Jongdae rolls his eyes as Baekhyun giggles to himself, face hidden behind a ridiculously pink book cover. He should’ve known it was a bad idea to go with Baekhyun to the bookstore – should’ve known he would be ignored for three straight hours while his friend devours the latest Nora Roberts’ novel.
“I can’t believe you,” Jongdae says, all attempts at kicking Baekhyun under the table failing and it makes him cranky.
“Shhhhh, I’m reading,” Baekhyun glances up long enough to give Jongdae a scowl. “The Goddess’ new book requires my attention.”
“If you love her so much, you should actually buy something. She’d be ashamed to know she has such a cheap fan.”
“I can’t afford this month’s rent, there is no way I can justify buying this,” Baekhyun says, “Besides, authors only get one percent of their book sales anyways. I’d only be feeding the greedy publishing houses.”
“I’m sure that’s false on all kinds of logic levels.”
“Shhhhhh, Katherine is about to confess.”
It’s not just Nora Roberts; it’s really all romance novels. Baekhyun’s passion for romance novels rivals any teenage girls or lonely housewives. He gets so absorbed sometimes he doesn’t know what day or time it is. It results in a lot of almost-missed deadlines and last-minute exam preparations.
“You’re lucky you’re smart,” Jongdae comments, both envious and in awe of his friend’s brain capacity.
“Oh my gosh - a single red rose and a letter goodbye,” Baekhyun mumbles, “Hold me, Jongdae, I can’t go on.”
Jongdae kicks his friend off the chair and promptly walks away, ignoring Baekhyun’s cursing behind him.
“We have to do something,” Jongdae says as soon as he enters the tea shop, quickly putting his stuff down with a small huff.
Luhan looks up from his bubble tea and gives Jongdae a quizzical look as the younger boy plops down on the empty chair next to him. His dongsaeng has that wary look that he only gets when he has been in Baekhyun’s company for too long.
“What’s it now?” Luhan asks, even though he doesn’t really want to know.
“He is getting worse and worse. We need to do something before we lose him.” Jongdae says dramatically, heaving a heavy breath as his brows scrunch up in a frown. “I’m afraid to leave him alone with those books.”
“Maybe he just needs a distraction,” Luhan says slowly, “something to redirect his energy.”
“Like a dog?”
“I guess that wouldn’t hurt.”
Baekhyun’s face lights up when he opens the door to see Jongdae standing there with a small, fluffy brown puppy, “Oh, oh! Who is this?”
“Jongin’s dog has puppies. It’s a toy poodle and he’s giving it to you, if you want it,” Jongdae says quickly as he hands over the small puppy to Baekhyun, hoping his friend would say yes.
“Oh, I don’t know if my apartment complex allows pets?”
“They do! I checked.”
Baekhyun isn’t convinced but the puppy is just so cute. “Okay. Well, I guess I can keep him. It’s a he, right?”
“I think it’s a she?”
The squeal is loud and sharp and Jongdae prays for his eardrums.
Truth is, Baekhyun isn’t lonely. He doesn’t escape to a world of romantic heroism because he feels like his life is missing; in fact, he is a happy kid. He has great friends (more or less) and he gets along with people well. He is funny and clever, he makes friends easily and he likes going to parties. It’s just when the flirting and the night fades away into just another memory, Baekhyun likes retreating back to his books. He doesn’t like scary novels that keep him up at night and he doesn’t like humorous stories that make his laughter echo too loudly in the empty apartment. He just likes romantic stories about people finding each other, hanging onto love at all odds.
Baekhyun parents’ own love story had been a fairytale – love at first sight and falling head over heels. They are still deeply in love as far as he knows, but he doesn’t really want to spend that much time thinking about their mushiness.
Tonight is just another one of those nights. Baekhyun removes his makeup in the comfort of his own bathroom. He wipes away the confidence, the playful smirk, the quick remarks and strips down to just Byun Baekhyun. But tonight he isn’t alone.
“Right, Sarang-ah?” Baekhyun coos to his little toy poodle. “I have you.”
Baekhyun has a neighbor whom he occasionally sees. Chanyeol claims to be a recluse, locking himself in his apartment for hours whilst he strums his guitar and sings songs about broken hearts and something about aching or longing. Sometimes Chanyeol leaves his apartment in search of food and inspiration. On those days, he’d knock on Baekhyun’s door with take-out in hands and a wide grin plastered on his face.
“We have to order from here again,” Baekhyun says, slurping up a noodle.
Chanyeol hums his agreement, his attention on the small brown poodle sitting at Baekhyun’s feet. “A puppy raising a puppy, who’ve thought?”
“I’m not a puppy.”
“You forget, I hear you yelp in your sleep,” Chanyeol chuckles, reaching over to mess with Baekhyun’s hair.
And time passes by just like that, quiet and easy. Sometimes they watch a movie and sometimes they make bets playing video games. On these days, Baekhyun can sleep a little easier. He doesn’t have to spend so much time getting ready for bed. On these days, he never wears make-up since he and Chanyeol never go out anywhere.
“I don’t like the crowds,” Chanyeol says. “They mess with my musical vibe.”
“Well, how’re you gonna find inspiration just sitting around my apartment?”
Chanyeol smiles like he has a secret, but he doesn’t answer.
Baekhyun frowns, but decides it’s not his place to ask. Plus, he has to feed Sarang anyway.
“You seem so much happier,” Jongdae comments on a Monday, when they meet at the school’s library. While Jongdae is doing homework, Baekhyun is devouring another novel. “Admit it - that dog was a great idea.”
“Excuse you, ‘that dog’ has a name. Her name is Sarang.”
Jongdae successfully kicks Baekhyun’s shin this time and he grins, feeling victorious.
On Saturday nights, Baekhyun’s friends meet at his place to get ready for another night out. It’s something of a ritual by now and he can’t remember when it started. Jongdae is wearing his simple dark-washed jeans and a crisp powder blue button-down. Luhan takes a bit longer to get ready; ultimately he decides on skinny jeans, a leather jacket and an expensive graphic tee. To be honest, Luhan would look good in rags.
Baekhyun goes through his routine as per usual: BB cream, kohl liner and tousled dirty blonde hair styled perfectly to his liking. He is contemplating his outfit for the night when Jongdae comes into the room with a confused look.
“You have a naked guy at your door.”
It turns out to not be a joke. He really does have a naked guy at his door. Park Chanyeol, towel wrapped around his waist and his hair slightly damp, bangs falling into his eyes, looking ridiculous. But Baekhyun smiles anyway.
“You forgot to buy shampoo,” he says, rolling his eyes.
Chanyeol gives him a sheepish grin. “It’s on my list for tomorrow, I swear.”
Baekhyun lets him in and goes back to getting ready. Chanyeol knows where things are in his house. A few minutes later Chanyeol pops out from the bathroom with shampoo bottle in hand and a slight twitch in his left eye from how hard he is smiling.
“I’m sorry, Baek. You look nice, by the way.”
“Thanks, I’m just about to head out,” Baekhyun jumps. “Oh! Right! I’m sorry. This is Jongdae and Luhan. Chanyeol is my next door neighbor.”
“Hi, this is awkward since it’s our first meeting,” Chanyeol points to his towel. “But nice to meet you.”
“You too,” and there is a gleam to Luhan’s eyes that makes Baekhyun’s insides recoil. “Hey, why don’t you come with us?”
“Chanyeol doesn’t go out,” Baekhyun says before the other boy can answer. “He’s a recluse.”
“Come on, don’t make up excuses just to keep him to yourself,” Luhan rolls his eyes. “How about it, Chanyeol?”
“Uh. I can get ready in thirty?” Chanyeol says, deep voice resonating something in Baekhyun’s gut. “If you guys don’t mind waiting.”
“We don’t,” Jongdae and Luhan chorusing.
Baekhyun gives a tiny wave as Chanyeol walks back to his apartment to get ready. He feels bad because he has never seen Chanyeol outside of his comfort zone.
And the boy’s comfort zone doesn’t extend beyond the grocery store down the street.
It turns out he has nothing to worry about because Chanyeol fits in fine. His sunny disposition fits in nicely with Luhan’s cheery personality. Chanyeol likes to joke around and Luhan pretty much laughs at everything, so it’s not a surprise that they’d get along so great.
Baekhyun feels slightly disappointed that Chanyeol doesn’t need him, but he quickly suppresses the thought because that’s selfish of him. Chanyeol is finally having fun.
“Come dance with me,” Jongdae says, pulling on his arm. “It’s better having you there.”
Baekhyun complies because Jongdae has all of the passion for dance but none of the skill. It gives his friend a bit of courage when he is there because Baekhyun doesn’t care about looking foolish and Jongdae can just follow suit.
The music is loud, bass pumping through his blood. Baekhyun let go and just gives himself into the beat, body waving of its own accord. In the corner of his eye he sees Chanyeol watching him. The room is too hot, too many bodies gyrating against him. There is only a sea of faces around him, glimpses of red and blue when the light hits random surfaces. But always – he knows – Chanyeol is looking at him.
An arm wraps itself around Baekhyun’s waist. He recognizes the rough and callused fingers that taps along to the beat on his abdomen, the same wide palm that always splays across the guitar as Chanyeol sits on Baekhyun’s floor, bobbing his head to a tune Baekhyun can’t hear. That Chanyeol seems so different from the one who’s currently pressed against his smaller frame.
“I’m glad I came out,” Chanyeol is saying, voice low-pitched and right next to Baekhyun’s ear. “You look amazing. I don’t think I’ve ever seen you like this.”
“Thanks,” but Baekhyun’s voice is swallowed by the crowd.
Chanyeol is so warm. Baekhyun leans back against his chest and realizes his head is perfectly tucked under the taller boy’s chin. They fit so perfectly together, like two pieces of a puzzle.
Baekhyun finds himself in his bathroom again after a long night, washing away the sweat from his face, painstakingly removing all traces of make-up. This time he isn’t alone. Chanyeol is sitting by the sink, just watching Baekhyun silently.
When the last of the night is washed down the drain, Baekhyun turns to Chanyeol with a small smile.
“There he is,” Chanyeol says, ruffling Baekhyun’s hair.
“Who?” Baekhyun blinks, then he looks down at Sarang by his feet. “That’s a girl.”
Chanyeol only rolls his eyes but doesn’t comment.
When Baekhyun and his friends meet for lunch that Tuesday, Baekhyun doesn’t miss the weird twinkle to Luhan’s eyes. He doesn’t want to ask because Luhan is always up to no good. Jongdae offers him some of his food but Baekhyun declines because Jongdae is snickering like an idiot and he doesn’t want to catch his friend’s germs.
“Care to explain why the both of you are at Joonmyun-level of happiness?” He finally gives in when he can’t stand the school girl giggles and the sideway glances anymore.
“I’m so proud of you, Baekhyun,” Luhan replies unhelpfully. “Good job.”
“I don’t think he knows,” Jongdae says cryptically.
“Know what? What did I do?”
Luhan releases a long suffering sigh, “I just hope he doesn’t do something stupid.”
Jongdae nods his agreement.
Baekhyun wants to be offended but he doesn’t even know what is going on. He shrugs when his phone rings, “Hello?”
“Baek? Baek, I have a favor.”
“Who is this?”
“It’s Chanyeol,” the line is buzzing with static, like Chanyeol is going through a tunnel. “Baek, can you hear me?”
Baekhyun mouths, “It’s Chanyeol” to his friends’ quizzical gazes and cue another bout of schoolgirl giggles. “Chanyeol, I can barely hear you. Can you text me?”
“Damn. I’ll make it quick, my sister is visiting to check up on me. Can you have dinner with us so she at least knows I have some friends?”
“I’ll swing by 8 tomorrow night?”
“Tomorrow night?” Baekhyun pauses. “Uh, sure.” When he hangs up, his friends are suddenly too close for comfort. Baekhyun leans back, “Yes?”
“He asked you out for tomorrow night?” Luhan wants to know.
“And you said yes?” Jongdae’s eyes are sparkling. Or maybe it’s just the lighting.
“Yeah?” Baekhyun doesn’t know why dinner with a friend warrants this level of interest.
His friends high five without further explanations, and lunch resumes as normal – well, relatively normal.
Chanyeol walks the two feet from his apartment to pick Baekhyun up and lets himself in because he has memorized the pin code by now and he’s already texted the other boy that he was going over. He finds Baekhyun in the kitchen when he walks in, scrubbing away at baking dish with a grumpy expression on his face.
“What is that?” Chanyeol asks, squinting at the stuck on food.
“Stupid Luhan,” Baekhyun mumbles, “I told him not to make stupid Kyungsoo’s stupid kimchi spaghetti. The cheese is stuck to the stupid dish.”
A grumpy Baekhyun is a cute Baekhyun, Chanyeol decides. “Why don’t you just let it soak?”
“Kyungsoo is on his way to pick this up.” Baekhyun throws his arms up, “Well, I don’t care.” He turns around to look at Chanyeol for the first him and his face instantly lights up. “You look nice.”
“Thanks,” Chanyeol glances down at his dark washed jeans and grey graphic tee, weird abstract patterns in white decorated his shirt. He picks his clothes more out of comfort than style, but it still feels nice to be complimented all the same. Baekhyun resembles a bumble bee in his yellow and black striped sweater but still, it’s not a bad look.
“Kyungsoo’s on his way,” Baekhyun says. “Are we going to be late if we wait? Should I just leave this baking dish outside the door?”
Before Chanyeol can answer him, Baekhyun speaks up again. “We can just leave this. Let me grab a plastic bag.”
They stick the still dirty ceramic dish in one of the groceries bag and leave it near the door. Baekhyun calls Kyungsoo to let him know and to complain about Luhan’s foolish decision not to grease up the pan. The conversation takes up most of the walk to the bus stop, and Chanyeol chuckles at the slightly whiny tone Baekhyun takes when his friend, Kyungsoo, doesn’t seem to sympathize.
Baekhyun hangs up as they board the bus.
“Kyungsoo says I shouldn’t have let Luhan into the kitchen,” Baekhyun fills Chanyeol in when they take their seat towards the back of the bus.
Chanyeol chuckles, “Your friends are funny.”
“They like you,” Baekhyun says, “Luhan can be pretty shy but he really opened up to you.”
“Yeah, he’s nice.”
Baekhyun doesn’t know why but he feels slightly relieved at the taller boy’s casual tone. Yes, Luhan is nice, but he is only a fleeting thought in Chanyeol’s mind. Baekhyun wonders what Chanyeol would say about him; but he can’t bring himself to ask.
Yura, Chanyeol’s sister, turns out to be really nice – and basically a female version of Chanyeol. Baekhyun doesn’t know much about genetics but wow, those are some dominant genes. They are pretty much carbon copy of each other.
“Chanyeol would look pretty as a girl,” Baekhyun says because his brain has given up on him long ago.
Instead of laughing at him, they both just grin.
“Actually, when Chanyeol was in high school, he dressed up as a girl,” Yura murmurs, leaning in like she is whispering a secret. Chanyeol rolls his eyes.
Baekhyun gapes, “Really?”
“Yeah, for some contest.”
“I looked good,” Chanyeol isn’t even embarrassed.
“And he was a ferret freak,” Yura continues.
This time Chanyeol blushes, “Noona!”
“What?” Baekhyun asks, eyes widening.
“He was part of a club, they met every Tuesday’s,” Yura laughs. “And he had a name tag with the ferret’s name on it.”
Baekhyun chuckles because he can just imagine it now, and the image is adorable. He doesn’t know how someone can be 184cm and still be so cute. He is not a quiet person normally, but Baekhyun is content to just listen to Yura and Chanyeol’s bickering today. Baekhyun grew up in a loving home but he doesn’t have any siblings. His parents and grandparents treated him like a prince but there was no one to fight with like this growing up.
“Well, I have to go,” Yura says at last. “I’ll tell Mom you’re doing well. I’m happy you have such a nice neighbor.” She is smiling at Baekhyun now, “It was nice to meet you.”
“You too,” Baekhyun replies quickly, standing up so he can bow to her.
She chuckles, “You don’t have to be so formal. I hope I’ll see you again.”
Chanyeol laughs as he wraps an arm casually around Baekhyun’s shoulder, “See. I told you I have friends.”
Technically Baekhyun is only a “friend” – as in singular, but he doesn’t think now is a good time to point it out.
After everyone’s said their goodbyes (again), Chanyeol and Baekhyun walk back to the bus stop. Chanyeol’s arm is still on Baekhyun’s shoulders but he likes the weight of them there. It’s also getting a little chilly and he likes the warmth.
“Have you ever been in love?” Chanyeol asks.
Baekhyun almost swallows his tongue, “Uh. What?”
“I can’t seem to get my song right. I think it’s because I don’t have any experience.”
Chanyeol turns to look at Baekhyun, “Yeah, so have you?”
Almost too often, Baekhyun thinks. But now isn’t the time to dwell on that. “Love is…” He pauses. “Love is sticking by for the good and the bad. It’s giving up yourself. And loving the other person’s flaws.”
“Why do I have to give up myself?” Chanyeol asks. “If the other person loves me for my flaws, that is.”
Baekhyun thinks, “Hm. Well. Accepting and liking aren’t the same. And you should compromise. So, in the end, you have to give up a little bit of yourself.”
“I think I’m too selfish for love. I wouldn’t want to give up any part of me.”
Baekhyun hums and tries not to feel too disappointed.
“Teach me.” Chanyeol says after a pause, “Teach me about love.”
“Teaching” Chanyeol just ends up feeling a lot like their usual hang out sessions, except for Chanyeol’s occasional invading questions about Baekhyun’s love life. They don’t really do anything different; Chanyeol still prefers to stay in on most nights.
Sometimes, though, they hang out with Baekhyun’s friends, all of whom take to Chanyeol like months to a flame. They’vet met up with a few of Chanyeol’s friends as well – there’s the shy Minseok (who is so endearing even Kyungsoo finds it hard to be mean to him) and the ever sassy Sehun; there is also Kris who gives Baekhyun awkward head pats and gummy smiles. Luhan was particularly excited when they merged their friends group together one night.
“Kris is…so hot,” Luhan breathed out. “Thank you, Baekhyun, I love you.”
But still, most nights, it’s just the two of them.
Chanyeol makes it a habit to stop by Baekhyun’s place more often and Baekhyun realizes he doesn’t quite mind. “It’s research, you know more about this romance stuff than I do,” Chanyeol tells him. Baekhyun sometimes skips out on weekend night-outs with his friends to stay in with Chanyeol. It’s more fun to stay in, he thinks. He has never been the type to order take-out and has lazy days on the couch, but it’s not that bad. It’s a nice change from the hectic night out and bumping up against too many strangers.
Chanyeol is strumming his guitar, random chords fill the air when they’ve exhausted all conversational topics at hand. Baekhyun tries to pay attention to the movie playing on the screen but he finds himself glancing in Chanyeol’s direction most of the night.
“Why are you still single?” Chanyeol asks quietly. “Is that by choice?”
Baekhyun chews on his bottom lip, “No.” But he doesn’t elaborate. He doesn’t know where to start and it’s a long story, too heavy for a night of Disney movies and a tummy full of Chow Mein. He tries to leave for the kitchen but Chanyeol grabs his arm, forces him to sit back down.
“You promised,” Chanyeol pouts. “Teach me about love.”
Baekhyun sucks in a breath, “I…”
Truthfully, his experience has always been limited. He has met people easily, and he is sufficiently self-aware enough to know when a lingering touch and a slow smile means just a little something more. No, meeting people has never been an issue – it’s the staying that Baekhyun has always had problems with.
His past “non-relationships” never works out. (“It doesn’t count if you can’t make it work past week one,” Luhan had said when his friend and taken it upon himself to deem Baekhyun “Relationships Disabled.”) So he doesn’t know what he can really offer Chanyeol.
“It’s…I mean I don’t have much firsthand experiences,” Baekhyun sighs, “But I think it’s just when two people fit so right. And they’re so happy. That love works out well, you know? I mean of course it’s not without its’ compromises but,” He pauses, wrings his fingers together, “But it all works out in the end.”
Chanyeol doesn’t say anything for a long time, bottom lip pokes out and brows drawing together in concentration.
“My parents don’t get along,” Chanyeol finally says. “They just sort of yell over each other and fight over the dishes.” Chanyeol grins. “But they’re there when it matters. For me, love is ordinary…day to day. I think that’s why I’m having a hard time, no one wants to hear a song about dishes and spring cleaning.”
Baekhyun chuckles, “No, probably not. There has got to be something more there, something you’re overlooking.”
“Not really. But I think that’s just fine. I think the world’s notion of romance is overrated. I’d rather have day to day.”
Baekhyun clears his throat as his heart falls. “Well.”
It happens often enough that Baekhyun recognizes the beginnings of the stirrings once they’re there. And oh boy, are they ever there – full force like a runaway freight train. One moment Chanyeol is just his next door neighbor, lounging on his couch and petting away at his puppy. The next moment Baekhyun is calling out to him and Chanyeol looks up, eyes impossibly wide and clear. The sun is hitting the taller male at an odd angle, casting sharp shadows across his face. He looks at all once dangerous and ethereal, and Baekhyun feels his stomach coils at the sight.
“Crap. Crap, crap, crap.” Baekhyun doesn’t even realize he’s speaking aloud, “Not again.”
“What?” Chanyeol immediately jumps to his feet. “What’s wrong?”
“Are you okay?”
“I just need a minute,” Baekhyun manages. “I just had an epiphany. Anxiety attack, you know how those goes.”
“Aren’t epiphanies good things?”
“Really, Chanyeol,” somehow Baekhyun still retains his sass in moments like these, “Is now really a good time to question my vocabulary?”
Chanyeol chuckles. “Sorry, just breathe, Baek. It’ll pass.”
Except it doesn’t pass. It somehow snowballs into something so much bigger, until it is all he can think about whenever he happens to be in Chanyeol’s vicinity. But Baekhyun can’t say no whenever Chanyeol texts him a quick: on my way over.
He still greets Chanyeol the same way and he doesn’t think there are any obvious changes. And if he is a little more perceptive to Chanyeol’s quirks, smiles a little wider at the other boy’s jokes or if his touches on Chanyeol’s arm lingers a little longer – well. Well, it’s not like Chanyeol knows anything about romance or feelings of infatuation anyways.
It’s Luhan who speaks up first. “Baekhyun.”
“I know. I know.” Baekhyun cradles his head in the palms of his hands, “I wasn’t supposed to!”
“For what it’s worth, I like Chanyeol,” Luhan says. “I think he will be good for you.”
“Well, with my record, it wouldn’t work out anyways,” Baekhyun says slowly. “I really don’t wanna lose him.”
“You always move too fast,” Luhan states, looking so very serious. “I know you want what your parents have, but most things don’t just happen overnight. You need to take it slow and give people their space. Give them a chance to get to know you, to miss you.”
“Should it be so much work with the right person?”
Luhan smiles wryly, “There is always a lot of work – you just have to decide if the person is worth it.”
Baekhyun doesn’t exactly go for it. Chanyeol isn’t even his type. He doesn’t understand ordinary, doesn’t understand the simple acts of arguing over dishes and nagging each other about cleaning – all of the things Chanyeol grew up on and is so convinced that it’s love. Baekhyun is all about flashes of emotions, so bright it burns the back of his eyelids. With him, it’s about hushed promises and grand gestures, about quick movements and that hurried, desperate love – about quick hand movements under the sheet, bringing each other into completion, chasing and chasing that incredible bliss of being together.
He thinks there is no better way to explain it than to show Chanyeol. So on a bright, sunny day, they take a bus to his childhood home. The house is dark when they arrive and Baekhyun shrugs, taking out his keys, “Figures. I told them I’d be arriving at this time.”
Baekhyun pulls out his phone, “Mom, where are you? Where? With Dad? You’re both hopeless.” He hangs up, rolling his eyes, “They’re on a night trip. They’ll be back in the morning.”
Chanyeol nods, “Do they do this…a lot?”
“Yeah. They’re always taking lovey-dovey trips somewhere together.”
“What about you?”
“Huh? I stay back, I wouldn’t want to go on those mushy trips,” He cringes.
“So, you were alone a lot?”
Baekhyun shrugs, “I had friends, my grandma. Why do you look like that?”
And he can’t quite figure out what Chanyeol’s expression had been, but he thinks it’s something akin to pity.
“My parents love me,” Baekyun says as he follows Chanyeol into the house. The taller turns back and looks at him, stunned by the outburst – or maybe by the resentment in Baekhyun’s voice. “They love me. I don’t need your pity.”
And it’s true. Baekhyun knows it. Knows that deep down he is loved, he is cared for…but with a whirlwind love like his parents’, sometimes he does wonder if there is room for him. They are like a storm sweeping through, so powerful and so sure, so entangled around each other. They spin and spin and spin – sometimes he does feel like he can’t run fast enough to catch the storm.
“I know, Baek,” Chanyeol replies gently. “I know. But - ”
But the house is empty. But no one is here to greet him.
This would never happen at Chanyeol’s house, Baekhyun is sure. The ordinary parents who fight over leftovers in the fridge, they would be home for their son.
True to their words, his parents hurry home the next morning. They greet Baekhyun with all of the hugs and embraces for as long as he’d endure them.
“Ah! Who is your friend?” His mom asks when she finally pulled away.
“This is Chanyeol,” Baekhyun says.
“Nice to meet you,” Mrs. Byun beams at him. “Are you boys hungry? Let’s go out to breakfast.”
Breakfast is at a small bistro near home. His parents ask all of the usual questions and it’s just like any other time. Except Baekhyun can’t shake the weight of Chanyeol’s look of pity when they had walked through the door the night before. He pretends to not notice how long it takes his parents to reply back to him, because they would get side-tracked by each other.
Chanyeol fills in the gaps between Baekhyun’s quiet murmurs and his parents’ moments. He talks about his music, about Baekhyun’s friends. He makes Baekhyun’s mom laughs. Baekhyun is left to marvel, again, at Chanyeol’s ease around people.
He wonders why Chanyeol chooses to be by himself when he so clearly gets along with everyone. He wonders who else Chanyeol has charmed with his deep voice and boyish smile. Mostly, Baekhyun wonders what it would be like – to sit and get lost in Chanyeol’s eyes while someone else watches on with envy.
Baekhyun stops. No. This is…this is not at all what he had intended. He wanted to show Chanyeol what it was like – to love so completely, so deeply…it wasn’t in the plan to fall for Chanyeol, too.
Truthfully Baekhyun has fallen so many times. Sometimes in a flash – bright and beautiful; sometimes in the lull of the night, with slow smiles and soft brushes of the lips. But this time it’s different. Something is different. Chanyeol is different.
Chanyeol didn’t give him that instant flash of heat, warmth that coiled deep in his gut. With Chanyeol, it is so different – the warmth is everywhere; it spreads and spreads and cocoons Baekhyun until he can’t breathe.
Even now, as they sit side by side on the bus to go back to Seoul, Baekhyun can’t shake the weirdness off.
“I’m sorry,” Chanyeol speaks up as they pass by the sign welcoming them back to the city. “Your parents clearly love you. And I understand a bit better now – it’s the way they look at each other, like they are caught in the moment and everything fades.”
“No,” Baekhyun sighs, “I am sorry. Everything does fade, sometimes even me.” He shakes his head when Chanyeol opens his mouth to protest. “Stop. I am okay, it’s not something I resent them for. I think it’s beautiful. And I know they love me.”
“But it gets lonely,” it’s not a question, “I mean, you are an only child.”
“It does,” Baekhyun admits. “Yeah.”
“So then your books…”
Baekhyun chuckles, “I always tell myself it’s not because I am lonely. I just enjoy the stories. But…I think, I was wrong. I think…part of it is because I am, I mean who knows, and maybe I am just like those lonely housewives.”
“You don’t have to be,” Chanyeol intertwines their fingers together. “I’m right next door.”
And it sounds like a promise. Baekhyun’s heart clenches.
Nothing big happens. Usually this is the point when Baekhyun would indulge himself in some big confessions. With his previous exes, there had been such grand gestures; so many planned events. They had gone all of the extra miles that Baekhyun had subtly asked for. But this time, he doesn’t ask. He can’t bring himself to even hope for something more.
“It’s because you really like him,” Luhan says quietly.
“I’ve liked my previous boyfriends!” Baekhyun retorts with a snort. Hadn’t he? Hadn’t there been love?
Luhan studies him for a long moment, “What did you do after your last break up?”
“Hmm,” Baekhyn hums, thinking. “I got mad at my furniture and took it out on my poor couch.”
“And then I…introduced Jongin to Kyungsoo,” He finishes, “Well, I couldn’t help it! They looked so cute together.”
“That’s what I’m saying, Baek. You fall in and out so fast. One moment you’re cursing Jongin to Hell and the next you’re introducing him to your good friend.” Luhan throws up his arms for emphasis.
“So. Can you imagine introducing Chanyeol to someone else, to me?”
Baekhyun clenches his jaw, because no, he doesn’t want to think of Luhan and Chanyeol together.
“Exactly,” Luhan chuckles. “It’s more real this time, it’s not just some boy you fall in love with for whatever artificial reasons. It’s Chanyeol. And it’s scary.”
It’s Saturday night again. This time Baekhyun calls up Luhan and Jongdae. It has been forever since he has gone out. Luhan arrives with Kris in tow, which is not really that surprising. What Luhan wants, Luhan gets. Baekhyun shrugs on his jacket just as Chanyeol arrives.
“He knows your passcode?” Jongdae asks, “And he didn’t even have to sleep with you?”
Baekhyun glares at him, “We are neighbors! It’s practical. What if I was choking or something?”
“Whatever. Hey Chanyeol,” Jongdae finally greets.
“Uh, hey. Baek, I need to ask you something.”
“Uh, sure.” Baekhyun says, grabbing his jacket. “What’s up?”
“We’re just about to head out,” Luhan pipes, “You going, Chanyeol?”
At Chanyeol’s hesitation, Baekhyun gives him a small smile, “You don’t have to.”
Kris gives his friend a weird look, “Just meet up with us later.”
Maybe this is it. Maybe Kris knows something. Maybe Baekhyun hadn’t gotten his hopes up for nothing. He grins, nodding, “Yeah. Did you need something?” And it’s all there – he is so excited because finally….just finally!
But Chanyeol just looks at him, chuckling sheepishly, “Ah….I just needed some cooking oil.”
And of course Chanyeol does.
Baekhyun realizes belatedly after eight soju shots that he really, really hates drinking. In fact, he doesn’t even remember the last time he has had this many. The world is beautiful, fuzzy around the edges; there were a swirl of colors and people…and someone is standing a bit too close.
He giggles, feeling warm palms slightly pinching his waist. It’s all wrong, the hands are all wrong, but Baekhyun’s body is too sluggish to protest. The smile is charming, perfect teeth flashing, but it’s all wrong. The guy leans in, in, in, until Baekhyun could count the freckles on his face. It’s all so wrong, but Baekhyun doesn’t care because the right person would never go for him. The right person just wants cooking oil.
Baekhyun gasps, feeling tongue running along his teeth. And it’s all so wrong.
Waking up the day after has never been that bad, until now – but then again, Baekhyun had never woken up next to the toilet before. His mouth feels fuzzy and his body hurts everywhere. Baekhyun pushes himself up and into the shower.
By the time he gets out, he feels a million times better. There’s a slight knock on the door. Baekhyun wraps a towel around his waist and shuffles to the door, wet bangs falling over his eyes. It’s really time for a haircut.
“Morning!” Chanyeol says, hand holding a bag of something. “I got soup. Luhan told me how much you drank last night.”
“Oh, thanks,” Baekhyun grins, ruffling his wet hair. “Yeah I did have a lot to drink,” He leads the way to the kitchen, “I don’t know why.” Baekhyun’s rambles on about his night but stops when he realizes Chanyeol isn’t really responding.
“Chanyeol?” Baekhyun turns around and finds Chanyeol by the entrance, leaning against the doorframe. There’s a weird look in Chanyeol’s eyes, a weird tension in his stance. “Are you okay?”
“Erm,” Chanyeol laughs, “You have a sassy walk. In a towel.”
“Oh my God!” It hasn’t even occurred to him. Baekhyun flashes hot and cold at the same time. “I’m sorry.”
“It’s fine, I didn’t mind the view.”
“Perv.” And just like that, things are okay. It should be awkward but it’s not – nothing has ever been weird with Chanyeol. He is standing in his kitchen with no clothes on, with the guy he is pretty sure he is in love with, who doesn’t seem to return the feeling….and it should be awkward but it’s not.
Baekhyun gives Chanyeol a sheepish smile and heads to his room. And he almost has a heart attack when his bed moves. Or, at least the lump on his bed moves. Since when was there…oh jeez.
“Baek? You want me to heat – what is that?”
“Baek, did you…last night?”
The lump moves again. Baekhyun almost has a heart attack because he doesn’t – can’t – remember what happened. And he certainly does not want Chanyeol to stand there and witness some one night stand…well, the morning after of a one night stand.
What had happened? There was a guy…and some kissing…and maybe it got a little heated?
“Does your friend want some soup?” Chanyeol murmurs and Baekhyun realizes how close they are, Chanyeol standing right behind him, hands on his shoulders. It’s suddenly too much, Chanyeol is too close and he is too bare, the heat seeps and spreads throughout his body and, oh God, Baekhyun, this is not the time!
And suddenly, suddenly, the lump rises. “Morning.”
“Hello,” Baekhyun swallows. “I’m Baekhyun.”
“Jonghyun. And who is that freakishly tall hottie behind you?”
“Chanyeol.” And Baekhyun shivers because Chanyeol’s chest rumbles when he speaks. “I brought soup.”
“Thanks, you have a very nice boyfriend.” Jonghyun directs this at Chanyeol, “He lets me stay the night, but nothing happened - I swear. He fell asleep in the bathroom.”
“It’s true! I woke up next to the toilet!” Baekhyun hears himself speaking up, then realizes what Jonghyun had said and, “We are not together!”
“Oh, my bad. Is it okay if I take a shower?” Jonghyun gets up, fully clothed – Baekhyun breathes out a sigh of relief – and heads towards the bathroom. “Baekhyun?”
“Oh, yeah, yeah. Please. Use anything you need.”
Jonghyun ruffles his hair as he passes, “Thanks.”
Chanyeol chuckles, arms coming to wrap around Baehyun’s chest, “My boyfriend is the best.”
“Don’t hug me, I’m naked!”
Breakfast – lunch? – is a good time. Jonghyun is funny, and helps fill in gaps about the night before. Apparently Baekhyun had been very friendly, very…friendly.
“I’m surprised nothing happened,” Chanyeol says.
“Well, he kept going on about some guy,” Jonghyun mock sighs, “Broke my heart.”
“Our Baekhyun is a heart-breaker,” Chanyeol replies, nodding grimly.
Baekhyun huffs, “Shut it, both of you.” Mostly aiming this at Jongyun because he doesn’t really want the other guy to go on about Baekhyun’s ramblings about “some guy.”
Chanyeol grins, looking straight at Baekhyun. That weird something in his eyes, the weird look from the kitchen, is back. Baekhyun feels something fluttering in his chest. And it’s scary.
“Not together, huh?” Jonghyun scoffs.
But Baekhyun’s not really listening anymore.
After Jonghyun leaves, Baekhyun and Chanyeol settle down to watch a movie. It starts slow at first, then quickly snowballs into something more. Baekhyun braces himself as another sneeze racks his body. Poor Sarang jumps every time; she finally gives up on napping next to him and gives Baekhyun a dirty look before she leaves him, presumably to some place quieter.
“Traitor,” He mumbles. “Just like Jongin.”
“My ex. Kyungsoo’s dating him now.”
Except it isn’t fair because Jongin is so dear. As far as exes go, Jongin is probably the best Baekhyun has ever had.
Baekhyun closes his eyes are moment and thinks he must have fallen asleep when he hears someone call out for him. A cold hand gently feels his face, Baekhyun leans into the wide palm, a calloused thumb strokes his cheek.
Baekhyun’s eyes snap open, “Chanyeol.”
“Hi,” Chanyeol smiles slowly. “You look like crap.”
“I feel ten times worse. I think I’m coming down with something.”
“Poor Baek,” Chanyeol chuckles. “Maybe you shouldn’t run around all naked.”
“I wasn’t running around all naked.”
Chanyeol scoffs, “That’s not what I saw. Anyway, do you need anything?””
“Hm, no. Just…stay, please.”
It’s quiet in the room except for Baekhyun’s sniffles. And it’s the way Chanyeol looks at him, that quiet contemplative gaze…the same gaze in his kitchen from before.
“Of course, anything you need.”
And it feels so nice. So nice to have Chanyeol’s fingers interlaced with his, so nice to be able to lean into Chanyeol’s space.
“I…” Baekhyun says hoarsely. “Don’t be too nice to me.”
Because I am falling so fast and it hurts.
Chanyeol shifts so they can lay down on the couch, Baekhyun curls into his side. “I could never not be nice to you.”
The pain starts slow, at this finger tips, traveling up his arm and into his heart. Baekhyun wonders if a heartbreak is the same as having a heart attack. He wonders if he is allowed to be so sad when Chanyeol is so close. He wonders…a lot of things until he has to take his hand back; unable to give Chanyeol an explanation as to why, so he just smiles and shrugs, trying to shift further away.
It takes Baekhyun two excruciating weeks to get better. He blames his weak immune system. Chanyeol is there every night, tucking Baekhyun in, making sure he eats properly, helping him with school work and even reading romance novels aloud. The stories are so much better with Chanyeol’s narration and Baekhyun flushes at some of the racy parts because…Chanyeol’s voice gets a notch deeper, and Baekhyun feels his toes curl.
He fidgets, pulling the blanket up to his chin, “You’re a good voice narrator.”
Chanyeol is leaning against Baekhyun’s bedboard, on top of the blanket. He puts the book down, “Thanks. You want to nap?”
Baekhyun is so comfortable. Warm and comfortable.
“Thanks for being so nice to me,” Baekhyun says, eyes are so already closing. I love you.
Luhan eventually shows up, with a mask.
“You’re a bad friend.” Baekhyun glares from his place on the couch. “I’m not even sick anymore.”
“Then come out with us tonight!”
“It’s not Saturday.”
“Well, Chanyeol’s free tonight,” Luhan says, bouncing over to sit next to Baekhyun. “And Kris is throwing a party! We’re invited.”
“Oh, Chanyeol didn’t tell me about a party.”
“It’s last minute, we all planned it just now.”
“You guys hang out…without me?” Baekhyun gapes. Then realizes the absurdity of this statement, because…of course they do.
“Yes? Chanyeol said you were getting over something and none of us were to bother you,” Luhan looks grumpy, annoyed, even crosses his arms. “But he finally gave the greenlight! Which, by the way, I don’t appreciate because you were my friend first!”
“Chill, Luhan. You know I love you most.”
“Good, I’ll tell Jongdae.”
The party is in full swing by the time Baekhyun decides on an outfit and they finally make their way over. Luhan immediately disappears into the crowd, leaving Baekhyun on his own. Jongdae finds him a moment later, though, and pulls Baekhyun into a weird circle in the kitchen. Chanyeol is there, arm wrapped around a petite male.
“This is Jino.”
Baekhyun nods, suddenly missing the weight of those arms around his shoulders. He waits for Chanyeol to move to stand next to him, but Chanyeol sticks by Jino instead. Baekhyun realizes he is being childish – it’s just that in the past, his previous exes…but well, they were interested and of course, Chanyeol is not. Baekhyun realizes he had always been a bit spoiled, never having to do the work in any of the courtship.
“What are we doing just standing around! Shots!” Jongdae shouts. Leave it to Jongdae to get things moving.
And it doesn’t take long for things to happen – a hand there, a lingering gaze here. Baekhyun giggles, no longer able to keep up. Had he had all of his senses, he would have beaten himself up for being stupid. But somewhere along the night, Luhan had given Baekhyun pitying looks and kept thrusting drinks into his hands.
So, really, it’s Luhan’s fault that Baekhyun is in the corner of the living room, someone’s tongue stroking the roof of his mouth and someone’s hand trying to push up his shirt. Baekhyun realizes he needs to stop it. He tries to signal to the stranger that this is not really the time. And that he is really in love with someone else. But it’s so hard with a tongue down his throat.
“Whoa, there,” Someone’s deep voice calls out. “Excuse me, I need to see my friend here.”
There are lots of noises, scuffing about. There is some shouting. Just lots of noise and movements. What is happening? Baekhyun remembers thinking something unpleasant before he phases out…
Baekhyun jolts upward – very quickly realizing he is not in his bed. Firstly. That is…firstly. And secondly, he feels the bile rising up from his throat and prays to whoever is out there that he doesn’t end up puking on this very nice bed. He manages to get himself up and dashes around the hallway until he finds a restroom. Ah, toilet bowl, we meet again.
“Baek, you okay?”
It’s Chanyeol. “Hm.” Baekhyun finally empties his stomach, flushes, and sits back against a wall. He stares up blearily, “What happened? And ow, why does the back of my head hurts?”
The night before comes back in fragments: Chanyeol trying to get him to drink water, Luhan dragging him out to dance, seeing Kris and Luhan make out on the couch. Baekhyun grimaces. That is not an image he wants to conjure up.
“What happened, Baek?” Chanyeol asks, “What happened to you last night?”
“What do you mean?”
“It’s just…something you said, when I was trying to pull you away from that guy.”
Baekhyun tries to remember. “I don’t know what I said.”
“You said I would never get it, that you’re just wasting your time.”
“What do you mean? Do you mean our talks, about me asking you for help? Do you think I will never be able to finish my song?”
“Why…why did you pull me away from that guy?” Baekhyun asks instead.
“Because that wasn’t the place, Baek. What would people think?” Chanyeol sounds annoyed now. His tone is part exasperated and part condescending. “I am sure you could have found a better place than some corner.”
Baekhyun rubs his eyes, too tired to take the bait. “You see. You’ll never get it. It has nothing to do with your song. It has to do….to do with how much I like you. I like you so much.” He smiles, it’s self-deprecating and tired. “But you will never it. I look at you and I think, he has to know – he just….has to look at me and he will know. I’m so sure it shows all over my face. But you just…you just don’t see it.”
“How was I supposed to know, Baekhyun? I can’t read your mind!” Chanyeol retorts, turning to face him.
Baekhyun nods. “I know.”
“And I am not a fairy tale. This is not some story. I don’t have the words written out. I am not a romance hero. I can’t be that for you.”
“I like simplicity.”
“I know,” Baekhyun gets on his feet, steady and resolved. “I know. You will never be what I need. I am not going to ask you to change, or compromise or…give up any part of yourself. You’re right – you can’t read my mind. I like you. I don’t think I’ve ever felt this way about anyone. I’m sorry, I’m probably ruining your morning, ruining this friendship along with it.”
“Baek - ”
“No. Just…let me have this. They always leave, you know? They say I’m impossible. I’m going to just save you the trouble. So bye, Chanyeol.”
And Baekhyun leaves. Leaves it all behind. Leaves Chanyeol in that restroom, still sitting on the floor, still looking flabbergasted as if Baekhyun grew two heads right there in the middle of his apartment.
Baekhyun goes through all the normal routine. He goes out more than usual. He buys five new books and reads through them so fast he can’t differentiate which plot belongs to which book. It doesn’t matter. He doesn’t get mad this time around, doesn’t throw things and curse at inanimate objects. It’s a quiet kind of hurt. It’s expecting Chanyeol to come through the door bringing Chinese take-out, it’s missing mundane conversations, it’s hearing his keypad beeps and knowing it can only be one person.
It’s being disappointed when he opens the door and sees Luhan instead.
“Thanks, so nice to see you,” Luhan huffs. “I hate you.”
“Do you know Chanyeol’s keycode?”
Baekhyun frowns, “Yes? Why?”
“Because he hasn’t returned any phone calls and we are worried he might be dead.”
“No. He…I always hear his guitar. He’s there.”
“Oh Baekhyun.” Luhan pulls him into an embrace before Baekhyun realizes he’s crying. “Why do you do this?”
Chanyeol stares at his wall. He registers his keypad beeping and hears the click but it doesn’t occur to him that someone is breaking in until he sees Luhan, arms crossed, glaring him down.
Chanyeol nods. “So what’s up?”
Luhan doesn’t budge, “No. What’s up with you? What is wrong with you? Baekhyun is perfect! He is amazing! Why are you here and why is he there?”
Chanyeol has always prided himself on his even temper, so it surprises even himself when he throws kicks his guitar aside. “What do you want from me, Luhan? Did you know he confessed, right on my bathroom floor? Went on and on about how he couldn’t expect anything from me but he likes me. I’m not that kind of guy – Baekhyun….he probably had it all planned in his head, you know? How our relationship would be, probably how I would confess.”
“Oh boo hoo,” Luhan is not a sympathetic creature. “Some great guy loves you and wants to have a relationship with you, poor Chanyeol.”
“He said so himself, that he was impossible! That his boyfriends left!”
“Because they were scumbags! Scumbags he found when he goes out, they’ve never been worth anything more than what Baekhyun romanticizes them to be. Their loss.” Luhan pauses. “And you know what, your loss. They didn’t deserve him and neither do you.”
"I don't know what to do, Luhan."
"Yes you do," Luhan says. "There is a reason why you always stayed by his side, a reason why you pulled Heechul off of Baekhyun at the party. There is a reason why Heechul hyung is sporting a sore jaw." The look Luhan gives him is meaningful.
Chanyeol remembers. He remembers pulling the older male off of Baekhyun, remembers how angry he had been when Heechul accidently pushes Baekhyun in the middle of their scuffle. He also remembers the look on Baekhyun's face - so beautiful and sad, when he told Chanyeol it was all over. Chanyeol doesn't want it to be over. He wants to be the one Baekhyun makes out with at a party, wants to be one Baekhyun dances with, wants to continue to be the one Baekhyun relies on whenever he is sick. He thinks about what Luhan had said and he knows, he knows Baekhyun is a great guy and some day someone will realize that. Chanyeol doesn't want that to happen - doesn't want Baekhyun to be with some guy, someday. He wants Baekhyun with him, today.
And he still doesn't get it. He doesn't understand grand gestures or cheesy one liners; but for Baekhyun, he thinks he can try.
And that’s how Chanyeol finds himself climbing up Baekhyun’s fire escape, struggling to carry his guitar up the narrow ladder. He takes a deep breath and knocks on the window. Baekhyun’s face appears moments later, eyes blown wide with surprise. But Baekhyun doesn’t open the window and Chanyeol has to shout over the glass barrier.
“Baek! Baek, open up! We need to talk.”
“Baek, come on. I wrote this song for you, I didn’t even know it. Don’t you want to hear it? I finished it, Baek.”
Baekhyun moves to close the drapes.
Chanyeol tosses pride away as he steels himself and takes a deep breath. He positions the guitar and starts playing – slow, sweet, melodious – and what the hell, he starts to sing.
I do believe all the love you give
All of the things you do
Love you Love you
I'll keep you safe Don't you worry
I wouldn't leave Wanna keep you near
Cause I feel the same way too**
Finally, Baekhyun pushes the window up. “Stop, stop. You’re embarrassing me.”
“It was so hard to get over you, I can’t do it again.”
Chanyeol tries to climb in before Baekhyun slams the window shut again, “Stop. Let me speak.” He takes a deep breath, “Look. I’ve always liked you, too. I just didn’t…know. All the things that you said, I thought we were too different. And you always blew hot and cold – you would pull back sometimes and I just didn’t know…and then all of the sudden when you confessed to me, I thought it wouldn’t work. We are too different.
“But I see it now, Baek. I see why we work, because...things are just better with you.”
Baekhyun comes to realize that everyday is beautiful with the right person. Baekhyun appreciates the occasional flowers and Chanyeol's clumsy attempts to romance. He laughs when Chanyeol tries to show grand declaration of love. It's heart-warming and wonderful, it's both silly and still so touching. But Baekhyun learns a lot about love by being in love with Chanyeol - that yes, he still dreams and appreciates all the gestures that come from being in a committed relationship; but no, he doesn't need them to know Chanyeo loves him. It's all in the little things, it's in the way Chanyeol still looks at Baekhyun like he has a secret (but Baekhyun thinks he knows now). It's the way that Chanyeol considers him, in that quiet and contemplative gaze. It's the way that he can hold out his hand and he knows Chanyeol will take it.
But it's also in the way that Chanyeol will wash his dishes when Baekhyun has too many things going on, in the way that Chanyeol would roll his eyes but will read aloud for as long as Baekhyun wants him to. They do argue over dishes, they argue over groceries - but they also get so caught up in each other that Jongdae has to kick Baekhyun while making gagging sounds.
Baekhyun knows theirs is a love people write about; and some nights, he even puts his book down early and just snuggle in with Chanyeol instead. Just because he can.
** The lyrics are not my own. Original song goes to: Bumkey & Rhythmking "LOVE SONG"
Baekyeol performed the song before and omg how perfect is it for them!?