the smooth milky-white skin. “Very nice,” he said encouragingly.

He glanced nervously at the boy; he was pretty sure from the face that this was the same “creature” he’d carried up here himself. They had the same attractive features, dark expressive eyes, cute, slightly rounded nose, and delicately curved pink lips, he’d been so enthralled with the night before.

The boy seemed mollified until he peered over the edge of the bath at Chanyeol’s legs in his rolled-up suit trousers.

“I think yours are longer,” he said, and his brow furrowed in disappointment.

“How about we get you a towel or something,” said Chanyeol desperately, he had been trying to keep his eyes on the boy’s face only, but it was difficult when he was so obviously and distractingly naked. He looked around a little frantically and spotted a hand towel by the sink, he extricated himself from the boy’s legs and jumped up. Grabbing it, he ran back to the tub and handed it to the boy.

He took it, looking confused then put it over his head.

“No!” exclaimed Chanyeol grabbing the towel and dropping it over the boy’s naked groin area. “For here.”

“Ah, I’m not used to all that being on the outside, normally my tail hides it,” said the boy, lifting the side of the towel to peer under it interestedly then dropping the towel back down again.

“Yeah…while we’re on the topic of your… tail ,” said Chanyeol haltingly. He took a deep breath, but his voice still came out in a hoarse whisper, “ Where is it now ?”

He glanced nervously around the bathroom expecting to see it strewn carelessly beside the toilet.

“It didn’t come off!” exclaimed the boy. “What do you think I am? A prawn?!”

“No,” said Chanyeol, then he laughed despite himself at how ridiculous what he was about to say sounded. “A mermaid, actually.”

The boy laughed too, a happily rolling sound which echoed around the bathroom and reminded Chanyeol suddenly of water tumbling gleefully over rocks.

“I’m not a mermaid!” refuted the boy, appearing to find the idea equally ridiculous.

Chanyeol felt a sudden rush of relief, maybe he really had had some kind of breakdown yesterday and has somehow imagined this boy was actually a mermaid.

“I’m a mer man ! See!” he exclaimed, pulling off the small towel and gesturing towards his obviously male private parts.

“Yes, I saw all that, thanks,” said Chanyeol hurriedly, covering him up again with the towel. His brief moment of relief was now completely obliterated; he felt dangerously close to hysteria. “What’s your name?” he asked, trying to find something concrete and everyday to cling to.

“Byun Baekhyun,” said the boy matter-of-factly.

“I’m Park Chanyeol,” he said and held out his hand to shake Baekhyun’s. Apparently, merpeople did not do that because Baekhyun looked confused and tried to hand the small towel back to Chanyeol.

“No, no,” exclaimed Chanyeol. “You keep that!”

“Where are we?” asked Baekhyun suddenly.

“My place. I found you on a beach and you were unwell, so I brought you back here,” explained Chanyeol. “How are you feeling now?”

“Alright, thank you,” Baekhyun said distractedly, looking around the bathroom with interest. “Your house is…nice...it’s very smooth and shiny.”

“This is just the bathroom,” exclaimed Chanyeol. “The rest of it isn’t--” he broke off thinking about the spacious newly built penthouse apartment which his mother had chosen for him because it was a good investment. It was all marble floors and sleek, impersonally clean lines. "Actually, the rest of it is kind of like this too," he admitted sadly.

“What kind of water is this?” asked Baekhyun, scooping up a handful of water and peering it at.

“Bathwater,” replied Chanyeol.

Baekhyun lapped at the water in his hands.

“Don’t drink it!”

“It’s very bland,” Baekhyun said, pulling a face.

“Trust me, bathwater is meant to be bland!”

To Chanyeol’s horror, he tasted it again. “No, don’t!” he protested.

‘Ah, that’s what I thought,” Baekhyun said knowingly, “this is freshwater, not saltwater. I know what happened, my grandfather told me about this. If a merperson submerges in freshwater it causes a reaction with their tail’s ectoplasm and their legs get revealed.”

Chanyeol opened his mouth to speak, paused then carefully closed his mouth again, quite speechless.

When Chanyeol didn’t say anything for a further minute, Baekhyun added, “Mine are particularly nice.” He lifted them out of the water again and looked at them admiringly. He smoothed droplets of water off them turning them this way and that in the light for a while. Then he looked up at Chanyeol and asked concernedly, “Are you alright? You’ve barely said anything nice about my legs.”

Chanyeol swallowed and finding his voice at last he said, “I did, I said they were very nice.”

Baekhyun looked disappointed. “Your vocabulary isn’t very good.”

Chanyeol paused. “Yours is,” he said suspiciously. “If you’re a merperson, how do you know Korean?”

“My grandfather taught me. He used to tell me stories and he claimed to have lived on land briefly and learnt the language then,” explained Baekhyun.

Chanyeol swallowed and considered this. “You know this delusion of mine is going on a lot longer than I expected and it’s getting…very involved.” He clutched his forehead.

Baekhyun let his legs drop back into the bathwater with a wet slap.

“How do you think I feel?!” he exclaimed. “Up until yesterday I thought humans were just some fairy-tale my grandfather made up and then I went up to the surface just to see what it was like and there was a whole bunch of you tottering about on these things !” he said pointing at his legs. “And now I wake up and I’ve got two!”

He spread his legs apart suddenly, draping one over each side of the bath and repeated “Two! You can’t do that with a tail!” he said gesturing to his dramatically open legs.

“You shouldn’t do that anyway!” exclaimed Chanyeol, shoving Baekhyun’s closest leg back into the water. Then he sat down on the floor again and put his face in his hands. “I don’t know what I’m meant to do,” he groaned.

“What about?”

“You!” Chanyeol exclaimed, peering through his fingers.

“You don’t have to do anything,” said Baekhyun in surprise.

“Of course, I do! There’s a very naked merman in my bathtub.”

“I’ll get out then,” offered Baekhyun, putting his hands on either side of the tub.

“No, no, stay in there!” shrieked Chanyeol jumping up and backing away. “Just hold on, let me just think for a minute about what I should do.”

Baekhyun tilted his head to the side and eyed him interestedly. “Do you think you need to take responsibility for every situation?”

“What?” asked Chanyeol weakly.

“I’m just asking if you always need a plan?”

“Of course, I do. There’s nothing wrong with that!” replied Chanyeol, getting defensive now.

Baekhyun rested his chin on the edge of the bathtub and looked up at him disingenuously. “Then what was your plan when you found me?”

“I-I don’t know…I-I wasn’t thinking straight,” admitted Chanyeol, though he knew at the time he had thought about it a lot.

“See, you don’t always need a plan. You picked me up without one and it all worked out fine,” said Baekhyun happily.

“I don’t think you can use this situation as a glowing endorsement for carefree living!” burst out Chanyeol.

“What is this?” asked Baekhyun.

“What?” asked Chanyeol distractedly, he looked at the round yellow object in Baekhyun’s hand. “It’s a loofah.”

Baekhyun brought it up to his lips. “Can I eat it?” he asked, opening his mouth.

“No!”

Baekhyun sighed and released it disinterestedly into the bathwater. “I can’t drink the bathwater. I can’t eat the loofles—"

“Loo fah ,” corrected Chanyeol.

“This is so tiresome,” continued Baekhyun, wriggling about in the bath in an annoyed way and ignoring him. “If you desperately need some sort of plan to cling to, how about you plan to feed me? I’m hungry.”

Chanyeol hesitated.

“You know what’s worse than having a naked merman in your bathtub? A dead naked merman. I’m starving,” continued Baekhyun loudly.

“Ok, well, when you put it like that.”

“I’m going to get out now,” warned Baekhyun, putting his hands on the edges of the tub again and lifting himself up slightly.

“Ok,” agreed Chanyeol, bracing himself.

Baekhyun flexed his toes against the bottom of the tub.

“I don’t much care for these little knobbly things,” he said looking down at them.

“Your toes? You need those to walk properly.”

“I’ve got a lot of them,” Baekhyun exclaimed proudly, then he looked up at Chanyeol. “How many do you have?”

“10. Same as you.”

“Oh,” said Baekhyun, clearly disappointed.

“It’s not a competition,” said Chanyeol, wincing at Baekhyun’s wobbly attempt to clamber out of the bathtub.

He made it out without slipping and stood up straight smiling triumphantly even as the small towel fell off landing on the bathmat at his feet.

“Hold on, I’m going to get you a bigger towel!” exclaimed Chanyeol, but as he reached for the towel rack he reconsidered. If he put him in a towel most of him would still be uncovered.

“Actually, wait there,” he said and ran out of the room to the linen cupboard built into the wall of the hall with annoying hidden doors which you needed to press in just the right place, and they’d open automatically. He pressed all up the wall trying to find it and eventually succeeded in getting it to open. He looked up and down the shelves, he was sure he had a bathrobe in there somewhere. He soon found a navy blue one made of a soft, thick fabric amongst the piles of spare towels and snatching it up he ran back to the bathroom.

He handed Baekhyun the robe trying to keep his eyes firmly at eye level.

Baekhyun took it confusedly and tried to drape it over himself like the towel.

“No, like this,” Chanyeol said, “Hold your arms out.” He slipped the robe around him and over his outstretched arms. He tied it very firmly closed at the waist.

He looked down at Baekhyun’s legs frowning. This was definitely not one of his own robes, that or it had shrunk in the wash because it was quite short, only reaching Baekhyun’s mid- thighs. This wasn’t what he’d intended.

Baekhyun however seemed to like it. He stretched out one leg admiringly through the split and lifted it off the floor then immediately overbalanced on his unstable new legs falling sideways.

Chanyeol dove forward and caught him before he hit the tiles.

He hovered in an awkward half-crouch with one arm under Baekhyun’s thighs and the other around his back, breathing hard and slightly impressed with himself for actually managing to catch him.

“This feels kind of familiar,” said Baekhyun, wrapping one arm around Chanyeol’s neck and leaning in against him apparently quite content to stay that way.

“That’s probably because I carried you up here last night,” gasped out Chanyeol. He glanced down then quickly back up again trying to will himself not to notice that Baekhyun’s robe had obviously ridden up and his hand was gripping a warm naked thigh.

“Well, you should just carry me everywhere then, this walking is much harder than it looks,” said Baekhyun, settling against him comfortably.

“Yeah, humans don’t really carry each other around.”

“But I’m not a human ,” replied Baekhyun, looking slightly offended.

“Well, you are going to have to pretend to be one till we can figure out how to fix you,” said Chanyeol.

“Fix me?”

“Yeah, to get your tail back again.”

“But I know how to get my tail back.”

“What?” exclaimed Chanyeol, turning to look at Baekhyun so sharply that he released him and came very close to dropping him completely. Baekhyun squealed and they fumbled for a few seconds before Chanyeol managed to untangle him and set him back on his feet.

He straightened up. “What do you mean you know how to get your tail back?!”

“I just need to submerge in saltwater again and it will come back,” explained Baekhyun, like this was perfectly obvious.

“So, we can just go back to the beach now and put you in the sea and your tail will come back?” asked Chanyeol, breathless with glee. All this would be over in a couple of hours.

“Technically yes,” said Baekhyun slowly, smoothing out his rumpled robe. “But I don’t want to go back yet.”

“What? Why not? You’re a merman, you belong in the sea,” said Chanyeol desperately.

“Well, this might be the only time I get to see what it’s like up here…and I’ve already gone to all this effort,” said Baekhyun.

“What effort?!”

“Finding a nice human to show me around for starters,” said Baekhyun.

“You didn’t find me! I found you. All you did was faint and wash up on a beach!”

“Same thing,” said Baekhyun with a shrug. “And it worked out well because you know already that I’m secretly a merman, so I don’t need to pretend or anything. It’s perfect.”

“No, it’s horrible,” said Chanyeol, his voice rising in a way that alarmed even himself. “Everything is horrible !”

“I don’t know what that word means,” said Baekhyun, “so I’m going to assume it means perfect.”

“It doesn’t mean perfect!” yelled Chanyeol. He threw his hands up in the air in exasperation and stormed out of the room.

“Where are you going?” called Baekhyun, trying to follow on his wobbly legs. “I can’t walk that fast. I haven’t mastered these things yet.”

“If I’m going to have another breakdown, I want to do it somewhere with comfortable chairs,” Chanyeol yelled as he stomped into the living room. He looked around at all the stiff designer leather furniture the interior designer his mother had hired had chosen for the room. “Which is clearly not here,” he trailed off miserably and sank down on the hard angular lounge in despair, his face in his hands.

“Look at me! I’m walking,” said Baekhyun proudly, tottering into the room on his tippy-toes, his hands outstretched.

Chanyeol rubbed his face with his hands watching Baekhyun through his fingers.

“You’re meant to walk on the flat parts of your feet,” he pointed out.

“You said to walk with my toes!”

“No, I said you need them to walk properly, but you don’t actually walk on them!”

“Well, I think this is better and it makes me taller too,” said Baekhyun. “If you’re not going to show me around the surface, I guess I can just look around myself.”

Chanyeol watched Baekhyun totter around the living room on his tiptoes looking for a way out, his already short robe riding up even further.

“He’s going to get arrested creeping about Seoul looking like a scantily clad velociraptor,” Chanyeol said quietly to himself.

He was quickly realising this was all his own fault, he should have left Baekhyun in the water at the beach then he never would have lost his tail and he never would have been so far from the sea again. If he let him leave now, he doubted Baekhyun would be able to find his way back to the coast so easily, with no money and no form of transport, he probably would end up getting arrested after all.

Maybe he owed it to him to look after him just for a short while?

“I could…maybe…show you around,” he said hesitantly.

“Really?!” exclaimed Baekhyun. He spun around on the spot to face Chanyeol smiling delightedly and coming very close to overbalancing again.

“Only if you walk on the flat parts of your feet,” Chanyeol bargained quickly, pointing at Baekhyun’s feet.

“Ok,” said Baekhyun begrudgingly, dropping down awkwardly from his tippy toes and wriggling his bare feet against the cold marble floor.

“And I won’t be able to show you around for too long either, I have a job,” Chanyeol explained. Thinking about his job made his stomach hurt slightly. But he needed to come up with an excuse for missing the dinner last night and if he was going to say he was sick he might as well be “sick” for a few days. If anything, that might be more convincing. And if he was already pretending to be sick, he might as well stop Baekhyun from getting into trouble and see him safely back into the ocean.

“It would only be for a couple of days!” said Baekhyun excitedly, “I have to go back after that anyway.”

“Speaking of my job,” said Chanyeol, glancing at his watch and realising it was almost 11 A.M. “I’m meant to be there now. I need to call my mum. This might get ugly,” he added ruefully, pulling his mobile phone out of his pocket and looking at it for the first time since last night.

He had 45 missed calls all from various family members. Taking a deep breath, he went to his contacts, for a brief moment he considered calling her personal assistant instead, but he was worried that would just make her come over in person. He selected her name from the top of his contact list and cringing slightly he started the call.

Baekhyun ambled over and sat down on the lounge next to him.

“I don’t know why you were so concerned about having a merman in your bathtub. I’d be more concerned about all the dead animals you have in your living room,” said Baekhyun, poking at the hard lounge.

“Shh I’m on the phone,” said Chanyeol, holding his hand over the lower half of his mobile phone.

“I don’t know what that means,” said Baekhyun.

“Hello,” said the crisp professional voice of his mother from the other end of the call.

“Hi Mum,” he croaked, doing his best imitation of a hoarse sore throat.

“What’s the matter with you? And where were you last night? I called you for hours,” his mother immediately began.

“I’m sick,” he said once then had to repeat himself to be heard over her continuous stream of questions.

“I’ll come over and bring nanny to look after you.”

“No, it’s ok. Jongdae is treating me,” he said, lying wildly. “And I’m contagious! He said no one can come near me, especially not Nanny,” he added, thinking of the sweet now very elderly woman who looked after him as a child and who now helped around his mother’s house.

“Then I’ll have food sent over,” persisted his mother.

“No, it’s ok. I have enough food,” he said quickly.

“Food?!” repeated Baekhyun loudly.

Chanyeol covered the phone again and ran into the kitchen.

“What was that?”

“An echo,” he lied, cringing, “You know how high the ceilings are in here.”

“High ceilings are a good selling point,” said his mother.

“Yes, I know,” said Chanyeol, he remembered that often-repeated fact from when she chose the apartment for him.

“Well, make sure you are resting today. We’ll need you back at work as soon as possible.”

“Ok,” he agreed flatly. “But Jongdae said it would be at least a couple days till I’m not contagious anymore.”

“Get well soon then,” she said with characteristic formalness and hung up.

Chanyeol lowered the phone, thinking about how easy that had been, he didn’t even feel guilty.

He wandered back into the living room.

Baekhyun looked up, his expression full of concern. “Are you unwell?” he asked. “Do you want to get into the bathtub?”

“No, I’m fine,” Chanyeol reassured him. “It’s just not socially acceptable to tell your boss that you can’t come into work because you need to show a merman around town.”

Baekhyun was staring avidly at the phone in Chanyeol’s hand now.

“What?” asked Chanyeol, holding it out to him.

“Hi Chanyeol’s mum,” Baekhyun whispered at it.

“She’s gone,” said Chanyeol.

“She’s dead?!”

“What? No, she just hung up already.”

Hung…up ?” Baekhyun repeated the words slowly, his brows furrowed in confusion. “That’s not your mum?” he asked pointing at the phone.

“No,” laughed Chanyeol. “It’s a phone, an object. You use it to call other people and then they answer with their phones and you can talk to them even if they’re far away. It’s a communication tool.”

Baekhyun screwed up his face sceptically. “That sounds made up. My grandfather never mentioned anything like that.”

“More made up than the possibility of this small, flat, shiny box being my actual biological mother?!” Chanyeol said with a laugh.

“Hey, I don’t know how human reproduction works.”

“Well, trust me it doesn’t work like that. This is just a phone. It’s a pretty new technology, I guess. It wouldn’t have been around when your grandfather was up here.”

The phone in Chanyeol’s hand rang suddenly.

“She’s screaming!” shrieked Baekhyun, covering his ears.

Chanyeol quickly killed the call and switched the phone back to silent.

“No, it’s ok. That’s just what it does to tell me that someone is calling to talk to me,” explained Chanyeol. He glanced at the phone; the call had been from Jongdae. He decided to ring him back later.

“What’s that room?” asked Baekhyun, peering up over the back of the couch into the large open plan kitchen Chanyeol had just returned from.

“The kitchen,” said Chanyeol. “It’s where you make food.”

Baekhyun leapt up. “Great! I’m starving!” he exclaimed going over to the large marble island counter.

“Well, I don’t actually have any food here,” admitted Chanyeol a little awkwardly.

Baekhyun rounded on him. “You’re telling me you have an entire room of your house dedicated to food preparation and yet you have no food?” he asked incredulously.

“Well, I sometimes…make smoothies,” replied Chanyeol defensively. “I’m not really here very often.”

“Where are you normally?”

“At work and I mostly eat out anyway. I don’t have time to mess around with cooking. But it’s ok, we’ll go out to eat. That’s a good idea, right? That way you’ll get to look around,” he said coaxingly.

Baekhyun gave the kitchen one last longing look but nodded his head. “Ok, let’s go out,” he said and headed down the hall towards the front door.

“What are you doing? You’ve got to get changed first, you can't wear that outside!” exclaimed Chanyeol, running after him and bringing him back into the living room.

“Why not?”

“It's too short for starters.”

“But I like it,” pouted Baekhyun, looking down at the pale expanse of his bare legs. “What's the point of me getting these shiny new legs if I can't see them?”

“It’s not just that it’s short it’s also a bathrobe which is inappropriate to wear in public,” pointed out Chanyeol. “Come into my bedroom and we’ll find something for you to wear.”

They left the living room through another hallway, Baekhyun kicking his legs out dramatically through the opening of the robe as if to enjoy every last minute he was wearing it.

“There it is again,” he said quickly.

“What is?” asked Chanyeol, looking back at him.

“My undertail,” said Baekhyun, looking down.

“Your what?” asked Chanyeol suspiciously.

“My undertail,” repeated Baekhyun, “You know, you saw it before when I was in the bathtub.”

“You mean your private parts?” asked Chanyeol uncomfortably.

“Private?” scoffed Baekhyun. “That’s a weird thing to call them on humans. They are not private at all, they’re right there on the outside! Wait…yours are like that too, right? On the outside? It’s not just me, is it?”

He looked down at Chanyeol’s crotch and immediately reached out a hand, but Chanyeol swatted it away before he could make contact.

“Yes,” Chanyeol said, covering his crotch with his other hand. “Mine’s like that too.”

“Oh good,” said Baekhyun, looking relieved. “I'm just not used to seeing it all the time.”

“That’s why we wear clothes of an appropriate length with underwear underneath. If you can see it all the time, then you’re going to get arrested!” said Chanyeol, opening his bedroom door and entering.

Baekhyun followed looking around him. He seemed just as unimpressed by the bedroom as he was by the living room. The whole room was decorated in stark, black and white, with sleek, minimalist furniture.

“Wow,” Baekhyun gasped, suddenly running over to a console table displaying a sculpture made of twisted pieces of driftwood.

Chanyeol watched him as he bent down peering at it from all angles. “This is wonderful,” he said appreciatively.

Chanyeol felt a small surge of pride.

“Thanks,” he said. “I made that when I was a teenager.”

“You made it?” asked Baekhyun, looking distinctly impressed. “Is that your job? You’re an artist?”

Chanyeol laughed. “No, I’m the CEO of a multinational trading company.”

Baekhyun stared at him. “That’s a lot of words I don’t know. None of them means ‘Artist’, do they?”

“No, definitely not,” replied Chanyeol, with a small pang of sadness he didn’t want to explore.

“That’s a pity,” said Baekhyun and he seemed to mean it.

Chanyeol glanced at the sculpture. He had made it using driftwood he’d collected from the beach during a very rare family holiday. After only two days, his parents had had some urgent business to attend to and had returned to Seoul but he had stayed on at the beachside house they had rented with his old nanny, who was content to sit on a deck chair in the sun all day. It was the most freedom he’d ever had, roaming the beach by himself all day, swimming when he liked, exploring nearby rock pools and caves.

“Come on, let’s find you some clothes,” he said suddenly, opening the door to his walk-in closet.

Baekhyun reluctantly tore his eyes away from the sculpture and followed him.

“You have a cave?!” exclaimed Baekhyun walking into the enclosed space fully lined on all sides with racks of clothes.

“It’s not a cave, it’s a closet.”

“I know a cave when I see it,” refuted Baekhyun. “I love exploring caves!”

He wandered around the space happily moving clothes aside as if he expected to find something more interesting behind them.

Chanyeol set about picking out clothes both for himself and Baekhyun and walking in and out of the closet to occasionally drape his selections over the end of the bed.

“Hey, earlier you said you had to go back in a couple of days anyway, why’s that? Because of work?” asked Chanyeol, he was interested in hearing about what kinds of jobs merpeople had.

“Oh no, just if I don’t get my tail back in 2 days, I will die a gruesome death here on land,” said Baekhyun seriously, peering out from behind an elegant woollen winter coat.

“Oh my god,” said Chanyeol, looking around at him. “Really?”

“No,” laughed Baekhyun.

“Then why would you say that?!”

“Well, I will die. It just won't be particularly gruesome. I'll stop being able to breathe so I’ll die gasping for air,” replied Baekhyun matter-of-factly.

“I’m sorry, how exactly is that not gruesome?!”

“Well, my uncle died by being impaled on a whale harpoon,” explained Baekhyun, plunging one hand into a sock drawer and appearing disappointed with his findings.

“Ok, so by comparison not so gruesome but I mean you'll still die,” pointed out Chanyeol.

Baekhyun shrugged. “We all have to die sometime.”

“You can't be philosophical while wearing a robe that short,” said Chanyeol, selecting a shirt from a rack.

“You humans have so many rules,” grumbled Baekhyun.

“What and merpeople don't have rules?”

“We have some. But it's mostly practical stuff like don't pee when someone is down current from you.”

“Stand still for a second,” Chanyeol ordered, and he held up a pair of dress pants against Baekhyun’s body.

“Hmm, I don’t think my clothes are going to fit you,” he said, there was nothing worse than an ill-fitting suit.

“Guess I’ll just wear this then,” said Baekhyun happily clutching his robe around himself.

“No, you will not.”

Chanyeol went further into his closet to his selection of sportswear.

“You’re too short for my pants but you might fit into shorts,” he said and pulled out a pair of basketball shorts

Baekhyun made a gasping noise behind him, he turned around. Baekhyun was looking at Chanyeol’s legs and then down at his own repeatedly.

“Am I of short stature?!”

“Well, yeah, kind of,” said Chanyeol, then he saw the horrified look on Baekhyun’s face and quickly added, “I mean no! You’re not, I'm just tall. You're a totally normal height for a human.”

Baekhyun was still frowning and looking hurt. “Where I’m from, my tail length is considered very impressive,” he said defensively.

“I'm sure it is. I was impressed when I saw it,” said Chanyeol.

“Were you?”

“Well, no I was shocked and terrified,” admitted Chanyeol, “but I'm sure if I'd had longer time to process the whole thing, I would have found it very impressive.”

Baekhyun seemed mollified.

Chanyeol rehung the dress shirt he had originally selected for Baekhyun because it would look ridiculous with the shorts and picked a plain white t-shirt instead.

“It’s a little dressed down for lunch,” he muttered to himself, but he glanced back at Baekhyun who was flapping around the bottom of the robe and quickly decided anything was better than that.

“There doesn’t seem to be anything in this cave but attire,” said Baekhyun sadly.

“Yeah, I told you, it’s a closet, it’s for keeping clothes in.”

“Well, you should have said that closet means a clothes cave and I would have understood,” said Baekhyun.

“Take these,” said Chanyeol, shoving the clothes into Baekhyun’s hands, “and get out of my clothes cave.” He pushed Baekhyun back out into the bedroom. “I’m going to get dressed now, you should try to do that also,” he said, watching Baekhyun looking at the clothes confusedly.

He scooped up the clothes he’d picked out for himself off the bed and marched back into the closet, closing the door behind him.

He undressed and sprayed on some cologne then redressed in a pair of black Prada trousers, a red, black and white patterned shirt and a black skinny tie. He slipped on his suit jacket and checked his appearance in the mirror on the back of the door, sweeping his hair back and shaking it into position.

He went back out into the bedroom where Baekhyun was looking perplexedly at the leg holes in the pair of black boxer briefs Chanyeol had given him.

“Show me yours, so I can see how these work,” Baekhyun said looking up when he saw Chanyeol reappear.

“No,” said Chanyeol flatly. “And stop trying to look at my…undertail. They’re easy to put on. You put one foot through each hole.”

Baekhyun started to untie the robe.

“No, don’t take the robe off yet!” said Chanyeol hurriedly. “Just sit on the edge of the bed.”

Baekhyun reluctantly did so and Chanyeol looked away while he pulled the boxers up.

Baekhyun stood up and wriggled around a bit. “They’re very…binding. No wonder humans look so sad all the time.”

“Trust me, most people have bigger problems than snugly-fitting underwear. And those happen to be very expensive, designer boxer briefs,” said Chanyeol, handing Baekhyun the basketball shorts. “Put these on too, please.”

Baekhyun pulled the robe down off his shoulders.

“No, you don’t—” Chanyeol started to protest but Baekhyun had already slid the robe down and managed to wriggle out of it without even untying it. It dropped on the floor.

He stood with no trace of self-consciousness, naked except for the figure-hugging boxer briefs in front of Chanyeol.

Though he was considerably shorter than Chanyeol, he was beautifully proportioned with a slight curve to his hips which emulated the shape his tail had been. His skin all over was smooth and luminous and reminded Chanyeol of the pale gleam from the inside of a shell.

“Get dressed,” prompted Chanyeol quickly looking away and waving his hand at the shorts and t-shirt, on the bed.

“Can’t I just wear this?” asked Baekhyun. “When I was watching the beach yesterday, I saw lots of humans dressed like this.”

“Well, we’re not at the beach, are we? You can’t dress like that in the city.”

“Can’t we go to the beach?”

“No, we’re going to lunch, remember?”

“Can’t we go to lunch at the beach?”

“No, it’s too far away,” said Chanyeol. “Do you want to eat now or not?”

“I want to eat now,” said Baekhyun in a small voice.

“Then get dressed, please,” prompted Chanyeol again.

After much effort, Baekhyun got the baggy shorts on. Chanyeol helped Baekhyun with the t-shirt because the combined number of holes created by the armholes, head hole and body hole seemed completely beyond his comprehension.

When he was finally dressed, he looked down sadly at his mostly covered body.

“I don’t see why I need to wear all this just because we are in the city,” he said.

“Because people in the city are all working, if you walk around in your underwear it will distract them.”

“Why will it distract them?”

“Because---” said Chanyeol then he broke off and ran his hands through his hair exasperatedly. “Because you have a very nice body.”

“Is ‘nice’ the only word you know?!” asked Baekhyun, though he preened himself and looked quite pleased with the compliment.

“Fine, you have a gorgeous, hot, sexy body, happy?”

“I don’t think I know any of those words.”

“They all just mean nice!” exclaimed Chanyeol.

He looked down at Baekhyun’s bare feet.

“We’ll need to find you some shoes,” he said.

Baekhyun’s feet looked considerably smaller than his. They went down the hallway to the cupboard by the front door. Chanyeol opened it, looking at the array of highly polished dress shoes.

“Do you wear those things to hide your ugly foot fingers?” asked Baekhyun, peering over his shoulder.

“No,” said Chanyeol, a little offended. “It’s to protect your feet.”

“From what?”

“Just the ground in general,” said Chanyeol, shrugging.

“The more I know about humans, the more I think you’re all just really badly designed,” scoffed Baekhyun.

“You want to talk about badly designed? You’ll die if you’re on land for more than 2 days!”

“And you wouldn’t die if you spent 2 days under the ocean?” asked Baekhyun, his hands on his hips.

“Ok, you have a point there,” conceded Chanyeol.

He rummaged around in the cupboard then pulled out a pair of black patent leather brogues which he intended to wear that day. After still more rummaging he triumphantly produced a pair of black and white slides from the depths of the cupboard.

“I think these are my friend Jongdae’s, they look about your size,” he said, holding them out to Baekhyun.

Baekhyun took them and sat down on the hall floor to very laboriously slip the slides onto his feet. He wiggled his toes.

“I can still see them!” he said sadly. “Can I have some of those?” he asked, pointing to Chanyeol’s black socks.

“It’s illegal to wear socks with slides,” lied Chanyeol. “Besides,” he added looking at Baekhyun still wiggling his toes, “you have very cute little toes.”

“Are they cuter than yours?!” asked Baekhyun quickly, looking up at him.

“Much.”

“Are they… maybe …the cutest toes you’ve ever seen?” he asked hopefully.

“Maybe,” said Chanyeol cagily.

Baekhyun smiled in a satisfied way and looked down at his toes fondly.

“Ok, come on get up now,” said Chanyeol, putting a hand under Baekhyun’s nearest arm and pulling him to his feet.

He slid his own shoes on, lacing them carefully.

“Let’s go,” said Chanyeol, opening the front door and heading out into the foyer in front of the lift, Baekhyun trailing behind.

He heard Baekhyun gasp loudly and spun around to see Baekhun staring avidly at his butt. He turned so it was out of sight but Baekhyun followed him around still staring.

“What are you looking at?” he asked, though he thought he knew.

“That!” said Baekhyun pointing at his butt. “Maybe humans aren’t so badly designed after all?”

Chanyeol laughed but quickly stopped when Baekhyun reached out and squeezed his butt with both hands. “Hey!” he exclaimed, jumping away. “Don’t grab my butt like that.”

“Butt?” asked Baekhyun, still gazing at it as if mesmerised. “Is that what it’s called?”

“Yes.”

“What a beautiful word,” he breathed.

“Not really,” said Chanyeol, screwing up his nose.

Baekhyun’s hands moved once more towards Chanyeol’s pants.

Chanyeol pushed his hand away. “You’ve got one too you know, you should grab that instead.”

Baekhyun looked surprised, peered over his shoulder and patted at his own butt. “Oh my god, you’re right,” he said then reached out and squeezed Chanyeol’s again. “But it’s more fun to grab yours!”

“Fun for you, maybe?”

“You don’t like it?” Baekhyun asked so sadly that Chanyeol felt himself soften a little.

“No, I-I don’t mind,” he said relenting, it had certainly been a while since anyone had so thoroughly appreciated his butt.

Baekhyun squeezed harder.

“No, I do mind!” cried Chanyeol. “Stop that,” he said, swatting Baekhyun’s hand away.

“You can touch mine,” offered Baekhyun, turning around and backing towards Chanyeol.

Chanyeol couldn’t help but look and he thought that even dressed as he was in an oversized t-shirt and basketball shorts, he could make out the shape of Baekhyun’s body underneath. His mind wandered briefly back to Baekhyun in the bedroom in his black boxer briefs and even further back to the bathtub.

He took a step backwards.

“I don’t want to!” said Chanyeol more decisively than he actually felt.

Baekhyun turned to face him, his expression pouty. “I’m only going to have a butt for 2 days. What if I get my tail back without anyone having ever touched it?” he said sadly, his bottom lip wobbled dramatically.

Chanyeol rolled his eyes.

“Fine,” he said, he was going to say “stop pouting” but there was no need because the moment he’d agreed, Baekhyun had immediately started grinning delightedly.

“But not now, if no one has touched it when it’s time for you to go back in the ocean, then…I will,” Chanyeol agreed, graciously.

“With both hands?”

Chanyeol sighed. “Fine, yes, with both hands, but just so you know that is the weirdest thing I’ve agreed to recently.”

“Weirder than carrying a passed-out merman around?” asked Baekhyun.

“No, actually, you’re right that was weirder,” agreed Chanyeol.

“When you touch my butt, can I touch yours at the same time?”

“I stand corrected, this is definitely weirder!” he exclaimed. “Now, come on, I’m getting hungry now too. Let’s go.” He walked over to the elevator door.

They went down in the elevator to the car park and walked out amongst the rows of cars. Baekhyun looked around the enormous concrete space warily, sticking close by Chanyeol until they reached his sports car.

Baekhyun looked at it in confusion. “Where are your whores?” he asked

“Excuse me?!” exclaimed Chanyeol, looking up from where he’d been pulling the keyless entry fob out of his pocket.

“Your whores,” repeated Baekhyun blandly. “To pull this carriage.”

“You mean horses?! Don’t say whores! That’s something different.”

“Are you sure?” asked Baekhyun sceptically.

“Yes! And we don’t need anything to pull it. It’s a car, not a carriage, it pulls itself.”

“So, it’s got whores inside?” asked Baekhyun peering inside the sleek red sports car.

“No, my mum would kill me if I had whores in my car,” replied Chanyeol, unlocking the car doors. “Get in and let’s both stop saying that word.”

He showed Baekhyun how to open the car door then ran around and jumped in the driver’s seat.

He turned on the engine and they drove up the exit ramp of the underground car park and out into the brilliant sunlight.

Baekhyun sat with his face pressed up against the window peering out excitedly at the city.

“It’s so bright,” he said, blinking.

“It’s daytime,” replied Chanyeol.

“What are all these buildings?”

“People live in them.”

“Why would they want to live here?”

“A lot of people live in the city because they work here.”

“There’s one!” Baekhyun said excitedly pointing at a person on the sidewalk. “What do you think they’re doing? Going to the beach?”

“No, I told you, the beach is far away. They’re probably going to work. It’s not like people can spend every day at the beach.”

“Why not?” asked Baekhyun earnestly.

Chanyeol didn’t know how to answer that so he changed the subject. “I’ll put the top down, so you can see out better.”

He clicked the button on the dashboard and the roof hummed as it retracted slowly, and warm sunlight flooded the car.

“Bits of your carriage are falling off!” exclaimed Baekhyun, turning in his seat to look back at the disappearing roof.

“No, it’s meant to do that. It’s so you can enjoy the nice weather,” explained Chanyeol.

They stopped at a set of traffic lights. Chanyeol glanced over at Baekhyun who was leaning back in his seat, his head tilted back and his eyes closed basking in the light. His pretty lips were curved in a gentle smile and Chanyeol stared until a car behind them honked and he accelerated quickly through the now clear intersection.

“Where are we going?” asked Baekhyun, opening his eyes slowly and peering through the side windows once more.

“To a restaurant, I know. You’ll like it,” said Chanyeol. It was a restaurant he’d been to several times now in a nearby suburb. “It’s got 2 Michelin stars.”

“Can we see them in the daytime?” asked Baekhyun.

“See what?”

“The stars!”

Chanyeol laughed. “No, they’re not those kinds of stars. They’re a rating system. It just means it’s a very good restaurant with delicious food.”

Baekhyun looked disappointed. “I would like to see the stars,” he said quietly. “I’ve heard about them, but I’ve only been up to the surface that once and I don’t remember the night time at all.”

“Because you got too much sun during the day by the sounds of it.”

“Too much sun?” asked Baekhyun. He shifted in his seat and looked up at the sky nervously.

“Yeah, if you spend too much time in the sun, you get heatstroke and it makes you sick,” explained Chanyeol.

Baekhyun sank low in his seat and looked at Chanyeol in horror. “We need a carriage with a top to cover ourselves!”

“No, it’s fine. You can have a bit of sun exposure just not hours of it,” explained Chanyeol. “We’re almost at the restaurant, but I can put the top back up if you’re worried.”

“It’s ok,” said Baekhyun, still shooting the sky suspicious looks. “Will we be able to see the stars tonight?”

“No, not here in Seoul. The lights from the buildings are too bright.”

“So, you’ve never seen the stars either?!” asked Baekhyun excitedly.

He seemed so pleased by the idea of both of them never having seen the stars that Chanyeol didn’t want to disappoint him and the more he thought about it, the more he wondered if he had really ever seen the stars.

“No, I haven’t,” he said, surprising even himself. He knew about stars obviously, and he’d seen them in pictures, but he had no actual memory of looking up at the sky at night and seeing it full of stars.

“Don’t go and see them without me!” ordered Baekhyun.

“I won’t,” promised Chanyeol easily. With work, he had no time to go stargazing anyway.

He parked in the small private car park behind the restaurant and put up the sunroof. They got out.

The restaurant was on the first floor of a tall office building and as they approached, a suited maître d' opened the glass door for Chanyeol respectfully.

“Good afternoon.”

“Just checking…you can see him, right?” asked Chanyeol under his breath, signalling subtly back towards Baekhyun.

The maître d's eyes flicked briefly in Baekhyun’s direction. “Yes, sir?”

“Oh, good,” said Chanyeol, “Or not good actually…” He tilted his head thinking aloud. “I’m not sure if it’s a good thing or not.” While it was nice that Baekhyun wasn’t a figment of his imagination, he couldn’t help but wonder if it would be easier if he was.

“Can I help you, sir?” asked the Maître d', his manner becoming suddenly brisker.

“Yes, sorry. We’d like a table for two, please.”

“Do you have a reservation, sir?”

“No, I was hoping you’d still be able to find us a table,” Chanyeol said, flashing his business card.

The maître d' glanced at it and replied deferentially, “Of course, Mr. Park.” He glanced back again at Baekhyun in his too large basketball shorts and t-shirt and frowned.

He opened his mouth to say something but, thinking quickly, Chanyeol interrupted.

“This is my business associate. He’s just flown in from China and the airline, unfortunately, lost all his luggage,” he said with a dramatic sigh which suggested he had been through an insufferable ordeal already that day.

“How very tiresome for you,” said the maître d', his tone was understanding now. He plucked 2 menus’ from the front desk. “Right this way, sir.”

“What’s an airline?” asked Baekhyun, as they followed.

“He doesn’t speak Korean very well,” said Chanyeol loudly over him.

The maître d' led them through the purple carpeted restaurant to a table in the corner, leaving them with a waiter. The place was only half full but Chanyeol had the distinct feeling the maître d' was trying to hide them.

The restaurant was beautifully fit-out with stylish ivory-coloured light boxes decorating the walls and grey plush velvet booth seating which ran the full length of the room, but Baekhyun seemed much more interested in the matte gold silverware.

“What are these?” he asked while the well-dressed waiter hovered about them shaking their napkins out into their laps and carefully placing the thick papered elegantly simple menus in front of them.

“Your cutlery, sir,” said the waiter patiently.

“Is that like a cuttlefish?” asked Baekhyun, turning over the spoon in his hands. He wriggled around in his chair, causing his purple napkin to slide off his lap onto the floor.

“No, sir?” replied the waiter uncertainly this time. “Would you like to order any drinks, sir?”

Chanyeol glanced at the wine menu then pushed it away. He didn’t think it was a good idea to give Baekhyun alcohol.

“We’ll just have still water, thank you,” he said.

“Will that be all, sir?” asked the waiter, picking up Baekhyun’s napkin and re-draping it neatly on his lap.

“Yes, thank you,” said Chanyeol, wincing.

“I still don’t understand what this is for,” said Baekhyun, glancing at his distorted reflection in the back of the spoon.

“To eat with,” said Chanyeol, picking up his fork and demonstrating.

“Why bother? What are your hands for?”

“Because that’s not clean. You mean merpeople eat with their hands?”

“Yes, but it’s not unclean, we’re underwater! Our hands are thoroughly washed.”

“Well, that’s fine underwater but we eat with these, so we don’t touch our food with our hands,” explained Chanyeol.

Baekhyun appeared to suddenly notice his napkin had reappeared, he picked it up and dropped it back on the floor.

Ignoring him, Chanyeol opened his menu.

Baekhyun copied him, staring at the minimalist, highly spaced list of options.

“Yours is upside-down,” pointed out Chanyeol.

Baekhyun turned it around uncertainly. “Are you sure?” he asked, squinting at the writing.

“Yes,” said Chanyeol. “Do you want me to read it to you?”

“No,” said Baekhyun. “I don’t know your human food words. Just order me something.”

The waiter returned when Chanyeol closed his menu and glanced up.

“We’ll each have the pork belly, thank you,” he ordered.

“Good choice,” said the waiter. He deftly scooped up Baekhyun’s fallen napkin again and dropped it back on his lap before walking away.

“Why does he keep putting that small towel on me?” whispered Baekhyun. “I’m wearing lots of clothes!”

“It’s not to cover you up. It’s to wipe your mouth on when you’re eating,” explained Chanyeol.

“Oh,” said Baekhyun, glancing after the waiter. “He’s very sexy.”

“What?!” exclaimed Chanyeol, his eyes following the balding middle-aged waiter in surprise as he returned to the kitchen.

“Well, he was. He was very polite to me, giving me back my small towel.”

“What has that got to do with being sexy?!”

“You said sexy meant nice,” said Baekhyun confusedly.

“I didn’t!” denied Chanyeol, then he remembered that he had actually said that back in the bedroom of the apartment. “Ok, no, I did say that but I didn’t mean it like that. Sexy means…” he paused and looked around then whispered, “sexually attractive.”

“Sexually attractive?” repeated Baekhyun loudly.

“Yes,” said Chanyeol, still keeping his voice low. “Like someone you want to have sex with.”

“What’s sex?” asked Baekhyun.

Chanyeol’s eyes flickered around nervously at the other tables and he rubbed his neck distractedly. “Oh, I was not expecting to have to explain this to someone…. Uh, when two people love each other very much,” he began awkwardly but trailed off and glanced up at Baekhyun who had emitted a small noise.

Baekhyun was covering his mouth, his shoulders were shaking slightly.

“Are you laughing?!” gasped Chanyeol.

“No,” replied Baekhyun in a high-pitched voice before he broke down completely and burst out laughing loudly.

“Why are you laughing at me?!”

“I’m 87 years old. I know what sexual intercourse is,” choked out Baekhyun, between peals of laughter.

“Then why are you making me explain it?!”

“Because it was funny!” exclaimed Baekhyun, wiping his eyes on his napkin. “When two people love each other very much,” he repeated solemnly then burst out laughing again.

Chanyeol looked away annoyed, then realised what Baekhyun had said.

“Wait? You’re 87?!” he asked, looking back at Baekhyun in disbelief.

“Yes,” said Baekhyun, wiping yet more tears of laughter out of his eyes with his napkin.

“I'm sorry, what?!” Chanyeol exclaimed. “No, that's impossible, you look about my age!”

“Well, how old are you then?”

“I’m 24,” replied Chanyeol.

“You’re 24?! And yet you've aged this much?!” asked Baekhyun, using both hands to point at Chanyeol and looking completely horrified.

“I'm not aged! I look like a perfectly normal 24-year-old human,” said Chanyeol. He felt rather offended, he looked at himself in the reflection of his phone screen and he thought he looked fine.

“It must be the sun,” muttered Baekhyun darkly.

“There’s no way you’re 87,” denied Chanyeol. “Your merperson maths must just be different from ours.”

“How long is a year up here?” asked Baekhyun curiously.

“365 days of course,” said Chanyeol. “Well, except for some years when it has 366.”

“366? Who came up with that? That's crazy, ours is a nice even 100 days a year,” said Baekhyun supremely.

“But then you're not 87 at all! You're….” Chanyeol hesitated, counted some numbers on his fingers then gave up and pulled out his phone, quickly opening the calculator.

“You're 24 too!” he announced a second later, holding out the phone to show Baekhyun.

“Stop saying that. You're making me feel dirty. 24-year-olds are children,” said Baekhyun, frowning and looking around as if concerned people might have overheard.

“Fine, then I’m 87 too.”

“I guess you don’t look so bad for 87,” conceded Baekhyun.

“Gee thanks,” said Chanyeol, picking up his water glass and drinking.

“You must think I look pretty good for 87 since you want to have sex with me,” said Baekhyun casually.

Chanyeol choked on a mouthful of water.

“Excuse me? What?”

“You said before that I had a sexy body, and you said sexy means sexually attractive, so that means you must want to have sex with me. I’m not saying no or anything, but I’d like to eat first.”

“I do not want to have sex with you,” scoffed Chanyeol. “I just…”

“Find me very sexually attractive?” asked Baekhyun, raising an eyebrow suggestively.

Chanyeol forced a fake laugh of disbelief.

“Ok, I do think you’re attractive,” admitted Chanyeol. “But I don’t want to have sex with you, because you’re not even human!”

“That’s speciest!” said Baekhyun, looking offended.

“It is not!” denied Chanyeol. “Or maybe it is, but that’s not a bad thing. There are literally laws against…you know…being with other species.”

“But for all intents and purposes, I am essentially a human right now.”

“That’s true,” said Chanyeol slowly.

“And I’ve got all the right human parts,” Baekhyun said gesturing at his crotch. “I mean, I think I do,” he added, looking concerned again and moving his napkin off his lap to stare down at it. “If you let me see yours, I can check.”

“I’m not letting you see mine!”

“Well, it’s going to be hard for us to have sex then!”

“Good!”

“Oh, I see,” said Baekhyun suddenly. He looked a bit pitying. “Do you have…issues?” he whispered.

“What?!” asked Chanyeol.

“It doesn’t work?”

“What doesn’t?”

“Your undertail.”

“My undertail works perfectly!” exclaimed Chanyeol. He squeezed his forehead with one hand. “What am I saying?”

“Oh, do you have some other kind of issue then?”

“No, I don’t have any issues right now other than you!”

“Well, I just don’t see why, if you find me so attractive, you are denying yourself the opportunity to have sex with me. Sounds like you enjoy suffering.”

“I just…” Chanyeol began, not quite knowing where he was going and floundering around for a way to shut this conversation down, “I don’t know you at all. I like to know people before I do intimate things with them.”

“Oh,” said Baekhyun, he looked surprised. “I didn’t realise humans were so sweet.”

“I didn’t realise merpeople were so slutty,” replied Chanyeol.

“What does slutty mean?”

“Keep your voice down,” hissed Chanyeol, as the waiter approached their table carrying their plates of food expertly in one hand. He deposited each plate gently in front of them.

“Is there anything else I can do for you, sir?” he asked, ready to retreat.

“Yes, what does slutty mean?” asked Baekhyun.

“Baekhyun!” exclaimed Chanyeol.

“Er,” said the waiter. “I believe it means sexually promiscuous…sir.”

Baekhyun rested his face on his hands. “And what does that mean?”

“You don’t have to answer that,” said Chanyeol hurriedly to the waiter. “I’m so so sorry, I will be leaving you a generous tip. You can go.”

The waiter retreated swiftly, looking relieved.

“Stop using our waiter as a dictionary!” Chanyeol exclaimed, turning back to Baekhyun.

“What’s a dictionary?” asked Baekhyun.

Chanyeol groaned. “Look, I’m too hungry to deal with you. We’ll discuss it after we’ve eaten, ok?!”

Baekhyun stared at the carefully sliced and arranged pork belly served appealingly in the centre of a large white plate.

“Why is human food so...brown?” he asked.

“It’s meant to be brown,” said Chanyeol, picking up his knife and fork and cutting a neat piece of meat. He put it in his mouth and chewed. “It’s good. Try it.”

Baekhyun figured out the knife and fork surprisingly quickly and after only a few misses managed to get a piece of the meat into his mouth without dropping it.

He chewed, looking more and more horrified with each second.

“It’s so bland!” he exclaimed.

“Keep your voice down!” hissed Chanyeol. “This is a Michelin star restaurant you can’t insult the food like that.”

“It needs more salt,” continued Baekhyun.

Chanyeol sighed and pushed the discreet salt grinder towards him.

Baekhyun picked it up and ground it straight into his mouth.

Chanyeol put his face in his hands, a gesture that was becoming more and more familiar to him.

Baekhyun took another bite of the meat, with each mouthful he ground more salt into his mouth.

Other people in the restaurant were shooting him strange looks now.

Chanyeol regretted not ordering wine, he really could have done with a large glass of wine.

He decided to eat and just ignore the sounds of the salt grinder coming from Baekhyun’s side of the table every minute or so.

The pork belly was superb and when he finished, he watched Baekhyun’s slow progress feeling far more tolerant of Baekhyun’s weird behaviour now he was no longer hungry.

When Baekhyun had finally finished the last slice, he grabbed his water glass and started gulping it down.

“That’s what you get for eating all that salt,” said Chanyeol.

The waiter returned to take away their empty plates. “Would you like to see the dessert menu?”

“No, thank you, but could we have some more water please?” asked Chanyeol, watching Baekhyun finish off the rest of the glass.

The waiter hurried away and returned with a jug, which Baekhyun took and immediately started drinking, taking huge gulps.

The waiter gave Baekhyun a confused look and Chanyeol said on impulse, “We broke up. He's trying to drown himself.”

The waiter only looked more confused as he walked away.

At last, once Baekhyun had finished the whole jug he sat back breathing heavily.

“What does broke up mean?” he asked curiously.

Chanyeol wracked his brains trying to think how a breakup might have been referred to in Baekhyun’s grandfather’s time.

“It means we’ve ended our courtship,” he hazarded vaguely.

Baekhyun put down the empty jug and stared at him in wonderment.

“Yes,” he whispered, biting his bottom lip as the corners of his mouth tipped up in an unmistakable smile.

“What?” asked Chanyeol

“Yes!” repeated Baekhyun more firmly.

Chanyeol looked behind him to see if Baekhyun was speaking to someone else but no one was there. “What exactly are you saying yes to?!” he asked in confusion.

“Yes! I'll marry you!”

“You’ll…w-what?!”

“You said our courtship has ended. A courtship period ends in marriage, my grandfather told me about this. So yes, I’ll marry you!”

Chanyeol closed his eyes extra tight then reopened them slowly, he wasn’t sure why he thought this might work since it hadn’t worked any of the other times he’d tried it. Baekhyun was still sitting in front of him, still giving him an eager, excited look. Oddly, he felt slightly relieved to find him still there.

He pursed his lips.

“Sure,” Chanyeol said, with a shrug. “Why not? I mean a lot of stuff has already happened over the last 12 hours which I won’t be able to tell anyone about without risking being involuntarily committed to a secure ward so yeah, I might as well add to it. Let’s get married.”

Baekhyun delightedly took one of Chanyeol’s hands in his, bringing it up to his lips he kissed the back gently.

“Dry,” he said, pulling a face.

“Humans are meant to be dry!” said Chanyeol, yanking his hand away. “And don’t talk to your fiancé that way.”

“What’s the point of having a fiancé if I can’t tease them?”

“God knows, I don’t even understand how I ended up being your fiancé,” muttered Chanyeol. “Let’s get the bill before we accidentally adopt twins or something.”

He flagged down a passing waiter and asked for the bill.

Baekhyun was looking around the restaurant at the other tables, his brow creased perplexedly.

“Why are you frowning like that?” asked Chanyeol.

“I’m just…confused,” replied Baekhyun, still looking around. “Merpeople are very good looking and you're the first human I saw up close, so I thought humans were too. But everyone in this restaurant is just so ugly!”

“Keep your voice down,” hissed Chanyeol.

“Maybe you have merperson heritage?” suggested Baekhyun, looking at him closely.

“I don’t think so.”

“Are you sure? I can't think of any other explanation for why you and I would be so much more handsome than everyone else here!”

Chanyeol pursed his lips trying and failing after a few seconds not to smile. “You really think I’m that good looking?”

“Yes! I mean I’m not going to lie it’s a big part of why I agreed to marry you.”

“Your looks are a big part of why I asked you to marry me too,” retorted Chanyeol.

Baekhyun pulled a face. “That’s very shallow.”

“You just said it to me!”

“Well, Merpeople are shallow,” said Baekhyun defensively. “We can’t help it, it’s the natural result of being so very attractive.”

“And slutty,” muttered Chanyeol.

“You said that word again!” exclaimed Baekhyun. “What does—"

“I’m going to pay at the front,” Chanyeol said loudly, cutting him off mid-question. He leapt up with his Amex black card out and made his way swiftly through the restaurant up to the affronted maître d'.

Baekhyun followed and after the payment had gone through, they headed out onto the street.

“Where are we going now?” asked Baekhyun looking around with interest.

“I think we should go buy you some more appropriate clothes,” said Chanyeol.

“More appropriate for what?”

“Going to nice places like that restaurant,” replied Chanyeol, he looked around too and soon got his bearings. He realised they were only a few blocks from a popular shopping street with a lot of designer stores. He started off down the street on foot.

“But I don’t want to go to any more nice places,” grumbled Baekhyun, following him.

They continued down the street for another block.

“Walking is so tiring,” complained Baekhyun. “And it doesn't make any sense! When I'm swimming if I want to go faster, I flap my tail. But when I flap my legs, I go slower!” He wiggled his legs back and forth as he walked.

“Stop that, you’ll fall over,” chastised Chanyeol.

“I'm hot too,” added Baekhyun, tugging at his clothes. “I hate being this close to the sun.” He glared mutinously up at the bright sun.

“Don’t look at the sun like that,” said Chanyeol.

“Why not?”

“It will burn your eyes.”

“What?!” exclaimed Baekhyun. “I don’t know how you humans live like this.”

“You get used to anything in time,” said Chanyeol vaguely. “And stop complaining, we’re almost there.”

As they got closer to the shopping district, the streets became more crowded. Chanyeol couldn’t walk as fast as he usually did because Baekhyun was ambling along looking around curiously at all the passing people.

They reached a busy intersection and started to cross. Chanyeol was concerned about how distracted Baekhyun was.

“Hold on to me,” he said, holding out his hand.

Baekhyun reached out and clamped a hand over Chanyeol’s left butt cheek, cupping it firmly.

“Not there!” cried Chanyeol, leaping away from him. “Hold my hand .”

“With what?”

“Your hand!” yelled Chanyeol.

Baekhyun slipped his slender fingered hand into Chanyeol’s and clasped it tightly, still looking about him as they crossed the street.

“Chanyeol! Some of these people have much bigger butts than you!” exclaimed Baekhyun loudly, staring around in wonder.

“I can’t tell if that’s a compliment or not.”

“It’s not,” said Baekhyun sadly. “Look at that one,” he hissed pointing at a man with a particularly prominent butt shown off the full effect in a pair of very tight jeans.

“Shh,” said Chanyeol, tugging on Baekhyun’s hand to pull him further away from the man. “You can’t talk about other people’s butts like that. And don’t point either.”

“If I had a butt like that, I’d be happy if people appreciated it,” said Baekhyun, staring after the man.

“Don’t stare at strangers!”

Baekhyun peered behind Chanyeol instead, stumbling slightly as he tried to walk and stare.

“Don’t stare at my butt either,” said Chanyeol, letting go of Baekhyun’s hand and shifting awkwardly to the side to try to get his butt out of Baekhyun’s line of sight.

“Well, what am I meant to do with my eyes?!”

“Just look straight ahead of you like a normal person,” directed Chanyeol, indicating right in front of him.

They continued on down the street, Chanyeol keeping an eye out for the turn that would take them onto the shopping street.

Baekhyun was walking unusually stiffly and when they turned the corner, he spun his whole body.

“Why are you walking like you have a neck injury?” asked Chanyeol, frowning.

“You said to keep my head facing straight ahead!”

“That’s not what I meant,” said Chanyeol, feeling exasperated. “Ok, I give up! Just look at whatever you want to look at.”

The turn had taken them onto a wide set of streets lined with fashion stores.

Chanyeol was keeping an eye out for his favourite store. As he looked around, he had the strangest feeling he was being watched and he glanced sideways and saw Baekhyun now gazing avidly at his face.

“Why are you looking at me like that?” he asked, touching his face in concern.

“Looking at you is more fun than looking at stranger’s butts,” said Baekhyun sincerely.

“Oh,” said Chanyeol, feeling surprisingly pleased, he tried to contain his smile.

“Your face is horrible,” continued Baekhyun.

“What?!” said Chanyeol, stopping suddenly, and rounding on him. “Why would you say that?”

“Because it’s true!” exclaimed Baekhyun, he seemed confused by Chanyeol’s offended expression. “Everything about you is horrible!”

“Everything about you is horrible too!” shot back Chanyeol.

“Thank you,” said Baekhyun appreciatively.

“That’s not a compliment! Horrible is not a compliment! It means awful, terrible, hideous, disgusting!”

“You said horrible meant perfect!”

“No, I said it didn’t mean perfect!”

“Well, it was hard to hear you because you were crying so much,” said Baekhyun, crossing his arms defensively.

“I wasn’t crying! I was having an understandably hard time dealing with the thought of having to spend multiple days with you!”

“Everything about you really is horrible!” yelled Baekhyun, he turned away from Chanyeol. “Well…except your face…and your butt, it’s flat, but it’s quite cute,” he conceded.

“I’m banning you from saying the word ‘butt’ anymore.”

“It’s my favourite word!”

“Too bad. You’ll have to find something else inappropriate to fixate on.”

Baekhyun glanced down at Chanyeol’s crotch.

“Not that!” exclaimed Chanyeol. “Do all merpeople have such dirty minds?!”

Baekhyun thought about this for a second before replying earnestly, “Yes.”

Chanyeol could see the black and white frontage of a Chanel store, with its stylishly besuited male mannequins.

“We’ll go in there and get you some clothes,” said Chanyeol, pointing the store out, but before they could cross the road and reach it, Baekhyun had stopped dead in front of a brightly coloured shop instead.

“I want to go in there,” he exclaimed, pointing at its garish facade.

“I think this is some kind of thrift store,” said Chanyeol, unenthusiastically.

“What does that mean?”

“It means it’s full of other people’s clothes.”

“That they’re wearing?!”

“No, people donate or sell their old clothes that they don’t need any more and then other people buy them.”

“That sounds like a good idea,” said Baekhyun, he stepped forward and pushed open the door.

Chanyeol followed looking around him half-heartedly and pulling his arms in so they didn’t accidentally brush against any of the racks of clothes.

The shop was absolutely crammed with clothes of all different colours and styles, it wasn’t like any of the stores Chanyeol usually shopped in which kept only a small, neatly arranged display of their latest collection.

“I don’t think this is a good--,” began Chanyeol slowly, but Baekhyun interrupted him by whooping delightedly and snatching a long silk robe with a pattern of red and yellow florals off a rack and draping it around himself gleefully.

“I want this,” cooed Baekhyun, spinning on the spot and letting the robe fly out around him dramatically.

“No,” said Chanyeol firmly.

“Because it’s too slutty?”

“No, because it’s too weird! And that is not what that word means.”

“Well, you won’t tell me what it means!”

“The waiter told you,” pointed out Chanyeol. “It means someone who acts like…well a whore.” He said, lowering his voice. “But I’m not judging that or anything, people can do what they like,” he added uncomfortably, looking around.

Baekhyun blinked confusedly a few times. “You mean they get down on all fours and wear harnesses?”

“That’s a horse! We’ve been through this!...though maybe some people like to do that kind of thing too,” he said and ran his hands back through his hair nervously. “Look, if you call someone slutty you are implying that they look like they have a lot of sex.”

“What’s bad about that?”

“Nothing! It’s just a word. I didn’t say it was a bad thing.”

Baekhyun tilted his head. “Well, I guess merpeople are kind of slutty then,” he said with a shrug. “So, why can’t I have this?” he added, holding up the robe.

“We’re here to get clothes you can wear outside without people staring at you.”

Dejectedly Baekhyun put the robe back and wandered through the store touching all the clothes.

“We want nice sedate colours,” explained Chanyeol, peering down the racks.

“Like this?” asked Baekhyun, holding up a bright blue shirt patterned with tiny birds and tropical flowers.

“That’s not sedate. It’s covered in birds,” said Chanyeol, horrified.

“They’re sleeping,” said Baekhyun, pointing at the birds.

“They are not! No bird shirts. Only normal clothes.”

“But you said all these clothes were owned by other people once. So, they must all be normal human clothes!”

“Some humans are weirder than others.”

“Maybe I’m a weird human then,” suggested Baekhyun.

“I don’t think there is any doubting that.”

“Then I’m just going to wear whatever I like,” announced Baekhyun and he flounced off across the store.

Chanyeol hurried after him and tried to deflect him away from anything fluoro or sequined.

They gathered clothes for Baekhyun to try on. It seemed Baekhyun had a penchant for vintage patterned shirts and tight jeans, which in Chanyeol’s mind was a blessing given some of the other very questionable clothes he’d seen on the racks.

When Baekhyun was done choosing, Chanyeol carried all the clothes down into a large open room at the back lined with mirrors which had 3 wooden change booths at the end.

He put the clothes into one of the small change booths and came back out.

“Oh my god, who is that?” asked Baekhyun, staring at the wall to ceiling mirror in amazement. “Is that me?” He stepped towards it enthralled.

“Yes, that's a mirror, it’s your reflection.”

“I’m…divine!” Baekhyun gasped out, turning around slowly, and looking at himself over his shoulder.

“Yes, yes, you’re very lovely,” said Chanyeol dismissively. “Can we get on with this?”

‘“I understand now why you’re so slutty for me.”

“Urgh, why did I teach you that word?”

“Because you clearly can’t contain your sexual attraction for me,” Baekhyun said, still looking admiringly in the mirror. “And trust me, I understand why now.”

“Do you think you can drag your eyes away from your reflection for 1 minute, so you can try these clothes on?”

“Yes,” said Baekhyun, but he just kept staring at himself.

“You’re not stopping!”

“But what if I never look this good again?”

Chanyeol pulled out his phone. “Here, look at this,” he said holding it out. Baekhyun turned very slowly, still keeping his eyes turned to the mirror until the last possible second then he glanced at Chanyeol.

Chanyeol took a photo.

Baekhyun blinked in surprise. “What did you just do to me?” he asked.

“I just took a picture, that’s all,” said Chanyeol, holding out the phone to show Baekhyun.

Baekhyun stepped forward and looked suspiciously at the phone screen.

“Oh my god, that’s me!”

“Yeah, it’s a photo of you.”

“But you made me tiny!”

“No, it’s just because the phone is small. It’s a picture of you, like the mirror but it stays forever.”

“Forever?” asked Baekhyun, looking intrigued.

“Yeah, so you can always look at it.”

“Take another one! I wasn’t ready,” ordered Baekhyun and this time he struck a dramatic pose with his arms up and his legs splayed wide for the camera.

“Very nice,” said Chanyeol trying not to laugh as he took another photo.

“Let me see it,” said Baekhyun, running over happily and taking the phone. “Now you can look at me forever.”

He stared at the photo for a few more seconds before pointing at the phone and asking, “Can I get one of these that goes underwater?”

“They are waterproof, but it would run out of batteries eventually so you wouldn’t be able to use it for long anyway,” explained Chanyeol. “But we could get you a little mirror if you like? That would work underwater if there’s light.”

“No, that wouldn’t work,” said Baekhyun sadly, peering at the photo. “I wanted one of you.”

Chanyeol was surprised, he smiled. “You’ll just have to memorise me, I guess,” he said.

Baekhyun looked up at his face, staring at him hard in a way that made Chanyeol feel self-conscious.

“Not now!”

“Can we have a picture together?” asked Baekhyun, suddenly.

“Why?”

“I just want to see something. Please,” he wheedled.

“Alright,” agreed Chanyeol. “Come here.”

He took the phone and flicked it over to selfie mode and held it up.

Baekhyun squeezed into the shot, next to him, wrapping an arm around Chanyeol and pressing their faces close together. Chanyeol froze. He could feel the warmth of Baekhyun’s cheek against his, Baekhyun’s hand firmly gripping his waist. His own left arm caught awkwardly between them. He extricated it and on impulse, not quite understanding why he was doing it, slid it around Baekhyun’s back, drawing him in even closer.

“Why are you making that face?” asked Baekhyun, staring at Chanyeol’s expression in the camera.

“What face?” asked Chanyeol stiffly. Baekhyun was radiating warmth from beside him, around him where he was holding Chanyeol’s waist, under Chanyeol’s left hand which was pressed gently into Baekhyun’s side and spreading all along his arm and shoulder wherever he made contact with him.

“Like this,” said Baekhyun, making a bug-eyed expression.

Chanyeol laughed. “I didn’t do that!”

“Yes, you did!” laughed Baekhyun. “Then you did this!” He pulled another face, making his eyes big again and staring sideways at Chanyeol in mock alarm.

He looked so ridiculous that Chanyeol burst out laughing again while Baekhyun continued to pull silly face after face.

After a few seconds, Baekhyun couldn’t control his laughter and they both descended into a fit of giggles.

Chanyeol could feel his whole chest shaking uncontrollably, it took him a few long moments to recover, wheezing involuntarily as he tried to get his breathing back to normal.

Baekhyun released him and Chanyeol, feeling awkward again, quickly dropped his own hand from Baekhyun’s waist.

He could still feel the lingering warmth on his fingers. He looked at the phone to cover his embarrassment. “I didn’t take the photo,” he admitted.

‘I did!” said Baekhyun proudly. “At least I think I did, I pressed the circle.”

Chanyeol clicked through to the photo gallery and pulled up the last photo taken.

Baekhyun had taken a photo of the two of them clearly in mid laughter.

Chanyeol stared at it. Baekhyun looked cute and positively delighted, an expression that was becoming familiar as the day went on, but he was startled by the expression on his own face. His chin was raised up, his eyes pressed closed and he was smiling so widely both his upper and lower teeth were fully visible. He couldn’t remember ever seeing himself look like that in a picture before, he looked so undeniably happy.

“Ah, I knew it!” said Baekhyun, pulling the phone out of Chanyeol’s hand and poring over it excitedly.

“Knew what?”

“That we’d look good together!” exclaimed Baekhyun. “We are so handsome.”

“And so modest too,” laughed Chanyeol. “Why don’t you show me how handsome you look in some of those clothes?” He was beginning to feel like they were never going to get out of this store.

“Ok,” agreed Baekhyun happily, going into the change room.

Chanyeol waited for him to close the door but he didn’t.

“Aren’t you coming in?” Baekhyun called after him.

“No, 2 people aren’t allowed in there together,” said Chanyeol, going over to the change room door.

“Why not?” asked Baekhyun, peering around it.

“Because the store people will think we’re fucking,” said Chanyeol.

“What does that mean?”

“Having sex,” he whispered.

“Oh, of course! I’m not surprised, I mean even the store people must be able to see how sexually attracted you are to me.”

“Yes, yes, get in there,” said Chanyeol pushing him inside and closing the door, leaning against it to keep Baekhyun inside.

He could hear Baekhyun fumbling around with the clothes in the cramped change cubicle.

“And stop saying ‘sexually attracted’ all the time. It sounds weird and formal,” he added after a minute.

“Well, what should I say then?”

“Nothing, preferably,” replied Chanyeol. “But if you have to, maybe…hot for?”

“Hot for?” repeated Baekhyun as he opened the change room door.

Chanyeol moved aside and Baekhyun strolled out wearing a pair of tight blue jeans with a red short-sleeved shirt covered in a large slightly floral white print. He had made a half-hearted attempt at buttoning the shirt, leaving the smooth pale contours of his chest exposed and his jeans were completely unzipped. “So, I could say, you’re hot for me?”

“You could say that,” mumbled Chanyeol, staring at him.

He shook himself.

“You’re all undone,” he exclaimed. “You can’t walk around like that.” He walked over and started buttoning up Baekhyun’s shirt to the neck.

“I don’t know what to do with this,” said Baekhyun, playing with the zip of the jeans.

“You just pull it up,” prompted Chanyeol. “Carefully.”

“Show me on yours,” said Baekhyun, staring at Chanyeol’s crotch.

“My pants are already zipped up,” said Chanyeol.

He took a purposeful step away from Baekhyun, but he was too slow.

Baekhyun moved forward and quickly tugged down the zip of Chanyeol’s neat black trousers.

“No, they’re not,” he said happily.

Chanyeol zipped them up himself quickly. “Yes, they are,” he said teasingly. “And now you’ve had a demonstration, do up your pants, please.”

Baekhyun reluctantly did so then caught sight of himself in the wall mirror again. “I look so good in this,” he breathed, adjusting the shoulders of the shirt. “Why didn’t you tell me how good I look?”

“I figured you’d realise before long.”

“I can have these clothes, right?” asked Baekhyun, turning to look at Chanyeol beseechingly over one shoulder.

“Yes, you can have them. But you might find you like some of the others even more if you try them on,” suggested Chanyeol, though he didn’t really think it was possible for Baekhyun to look better in an outfit than he already looked in this one.

Baekhyun smiled and headed back into the changeroom. He paused and turned back in the doorway.

“You know, If the store people think we’re going to have sex in here, I think we should. It’s expected. I don’t want to disappoint them,” said Baekhyun, leaning on the open door.

“You know what I think? I think you’re the one that’s hot for me !” said Chanyeol pointing at Baekhyun then back at himself.

Baekhyun looked taken aback then said, “I’m sorry, have I not made that perfectly clear? I would very much like to…what’s that word? Suck you?”

“Fuck,” corrected Chanyeol. “But suck works too depending on the context.”

Baekhyun reached out and wrapped his hand around the top of Chanyeol’s tie, letting the fabric run through his fingers before he gripped the bottom and pulled lightly.

“What are you doing?” Chanyeol asked warily.

Baekhyun bit his lip and pulled on the tie, walking backwards into the change room and tugging Chanyeol in too.

“No, no, I’ve made it this far in life without being thrown out of a thrift store for lewd behaviour and I’d like to carry on that way.”

Baekhyun looked disappointed but loosened his grip on the tie letting Chanyeol pull free. “Ok, well I guess we don’t have to do it now; we can wait till we get home,” he said hopefully.

“That’s very considerate of you,” said Chanyeol, straightening his tie. “Hurry up and try on the rest of those clothes.”

Baekhyun modelled a few more looks which only solidified in Chanyeol’s mind that Baekhyun looked good in everything.

When he was done, he came out of the change room carrying a pile of clothes.

“I like this one and this one and this one and this one and this one and this one and...these,” said Baekhyun, handing Chanyeol shirt after shirt and pairs of jeans and shorts.

“Do you really need all these clothes? For just tomorrow?!”

“I don’t know what I want to wear yet, besides, you have a whole cave full of clothes!” pointed out Baekhyun.

“Fine,” said Chanyeol, giving up. It didn’t really bother him. None of the clothes were even expensive and it wasn’t like he couldn’t afford it. Besides, it made him feel surprisingly happy to watch Baekhyun getting so excited over his finds.

He took all the clothes up to the register and dumped them on the counter.

“Wait for me outside,” he said, shooing Baekhyun away.

As soon as Baekhyun was out of the store, he ducked back through to where the silk robe Baekhyun had pouted over was hanging. He grabbed it and took it back up to the registers too.

Once he’d paid for everything, he carried the bags outside. Baekhyun tried to take one but he pulled it out of his reach. “No, I’ll carry them, they’re heavy,” he insisted, holding the bags closed at the top.

They walked down the street looking at the shops.

“There’s a shoe store,” said Chanyeol, pointing with the shopping bags. “Do you want some other shoes?”

“No, I like these. Your shoes look very restrictive” he said, looking down at Chanyeol’s shoes. “How do humans make peace with their ugly foot fingers?”

“They don’t really,” said Chanyeol. “Some even spend their whole lives getting pedicures to make themselves feel better about them.”

“What’s a pedicure?”

“It’s where they make your feet look pretty,” said Chanyeol vaguely, he’d never actually been into a nail shop, so he wasn’t 100% sure what went on there.

Baekhyun stopped walking and grabbed Chanyeol’s arm.

“Where do we go to do this?” he asked enthralled.

“Uh, to a nail shop, I guess. But you don’t want to do that. Don’t you want to go look around the city?”

“I will feel a lot better walking around with pretty feet! You saw how pretty my tail was, and while my legs are very attractive, I feel like my feet are bringing my whole look down!”

“I told you, you have very cute toes.”

“They’d be cuter with a pedicure!”

“You don’t even know what a pedicure is!”

“But I want one!”

“Fine,” sighed Chanyeol, giving up, he didn’t really know any tourist places to take Baekhyun to anyway. He pulled out his phone and searched for nail shops nearby. There was one on the next street.

“There’s a nail shop near here. We’ll go there,” he said, leading the way, Baekhyun following him happily.

The nail shop was sweetly pale pink with a fake triangular window set into the facade inside that reminded Chanyeol of the over-the-top dolls houses his older sister had played with as a child.

Hesitantly, he opened the door and Baekhyun bounded inside.

“What’s that smell?!” Baekhyun gasped, stopping immediately.

“It’s the smell of beautiful feet,” said Chanyeol, bumping into him and ushering him further inside. The nail shop had a distinctly sharp chemical smell.

“It kind of hurts,” said Baekhyun wincing.

“You’ll get used to it in a minute…I hope,” said Chanyeol. Though his eyes fell on a tray of sharp-looking metal implements and he secretly wondered how painful this whole process would be. He averted his eyes from the tray and approached the small, also pink, front counter.

A uniformed young woman joined them.

“He’d like a pedicure,” said Chanyeol, pointing at Baekhyun who was still covering his nose.

We’d like a pedicure,” corrected Baekhyun.

Chanyeol groaned but agreed, “Yes, we’d like a pedicure.” He thought it was probably best to stick by Baekhyun so he didn’t ask the workers any questions which might spark their curiosity.

The girl at the counter called 2 other workers over, dressed in neat pastel pink uniforms which matched the walls, who took them through to a row of comfortable looking armchairs set high up on a platform each with a small tub and cushioned vinyl footrest in front of it.

They had to take their shoes off and put them in small cubby holes assigned to their seat, before sitting down.

Baekhyun was practically vibrating with excitement now. Though Chanyeol wasn’t sure if he was just happy to be taking his shoes off.

The nail shop workers got started washing their feet first and Chanyeol stared up at the ceiling unsure where to look. He was feeling a little self-conscious. He didn’t think there was anything wrong with his feet, but they did spend 99% of the time inside business-appropriate shoes and he wasn’t used to people looking at them as intently as the worker looked now.

“You have nice feet,” commented the worker currently washing Baekhyun’s feet.

“Thank you, they’re new! I have nice legs too!” replied Baekhyun, while Chanyeol winced.

The worker smiled slightly confusedly and continued her work.

“What’s that?” asked Baekhyun pointing at a tray the worker at the next chair was holding.

“Pieces for nail art, I think,” said Chanyeol.

“What’s nail art?”

“They make little designs on your nails,” said Chanyeol awkwardly, he didn’t want to be explaining this stuff so poorly while the workers were listening.

“I want that!”

They left almost 1 hour and a half later, with feet buffed and scrubbed and toenails painstakingly decorated.

Back out on the street, Baekhyun kept wriggling his pale blue toenails with small pearls and tiny gold starfish embedded in the polish. He lifted his feet extra high as he walked, turning his feet this way and that, admiring the design in the fading sunlight.

Chanyeol was grateful his own toenails painted dark blue with pale swirls and covered in small silver stars to look like the night sky were hidden under his shoes.

“Where are we?” asked Baekhyun.

“I don’t know,” said Chanyeol slowly, looking around. He pulled out his phone and checked the map. “Oh ok, it’s this way to the car,” he said pointing back down the street they were walking.

“We have to walk all the way back there?” groaned Baekhyun.

“Yeah, we have to get the car,” replied Chanyeol, starting off in the right direction.

“Can’t we just leave it there and go home?” asked Baekhyun.

“Are you suggesting we just abandon a Porsche Panamera on the street?” asked Chanyeol, slightly amused.

“I don’t know what that is but yeah. You had heaps of carriages. Why do you need that one anymore?”

“I don’t have heaps of carriages!” exclaimed Chanyeol, he shook his head, “I mean cars, I only have that one.”

“No, you had lots, I saw them in that big cave, they were all lined up.”

Chanyeol realised he was talking about the apartment building’s underground parking garage. He laughed. “Those aren’t all mine. That garage is for the whole building, everyone who lives there parks their car in there.”

“What do you mean everyone who lives there? I only saw you.”

“It’s an apartment building, it has lots of floors and on each floor are different apartments where people live. There’s probably like hundreds of other people living there.”

“You live with hundreds of other people?” asked Baekhyun incredulously.

“Well, yes, I guess, if you put it like that.”

Baekhyun grabbed Chanyeol’s arm suddenly and clung on. “I know a secret,” he said, looking up at Chanyeol earnestly. “I know where there’s a really, really old sunken ship. I could take you there, it has all sorts of things in it. My grandfather said here on land people love really old stuff like that and will pay a lot of money for it.”

Chanyeol smiled at him.

“That’s very sweet of you. And actually, that’s also pretty cool and I’d love to see a sunken ship but I don’t need money, I’m not poor I promise, things are just different here. It’s very normal to live in a building like that.”

“Ok, if you’re sure,” Baekhyun said doubtfully.

“And look we’re almost back at the restaurant,” said Chanyeol pointing down the street at it. “It wasn’t that far, was it?”

“What’s that?” asked Baekhyun pointing at a side alley that led onto another street where a bright red tent was visible.

“I don’t know. The car’s this way,” said Chanyeol.

But Baekhyun had already headed off down the alley.

Chanyeol ran along behind him, shopping bags crinkling loudly.

They came out into another wide street; this one had an area with a lot of small stalls set up. Baekhyun had wandered up to the one with the red tent covering a small eating area.

“What’s that?” he asked, pointing at a large open black pot which was simmering gently and full to the brim with a reddish sauce.

“It’s Tteokbokki, it’s street food,” he said, and lowering his voice so the stall owner wouldn’t hear him, he added, “You can’t eat it you’ll get food poisoning.”

“It smells so…” said Baekhyun excitedly, looking around as if trying to find a word, “much.”

“Is that even a good thing?” asked Chanyeol.

“I want that, please!” said Baekhyun to the middle-aged woman who had approached them from behind the cooker.

“You too?” she asked Chanyeol.

“No, thank you,” said Chanyeol.

But he noticed she still handed Baekhyun 2 pairs of chopsticks.

“Well, you can’t have any of mine!” said Baekhyun, excitedly taking the plate she handed him and holding it away from Chanyeol.

“That’s a bit rich seeing as I’m paying.”

He pulled out money to pay her for Baekhyun’s food, while Baekhyun sat down at one of the small tables.

“If you ever get a tail, and come visit me under the ocean, I’ll pay for you!” said Baekhyun, as Chanyeol joined him.

“That’s nice but unlikely,” said Chanyeol, settling himself down on a rickety chair.

“Where’s my cuttlefish things?” asked Baekhyun, looking around.

“There,” said Chanyeol pointing out the chopsticks.

Baekhyun frowned, he picked one up and attempted to skewer a rice cake but the end of the chopstick was too blunt.

“They don’t work,” said Baekhyun miserably, poking at the rice cake which kept squirming away from the chopstick.

“No, you use 2 at once,” said Chanyeol. “Like this,” he said, demonstrating with the second pair.

He clicked the 2 chopsticks together like a hinge and picked up a rice cake.

Baekhyun tried and failed, dropping the slippery cylinder back into the sauce with a plop. He made an aggravated noise and tried again.

Chanyeol watched his obvious frustration, his brow furrowed in concentration.

After he dropped the fourth one, he pushed the plate away.

“I’m not hungry,” he said miserably.

Chanyeol sighed and used his chopsticks to pick up a rice cake.

“Open up,” he said, indicating to his mouth with his other hand.

Baekhyun opened his mouth leaning in eagerly and Chanyeol placed the piece in his mouth.

Baekhyun chewed the hot tteokbokki happily. “It’s good!” he exclaimed.

“Is it salty enough?” asked Chanyeol teasingly, as he picked up another piece and held it out.

“No,” said Baekhyun, taking the piece quickly, “but it tastes like so many other things that it’s ok,” he continued through his mouthful of tteokbokki. “I like red food much better than brown food.”

Chanyeol continued plucking rice cakes from the sauce neatly and feeding them to Baekhyun.

“You should try this,” said Baekhyun. “It’s so good.”

“I thought I wasn’t allowed to have any of your food?” teased Chanyeol.

“You can have…some,” said Baekhyun,

“You’re very generous,” laughed Chanyeol, “but I don’t want any. My mum always said you get sick from eating street food.”

“Aren’t you meant to be sick already?” asked Baekhyun.

“Yeah, but I’m just pretending,” replied Chanyeol. He considered this, if he got a touch of food poisoning and looked a little thinner and paler it might bolster his story of being sick once he went back to work, plus the Tteokbokki smelled surprisingly tempting.

“Ok,” he conceded and put a piece in his mouth.

“It’s good, right?” prompted Baekhyun, watching him closely.

Chanyeol chewed thoughtfully, it was good. It was spicy and cheesy and also slightly sweet. He took another piece and ate it, then another.

Baekhyun made a gasping noise and Chanyeol looked up, Baekhyun was sitting with his mouth open expectantly while Chanyeol ate more pieces.

“You’re eating more pieces yourself now than you’re giving to me!”

“You’re the one who said I could have some,” pointed out Chanyeol.

“Some doesn’t mean all!”

Baekhyun picked up his chopsticks determinedly this time and set about pushing half the pieces over to his side of the plate away from Chanyeol.

“Mine,” he hissed and tried to pick up one on top.

He succeeded in clasping it with the chopsticks and with a look of wonderment actually got it into his mouth. Though he had to put his face much closer to the table than usual.

“I did it,” he said, raising his chopsticks triumphantly.

“Well done,” said Chanyeol, eating from his own side of the plate.

Baekhyun opened his mouth expectantly once more.

“What are you doing?”

“That was too much work for one piece. You can feed me,” he said, pointing to his open mouth.

Chanyeol laughed. “No, you can do it yourself now. I’ll go slower I promise, and I won’t take any from your side. If you’re still hungry after we’ve finished, we can order more.”

They ate slowly, Baekhyun steadily getting better and better at using the chopsticks.

Soon, there was one piece left on the plate, it was on Baekhyun’s side so Chanyeol left it for him as promised.

When Baekhyun finally managed to pick it up, it was harder now the plate was empty, to Chanyeol’s surprise, he held it out to him.

“Quickly, it’ll drop,” said Baekhyun urgently.

Slightly touched by Baekhyun’s gesture, Chanyeol leant across the table and took the piece with his mouth. He thought that last piece tasted even better than all the rest.

Baekhyun seemed particularly pleased with himself.

“That was nice of you,” said Chanyeol.

“I’m just looking after my fiancé,” said Baekhyun smugly.

“Your…?” asked Chanyeol in surprise, “Oh right,” he added, remembering what had happened at the restaurant. “Wow, I almost succeeded in blocking that memory out entirely.”

“Can we have our wedding here?” asked Baekhyun, gesturing to the dingy street tent.

“Not now?” asked Chanyeol alarmed. When he had agreed to marry Baekhyun he had assumed he’d be going back into the ocean before anything could actually happen.

“No, of course not,” laughed Baekhyun.

“Well, then don’t pick a venue yet,” said Chanyeol cagily. “You haven’t even seen much of the surface yet, there might…hopefully…be somewhere you like better than this.” He looked around taking in the dirty concrete floor, old tables, uncomfortable metal chairs and peeling signage, not to mention the clientele which was mostly old men drinking and resolutely ignoring them.

“I don’t think so, but alright,” agreed Baekhyun, standing up.

“You don’t want to get any more?” asked Chanyeol.

“No, I think I’m full.”

“Ok,” said Chanyeol, gathering up the shopping bags.

They walked back down the alley to the street with the restaurant and back to the car.

Chanyeol unlocked the doors and they got in and headed back to the apartment.

On the way, Chanyeol thought about Baekhyun’s offer earlier to pay for him and asked, “Do merpeople have money?”

“Not really, we trade things for other things.”

“Like a barter system?” said Chanyeol, interested. “What job do you have then?”

“I’m an explorer,” said Baekhyun. “I look for things other merpeople want and then trade them for things I need.”

“Ah, that’s how you know where the sunken ships are?”

“Yes, a lot of things in the ships can be used by merpeople in their houses, or as hunting tools,” he explained. “I find all sorts of stuff.”

“That sounds like fun,” said Chanyeol.

“It is,” replied Baekhyun. “Is your job fun?”

“No,” said Chanyeol without thinking. “But on land, jobs aren’t really meant to be fun.”

“That’s…stupid!” exclaimed Baekhyun. “You mean you have to do something your whole life and you don’t even like it?”

“It’s just the way things are,” replied Chanyeol.

“Well, they don’t have to be!”

“Forgive me for not taking career advice from a merman,” laughed Chanyeol.

“I think merpeople have a better system than humans, maybe you should take my advice.”

“I’ll think about it,” said Chanyeol to mollify him. “What’s the best thing you’ve ever found while exploring?”

Baekhyun didn’t say anything until Chanyeol glanced over at him. He gave Chanyeol a look that said plainly he knew he was trying to distract him then rolled his eyes.

He told Chanyeol all about a huge sunken ship which was full of weird human stuff and had a very large squid lurking deep inside it.

Chanyeol was so enthralled by this story he almost missed the turn off to the driveway leading down to the underground garage.

When they were back in the apartment, Baekhyun wanted to go through the shopping bags which Chanyeol had dropped on the lounge.

“No, you can’t,” said Chanyeol, pulling the bags back in against himself. “We need to wash everything first.”

He wasn’t sure why he said it other than that the thought of anyone wearing unwashed thrift store clothes repulsed him and he wanted to stop Baekhyun from finding the robe. He picked up the bags then looked around somewhat wildly.

He had never actually done his own laundry. He had a cleaner come twice a week who did all his laundry and cleaning. But he was fairly sure the washer and dryer were in the third bathroom, the one he never used.

He led the way, Baekhyun following him interestedly.

Chanyeol turned on the bathroom light and walked in, he was right, there was a stacked washer and dryer in the corner of the room.

“I can do this,” he said to himself approaching the machines. He figured it couldn’t possibly be that hard, lots of people did their own washing or so he had heard.

“Baekhyun, do me favour and look in that cupboard for a box of laundry detergent,” he said, pointing out a nearby cupboard.

He opened the washer door. At least he thought it was the washer. The two machines looked quite similar. He tipped the thrift store clothes out of the bag into the machine, doing a quick check for any tags.

Baekhyun reappeared holding a blue box and sniffing it hesitantly.

“What are you doing?”

“This box kind of smells like you,” said Baekhyun, still sniffing the box.

“That’s probably because some of my clothes are washed in it,” said Chanyeol, taking the box and spooning some of the powder into the hatch.

“Does that mean I’m going to smell like you?” asked Baekhyun.

“Is that a bad thing?”

“No! I really like how you smell,” said Baekhyun earnestly.

Chanyeol turned on the machine, experimenting with the dial and eventually setting it to “quick wash”.

There was the unmistakable sound of water gushing through the pipes as the machine started its cycle.

He watched for a second. “I did it,” he muttered.

Baekhyun came forward watching the machine closely before sinking down to sit on the floor in front of it. He stared at the whirl of colours as the wet clothes spun around and around.

“You make sure nothing bad happens,” said Chanyeol, gathering up the shopping bags.

“What bad thing could happen?”

“I’m not entirely sure,” admitted Chanyeol, “but if anything comes out of the machine, let me know.”

“Ok.”

He walked back through the living room with the plastic shopping bags and put them in a drawer in the kitchen. He was just walking back through the living room when suddenly he heard the sound of the front door opening.

Chanyeol froze then stared at it. Panicking he threw the scratchy wool throw rug from the lounge over his shoulders and tried to look sick. He hoped desperately that Baekhyun would stay in the bathroom.

“Go away, I’m sick,” he croaked in a passable imitation of a bad cold.

“That’s why I’m here!” exclaimed Jongdae, entering the apartment. “Why is your mum calling me and asking how long you’ll be infectious for?!”

“Oh no, she didn’t?” groaned Chanyeol pulling the rug off his shoulders and going over to Jongdae who was removing his shoes by the door. “What did you say?!” He was regretting giving Jongdae his door code.

“I had no idea what she was talking about, but I figured you must be up to something, so I just said 3 days. What are you up to exactly? You did get someone pregnant, didn’t you? !” said Jongdae half accusing, half amused.

“You got someone pregnant!” exclaimed Baekhyun appearing behind Chanyeol. “When were you going to tell your fiancé about this?!”

“I didn’t get anyone pregnant!” protested Chanyeol, turning quickly from one to the other.

“You have a fiancé?!” asked Jongdae.

“I don’t have a fiancé!” denied Chanyeol.

“I’m his fiancé!” piped up Baekhyun.

“He’s your fiancé?!” repeated Jongdae, looking confused.

“He’s not my fiancé!!!” exclaimed Chanyeol, his voice rising over the din.

“What do you mean I’m not your fiancé?!!” yelled Baekhyun even louder, pressing a hand into his chest and looking scandalised.

“No, of course, you are,” said Chanyeol quickly, patting his arm. “Yeah, he’s my fiancé,” he added to Jongdae, cringing.

“Are those my shoes?” asked Jongdae, apparently distracted by Baekhyun’s footwear.

“Yes…possibly, I found them in my shoe cupboard. You can have them back in a couple of days if you like,” said Chanyeol.

“No, that’s ok,” said Jongdae with a shrug. “Hi, I’m Jongdae,” he added, addressing Baekhyun.

“Hi, I’m Baekhyun…look at my legs,” Baekhyun said gleefully, turning his legs this way and that to show Jongdae. “They go all the way up to my...my-” He turned to Chanyeol. “Am I allowed to say that word again?”

“What? butt?...No,” said Chanyeol firmly.

“Why are you allowed to say it?!” asked Baekhyun.

“Because I don’t say it repeatedly like you do.”

“Is there another word I can use?”

“Derrière?” suggested Jongdae.

“Derrière,” repeated Baekhyun, turning the word around in his mouth delightedly. “Derrière.”

“No, that’s so much worse! Don’t give him ideas!”

“My legs go all the way up to my derrière !” exclaimed Baekhyun.

“So, do mine,” said Jongdae pleasantly.

“Oh, they do too,” said Baekhyun, frowning slightly. “How disappointing.” He peered around Jongdae with interest. “Your derrière is a lot rounder than mine too.”

“What did I say about talking about other people’s butts?” reprimanded Chanyeol.

“But look at it, it’s like a clam!” said Baekhyun admiringly.

Jongdae, who Chanyeol had always suspected of being quite proud of his butt, smiled in a self-satisfied way but also appeared to be watching their interaction with slight suspicion.

“How do you two know each other exactly?”

“Uh,” hesitated Chanyeol.

Chanyeol saw Baekhyun open his mouth but unsure what he was going to say he quickly spoke over him.

“We go way back...way back!”

“I see,” said Jongdae, frowning. He pulled out his phone typed briefly then held it up over Baekhyun’s head so only Chanyeol could read it.

Chanyeol saw that in the notes app Jongdae had written, “Blink twice if you're being held against your will.”

Chanyeol laughed. “No,” he assured him.

“Did you just blink twice?” whispered Jongdae, watching his eyes closely.

“No, I'm blinking normally.”

“Well, that's the only thing you're doing normally. This whole situation feels weird. Actually, since you’re the one being weird maybe I should ask him.”

He held up the phone to Baekhyun instead.

Baekhyun looked at it and gasped. “Hi Chanyeol’s Mum,” he said excitedly, peering at it.

“No, that's a different phone,” said Chanyeol. “He's a foreigner, his spoken Korean is alright, but he can't read hangul.”

He decided he needed to level with Jongdae if he was going to get him off his back.

“Ok look, here’s the thing, we only just met actually. I know it’s weird, but I met him at the beach and he was sick and he’s only in Seoul for a couple of days so I’m showing him around.”

“Hmm,” said Jongdae, “Wait does this mean you’re not writing fanfiction now?”

“No,” said Chanyeol adamantly.

“Well, that’s disappointing and also a bit of a relief,” said Jongdae. “Where are you from?” he asked Baekhyun.

“The ocean,” said Baekhyun.

“Across the ocean!” exclaimed Chanyeol. “You know prepositions are really hard when you’re learning a new language. Anyway, it was nice of you to come and check on me, but really I’m fine,” he added quickly before Jongdae could ask anything else.

“Alright, if you’re sure,” said Jongdae, he still looked a little suspicious though.

“I’m sure,” replied Chanyeol.

“Well, it was nice meeting you, Baekhyun, I hope you enjoy your stay in Seoul and you can keep the slides.”

“Thank you.”

Chanyeol opened the front door for Jongdae while he put his shoes back on.

“Bye.”

Jongdae went through the door.

“Wait!” called Baekhyun grabbing the door quickly to stop it from closing. “How do you get a butt like that?” he asked hurriedly, before Chanyeol could stop him.

“Squats,” said Jongdae, with a smile and a wave as he walked towards the lift.

Chanyeol suspected he was walking extra slowly to give them a last lingering look at his shapely behind.

“I liked him,” said Baekhyun decisively, letting the door close at last. “He was definitely a bit shorter than me. His legs were shorter than mine too, don’t you think?”

“Yeah, sure,” agreed Chanyeol vaguely.

“It’s a pity about his butt,” muttered Baekhyun. “Hey, Chanyeol, what are squats?”

“It’s where you sort of crouch down and then stand up again.”

Baekhyun looked at the floor like he was considering how this might work then frowned slightly. “What do you mean?” he asked.

“Like this,” said Chanyeol, and he did a squat with his hands out for balance.

Baekhyun watched, still frowning perplexedly. “I still don’t get it,” he said.

“Like this!” repeated Chanyeol, pointing at his thighs as he squatted down again and then straightened up.

“Show me one more time,” said Baekhyun, tilting his head.

Annoyed, Chanyeol did yet another squat.

“It’s not working. Your butt still looks the same,” said Baekhyun, peering around him a cheeky grin appearing on his face.

“You better run!” warned Chanyeol.

“I don’t know how to run,” exclaimed Baekhyun but he took off down the hallway walking quickly but without breaking into a run, like a power walker.

Chanyeol chased him around the lounge and into the open plan kitchen.

“I like your butt the way it is,” called Baekhyun over his shoulder as he made his way around the side of the island counter in the kitchen.

“Are you only saying that because I’m chasing you?” laughed Chanyeol.

“Yes,” admitted Baekhyun.

Chanyeol lunged around the side of the island and grabbed a squealing Baekhyun around his middle, hoisting him up into the air. He carried him towards the main bathroom.

“What are you going to do with me?!”

“Put you in the shower.”

“No, not the shower!” Baekhyun shrieked, wriggling around for a second before stopping. “Wait…what’s a shower?”

“It’s a small room where water pours on you and cleans you before you go to bed,” explained Chanyeol.

“Oh,” said Baekhyun, “Ok!” he wrapped an arm around Chanyeol’s neck.

“Wait, why am I carrying you somewhere you actually want to go as a punishment?” asked Chanyeol, laughing.

“I don’t know,” said Baekhyun, “but I like it.” He snuggled in against Chanyeol’s chest.

Chanyeol laughed again and pushed open the door to the bathroom, he released Baekhyun onto the tiled floor in front of the shower.

He opened the shower door to show Baekhyun inside.

“You pull that handle there and the water will start. if it’s too hot or cold you can turn it and the water temperature will change.”

“Are you going to have a shower before bed?” asked Baekhyun curiously.

“Yes, of course,” he replied, backing out of the shower and turning to go.

To his surprise, Baekhyun wrapped his arms around his waist and squeezed. He could feel Baekhyun pressed close against his back.

“So, if you’re going to have a shower anyway…will you shower with me?” Baekhyun asked.

It took a second for Chanyeol to frame the word “no” with his lips because he was so reluctant to say it. “No,” he managed at last.

“Why not?” asked Baekhyun, releasing him.

Chanyeol swallowed, he didn’t want to get into why he thought it was a bad idea to shower with someone he found very attractive.

He turned to face Baekhyun slowly.

“Because it’s illegal to shower or bathe with another person,” he lied.

“That’s a dumb rule,” said Baekhyun pouting.

“Well, you know us humans and our dumb human rules,” said Chanyeol vaguely, he pulled a towel off the towel rack and pressed it into Baekhyun’s hands. “This is for you, when you get out, wrap it around yourself, ok?”

“Can’t I have a bath?” asked Baekhyun, glancing at the tub longingly.

“Yeah, if you like, have a quick shower first and wash your hair,” he said, pointing out the bottles of shampoo and body wash to Baekhyun. “Then you turn these taps, and the bathtub will fill up.”

He went over and put the plug in the bath and poured a cap of bubble bath in.

“Ok, I’m going now.” He was going to add “Call me if you need anything” but decided against it.

He closed the door and went down the hall to his bedroom to the sound of the shower running.

He usually slept in only his underwear, but he thought it would be safest to put Baekhyun in pyjamas. Every year without fail, someone in his family gave him yet another set of unneeded, unwanted pyjamas for Christmas. He had a whole drawer full. He went into his closet and selected a pair made of navy-blue silk with white piping and took them into one of the spare bedrooms.

He turned on the lights and put the pyjamas on the end of the neatly made bed.

He headed back to the laundry and took the wet clothes out of the now finished and off washing machine. He sniffed them, they seemed clean. He was feeling really quite proud of himself. He loaded them into the dryer and turned it on, watching for a few seconds to make sure nothing caught fire, but the clothes appeared to be rolling about quite happily. He smiled. Laundry wasn’t that hard at all.

As he made his way back through to the living room, he heard Baekhyun’s panicked shouts.

“What’s wrong?” he called, immediately heading for the bathroom and pausing at the door.

“Chanyeol!” screamed Baekhyun.

Chanyeol opened the door and entered the bathroom looking around not even sure what he was expecting.

Baekhyun was in the bathtub underneath a mountain of white foam.

“Where are the bubbles coming from?!” he shrieked.

Chanyeol ran over and turned off the water tap.

“It’s just bubble bath, I put some in before I left. Why are you screaming? Bubbles are nice.”

“In the ocean, bubbles mean the water is moving very quickly or there’s some kind of pollutant!” Baekhyun pointed out, trying to wipe a thick beard off white bubbles off his chin.

“Well, in a bath they mean you’re having a nice relaxing time,” said Chanyeol, amused.

“They won’t go away,” said Baekhyun, trying and failing to wipe yet more bubbles off his arms.

“They will after a while, just close your eyes and try to relax.”

“Will you stay with me till they go away?” asked Baekhyun, giving him a beseeching look.

“No, it’s weird to watch someone bathing.”

“But you stayed with me last night when I was in the bath,” pointed out Baekhyun.

“Yes, but that’s because I thought you were going to die.”

“What if I choke on the bubbles and die?!”

“Well, if you keep your mouth shut, that won’t happen, will it?” said Chanyeol, turning to go.

“Chanyeol, wait!”

Chanyeol turned back to him and Baekhyun quickly reached out of the bath grabbing his arm and trying to pull him in.

Chanyeol struggled and managed just barely to avoid falling into the mountain of bubbles on top of Baekhyun.

“Baekhyun, this is Prada!” he shrieked, pointing at his outfit.

“Does that mean wet?” asked Baekhyun.

“No!”

“It does now,” said Baekhyun, pointing out the wet patch on the sleeve where he had grabbed him.

Chanyeol shook off the coating of bubbles, groaning.

“It will just get bubbles on it in that washing machine anyway! I saw them all spinning around in there,” said Baekhyun defensively.

“You do not put Prada in the washing machine,” exclaimed Chanyeol.

“That’s kind of gross, isn’t it? If you don’t wash your clothes?”

“I don’t wash them but I do get them dry cleaned regularly,” said Chanyeol defensively, inspecting the wet patch for any signs of it permanently staining the fabric.

“Dry clean? What does that mean?”

“No one really knows,” said Chanyeol, cagily, he certainly had no idea.

“Oh, look the bubbles are starting to disappear,” said Baekhyun, pointing at a large patch of clear water where his body was now visible.

Chanyeol covered his eyes.

“I’ve seen quite enough of that, thank you.” He turned to leave again. “Call me when you’re done and out of the tub...with a towel on!” said Chanyeol, “And I’ll show you where your bed is.”

“Can’t I just sleep in the bath?”

“No, you’re going to sleep in a bed, like a real human.”

He left closing the door behind him and went out into the living room to wait.

After around 20 minutes, Baekhyun appeared from the bathroom, wearing a towel wrapped around his waist, his skin flushed from the hot water.

“I’m impressed you’re not naked,” said Chanyeol, with a laugh.

“Oh, I am under here,” said Baekhyun, tugging at the towel.

“No,” said Chanyeol leaping up and holding the towel closed. “Keep it on.” He tucked the end of the towel back in at Baekhyun’s waist, his fingers brushing the warm, smooth skin there. He looked away. “Bedroom!” he said quickly, remembering what he was supposed to be doing.

“Ok!” said Baekhyun enthusiastically.

“No, I mean your bedroom. I’m going to show you your bedroom,” corrected Chanyeol, he started off down the hallway.

“I don’t want my own bedroom,” said Baekhyun, trailing along behind him.

“You’re a guest, guests sleep in the guest bedroom,” replied Chanyeol.

“I’m not a guest though! I’m your fiancé!”

“Fine, fiancé’s sleep in the fiancé bedroom, and this is it,” he said, opening the door to the 2nd of the spare bedrooms.

Baekhyun looked around the stylishly decorated room with disinterest.

Chanyeol crossed the room to where he had laid the pyjamas on the bed for Baekhyun.

“Here’s your pyjamas to wear to bed.”

“Oh, they’re like water,” said Baekhyun, letting the silky pyjamas slip through his fingers.

“I thought you’d like them. Ok, now put them on and get into bed. I’ll see you in the morning,” Chanyeol said, heading for the door quickly before Baekhyun could protest.

He left Baekhyun standing next to the bed holding the pyjamas.

He shut the door then went down the hall to his own bedroom and entered the en suite bathroom. He locked the door and took a quick shower. Then went back into his room and got ready for bed, dressing in only boxer briefs as usual.

After getting into bed, he glanced at the time on his phone. It was 9:35 P.M. There were only around 24 hours to go before this nightmare ended and he got back to his normal life.

He had been in bed for a few minutes and was just about the drift off when he heard a noise. He sat up.

“Chanyeol,” came Baekhyun’s voice distantly from the spare room.

“What?” he yelled back.

“My legs are cold!”

“Well, you’d be even colder in the bath,” pointed out Chanyeol. “Are you in the bed?”

“Yes!”

Chanyeol sighed. He didn’t see how Baekhyun could possibly be cold, that bed had a very expensive duck down feather duvet on it. He clambered out of bed reluctantly and went to the spare bedroom.

“I’m coming in,” he said and was surprised to find the bedside table light still on when he pushed open the door.

The bed was still neatly made and Baekhyun was nowhere to be seen.

“Where are you?”

There was a scrabbling sound and with apparent effort, Baekhyun got the under-bed storage drawer open from the inside and peered out.

“Here!”

“What the hell are you doing?!” exclaimed Chanyeol, running over and helping to fully pull the drawer out from under the bed.

“I’m in the bed!” said Baekhyun. “And it’s cold and hard and humans are stupid!”

“Merpeople aren’t much smarter, that’s not the bed. That’s a storage drawer for spare pillows and things. Up here is the bed.”

He pulled Baekhyun out, setting him on the floor and closing the drawer.

Baekhyun was flushed pink and seemed embarrassed, very grumpily he lifted the side of the mattress. “I have to get under that? It will squash me,” he said miserably.

“No,” sighed Chanyeol. “Like this,” he said, demonstrating the action by pulling back the duvet and sheets and climbing into the bed.

“Why did you say ‘get into the bed’ then?!! When you meant ‘get under the blanket’?!”

“I don’t know that’s just how we phrase it.”

Baekhyun mumbled something which featured heavily the words “humans” and “stupid” then clambered up onto the bed too.

“See you pull the blankets over you like this, and you won’t be cold,” explained Chanyeol, pulling the duvet over them both.

“Oh,” said Baekhyun, sinking down happily into the mattress. “It’s comfortable and warm!”

“I told you, much better than the bath,” replied Chanyeol. “Ok, well now you’re settled, I’m going back to bed.”

“No! Wait,” said Baekhyun, struggling with him to keep the duvet over them. “Can’t you stay…I’m scared.”

“C’mon now, you’re a big boy…or big…fish...or whatever,” said Chanyeol, shaking his head, “there’s nothing to be scared of.”

“You should still stay,” said Baekhyun, gazing at him from across the pillows. “Aren’t you super comfortable now?”

Chanyeol didn’t want to admit that he was extremely comfortable, and he was having a hard time forcing himself to get out of the warm bed.

“I can’t, my phone is in the other room,” he said, but still made no attempt to move.

“What do you need that for?”

“My alarm so I wake up in the morning,” explained Chanyeol.

“Won’t you just wake up on your own?” asked Baekhyun, sounding confused. He gave the bed a concerned look. “Are beds so comfortable you just never wake up again?!”

“No, I’ll wake up and so will you,” said Chanyeol quickly. “The alarm just wakes me up at a specific time.” He thought about it and realised there wasn’t any need to get up early since he wasn’t going to work. “But I guess I don’t need it, since I don’t need to get up for work.”

“Then you can stay here, and the phone can stay in your room,” said Baekhyun. He sat up on his elbows. “Good night, Chanyeol’s mum!” he called out loudly.

Chanyeol tugged him back down under the covers.

“Stop moving, you’re letting cold air in,” he said, using turning off the bedside table light as an excuse to carefully distance himself by sliding further back across his side of the bed.

He settled back under the covers and closed his eyes.

“Chanyeol,” whispered Baekhyun, through the darkness.

“Hmm?”

“You’re my favourite human,” said Baekhyun. He had definitely moved closer, Chanyeol could feel the light brush of the silk pyjamas against his arm.

“I’m literally the only human you know,” pointed out Chanyeol.

“And you’re the best one,” exclaimed Baekhyun.

Chanyeol could hear the smile in his voice.

“What about me?” asked Baekhyun.

“Well…I guess you’re in my top 4…maybe top 5 favourite merpeople,” teased Chanyeol.

“Chanyeol!”

“Ok, ok, top 3.”

Baekhyun wriggled in even closer and rubbed his feet playfully against Chanyeol’s bare legs.

“If you stop scratching me with your little starfish nails, you might move up the list,” said Chanyeol, but he made no attempt to stop Baekhyun.

Baekhyun laughed, that sweet, happy rolling sound that Chanyeol found so endearing and soothing.

“Goodnight Baekhyun,” he said.

“Goodnight.”

🐚🐚🐚

Chanyeol woke up to complete silence and a faint glow of warm morning light around the edges of the room’s block out curtains. He felt strangely peaceful, he couldn’t remember the last time he had woken up naturally like this without his blaring alarm startling him into consciousness.

He looked down surprised to find himself wrapped up under the duvet with Baekhyun. Baekhyun had somehow managed to get between his arms and was now pressed right against his chest. His messy hair tickled Chanyeol’s lips as he looked down at him. He caught a hint of a warm almost salty scent which he couldn’t place but which made him feel strangely nostalgic, it was comforting.

Baekhyun stirred and panicking Chanyeol tried to subtly push him off, but he only succeeded in waking him up.

“Good morning,” he said awkwardly.

“I’m so comfortable. How do humans ever get out of bed?” murmured Baekhyun drowsily.

“It’s a daily struggle,” replied Chanyeol, he was trying to summon the effort to roll away from Baekhyun, but he was also extremely comfortable, so it was difficult. He had come to the conclusion last night that showering with Baekhyun would be a bad idea, and he also suspected that cuddling in bed with him was too.

He moved one hand and realised he could feel the unmistakable touch of warm bare skin on his. He lifted the covers, peered under then quickly let them drop again.

“Why are you naked?” he exclaimed.

“I got too warm,” explained Baekhyun unconcernedly, “so I took my clothes off.”

“Then why are you snuggled up against me?” asked Chanyeol, trying to push him off.

“Well, I got cold again after a while,” said Baekhyun, he pressed his face insistently into Chanyeol’s neck. “And you’re so lovely and warm.”

“Well, you’re too warm, get off me,” said Chanyeol, half-heartedly trying to push him away.

“It’s because you have too many clothes on,” said Baekhyun.

“I’m literally only wearing underwear.”

“That is too many clothes,” replied Baekhyun. He peered under the covers and tugged at the top of Chanyeol’s boxer briefs.

Chanyeol smacked his hand away.

“You wouldn’t be so cranky if you didn’t wear those,” said Baekhyun. “I feel much happier now mine are off.” He wriggled around in the bed.

“Stop rubbing your nakedness in my face,” said Chanyeol.

Baekhyun rolled over on his side and looked at him. “I'm not, you won't let me! I’d be more than happy too!”

Chanyeol laughed.

Baekhyun leant over further and rested a hand lightly on Chanyeol’s stomach.

“We still haven't had sex yet,” said Baekhyun, looking at him closely.

“Really? I hadn't noticed.” Chanyeol was warily watching for signs that Baekhyun’s hand was creeping down towards his boxer’s waistband.

“I'm very good at it if that's what you're worried about.”

“It's not,” said Chanyeol. He didn’t know why he was resisting so much; he was sure by now that he was definitely attracted to Baekhyun, but he just didn’t think it was a good idea. Plus, he was enjoying their flirting and he was worried that sex might mess things up.

“I told you, I like to get to know someone before I sleep with them,” he replied, picking up Baekhyun’s hand and placing it back on the mattress beside him instead.

“But we already slept together,” said Baekhyun, frowning in confusion.

“No, not like that, it's a euphemism it means to have sex,” explained Chanyeol.

“Why?” Baekhyun asked, still looking confused.

“Probably because they're both things people do together in beds,” said Chanyeol, he’d never thought about it before.

“In... here? Not in the bathtub?”

“The bathtub? No, I mean you can, but I think the most common place is a bed.”

Baekhyun’s frown furrowed his brow even further. “I don’t see how that would work,” he said, looking down at the bed.

“Same way it would work in a bathtub,” said Chanyeol, now feeling equally confused.

“But in the bathtub, you would each just release your sperm or eggs into the water and then it mixes, and you’ve had sex. How would you do that in a bed? It wouldn’t mix without water and it would be very messy,” explained Baekhyun.

Chanyeol stared at him then sat up quickly. “That’s what you’re trying to get me to do with you? Just mix… sperm ?! You said you knew what sex was!”

‘I do, that is sex!”

“Fish sex maybe? But not human sex!”

“Well, how do humans have sex then?”

“Uh,” said Chanyeol, sinking back down against the pillows.

“You can skip all the ‘when a person loves another person very much’ stuff,” prompted Baekhyun.

“Thanks,” said Chanyeol ungratefully. “It um…it usually involves one person putting…something… inside the other person.”

“Putting what inside?” asked Baekhyun interestedly.

“Uh,” repeated Chanyeol.

“You know, I’m really more of a hands-on learner, why don’t you just show me?” asked Baekhyun softly.

“What?” said Chanyeol, he looked at Baekhyun suspiciously.

The tips of Baekhyun’s mouth twitched slightly like he was trying not to smile.

“You’re fucking with me again, aren’t you?!”

“I’m trying to!” laughed Baekhyun. “I told you yesterday I know what sex is. I think merpeople have sex the same way as humans.”

Chanyeol didn’t want to admit he’d thought about it, but he was slightly curious about how that would work.

“I have a feeling I’m going to regret asking this but when you have your tail… how exactly do you…?” He let the sentence trail off.

“Oh, there's a flap, it sort of--" Baekhyun began, looking down and miming a sliding gesture.

"No, no! You don't have to elaborate,” said Chanyeol quickly.

"I can show you when I get my tail back."

“No, that's ok. I don't want to increase the amount of therapy I'm already going to need after this."

"What's therapy?"

"It's where you go to feel better," said Chanyeol, not wanting to get into the details.

"If you want to feel better, I could help you with that," said Baekhyun, raising an eyebrow suggestively.

"No, being hit on repeatedly by a big fish is why I need therapy in the first place."

"But I want to try human sex!"

"Well, you'll have to find another human to do it with."

"But...I told you, they're all ugly!” whined Baekhyun, hitting the mattress. “You're the only good looking one! And you’re my fiancé!”

“If you keep playing the fiancé card I will un-propose to you,” threatened Chanyeol.

“Fine, but then I’ll just propose to you!”

“Well, I won’t say yes.”

“Y-you won’t say yes?” asked Baekhyun, a tremble in his voice. “You’ll leave me swimming alone in the middle of the ocean surrounded by my friends and family who’ve come to see our wedding?” he asked

“No, don’t do that,” said Chanyeol, watching Baekhyun’s bottom lip wobble dramatically with emotion, concerned he might actually cry. “Wait, our wedding is going to be in the middle of the ocean?”

“Yes, of course, how do you expect my family to be there otherwise?”

“And you’re suggesting my family and me for that matter just...what…drown? At our wedding?”

“No, I saw people in the water at the beach sitting on these big blow-up animals. We could get those.”

“Yeah, my family are not really the blow-up animal riding type.”

Baekhyun looked surprised, he blinked repeatedly. “I don’t know that I’m going to like your family.”

“I know they’re not going to like you,” said Chanyeol blandly.

“But I have very nice legs!”

“That’s not really the sort of thing families base their opinions on.”

“Then why do you like me?” asked Baekhyun in a small voice.

“Me? Oh, I’m all about the legs,” said Chanyeol sarcastically. “In fact, my last fiancé was just a pair of legs with a head.”

Baekhyun frowned and peered under the sheets at his own body.

“I’m joking,” said Chanyeol quickly. “And you are much more than a pair of legs.”

“I’ve got a butt now too!”

“Even more than that,” said Chanyeol with a laugh. “You are beautiful and funny and very sweet and…” He broke off suddenly to stop himself saying even more. He was worried he was gushing.

“And slutty?” provided Baekhyun happily.

“A little bit slutty, yes.”

“I think you’re beautiful too,” said Baekhyun, leaning in conspiratorially, “and I’ve figured out your type.”

“My type? What do you mean?”

“You’re the type that likes to be seduced,” said Baekhyun softly, keeping his eyes fixed on Chanyeol’s.

“No...no I don’t,” denied Chanyeol warily.

“I’m going to seduce you,” whispered Baekhyun.

Chanyeol sat up hurriedly. “I think we should get up now.”

Baekhyun pushed him back down on his back.

“You can put your undertail in my derriere,” he said, a distinct purr in his voice.

Chanyeol laughed involuntarily. “That is the least sexiest thing anyone has ever said to me.”

Baekhyun looked surprised and hurt but recovered quickly. “Oh, well I can put my undertail in your derriere, if you like?” he suggested.

“I was wrong, that is the least sexiest thing anyone has ever said to me.”

Baekhyun pouted. “Well, it’s hard to be sexy in human language. I’m very sexy in Mermish!” He suddenly burst out speaking in an unfamiliar language which to Chanyeol sounded vaguely German, but he guessed it was Mermish.

“How do you say ‘stop’ in Mermish?” asked Chanyeol.

“Kneppe mig,” replied Baekhyun.

Chanyeol repeated, “Kneppe mig.”

Baekhyun smirked.

“You just made me say something dirty, didn’t you?”

“Yes, and it was really sexy to hear you say it in Mermish,” said Baekhyun earnestly.

Chanyeol laughed, he could feel himself getting carried away, but it was a lot of fun teasing Baekhyun. “How do you say, ‘don’t stop’ in Mermish?” he asked, raising an eyebrow.

Baekhyun gave him a playful look. “Just who is seducing who here?” he asked slowly.

“You are, but you're doing a really bad job.”

“Ok, let me try again!”

He leant over and looked Chanyeol right in the eyes, his lips slightly parted as he said breathlessly, “I want to feel you inside me.”

Chanyeol felt something stir inside him that time. “Oh,” he said.

“That was good, wasn’t it?” said Baekhyun, he licked his bottom lip slowly.

“Yes,” agreed Chanyeol, dragging his eyes away, he sat up quickly, rolling away from Baekhyun before he could stop him. “So good in fact I think we should get up before you get any better at that.”

“But it was working,” complained Baekhyun.

“No, it wasn’t,” lied Chanyeol.

Baekhyun sat up too and was about to pull back the covers when Chanyeol stopped him.

“Actually, wait there!” he said, he left the room and ran through the apartment to his bedroom. He slipped on his own black fleece bathrobe then went into the laundry and pulled Baekhyun’s robe out of the dryer.

“If you leave, I’m going to be really sad,” yelled Baekhyun.

“I’m coming right back,” yelled Chanyeol back to him from the laundry.

He ran back to the guest bedroom and held out the yellow and red floral robe to Baekhyun happily.

When Baekhyun saw it, he gasped. “You bought it?!”

“It’s only to wear inside though!” said Chanyeol quickly.

Baekhyun snatched it up and wrapped it around himself before jumping out of the bed and spinning around.

The silk robe spun out around him but barely covered his thighs.

“What the fuck happened to it?!” asked Chanyeol. It wasn’t nearly as large as Chanyeol remembered it being in the shop.

“Oh, I like it even better now!” said Baekhyun, looking down at his very visible legs.

“It must have shrunk in the dryer,” said Chanyeol miserably. He hoped nothing else had shrunk. Maybe doing laundry wasn’t as easy as he’d thought?

“It feels really nice,” said Baekhyun, rubbing his arms. He opened the robe suddenly holding it wide open around him and stepped towards Chanyeol. “Get in! it feels like you’re wearing a bed!”

“You are very naked!” said Chanyeol covering his eyes.

“No, I’m not, I’m wearing a robe!”

“You’re holding it open!”

Baekhyun stepped in further, wrapping the robe around Chanyeol too while Chanyeol groaned and kept his hands over his eyes.

“I can’t tell if you’re just oblivious to social norms or if you’re doing this on purpose,” Chanyeol said.

“I’m doing it on purpose,” said Baekhyun with a laugh. “I told you, I’m going to seduce you!”

“It’s not going to work.”

“I knew it! I knew you had undertail issues!” said Baekhyun, looking down at Chanyeol’s crotch area.

“No, I don’t have undertail issues! I meant seducing me isn’t going to work!”

“What if I do this?” asked Baekhyun, and he rubbed his body up and down inside the robe against Chanyeol’s.

“Oh, that is kind of working,” admitted Chanyeol. “Stop it!” He stepped backwards, closed Baekhyun’s robe and tied it firmly closed. He headed for the door. “Come on.”

He went down the hall to the living room and into the kitchen, then sat down at the kitchen island on a stool.

“We should figure out what you want to do today,” said Chanyeol. “My cleaner will be here this afternoon, so we should definitely go out.”

Baekhyun had followed and was now looking around the kitchen. He eyed the refrigerator curiously before seeming to realise it had a door.

"What's this weird cold box?" asked Baekhyun, opening and closing the door.

"It's a fridge, it's to keep food cold," explained Chanyeol.

Chanyeol watched Baekhyun open it quickly again and peer inside at the empty shelves.

"Mine is mostly decorative,” admitted Chanyeol.

"Do you think I could fit in here?" asked Baekhyun, putting his arm into one of the shelves.

"No!" said Chanyeol quickly, jumping up and pulling him away from the fridge, letting the door swing closed.

Baekhyun walked around the island counter and back out into the living room.

“Your house is strange,” he said flatly.

“Yesterday you said it was nice.”

“Well, I didn't know you very well yesterday, I was being polite,” explained Baekhyun matter-of-factly.

“And now you know me well enough to be rude?” asked Chanyeol, amused.

“Exactly. Your house is strange,” he repeated.

“In what way?”

“It’s just…it’s not very you ,” Baekhyun said looking around. “It’s like someone else lives here and you just broke in or something.”

“You’re calling me a burglar in my own house?”

“Not a burglar…. just an intruder, you don’t belong here.”

“Is this your way of saying I should give you my house? I knew this whole merman thing was an elaborate scam. My mum is always warning me about gold diggers but she never mentioned the dangers of picking up stray mermen.”

Baekhyun laughed. “I don’t want it! I couldn’t live here, it’s too depressing.”

Chanyeol was going to protest but instead, he looked around the room, it was full of modern minimalist art and sculptures all bought by his family as an investment. There was nothing of him and if he was honest, he had never really felt at home here, it felt like a hotel to him. He treated it like a hotel too and spent very little time here.

“The only thing in this whole house that feels like you is that artwork in the bedroom.”

“You’re absolutely right. Let’s um…let’s go somewhere,” he found himself saying all of a sudden.

“Really? Where?”

“I don’t know. Let’s just drive,” said Chanyeol, he felt like going somewhere, anywhere that wasn’t here.

“I get to drive?”

“No! Not you. I’ll drive, you sit.”

“Ok! Let’s go!”

“So, where do you want to go?” asked Chanyeol.

“The beach!” yelled Baekhyun happily.

“Ok. I mean, we need to end up there by tonight anyway, so you can go back into the ocean,” said Chanyeol, he considered this and which beaches were nearest. A wave of excited recklessness washed over him. “Actually, if we’re going to do this…maybe we should do it properly. Do you want to go to Jeju?!”

“Yes!”

“Do you even know where that is?”

“No! But let’s go there anyway!”

“You seem very excited,” said Chanyeol, watching Baekhyun fondly.

“I am!”

Chanyeol laughed. “Ok, well we better get dressed and pack. I guess I’ll need to stay overnight,” he said.

“I’ll pack for you!” exclaimed Baekhyun, starting off towards the bedroom.

“I’m really not comfortable with that. You’ll probably just pack underwear,” said Chanyeol sceptically.

“No, I won’t. You know how I feel about underwear! I vote we don’t wear any underwear on the trip.”

“If we had it your way, we’d be going to a nudist colony,” muttered Chanyeol, as they walked down the hallway to his bedroom.

“What’s that?”

“A place where no one wears clothes.”

“Oh! Can we?!”

“No. You’re enough trouble clothed.”

They went into the bedroom. Chanyeol opened the door to his walk-in closet, and they entered. He pulled out a medium-sized hard-sided rolling suitcase from one of the racks and opened it on the floor of the bedroom.

He returned to the closet Baekhyun following and very purposefully pulled pairs of underwear from their drawer while Baekhyun sighed. He put them in the suitcase then went back for more clothes.

He pulled out a pair of suit trousers, but Baekhyun snatched them from him and rehung them haphazardly in the wrong spot.

“No suits! It’s a trip, you have to wear something fun,” ordered Baekhyun, he looked up and down the racks of clothes. “Where are your trip clothes?”

“The only trips I go on are for work, so I wear my work stuff,” explained Chanyeol. “I have sports clothes,” he added, showing Baekhyun this section of his wardrobe.

Baekhyun looked through the clothes which were all plain black and white t-shirts, sweatshirts, and shorts.

“Even your sports clothes are boring,” Baekhyun exclaimed. “Maybe you can wear some of my new clothes?”

“I don’t think they’ll fit,” said Chanyeol, but Baekhyun had already left the closet.

Chanyeol walked out into the bedroom and Baekhyun returned a minute later with his arms full of clothes from the dryer, which he dumped on the bed.

‘Do you have some of these thick blue pants?” he asked Chanyeol.

“Jeans? Ah, I might have some jeans,” Chanyeol said, going back into the closet and digging around. He found 2 pairs from back in his university days. “They might be a bit tight though,” he said looking at them.

“Tight is good!” said Baekhyun smiling. “You can wear this shirt.” He handed Chanyeol a pale blue and red vintage bowling shirt.

Chanyeol took it and the jeans and went back into the closet.

The jeans did fit, though he was right about them being tight. He managed to get the shirt on too. He stepped back into the bedroom.

“It just fits,” said Chanyeol, pulling at the short sleeves which were a little snug around the swell of his upper arm muscles. The buttons on the front of the shirt weren’t exactly straining but it was a close call.

Baekhyun was looking at him with wide eyes.

“Is it warm in here?” he asked, fanning his face with his hand.

“No,” said Chanyeol. “What’s the matter with you?”

“I just got really warm all of a sudden. Oh, wow, is that why they call it being “hot” for someone?”

‘Yeah, I guess,” said Chanyeol amused.

“That is literally the only human thing you’ve told me that actually makes sense,” said Baekhyun, he walked around Chanyeol eying him appreciatively. “Just so you know, if you dress like that, I am going to have to flirt with you all day long.”

“What if I don’t dress like this?”

“Oh, I’ll still flirt with you, but I won’t enjoy it as much,” replied Baekhyun, with a laugh.

“Well, I wouldn’t want that. I’ll wear the shirt, but if you get hit by a flying button don’t blame me.”

“Less buttons is not an issue for me,” said Baekhyun, still running his eyes up and down Chanyeol.

“What are you going to wear?” asked Chanyeol.

Baekhyun rummaged through the pile and pulled out the red floral shirt he’d looked so good in yesterday and a pair of washed-out jeans.

“Ok, you get dressed, while I keep packing,” said Chanyeol.

He put the rest of Baekhyun’s clothes in the suitcase then went into the en suite bathroom and packed up his toiletries. He remembered how pale Baekhyun was after living his whole life under the sea and checked the cupboards till he found a tube of sunblock.

Re-entering the bedroom, he saw Baekhyun facing away from the door, bending to examine something and realised he was looking at the driftwood sculpture again.

He turned when he heard Chanyeol, his expression registering surprise for a second as though he'd be caught doing something private, then his face relaxed into an easy smile.

His jeans were clearly another victim of the dryer, they look tighter than yesterday, hugging him particularly closely around the thighs.

“Chanyeol, look I managed to do up all my buttons!” he exclaimed.

Chanyeol dragged his eyes upwards.

The shirt was buttoned right to the very top and looked uncomfortably tight at his throat.

“Well done,” said Chanyeol, stepping forward and popping the collar button open for him. “You don’t have to have them all done up though, this is fine.”

“Oh really?” said Baekhyun, he popped open another couple of buttons, revealing the pale, smooth skin of his chest.

“Too many!” exclaimed Chanyeol, quickly doing up some of the buttons while Baekhyun whined.

“Can we bring this?” asked Baekhyun, pointing to the driftwood sculpture.

“Why?”

“I just don’t like leaving it here alone,” said Baekhyun.

Chanyeol stared at the sculpture, oddly he felt the same way.

"Ok, let me find something to wrap it in," he agreed.

He wrapped it in a towel and added it to the suitcase, along with the toiletry bag he’d been holding. Then he held out the sunblock tube to Baekhyun.

“What’s that?” he asked.

“Sunblock. To protect you from the sun.”

“Oh,” said Baekhyun interestedly, taking the tube. He held it up in the air above him. “I want to try, let’s go outside.”

“No, you have to put it on you,” said Chanyeol, snatching the tube back and popping open the lid. He squeezed out some of the white liquid onto his hand.

Baekhyun looked horrified and backed away. “Don’t put that on me!”

“It’s ok, it rubs in and disappears, see,” said Chanyeol, spreading some of the liquid on his arms and rubbing it in.

“If it disappears what’s the point of putting it on?”

“Ok, it doesn’t completely disappear, it just sinks in. It keeps working though,” said Chanyeol, squeezing out more liquid and approaching Baekhyun. “Hold out your arms.”

He smeared the sunblock down Baekhyun’s arms. “Rub it in.”

“I don’t want to touch it,” said Baekhyun, wrinkling his nose. “You do it.”

“Fine,” said Chanyeol and began rubbing it in, being careful to cover his whole arms and not miss a spot.

“All done,” said Baekhyun, trying to wriggle away.

“No, hold on, you need some on your face and neck.”

Before Baekhyun could stop him, Chanyeol wiped some of the sunblock on Baekhyun’s face.

Chanyeol looked at the smear of white liquid on Baekhyun’s pretty chin, his half- eyes closed and mouth open in surprise.

Chanyeol snapped the lid shut on the tube and backed away.

“What?” asked Baekhyun, watching his expression.

“Nothing, you can rub that in for yourself,” he said, handing Baekhyun the tube.

“What? Why are you looking at me like that?”

“I think it's best I don't say any of the things I'm currently thinking,” replied Chanyeol guiltily.

Baekhyun touched the sunblock on his chin with his fingers and looked down at it. He smiled knowingly and opened his mouth.

“Don't you say it either!” exclaimed Chanyeol.

“Ok, but you know if that's what you're into, I'm up for it,” said Baekhyun enthusiastically.

“It’s not what I'm into,” denied Chanyeol quickly.

Baekhyun shrugged. “Well, I'm also happy to swall---”

Chanyeol cut him off hastily, "Stop, stop, stop!” He turned away, busying himself with zipping up the suitcase and turning it the right side up. “You finish rubbing that in, and I’m going to pack some shoes.”

“What’s that about rubbing?” asked Baekhyun, flirtatiously.

“Not rubbing, I mean,” corrected Chanyeol quickly, he thought. “Why is there no non-dirty sounding way of saying that?!”

Baekhyun laughed.

Giving up, Chanyeol just quickly wheeled the suitcase out of the room and down the hall. He hunted around until he found a pair of thongs and a pair of sneakers for himself. By which time Baekhyun had reappeared looking shiny with sunblock and smiling happily as if he knew a secret.

“Ok,” said Chanyeol, looking around, he couldn’t think of anything else they needed. “Shall we go?”

“Yes!”

They went down the lift to the underground car park and got into the car. Then drove out onto the streets of Seoul.

It was late morning, and the roads were busy. The sun was only weakly shining and its pale light made the city look even greyer than usual somehow.

“I’m hungry,” said Baekhyun, after a few minutes of them barely making any progress.

“You’re always hungry.”

“You just don’t eat very much,” pointed out Baekhyun. “How long will it take to drive to Jeju?”

“Too long, I think we’ll need to fly.”

Baekhyun emitted a stunned silence so immense it seemed louder than a shout. Then he did shout. "Fly? Fly?! Wait, humans can fly?! Why have you been making me walk everywhere?! How do I do it?”

He raised his arms up hopefully as if he might take off.

"You have to stick your tongue out and flap your arms up and down," said Chanyeol, watching him out of the corner of his eye.

“Take the top of the carriage off!” Baekhyun yelled excitedly.

Chanyeol hit the button to retract the convertible’s roof and puffed his cheeks out in a failing attempt to keep a straight face.

Baekhyun stuck his tongue right out of his mouth and waved his arms around hopefully while looking at the sky.

“You also have to blink your eyes really fast, to gain…velocity,” prompted Chanyeol, haltingly, taking deep breaths now to prevent himself from laughing at the ridiculous sight.

They pulled up at the set of traffic lights and Chanyeol immediately pulled out his phone.

“Look at me,” he said.

When Baekhyun glanced towards him, tongue still out and arms outstretched, he snapped a picture of him.

Baekhyun froze mid arm flap. “What are you doing?” he asked thickly before pulling his tongue back into his mouth when Chanyeol had burst out laughing.

“Why are you laughing?” he asked confusedly.

Chanyeol held up the phone to show him the photo.

Baekhyun gasped. “That’s the worst I’ve ever looked!”

“You’re still good looking…you just look ridiculous,” exclaimed Chanyeol, laughing again.

A car behind them honked and he realised the lights had changed. He drove forward.

Baekhyun turned away grumpily, he sat up straight in his seat and looked through the open roof at the people in the streets around them.

“None of these people are flying,” he said quietly, before rounding on Chanyeol. “Humans can’t fly, can they?!”

“No,” admitted Chanyeol, with a laugh. “Well not like that, you’ll see how humans can fly soon.”

When they reached the next set of lights Chanyeol looked at his phone again, staring happily at the photo.

“I’m making this my lock screen,” said Chanyeol.

“What? What does that mean?!”

“It means when I turn my phone’s screen on, there’s the photo,” he said, demonstrating.

“No!” protested Baekhyun, glancing at the photo miserably.

Chanyeol fiddled around with the phone while Baekhyun whined, then he dropped the phone in Baekhyun’s lap.

“Press on the bottom of the screen there and the screen will turn on,” he explained.

“I don’t want to see it,” pouted Baekhyun.

“Come on,” prompted Chanyeol, the lights changed, and they drove on again.

Baekhyun very reluctantly pressed the screen. Chanyeol glanced at him quickly watching his expression as the screen lit up and the photo of the two of them laughing in the thrift store filled the screen.

His eyes went from small and squinty with annoyance to wide with surprise. He smiled fondly at the photo.

“Chanyeol,” he exclaimed, reaching over and wrapping his arms around his neck.

“I’m driving,” squealed Chanyeol, trying to hold the steering wheel straight.

Baekhyun kissed him on the cheek, making a happy humming sound into his skin as he squeezed him tightly. Without thinking Chanyeol leant into the embrace, feeling almost disappointed when Baekhyun pulled back.

“Dry,” whispered Baekhyun.

“Stop calling me dry!”

“What’s that line for?” asked Baekhyun suddenly, pointing at a group of people lined up along the sidewalk.

“It’s just some new sandwich shop, I think,” said Chanyeol peering into the rear-view mirror at the small grey and red fronted shop with the counter right out on the street.

“I love sand,” exclaimed Baekhyun, turning fully in his seat to look back.

“No, it’s a food.”

“I want to eat it!” whined Baekhyun.

“You don’t even know what it is.”

“So, all those people want to eat it too!” said Baekhyun, pointing at the quickly moving line.

“Fine,” agreed Chanyeol, but only because there was a free parking spot on the side of the road just ahead. He pulled over and Baekhyun was jumping out before the car had even stopped.

“Do you need me to go too?” he asked.

“No, I want to do it! Give me the money card,” said Baekhyun, reaching back into the car for Chanyeol’s credit card. “What do you want me to get you?”

“Nothing,” said Chanyeol, “I’m fine.” He didn’t want to eat anything from a restaurant with a counter right out there on the street.

Turning in his seat, he watched Baekhyun join the back of the line. Baekhyun waved at him excitedly every time he moved up a spot and Chanyeol waved back from the car.

About 10 minutes later, Baekhyun came back, holding a paper bag, his face and body language showing he was still extremely excited.

“I ordered food!” he yelled at Chanyeol as he approached. He ran up alongside the car hoisting himself up and climbing into the front passenger seat, stepping on the leather seat in the process.

“Use the door!” said Chanyeol, but Baekhyun was already in the car.

“It’s not like I’m going to break it even more,” said Baekhyun, gesturing to the missing roof. “My hands were too full to open the door.”

Chanyeol shook his head and started up the car pulling back out onto the road.

“What did you get?” he asked, interested despite himself in the rustling of the paper bag.

“I don’t know, I can’t read your language. I just pointed,” said Baekhyun, holding up 2 sandwiches, in little paper sleeves. They appeared to be egg and ham.

“Why did you get 2?”

“Because I’m hungry.”

“Don’t drop egg bits in my car,” warned Chanyeol. The sandwiches smelled surprisingly good.

“Do you have any salt?” asked Baekhyun, looking around.

“Do I have any salt…in my car?” asked Chanyeol, in disbelief.

“Yeah,” said Baekhyun, opening the glove compartment and rummaging around.

“No, sorry, I’m all out and I forgot to buy more,” said Chanyeol sarcastically.

“That was negligent,” sighed Baekhyun, “I’ll just have to make do without.” He returned to unwrapping his sandwiches.

Chanyeol glanced across at Baekhyun who took a big bite from one of the sandwiches and seemed happy with the result, despite the lack of extra salt.

“It tastes good,” he said, through the mouthful, chewing contentedly. He took another big bite. “It actually tastes really good, try this,” he added, thrusting the sandwich at Chanyeol’s face.

Chanyeol had already turned back to see the road ahead so the sandwich hit him on the cheek leaving a greasy smear.

“Ew, don’t wipe your food on me,” exclaimed Chanyeol, rubbing his cheek with the back of his hand.

“I was trying to put it in your mouth,” said Baekhyun, he paused and then muttered, “Since you won’t let me put anything else in there.”

“No sexual innuendo in my car,” said Chanyeol, they pulled up at a set of lights.

“Open up!”

“No, I don’t want—” began Chanyeol, turning to him, when the sandwich was once more thrust into his face. He took an unwilling bite. It was good, surprisingly good. He was right about it being egg and ham too.

Baekhyun smiled at his expression. “You like it, right?”

“Maybe,” said Chanyeol. He could tell the lights were about to change. “Ok, give me another bite,” he said, quickly leaning over.

Baekhyun held out the sandwich to him and he took a big bite.

“You’re being very generous with your food today,” said Chanyeol, chewing happily, as he drove on.

“No, I’m not, I got 2 on purpose because I knew you’d want some in the end,” said Baekhyun.

Chanyeol laughed.

“Just give me the second one then,” said Chanyeol, reaching for it.

Baekhyun held the bag away from him. “No, you took like 2 huge bites out of mine!”

“Fine, take 2 bites out of mine then.”

“No, you can have this one,” said Baekhyun holding out the first sandwich.

“That one is mostly eaten!”

“By you! And a minute ago you didn’t even have a sandwich,” pointed out Baekhyun.

“Ok, give me the eaten one,” said Chanyeol. Now he had had a taste of it he was feeling genuinely hungry.

“No, I like feeding you,” said Baekhyun, holding out the sandwich at face height and moving it back when Chanyeol reached for it.

“Then I don’t want it,” said Chanyeol stubbornly. He drove on for a couple of minutes, the savoury smell of the sandwich lingering, as Baekhyun continued to eat. “Ok, give me a bite.”

Baekhyun laughed and held out the sandwich.

“I’m only doing this because it means I don’t have to touch it and get grease on my steering wheel,” he said, chewing happily.

“Sure,” laughed Baekhyun, holding out the sandwich again.

When they had finished eating Baekhyun looked out the window. “Where are we driving to?” he asked.

“That’s a good question,” said Chanyeol, he was heading in vain hope to Incheon airport.

He realised they wouldn’t be able to fly commercially because Baekhyun didn’t have any form of ID. Chanyeol’s family had a private jet but if he used that, the information that he’d gone to Jeju would no doubt get back to his mother within hours.

He ran through a list of his friends whose families had private jets, eventually settling on his old university friend, Sehun. Sehun came from a family very like his own, in fact, their mothers were old friends. But he could be trusted to keep a secret. Chanyeol had kept his on more than one occasion.

“I’m going to try and sort out a plane for us to fly there,” explained Chanyeol, attaching his phone’s earpiece so he could talk and drive.

“Call Sehun,” he said.

“Sehun!” called out Baekhyun, looking confused. “Who’s Sehun?”

“Not you, I’m talking to my phone,” said Chanyeol quickly, as it was already dialling.

“Is your mum called Sehun?”

“No!”

Sehun picked up. “Hello?”

“Sehun,” Chanyeol said brightly, gesturing for Baekhyun to be quiet. “How are you?”

“Fine! You? It’s been a while.”

“Yeah, I’m great…Hey, can I borrow your private jet for a few hours to fly to Jeju?” he asked quickly.

“You have got some nerve, Park Chanyeol. I haven't seen you in 6 months and you call me up and ask me for my private jet?”

“Well… haven't you been in Japan most of this year?” Chanyeol countered hopefully. He knew Sehun’s family were opening a new string of department stores there this year.

“Yeah, that's true,” agreed Sehun. “But why don’t you just use your own family’s jet?”

“This trip is um…kind of on the down-low,” Chanyeol explained.

“Oh really?” said Sehun, sounding interested.

“And you owe me a favour…”

“What for?”

“That time I told your mum it was me you went to Macau with,” replied Chanyeol.

“Hey, that was 2 years ago. The statute of limitations on that favour is way up.”

“Oh, so, you wouldn't mind if I told her that you were actually with—"

“Ok ok,” interrupted Sehun hastily. “I'm willing to do you this enormous favour because I am an amazing friend.”

“Yes, you are. Thank you.”

“Why are you going to Jeju anyway?” asked Sehun curiously.

Chanyeol hesitated then decided the truth was ridiculous enough. “I'm eloping,” he replied.

“Very funny, if I thought that was true, I go through my photos and see if I've got any good ones of you,” said Sehun, sounding amused.

“What for?”

“For your funeral, mate! No seriously, why are you going to Jeju?”

“I told you, I'm eloping,” repeated Chanyeol, he glanced sideways at Baekhyun and making eye contact smiled, “...with a mermaid.”

“A merman!” piped up Baekhyun.

“Sorry, a merman,” corrected Chanyeol.

He heard Sehun sigh into the phone. “Ok, ok, I get it, you don't want to tell me, fine.”

“Where’s the plane at right now?”

“Seoul Air Base. I’ll get my assistant to call them. When did you want to go?”

“Uh…now?” said Chanyeol.

“Now?!”

“Yeah, we’re in the car already.”

Sehun made an exasperated noise through his teeth. “You really owe me!”

“I know. You’re a prince among men, Sehun.”

“And you are full of shit, Park.”

Chanyeol laughed and hung up.

“Ok, change of plans we’re going to Seoul Air Base.”

Chanyeol put the name of the airport in the GPS and let it recalculate their route.

“What’s an air base?” asked Baekhyun.

“It’s like an airport, where lots of different planes are. You can take a plane and fly somewhere. We are going to take my friend’s plane and fly to Jeju.”

It didn’t take too long to reach the air base and Chanyeol was concerned the plane wouldn’t be ready yet.

They parked the car in the parking area and headed through the entrance of the outdoor airfield, with large hangars and multiple planes already out on the tarmac. The base had both military and private jets, so the variety was impressive.

“Which one’s mine?” asked Baekhyun, eagerly.

“Yours? You don’t get one to yourself. We’re both taking one together.”

“But they’re so small!” he said looking at the row of private jets.

“They’re bigger on the inside,” said Chanyeol.

“How is that even possible?”

“Look, I’m pretty sure everything about planes breaks the laws of physics,” said Chanyeol vaguely. “I try not to think about it.”

Flying made him nervous and uncomfortable, in general, he was happier if he tried to think as little about how planes worked as possible.

“Mr. Park?” called a middle-aged man, standing nearby a small jet with a neatly dressed woman. He waved them over.

Chanyeol could tell from his outfit he was the pilot.

The pilot appeared to have gotten ready in a hurry, he had a fleck of toothpaste on his cheek. He gave them a look completely devoid of curiosity which he had no doubt honed during many years of being subject to the Oh family’s spontaneous travel whims.

The pilot attempted to take their luggage but Baekhyun yanked the suitcase back towards him, refusing to relinquish his hold on its handle.

“This is ours,” he said loudly.

“Baekhyun, give him the bag. He’s just going to put it on the plane,” exclaimed Chanyeol.

“On the plane?” said Baekhyun, staring at the wing with interest. “That’s probably why they lose so many bags!”

In the plane,” corrected Chanyeol, taking the suitcase from Baekhyun and wheeling it towards the pilot who took it. “They won’t lose it, I promise.”

They boarded the plane and entered the seating area, which was clean and bright with white walls lined with many windows, sleek shiny wood panelling and 3 rows of plush, tan coloured leather seating.

The attendant showed them into 2 of the large leather armchairs which were side by side and facing a highly vanished drinks wooden table. Baekhyun took the window seat and peered out at the plane’s wing.

The attendant hurried away to the cockpit for take-off.

“Take the top off, I want to see the sky,” ordered Baekhyun.

“You can’t take the tops off of these. You’ll just have to look out the window.”

Chanyeol positioned himself where he couldn’t see out, looking straight ahead at the end of the galley instead. Looking out the window on planes just made him more nervous.

He tried to sit back and block everything out as the plane started to move down the runway, steadily gaining speed, but Baekhyun was playing with the armrest between their seats. He flipped it up and down, eventually leaving it up and pressing his left arm into Chanyeol’s.

“Do I still need to have my tongue out?” Baekhyun asked thickly and Chanyeol glanced at him, he had his tongue poking right out of his mouth.

“No,” laughed Chanyeol. “The pilot probably has his out.”

“Oh, good,” said Baekhyun, pulling his tongue back in and leaning over to look out the window again.

Chanyeol closed his eyes, as the wheels left the ground with a small jolt and the plane continued to accelerate skywards on a slight incline.

“Why are you twisting your hands like that?” asked Baekhyun.

“Oh, I didn’t realise I was,” said Chanyeol, opening his eyes, he turned his hands palm down and pressed them into his thighs instead.

“Are you ok?”

“Yes, I just don’t particularly like flying,” explained Chanyeol.

“Do you fly a lot?”

“For work sometimes, but it always makes me nervous.”

“Why?” asked Baekhyun, looking around at the luxurious interior of the plane which had evened out now and flying smoothly and quietly.

“You know, just the whole being 35,000 feet up in the air in what is essentially a tin can and not really understanding how exactly it stays up,” said Chanyeol, unconsciously twisting his hands together again.

Baekhyun looked around the plane one more, then he looked out the window at the wing of the plane, then he bent over and looked down out of the window at the clouds.

He sat back in his seat very quickly, his eyes wide.

“How does it stay up?!”

“I told you, I don’t know,” said Chanyeol.

“Why did you put me in this thing?!!” exploded Baekhyun.

“Don’t yell.”

Baekhyun clamped his hand over his mouth and said in a muffled whisper through his fingers, “Do you think yelling could make it fall?”

“No, it’s just annoying,” said Chanyeol.

“Chanyeol!”

“It’s fine. Look, I’ve flown lots of times and we’ve never crashed.”

“Of course, you haven’t! If you had, you’d be dead!”

“Not all plane crashes are fatal,” said Chanyeol. “…just most of them.”

“Some people survive?”

“Yeah.”

“Ok, if we crash into the ocean, I will swim you to shore,” said Baekhyun valiantly.

“Thank you.”

“But if we crash onto the land, you will need to carry me to safety because I’m really too upset to walk right now.”

“Ok, deal,” agreed Chanyeol, amused.

“Actually,” said Baekhyun, perking up like something exciting had just occurred to him, “if we crash into the ocean, we’ll be underwater, and you can meet my family.”

Chanyeol raised an eyebrow. “In the 2 minutes before I drown, you mean?”

“Ok, maybe just my immediate family then,” conceded Baekhyun. “I might have to teach you some Mermish. A lot of them don’t speak human well.”

“I already know some,” said Chanyeol. “What was it…Kneppe mig?”

Baekhyun laughed but then looked uncharacteristically serious. “Please don’t say that to my family.”

“I knew it was something dirty,” teased Chanyeol. “Are you afraid I'll embarrass you in front of your family?”

“No, you’re very good looking, I’m afraid they might take you up on it,” exclaimed Baekhyun. “Merpeople don't have a lot of boundaries.”

“Yes, I've seen that for myself.”

The flight attendant appeared from the cockpit and asked if they would like any refreshments.

“I’ll have a glass of white wine, thank you,” said Chanyeol automatically. He usually ordered wine on flights to try and relax himself a bit.

“Me too!” said Baekhyun.

“You don’t even know what wine is,” said Chanyeol.

“I don’t know what anything I’ve eaten recently is but that hasn’t stopped me!”

“Hasn’t stopped you complaining, you mean?” corrected Chanyeol. “You can’t have wine, it’s alcoholic, it will go straight to your head.”

“But I want to try it!”

“You can try something lighter but not wine,” said Chanyeol, firmly but he still felt like he’d been tricked. “He’ll have a beer, thank you,” he said to the attendant.

“What’s beer?” asked Baekhyun, as the attendant walked off to get their drinks.

“It’s just another type of alcohol, you’ll like it,” said Chanyeol, “Actually you probably won’t like it…it’s brown.”

“Brown?! Even human drinks are brown? What is the matter with you people?!”

The attendant returned with their drinks in chilled glasses.

She set them on the small table in front of them, which had small circular grooves to prevent their drinks from spilling. She returned to the cockpit.

“It’s so murky!” exclaimed Baekhyun, picking up his glass and peering inside. “Is it stagnant water?”

“No, I told you, it’s beer. Try it.”

Baekhyun took a hesitant sip, then another one.

“How is it?”

“Really awful,” said Baekhyun emphatically, taking another sip.

“Then stop drinking it.”

“No. I want to see if the bottom tastes better than the top,” said Baekhyun. He drank more, pulling faces with every swallow.

“It's the same drink, it tastes the same the whole way through,” said Chanyeol. He watched apprehensively as Baekhyun drank his way steadily through the whole glass. Eventually tipping the last few drops onto his tongue and grimacing.

“That's not true,” said Baekhyun sadly, wiping his mouth. “I got worse and worse the more of it I drank.”

Chanyeol sipped his wine.

“Can I have another one?” asked Baekhyun.

“No!”

Baekhyun shifted around in his seat.

“What are you doing?” asked Chanyeol.

“There’s something…wrong,” said Baekhyun, still wriggling, he looked at Chanyeol alarmed. “Chanyeol! It didn't go to my head. It went to my butt! What do I do?!”

“What?”

“My butt! It’s all hot,” he exclaimed. “Feel it!”

He pulled his feet up under him on the seat and stuck his butt in Chanyeol’s direction.

“No, I’m not falling for that. You’re just trying to get me to touch your butt!”

“But it’s really hot,” whined Baekhyun. “I’m taking my blue pants off.”

“No, you are not taking your jeans off!” ordered Chanyeol. “If we crash do you want to do it with no pants on?”

“Yes! I never wanted to have pants on in the first place! You made me!”

The plane buffeted suddenly as they hit some turbulence, it jolted up and down for a few seconds.

Chanyeol gasped as he felt his stomach drop, picturing the plane out of control and spinning towards the earth.

Then Baekhyun was on him, arms around him, squeezing him hard.

“I’m sorry for yelling,” Baekhyun whispered as if that might make the plane stop shaking.

“I-It’s..ok,” Chanyeol managed to get out. “It wasn’t you.” He held him tightly, taking comfort in the warmth of his embrace.

He caught a whiff of that crisp almost salty scent again and realised it was Baekhyun’s hair, his skin. He was immediately taken back to that seaside holiday of his childhood, playing on the beach, and that night of the important meeting when he had unconsciously sought the sea for comfort.

He squeezed tighter, pulling Baekhyun off his own chair and onto his lap.

It was a few minutes before he realised the plane had evened out again, there was no more shaking. He glanced nervously out the window; they were amidst fluffy white clouds now.

“Baekhyun,” he said quietly.

“My butt isn’t warm anymore,” Baekhyun mumbled sleepily, his face still buried in the groove of Chanyeol’s shoulder, as he leant on him heavily.

Chanyeol could feel Baekhyun’s breathing slow and steady, his chest rising and falling against him with calm regularity.

He didn’t move, just stayed wrapped up in him and let him sleep.

He peered down at the small part of Baekhyun’s face still visible from that angle. He looked happy and peaceful, his eyes closed and a faint smile lifting the corners of his lips. It was easy to avoid looking out the window when he could look at Baekhyun instead.

He tilted forward, careful not to disturb him and pressed his lips to Baekhyun’s pale neck, kissing him gently.

“I’m going to miss you,” he said, surprised at how true the words were as soon as they were out of his mouth. He was going to really miss him. When had the nightmare become more enjoyable than his normal life?

He tried to push the painful realisation away. It was an impossible situation. Baekhyun couldn't survive on land and he couldn't survive in the ocean. He was used to solving complex logistical problems at work but no matter which way he turned this one around in his head there just wasn’t any possible solution.

He gave himself over to some unrealistic fantasies for a while instead, imagining what life with Baekhyun would be like under the sea.

It surprised him out of his musings when the pilot announced they would be starting their descent.

Chanyeol shook Baekhyun gently and he stirred.

“Are we dead?” he asked confusedly, sitting back.

“No, we’re fine. We’re landing soon.”

Baekhyun untangled himself from Chanyeol’s arms and bounced back onto his own seat to peer out the window.

“I can see it!” he exclaimed. “The ocean, Look!”

Chanyeol winced but leant over and looked out the window. The ocean was a glimmering band wrapped neatly around the side of the island like a ribbon.

“It’s beautiful,” said Chanyeol.

“Are we going straight to the beach?” asked Baekhyun, excitedly.

“We’ll have to rent a car first. And I’ll need to find somewhere to spend the night, I guess.”

“Can we get a carriage we can take the top off?”

“Of course, we’re on a beach trip.”

“Can I take my top off?”

“No!”

“Will you take your—”

“No!” interrupted Chanyeol.

“You don’t even know what I was going to say!”

“I could guess,” said Chanyeol. “I know you very well.”

“Well, enough to sleep with?” asked Baekhyun, raising an eyebrow suggestively.

Chanyeol’s answer was lost in the sound of the plane touching down and bouncing briefly along the runway.

They thanked the pilot and attendant, were given back their suitcase and climbed down the steps out into the open air.

The air itself felt warmer than in Seoul. The sun already high in the sky warmed their shoulders pleasantly.

“I can’t see it,” said Baekhyun, looking around concernedly. “Where’s the beach?”

“We’re inland a bit, you can’t see it from here,” explained Chanyeol and yet he could feel it. The warm breeze whipped gently around them carrying with it the scent of the sea. He had the real feeling of being on a trip, a holiday, he felt light-hearted and free.

“Come on,” he said happily, directing them off towards the sprawling, many-windowed building that he guessed was the airport.

They entered through the ground floor and Chanyeol quickly spotted the row of counters with colourful signs for different rental car companies. They approached one, Baekhyun hanging back and staring at all the travellers, while Chanyeol sorted out the car rental with the agent.

He managed to get a convertible Hyundai Sonata. They waited outside beside a circular road with attractive tropical trees planted alongside for the car to be brought around the front for them.

“I’ve never driven a non-imported car before,” said Chanyeol, watching the white car approach.

“What do you mean?”

“Some cars like that one,” he said pointing at their rental car, “are made here in Korea and some are made in other countries and brought here.”

“All the way here from another country?” asked Baekhyun. “That’s probably when the top of yours broke off.”

Chanyeol laughed. “Probably.”

The rental employee jumped out of the car and handed Chanyeol the keys.

Chanyeol put the suitcase in the car’s boot, and they climbed in. He started it up and took a minute to familiarize himself with the controls and to put down the automatic roof.

The car had a GPS but since he didn’t know the name or address of anything he pulled up a map on his phone instead and hunted for a pretty looking beach to enter into the GPS.

When this was done, they drove off down a surprisingly busy road, the breeze blowing back their hair.

After a few minutes, the traffic thinned out and they were driving along roads which grew smaller and more rural feeling as they headed towards the beach. The sun shining down on them through the open car roof made Chanyeol feel pleasantly warm and relaxed.

“Can I have your phone? I want to look at the photo,” asked Baekhyun, holding his hand out for it.

“Sure.” Chanyeol handed him the phone and watched Baekhyun unlock the screen and look happily at the lock screen photo.

He touched Chanyeol’s face on the screen.

“Oh, what’s it doing?” exclaimed Baekhyun, holding up the phone in confusion.

“You’ve activated the camera,” said Chanyeol.

Baekhyun swiped at the screen which only moved the camera to video mode.

“I think you’re taking a video now.”

Baekhyun moved the phone around, looking intently at the screen, “What’s a video?”

“It captures everything that’s happening in motion,” Chanyeol explained. “See.” He checked the road was clear ahead then took the phone and played back the video.

Baekhyun watched amazed as it replayed. His own voice, asking “What’s a video?” could be heard clearly.

Baekhyun grabbed the phone back and delightedly took videos while Chanyeol checked the GPS and they drove on.

“It doesn’t work!” exclaimed Baekhyun angrily after 15 minutes.

Chanyeol gave the phone and the car’s dashboard a glance, it all looked fine. “What are you talking about? What isn’t working?”

“This stupid sunblock stuff. I can still see it!” he exclaimed, pointing out the top of the car at the sky. “It’s right there!”

“What?!”

“The sun! it isn’t blocked at all. Your human inventions are stupid.”

“You’re the one that’s stupid! It doesn’t block the sun from you, it blocks you from the sun!”

Baekhyun hesitated, glanced back out at the sky then said quietly. “So, it can’t see me?”

Chanyeol considered explaining about UV and the chemicals in sunblock but he didn’t have the energy, so he settled for just saying, “Yeah.”

Baekhyun glanced back up again then back at Chanyeol. “Can you see me?”

“Yes! Of course, I can see you.”

“Oh good. Then…do you think I look nice today?” asked Baekhyun, giving him an eager look.

“Stop fishing for compliments.”

“I find that phrase offensive,” said Baekhyun, crossing his arms.

Chanyeol laughed. “Fine, you look gorgeous today,” he said, glancing sideways at Baekhyun.

“I suspected as much,” said Baekhyun, preening in the rear-view mirror which he tilted towards him.

“Hey, I need that where it was to drive properly, so I can see behind us.”

Baekhyun sat up in his seat and peered over his shoulder. “There’s nothing back there that’s more interesting than me,” he said. “Oh, maybe I can move it so I can see you through it?” he suggested, fiddling with the mirror again.

“Or you can just turn your head, look at me with your actual eyes, and let me drive safely,” said Chanyeol, pushing Baekhyun’s hand away from the mirror and readjusting it so he could see behind him.

He could immediately feel Baekhyun’s heavy gaze on his profile as he glanced at the GPS map to make sure they were still heading in the right direction.

He looked across at him to see Baekhyun staring hard at him, the phone held up and clearly videoing.

“Alright, stop looking at me. You can look at yourself in the mirror again.”

“I said yesterday that I should memorise you since I can’t take a photo with me, so I am,”

“Well, not now, I don’t even look that good,” said Chanyeol, glancing at himself in the rear-view mirror now. He was surprised to find he actually looked alright, surprisingly happy and relaxed.

“What do you mean? You look lovely!”

“I’m getting the feeling you only like me for my looks,” teased Chanyeol.

“Now who is fishing for compliments?”

Chanyeol laughed.

“I don’t only like you for your looks, I like you because you’re really nice. You have spent so much time helping me, I’ve never met anyone as nice as you.”

Chanyeol made a sucking noise of denial with his teeth.

“You are. You're perfect...I mean, you could be a bit sluttier,” conceded Baekhyun.

“I'll try," replied Chanyeol sardonically.

"Could you try it with no pants on?"

“Maybe later.”

“That's a development,” said Baekhyun brightly. “Am I winning you over?”

“Wearing me down more like it,” laughed Chanyeol.

“Same thing,” said Baekhyun, with a happy laugh.

They drove on for a few more minutes before Baekhyun sat up straight suddenly peering out the window.

“There it is! There it is!” he yelled, pointing at the ocean which has just come into view from Baekhyun’s side of the car.

He undid his seat belt and put both hands upon the top of the door as he started to climb up onto the seat.

“You can’t jump out while we’re moving!” exclaimed Chanyeol, grabbing his arm and pulling his back into his seat. “Wait till we get closer, and I find somewhere to park.”

They were driving down a quiet road which seemed to run parallel to the beach.

“There must be a beach parking lot or something, surely,” mumbled Chanyeol, looking at the GPS map.

“Look at that!”

“I know, I saw it, it’s the ocean,” said Chanyeol. “It’s very nice and it will still be there when we find somewhere to park.”

“No, that!”

“What?” asked Chanyeol, looking out Baekhyun’s side of the car again.

“That! That little house!” said Baekhyun, he was pointing at a small cottage painted white with a cheerful aqua coloured trim and a peaked roof. It had a fence surrounding it which looked like it had been built up out of rocks collected from the beach over the years, it even had some shells pressed into it.

“Oh, it’s cute,” said Chanyeol sincerely, the house had such a cosy, relaxed feel about it.

“I want to stay there!” exclaimed Baekhyun.

“You can’t, you can’t stay in houses other people live in!”

“I stayed in your house,” pointed out Baekhyun.

“Because I let you, those people aren’t going to let you,” replied Chanyeol, but as they drove up in front of it, they saw a ‘for holiday rent’ sign stuck to the fence. “Actually…they might,” he said, pulling the car over onto the side of the road.

Baekhyun whooped in delight and jumped out.

Chanyeol called the number of the sign and spoke to a local real estate agent while Baekhyun peered through the windows yelling things like, “It’s got one of those cold things like in your kitchen!”

“Stop looking in the windows!” yelled back Chanyeol, covering his phone with his palm.

The real estate was quite surprised to find Chanyeol wanted to rent the house then and there. He explained that it was for weekly rental only and he could come out and show them it before they signed the papers as soon as he was done with showing another house.

Chanyeol parked the car in the driveway and walked around the side of the property where he could see a path which looked like it led directly to the beach.

“Why aren’t we going inside?” asked Baekhyun, following him.

“We haven’t got the keys yet. Let’s go look at the beach, till they call back,” he suggested.

“Ok!” said Baekhyun happily, keeping pace with him now.

They walked down the path, the grass was mixed with sand and the ocean breeze was strong here. As they came out around the back of the house’s stone fence, he could see that the house backed onto a small bay, with clean, pale sand and bordered on either side by a rocky headland. Directly ahead of them was the ocean. He stopped, staring at it as it stretched out in front of him, looking endless.

He had the same feeling of peace flood through him that he always felt whenever he saw the sea.

Baekhyun put his arms up with glee and ran ahead of Chanyeol down the slope, his pace slackening as he struggled to run in his slides on the dry sand.

Chanyeol laughed and ran after Baekhyun. He soon caught up, the sand squeaking under the rubber soles of his sneakers. He ran down further to where the sand was wet and compacted by the sea, waves rolling in slowly and quickly surging back. He breathed in the fresh, tangy breeze, closing his eyes briefly and letting the sounds and smells wash over him.

Something grabbed his arm, and he opened his eyes to see Baekhyun, also looking out to sea happily, clutching his arm and wearing only his black boxer briefs.

“Where are your clothes?!” exclaimed Chanyeol, quickly looking around to make sure no one was watching, but the small cove was empty except for themselves.

“You said I only needed to wear them in the city and we’re not in the city anymore.”

“Still, you can’t run around in your underwear!” he insisted, trying to keep his eyes on Baekhyun’s own dark eyes. Somehow, Baekhyun’s body looked even better outside in the brightness of day, with his pale skin luminous in the warm sunshine.

“But I told you, I saw lots of people dressed like this at the beach!”

“They were wearing swimsuits, not underwear. It’s different.”

“How?”

“The fabric is different,” said Chanyeol vaguely, very aware of how insignificant that sounded.

“Why?”

Chanyeol hesitated. “I don’t know why, but I’m sure there’s a reason. And you can’t swim in underwear.”

“But I can’t swim anyway, or my tail will come back. I’m not actually sure if I can even touch the saltwater without it coming back,” said Baekhyun. He immediately reached out towards the incoming tide with one of his feet.

Chanyeol grabbed him around the waist and pulled him back onto dry sand.

“Get dressed,” he said, heading up the beach to where a small pile of Baekhyun’s clothes lay discarded on the sand.

“I don’t want to.”

Chanyeol had an idea. “But the sun will see you! You didn’t put sunblock on your legs and chest,” he pointed out.

Baekhyun looked up nervously. Then ran around Chanyeol, hugging him from behind and squealing, “Hide me!” His arms wrapped firmly around Chanyeol’s waist.

Without thinking, Chanyeol put his arms over Baekhyun’s squeezing him and leaning back into the embrace. When he realised what he was doing he let go. “Well, get dressed quickly then before it sees you,” he said loudly, to cover his embarrassment.

Baekhyun let go and picked up his clothes, shaking out the sand and getting dressed with surprising speed.

“Good job,” said Chanyeol. “Let’s see what’s around that side of the bay.” He pointed off to where there was a walking trail around the rocky headland and what looked like a larger beach beyond.

They strolled along, happily breathing in the salty air, the sun warming their shoulders.

“What are these weird pouches in my clothes?” said Baekhyun, turning the front pockets of his jeans inside out to tip out the sand.

“Pockets,” said Chanyeol, “You put stuff in them.”

Baekhyun rummaged around in all 4 of his jeans pockets. “There’s nothing in mine but sand,” he said sadly.

“Here,” said Chanyeol, handing him his phone. “You can put that in one of the big back ones. Just don’t sit on it.”

They clambered over the rocks and made it around the corner to the bigger, busier beach, where groups of people had towels spread out on the sand. Children were letting the waves chase them laughing happily as they ran along the water’s edge.

After a few minutes of walking, they came to an area near a small pier which had some shops and a café. The café had a large outdoor area with a raised-up deck that looked out over the beach.

“Do you want to get lunch?” asked Chanyeol, pointing to the café.

“Sure.”

They entered the café. it had a chilled out, beachy feel and was cheerfully decorated with bright yellow cushions and jars of wildflowers on each table.

A smiling waitress greeted them from behind a large coffee machine.

Chanyeol picked up a menu on a small wooden clipboard from the counter and scanned it with his eyes. They had burgers which looked good and some refreshing sounding homemade drinks.

“We’ll have 2 of the honey citron sparkling ice teas and 2 burgers, thanks, to eat here,” he ordered a couple of minutes later.

“Wait, is that brown?!” asked Baekhyun.

Chanyeol sighed. “The bun will be light brown, but it’s bread, you like bread. The meat will also be brown.”

“I want my meat to be red,” Baekhyun said firmly to the waitress.

The waitress’s determined smile slipped slightly. “Red?” she repeated.

“You can’t eat raw hamburger meat, you’ll get sick,” said Chanyeol, firmly.

“I haven’t gotten sick from any of the stuff you said I would! And I like red food!”

Chanyeol had an idea. “Ok, you can have a red burger,” he said to Baekhyun.

He turned to the waitress. “He’ll have a regular properly cooked burger with lots of tomato sauce,” he said emphatically. “Lots of it, drench it in tomato sauce.”

The waitress nodded, then said quietly, “It’s extra for sauce.”

“That’s fine,” replied Chanyeol, taking out his credit card to pay.

They found a table out on the decking, overlooking the beach beyond. They both sat on their colourful metal chairs and watched the happy scene in comfortable silence for some time.

“It’s beautiful here,” said Baekhyun eventually, still gazing at the rolling sea, his face in his hands. “Thank you for taking me to the beach.”

“It was a good idea,” replied Chanyeol serenely, feeling relaxed and comfortable.

“I have a lot of other good ideas,” said Baekhyun, turning to Chanyeol and smiling suggestively.

Chanyeol felt something warm rub his leg.

He hastily looked down under the table. Baekhyun had slipped off one of his shoes and was plying his foot insistently to Chanyeol’s inner thigh

He crossed his legs and pushed Baekhyun’s foot away.

“We’re in public,” he hissed.

“Well, you wouldn’t let me do it in private.”

“That should have been a sign that I wouldn’t let you do it in public either!”

The waitress appeared carrying their plates and drinks on a tray and Chanyeol pushed his chair back from the table to make it harder for Baekhyun to reach him with his foot.

“It’s so…red,” said Baekhyun happily, staring excitedly at his burger absolutely saturated with tomato sauce.

“Hold on, before you eat that. I’m just checking you understand what I’m saying about private versus public things? Humans are much less…open than merpeople. We’re not into public displays of affection.”

“It wasn’t a public display of affection! It was a public display of me wanting to fondle your undertail with my foot,” said Baekhyun earnestly.

“For all intents and purposes, let’s assume those are the same thing!” said Chanyeol, exasperatedly. He ate one of his chips.

“So, what you’re saying is, next time I get you alone I can do all the things I’ve been wanting to do to you in public?”

“No!”

Baekhyun frowned.

“Oh, just eat your burger…before it drowns,” said Chanyeol, looking at the very wet looking burger.

Chanyeol ate some of his own burger and watched Baekhyun adding a liberal amount of salt to his already over-sauced food.

His own burger was delicious, and it was nice to enjoy lunch outside on such a lovely day.

When he was finished, he pushed his plate away contentedly and caught sight of his watch. The screen lit up when he looked at it. It was already 1:40 P.M. He checked it again not believing it could already be that late in the day. He realised with an accompanying squirming feeling in his stomach that he was starting to get nervous; he could feel the time ticking down much quicker than usual.

“Why do you keep looking at that black rock on your arm?”

“I’m checking the time,” said Chanyeol, showing his watch to Baekhyun. “It’s not a rock.” He lit up the screen. “It’s a watch.”

“It’s like a tiny phone,” said Baekhyun, staring at it. “Can it take photos?”

“No,” said Chanyeol.

Baekhyun appeared to immediately lose interest in the watch, he drank some more of his iced tea.

“What time,” Chanyeol began, his voice catching oddly in his throat so he had to clear it, “do you think it will happen?”

“Will what happen?” asked Baekhyun, looking up.

“You’ll…you know, stop breathing,” prompted Chanyeol awkwardly, aware his voice still sounded pained.

“Oh, I’m not sure, it’s meant to be about 48 hours after I got my legs, but I’m not sure at what time that happened.”

“I don’t know either. I fell asleep, but I guess sometime after 9 P.M.?”

“I’m not sure how exact it is anyway,” said Baekhyun, who seemed to Chanyeol remarkably blasé for someone who was going to suffocate at some point that night.

“Well, I guess we better make sure we stay close to the water after nightfall just in case.”

“We can sit on the beach,” said Baekhyun happily.

“Hey, maybe we could get some food and have a picnic?” suggested Chanyeol.

“I love that idea!” Baekhyun replied, smiling enthusiastically. “Hey, Chanyeol, what’s a picnic?” he asked after a minute.

Chanyeol laughed. “It’s where you sit on a blanket outside and eat food.”

Baekhyun gasped suddenly like he realised something. He looked up at the clear sky. “Do you think we can see the stars out here?”

Chanyeol looked up also. “Yeah, probably.”

“I’m so excited,” said Baekhyun

“Me too,” said Chanyeol, watching him.

Baekhyun stared back at him, he tilted his head. “You don’t look excited, you look sad,” he said. “Is your underwear too tight? You can take them off if you like. Oh, I can put them in one of my pockets!”

“No, thank you.”

“Something’s happening,” said Baekhyun, sitting upright suddenly.

“What? Can you breathe? It’s not happening now, is it?!” asked Chanyeol alarmed and starting to rise out of his chair.

“Is this beer?” Baekhyun asked, pointing at his drink.

“No, why?”

“My butt has gone all tingly.”

“Tingly?” asked Chanyeol, he could hear a faint but familiar song. He gasped. “That’s my phone! Give it to me, quick.”

Baekhyun pulled the phone out looking at the lit-up screen in surprise. Chanyeol snatched it from his hand.

“Hello,” he said answering the unknown number. Holding his hand over the phone, he exclaimed, “You’ve made it all warm with your butt!”

“You’re welcome.”

“It’s not a good thing!”

“Hi, Mr. Park, I can meet you at the house and show you around in 10 minutes if you like?” said the agent through the phone.

“Great. We’re just at a café along the beach, we’ll walk back now.” He hung up. “We can get the keys to the house now,” he said standing up.

Chanyeol paid at the counter and they walked out of the café and past a small row of shops to get back onto the beach.

“What does that writing say?” asked Baekhyun, peering at the sign on the front of one of the shops which was decorated with small cartoon scuba divers.

“It’s advertising scuba diving classes,” said Chanyeol, reading it briefly.

“What’s that?”

“It’s where you wear a wetsuit, like there in the picture,” began Chanyeol, pointing at one of the cartoons, “and you—"

“That’s a seal,” interrupted Baekhyun knowledgeably.

“No, it’s a person in a wetsuit.”

“It’s a seal, look it’s got flippers!”

“They’re not real flippers, they’re made of plastic. How many seals have you seen with fluro yellow flippers?”

“Lots!” said Baekhyun.

“And big tanks strapped to their backs and goggles on their faces?” asked Chanyeol, pointing out these items in the pictures.

“Yes,” said Baekhyun, looking a little less certain now. “I swim away when I see them.”

“Well, you are either lying your ass off or the “seals” you’re seeing are actually scuba divers.”

“I’m not lying my ass off!” he denied vehemently. “What’s an ass?”

“Another word for butt,” admitted Chanyeol reluctantly.

“Humans have so many words for butt and yet you say I’m obsessed with them?!”

Chanyeol laughed.

“Mine is still attached too, I didn’t lie it off!” insisted Baekhyun, turning around to show Chanyeol his very attached butt. He turned back and peered closely at the picture. “That’s really a human?”

“Yeah.”

“T-then I’ve seen lots of humans,” he said excitedly. “Maybe I’ve seen you before.” He looked up at Chanyeol hopefully.

“I haven’t been scuba diving before,” said Chanyeol gently.

“You should do it! They go really deep and must see all the things I see.”

“I’ve always wanted to actually,” said Chanyeol, glancing back at the sign. There were classes on each day, but they involved getting certified and went for the whole day.

“You should do it! Go in,” said Baekhyun, trying to push Chanyeol through the door of the diving equipment store.

“I can’t do it today,” said Chanyeol, managing to sidestep him. “The course takes the whole day.”

“How can it take that long?” asked Baekhyun indignantly. “Just put your seal suit on and go.”

Chanyeol laughed. “It’s more complicated than that, it’s dangerous to dive if you don’t do it properly, you can drown or even get sick if you come up too quickly.” He looked at the sign again. “I’d like to do it,” he said wistfully, “but not today. You wouldn’t want me to spend the rest of the day in a diving course, without you, would you?”

“No, I guess not,” said Baekhyun.

Chanyeol set off walking again, stepping off the sidewalk and back onto the sand.

Baekhyun glanced back at the sign a few times, before running to join him, sand flying up behind his flapping slides.

“You could do it tomorrow or the next day,” suggested Baekhyun when he caught up.

“I’ve got to get back to Seoul tomorrow,” said Chanyeol heavily, he didn’t want to think about the flight home and what it would be like to walk into his cold, impersonal apartment alone.

“But you’ll have the house for a week!”

“Only because they don’t rent it for any shorter than that. I’ll give the keys back tomorrow before I fly back.”

“I think you should stay longer,” said Baekhyun pouting, and kicking the dry, loose sand around with his feet.

“I can’t, I have to get back to work.”

“Why?” asked Baekhyun insistently, looking up at him.

Chanyeol looked away, keeping his eyes on the headland in the distance. “Because it’s my job.”

“But yesterday you said you don’t like it, and it’s not fun.”

“Did I?” asked Chanyeol. “That does sound like me,” he conceded, with a shrug.

“So, do you just have to do that job to have enough money for food? Because I told you yesterday, I know where there are lots of sunken ships.”

“No, I have enough money for food and everything else. I have my inheritance from my grandfather, that was put into a trust for me, but I got it back when I turned 21,” admitted Chanyeol. He had enough money to live on without ever working again, it was just that he had never even considered that to be a possibility before.

“I don’t understand, you have a job even though you don’t need money and you hate doing it?” asked Baekhyun, he stopped walking suddenly. “Do you just do it to make your mum happy?”

Chanyeol laughed. “Nothing makes my mum happy.”

“So, you do it to not make her mad?”

Chanyeol considered this. “I guess, I do it to live up to her expectations. And I think she worked in the family business to live up to my grandfather’s expectations.” He hadn’t really thought much about this before. He wondered if she had felt the same frustrations, he had when she was young before it had all just become habit.

Baekhyun grabbed the bottom of Chanyeol’s shirt to stop him walking and looked up at him earnestly, his brow furrowed into a frown.

“You mean each generation is only working for this business in order to live up to the expectations of the previous generation?”

Chanyeol tilted his head and cringed. “When you put it like that it sounds like a vicious cycle.”

“You can break the cycle, just don’t go back. Isn’t life too short to keep doing something you don’t even enjoy for no good reason?”

“It’s not that easy,” said Chanyeol, shaking his shirt free of Baekhyun’s grip. He walked down close to the water edge, where Baekhyun couldn’t follow.

They walked on in silence for a few minutes, Chanyeol making no effort to close the distance between them.

“Chanyeol, it won’t fall off if I lie, will it?” called Baekhyun suddenly from higher up on the dry sand.

“What won’t?”

“My ass,” said Baekhyun, glancing back at his butt in concern.

“No, but if it does, I’ll catch it.”

“That’s the only way I’m going to get you to touch my butt, isn’t it?” asked Baekhyun, hands on his hips.

“Yes,” laughed Chanyeol, but he moved higher up the beach onto the dry sand so he could walk side by side with Baekhyun.

After a minute, Baekhyun slid an arm smoothly around Chanyeol’s waist.

“What are you doing?” asked Chanyeol, glancing down at it. “I said no public displays of affection.”

“I saw some humans back there doing this and they looked so happy,” said Baekhyun.

Chanyeol glanced back to where an elderly man was being chivvied along by their middle-aged daughter, her arm around him for support, neither looked particularly happy.

“Those are old people and clearly relatives, it’s different. I don’t need help to walk,” said Chanyeol, immediately slipping on a piece of seaweed with the wet soles of his sneakers and grabbing Baekhyun’s arm to steady himself. “That doesn’t count,” he said awkwardly.

“Stop touching me in public!” exclaimed Baekhyun, laughing and pushing him away. He ran down the beach, Chanyeol chasing him.

“Oh my god, I think I’ve figured out this running thing!” Baekhyun called delightedly, still laughing.

When they reached the end of the beach, he stopped, panting hard and looking flushed and breathless. “It’s tiring,” he said, “but exhilarating, like when I swim really fast.” His cheeks glowed and his eyes sparkled happily.

“How fast can you swim?” asked Chanyeol, as they took the rocky path around the headland till they were back in their own tiny bay.

“Oh, much faster than that!” said Baekhyun.

After a minute of walking, Chanyeol recognised the unusual stone fence and they walked up the beach and down the path to the house. Baekhyun immediately ran to wait at the door, but Chanyeol loitered by the driveway.

The real estate agent pulled up a minute later in a very small car. He clambered out with effort despite his short stature and approached.

Chanyeol had never seen such a casually dressed real estate agent, he was used to them wearing suits all the time in Seoul. But this one was wearing a pastel yellow polo and blue shorts. He was also very tanned.

“Kim Junmyeon,” said the agent, holding out a hand to Chanyeol.

“Park Chanyeol,” said Chanyeol, shaking it firmly. “That’s Baekhyun,” he added pointing at Baekhyun who was standing on his tippy toes trying to peer through the small arch-shaped window in the top of the front door. “He’s very excited to see inside.”

“Well, let’s go take a look then,” said Junmyeon cheerily, removing a set of keys from his short’s pocket.

He squeezed past Baekhyun smiling awkwardly and unlocked the front door. Baekhyun ran inside and the others followed.

The tiny hallway opened out into a surprisingly high-ceilinged combined living room/dining room. It was small but bright due to the large windows. The walls were painted a warm white and the floors were a pale wood that matched the window frames and staircase. The furniture was sparse but practical. Baekhyun had immediately gone into the small kitchen tiled with pale teal subway tiles and inspected the matching coloured vintage-look fridge.

“In here is the bathroom,” said Junmyeon, opening the bathroom door. “And this is one of the bedrooms.” He opened another door into a room mostly taken up by a double bed, simply made up with a clean white bedspread.

They heard a thumping and looked out into the living room. Baekhyun has scampered up the small wooden staircase which led into the open loft space.

“That’s the other bedroom up there,” said Junmyeon, pointing to the ladder.

“Oh, my god,” called Baekhyun. His head appeared briefly looking over the top of the staircase. “Chanyeol, you’ve got to see this.”

Chanyeol followed curiously, climbing the small but thankfully sturdy staircase.

“There’s no room to stand up here,” observed Chanyeol, bending almost double to avoid hitting the sloped ceiling.

“That’s because you’re meant to be lying down,” said Baekhyun, who was under the covers of one of the 2 traditional style floor mattresses. He grabbed the bottom of Chanyeol’s shirt and tugged him down onto the mattress on top of him.

“Are you naked?” exclaimed Chanyeol, looking at Baekhyun’s obviously bare shoulders. “How did you get undressed so quickly?”

“I’m getting good at it, right? Here, I’ll help you,” said Baekhyun, trying to undo the button of Chanyeol’s jeans.

“Stop that,” said Chanyeol, rolling off him and trying to sit up.

“You said you’d take your pants off earlier!”

“I did not!”

“You did too! Give me the phone. I’ve got you on video saying it in the car.”

Baekhyun reached around him patting the front of Chanyeol’s jeans.

“That’s not where my phone is!” exclaimed Chanyeol.

“Oh, I know,” replied Baekhyun, “I’m more interested in this though.” He continued patting Chanyeol’s crotch intently.

Chanyeol grabbed Baekhyun’s hand to move it away, but Baekhyun immediately wrapped his fingers around Chanyeol’s and squeezed gently.

Chanyeol turned back to look at him.

He was lying on his back on the mattress, one arm raised so he could keep a hold of Chanyeol’s hand. The bed cover was folded back exposing the flawlessly smooth skin of his bare chest. He glanced down at the white bed cover, thinking distractedly about what was hidden under it. Baekhyun’s delicate pink lips parted, and he lowered his eyes alluringly as if he could tell what Chanyeol was thinking.

Baekhyun tugged lightly on his hand and Chanyeol stopped resisting and let himself be pulled towards him.

He heard the creak of a footstep on the floorboards below and came to his senses.

“Baekhyun, there’s a real estate agent right downstairs,” hissed Chanyeol.

“Yeah, but I don’t want to have sex with him,” replied Baekhyun.

“I’m not suggesting you should!”

“Is everything alright?” called Junmyeon from the bottom of the loft ladder.

“Yes,” called back Chanyeol. “Lovely views from up here.” The window at the end of the loft did indeed have a spectacular view of the ocean beyond.

“Get dressed,” he whispered to Baekhyun, thrusting his discarded clothes back at him.

“I spend more time in clothes than out,” grumbled Baekhyun, pulling his clothes back on.

“That’s very normal for a human!” exclaimed Chanyeol, he clambered back down the narrow staircase and fixed on an awkward smile for Junmyeon who was waiting curiously at the bottom.

“The whole place is great. Where do I sign?” he said, clapping a hand on Junmyeon’s back and leading him away from the stairs.

Junmyeon fetched the paperwork from his car and Chanyeol signed and put through the payment for a week’s rental.

They waved him off at the door.

Baekhyun hurried to unpack the driftwood sculpture, giving it pride of place in the middle of the small dining table.

“Do you want to go back to the beach for a bit?” asked Chanyeol, swapping his sneakers for a pair of black flip flops.

“Ok,” said Baekhyun, but he seemed reluctant to leave the small cosy house.

They headed down the back path back onto the beach and walked in the opposite direction this time, coming out around another rocky headland onto another larger, busier beach this one bordering onto a large park. There were people paddle boarding on the gentle waves.

The rocks around the headland were larger and flatter than on the other side. There were some children inspecting the many shallow pools in the rocks.

“Rock pools!” said Baekhyun excitedly. He ran up and clambered onto the nearest set of rocks, peering down into the small pools created in the rock’s many crevices.

Chanyeol followed. They walked all along the rocks looking at the different pools. Baekhyun told Chanyeol all about the different kinds of fish and crustaceans living there.

Chanyeol was so absorbed in Baekhyun’s descriptions that he didn’t notice the tide coming in until a sudden wave caused water to surge up over the rock, they were standing on drenching his feet. He leapt forward and grabbed Baekhyun, hoisting him up in the air before the water could touch him.

“Hold your legs up!” he yelled and Baekhyun bent his knees holding his legs up behind him as he dangled awkwardly his hands on Chanyeol’s shoulders.

With Baekhyun clinging to him he managed to clamber off the rock back onto the sand and further up the beach.

Some beachgoers sitting nearby were watching them in amusement.

“Can't get that pedicure wet,” said Chanyeol, then wished he hadn’t because it only drew the watcher’s attention to their elaborately painted toenails.

Baekhyun shoved Chanyeol almost causing him to fall on the uneven sand.

“Why are you pushing me?” he cried, turning to Baekhyun.

“You can't get it wet?!” yelled Baekhyun, sitting down heavily on the sand and looking at his toes in concern. “Why did you make me have a shower last night? .... and a bath? !”

“I was joking, I’m sure it’s fine,” said Chanyeol.

Baekhyun gasped.

“What?”

“I’ve lost a starfish!”

“You’ve also lost a shoe,” pointed out Chanyeol.

Baekhyun’s left foot was bare now but he seemed far more upset about the tiny plastic starfish. He was still inspecting his toenails closely.

Chanyeol looked around in the sand surrounding them for the shoe, but it was nowhere in sight.

“We need to find it. You won’t be allowed in the supermarket without 2 shoes.”

“But what about my starfish?” moaned Baekhyun. “We need to find that too.”

“Supermarkets don’t check for intact starfish.”

“You humans have the stupidest priorities.”

Chanyeol walked back over to the rocks and peered into the pools hoping to spot the missing slide.

It was at the bottom of a thankfully shallow rock pool.

He very carefully plucked it away from an annoyed crab which appeared to be trying to make a home in it. Near it was a bright orange starfish, stuck to a rock. He lifted it off, hid it behind his back and returned up the beach.

“I found it!”

“My starfish?!”

“No, your shoe,” said Chanyeol, throwing it at him.

Baekhyun sank back dramatically in the sand on his back.

“And your starfish,” Chanyeol added after a pause, holding out the large orange starfish to Baekhyun.

Baekhyun shot up scrambling to his feet and reached out for it, before frowning at the large starfish and pulling back his hand. “That’s not it!”

“This one is better, it’s bigger, see,” said Chanyeol, turning it over in his hands.

“You know they’re poisonous, right?” asked Baekhyun.

“What?” exclaimed Chanyeol, trying to reduce how much of his fingers were touching the starfish without dropping it.

“I’m joking,” laughed Baekhyun. “But I can’t stick that to my toenail, it’s too big…and too alive.” He took the starfish and went over to the rocks to return it to the water.

Chanyeol picked up the shoe, spotting something shiny under the strap, he peered under it. The small gold nail art starfish was embedded in the rubber. He pried it out.

Baekhyun came running back over.

“I have a present for you,” Chanyeol said, holding out his closed fist.

“It’s more shoes, isn’t it?”

“No,” laughed Chanyeol. “A shoe wouldn’t fit in here.”

“Oh, is it a sandwich?” asked Baekhyun excitedly.

“No! Where would I get a sandwich from?!”

Baekhyun gave him a disbelieving stare and pointed meaningfully all around them at the copious amounts of sand.

“I’m not even going to begin to explain everything that is wrong about that,” said Chanyeol. He turned over his hand and opened it.

Baekhyun leant forward peering into his palm and gasped. He plucked the tiny starfish up delightedly then grabbed Chanyeol around the waist, hugging him hard. “You found it!” he exclaimed his voice muffled because his face was pressed into Chanyeol’s shirt.

Chanyeol opened his mouth but Baekhyun cut him off, “It’s not public, they’ve gone! See!” he pulled back and pointed to where the nearby family had packed up and left already.

Baekhyun pulled him back in, squeezing him harder again.

Chanyeol held his arms up for a second then relaxed, wrapping his arms around Baekhyun’s back and leaning in. His face in Baekhyun’s soft hair, he wondered how just hugging someone could feel so good. He rubbed his hands over Baekhyun’s lower back, feeling the warm firmness of his body under the soft fabric of the shirt.

“You can put your hands up my shirt if you like,” suggested Baekhyun quietly.

“I’ll keep that in mind,” said Chanyeol.

“You still haven’t touched my butt yet.”

“There’s still lots of time.”

“Not that much time,” pointed out Baekhyun. “It’s getting late.” He looked up at the sky.

Chanyeol looked up too, the sun was getting noticeably lower. He winced.

“How long exactly do you think it takes to touch someone’s butt?” Chanyeol teased, trying to keep his voice light.

“You might like it and not want to stop.”

“That’s a risk we’ll just have to take,” he replied.

He lifted his left arm from around Baekhyun and looked at his watch, it was past 5 P.M.

“We should probably go to the supermarket and get ready for the picnic before it gets dark, just in case,” said Chanyeol.

“Ok,” agreed Baekhyun.

Chanyeol looked up the nearest local supermarket on his phone. It was too far to walk, so they went back up to the house and took the car instead.

The supermarket was low ceilinged but sprawling and surprisingly large, they parked in an open-air parking lot out front and made their way inside. Chanyeol ignored the yellow and grey shopping trolleys and reached for a basket instead, but Baekhyun got there first and insisted on carrying it.

They walked along the side of the aisles, Baekhyun staring around excitedly and bumping into affronted shoppers carelessly with the plastic basket. Chanyeol read the aisle signs hanging from the ceiling. They walked down one aisle which Chanyeol thought might lead to the fresh food.

He was walking slowly avoiding other slow-moving shoppers with poorly controlled trolleys when he felt something press his butt.

“Stop that,” said Chanyeol, spinning around. “Don’t grab my butt in the supermarket.”

“I wasn’t grabbing your butt!” protested Baekhyun loudly.

A young mother with a toddler in her shopping trolley looked around at them.

“I mean I will, if you want me to,” he continued playfully. “But I wasn’t, I was putting a present in your pocket.”

“A present?” asked Chanyeol.

“Yes.”

“Is it something inappropriate like your underwear which I’m going to pull out in the middle of a crowded supermarket aisle?”

“No,” replied Baekhyun. “But that does sound like me. Why didn’t I think of that?”

“What is it then?” asked Chanyeol suspiciously. He slipped a hand apprehensively into his back pocket. There didn’t seem to be anything in there.

“You were just grabbing my butt!” he exclaimed loudly, causing more people to look at them. He covered his mouth hastily with his hands.

“I wasn’t,” denied Baekhyun. “Do you want me to get it out?” he asked, reaching for Chanyeol’s back pocket.

“No,” said Chanyeol, dancing away from him and backing himself up against the shelves. He hesitantly put his hand back in the pocket. He was worried about leaving whatever it was in there since it seemed likely it was something from the supermarket and he didn’t want the cashier to think he was stealing.

He knew what it was as soon as his fingers touched it. It was the tiny gold starfish. He pulled it out, looking at it.

“Usually presents aren’t things which have been stuck on your foot for the last 24 hours,” teased Chanyeol.

“But mine are really nice feet!”

“They are lovely. Thank you,” he said, holding up the starfish. “But don’t you want to keep it?”

“It won’t stick back on,” explained Baekhyun. “And my tail doesn’t have pockets, so I’ll give it to you to look after.”

“We could buy some glue and try to stick it back on,” said Chanyeol, running his fingers over it absentmindedly.

“No, I want you to have it,” insisted Baekhyun, he closed his hand over Chanyeol’s with the starfish inside. “I don’t have anything else to give you.” He looked up at Chanyeol, with earnest eyes.

Chanyeol turned his hand under Baekhyun’s so their palms were touching the tiny starfish pressed between them.

“You should pull off one of your toenails and give it to me as a present,” whispered Baekhyun.

“No!” exclaimed Chanyeol, letting go of Baekhyun’s hand and slipping the starfish into his back pocket again.

Baekhyun laughed. “I don’t mean the whole toenail, just one of the little stars.”

“I’m going to show you the stars tonight, remember? Isn’t the real thing better?” said Chanyeol, mostly because the idea of prying off something glued to his toenail made him feel squeamish.

“Yes, I guess so,” conceded Baekhyun, but he glanced down at the night sky nail art on Chanyeol’s toes anyway.

“C’mon we need to find something to eat,” said Chanyeol, emerging from the aisle and spotting an open chilled section where there were plastic packed fresh foods.

They walked along the selection looking at the premade dinners.

When they reached a whole fridge section of Kimbap, Baekhyun leant eagerly over the display.

“Do you want kimbap?” asked Chanyeol.

“Is that seaweed on it?!” Baekhyun asked, peering at it.

“Yes.”

“I love seaweed!”

“Oh, I should take you to a sushi restaurant some tim--,” Chanyeol broke off realising in just a few hours he wasn't going to be taking Baekhyun anywhere anymore. Baekhyun hadn't heard him, he was still absorbed in choosing the kimbap.

He loaded several packs into the basket, happily, while Chanyeol watched him. He didn’t feel remotely hungry anymore. All of a sudden, he felt faintly sick, like he’d swallowed a brick and it had settled heavily at the bottom of his stomach. He slipped an arm around Baekhyun’s waist.

“I thought you said no public displays of affection?”

“I did, but…I’m not sure I care anymore,” he said slowly, realising it for himself. He squeezed Baekhyun’s waist tighter.

Baekhyun smiled.

“Is there anything else you want to get?” asked Chanyeol, looking around.

“Salt!” said Baekhyun, looking down the nearest aisle hopefully.

“I’m sure the kimbap won’t need salt,” said Chanyeol.

“But we should get it just in case and you need it for your car too, remember?”

“Oh, right,” said Chanyeol, amused, he was forced to let go of Baekhyun’s waist due to the sheer impossibility of walking side by side down the crowded aisles.

They found the salt in the cooking aisle and Baekhyun added an unnecessarily large shaker to the basket.

“You’ll probably want water too, I guess,” Chanyeol said sardonically.

“Yes!” exclaimed Baekhyun.

Chanyeol found a fridge full of different sizes and brands of spring water, but Baekhyun lunged for a stack of plastic-wrapped 24 water bottle packs instead.

“Why do you need all that water?!” asked Chanyeol, watching Baekhyun struggling to try and fit the too large pack into the basket.

“I don’t know how thirsty I’m going to be,”

Chanyeol groaned. “You’re going to roll that kimbap in salt, aren’t you?”

“It’s not my fault you humans like everything so bland!”

“You’re squishing everything,” said Chanyeol, taking the water bottles from him. “I’ll hold this.”

“You hold this too,” said Baekhyun, handing Chanyeol the basket.

“What?” said Chanyeol. “Why am I holding everything?”

“Because I’m going to hold this,” said Baekhyun, linking an arm through Chanyeol’s and snuggling up against him.

The position of their arms meant Chanyeol had to hold the basket out uncomfortably in front of him to avoid bashing either his or Baekhyun’s legs with it. But he did it without complaint, looking down at the contented expression on Baekhyun’s face, as he rested against his shoulder.

They went through to the homewares section of the supermarket and found a large red picnic blanket.

Chanyeol dithered near a section with supplies for fire pits.

“Hey, let’s make a fire on the beach,” he suggested, pulling a long-handled lighter off the rack.

“What’s that?”

“It’s a red thing. You light it and it burns,” said Chanyeol vaguely.

Baekhyun looked at the picnic blanket in the basket.

“Not like that!” exclaimed Chanyeol. “You use wood and paper. You’ll like this. It’ll keep us warm once the sunsets. We can collect wood at the beach to burn in it.”

“Ok,” agreed Baekhyun happily but he still looked confused.

They added some newspapers from the rack near the counter to the now full basket and went through the checkout, then loaded their shopping into the car.

Once they got back to the house, they decided to just take everything down to the beach and pick a good spot for their picnic.

The quiet bay was still deserted and Chanyeol spread the blanket out of reach of the incoming tide. And Baekhyun dumped the shopping bags on it to keep it from blowing around.

“Ok, we need to find some wood to burn,” said Chanyeol, grabbing the large plastic bag the water bottles had been in to collect wood in. He pointed higher up the beach where it seemed more likely they would find dry pieces.

They scoured the top of the beach picking up all the dry driftwood they found.

“This piece is really nice, right?” said Baekhyun, holding up a twisted piece of driftwood rubbed smooth by the tide and shaking the sand off.

Chanyeol took it, turning it over in his hands and feeling the familiar stirrings of creative interest he had once felt when he had put together the pieces of his sculpture all those years ago.

“Let’s not burn this one,” he said, feeling a little silly. He didn’t have time to be playing with bits of wood, he had to return to Seoul in the morning as early as possible for work. But the idea of burning this tangled beautiful twist of wood felt morally wrong. He went to drop it back on the sand but couldn’t make his fingers release it.

Baekhyun was watching him. Then he ran back over to the picnic blanket and shook the newspaper out of their plastic shopping bag before running back. “We can put the pieces to keep in this bag,” he suggested, holding the bag out to Chanyeol.

“What’s the point of keeping them?” asked Chanyeol, still feeling silly.

“Because they make you happy,” said Baekhyun simply, he took the piece of wood out of Chanyeol’s hand and slipped it into the bag. He squeezed Chanyeol’s fingers as he handed the bag back, looking up at him with a smile.

Chanyeol smiled back, sliding the plastic handle onto his wrist and keeping his fingers locked with Baekhyun’s as they continued walking along the beach.

By the time they were done, the bag with pieces of wood to keep was almost as full as the bag for the fire.

They went back to the picnic blanket and Chanyeol dug a shallow hole, compacting the sand and scraping any loose bits away. Then he set to work scrunching up torn-off pieces of newspaper into balls.

“Have you ever started a fire before?” asked Baekhyun, peering over his shoulder curiously.

“Yes,” said Chanyeol, a little defensively. “I mean, only indoor gas fireplaces,” he admitted after a pause. “But I’ve seen people do it on TV.”

He shook out the bag of firewood, next to the pit and made sure to move the bag of the driftwood he was keeping far away from the fire pit and over near the water bottles. Then he arranged a pile with the smaller pieces and the newspaper, in the shallow ditch.

He took a deep breath and used the long lighter to light a ball of newspaper in the centre. It caught alight, slowly the fire spread to the surrounding newspaper bits and eventually onto the small pieces of dry wood and sticks.

“It worked,” he said, feeling impressed with himself.

Baekhyun was watching the tiny orange flames with interest. “It’s like it’s alive,” he whispered. “We don’t have anything like this under the ocean.”

“You can keep adding bits of wood,” suggested Chanyeol, pressing some twigs into his hands, “Slowly, though. But don’t touch it. It’s hot, it’ll burn you.”

He watched as Baekhyun excitedly dropped the twigs into the fire, squealing delightedly as they caught alight and burned with the rest.

He handed him more sticks.

Chanyeol looked around at the ocean, the breeze was getting colder now but the warmth from the fire and cheery crackling sound of burning wood made him feel comfortable and cosy.

The sun had dropped to a fiery ball on the horizon, making the once blue water shades of warm orange and pink.

It would be dark soon.

“Do you want to eat?” he asked Baekhyun, though he still didn’t feel hungry.

“Ok,” said Baekhyun, adding the rest of the sticks in his hands to the fire.

“We’ll have to keep an eye on it and add more as it burns,” said Chanyeol.

Baekhyun pulled the bag of food towards Chanyeol and came over to sit on the fleecy picnic blanket beside him.

He took out the clear plastic packets of kimbap and lined them up on the blanket, with the huge salt shaker next to them. Opening the nearest packet, he peered inside at the kimbap inside.

“We didn’t get any chopsticks?” asked Chanyeol, searching the bag.

“It’s fine,” said Baekhyun, picking up a piece.

“I don’t usually use my hands,” said Chanyeol, frowning. His mother always insisted he use chopsticks or cutlery for even the most casual foods.

“Open up!” said Baekhyun.

Chanyeol opened his mouth just in time to avoid being hit in the lips with a piece of tuna kimbap.

His tongue recoiled from the taste and he spat it out into his hand horrified. “How much salt did you put on this?!” he exclaimed.

Baekhyun paused, salt shaker in hand, a small mountain of salt sitting on top of the slice of kimbap he was now holding. “Only a little,” he said defensively.

Chanyeol opened one of the bottles of water and rinsed out his salty mouth.

“Only do that to the pieces you’re eating, ok?” he said. He reached for one of the unopened packets of egg kimbap and took out a piece.

They ate their way through the kimbap and a large amount of the salt, Baekhyun drinking two whole bottles of water when they were done.

Chanyeol realised all of a sudden how small the beach seemed to have gotten, the darkness was pressing in around him now, huddled together on the blanket with Baekhyun. The fire seemed so much brighter now it was darker.

Chanyeol looked up and smiled. The navy-blue sky was pierced with a sprinkle of brilliant white pinpricks. They gathered in clusters, in intricate patterns like an enormous carefully designed artwork.

He nudged Baekhyun who was finishing off a bottle of water and pointed upwards. Baekhyun followed his raised hand and then gasped, dropping the empty bottle and gazing skyward with naked amazement.

“It’s beautiful,” he managed at last after a few long moments of staring.

“There’s pictures in the stars,” said Chanyeol, pointing to the different groupings. “They have names too.”

“What do you think that is?” asked Baekhyun, pointing at a large complex cluster of stars.

“An elephant,” said Chanyeol wildly. He didn’t know the names of any of the constellations.

Baekhyun laughed. “What’s an elephant?”

“It’s a big land animal.”

“I don’t see it,” said Baekhyun, frowning.

Chanyeol crawled forward so he was behind Baekhyun, then pulled him back against his chest. He took Baekhyun's right hand in his and lifted it, tracing the imaginary shape in the sky. “There’s its ears, and that’s its body.”

“What do elephants look like?” asked Baekhyun.

“They have really large ears and grey, dry sort of skin.”

“Then what’s that bit?” asked Baekhyun, pointing to a small clump of stars beside it.

“Elephant poop?” suggested Chanyeol, with a laugh.

“No, it’s not. It’s got a tail, see?”

Chanyeol didn’t see.

“There!” exclaimed Baekhyun, emphatically pointing and when Chanyeol tilted his head he could almost see what he was talking about.

“It’s you and me,” said Baekhyun confidently.

“Wait, where am I?”

Baekhyun pointed again at the complex group of stars.

“Are you saying I’m the elephant?!” exclaimed Chanyeol offended.

“Well, you said they have big ears and dry skin, that sounds more like you than me.”

“Hey, I'm a perfectly normal human level of dryness and my ears are normal human-sized too,” said Chanyeol, defensively clutching his hands over them.

“I’ve spent 2 days on land now…so we both know that’s not true," said Baekhyun, shaking his head sadly.

“I can’t hear you!” exclaimed Chanyeol, his hands still pressed over his ears.

“Did you fold your big ears in on themselves?”

“No!” denied Chanyeol, trying to unfold his ears unnoticed.

Baekhyun looked guilty. He rubbed Chanyeol’s arm apologetically. “There are worse things. You’re still the most handsome person I’ve ever met and I’m sure elephants are really nice,” he said encouragingly.

“You don’t even know what an elephant is!”

“Well, you said I look like elephant poop…with a tail!”

“I still can’t really see the tail,” admitted Chanyeol, peering up at the sky again. “Oh wait, look at that!” He pointed at a sudden blur of movement. A single star had seemingly detached itself from the picture and was streaking silently across the sky.

Baekhyun gasped. “My tail,” he muttered miserably.

“That wasn’t your tail, it came from over there,” said Chanyeol, pointing further left.

Baekhyun grabbed Chanyeol’s arm suddenly, directing it even further left. “Look!”

Another star shot across the sky, leaving momentarily a pale streak in its wake which quickly faded to nothing as if it had never been there at all.

Chanyeol put his arm down, wrapping it around Baekhyun, thinking about what Baekhyun had said earlier about life being short.

Baekhyun leant back heavily, resting the back of his head against Chanyeol’s shoulder, and tilting his head to look up at him.

“I'm so happy I got to see this with you,” he said.

“Me too,” said Chanyeol earnestly. “I lied yesterday,” he added, the words escaping his lips before he could stop them, even though he thought it was a bad idea. His whole life he’d listened to that stupid voice in his head telling him not to do this, not to do that, not anymore.

“About never seeing the stars?” asked Baekhyun, frowning.

“No, last night when I said you were only in my top 3 favourite merpeople.”

“What? I didn’t even make it into the top 3?” teased Baekhyun.

“No,” said Chanyeol, taking one of Baekhyun’s hands in his and playing with his long fingers. “You are my favourite merperson. You're my favourite any kind of person, actually.”

Baekhyun smiled gently, he tilted his head back further and gazed up at Chanyeol’s face.

“I have a confession too,” he whispered.

“Yeah?”

“This morning when you weren’t looking, I took all the underwear you packed out of your suitcase and hid them under your bed.”

“Baekhyun!”

Baekhyun laughed happily. The back of his head bumping into Chanyeol’s shoulder as he rested against him.

“Well, that’s one way to confuse my cleaner,” said Chanyeol, with a laugh.

Baekhyun gasped suddenly, sitting back up quickly.

“What’s wrong?” asked Chanyeol.

“The fire!” exclaimed Baekhyun, he crawled over to the dwindling woodpile and added more pieces to the low burning fire.

“Watch this,” said Chanyeol, grabbing a long stick and poking the depths of the fire.

It surged and sparked dramatically changing colour quickly and burning more brightly.

“You know this is pretty romantic,” said Baekhyun softly.

“You mean we should have the human part of our wedding here and not some dingy street food tent in Seoul?” teased Chanyeol.

“I wouldn’t say that,” replied Baekhyun.

Chanyeol laughed.

“But I can think of lots of other romantic things we could do here,” said Baekhyun, crawling back over to him and smiling flirtatiously.

“Like what?” asked Chanyeol, seriously. He realised after a second, he was holding his breath, his whole body tense. Time was ticking down, slipping away, he could feel it.

He leant in towards Baekhyun, tilting his face down to his. He watched Baekhyun’s expression change, the moment of surprise, the gentle parting of his lips, but then he pulled back ever so slightly.

“Sorry,” said Chanyeol, confused and terrified he’d read the mood wrong.

“I’ve only ever kissed underwater,” said Baekhyun, also looking confused. He glanced down, Chanyeol followed his gaze to the bottle of water beside him. Baekhyun picked it up.

“No, don’t!” started Chanyeol, holding his hands up to stop him but Baekhyun had already tipped most of the bottle over his head. Chanyeol spluttered, shuddering as the cool water ran down the back of his neck into his shirt collar.

“Baekhyun!” protested Chanyeol, pushing his wet hair out of his eyes miserably.

“That’s better!” exclaimed Baekhyun.

He threw his arms around Chanyeol’s neck and kissed him.

And Chanyeol stopped worrying entirely about his wet hair.

He wrapped his arms around Baekhyun, pulling him even closer, kissing him back, urgently, desperately, as warm emotion enveloped him like the sea.

Why hadn’t he done this sooner? He could have had 2 whole days of this utter perfection.

When they broke apart, each slightly breathless, Chanyeol gazed at him, enthralled.

“What’s that sound?”

“What sound?”

“The sea,” he breathed.

“Did you get water in your ears?” asked Baekhyun, dabbing Chanyeol’s ears with the ends of his shirt.

“No,” said Chanyeol, not bothering to stop him. “It’s you.”

Baekhyun looked confused. “Are you sure it’s not coming from that?” he asked, pointing at the actual sea only 10 metres away down the beach.

“No, it’s definitely you,” said Chanyeol, looking at Baekhyun in amazement. Baekhyun was everything the sea had ever meant to him. He was freedom and pleasure and perfection.

He pulled Baekhyun in close, kissing him again, letting the waves of tenderness wash over him once more.

He pressed his eyes closed, trying to memorise the feel of Baekhyun’s lips on his, the way his body felt pressed against him, and at the same time he wanted more.

Chanyeol deepened the kiss and leant in even further. Baekhyun seemed to understand his wordless urging, letting himself be pushed backwards.

Baekhyun gasped into his lips as he hit the blanket, Chanyeol’s full weight over him.

“You made my toes curl that time,” Baekhyun whispered, sounding impressed and keeping his lips close to Chanyeol’s so his words tickled like a warm caress.

“That doesn’t usually happen?” asked Chanyeol.

“I don’t know, I’ve never had toes to curl before!” said Baekhyun, with a laugh, pulling Chanyeol more firmly down on top of him and kissing him again fervently.

Chanyeol revelled in the feel of Baekhyun’s body against his, Baekhyun’s adventurous hands already up the back of his shirt spreading their warmth wherever his fingers touched.

He kissed his way down the smooth pale skin of Baekhyun’s neck to his collar bones, teasing any sensitive spots he found with his tongue and being rewarded with Baekhyun’s happy moans.

Chanyeol moved his knee between Baekhyun’s thighs, and Baekhyun responded immediately to his lightest pressure, parting his legs and wrapping them gleefully around Chanyeol’s hips.

“Look at what my legs can do!”

“You’re very talented,” murmured Chanyeol indulgently.

“Just you wait,” said Baekhyun, flashing a confident smile at Chanyeol, as he rubbed very deliberately against him.

“Oh,” gasped Chanyeol. Baekhyun was rubbing in all the right places.

“I’m going to make your toes curl,” said Baekhyun happily.

“You’re doing a good job,” admitted Chanyeol, returning to kissing his way down Baekhyun’s chest. He reached the open collar of his shirt and popped open another button, plying his lips to every inch of the newly exposed pearlescent skin.

He desperately wanted to feel Baekhyun’s skin against his, popping open another two buttons quickly.

“Oh, let me do it! I’m very good at this now,” Baekhyun exclaimed, managing to undo all his own buttons and Chanyeol’s alarmingly fast. He tugged their shirts off, Chanyeol’s with more difficulty as the sleeves were rather tight. He ran his hands happily down Chanyeol’s chest, biting his lip appreciatively.

Chanyeol knew how he felt, he pushed Baekhyun back down eager to get back to his explorations. He licked a wet line with his tongue down Baekhyun’s chest to his abdomen, his skin tasted slightly salty and utterly perfect.

His hands under Baekhyun’s body, he lifted him against him to increase their contact, squeezing Baekhyun’s butt through his jeans.

Baekhyun gasped and looked at Chanyeol fondly. “You finally touched my butt!”

“Well, I mean, I did promise I would,” said Chanyeol.

“I should have made you make some other promises,” said Baekhyun coyly.

“I’ll make any promises you like, right now,” said Chanyeol, between kisses.

Baekhyun looked down at him eagerly. “Can we have a bath together?”

“Yes, anything you like,” murmured Chanyeol, into his skin.

“I thought bathing together was illegal,” asked Baekhyun, sitting up slightly and resting on the palms of his hands.

“Only in Seoul,” lied Chanyeol. “We’re in Jeju now.”

He pulled him back down onto the blanket.

🐚🐚🐚

They never made it to the bath or even off the beach.

Chanyeol slept badly, he was aware of a confusing tangle of images and the sound of the ocean then Baekhyun’s voice, sounding breathless and raspy, “It’s time, Chanyeol. It’s happening.”

He opened his eyes. The fire had burned low and was casting only the dimmest of light now. He was wrapped up in the picnic blanket, the ocean breeze chilly now on his bare shoulders. The only sound was the constant ebb and flow of the ocean behind him. He sat up. “Baekhyun?” he said, looking around, patting the blanket beside him but Baekhyun was gone.

He rummaged around in the dark for his jeans and managed to pull his phone out of the back pocket. The screen lit up, it was 9:30 P.M. He felt a stab at his heart not just because he knew Baekhyun’s 48 hours were up but also because of the lock screen photo, their smiling faces with that dreaded time overlayed on top.

He turned on the torchlight, panicking as he cast the beam around the fireside area looking for Baekhyun, but he was nowhere in sight.

His fingers fumbled on something small which had been stuck to his phone case and had just fallen off, he looked down at it in the light of the torch. It was the tiny starfish.

He turned, looking out at the dark moving sea, scanning the water, his breathing fast and shallow. He saw him, the moonlight catching on the red glints of his dark hair and pooling on his pale shoulders.

Chanyeol stood up immediately.

“Baekhyun!” he called, but he didn’t appear to hear him. He was thigh-deep in water facing out to the open sea. He dove forward suddenly, disappearing beneath the waves with a barely audible splash.

It was over. He was gone.

“No,” Chanyeol heard a voice say and was momentarily surprised to realise it had come from his own mouth. “No.”

Frantically, he pulled on his pants, stuffed the starfish back into his pocket and ran down to the water’s edge with his phone held out, torch still lit.

He had no plan. He had no idea at all what he would do if he found Baekhyun, but he didn’t care. For once in his life, he was doing what he wanted, he was going after something important to him.

When he reached the water’s edge, he stomped out into the waves. He gasped at the coldness of the water on his bare feet but stayed focused. He kept his eyes fixed on the point where Baekhyun went into the water, but the torchlight only made the shadows deeper and cast dizzying reflections on the dark rippling water which played tricks with his eyes.

He turned off the torch, just as a call came in.

He answered it automatically in a daze, his mother’s voice reached his ears.

“Chanyeol, how are you feeling?”

“Much better, in fact, better than I’ve ever felt.”

His mother seemed confused by his tone but continued, “Well, then we’ll see you at work tomorrow.”

“No, actually you won’t. I’m not coming in tomorrow, or ever again. I’ve moved to Jeju,” he said matter-of-factly, the boldest statement he had ever made to his mother.

There was a weighty pause. “Have you lost your mind?!”

“Quite possibly, but it feels amazing. I’ve realised that life is too short to do something which makes me miserable. You can sell the apartment and everything in it, none of it was really mine anyway.”

He knew now what he wanted, even though he was sure it was too late, he owed it to himself to try.

He held his hands out, in front of him, wary of slipping on the slimy seabed as he splashed out further into the ocean, scanning the dark water ahead for any sign of Baekhyun. His mother’s shrill shouting from the phone in his right hand was drowned out by the crash of the waves.

He wouldn’t have heard it anyway; all his attention was focused on reaching the place where Baekhyun had disappeared under the waves.

“Baekhyun!” he yelled, desperately looking around, trying to spot a flash of Baekhyun’s tail scales under the surface. “Baekhyun! Wait!”

He waded further in till the water was up to his knees and he was struggling to walk with his drenched pant legs.

“Baekhyun!” he called over and over. Every movement from the swelling waves made his heart leap with desperate hope that it might be him, but nothing broke the surface.

He was gone.

Chanyeol searched around becoming more and more frantic, his breathing so fast he didn’t seem to be getting any air at all. “Baekhyun,” he gasped out one last time, tears coursing down his cheeks and dripping unnoticed into the sea.

He was really gone.

Chanyeol let go of his phone, it sank with a plop and one last gurgle of his mother’s voice.

“Why are you crying?!” said a voice beside him.

He was so shocked he spun around losing his footing on the slippery seabed and falling heavily into the water on his back.

He splashed frantically for a second before realising his chest and head were still out of the water.

“Baekhyun!” he gasped, rubbing his eyes where the saltwater had stung them and looking around for him.

“What’s wrong?” asked Baekhyun, swimming right up to him, holding out the dropped phone, still lit up with Chanyeol’s mother’s call. Baekhyun’s long glistening tail made no sound at all as he cut sleekly through the water.

“You left without saying anything!” exclaimed Chanyeol. “I didn’t get to tell you--”

“Tell me what?”

“That I don’t want you to go. I know it’s crazy, I know it can’t work, but I don’t want you to go.”

“But I’m coming back,” said Baekhyun, still looking very concerned.

Chanyeol blinked, he couldn’t even feel the coldness of the water now he felt suddenly, strangely numb all over. “What do you mean? You’re coming back? Baekhyun, you’ll die!”

“Oh, no I will die if I stay out forever, but as long as I go back in the ocean every couple of days I can come back out and get my legs back with fresh water again,” explained Baekhyun.

A small wave splashed Chanyeol in the face, but he barely noticed. His mind had emptied of all thought.

“What? What?” he repeated absolutely astounded. “You definitely said you were going to die if you stayed on land!”

“Well, we’d just met. I was trying to impress you,” said Baekhyun. He wiped Chanyeol’s face with his wet hands which didn’t help at all.

“With lies about your imminent death?!”

“I thought it would make me seem more mysterious and interesting.”

“You’re a merman! How much more interesting could you be?!”

“You really thought I was serious!?”

“Yes! Why wouldn’t I? You’re really not going to die if you stay out of the ocean?!” Chanyeol repeated, wanting to make 100% sure he was understanding.

“Yes, I mean, like I said, I have to go back in every couple of days, but I can come out again,” explained Baekhyun, he looked at Chanyeol’s dazed expression concernedly. “You really thought I wasn’t coming back?! Is that why you’ve been so sad tonight?”

“Yes!”

“But I had to come back, I mean we still have to get married, right?” said Baekhyun, giving him a hopeful smile and swimming forward so he was even closer to Chanyeol.

“Right,” agreed Chanyeol, the numbness was ebbing away, he felt warm, warm enough to heat the whole ocean. “I confess, I asked by accident the first time, so I want to do it right,” he said, sitting up and cupping Baekhyun’s face in his hands. “How do you say, “marry me” in Mermish?”

“Vil du gifte dig med mig?” said Baekhyun.

“Vil du gifte dig med mig?” repeated Chanyeol carefully.

Baekhyun’s lips parted and curved immediately into an elated smile, the moonlight glinting in his bright, dark eyes.

“You’re smiling a lot. Did you just make me say something dirty again?” teased Chanyeol.

“No, I’m smiling because I’m happy,” said Baekhyun, laughing. “Of course, I’ll marry you!”

He threw his arms around Chanyeol’s neck with such force that Chanyeol fell back, his head barely above water. Baekhyun kissed him deeply.

Chanyeol clung to him, revelling in the slightly briny ocean taste of his wet lips.

Baekhyun broke the kiss looking around perplexedly as the small squeaky sounds of Chanyeol’s mother yelling down the phone in his hand were briefly audible as the tide went out.

“What is that?” he asked.

“My mum,” said Chanyeol, surprised to see the call was still going.

Baekhyun gasped. “You said it wasn’t your mum!”

“No, it’s my mum calling on the phone.”

Chanyeol bent his mouth to the phone in Baekhyun’s hand and exclaimed, “Oh, and I forgot to say I’m also getting married!” Then he quickly moved his head away wincing at the renewed shouts.

Baekhyun held up the phone, glanced at it for a second then flung it in the direction of the beach.

“Goodbye, Chanyeol’s mum,” called Baekhyun as the phone flew through the air landing with a small thud on the sand.

“Well, that’s one less person to drown at our wedding,” laughed Chanyeol.

Baekhyun perked up excitedly. “While you’re here in the ocean, you should meet my family!” He tugged Chanyeol’s arm hard, dragging him further out to sea and downwards, attempting to pull him below the water's surface.

"Baekhyun!" spluttered Chanyeol, so surprised that he swallowed a considerable amount of cold seawater, as he tried to break free.

Baekhyun stopped pulling him and slipped an arm around his waist instead, helping to keep him afloat. "I'm joking!" he exclaimed, then he burst out with a ripple of his tinkling, tumbling, delightful laugh, the gleeful sound touching the very depths of Chanyeol’s heart.

Chanyeol joined in, swept up along the current of his infectious laughter. He felt that curious, reckless, achingly warm feeling wash over him once more and with a start he realised what it was.

He was happy.

The end.