Actions

Work Header

Aestiferous

Chapter Text

It was with excitement and something akin to impatience that Baekhyun stepped into Allegro Music Studio the next Wednesday but it was disappointment that swept those feelings away when he wasn’t welcomed by the smile he was used to.

 

"Hello, you have a class with Chanyeol, right?" the man whose name Baekhyun remembered to be Jongdae greeted him.

 

There was no Chanyeol in sight and Baekhyun looked around quickly, even glancing to the door near the front desk that led to what he supposed was a kind of teachers’ room.

 

"I do," he smiled back at the other. "Should I directly go into his classroom?"

 

"You can do that, he’s going to be a bit late but he’s on his way."

 

Jongdae seemed to have a smile permanently etched on his sculpted face, a trait that he shared with Chanyeol. He seemed kind too. He was close to Chanyeol if his behavior towards the latter when Baekhyun had last seen them together was anything to judge it by. 

 

Curious, Baekhyun furrowed his eyebrows.

 

"Is he okay? Did he get into some kind of accident on his way?"

 

He was aware that he sounded a bit too worried for someone who was supposed to be nothing but a mere student but he didn’t really mind. It was often necessary to charm the friends of the person he wanted to charm above all, it might make things easier, especially if their friends were important enough to influence their way of thinking. Moreover, Baekhyun would often run into Jongdae or any of the other teachers since he was planning to take his time with Chanyeol and it would be much easier if he appeared the same way to Chanyeol’s friends as he wanted to appear to him.

 

Jongdae looked at him in surprise, obviously not expecting him to actually worry about Chanyeol. The smile he gave him afterwards was a pleased one, his eyes even gleaming.

 

"He’s okay. It’s just Chanyeol being Chanyeol," he snickered, confusing Baekhyun a little bit.

 

He didn’t reply to the questioning look Baekhyun gave him, however, simply leading him to Chanyeol’s classroom and apologizing for Chanyeol’s tardiness, assuring him that he would be there soon once again before leaving Baekhyun to wait alone.

 

His mood was only slightly dampened by the fact that Chanyeol hadn’t been there to greet him. He had spent his Sunday night rather badly after the dinner at Junmyeon’s parents’ house and Monday had been spent simply working from home. He hadn’t stepped foot into the company even once since the last encounter with his father and wasn’t planning to do so until the next meeting in a few days either. He was perfectly fine working from home, it was much more comfortable than working at the company.

 

Come Tuesday morning, he had already started anticipating his next lesson with Chanyeol and had spent a good part of his morning letting the video of the pianist playing a rendition of River Flows in You on loop to drown out the distracting silence reigning over his apartment. He had even wondered, at one point, if he should ask Chanyeol to add another lesson to their weekly schedules to make it three lessons per week but then reminded himself that hastiness was never associated to precision. He didn’t want to appear too eager either.

 

Joohyun had kept him company last night. They had gone for a walk along the Han river and had even ordered fried chicken to make for a spontaneous picnic-date. Baekhyun was grateful for it because he wouldn’t have survived another day without anyone to keep him company. Junmyeon was busy with work again and even Junki had stopped messaging him since Monday. However, it still hadn’t appeased him as much as this morning’s realization that today was a class day.

 

Now, Baekhyun didn’t mind waiting even though it was just a bit difficult to restrain himself from playing piano. Even if the rooms were supposed to be soundproof, he didn’t want Chanyeol or even Jongdae to suddenly barge in while he was playing something that should be nowhere near a beginner’s level. He settled on letting his fingers dance on the keys from time to time, just small notes that had no connection whatsoever. Occasionally, he ironed the wrinkles on his shirt with the flat of his hand. He hated wrinkles. Those little, faint flaws that were so difficult to get rid of unless he had the appropriate tool.

 

It was around ten minutes later that the door opened to reveal a panting Chanyeol, his dark hair mussed a little and his clothes nowhere near as stylish or orderly as they usually were. He was wearing a hoodie again, along with those denim shorts that reached his knees and made him look youthful.

 

"Sorry for being late," he immediately apologized, a sheepish and apologetic smile offered to Baekhyun as he stepped closer to him and promptly collapsed on the piano bench, chest heaving.

 

He seemed to have ran here. Baekhyun was the kind of person who rarely ran around. Not only was he naturally punctual, always arriving five minutes early wherever he was expected, but he also never cared enough to feel the need to run in order be on time if he happened to have miscalculated timings. That applied both to his personal life and his professional one so it was a bit refreshing to see that Chanyeol was willing to tire himself out so much simply because he felt bad about being late.

 

"It’s alright," Baekhyun shook his head, wondering whether he should outright ask the other what had happened. He felt curious but wasn’t really sure whether Chanyeol would share part of his private life with him yet. However, he caught glimpse of red lines stretching all over Chanyeol’s hands and he furrowed his eyebrows, a little bit of concern mixing in with the curiosity. "Are you okay? Did you get into an accident?"

 

Chanyeol gave him a confused look before following his line of sight and looking down at his own hands. He let out a soft chuckle when he realized there were scratch marks on the back of his hands and gathered them together.

 

"It’s nothing, don’t worry," he said, hesitating a second before looking at Baekhyun and finding something on his face that pushed him to speak his next words out. "I just found a stray cat on my way here."

 

"A cat?" Baekhyun repeated, incredulous.

 

Chanyeol nodded. "He looked very sick and sounded in pain. I couldn’t just walk away and leave him there so I rushed him to the veterinarian. Fortunately, it was just because of the lack of food and care so after making sure that he was alright, I just took him to my parents’. We’ll find him a home somewhere."

 

Baekhyun listened to the other with awe. He studied the other, the twist on his features, as if even now, he was still thinking about that wounded street cat. As a sign of his effort to rush here, beads of sweat were rolling down the side of his face in a way that should’ve been attractive but only appeared still oddly fascinating to Baekhyun. 

 

He was still panting a little, strands of hair sticking out here and there on top of his head after the wind had ruffled it too strongly while Chanyeol had ran here. He had put himself through so much trouble only for a cat. A stray cat that had probably lived in the streets for a long while, a small animal that many passerby’s had undoubtedly ignored in favor of reaching the place they were heading to without any hassle. Chanyeol, who was as busy as anyone else, had not only noticed the cat but taken it to the veterinarian and even back to his parents’ house to make sure it would be cared for.

 

That wasn’t much. That shouldn’t feel like much but somehow, Baekhyun had to contract his whole face to keep a smile from breaking out on his features. He didn’t even know why he found that so heartwarming and unusual. Maybe because Baekhyun himself wouldn’t have gone to such extents just for a stray cat. Or because the action wasn’t hard to associate to Chanyeol. Maybe because he seemed to be much kinder than Baekhyun thought him to be. Maybe because, based on his experience, Baekhyun knew that kind hearts were much easier to fool. 

 

It felt odd, made him almost giddy to know that if he worked hard enough, this soft, seemingly big heart could be contained in the palm of his hand and care for him much more than it cared for a mere street cat.

 

None of those thoughts were visible on his face, however. 

 

"You were late and ran here just because of a stray cat?"

 

Chanyeol turned idle at those words for a short moment before looking away and down at his hands with a sheepish smile.

 

"I’m sorry," he apologized again, softer. Baekhyun wondered if his reaction had thrown him off. "It sounds kind of ridiculous, right? I wasn’t being professional at all."

 

"No, it’s alright," Baekhyun reassured him, giving him a genuine smile. Surprisingly, he didn’t have to force himself to praise this newly discovered side of the teacher. "I’m just surprised. Not many people would’ve done what you did. It was very nice of you. I don’t mind waiting at all, especially not for this kind of reason. I’m glad you saved that cat."

 

Chanyeol’s shoulders slacked in apparent relief, a smile burgeoning on his lips. It was a good-looking smile, an almost shy one, like a lone frail flower lost amidst dark and sharp bushes. Baekhyun could still see crumbles of pride dusted on the corners of Chanyeol’s pastel, rosy lips.

 

"I’m glad too," he muttered before suddenly squeezing his eyes shut.

 

Baekhyun watched him in confusion only to laugh softly when it took Chanyeol a few seconds to sneeze, his whole body jolting forward with its force. His eyes were watery when he pulled his arm away from where he had pressed it against his mouth to conceal the sneeze. 

 

It was intriguing. The way someone so tall and broad could feel so small. It was as if the cuteness was merely amplified by how much room was available for it to be squeezed in.

 

"Sorry," Chanyeol laughed softly and once again, Baekhyun shook his head to let the other know it was entirely okay. Chanyeol glanced at his watch and pursed his lips. "Well, we don’t have much time left but we can still practice a bit."

 

Baekhyun eagerly accepted and the rest of the lesson was spent with relish pulling the corners of his lips up and the tips of his fingers down onto the ivory keyboard. Chanyeol’s scratched fingers occasionally adjusted his as he taught Baekhyun a melody that, despite being etched into the joints of Baekhyun’s hands, felt like a new, entirely fresh breath of air.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The next day, Baekhyun was on a date with Joohyun.

 

It was something that she really liked, simply holding his hand and walking around, letting him pamper her and pull her deeper into a trap she found more comfortable than anything else. Baekhyun didn’t particularly mind, he appreciated spending time with Joohyun. She was so easy to fluster and would do anything he asked for as long as he did so with an adoring caress against her flushed cheek.

 

Baekhyun didn't mind but at the same time, Joohyun had lost the crispness that had attracted him to her in the first place. She didn’t feel as fresh and sprightly anymore. Her colors weren’t as striking, as eye-catching, and her texture didn’t linger on his skin when his fingertips grazed her, didn’t call him back as soon as he pulled away. He supposed this was how an initially passionate florist felt. Falling into indifference after spending a lifetime amongst flowers that, despite still casting beauty to an outsider’s eyes, looked rather dull to eyes that had admired them for too long.

 

They were ambling around, walking at a leisure pace near her house this time, with no particular destination in mind. She had reached out to him because they hadn’t seen each other much lately and she was young and eager to spend time with the person she liked, loved. And Baekhyun didn’t mind. He didn’t mind having to conceal the boredom slowly taking over the further they walked together.

 

He didn’t mind yet, as soon as he felt his phone vibrating in his pocket, he took it out and quickly glanced at the screen. He angled the device in a way that would prevent her from seeing what almost split his face into two with a grin he had to bite back.

 

I still grab your favorite brand of orange juice at the convenience store.

 

It was such a simple sentence, simple words, simple human emotions and yet, Baekhyun felt his mood lighten as he read over Junki’s message once more. Simple words that held a deeper meaning. Simple words that let Baekhyun know that despite having ended things days ago and Junki not having contacted him in a while, his mark was still carved into the other’s life. Simple words that rushed delight through Baekhyun’s veins.

 

"Would you like to go grocery shopping, Joohyun?" he suddenly asked, the thought leaving his lips without any kind of hesitation. He slid his phone back into his pocket and looked at the beautiful young woman holding his hand with her smaller one. The temperature of her skin seeped into Baekhyun’s. "I can buy you sweets."

 

"How do you always know what I want before I even say it?" was Joohyun’s reply, smile wide and merry, her hand squeezing Baekhyun’s tighter while her other one grabbed his arm.

 

"I must be good at reading cute people," Baekhyun replied, brushing his fingers along her shoulder and her silky, dark hair.

 

Life was nothing but a big theatre hall and maybe that explained why the grocery store Junki usually went shopping at was only a few blocks away from where they were taking a stroll. It didn’t take long to reach it and Baekhyun didn’t rush Joohyun. He didn’t want her to get suspicious about this sudden suggestion and ultimately, whether they managed to catch Junki there or not didn’t matter to him. If they did, it would add more liveliness to his afternoon and if they didn’t, then it would remain as nothing but a missed opportunity.

 

As soon as they stepped into the store, Baekhyun  let her wander around and drag him from aisle to aisle. He took the occasion to scan his surroundings and maybe catch a glimpse of the reason why he was here in the first place. 

 

They wandered into the sweets aisle and while Joohyun looked through every single product to find whatever it was that she really wanted to eat, Baekhyun caught sight of a tall, slim figure on the vegetables corner of the store. He was looking at cucumbers, staring at the long, green vegetable that Baekhyun hated. 

 

Before he could even think of a way to catch Junki’s attention, Joohyun suddenly called his name as she grabbed a pack of candies she claimed to have loved very much as a child. Baekhyun caught sight of  Junki turning towards them before he gave his entire attention to Joohyun and felt a heavy gaze on the back of his head.

 

He smiled down at her as she excitedly told him about that one time her mother had to take her to the doctor because she had eaten two whole packs of this particular candy and her stomach hurt too bad. Without any hesitation, Baekhyun cupped her cheek while she was still talking and looked into her widened, beautiful eyes for a second. He took in their delighted sparkle and the way she nestled into his touch before leaning down and kissing her. Her lips were soft, the glare piercing through his nape was sharp. 

 

A few seconds later, Baekhyun broke the kiss, smiling down at the dazed look Joohyun was giving him, her eyes lingering on his lips as if she could still feel them against hers. He discreetly looked over his shoulder and caught Junki’s shattered gaze, the cracks in his features dragging his eyebrows down, digging into his sunken cheeks, and whitening his lips as they were pressed together, as if he had a hard time keeping his words in. 

 

To Baekhyun’s eyes, he cracked and split like dried out soil. To Baekhyun, that meant he was still the only one able to nourish that soil and coax beautiful flowers out of it, only to effortlessly crush them with the sole of his feet again if he so desired. 

 

To Baekhyun, that came with an overwhelming wave of satisfaction and relief.

 

Junki turned around and walked off, leaving Baekhyun to beam back down at Joohyun.

 

The rest of their date was much more enjoyable.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

"Be careful on your way," Baekhyun said to Joohyun an hour later, the crowd in the subway station almost drowning out his voice out as he tucked a strand of hair behind her ear.

 

"Don’t worry," she groaned playfully, as if she didn’t like his nagging when Baekhyun knew for a fact it always made her smile and turn into a bundle of happiness. 

 

"If you get scared while walking, just call me. I’ll talk to you until you reach your house," he added,  voice flavored with honey and care as he patted her head one last time before pushing her towards the subway train that was slowing down to a stop in the station.

 

She glanced at it before quickly tiptoeing to press a kiss against Baekhyun’s lips and immediately turning around and running towards the opening doors. Baekhyun smiled at her as she waved from behind the window after getting in and stayed there until she departed, waiting a second before sighing, smile fading away. She had been very talkative today. He could feel a headache knocking faintly against his temples.

 

Fortunately, he had nothing else to do today so he could now head back home and just laze around for the rest of the day. He waited no more than three minutes for his own line of subway to arrive. It was almost evening, meaning that the station and the cars would be more crowded than usual and Baekhyun didn’t manage to catch a seat but he didn’t really mind. 

 

He leaned against the wall and looked at his reflection on the window across from where he stood. The wind had picked strands of his hair away from the orderly middle part Baekhyun had given it before getting out of his house. He crinkled his nose and raised a hand, running his fingers through his hair to weave the imperfections away. The collar of his shirt was a little crooked. He adjusted it, evening out its spread over his collarbones. He looked down at his shoes. The laces were still tied, the bows a reflection of each other. The cuffs of his jeans didn’t look misplaced, didn’t ride up his ankle or flow down his sneakers. It was the perfect fit. 

 

He looked back up at his reflection, tilting his head a little bit, baring his neck. There was no apparent flaw on the coat of makeup curtaining his tattoo, no crease, no fade, no peeking petal or branch. He wasn’t close enough to the window to take a proper look but he didn’t need to check in order to know. 

 

Baekhyun had chosen the best concealer, foundation, and setting powder to cover it all up. He preferred all those layers to simple tattoo cover up products. 

 

Satisfied and with a last look at his undisrupted appearance, Baekhyun focused the reflection of the people surrounding him, a boring sight that remained soothing nonetheless at the end of a busy day. It soon turned too dull and Baekhyun turned his gaze away.

 

That was when he saw him again.

 

They hadn’t encountered each other in the subway for a while now. There wasn't much different about Chanyeol this evening. He seemed to have put a little more care into his clothes today. He was wearing dark skinny jeans and a fitting dress shirt, his hair swept up and away from his face, revealing his forehead and making his ears stick out even more than usual. He was sporting a wide smile, dimples flashing brilliantly. He was handsome.

 

Baekhyun didn’t feel any kind of appreciation at the sight. Not when that smile was directed at a beautiful woman standing right in front of him, the insignificant distance separating them speaking of familiarity and emotional proximity.

 

She was beautiful, dark brown hair cut into a suiting bob, and had wide eyes harmonizing with an even wider smile. She was dressed as modish as Chanyeol was, a cherry red dress flowing down her slender body, baring her slim legs from the knee down, and a tasteful black purse hanging off her shoulder as she laughed at something Chanyeol said.

 

They looked wonderful together, complimentary, fitting. The sight was unpleasant to Baekhyun’s eyes. It wasn’t exactly jealousy, Baekhyun had never really felt that kind of emotion, but maybe it was closer to the possessiveness that a child felt when a toy that didn’t exactly belong to them but that was always in their hands suddenly ended up in someone else’s.

 

That was a familiar emotion, a distasteful one. He felt it whenever all Junmyeon talked about for days on end was that nice date he had with a cute guy. He felt it when Joohyun gushed about that handsome professor at school, a young and successful man who always replied to her emails kindly and offered to help whenever she struggled to understand something. 

 

It was always tangled with a faint swirl of fear that Baekhyun never really understood, or had never really wanted to understand. 

 

He wondered if that woman was Chanyeol’s girlfriend. That would be inconvenient. 

 

He looked away.

 

For the first time, Chanyeol didn’t notice his presence throughout the whole journey and Baekhyun was the one who had to force himself not to look towards the other.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Some things in life, no matter how unpleasant, couldn’t be avoided.

 

That was what Baekhyun had been repeating to himself since the very beginning of this meeting in a room full of corporate people who married their job out of greed. His father, the greediest and cruelest of them all, was settled in his seat at the head of the table, like an emperor overlooking his empire.

 

Baekhyun could hear him wheezing from where he was sitting, not too far away, even if he hadn’t looked at the ill man even once. Or maybe it was just Baekhyun’s imagination, a habit, a reminiscence. Either way, he knew for a fact that his father should’ve stopped coming to the company a long time ago and focused on his health instead. Not that it mattered to him. He merely wished the old man had done so because at least, he would be able to step into this company without the fear of running into his worst nightmare.

 

He had rarely walked into this building since their last encounter but this was an important meeting concerning 4C’s holiday collection set to be released sometime around December, maybe earlier if things went well. August would only be bidding them farewell in a few days but the earlier they started planning on it, the better it would be.

 

Baekhyun remained silent as he listened to people lay out plans and explanations, watching powerpoints and videos, taking notes of reports and suggestions. His father sat there and listened. At least Baekhyun supposed he was listening, he couldn’t tell as he wasn’t looking at him.

 

"The shade selection has already been done," someone said from somewhere around the table, someone whose position Baekhyun wasn’t sure of. What he knew was that the slideshow was presented neatly and it served as a good distraction. "We’re going for glitters and mattes, colors that would fit the holiday season but that could also be worn individually or with other shades from our brand’s various palettes at any other wanted time."

 

"The packaging is what we haven’t really reached a consensus on yet. There are too many suggestions and possibilities," a woman said from the other end of the table. Baekhyun remembered her from the last meeting. Marketing? That could be her branch. "The commercialization and marketing method is also something we haven’t settled on yet."

 

Silence hovered over the whole room for a few seconds, most attendants probably thinking of a solution. Baekhyun looked around. He was bored. His tie felt too tight around his neck. He didn’t loosen it, looking down at his notes instead.

 

"I think we should go for something different from last year’s packaging," he eventually suggested, voice carrying out his words to the whole room with confidence as his gaze met a few curious ones. It wasn’t the first time he would come up with ideas or suggestions. It wouldn’t be the first time his ideas would form a successful result either. "It might be bad for our image if we constantly come out with the same packaging. How about we add a little twist to it for a fresh breath of air? Something new and original combined with what we’re known for, chick and appealing packaging."

 

"That sounds like a bad idea," came a voice from the head of the table and Baekhyun instantly felt his body rigidify, his tie somehow tightening even more around his throat.

 

His father’s voice was nothing but a croak, greasy, rattling in the air. He took a deep breath in, ignored the discomfort prickling down his spine.

 

"How so?" he asked, voice perfectly neutral.

 

The whole room’s atmosphere changed as soon as he pushed those words out of his mouth. Nobody said anything. He could see everyone looking at each other. He could feel the air weighing down on his chest, could almost see it swirling into smoke. He couldn’t wait to go home and get rid of this damn tie.

 

His father’s first answer was a snort, that ugly, disconcerting exhale of air followed by a cough that he couldn’t even conceal. Baekhyun felt no satisfaction, no concern either. He couldn’t really feel anything but the tension coursing through every single muscle in his body.

 

"I’m not willing to risk anything by letting you take the lead of things," the old man replied, slow, struggle nestled under every single one of his words.

 

Baekhyun felt like laughing. He had suggested one simple, tiny thing. He had never expressed any form of desire towards taking the lead of this product’s marketization. It wasn’t even his job. Though, did he really have one fixed job in this company? Or was his father letting him do things here and there because it would be bad for the family’s image if his second son didn’t get involved in the family business? He already knew the answers to his own questions.

 

"I’ve never said anything about wanting to take the lead. It was only a suggestion," Baekhyun calmly replied because everyone was looking at him, expecting him to say something.

 

"You might ruin this product and the image of our company," was the reply given to him, as if his father hadn’t even hear anything he had just said and only now gathered the strength to finish his sentence from earlier.

 

Baekhyun’s grip around his tablet tightened, knuckles freezing into white but not trembling. His expression remained neutral but he could feel pain pulsing in his jaw from how hard he was clenching it to keep everything in. He was already being humiliated, he shouldn’t lose his composure and worsen things.

 

However, a single glance at his father and a single glimpse of his twisted, sly, putrid smile tainted yellow by years of smoking and mocking Baekhyun was enough for him to lose it.

 

"And what exactly gave you that impression?" he questioned, voice low, quiet, but echoing through the shivering silence of the room. "Haven’t I always done everything for the company’s growth? Have I ever affected it in any kind of negative way?"

 

He knew for a fact that he had helped in its growth. He knew it. 

 

Everyone’s gaze on him was heavy. Gazes usually felt like dainty petals grazing his skin but today, at this exact moment, Baekhyun felt every single glance thrown at him crystallizing into ice and piercing through him painfully. It all liquefied in his stomach, weighing it down, stirring its content into nausea. Humiliation trickled through his veins, inserted into him through the tip of every single one of those ice shards. Even the tie around his neck felt solid, cold, clinging to his skin stubbornly as if he’d never be able to take it off ever again.

 

"How can you know what’s good for the company when you’re never here?"

 

Baekhyun felt the incredible urge to laugh. Again. Whose fault was it? Whose fucking fault was it?

 

That was what he wanted to ask. That was what he should ask. That was what he would’ve said had those words been thrown at him by any other person inhabiting this rotten world. But it was his father.

 

It was his father whose wide, unappealing smile he could feel, stretching out even more, expanding perfectly in sync with the humiliation Baekhyun had hoped he would be able to avoid today. If only he had kept his mouth shut. If only he hadn’t said anything. 

 

Someone cleared their throat. Everyone was restless and fidgety on their seats. Everyone except Baekhyun who felt frozen in time and his father who controlled the ticks and tocks of the clock from where he was sprawled on his expensive seat like a mass of smoke and fog and ice and decaying substances Baekhyun could feel infecting his blood with each small breath he forced himself to drag into his lungs.

 

He remained silent for the rest of the meeting.

 

He was the first one to rush out of the room at the end, humiliation still strong enough to take over his entire being and control him at its will.

 

This time, he was the first one to seek for a name in his contacts’ list and emit a call of a whole different kind of despair.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The hands trailing over his body were scalding hot, the marks and spots of pain they left over his skin were sizzling.

 

The words whispered into his ears were tainted with longing, desire, anger, despair, but most importantly, a deep feeling of love that Baekhyun could feel in the air he breathed in. Lips pressed against his harshly, biting, licking, and worshipping his couplets as if they were the two last petals to grow on Earth. But they weren’t. 

 

They weren’t because those same lips scattered kisses down his cheek, along his jaw, his neck, lingering the slightest bit on the faint protuberance of his adam’s apple, before kissing the inky petals laying over the side of his neck and shoulder, the branches patterned into his collarbones.

 

Baekhyun felt flames all over, bursting in his chest, in his stomach, blown into his body with each harsh, erratic thrust. Each word of love offered to him and him alone melted away the needles planted all over him. 

 

He was loved. 

 

He was loved

 

Baekhyun was loved.

 

He could feel it in the way Junki’s hands never once let go of him as he thrust into him, pleasured him, breathing him in between each bruising kiss.

 

He could feel it in the broken voice with which Junki muttered dazed, hazy words to him. As if he was under a spell, as if he was down on his knees and Baekhyun’s name was the only prayer that could grant him redemption. As if he was nothing but a broken doll that came alive only when Baekhyun tugged on the strings and pulled him closer and closer and closer because he craved the touch and the dependency and the love.

 

He was ruined.

 

He was ruined.

 

Baekhyun was ruining him.

 

Just like he was supposed to.

 

"Why are you coming back just when I was getting over you?" Junki asked, pleaded, cried, voice breathy, breathless, breezy, and bedazzled as he dived into Baekhyun’s eyes. 

 

Heat burst through Baekhyun, licking through his veins, boiling in his chest, melting his body away. He dug his fingers into Junki’s shoulders, his back, his arms, his heart, and his soul. He left marks, some would linger in the morning, some would fade away after a few days, others would remain there forever, in the shape of Baekhyun’s smile, Baekhyun’s presence, Baekhyun’s hunger, Baekhyun.

 

He could almost feel it. Something in him reaching out to Junki, wrapping all around him, swirling in the air and morphing into shards and claws and thorns and digging in, digging in, digging in deeper until they could suck every single drop of love and quench the unending thirst ruling over Baekhyun since the very beginning. Or the end. Sometimes, he confused these two.

 

He brought his hand up, chest heaving. He wasn’t drowning. He was breathing. He was breathing better than he had throughout the whole day. There was no smoke, no fog. Only love and dependence and ownership offered to him on a silver plate. 

 

His fingers feathered over Junki’s cheek, his skin felt on fire under Baekhyun’s palm. He traced his thumb over the apple of his cheek, touching, memorizing.

 

Junki’s eyes were hooded, glazed over, Baekhyun knew he would see his reflection in his irises if moonlight wasn’t shrouding them from sunlight. He loved seeing his reflection in their eyes, it felt like he was right in there, right inside of them, right in the biggest corner of their head, making sure that they would remember and love him until the end of time, even when a part of them would hate him more than anything else.

 

"If you were getting over me, you wouldn’t have picked up the phone on the first ring," Baekhyun whispered softly against Junki’s lips, pressing a small kiss on the corner, and then the other corner. He felt Junki’s breath hitching at his words, as if they had tightened one of the strings Baekhyun was holding around his neck.

 

He pulled his lower lip into his mouth and that seemed to breathe life back into Junki who took over and pulled him into a bruising kiss, anger and hatred, love and care singing into Baekhyun’s ears like the richest of melodies.

 

When day peeked over the clouds hours later, after a night spent in the revitalizing embrace of someone unable to breathe without him, Baekhyun felt like a frail plum flower blossoming on the day spring closed winter’s gates and locked it out from the world.

 

He chose to leave Junki tangled in that cold spell until the end of time, thorns the only glimpse of spring Baekhyun marked him with before disappearing along with the last streaks of moonlight.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It was around noon when Baekhyun woke up.

 

Eyes fluttering open, he took a deep breath in and blinked a few times to get rid of the haziness on the corners of his sight before staring up at the ceiling.

 

He didn’t feel particularly happy. He didn’t feel particularly sad either. There was just something weird in his chest. Or was it his stomach? He wasn’t sure. He felt like that weird sensation occupied his entire body. Maybe that was the source of the discomfort he felt trapped in despite having opened his eyes to a new day.

 

He shifted in bed, grabbing his phone from the nightstand beside his bed and checking the time. Today was Saturday. Saturdays meant piano lessons. He felt the discomfort thawing a little on the edges, eaten up by an odd kind of giddiness and excitement. Maybe a night with Junki followed by an hour with Chanyeol would help him completely recover from yesterday’s disastrous meeting.

 

Though, now that he thought about it, there wasn’t much happening with Chanyeol that could make him feel better. They were still barely a step ahead of being strangers. Baekhyun wouldn’t even call them friends and despite the attraction being transparent most of the time, he wasn’t sure why he thought that it would make him feel better to spend some time with the other. 

 

Maybe because the thought alone of Chanyeol loving him one day was enough for him to feel calming waves of delight hovering over his body. Or maybe it was just the way Chanyeol couldn’t seem to ever be able to take his eyes off him. Maybe it was because it had been a long while since he had last encountered someone as restful and kind as Chanyeol. He couldn’t even remember someone he could possibly liken to Chanyeol.

 

He felt something resting heavily on his chest.

 

The thought of accelerating things popped in his head. He just wanted to get to the point quickly.

 

He needed to work. He should definitely spend part of his day working. He had to get ready for the lesson. He didn’t really feel like working when yesterday’s humiliation was still so fresh he could almost still feel his father’s piercing gaze digging holes into his skull. He should get up and grab something to eat. He was hungry. Had he gone grocery shopping lately? He wasn’t sure.

 

With a sigh, he sat up and stretched his arms over his head, phone still held tightly in his hand before it dropped to the bed along with his hands when he was done stretching. He pushed the blanket away, a little hot. Before he could get up and tweak with the air-conditioning to make the summer heat more bearable, his phone suddenly rang in his hand, calling for his attention. 

 

The name that greeted him was one he wasn’t awaiting.

 

"Hello?" he said curiously after picking up the call.

 

"Baekhyun?" Chanyeol’s low voice asked from the other end of the line. His voice sounded even deeper through the phone, like a summer breeze but not the unpleasant kind that Baekhyun had almost groaned about a second ago. He didn’t sound as calm as usual. "Sorry for calling you so unexpectedly."

 

"It’s alright," Baekhyun said and it took a few seconds for his groggy mind to remember that he had given Chanyeol his number in the inscription forms and that the latter had also given his to Baekhyun in case of an emergency. "Is something wrong?"

 

Chanyeol remained silent for a breath. "Not really," he eventually answered but he sounded hesitant, agitation stirring his voice a little bit. "I just called to tell you that there would be no class today."

 

Baekhyun felt his heart dropping into his stomach.

 

"Why? Did something happen?" he questioned. Not in curiosity. Not even in concern. Disappointment. Baekhyun felt let down.

 

"No, no," Chanyeol reassured him and Baekhyun could hear some kind of rustling and a few other voices in the background. "I just completely forgot that the academy would be closed today. We have a show this evening and we’ve been preparing it for months but that slipped out of my mind when we made your class schedule. I’m really sorry, we can reschedule later if you’d like."

 

It was very inconvenient and Baekhyun even felt irritation pick at the back of his mind with a thin, barely noticeable needle but he supposed there wasn’t anything they could do about it.

 

"It’s okay, I understand. I hope the show will be a success."

 

"Thank you," Chanyeol said and if Baekhyun wasn’t mistaken, that sounded like his voice whenever he smiled and talked at the same time. Although, a bit lighter than usual, words a bit sloppier. "I have to go now but we’ll talk about it later. Sorry again!"

 

And with that, a beep replaced Chanyeol’s voice before Baekhyun could even greet him back.

 

With a loud and long sigh, he fell back against the bed, mood switching from dampened to effectively drowned. He supposed he would have no choice but to work from home the whole day.

 

He moved to burrow deeper under his blanket, phone twinkling in his hand once. This time, he sighed and waited a whole minute to look at the screen. Hope filled him up when he saw Junmyeon’s name.

 

I’ll pick you up at 3.

 

Baekhyun read over the message twice, trying to recall a forgotten promise.

 

For what? Where are we going?

 

Really, Baekhyun? 

My niece’s piano thing is today! This afternoon, at 4. 

You didn’t change your mind, did you?

 

Sometimes, Baekhyun told himself that he was grateful for Junmyeon hanging onto him when they were fifteen despite Baekhyun trying to push him away by either getting into his pants or criticizing him at every chance he got when he failed to do so. Sometimes, he was really grateful that Junmyeon had never fallen for his tricks when Baekhyun was young and had just discovered how nice it felt to have someone in love with him.

 

He was so grateful that he didn’t even actually feel bad about forgetting the promise he had made Junmyeon about accompanying him to this piano recital. It would take his mind off things a little bit and piano would still be involved in part of his day.

 

It depends

Are you going to feed me first or not?

 

 

Fine, you gold digger.

I’ll pick you up in half an hour.

 

Baekhyun’s face broke out into a wide smile. Junmyeon was obviously leaving him only half an hour to get ready as some kind of childish revenge but Baekhyun didn’t mind. At least it gave him a reason to get out of bed right away.

 

He quickly washed up, taking note of every single mark Junki had left on his body last night. They were faint, only bruises on his hips in the forms of fingertips and red patches over his chest that would fade throughout the day. The only thing he crinkled his nose at was a mark right under a branch painted on his collarbone that he noticed only when he looked into the mirror after his shower.

 

He chose simple but stylish clothes, fitted jeans and a plain white shirt that fortunately didn’t let the mark near his collarbone peak through. He would put on that one navy blue jacket he liked to add a little more formality to his outfit and hope the performance hall would be air-conditioned. 

 

As he combed his hair, he studied himself in the mirror, his droopy eyes, his nose, the lights of the bathroom reflecting in the mirror and twinkling in his eyes. His skin was a bit tanned, kissed very recently by the summer sun, but he could still perfectly see that tiny mole right above his mouth, his lips naturally pinkish. Fortunately they weren’t chapped today.

 

His shirt wasn’t crooked, it fit perfectly snug over his muscled chest and his broad shoulders. His hair fell over his forehead, fluffy since he had just dried it up, black and shining a little bit, catching the lights.

 

He looked perfect. The same, usual sight as always.

 

He felt something akin to sadness knock against his heart once before disappearing, like a mischievous child playing a silly prank. Baekhyun didn’t rush to the door, didn’t open it to find the source of it.

 

He let his eyes glide down over his reflection until he could look at the black plum blossoms resting over the left side of his neck, sneaking away from his shirt’s collar and up towards his ear. It looked nice, the sight brought a little smile to his lips. He had this tattoo on for a few years now but it always made him a bit joyful to see it on himself.

 

It was the only flaw he could catch on his reflection.

 

When Junmyeon messaged him again to let him know he was waiting for him outside, Baekhyun chose to go out without concealing the flowers inked on his skin for the first time in weeks.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Junmyeon’s family was fairly easy to deal with, especially this particular aunt whose entire life revolved around her children.

 

There had been short greetings and Baekhyun had prevented himself from talking too much and having too much fun with a pleasant woman who had such a lovely and loud laugh because Baekhyun please stop deliberately trying to seduce my aunt, that’s fucking weird. Baekhyun should’ve known Junmyeon had taken him to eat first just to tell him to behave in front of his family. Fortunately, the food had been good enough and Baekhyun appreciated his best friend enough to let him fret over nonsensical things. Baekhyun had never deliberately tried seducing Junmyeon’s aunt. She was married and Baekhyun had his limits, it was just very funny to watch her get even more easily flustered than Junmyeon’s mother.

 

His day had started a bit unpleasantly but now, as Baekhyun sat in the middle of an audience that was larger than expected, he had an appreciative smile on his face. He had thought this would be one of those elite, wealthy-people-show kind of recital but it really wasn’t. The entire hall was filled with supportive families and, from what he gathered, music enthusiasts.

 

The show was nice too, Junmyeon’s niece had been the opening act, playing one of Chopin’s pieces almost perfectly and impressing everyone in the audience. Even Junmyeon looked a little proud for someone who had never been particularly interested or appreciative of music, especially piano. The following children were younger than he expected, adorable as they all sang under the direction of a kind-looking man. Only a few of them went out of tune and rather than disappointment, the whole audience seemed to be taken by endearment. 

 

Baekhyun himself felt happier than he had expected when a small group of young children took place on the stage, each of them holding a near-perfect posture as they played violin. One of them had dropped his stick and looked at the audience as if he had committed the worst of crimes, his eyes wide and lower lip already trembling. All it took was for a female voice, probably his mother, to call what seemed to be his name to encourage him. Baekhyun’s heart squeezed. The performance went on smoothly.

 

It was only halfway through the show that he noticed something odd. At one point, he glanced toward the very edge of the stage, where the red, velvety curtains were pulled together and the teachers or the crew were most probably hiding, confusing filling him up when he caught glimpse of a familiar face. It was very quick and he couldn’t see well but he swore he had seen curled lips and very straight eyebrows that oddly looked like Jongdae’s.

 

Quietly, he leaned a bit towards Junmyeon sitting next to him.

 

"Didn't you say your niece took piano classes at home?" he whispered, low enough not to disturb anyone around them or the performance on stage.

 

Junmyeon gave him a confused look.

 

"She does. The teacher comes to their house. I’ve never seen him though."

 

Baekhyun furrowed his eyebrows. Chanyeol had said that Jongdae did give classes outside of the academy. Chanyeol had also talked about a show earlier. Could it be that this was the show he had talked about?

 

His chest tingled a bit in excitement at the thought of such a coincidence still bringing him together with Chanyeol despite a change in his plans. Sometimes, Baekhyun considered himself to be very lucky. 

 

He didn’t say anything for the rest of the show, merely watching with a newfound kind of interest as children and teenagers came and went. Jongdae himself showed up on stage at one point to lead a chorus of teenagers and that was all Baekhyun needed to get his confirmation. He could barely pay attention to the beautiful harmony, too busy wondering if Chanyeol was there, if he could accidentally run into him backstage, and what he could tell him.

 

The rest of the show was almost a blur of melodies and symphonies, voices merging together, rising from deep instrumental cages or human chords, dancing in the air and spreading joy through the whole audience. At one point, the enchanting tune of traditional Korean instruments called for his attention and Baekhyun watched, mesmerized as young girls dressed in pastel colored hanbok let their slender fingers dance over the strings of their gayageum.

 

Soon, the show came to an end and both the young musicians and the teachers gathered on the stage for a last, collective bow as they were showered in applause and cheers. Baekhyun’s eyes found Chanyeol and he didn’t look away, not even bothering to fight the smile spreading on his lips. He was dressed in all black, a plain black shirt along with black jeans, not ripped this time. His hair looked fluffy and a bit disorderly. He had obviously been running around a lot backstage.

 

"Why are you smiling so hard?" Junmyeon asked him when the noise died down and the crew started leaving the stage.

 

Baekhyun turned to him, smile turning enigmatic.

 

"I’m just very satisfied." Junmyeon seemed not to make much sense out of that answer. "Are you going backstage to see your niece later?"

 

"I am," Junmyeon replied, studying him. "Why?"

 

"Perfect then," Baekhyun simply said.

 

He followed Junmyeon and his family as they went backstage, bouquet held in hand and soon, given to a young, lovely girl who had really promising piano skills. Baekhyun congratulated her and even nudged her towards giving him piano lessons, her wide and almost sheepish smile an endearing sight to his eyes. Junmyeon, charming as ever, told her that he wished she was born earlier so he wouldn’t have had to be scolded by his mother for being so bad at playing piano. That was a lie. Baekhyun had tried giving him piano classes. He had still gotten scolded by his mother for failing to coordinate his fingers properly.

 

The broad dressing room was bursting with people, a lot of them congratulating their children, taking pictures, giving flowers, and offering words of praise and pride. Baekhyun’s gaze trailed around, seeking, and then twinkling when he finally localized Chanyeol talking to a family of two children at the other side of the room. It was the little boy who had dropped his violin stick earlier and one of the young girls who had played the gayageum

 

With a smile, Baekhyun grabbed Junmyeon’s wrist and excused the both of them, both his aunt and her husband too busy showering their daughter in praises to even mind the fact that they were leaving without a word. 

 

Chanyeol was already done talking with the family from earlier and was just greeting everyone with wide smiles and respectful bows, ruffling the younger children’s hair with pride dusted on the corners of his lips.

 

It only took a few seconds for his eyes to meet Chanyeol’s and as the latter’s expression morphed into one of surprise, Baekhyun mimicked it, stopping in his tracks. He could feel confusion radiating from Junmyeon next to him but fortunately, he was used to Baekhyun’s antics. He had learned years ago not to ask too many questions in times that could be inappropriate for Baekhyun’s games, as he so kindly called them with that half playful, half disapproving narrow of his eyes.

 

"Baekhyun?" Chanyeol asked as he stepped closer to them, the surprise in his eyes overshadowed by tiny sparks of joy. He was happy to see Baekhyun. That was yet another good sign. "What are you doing here?"

 

"That’s exactly what I was asking myself when I saw you bowing with everyone on stage," Baekhyun chuckled softly, letting go of Junmyeon’s wrist and tilting his head just a little bit. He saw Chanyeol’s eyes flickering to his neck, taking in the inky petals etched there and widening a bit before he seemed to realize that Baekhyun had spoken and their eyes met again.

 

"You were in the audience?" he inquired with surprise.

 

"Yeah, I was invited to watch the show and really didn’t make the link with what you told me earlier when cancelling our lesson," he said sheepishly before giving the other an intrigued look, paired with a playful smile. "We keep unexpectedly meeting in the oddest places. I’m starting to think that the universe wants us to be together," he laughed.

 

Chanyeol looked at him in surprise for a fleeting second before laughing along, one corner of his lips remaining stretched up in a crooked smile afterwards.

 

"It does look like it," was all he said and Baekhyun liked this kind of reaction to his flirty remarks. He caught Chanyeol’s finger tugging slightly on the hem of his shirt. The crooked smile then dampened into one filled with apologies. "I’m sorry, I actually wanted to invite you to the show as an apology for cancelling our lesson but I was so busy running around and panicking the whole day that it completely slipped out of my mind when I called you."

 

It was obvious that Chanyeol felt really bad about it in the way he was looking at Baekhyun. 

 

"It’s alright. You were probably just working too hard and it looks like fate took care of it for us anyway," he settled on saying with an easy smile, wanting the other to feel reassured. This shouldn’t put a strain to their faint relationship. Relief immediately slackened Chanyeol’s expression into a smile that looked almost bashful, maybe a bit pleased. "I didn’t know you had recitals."

 

"We have them every year, in August," Chanyeol replied, the same childlike excitement taking over him like it always did whenever he was passionately talking about music or his job in general. "It’s a way for us to motivate kids to learn and practice by giving them an actual reason to. It also puts their talent into use. It’s not fun if all they do is learn but never perform and show off what they actually learned through the whole year. Especially since some of them consider this as nothing but a hobby and barely do any music outside of their classes."

 

"That’s very nice of you. I can see why this would work for everyone," he smiled. Chanyeol could talk on and on about music without stopping. Baekhyun liked that. Realizing that Junmyeon had been looking at him insistently for a while now, he looked back at him. "Oh, sorry I didn’t introduce you two," he laughed sheepishly. "This is Junmyeon, my closest friend," he presented while pulling Junmyeon a bit closer. "And Junmyeon, this is Chanyeol. You know, the guy I talked to you about," he said vaguely.

 

He caught Chanyeol’s smile widening appreciatively as he gave Baekhyun a curious look before bowing at Junmyeon and shaking his hand afterwards. Chanyeol was probably wondering what exactly Baekhyun had said to Junmyeon about him. Junmyeon immediately caught on and gave Chanyeol a wide smile.

 

"Hello," Chanyeol greeted him with a bow. "I hope you enjoyed the show."

 

"It was wonderful," Junmyeon smiled back, ever-so polite and friendly. "My niece was the one doing the opening act."

 

"Oh, you’re Sehee’s relative?" Chanyeol asked with surprise. He really seemed to be close to every single one of his students. "She worked really hard this year. She deserved to open the show for us."

 

"Thank you, I’m sure you played a big role in that," Junmyeon said before looking at Baekhyun. "So this is where you take piano lessons? No wonder. The stage was full of children. You’d fit along really well next year."

 

"Don’t be rude," Baekhyun whined only faintly, narrowing his eyes in mock threat and weaky punching Junmyeon’s arm. His best friend laughed, no regret whatsoever.

 

He felt Chanyeol’s gaze on him and when he looked up to meet it, the teacher looked away and at Junmyeon instead, the smile on his lips faint now. Baekhyun gave him a curious look but before he could say anything, a very enthusiastic mother called for Chanyeol and the latter immediately looked towards her with a wide smile, waving a little.

 

"Sorry, I have to go and greet a few more people," he apologized with a smile and Baekhyun shook his head.

 

"It’s alright, you’re having a really busy day. We’re still on for Wednesday, right?" Baekhyun asked, letting hope settle on his voice. This time, it was barely even exaggerated.

 

"Of course! I promise I won’t cancel our classes out of nowhere anymore," Chanyeol laughed sheepishly.

 

They greeted each other and with a last friendly smile offered to Junmyeon, Chanyeol turned around and merged into the rest of the crowd. He didn’t really disappear, he couldn’t when he was taller than most people occupying the room, the top of his head still visible wherever he went. Baekhyun felt something akin to delight cradling his chest softly.

 

"So that’s your newest victim," Junmyeon said once Chanyeol was far enough, pulling him out of his thoughts.

 

Used to this kind of remark, Baekhyun only rolled his eyes.

 

"Did he look anything like a victim?"

 

Junmyeon hummed, gaze following Chanyeol’s backside as he weaved through families and children and offered a smile to every single person meeting his gaze.

 

"I can see why you’re after him. He looks very handsome and kind," Junmyeon noted. Baekhyun considered the thoughtful expression spread over his best friend’s face curiously. "He also kind of looks at you like you’re a gem."

 

A grin blossomed on Baekhyun’s face, reaching for the light brightening in his eyes.

 

"Does he?" he asked with feigned surprise.

 

Junmyeon shook his head at him, seeing right through his act and laughing.

 

Baekhyun’s day had gotten considerably better.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Two weeks later, September swept summer away with cooler breezes and dulling colors.

 

September came with regular piano classes and a blossoming friendship with a charming pianist. They could call each other friends now. They hadn’t met a single time outside of the academy and the  coincidental subway run-ins where they smiled at each other and Baekhyun often felt Chanyeol’s gaze on him, but he could say that they were closer now.

 

As it turned out, they shared lots of common interests. Chanyeol liked computer games as much as Baekhyun did, he liked traveling as much as Baekhyun, and they even shared similar tastes in food as Baekhyun found out on a random conversation sparked from Chanyeol commenting that he was hungry out of nowhere halfway through a lesson. 

 

Baekhyun still found him agreeable. With his big eyes, his big ears, his even bigger smiles, and his big hoodies that he had started wearing as soon as September peeked its nose into the world for the first time that year.

 

Their lessons were going well. Baekhyun would’ve felt bored most of the time while learning Bach’s Prelude to the Well Tempered Clavichord but Chanyeol made it interesting enough, somehow managing to sense Baekhyun’s impending boredom and associating it to discouragement which he seemed to like curing by giving his students challenges. That worked for Baekhyun, not only because he had an incredible competitive spirit but also because he had the skill to meet those challenges most of the time. Sometimes, he failed on purpose in order not to expose himself to Chanyeol and the sour feeling of losing a challenge was often swept away by Chanyeol’s encouraging words. It was cute.

 

They still joked around a lot, Chanyeol was as playful as him, laughter came easily between them. Spending time with Chanyeol was very soothing, even as just friends, for now.

 

What hadn’t been as soothing today was spending part of his day with Joohyun. His mood had waned a little. Baekhyun couldn’t enjoy how eager for his attention she was anymore.  She asked for too much time, too many things, wanted too much love that Baekhyun didn’t have to offer. Earlier, she had even hinted at the lack of label on their relationship. That was a clear sign that Baekhyun should end things quickly.

 

The subway entered into the station, pulling Baekhyun out of his thoughts and closer to the crowd gathering in front of the parting doors instead. As usual, there was a lot of people. 

 

Baekhyun was busy with his phone when he felt something that was now so familiar it almost seemed to have accompanied him his entire life..

 

It took him a few seconds to meet Chanyeol’s gaze. This time, he was standing right across from Baekhyun, leaning against the window. He gave Baekhyun a light smile. He didn’t look surprised and there was no such feeling bubbling in Baekhyun either. They were now nearly expecting one another.

 

This time, Baekhyun didn’t wait for the end of his journey to approach the other. He greeted him, and only a second later walked towards him with slow, careful steps and a wide smile.

 

"Looks like fate keeps bringing us together."

 

"I think it might just be the very punctual subway system of our country," was Chanyeol’s mirthful answer to him.

 

His low, deep voice tickled twinkling notes of laughter out of Baekhyun.

 

There was just something refreshing about Chanyeol. Was it because Baekhyun had never really spent so long being friends — or at the very least acquaintances — with anyone? He wasn’t sure but whatever it was that made him feel this way, he appreciated it a lot.

 

"You’re alone today," Baekhyun remarked. He was still curious about that woman but had never really had the occasion to bring it up without it making him sound too invested in Chanyeol.

 

The subway whirred noticeably around them. Chanyeol looked soft under the subway’s artificial lights. His hair was fluffy, halfway between curly and straight, and his bangs were getting too long, Baekhyun could see it from the way he blinked way too often, as if his bangs tickled his eyelashes but he was too lazy to brush them away. The lights of the car formed a dim halo all around him, lightening his dark, mussed hair but not overtaking the natural sparkle of his eyes.  

 

The hoodie he was wearing was one Baekhyun was familiar with. It was the oversized one, black with purple words scribbled on the back of it, loose around Chanyeol who, to Baekhyun, felt like nothing less than a delectable caress of sunlight in it. 

 

"I think I saw a pretty woman with you that one time," he explained when Chanyeol only gave him a confused look. 

 

Realization slowly spread through Chanyeol’s features. He laughed softly.

 

"You’re talking about my sister. I didn’t even notice you around that day," Chanyeol answered and Baekhyun refused to pay attention to the faint, barely noticeable sour taste in his mouth.

 

"Your sister?" he asked, making sure not to let the relief washing over him drip into his voice.

 

Now that he thought about it, they did look quite alike but he had been so busy trying not to look at them that he had barely even noticed it. It had been a bit silly of him to jump to conclusions like that. He probably would’ve been able to figure what kind of relationship they had with a bit of attention. It wasn’t like him at all but Baekhyun simply put the blame on how tired he had been feeling that day.

 

"Yeah, that was my sister. We hang out together at least once a week but she rarely takes the subway. She has her own car and can’t be bothered with this," he said with a faint huff as he gestured to the crowd around them.

 

"She is very beautiful. I thought she might be a friend or even a girlfriend," he said with a teasing smile to which Chanyeol simply shook his head.

 

"Oh, no. The only thing close to a girlfriend in my life is this cute five years old student I teach guitar to," he explained, leaning just a little bit closer to Baekhyun as if he was sharing a secret. "She says she wants to marry me when she grows older so we can make music together forever."

 

Baekhyun couldn’t help but laugh at that. The image of a very smiley and very happy Chanyeol looking down at a small child in fondness as she uttered those words to him was sweet.

 

"I’m glad then," he said, catching Chanyeol’s gaze for a second.

 

"You’ve been alone for a while too," he hummed, gaze attentive on Baekhyun’s face. Baekhyun felt it sting a little.

 

"I’m always alone," Baekhyun said as if it was no big deal.

 

Had he seen Baekhyun with Joohyun? He wasn’t sure at what stop Chanyeol usually got into the train. Out of all the times Baekhyun had seen him, he had never seen him boarding the train so he supposed he was always in before Baekhyun was. Or got in while Baekhyun was distracted by his phone. But Baekhyun hadn’t taken the subway with Joohyun in a while now anyway. Maybe that was a general statement about Baekhyun always being alone in the subway whenever they saw each other.

 

He couldn’t find the answers he sought on Chanyeol’s face. Baekhyun willed the worry away. There was no way Chanyeol could’ve seen him with anyone when he had indeed been alone through his subway journeys lately.

 

He saw Chanyeol’s smile widen before it was concealed when he spoke again.

 

"What about you? Why are you in the subway?" he asked before realizing how it sounded and correcting himself with a wave of his hand. "I mean, I’ve seen you several times now. You’re always either wearing an expensive suit or simple clothes. You even have a tattoo on your neck. I can’t figure out what you do."

 

"Take a guess," Baekhyun smiled, amusement lifting one corner of his mouth higher than the other as he looked up at Chanyeol and waited for the other to look at him more carefully.

 

Chanyeol’s eyes indeed trailed down over his body as he hummed, probably more a sign of playfulness than actual concentration. Baekhyun felt aware of every part of his body as Chanyeol let his gaze graze over him. Chanyeol’s two dark orbs shined with mirth when their gazes met again.

 

"Office work?" 

 

Baekhyun wasn’t wearing a suit today so the few seconds Chanyeol had spent studying him had not helped at all in this suggestion. The thought fueled the amusement he was sure was already dripping from his features.

 

He could lie. Baekhyun could lie, say he just liked dressing expensively even though he was nothing but a high school teacher himself. He could could say he was a lawyer, could even say he was a producer to draw Chanyeol in with something that would appeal to the musical side of him. He took a last look at the eagerness and curiosity twinkling in Chanyeol’s eyes and settled on being truthful this one time.

 

"I work in my father’s cosmetics company," he said with no particular emotion. 

 

"Oh, really? What brand is it?"

 

"4C. Maybe you’ve heard of it before."

 

"4C?" Chanyeol repeated, eyes widening and eyebrows raising into that surprised expression of his. "That’s actually my sister’s favorite brand!" he added with enthusiasm.

 

Baekhyun laughed softly, the melodious sound leaving his lips singing with genuineness even if he felt no particular pride or joy at that fact. It wasn’t his company to be proud of.

 

"But if it’s your father’s company… Then it means you’re rich," Chanyeol hummed, eyebrows furrowing in confusion. "Why are you here then? I mean, don’t you have an expensive car to drive around?"

 

There was no hint of mockery in his voice, not even a single drop of envy as his words caressed Baekhyun’s ears. Nothing but pure curiosity. Baekhyun had expected a completely different reaction to the revelation of his being considerably wealthy and powerful but Chanyeol was looking at him as if he had just told him he despised music.

 

"I do, in fact, have an expensive car," Baekhyun hummed. "But I don’t really like driving and I prefer crowded places."

 

Chanyeol gave him a weirded out look.

 

"But it looks like you love cars," Baekhyun stated the obvious.

 

"I do," Chanyeol chirped. "I have a driver’s license but I don’t have a car. I feel like it wouldn’t be of much use to me and just sit in my parking lot if I were to invest into one so I’m not thinking of getting one for a few more years."

 

Baekhyun hummed softly before curving his lips into a light smile.

 

"Well, if you ever need a ride or something, don’t hesitate to tell me. I wouldn’t mind," he said and the surprised expression followed by the beaming smile and the starry gaze Chanyeol gave him were an evident sign of success on his part.

 

"Really?"

 

"Of course! I might even let you drive if you ask nicely," he added, playfully nudging the other with his elbow.

 

Chanyeol’s eyes narrowed a little in.

 

"Sounds like you’re just looking for a driver."

 

"I’m not looking for any driver. I’m looking for a handsome driver and you might be perfect for the job," Baekhyun corrected him, tilting his head as he looked up at Chanyeol through his lashes with a telling smile.

 

He looked speechless for a fleeting second before gathering his wits. His eyes flickered to Baekhyun’s neck, maybe looking for a tattoo that Baekhyun had concealed with makeup this morning before going out.

 

"You’re too straightforward," he said then.

 

"You don’t seem to hate it."

 

"I don’t," Chanyeol said, smile contained by the sink of his pearly white teeth into his rosy, petal-like lower lip.

 

Baekhyun’s eyes flickered down to it, quite obviously. He didn’t even try concealing the attention but before either of them could say anything else, the usual robotic female voice announced Baekhyun’s station and he looked back up into Chanyeol’s eyes.

 

"Well, this is me."

 

Chanyeol nodded as the subway train came to a halt and people rushed towards the doors. They both remained idle for a second.

 

"Be careful on your way home," Chanyeol said with a light smile as he energetically waved at Baekhyun who already started stepping back, mirroring his expression.

 

The first breeze ruffling his hair as he stepped out of the subway station was a bit cold but Baekhyun couldn’t focus on anything but the clear rush of air he could feel tickling his insides as those words echoed in his head.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

"I have to leave, Baekhyun."

 

Confusion. That was the only thing registering in the little eight years old boy’s mind as he looked up at the beautiful woman. Beautiful? She didn’t look as beautiful as usual this time. 

 

Dark. She looked dark. Dark circles under her eyes. Dark hair. Dark gaze boring into his. Dark expression smothering him.

 

"Why?" the little boy asked, looking up at his mother through a blur. Blur? His eyes only got blurry whenever he cried.

 

Usually his mother was always there to dry his tears. Wouldn’t she be anymore?

 

"I can’t." A choked voice. Her features were blurry. Her voice seemed to scream at him from far, far away - the choked call of a drowning woman. "Your father… I can’t."

 

"Why?" he asked again. His voice was too loud, he winced at himself.

 

She shushed him, eyes widening. Wide, wide, wide eyes filled with fear.

 

"I can’t live with him anymore. I’m leaving."

 

Panic. He could feel it sneaking into his mouth, through his trembling and parted lips, swamping his throat, flooding his lungs, and squeezing his heart almost hard enough to burst it.

 

"You can’t."

 

A blur. A darker blur. 

 

"You can’t leave me. You can’t leave me. You can’t."

 

She was talking. Saying something. To him. Screaming. He couldn’t hear her but she was screaming.

 

It was foggy all around them. 

 

He stepped towards her.

 

Fog.

 

He stepped forward, forward, and forward again. Step by step, he went down the stairs.

 

She was laying on the floor. 

 

Her eyes were still open, wide with horror. Or was it just the horror veiling his own gaze?

 

A scream. He looked up. Wide eyes. Horror. His father was standing right the summit of the stairs, above them.

 

He stepped forward.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The sensation of stepping down a cliff and arrowing down into an endless pit pulled him out of his slumber with a loud gasp. It echoed in the empty room crammed with nothing but cold air.

 

He breathed it all in, wide eyes staring up at the ceiling. Nothing. Nothing gushed into his lungs. It felt like snow had piled up inside of him, hurting him, punishing him.

 

Why couldn’t he remember?

 

Why couldn’t he remember?

 

Why did everything turn into a haze? Why couldn’t he have the exact image of what had happened? Why couldn’t he see it in his dreams when he knew exactly what had happened? Why did his mind refuse to show him what exactly he had done? He remembered it. Did he remember it? He remembered it. He remembered exactly what had happened that day so why did his nightmares always turn out like this?

 

He parted his lips and breathed in Snow. Maybe it wasn’t snow. Maybe it was crystallized fear. Fear that never melted away, never crumbled down, always weighed him down.

 

It didn’t make sense. It didn’t make sense for Baekhyun to have done that. He would never. He would never do that to her. He had no reason to do that to her. It could’ve been an accident. But how could such thing be an accident? He had only been eight years old at that time. It didn’t make sense. He was wrong. He knew he hadn’t done it. He knew it. 

 

Then why did he remember doing it? Why did he have the image of his small hands struggling and grabbing and pushing in anger somewhere at the back of his head, hazy, blurry, and steamy but there. His memories couldn’t fail him. Could they? Could he ever trust the fog?

 

It didn’t make sense. It had been exactly seventeen years but it still didn’t make sense. He didn’t believe in it. He doubted it, he had always doubted it. But could he really allow himself to doubt something that he had been accused of his whole life? Could he really question what he knew he was through all those years?

 

He didn’t know. He couldn’t focus on anything. 

 

He closed his eyes and turned to lay on his side, hand blindly reaching out to his phone laying on his bedside table. There was a notification. It wasn’t a message, just an Instagram notification. A new video. He took one breath in, and then a second one, held it in, and then released it. He slid his thumb over the screen.

 

It was a video of Chanyeol sitting behind the same grand piano Baekhyun had been practicing on for more than a month now. He brought the phone closer to his face, the luminosity too high, hurting his eyes, but he ignored it. The pianist had a serene expression on his face, his eyes closed and his lips pulled into that faint, natural smile that was always the main accompaniment of his melody. Baekhyun mimicked him, closing his eyes and listening to a melody he was hearing for the first time. Maybe it was a self-composition, maybe it was just a song that Baekhyun had never heard before.

 

Either way, his eyes remained closed until the last caress of Chanyeol’s fingers against ivory keys. Baekhyun felt it console his heart a little. He felt every single note streaming into his soul, pooling against every corner of his ribcage and cradling his heart in an embrace of comfort.

 

They had been regularly seeing each other for the past week, twice in the academy but thrice in the subway. Baekhyun had stopped taking his car to travel around, he had no use for it since he had stopped going to the company and merely went out to run some errands or hang out with Joohyun or Junmyeon. 

 

The last few notes crooned through the speakers of his phone. He opened his eyes. He had no idea why this nightmare chose to visit him again tonight. He spent a lot of time with Chanyeol and even if there was nothing akin to love or affection between them, there was still a budding friendship and pleasantries. Maybe it was because Joohyun was getting busy and coupled with the fact that Baekhyun had stopped taking the subway with her, in case he might run into Chanyeol and ruin things, they couldn’t see each other. Not that she was satisfactory to him anyway.

 

Maybe it was because of his brother’s phone call a few hours ago. He had called from London and as usual, had started their conversation with the news of their father having been taken to the hospital for treatments. He had gone as far as asking Baekhyun to go to their family house in the morning and fetch a photo of their mother for his father. He usually always took it with him whenever he went to the hospital but had seemingly forgotten this time. Baekhyun had argued about it being a bad idea as the man hated it when people touched his photos but Baekbom had let him know he didn’t have the choice. Better Baekhyun than one of their countless maids.

 

He sighed, running a hand through his hair to ruffle it before bringing that same hand down and rubbing his face with it. He turned to lay on his back again and brought the phone closer to his face, staring at the thumbnail of the video for a few seconds. Almost unconsciously, his thumb pressed against the screen and the video started over again, comforting as it slowly chased the fog and the screams away.

 

He replayed the video ten more times before letting slumber take him away from the tender embrace of piano notes.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Everything around Baekhyun was foggy but this time, there was no smoke. There was nothing but the sterile white that Baekhyun associated to fog even if both these ideas and shades had nothing in common.

 

Hospitals were a sanctuary where grief canceled out joy, where misfortune pushed against miracles, and Baekhyun had always felt rather neutral about hospitals. 

 

As he walked through the plain hallways bursting with colors, seats occupied by worried families, relieved ones, prayers and curses to an almighty being that hadn’t made its appearance in the most needed moment, Baekhyun felt neither grief nor joy. 

 

The only thing he could feel was the pointy corner of the picture he was holding digging into the skin of his palm. He could’ve hid it in the inside pocket of his jacket but somehow, it felt wrong to hide that smile somewhere inside of him, close to his heart. He didn’t feel deserving of that privilege.

 

There was no particular emotion he could name that followed him with each step taken forward but he could almost feel his fingers trembling still. It was a lingering quiver he had picked up less than an hour ago, when he had been standing in front of his father’s house, waiting for one of the maids to bring him the photo. He hadn’t even stepped in. He hadn’t stepped in even once since he had left that house as soon as he was old enough to buy an apartment under his own name.

 

Soon, he was standing in front of his father’s room. The number on the door was identical to the number he had been given by the kind woman at the front desk in the entrance hall. It was staring at him. He wondered if he was remembering it correctly. What if this was the wrong room? Maybe he should go back down and ask for the room number again. 

 

He took a deep breath in. A quiet snort slipped through his lips the same way a crumbled, dried out, lifeless, and dull leaf would slide under a door, pushing in by an autumn breeze. It wouldn’t make any difference. Whether the room number was right or not, it would still be a stranger on the other side of the door.

 

He grabbed the handle carefully, the metal cold against his even colder skin, and slowly pushed it, sliding the door open. The only thing he saw at first was the end of a bed, the sheets white and pristine, a pair of feet pointing up under them. He stepped in and soon, his father came to sight, laying on it, body lost between the sheets, pale skin tone barely even contrasting with their shade. 

 

He was asleep, chest rising up and down in irregular intervals, his parted lips wheezing and coughing out low snores, no doubt the result of years of smoking gathered in his body. Baekhyun felt no particular emotion, no grief, no sorrow, no joy, and no hope. He felt as bleak as the paint glowing on the four suffocating walls of this hospital room. He stepped in properly and closed the door behind him. He looked down at his fingers, his knuckles were fading into white on the door’s handle, as if just breathing the same air as his father was enough to fade his edges away.

 

He stepped closer to the bed.. On the one hand, he was relieved that the man was sleeping and that he wouldn’t have to interact with him but on the other hand, it still felt incredibly awkward to be standing here. He should just put the photo on the bedside table and leave.

 

A quiet sigh escaped his lips as he stepped even closer to the bed to reach towards the bedside table and stretched his hand out to lay the photo there. However, before a single edge of the yellowed paper could even touch the beige surface, he glanced down at the two faces in the photo. He swallowed down and brought it closer to his face so he could look at it properly. 

 

It was a picture of his late mother and his father, when they were both young and newly married. There was no trace of neither of their two children, only them and the beaming smiles on their youthful, joyful features. His mother was a beautiful woman. Her eyes were as droopy as his and she even had a mole on the left corner of her lips, almost identical to the mole Baekhyun had on the opposite side of his face. The man on the picture was smiling, shoulders broad and chin held high up as the woman he loved had her arms wrapped around him. They looked happy. He wondered what happened and what had pushed his mother to the decision of a divorce. He didn’t remember. He had never asked Baekbom, let alone his father.

 

A cough startled him. When he looked down at his father, horror instantly filled him up when he realized that the man was blinking his eyes open and directly looking a him, features coming alive with a sour twist of anger.

 

"What are you doing?" he croaked out, voice rusty and greasy.

 

Baekhyun found himself unable to say anything, lips parting open to answer but words refusing to leave the safe confine of his throat.

 

"What," the other started again before another cough interrupted him. His eyes fell down to what Baekhyun was holding. "What’s that?"

 

"The picture," Baekhyun said, voice coming out weaker than he liked to associate to himself.

 

That seemed to be enough for his father to understand and suddenly, his eyes widened as he started fidgeting.

 

"Let go of that," he screamed as hard as he could, startling Baekhyun who jumped. It was barely even a scream, the man’s vocal cords  too damaged for him to even raise out intelligible words. "Let go of her!"

 

As if burned, Baekhyun instantly let go of the picture and stepped back.

 

"You don’t have the right to touch her," the man spat out through gritted teeth.

 

Baekhyun shook his head.

 

"I’m- I’m sorry," he mumbled, voice weak and carried away like a frail, withered petal at the mercy of a summer storm.

 

"You don’t have the right to touch her," the man repeated, voice breaking as he lifted his clenched fist barely a centimeter above the bed. Baekhyun heard those words echoing in his head, rattling his chest like a burglar forcing their way into an empty house. "After what you’ve done. You monster," his father wailed again, his last word lost in illness and coughs.

 

He was under medication. It was just the treatments and the medication, Baekhyun tried telling himself as he continued stepping back with difficulty, as if roots had splurged up from the ground and locked around his ankles, keeping him from moving properly. 

 

That accusation. That. That was what he was. Was it? A monster. Was he? He was. Was he? He had always been. That was what he was, his entire being was crafted around that single accusation. That single horrifying word was what his entire existence, his entire way of being aimed for.

 

Thoughts jumbled together in his head, crashing together into one big lump of knots made out of nothing but long, unending leather-like stems and branches. No petals inside. Only fog. Every time he tried untangling it, thorns stabbed through his fingers and scarred him further.

 

But he didn’t remember. He didn’t remember being a monster. It didn’t fit. But he did remember. He didn’t.

 

From the corner of his eyes he caught small swirls of steam billowing out of the humidifier on the bedside table.

 

Didn’t he really? Then what was he like? Whenever he smiled at someone, whenever his fingers grazed someone, whenever he uttered a single word to someone with the sole intention of intruding into them and sucking out every single drop of love they had to offer to him.

 

It fitted. Baekhyun had cut and sharpened his edges so he would fit into what he was supposed to be.

 

"You pushed her."

 

That voice sounded so far away. As far away as he felt from its owner. It sounded like nothing but a pile of grease and rotten substances and poison, coughs and wheezes and whispers of mortality.

 

"I’m so sorry," he said, pleaded, added on to those prayers to the sky that went unheard but were screamed in so many of this hospital’s hallways.

 

Maybe he wasn’t entirely neutral and emotionless, after all.

 

It wasn’t the medication. It was the truth.

 

"You killed her," the man accused him and this time, it was nothing but a faint whisper that screeched right into Baekhyun’s ears.

 

He felt it again. The same snow piling up in his chest and evaporating into fog and smoke, snaking into his throat and squeezing his tongue hard enough for it to lose its ability to twist and form any kind of sound.

 

There was no surprise. Baekhyun had heard those words dozens, maybe thousands of times in his life.

 

This time, his father was thrashing around, shaking his head, wheezing and coughing and maybe dying a little bit with each passing second as he repeated them again and again and again. So loud and so clear that he felt them crystallizing into ice shards in the air, stabbing into him and pushing, pushing, pushing until his body collided with the door, the knob digging into his lower back for a second before he whipped around, opened the door, and was pushed out of the room by those words.

 

As he walked out of the hospital on trembling legs and a quivering breath, Baekhyun thought that maybe the reason why he couldn’t ever dream of that exact moment was because he was so cowardly that even his subconscious refused to show him how monstrous he could be.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

"You should stop drinking now."

 

It was odd how a voice could sound sloshy after drinking enough. Or maybe it was because he could feel the alcohol sloshing in his stomach at the moment.

 

Either way, Junmyeon’s voice sounded sloshy and even the disapproving furrow of his eyebrows looked sloshy. That was not normal. Maybe it would get better if he drunk a little more.

 

"Why should I?" he slurred, fingers grabbing his small glass. The soju splashed inside  and Baekhyun felt himself swaying along with it before he brought the glass up to his lips and downed all of it, throat burning a little as the alcohol slid down to his stomach. "The soju’s good. The weather is nice. Even my best friend is with me. Why should I stop? Such a beautiful night."

 

His day hadn’t been good. It had been rather foggy but tonight, tonight was good.

 

He heard Junmyeon sigh but it was drowned out by the distinguished melody of the piano. Baekhyun turned towards the stage. It was odd. What kind of person drank soju while watching a piano performance? Him. He was that kind of person. The thought pushed a drunken giggle out of him.

 

It was a nice performance. It would’ve been better if the pianist had been different. A different pianist. Baekhyun hummed to himself before grabbing his phone off the table, almost dropping it and laughing loudly at his own clumsiness. Junmyeon sighed again. Was he worried? Baekhyun hoped he was. It would be nice.

 

Without a single second of hesitation Baekhyun found his camera app —after staring at the small colorful icons on his screen for what felt like a whole minute to look for it— and started recording the pianist. It was a nice song. He had never heard it before but it was nice. There were so many nice songs in this world. His father’s voice was not one of them.

 

He recorded almost an entire minute of the performance, mostly because he was so focused on watching it at one point, he forgot that he was recording. Then, he forgot why he was recording it in the first place. He frowned. Down at his phone and then up at Junmyeon. There was laughter in his best friend’s eyes but also concern. Concern. Baekhyun liked concern.

 

He also liked piano. Right. Piano. Chanyeol. He had recorded it for Chanyeol. He clumsily looked for his name in his contacts list, opened up a new conversation thread, typed a message and then joined the video as an attachment before sending it.

 

ud look good playign that

 

"Aren’t you going to tell me what put you in this state?" Junmyeon’s voice called out to him and Baekhyun tilted his head.

 

"Tell you what?"

 

"What happened today that made you drink like that," Junmyeon repeated for what felt like the tenth time.

 

Baekhyun sighed and grabbed the bottle of soju. Junmyeon snatched it away from him before he could pour himself another glass. He twisted his lips into a grimace.

 

His phone vibrated.

 

that’s a nice song

where are you?

 

u shuld lpay for me mor often it help me sleep

 

are you drunk?

 

"Baekhyun," Junmyeon called for him again, voice weakened by concern but sounding like a scream to Baekhyun’s misty ears.

 

"What?" he groaned.

 

"Why do you always do this?" Junmyeon asked, running a hand through his hair. His hair looked fluffy. Junmyeon was kind of fluffy. "Why do you never tell me how you’re feeling?"

 

Baekhyun let go of his phone. Put it down with a loud, clumsy clatter. The message remained unanswered.

 

"I’m not weak."

 

"Sharing the burden of bad thoughts is not being weak. It’s for your own well-being."

 

"I don’t deserve my own well-being," he mumbled, gaze trailing around.

 

"You’re not a monster, Baekhyun."

 

There was a man crying alone at the bar. Was this a bar? Was it even soju that Baekhyun was drinking? He wasn’t sure. That looked like someone who had gotten their heart broken. Would it be okay for him to piece that heart back together and then break it all over again so his mark would remain on it forever?

 

He got up on his feet but before he could even step towards the bar, he felt someone grab his hand.

 

"Don’t do that," Junmyeon said firmly.

 

The world tilted around a little bit. Baekhyun closed his eyes.

 

The next time he opened them he was between familiar walls, a familiar body pressed against him. Was this his house? He had bought it with his own money. It was a lonely house. He turned his head to the side and saw fluffy hair. Junmyeon’s hair was always so fluffy. Junmyeon was always so warm.

 

You’re not a monster, Baekhyun.

 

You’re a monster.

 

You’re not a monster, Baekhyun.

 

He wrapped his arms around the reassurance and pushed. He blinked once, twice, and Junmyeon was pressed between the wall and Baekhyun’s chest.

 

"Can you stay?" he slurred, probably a bit too close to Junmyeon’s face because he was blurry. Baekhyun didn’t like blurry.

 

Junmyeon breathed out, nodded once, and Baekhyun melted against him. Junmyeon was so kind. So, so kind to him.

 

He pulled away a little and looked into his eyes. He slanted their lips together. Junmyeon was always so, so warm. 

 

"Do you love me, Junmyeon?"

 

Silence. 

 

Baekhyun peppered kisses against the corner of his lips, his jaw, his neck.

 

"Don’t you love me?" he asked again, whispered against Junmyeon’s ear. "Would you like to fall in love with me? I could make you. Do you think I would love you back? Maybe. I wish I could. But I wish I never will. What’s your biggest wish? Do you love me?"

 

"Baekhyun, stop. That doesn’t work on me," he heard and frowned.

 

"You don’t love me? I can make you love me."

 

The skin of Junmyeon’s jawline hardened up under his words.

 

"I’m not one of the hearts you collect on shelves before discarding them when the enjoyment wears off."

 

Junmyeon sounded upset. 

 

Baekhyun was upset. But Junmyeon was more upset. He couldn’t be. Junmyeon was his only friend.

 

"Sorry," he whispered and then repeated once, twice, thrice, and more until he felt Junmyeon’s hand patting his back and he stopped.

 

He looked up at him. He was blurry, a bit foggy. Or maybe that was just that voice still echoing in his chest. Junmyeon’s eyes were so soft, so clear. They saw Baekhyun. He pressed their lips together again. This time, he didn’t move. He wanted to feel the comfort.

 

"Then can you love me tonight?" he mumbled against those same lips that always were so, so kind to him. His eyes burned a little bit. Stinged. Blurred. He wasn’t sure why. "Just for tonight."

 

Junmyeon breathed consolation out against Baekhyun’s lips. Or maybe it was exhaustion. 

 

They kissed again and Baekhyun was the one to breathe that consolation in for the rest of the night.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

October settled over Seoul by sprinkling dull leaves and drops of rain all over the city, dressed in a gown made of grey skies and fluffy clouds.

 

Junmyeon had been a bit off after that night but Baekhyun had earned his smile back in no time. Everything fell back into its usual flow. Sometimes, Baekhyun felt like he was directing things, pulling everything the way he wanted to. Occasionally, he wondered if it really was the case. 

 

Piano classes were still ongoing. Neither him nor Chanyeol ever mentioned the drunken messages that Baekhyun came to curse himself for the morning after the incident. They seemed to grow even closer after that. They were friends, they matched a lot. Sometimes, exchanging pleasantries and stupid jokes with Chanyeol was enough to shroud him from the cold spell hovering over him.

 

They still met a lot in the subway. Baekhyun had memorized the exact time at which Chanyeol took the subway after classes. He had to wait very little at the station to catch a glimpse of the tall man to follow him into the train. Every single time, one of them approached the other to spend the rest of the journey in pleasant conversations, comfortable banter, and laughter until Baekhyun had to get off at his stop first.

 

That Friday night, they met again.

 

Baekhyun had been the one to approach Chanyeol first, the later greeting him with a wide smile. It had become some kind of routine to talk about their days and ask each other all kinds of odd questions. Chanyeol always had a lot of funny anecdotes to share about his day spent teaching various children how to make music.

 

"Work’s very hectic nowadays," Baekhyun lied at one point. He hadn’t stepped foot into the company since the last time. Work was hectic but only at home, from where he worked. "I didn’t even have time to eat lunch."

 

That wasn’t a lie, he really hadn’t been able to eat lunch but that was because he had been running errands and hadn’t found the will to eat alone outside.

 

Chanyeol furrowed his eyebrows into that sightly concerned expression. He had traded his oversized hoodies for big coats now, the one he was sporting taking more room in the subway car than his own body mass. It was a green padded coat with some kind of military pattern and despite being rather imposing in size, Chanyeol looked like he was swimming in it. It must be warm.

 

"Cosmetics brands always get busier when holidays are approaching, right?" he asked, gentle and deep voice falling even gentler and deeper in a concerned tone. He was looking down at Baekhyun while holding onto one of the handles on the roof of the subway car. 

 

"They do," Baekhyun nodded. "They often have Holiday collections and whatnots to work on. We have to come up with new marketing ideas and there’s just so many rival brands and a big reputation to take into consideration."

 

"But still, you should take time to eat even if you’re just shoveling rice down your throat for five minutes," Chanyeol argued, giving him one of those disapproving looks Baekhyun was used to seeing on Junmyeon.

 

He laughed softly, a lighthearted note lingering in his voice afterwards.

 

"Are you concerned about my health? That’s cute."

 

Chanyeol huffed at him, not even replying. Silence settled over them for a few seconds and Baekhyun looked around. He was only two stops away from his. He didn’t really feel like leaving. It was regretful that they only saw each other for less than fifteen minutes in the subway. Maybe he should do something about that. It would be the perfect time to ask the other out to dinner, it didn’t have to mean anything. They had already engaged into the topic of food.

 

"There’s a really nice barbecue place near the next stop. If you’re still hungry, would you like to eat together? I’m a bit hungry too."

 

Baekhyun looked up at Chanyeol in surprise as the other uttered his thoughts out before Baekhyun could. He hadn’t expected the other to ask him out to dinner first but Chanyeol wasn’t a shy person. Moreover, the way he was looking at Baekhyun so casually, as if this was a completely mundane thing seemed to suggest that that was exactly what he thought. However, Baekhyun knew him now. The faint raise of his eyebrows was a sign of hopefulness.

 

Maybe this was the exact reason why Baekhyun was taking things slower than he usually would. This faint thing they had, a kind of friendship where they both knew there was attraction between them. Neither of them acted upon it. It didn’t exactly make Baekhyun feel any kind of heat. Or rather, it wasn’t exactly the same heat as usual. It was a clear, glittery summer breeze, faint, but still very much there, catching his attention despite its near complete insignificance.

 

With a wide smile and delight tucked into the corners of his lips, Baekhyun accepted. He was rewarded with an equally as bright smile from Chanyeol.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The aroma of freshly-cooked food leisurely floating around the small restaurant was a foreign one. Baekhyun had never stepped into this small hole-in-the-wall establishment. 

 

It wasn’t even a proper restaurant per se, just a few tables and chairs made of a sturdy blue plastic trapped amongst four walls made of even bluer but softer plastic curtains that fluttered with the hardest gusts of wind. It was cold outside and the place wasn’t heated enough for them to take their coats off despite the electric heater glowing a fiery orange at the center of the pocha. 

 

This place seemed to be mildly known as there were much less vacant tables than occupied ones. Hushed conversations and loud, sometimes drunken laughter danced around, chased through the air by the hiss of grilled meat. It had looked shabby from outside but Baekhyun was surprised that the services and menu it offered was far from that. It wasn’t usual to be served barbecue at a pocha but Baekhyun appreciated this difference.

 

Baekhyun liked this newly discovered place, he liked the taste of the soju, he liked the doting gaze with which the old lady who owned the establishment watched over her customers from the corner of the room. As if she was a kindhearted grandmother making sure that every single one of her grandchildren was well-fed and shrouded from the chilly weather.

 

He liked how green and fresh the lettuce and perilla leaves they had been given to accompany the meat looked. He liked how glistening and mouth-watering the pork belly cooking on the grill placed at the center of their table was. He just liked samgyeopsal, and he especially liked the focused and careful look on Chanyeol’s face as he took care of the cooking. Smoke puffed from the grill up into his face and he breathed it in, soothed and at ease, cradled by the delicious scents twirling together in the air. Or maybe it wasn’t the the food that had this effect.

 

They had been there for a few minutes already and at first, Baekhyun had been taking care of the grilling but after almost burning the meat and dropping his barbecue tongs quite a few times, Chanyeol had simply shaken his head and confiscated everything from him. He was cutting the meat into smaller pieces with the scissors now, his teeth sunk into his lower lip in an expression of concentration. His skin had a light sheen to it, a sign that the end of the day was nearing and that he felt a little bit too hot in that big, fluffy coat of his. Baekhyun felt snug in his own coat, only having taken off his scarf earlier.

 

They had continued talking about their day, the weather, the news, and even the latest songs that they listened to on replay. Conversations always flowed so naturally with Chanyeol, Baekhyun never had to dig into his head and observe the other for long seconds in order to figure out a subject that he could craft as a shared interest. 

 

"How did you get into music?" Baekhyun asked after a few seconds of comfortable silence during which the drowned out hiss of the grill sung for them.

 

Instantly, Chanyeol’s eyes brightened and the warmth elevating off the grill paled compared to the warmth dripping from his eyes to his words.

 

"Music has always been part of my life since I was young," he answered without hesitation. 

 

Baekhyun rested his chin on the palm of his hand and braced himself for long seconds of Chanyeol passionately talking about his favorite subject ever. With his fluffy hair sticking all over his head from the wind’s strong fingers, he looked like a tall, soft puppy. Which was what he basically looked like all the time, especially when he was excited or in the midst of a passionate subject.

 

"My father actually used to own a tiny shop where he sold cassette tapes and CD’s from all over the world. I kind of grew up running around that tiny shop and listening to almost every single song offered to me there."

 

"You were literally a child of music then," Baekhyun hummed, fondness tickling his insides at the image of a tiny, tiny Chanyeol running around a shop excitedly while holding cassette tapes in his hands, smile toothy and wide, ears sticking out as if his own body yearned to expand and absorb every single note of music in the entire world.

 

"I was," the other grinned as he continued looking down at the meat he was busy grilling. "My dad can play the piano and my mom used to be a wedding singer before she got married to my dad. I guess it was just natural of me to go into music and make it my profession at some point."

 

"Parents are usually against their children choosing this kind of field," Baekhyun commented as he grabbed a piece of kimchi and brought it to his watering mouth. Somehow, Chanyeol made samgyeopsal look tastier than Baekhyun remembered it to be.

 

Chanyeol let out a soft hum of finality once he deemed the meat cooked enough and Baekhyun, still chewing on the food in his mouth, perked up and let his chopsticks dive towards the grill. Chanyeol stopped him with a look and a tut before he could take anything.

 

"It’s too hot, be careful," he warned Baekhyun, who rolled his eyes playfully and still grabbed a piece of meat, holding it between his chopsticks for a short while as he listened to Chanyeol resume speaking. "My father’s dream was to spread the taste of music all over the country actually. He thinks music is very important, so he’s the one who got me to learn the guitar at first. Turns out I was actually good at that so I easily picked up piano too, afterwards. He was very happy."

 

Too impatient, Baekhyun couldn’t wait anymore and simply dipped his piece of meat into the sauce and brought it up to his mouth. It was still, unsurprisingly, too hot so his mouth fell open for a few seconds and Chanyeol laughed at him. Baekhyun narrowed his eyes at him until he could close his mouth and properly chew on the meat.

 

"So he’s kind of living his dream through you then," he commented, still chewing on the meat. It was perfectly cooked and the flavor of the sauce burst inside his mouth in a mix of soybean paste and sesame oil amongst other weaker aromas.

 

"He is," Chanyeol nodded with a perk of his shoulders, obviously proud of that fact. He took a lettuce leaf into his hand and placed sauced meat on it along with green onions and a small piece of garlic. He wrapped it all securely before bringing the bundle up into his mouth and humming softly. "Then I kind of got bored of piano in high school so I started learning the drums."

 

Baekhyun looked up from the wrap he was making of his own, the perilla leave almost bursting with meat, green onions, kimchi, a few grains of rice, green chili peppers, and sauce.

 

"You’re telling me you learned how to play a third instrument to perfection simply because you were bored?" he couldn’t help but ask, incredulous but mostly amazed. He didn’t even notice the green onions falling from a small slit on his wrap.

 

Chanyeol curved his lips into a smug, handsome smile, confidence jolting his shoulders a little bit into a nonchalant shrug, as if that was nothing to him. He was being extremely cocky and yet, Baekhyun couldn’t help but feel part of himself melting a little bit with the attraction he felt for Chanyeol reaching some kind of new peak, thickening in the air along with the delicious scent of food.

 

Chanyeol glanced down at his wrap and promptly burst into laughter. It was kind of coming apart in Baekhyun’s hand and he crammed it into his mouth before it could get entirely ruined. Cheeks bursting as he chewed on it, he groaned until Chanyeol stopped laughing.

 

"You’re really bad with food," Chanyeol noted after taking a sip of his drink.

 

Baekhyun couldn’t even find it in himself to deny it. Not that he could with all that food in his mouth. He continued chewing on the food as he watched Chanyeol grab a perilla leaf and lay it on his palm.

 

"What happened to that shop? You used the past tense," he noted, watching as Chanyeol dipped a piece of meat into the sauce and laid it on the leaf before leading his chopsticks to the small dish full of green onions.

 

"Unfortunately, it didn’t live on because of the digital age," he said, nostalgia humming faintly in his voice as he laid the perfect amount of peppers and kimchi on the meat. "So they just closed it and opened an Italian restaurant a few years later instead. I sometimes go there to help."

 

"You still have time for that?" he inquired, a bit surprised since he had come to figure out that Chanyeol’s week was usually packed with classes and students, just like the rest of the teachers at the academy. 

 

"They’re getting a bit older now," he said, voice as soft as his motions while he folded and wrapped the perilla leaf around the meat and other vegetables. "They have workers to help them but I still want to make sure everything’s going okay for them so I visit and help sometimes. I can also spend some time with them like that."

 

Baekhyun nodded in understanding. Chanyeol was really kind. He had his own life, earned his own money, and was an adult now but he was still a filial son. Somehow, that wasn’t even surprising, even if Baekhyun knew most people would simply send their parents some money and visit on holidays if they were free.

 

What was surprising, however, was Chanyeol handing him the wrap he had just made, a casual yet expectant look on his features.

 

He glanced down at the wrap and then back up at Chanyeol with slightly raised eyebrows. "You made it for me?"

 

"It takes you almost an entire minute to battle with the food before making a decent wrap," he explained with a crooked smile, still holding the wrap out to Baekhyun who oddly couldn’t bring himself to take it. He hadn’t expected Chanyeol to do this just because he had seen Baekhyun, someone who was supposed to be an adult, struggle a bit with making wraps. He also hadn’t expected such a simple gesture to be enough to make him feel so appreciated. "I didn’t put in garlic inside, if that’s what you’re worried about."

 

"How did you know I don’t like garlic?" he asked, growing more surprised by the second but still taking the wrap because Chanyeol was starting to act as if his arm was about to fall off from holding it out for too long. It was silly. So silly. And made Baekhyun feel snug. He nodded happily when Baekhyun accepted it.

 

"You put in literally everything besides garlic into your own wrap earlier. You’re quite easy to read."

 

Baekhyun had heard those words a lot in his life. Every single time, they had come from people who had been fooled both by Baekhyun and themselves. This time, Baekhyun’s smile wasn’t a secretive or appreciative one. He wasn’t really sure what emotion was showing on his own face, for the first time in his life.

 

He thanked Chanyeol and engulfed the wrap that fit into his mouth perfectly without coming apart. It seemed like Chanyeol didn’t only make samgyeopsal look tastier.

 

"A restaurant is kind of very far away from a music store," he said after a moment of silent enjoying their food. "It must’ve been hard for them."

 

Chanyeol shook his head. "Not really. They’re still spreading joy to people but this time, through food. The music there is also really nice. They still both love music more than anything. Sometimes, they randomly dance in the living room and my mother always shames me for not even knowing how to waltz," he laughed, pulling Baekhyun to laugh along. "What about you? What actually pushed you into piano lessons?"

 

The earnest way with which Chanyeol looked at him and the soothing taste of the food carefully prepared by the other’s own fingers somehow pushed Baekhyun to honesty before he even realized it himself.

 

"Actually, I saw a video of you playing piano back in August. It was a really nice song and you looked really passionate and peaceful while playing. It kind of made me envious and also pulled me in, I guess" he answered, fingers swiftly dancing over the table’s surface as they would on a keyboard while he took in Chanyeol’s reaction. The latter’s eyes flickered down to Baekhyun’s fingers once before looking up into Baekhyun’s eyes again.

 

He leaned just a tad closer over the table, his big eyes glittering beautifully with mischief.

 

"Looks like you paid more attention to the pianist than the piano," he said in a low, playful voice.

 

Baekhyun mimicked him by leaning closer as well.

 

"Maybe that’s exactly why we’re here today."

 

That drew a wide smile on Chanyeol’s lips and drops of pink on the tip of his ears, like dew enlivening the beauty of a rose under sunlight’s morning dance.

 

The rest of the meal was spent with pleasant conversation and even more pleasant tastes spreading through Baekhyun’s mouth. At one point, he had stopped trying to make his own wraps and merely shoved each accompaniment into his mouth in the short intervals separating the wraps that Chanyeol made for him. As if they had been sharing this routine their entire life.

 

When there was nothing left to eat on the grill after a few servings and surprisingly close to two hours spent in the coziness of blue plastic curtains, they finally stepped out of the place. Baekhyun offered a pleased smile to Chanyeol who offered to walk him to the subway station even if he was planning to take the bus directly to his house rather than the subway again as it would be less of a hassle.

 

It was cold, the sun had set a while ago and Baekhyun was snug in his coat, his blue scarf wrapped around the neck, and fulfillment still leisurely stroking his insides. He wasn’t sure whether it was a result of the nice meal he just had or of whom he had shared that nice meal with. After a few minutes of walking while talking about anything and everything, Baekhyun noticed that Chanyeol didn’t seem to feel as comfortable as he did.

 

He was shivering every few seconds and had repeated that the weather was very cold close to five times already, his hands shoved into the pockets of his big coat. It was a wonder he still managed to feel cold while wearing that but Baekhyun found it a bit winsome that he seemed to easily be affected by the cold breezes through which autumn laughed at their face.

 

Baekhyun saw it as a perfect occasion and stopped Chanyeol from walking by touching his arm. Ignoring the questioning look he was giving him, Baekhyun swiftly took his scarf off and reached up to wrap it around Chanyeol’s neck instead, focusing on his task and not uttering a single word. The scarf was quite big in size, usually covering half of Baekhyun’s face when worn. It had the same result on Chanyeol, concealing his mouth and the tip of his nose along with just the tip of his earlobes once Baekhyun adjusted it snuggly around him, making sure it wasn’t askew or folded away from the skin it should cover.

 

"You kept complaining about the cold," he mumbled as he took a step back, giving the other a charming but genuine smile. "Now, you’re warmer and cuter."

 

Chanyeol’s eyes were wide with surprise as he looked down at Baekhyun, more of his nose disappearing under the blue woolen scarf. A car swooshed by them, the red of its rear lights seemed to linger over Chanyeol’s cheeks even once it disappeared from sight, the skin now a little rosier than it was just before. The tips of his ears were a faint red too and Baekhyun knew it wasn’t just a result of the cold. It was adorable and Baekhyun had one piece of clothing less to protect him from the cold but he felt more immune to it than with his scarf on.

 

It took Chanyeol a second to gather his wits again and Baekhyun watched attentively as his fingers peeked like tiny paws from under the hem of his oversized coat to pull the scarf away from his mouth. He revealed an amused smile that contrasted with the gratefulness and remnants of fluster still dripping from his eyes.

 

"You having to go on your tiptoes to do that is what’s cute."

 

Baekhyun narrowed his eyes just a little bit.

 

"Be careful, I could wrap this scarf much tighter around your neck."

 

There was a second of stare down before they both promptly burst into laughter and resumed walking towards the subway station.

 

Chanyeol thanked him later with words that were boxed into a soothing smile, the faint hue of timidity wrapped all around it like a pretty bow. His fingers were holding onto the scarf as if he could draw more warmth from it that way.

 

After they parted ways in front of the station, Chanyeol’s smile still glittered in Baekhyun’s mind throughout the rest of his journey home.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

When he got home that same night, it was to a puff of merriment welcoming him as soon as he pushed the door open. Or rather, it was to a puff of merriment following him inside as he entered his apartment.

 

He had work to do. He should definitely plan a visit to the company because some things just couldn’t be done from home for weeks. He also should contact Joohyun, something that he hadn’t done in almost an entire week despite her piling messages. He missed it. Not Joohyun, just the affection and emotions she nurtured for him. 

 

And yet, the only thing Baekhyun did was plop down on his couch and look at his phone with furrowed eyebrows when it vibrated in his pocket. A smile burgeoned on his lips, fueled by the luminosity that he still could sense behind his eyelids every time he blinked. It was Chanyeol’s name displayed on the notification.

 

I completely forgot to give you your scarf back :c 

I’m sorry, I’ll bring it to you tomorrow at the academy ;u;

 

Baekhyun gazed at the emojis the other had slipped into his messages. It kind of fitted Chanyeol. It also fitted his expectations. Although, Chanyeol took a bit more time than he thought he would.

 

He hadn’t forgotten to ask for his scarf back. He had deliberately not mentioned anything about it when Chanyeol had walked away with a last wave, Baekhyun’s scarf still snug around his neck. He wasn’t entirely sure the other would message him but now, he was glad that this had served as an excuse for Chanyeol to message him. They hadn’t really texted each other since those few drunken messages Baekhyun had sent him a while ago.

 

It’s okay, I don’t mind

You can even keep it if it’ll help you not get sick during the change of weather

 

that’s very kind of you but still it’s your scarf and you might need it

 

He could almost imagine the furrow of Chanyeol’s eyebrows as he argued with him in concern. Chanyeol seemed to be an easily concerned person. He was very expressive.

 

I’m not that kind

Maybe I’m saying this because I didn’t really like the scarf that much anyway 

 

Accordion to me, this scarf is awesome and you cannot slander it like this!!! 

 

It took Baekhyun two tries to understand what exactly Chanyeol was saying in that message and as soon as he got the pun, he promptly burst into laughter, his loud voice echoing in his empty apartment.

 

Wow so you’re the kind of nerd who makes music puns

Not even surprising

 

You’re so mean 

You just baroque my heart

 

This time, Baekhyun bit onto his lower lip to conceal a wide grin. It somehow still managed to split his face into two. He had no idea why such a simple, lame thing felt so incredibly lovely to him.

 

Oh no, your heart’s too precious to get broken

 Want me to come over to piece it back together with super glue?

 

This time, the reply took three minutes to arrive and Baekhyun spent each of those minutes wondering whether Chanyeol was flustered or if he was just looking for another lame pun to reply with.

 

Sounds like an excuse to find me and steal your scarf back pft

 

You’re so smart

 

>_>

hehe

 

The conversation ended there but Baekhyun spent the rest of his night associating each of the emojis Chanyeol had used to one of his real facial expressions.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The next morning, the sun was strong and the sky was bluer than expected for an October day.

 

After a good night’s sleep, Baekhyun woke up to a message from Chanyeol.

 

this scarf can’t Handel being away from its owner for too long so it’ll see you later in class

 

Along with that simple caption that was so lame, Baekhyun felt his cheeks wincing and burning in anger from how hard it made him smile, there was a single picture attached. He opened it, draping it over his whole screen and gazing at it with that same smile on. It was a simple picture of Chanyeol, two fingers of one hand framing one closed eye in a peace sign while the other stared directly into the camera. He had a crooked smile on, one corner of his lips lifted up higher as if to support that dashing dimple on his cheek. 

 

He was handsome. He couldn’t pinpoint something particularly handsome on Chanyeol’s face no matter how long he stared at the picture through his still hazy morning eyes. He had big, kind eyes, there was just something cute about the shape of his eyebrows. He always looked either like a mischievous young boy or a caring and kindhearted man. There was just something about that crooked, boyish smile. There was just something. 

 

Baekhyun had received dozens, maybe hundreds of good morning messages in his life. Some of them made him smile, some of them felt like a waste of time, and others felt like a desperate breath of fresh air at the end of a stuffy night, but there was just something in Chanyeol’s message. Something that made Baekhyun feel so awfully attracted to him at that exact moment.

 

He was wearing Baekhyun’s scarf, as if it was a proof shot that he wouldn’t forget it this time.

 

It looked good on him. Almost as if that simple scarf was enough for Baekhyun to grip a tight hold around the other, own a small part of Chanyeol.

 

Oddly, Baekhyun didn’t find himself wanting to own a memory, a heart, or a breath, but that brilliance that seemed to always emanate off Chanyeol.

 

Maybe he had also liked owning a little bit of Chanyeol’s time that day, as they spent part of the morning exchanging messages until Chanyeol had classes to attend to and Baekhyun, work to do.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Working hadn’t been as unpleasant as Baekhyun had expected it to be. It had still happened at home, in his living room with the television switched on in case he wanted to rest his head from time to time by watching something instead of analyzing something.

 

Truthfully, Baekhyun knew that what had kept him going that day was the piano lesson that was awaiting him in the afternoon and that felt so far away yet so close at the same time.

 

Therefore, when the time had finally come, it was in a vivacious manner that Baekhyun walked into Allegro Music Studio. It was Jongdae who greeted him at the front desk again. He was often there, more than anyone else, but Baekhyun had found out a while ago that Chanyeol and Jongdae co-owned the academy. They had opened it together years ago, and while Chanyeol had been more musically inclined, Jongdae had always been the one to take care of the business part and things that Chanyeol had no inclination towards.

 

They made small talk, he asked about Jongdae’s day and the latter was always so friendly and nice that they talked for around five minutes before Baekhyun headed towards the classroom, not wanting to make Chanyeol wait for him too much. 

 

When he pushed the door open, it was mellow musical notes that wrapped around him and pulled him inside, as if he were an old friend that they had missed dearly. 

 

Chanyeol was seated at the piano, posture perfect, exuding the dignity and confidence that he had tried teaching Baekhyun about what felt like a lifetime ago but was not even three months earlier. Baekhyun could only see his side profile. His eyes were closed and he had that soothing expression on, the one that pulled him in as much as his melody did. He didn’t notice Baekhyun, too absorbed in his own musical world. Baekhyun recognized his melody as Erik Satie’s Gymnopédie No.1.

 

It was a song Baekhyun liked, lulling, sad, almost mystic. What he liked even more was the sight of Chanyeol’s still snuggled into the blue scarf Baekhyun had wrapped around him with his own hands only last night, everything down from the tip of his nose disappearing behind the colored wool.

 

He watched the other for a few seconds and entered, closing the door behind him. It was with quiet steps that Baekhyun approached, mischief taking over his body and stretching his lips into a grin as he walked until he was standing right next to Chanyeol. Without a single noise, he stretched his hand out and lightly grazed the tip of Chanyeol’s nose with his fingertip.

 

Instantly, the other’s eyes shot open and his fingers fell heavily on the keyboard as he jolted on his seat, startled by Baekhyun’s touch first and then by the loud and brutal sound of the piano notes cutting his peaceful melody. His eyes were wider than ever as he looked at Baekhyun in surprise. Baekhyun looked back at him for a second before bursting into laughter.

 

"Your face," he said between chunks of laughter, Chanyeol’s offended expression only making it harder for him to stop and take control over himself. "It was— priceless."

 

"You can’t just go around and give people heart attacks like that," Chanyeol groaned after a while. It only fueled Baekhyun’s already fiery amusement, his cheeks burning from how hard he had laughed.

 

"I just booped your nose!" Baekhyun defended himself, voice echoing with the remnants of his laugh. "You’re the one who almost fell off the bench. I didn’t know you were such a scaredy cat."

 

Chanyeol frowned at him but he couldn’t conceal the twitch of his lips, a telltale sign that he was doing his best to keep himself from laughing along with Baekhyun.

 

"I’m not sure whether you really deserve me returning this scarf to you or not."

 

"If you like it that much, you can keep it. It suits you," Baekhyun said nonchalantly as he moved to take his usual place beside Chanyeol on the bench.

 

He was only a little disappointed when Chanyeol chuckled and unwrapped the scarf from around his neck, handing it out to him. Baekhyun still took it, folded it messily and let it rest on the piano lid.

 

"You better not forget it again," Chanyeol warned him with playfully narrowed eyes.

 

Baekhyun rolled his eyes at him.

 

"Oh, wait," Chanyeol spoke again before he could say anything. "I have something to show you before we start practicing."

 

Baekhyun gave him a curious look but again, before he could question the other, Chanyeol straightened his posture again, fingers scattering over the keys. He started playing and it took Baekhyun a few seconds to recognize the leisurely melody his fingers weaved. It was the song Baekhyun had heard in that bar with Junmyeon weeks ago and that he had recorded before sending it to Chanyeol. He remembered his drunken self telling Chanyeol that he would look good playing that. He hadn’t expected the other to actually do it.

 

With each kiss of Chanyeol’s fingertips against the ivory keys, Baekhyun felt the tune moulding in his own chest.

 

By the time the last note hummed in the air, Baekhyun’s gaze was fixated on Chanyeol’s features, watching as he blinked a little as if with the end of the song came his expulsion back into the real world and he was a little disoriented. He turned to Baekhyun with a light smile.

 

"How was it?" he asked. Pure curiosity. Of course, Chanyeol probably knew that this was the perfect rendition of a nameless song.

 

"It was really amazing," Baekhyun said, surprised when his voice came out a little breathy. Chanyeol’s smile widened. He wasn’t sure why he reacted like that, he had received much more expensive and extravagant gifts in his life. Was this even a gift? What was Chanyeol’s purpose in doing this? "I really didn’t expect you to actually do it. It was so long ago that I mentioned this."

 

Chanyeol remained silent for a moment, his fingers strutting on the keyboard shortly to form a dainty string of notes. It sounded nice. He didn’t even have to look down at the keys to do it.

 

"Well, it was a nice song. I liked it the first time I heard it and even if I figured it was a self-composition from that pianist, I thought why not learn it?" He stopped there and tucked his lips into an apologetic line. "It took me quite a while because of classes and everything else but I’m glad you liked it. Although, I’m not sure how it could help you sleep better at night," he ended, bumping his shoulder against Baekhyun’s as he reminded him of his drunken words.

 

Baekhyun could’ve laughed it off. He could’ve replied in a nonchalant manner, could’ve said that it was kind of Chanyeol to do this for him, could’ve turned the other into a flustered mess only with words. Instead, he chose honesty. Maybe it was just the lingering effect the song had on him and the confusing meaning behind this simple gesture.

 

"Actually," he started, the echo of Chanyeol’s music still humming in his head. "Remember when I told you I got into piano because I saw a video of you playing it?" He waited for Chanyeol to nod in confirmation before continuing. "Well, sometimes when I can’t sleep, I just watch your videos on the academy’s Instagram account. They really do make nice lullabies."

 

Surprisingly, even if it hadn’t been his attention, his words still seemed to turn Chanyeol into a slightly flustered mess. 

 

His eyebrows raised for a second, taken aback, and the tips of his ears flushed again, something that seemed to happen quite often. He looked at Baekhyun as if he had given him the most pleasant yet most embarrassing compliment ever and fumbled for a few seconds, unable to say anything. Baekhyun delighted in this spectacle of a reaction, but at last Chanyeol offered no reply and they started with the lesson. 

 

It was almost bewildering. The way Chanyeol could act so confident one second and then turn into a flustered, fumbling mess for the most unexpected of reasons. Baekhyun enjoyed that side of him.

 

The tip of his ears remained red for a short moment, almost distracting Baekhyun from his attempt at clumsily playing yet another musical piece he knew by heart.

 

The scarf remained on the piano when Baekhyun left later on. 

 

Chanyeol seemed to still be too flustered to remind Baekhyun to take it with him when he left and Baekhyun merely glanced at it once as they left the room together. He decided that the blue of the wool complimented the flustered pigmentation of Chanyeol’s ears too beautifully for him to steal the sight away from himself forever.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

you forgot your scarf again

it’s sad now :<

 

The scarf got used to you and didn’t want to come back to me 

 I think it thinks you’re cuter than me

 

your scarf’s not a puppy!!!

 

The scarf’s not the puppy but it can be yours for now

It looks good on you and fits just right around your neck

 I’ll get it back one day, no rush

 

why do I feel like you just said something that I didn’t get >_>

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

That same night, Baekhyun found himself sitting across Joohyun in the most expensive restaurant he had ever taken her to. Her eyes shined more than the dim lights hanging from the chandeliers on the ceiling. 

 

She was beautiful. She was so young, and had a brand new heart to give to Baekhyun. She was beautiful. Her smile was mesmerizing, there was always an air of timidity around her, and she blinked cutely whenever she was flustered, her cheeks always rosy and full whenever she smiled at Baekhyun. She was beautiful but the way she made Baekhyun feel was more breathtaking than anything else.

 

There was so much adoration in her eyes as she looked at him while he cut her steak into pieces for her. She smiled as they brought their glasses of wine up and Baekhyun cheered to her gorgeous smile and to spending many months and years together. She listened to every single one of his words with affection, her hand reaching out to Baekhyun with the desire of tangling together and never parting ways. Baekhyun grabbed her hand and laced their fingers together. 

 

She asked him at one point. What do you think of me? Baekhyun read her expression, deciphered the desire hidden beneath the silky curtain of her voice. He told her she was kind. She furrowed her eyebrows a little bit. Do you think this dress suits me? Baekhyun let his gaze trail over her bare shoulders, her collarbones were defined and smooth, and accentuated by the shadows melted over her body by the chandeliers. He told her that pink suited her. Those weren’t the words she wanted to hear. Baekhyun knew exactly what she wanted to hear. Do these earrings look pretty on me? 

 

Her voice was softer now, hesitant. She was giving up, frowning, a bit saddened by the fact that Baekhyun, a caring but clueless man, did not understand what she wanted to hear from him. Baekhyun understood her better than she did herself. He was simply basking in the power insufflated into him by the way she put so much importance into his opinion, his thoughts, his words, him.

 

You’re the most beautiful flower I’ve ever laid my eyes upon, Baekhyun finally answered her, releasing her from the sorrow she was starting to feel. Those were such simple words, words anybody could mutter without a hint of sincerity. She devoured  them with no trace of questioning, a wide, beautiful smile illuminating her features.

 

Tonight would be the last time Baekhyun would see this smile. It would belong to him forever. 

 

Her hand was warm against his when she pulled him home with her. Her lips were warm when Baekhyun kissed her right in front of her door. Her smile was warm as it bourgeoned while Baekhyun looked at her like he never wanted to let go of her and would never accept a breath spent away from her.. Her voice was breathy as she asked if he’d like to stay a little more with her. Victory trickled down Baekhyun’s veins like the most delightful of vines.

 

Baekhyun breathed in her fervor as they fell into bed together. He gave it all back to her, letting it transfuse from his eyes, lips, and hands onto her skin. He looked at her as if she was all he could see. He touched her like she was one of the most frail and breathtaking flowers he had grown and watered with his own hands. He caressed her skin with care, she breathed out I love you’s against his mouth. Baekhyun inhaled it all, stole the air away from her. Not once did she question his lack of answer, she couldn’t. Not when Baekhyun made love to her as if he lived through her and her alone.

 

Joohyun would remember the first time she shared her body with someone as the warmest night of her life. After a while, maybe as soon as the sun would rise, that memory would turn into a scorching scar.

 

When Baekhyun left that night it was with the febricity of her spent body still nestled in the palm of his hands. She had still been asleep.

 

When Baekhyun left that night, it was with a small piece of memory in his pocket. 

 

Joohyun would always remember her very first night with a man. She would always remember the pain that came with that first night and the man that left with it. She would always remember Baekhyun. He was the first person to make her body quiver with caresses of love. She would always remember him and through the pain, she would always remember how she had loved him. He was her first.

 

When Baekhyun stepped out of her home and her life, the night air he took in stung, as if he was an anomaly, a creature not meant to breathe in the pure air, not deserving of something that felt so nice and kept him alive. 

 

And Baekhyun, who felt much more polluted and rotten and toxic than the air he lived through, knew that he had a place in this stained world. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The clock struck four in the morning when Baekhyun got home.

 

Sleep, on the other hand, did not even come remotely close to him. It was odd. Baekhyun usually slept very well after this kind of night and this kind of end. He had done as usual. Why wasn’t it working? What was missing? Had he forgotten something?

 

The house was empty, like it always was. It was just him. He couldn’t sleep. Should he have stayed with Joohyun a little longer? Her body was warm. He closed his eyes. He couldn’t feel it anymore. It always faded away so quickly. Maybe because it was her warmth and not Baekhyun’s.

 

He got up and made a cup of tea, watching as the water darkened from yellow to a browny red. He opened the window while waiting for the tea to infuse. There wasn’t a single star in the sky -  too much light pollution to see any.  But the  air was a bit clearer from here as he lived on the twelfth floor of a tall building. He breathed in.

 

He couldn’t sleep. It was weighing him down. Why did he feel so lonely when he could still feel the last crumbles of pleasure sparking in his body? 

 

He sighed, closed the window, grabbed his mug of tea, and headed back to the bedroom. He put it on the bedside table and grabbed his phone. He had a message. From Chanyeol. It was odd, why did he message him so late at night when they had been messaging almost the whole day? There was a voice message attached.

 

sorry I can’t post it online because the song belongs to an artist I don’t even know but here

you can use it as your personal lullaby at least

I hope it’ll help you sleep better 

if you weren’t just saying that to compliment me :p

 

It was a recording of the song Chanyeol had played for him earlier, in the academy. He connected it to the bluetooth speakers in his room and closed his eyes as the music permeated into the air and nursed him. Like sturdy hands draping a blanket over shivering shoulders.

 

The impression lingered on for the rest of the night, accompanied by lulling piano notes played, and eventually, Baekhyun fell into a slumber clear from any disturbance.

 

The next morning, the echo of the song lingering in his head melted him into a smile as he sent Chanyeol a message to thank him for giving him the best sleep of his life. They talked for the rest of the day, about Chanyeol’s funny students, Baekhyun’s boring work, his favorite moisturizer, the cartoons Chanyeol used to watch when he was little, and how kind it was of him to go out of his way and record a song for Baekhyun. He wasn’t surprised when all Chanyeol said was that it took him less than a minute to record it, in one take, and that he hoped that it would help him on nights where sleep didn’t want anything to do with him.

 

Baekhyun couldn’t remember such simple things ever grabbing at his attention to this extent..

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The last weeks of October were spent exchanging messages and smiles with Chanyeol. They continued running into each other in the subway and they had even gone to eat together again once when Chanyeol had talked about this newly opened restaurant and Baekhyun had confessed it sounding appealing to him. 

 

This time, they took the subway together.

 

It was a Saturday, Baekhyun hadn’t shown the usual enthusiasm during their class for reasons even he didn’t know. He hadn’t really bothered looking for anyone after ending things with Joohyun and the only source of affection in his life was Chanyeol, someone he could now comfortably share a meal with. The ease with which they conversation flowed between them was the basis of what Baekhyun was trying to build. And he had a feeling it could be sturdy.

 

After noticing his lack of enthusiasm, Chanyeol had questioned him about what was wrong, so obviously concerned. All it had taken was a small and slightly saddened smile from Baekhyun for Chanyeol’s soft, kind heart to give Baekhyun the exact words he wanted to hear. He had cheered him up by promising him that if Baekhyun managed to learn this difficult part of a song Baekhyun had never heard before but that really wasn’t difficult, he’d treat him to kalbi. Needless to say, Baekhyun showed surprisingly fast comprehending abilities this time.

 

Chanyeol was a little sick that day, the tip of his nose reddened and a bit dried up from how often he was blowing it and rubbing tissues against the tender skin. He was wearing Baekhyun’s scarf, the one he had never returned and Baekhyun had never asked for. It still made him look as snuggly as the very first time Baekhyun had made him wear it.

 

The jjajangmyeon was delicious, Chanyeol’s company only sweetened the taste as they ate together while talking about anything and everything. Sometimes, it still amazed Baekhyun a little, the fact that not once had he had to lie about his personal interests and hobbies to make himself fit and appeal to Chanyeol. He didn’t seem the kind at all, but Baekhyun was still pleasantly surprised that just like him, Chanyeol had a particular interest in video games. Granted, he seemed to play much more of them than Baekhyun did, they could still share long conversations about Battlegrounds and League of Legends. Contrary to when they talked about music, Chanyeol was the one doing the listening more than the talking. 

 

Baekhyun supposed with how many hours he had spent relieving stress on those games, he had quite a bit of knowledge to spill. What was even more of a pleasant surprise was that Chanyeol was just as interested in sports as Baekhyun was. The only difference was that, while Baekhyun contented himself with watching sports, Chanyeol actually did more than that. He didn’t seem like the sporty type but he turned out to be pretty good at promoting bowling. Baekhyun might be one step closer to yielding to an interest he had never bothered fitting in his schedule. Or maybe that was just the feeling he got because of Chanyeol’s wide hand gesture as he immersed himself into bowling’s good points.

 

He just had to be honest and they would instantly find a common ground. Nothing felt as delightful as Chanyeol’s smile when Baekhyun laughed at him for being messy while rubbing his thumb over his chin to collect a small stain of sauce from his skin. Chanyeol didn’t question the gesture and it was novel, people usually did. Sometimes, it felt refreshing to Baekhyun but sometimes it made him question whether Chanyeol was still interested in him or not.

 

And it wasn’t like Baekhyun concealed his own interest. It was there, out in the open even if Baekhyun never really took the step further he was supposed to have taken close to a month ago, never voiced it out and didn’t engage into anything that exceeded friendship. He still gave the other endless praises, still didn’t hold back on the flirty remarks, and even held the door open for him whenever they went out. Baekhyun did all kinds of things he figured Chanyeol would like but Chanyeol never really showed anything more than occasional fluster and appraisal. His interest was transpiring from time to time as well, in the way he still often stared at Baekhyun too long, touched him more than necessary when laughing. Especially when he laughed so hard that his expression always took pained twist from stomachaches. He even occasionally returned some of Baekhyun’s more flirty words.

 

Baekhyun wasn’t sure what exactly was happening and most of the time, it was very unnerving but sometimes, it felt nice not to have to dig into his head and craft every single step of their relationship, whatever it was.

 

Once they were done eating and about to leave, Chanyeol sheepishly excused himself to go to the bathroom and Baekhyun laughed as he watched him quickly run to the back of the restaurant with the waiter’s directions. He stood up to pay for the tab as well before Chanyeol could argue again with him about who was supposed to pay. To distract himself once back on his seat, he glanced at his phone and saw messages from Joohyun. She had probably sent him a hundred texts since their last night together. They were all filled with despair and accusations and pleas. Baekhyun took a quick look at them and put his phone back down, humming softly under his breath.

 

Chanyeol had been playing Gymnopédie No.1 again while waiting for Baekhyun before their class and the song had just been stuck in his head until now. He brought his fingers up against the edge of the table and softly pressed on non-existent keys, humming the corresponding note to each time his fingers tapped against the table. 

 

Maybe he should actually buy a keyboard for himself. He had completely invested himself into piano again through Chanyeol and it would be nice to be able to play even when he wasn’t in class with the other.

 

"You have a nice voice."

 

He looked up with a startle.

 

"What?" he said, still too surprised by Chanyeol’s sudden appearance to say anything else. He must’ve been really lost in his thoughts.

 

"You were humming," Chanyeol answered and he had an unfamiliar look in his eyes but his lips were still curved into that easy smile.

 

"Thank you," Baekhyun merely said before standing up. "Are you ready to leave?"

 

"Yep," Chanyeol nodded. "I just have to pay the tab."

 

"I paid it already."

 

Chanyeol gave him a disapproving look this time.

 

"But I was going to pay it," he said, eyebrows furrowed a little bit. "We came here because I said I’d treat you."

 

"You can pay for it next time," Baekhyun suggested, looking up at the other with a glimmer of hope in his eyes. It wasn’t artificial.

 

Chanyeol’s frown didn’t last long, quickly replaced by a smile.

 

"Next time then," he repeated.

 

The next time, it was Chanyeol who paid. 

 

The time after that it was Baekhyun. 

 

At some point, he lost count of who paid for their now regular meetings over food, whether they were spontaneous after running into each other in the subway or planned through messages or phone calls.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

"How’s it going with your new boy toy?" Junmyeon asked after a sip of his drink, a slightly tipsy smile directed at Baekhyun. "Or rather old. It’s been almost three months and that’s usually their lifespan. He might expire soon."

 

"You need to stop trying to be funny. Especially when you’re drinking," Baekhyun snorted, giving his best friend a judgmental look that only made him laugh. "And it’s just going. We’re friends."

 

"Still just friends?" Junmyeon asked, surprise evident in his voice and expression.

 

Baekhyun hummed, taking a sip of his whiskey before answering. "I like taking things slow with him."

 

Junmyeon didn’t seem to understand what he meant but that was okay, Baekhyun didn’t really understand himself either when it came to Chanyeol.

 

He hadn’t seen Junmyeon in close to two weeks now. His best friend had gotten busy with work and whenever Baekhyun himself wasn’t working, he was hanging out with Chanyeol here or there, trying out new restaurants and delicious food. He was having a good time but that didn’t mean the lack of Junmyeon in his life couldn’t be felt. It was destabilizing not to have someone suddenly knocking at his door with takeout food or bags from the grocery store that would be used to cook for Baekhyun. It was destabilizing not to feel Junmyeon’s affectionate gaze on him for so long.

 

That thought had suddenly popped up in his head that afternoon and he had called Junmyeon insistently. It had taken ten tries for him to pick up the call and groan that he was busy and dying at work. It had taken five minutes of Baekhyun whining and complaining for Junmyeon to finally cave in and accept meeting him in one of their favorite bars that evening.

 

There was nothing outstanding about the place, it was merely styled as a vintage bar with leather seats all around, a stage that sometimes was used by young, aspiring musicians and that remained empty on other nights. It was empty today but it didn’t matter, the speakers scattered around sang a jazzy melody, perfectly marrying with the hushed conversations and the pealing of glasses. It was a cozy place where people rarely even got drunk, small and rather unpopular amongst the general public due to its clientèle. 

 

The lights were dim, they were sitting at the bar counter and Junmyeon had directly joined him from one of the hotels he was in charge with. His hair was styled perfectly still, only a few strands sticking out in a way that almost made it seem purposeful, his eyes were a bit droopy, both from exhaustion and the alcohol he had been sipping on for a while now, and his tie was undone, giving him a pleasant ruffled look that Baekhyun secretly liked seeing on him. Junmyeon didn’t hate his work per se, just the amount of work, and Baekhyun didn’t like how time-consuming it was for the other.

 

They fell into pleasant conversation again, Baekhyun asking the other about his work and Junmyeon complaining about having avoided his mother for a whole month after a total of three failed blind dates that felt like torture to a poor Junmyeon who had never been attracted to women. Baekhyun did his best to keep his laughter in as the other slurred his complaints out in-between sips of delightful poison. It was nice to have Junmyeon’s smile directed at him again. His concerned questions, his familiar lame jokes, and his hand resting on Baekhyun’s thigh, arm, or shoulder in such a comfortable way made Baekhyun realize how much he had actually missed the affection Junmyeon always nurtured for him.

 

Maybe it was because he didn’t have anyone but Chanyeol in his life right now. Chanyeol didn’t really feel anything close to the way Junmyeon felt about Baekhyun, but he basked in it. He breathed it all in, so much that it wasn’t alcohol that made his head just a little dizzy but the affection fusing from Junmyeon onto him, quenching a thirst he didn’t know he was a victim of until right that exact moment.

 

And yet, it all soon turned sour when he noticed what was going on as soon as it started. Junmyeon kept looking over Baekhyun’s shoulder at one point, furtive glances, his lips curving into a handsome smile each time. He was barely even paying attention to what Baekhyun was saying, that smile wasn’t even directed at him. Curious and a little dampened, Baekhyun turned to look behind him and met eyes with a stranger. He looked small in his seat, fingers holding onto a colorful cocktail, hair swept nicely over his forehead, and smile very attractive. Baekhyun instantly recognized him as someone fitting Junmyeon’s tastes perfectly.

 

Usually, the realization that Junmyeon was checking someone out and that the gesture was mutual made him obnoxiously nudge the other and encourage him to act on it but tonight, Baekhyun felt miffed. He was the one who had called Junmyeon here. He was the one deprived of his best friend’s presence and his loving smiles and the endless affection Baekhyun hung onto for so many years. Tonight, it was their first time meeting after two entire weeks and Baekhyun didn’t feel nice about this at all.

 

That odd sensation of possessiveness kept growing in the next few minutes and Junmyeon seemed to be totally oblivious of it, chafing Baekhyun further until he couldn’t take the lack of attention anymore and abruptly cupped Junmyeon’s cheek to pull him closer. He cut him off mid-sentence, pressing their lips together into a messy kiss. He felt Junmyeon tensing up for a second before melting against him, liquefying into a puddle of solace that Baekhyun finally could bathe in without any disturbance.

 

"What are you doing?" Junmyeon whispered once Baekhyun pulled away.

 

"I called you here tonight, why are you giving attention to someone else?" he asked and despite the smile, reproach was still palpable in his voice.

 

Junmyeon seemed to realize that as he froze for a second, looking into Baekhyun’s eyes. For the first time ever, Baekhyun couldn’t really read his best friend’s gaze. There was something unfamiliar in there. It almost looked like happiness for a second before turning into sadness and then blurring behind confusion. Maybe it was just the alcohol.

 

He was well-aware of how selfish he was being. Junmyeon didn’t belong to him and Baekhyun didn’t claim such thing either. All he wanted was the attention and affection he had been deprived of for a while, ever since Baekhyun had decided to give all his time to Chanyeol and not get involved with anyone else.

 

Junmyeon didn’t look away from him again after that, the odd look in his eyes fading away and his hand anchored into Baekhyun’s as they went home together later on. 

 

They didn’t sleep together that night, merely sharing Baekhyun’s bed and affectionate caresses. Junmyeon’s embrace around him was strong but not restrictive, his fingers were soft as he stroked Baekhyun’s hair, and his lips were a comfort as he kissed Baekhyun’s forehead, his cheek, his lips before falling into slumber together after more laughter and conversation.

 

When morning came and Junmyeon had to leave, a tingle and a feathery weight lingered in his chest. His entire body felt softer, lighter, and refreshed, like a small flower whose thirst had been quenched after a dry spell. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

November started with sparkles, glitters, and powdered tepidity dusted all over Baekhyun.

 

He had never found his job in a cosmetics company very useful in his daily life. The only thing it helped him with was knowing exactly what products would be the best to conceal his tattoo with whenever he felt the need to. Besides that, he had the chance to know exactly what kind of brand should be avoided, what was a certain brand’s fortes and what weaknesses dragged it down more. He had spent so much time analyzing the products of rival brands that Baekhyun could confidently walk into a makeup store and find only the best products in a matter of seconds. 

 

He wouldn’t lie and say that he didn’t nurture a particular interest and amazement for the entire beauty industry and that sometimes, when he was bored, he’d browse through reviews, articles and whatnots on the latest beauty and skincare launches.

 

It was very uncommon for all this knowledge to actually come into use in his daily life, however, and therefore, he felt extremely surprised that morning when he woke up to a message of Chanyeol asking him if he was well informed about makeup products. Baekhyun had almost laughed. It was so typical of Chanyeol to breach the subject in such a polite way even when he knew Baekhyun was the son of the owner of one of South Korea’s biggest cosmetics brands. Not that his relation to his father had anything to do with Baekhyun’s knowledge of the subject per se.

 

He simply reassured the other about his knowledge on the subject for a few minutes, even boasting about his personal tastes as Chanyeol explained to him that he wanted to buy his sister beauty products for Christmas and had no idea how to proceed. Baekhyun wasn’t sure whether he wanted to laugh at the fact that Chanyeol was already thinking about Christmas when it was barely even into the start of November or if he wanted to smile at the fact that he preferred seeking for Baekhyun’s help rather than one of the female friends Baekhyun knew he had.

 

To Chanyeol’s surprise, they had visited the Olive Young store in Myeong-dong. He seemed to have thought Baekhyun would bring him directly one of 4C’s stores but rather than that, Baekhyun chose a bigger store that gathered all kinds of beauty products under various sections and through a wide range of both luxurious and affordable brands, including 4C. Baekhyun had explained that it would be easier than running from store to store and that 4C, despite being a really good brand, had its shortcomings that could be complemented by better products from other brands.

 

In the end, they still ended up buying a lot of 4C products and at that moment, Baekhyun felt a little proud to have his name marked in a tiny, tiny spot over a high quality and appreciated brand. However, what Baekhyun liked the most was Chanyeol attentively listening to his suggestions and explanations as to why that product was better than the other before nodding and dumping the product into the small bag provided by the store.

 

The most enjoyable thing about this spontaneous and rather unconventional outing was Chanyeol going from absolutely frightened by the amount of products to excitedly wanting to check everything out. He looked at eyeshadow palettes in amazement, as if he was looking at an impressionist painting, observed the different skincare masks and handed one with a puppy pattern to Baekhyun after telling him it wasn’t a face mask but a Baekhyun-face mask. He even let Baekhyun swatch eyeshadows and lipsticks on his hand, not even complaining about the stains as Baekhyun turned the back of his hand into a colorful piano keyboard. 

 

At one point, he even carefully rubbed his fingertips against highlighter pans and traced them over Baekhyun’s chin and cheeks. A very small, very quiet and discreet highlighter and glitter battle ensued after that and Baekhyun was the winner of it. They were careful with the pans though and Chanyeol was the one to keep warning him because it looks so fragile and pretty and glittery what if we break it?

 

They parted ways after eating fried chicken together for lunch, Baekhyun smiling each time he caught glimpse of the makeshift varicolored piano keyboard on the back of Chanyeol’s hand. Surprisingly, he had refused to wipe it all off and they both still had glitter and highlighter all over their faces, Chanyeol in a much worse state than Baekhyun.

 

They parted ways there but when Baekhyun got home, a message from Chanyeol had greeted him. It was a flash of glitter and sparkles and a glowing beam. It was just a photo of himself he had probably taken after getting home. His eyebrows were furrowed and his lower lip was jutted out in a sad pout. He looked like a big fluffy puppy that had excitedly rolled over a lump of shimmers and glitters. 

 

I have glitter everywhere because of you :<

 

Baekhyun looked at the photo again, there was a pretty sheen of peachy highlighter all over the apple of Chanyeol’s cheeks, fading into a more golden colored one that spread in streaks down his cheeks. His forehead sparkled too, his hair catching on the pale highlighter Baekhyun had playfully ruffled his bangs with. There were faint marks of glittery eyeshadow over his jawline, one line of metallic blue even trailing down the side of his neck.

 

It should’ve made him look horrible. There was too much glow, too many colors. And yet Baekhyun couldn’t help but find Chanyeol so beautiful and soft with his oversized, favorite green hoodie, his ruffled, glittery hair, and his exquisite expression. 

 

And maybe the agonizing pace was worth it if part of Chanyeol would belong to him forever in the end. Maybe taking his time was worth it if, in the end, he’d be able to dim the glow and brighten it up again according to his own will.

 

You’re a fairy, I knew your ears were huge for a reason

 

your ears are big too!!!!

you have no right to mock me >_>

 

Yes, but yours are cuter so it’s different

 

you can’t get yourself out of everything with smoothness

 

Can I really not?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

"Oh, you’re a bit late today," Jongdae welcomed him with a playful smile as Baekhyun pushed the academy’s door open.

 

"Sorry," Baekhyun said, sheepish. "I had to wait a bit at the subway to get in, it was too crowded."

 

"It’s alright," Jongdae waved him off. "Chanyeol’s going to be late too anyway. You both found the same day to be late on."

 

"Really?" Baekhyun stepped closer to the front desk in curiosity. "Did something happen?"

 

Jongdae shook his head, the fond smile on his lips softening the motion a little bit.

 

"He probably just found a lost kitty again. Or maybe it’s a puppy this time?" 

 

Baekhyun laughed at that. He had noticed Chanyeol’s fondness for animals, especially ones that were small and cute, like any passing dog in the street or even the tiniest of stray kittens. They always made him stop in the middle of a walk so he could crouch down and pet their small head with his big hand. If he found any that was harmed, he’d stop and do anything he could to take care of it. Baekhyun had stood with abandoned animals more than once while Chanyeol ran to buy something to feed them.

 

"Does that happen often?" he asked, seeing as it was already the second time Baekhyun had seen Chanyeol late because of that reason.

 

"Not really," Jongdae hummed. "But when one of us is running late for whatever reason, there’s usually someone available to cover. Yixing or I usually, but he refuses to let anyone cover for him when he’s with you." He stopped there and let his gaze slide down a mischievous slope over Baekhyun’s body, as if he was studying him. "I guess he’s possessive over this particular student."

 

Satisfaction spread through him at those words.

 

"Don’t tell me you’re jealous," he said, wiggling his eyebrows playfully since he knew Jongdae was the kind of easygoing person who joked around a lot.

 

"I might be," the other wiggled his eyebrows right back at him and they both laughed together. "He always goes out and around with you but keeps you to himself! He always talks about you but half of the teachers here don’t even know what you look like."

 

"Well, I wouldn’t mind meeting them," he said, genuinely curious about what kind of person Chanyeol was around his friends. "You all look so close together."

 

Jongdae looked at him for a second, twisting his lips pensively.

 

"We usually gather together for dinner every Saturday night. How about you join us this week?" he suggested, surprising Baekhyun only a little bit. "That way you can just meet all of us and everyone will stop asking weird questions to Chanyeol about you."

 

"Weird questions?" he blinked.

 

"They get kind of embarrassing when they’re curious." Jongdae waved him off, only fueling Baekhyun’s curiosity.

 

"If that’s alright with Chanyeol, I’d like that," Baekhyun grinned, glad that the opportunity he had been looking for presented itself to him.

 

"Let’s not tell him," Jongdae said, leaning a bit closer as if he were conspiring. "His face when he sees you arrive would be priceless."

 

Somehow, that sounded very inviting and made Baekhyun appreciate Jongdae a little more. Baekhyun eagerly agreed and they exchanged phone numbers, Jongdae promising to send him the place and time they would be meeting at before sending him away to Chanyeol’s classroom and telling him that the other would — hopefully— be there soon.

 

Without further ado, Baekhyun headed to the room and stepped in, closing the door behind him before taking his usual spot at the piano bench. He looked around, taking in the light, joyful paint splattered all over the walls. It was a bit odd to tell himself that all of this had started because of a video in which he could only see these walls, a grand piano, and a handsome pianist. 

 

Chanyeol hadn’t posted any other video on the academy’s SNS page nowadays but it didn’t really matter to Baekhyun who usually listened to the recording the other had sent him and him alone a few weeks ago. He had listened to it so much that he knew it by heart and now, just the thought of that untitled song made him hum it under his breath as he stared at the instrument right in front of him. He still hadn’t bought a keyboard for himself, maybe he should go this weekend. His fingers were itching even more now that he had the instrument so close to him but he didn’t want to risk Jongdae hearing him, even if he knew the room was soundproof.

 

He checked the time on his watch, pulling the sleeve of his suit up. He had passed by the company for paperwork today. It had been quick enough for him not to catch a single glimpse of his father nor hear a single word about him. He didn’t know if he had gotten discharged from the hospital yet. It was weeks ago, Baekhyun supposed he had. He had looked worse than ever in that bed. He had made Baekhyun feel worse than ever. He sighed. Chanyeol was really late.

 

He continued humming the song under his breath and before he realized it, the humming turned into piano notes, his fingers gliding over the ivory keys with ease, like a dancer twirling on the stage after a thousand hours of practice. This was a nice song. Baekhyun hadn’t gone back to that bar since then, and he wondered if the pianist still played there. It would be nice, Baekhyun didn’t remember all the song, just that one minute that he had recorded.

 

"You’ve finally yielded."

 

The sudden voice that sounded too close to him for comfort startled Baekhyun out of his thoughts and he looked up, a bit disoriented. The music abruptly cut off. Not a single note strayed from its path or fell down brutally despite the pianist’s startle. Surprise cleanly sliced the melody in half.

 

Heart dropping down to his stomach, Baekhyun turned his head to look at the left, gaze falling on the smug smile and quirked eyebrow on Chanyeol’s face. He felt his whole countenance cracking at the edges, his eyes widening the slightest bit as he took in Chanyeol’s disarming presence, his crossed arms, and the obvious lack of surprise in his expression and words. Baekhyun’s lips parted open but no sound came out, his fingers still postured on the keyboard perfectly, as if they could continue the melody where he had left it off at any second.

 

Suddenly, Chanyeol burst into laughter, bending his body in half from the strong reverberation of it. His loud voice filled the whole room and his hand pressed against his stomach a few seconds into it, as if he was already in pain from laughing so much. Baekhyun remained frozen.

 

"Your face," Chanyeol wheezed and this scene was so familiar, their roles had been once exchanged. However, Baekhyun hadn’t caught Chanyeol in the middle of a lie. No one ever caught Baekhyun in the middle of lie. "This is— I think this is the first time you’ve ever lost control over yourself."

 

How true that statement was.

 

Baekhyun pulled his hands away from the instrument and blinked a few times, still entirely disoriented and unsure of what he was even supposed to say or do. This had never happened to him. 

 

"How did you know?" he asked after a few seconds, when Chanyeol had calmed down and he had recovered bits of his composure.

 

"Some things just didn’t fit," Chanyeol explained as he moved to sit down beside him on the bench. His fingers dropped a few notes on the keyboard almost automatically before he met Baekhyun’s eyes again. 

 

Baekhyun couldn’t take his eyes off him, wonder and mortification blending inside of him in a foreign mixture.

 

"Like what?" he urged the other. No one had ever seen through him. Baekhyun had never let an opening. He hadn’t even left an opening to Chanyeol. He was almost embarrassed about getting caught this way but somehow, the amazement prevented him from focusing on that.

 

Chanyeol looked at him with that smug, confident spread over his features. The same one he had whenever he talked about a subject no one could beat him on, music.

 

"Firstly, your posture. You always looked so awkward when playing piano but not the same kind of awkward as everyone else. It took me a while to understand that the awkwardness wasn’t from the difficulty of holding on a perfect position but from preventing yourself from holding it on. The fact that you got really good at the posture quicker than most students also struck me but I really didn’t figure this out until later."

 

"Later?" Baekhyun asked, voice small as he bit on his lower lip. He should’ve been more careful but at the same time, he hadn’t imagined Chanyeol to be so observant.

 

"Your fingers are always really fidgety," Chanyeol noted so nonchalantly, as if he wasn’t analyzing Baekhyun better than anyone else ever had. Baekhyun looked down at his fingers. He had never even noticed. "A pianist’s fingers are always fidgety and you often use any possible hard surface as a piano keyboard. For just small seconds, but you do it very often. That only happens to either naturally fidgety people or people who’ve been playing piano for years."

 

"That’s all it took you to figure it out?" Baekhyun asked and there seemed to be something in his voice that he himself couldn’t hear, too busy still gawking at Chanyeol, but that the latter heard because his smile turned only a little shy, as if Baekhyun had just praised him.

 

"Well, not really. I did think you were just someone with a naturally good posture and naturally fidgety fingers. Also just a fast learner. Because you tried slowing it down but there’s no way you can make a good pianist out as a bad one. Or even a beginner. You just learned too fast," he stopped for a second there to laugh and Baekhyun felt so oddly ridiculous, in an almost good way, that he let out a quiet chuckle. "Sometimes, I’d give you the worst possible explanations on purpose and you’d still get everything right."

 

Baekhyun couldn’t help but laugh at that. Not in hilarity. He wasn’t sure why he was laughing. He shook his head as he brought his hands up and ran them through his hair, ruffling the strands that had been perfect styled until only a second ago. Then he ran a hand through his face and peeked at Chanyeol through the cracks between his fingers. He had the biggest, silliest grin on, the corners of his eyes crinkling and his dimple out in the open. He looked extremely proud of himself and Baekhyun was a mess.

 

"What actually gave it away then if you weren’t sure?" he mumbled and Chanyeol laughed again, redeeming himself by casually patting Baekhyun’s back afterwards, as if to comfort him. The victorious smile that refused to leave his face lessened the efficiency of the gesture but also bettered it at the same time.

 

"Remember when we went out to eat kalbi last month?" he asked, waiting for Baekhyun to nod before continuing. "Well, I went to the bathroom and when I came back you were once again using the table as a keyboard and humming to Gymnopédie No.1. There were no keys, of course, but the way your fingers moved were kind of fitting and went along perfectly with the song. But I never taught that to you so there was no way you’d know it so perfectly. Then it all kind of came together and made sense."

 

With each word leaving Chanyeol’s mouth, horror filled Baekhyun up.

 

"You’ve known for a whole month?"

 

"Yep," Chanyeol simply, nodding once - a mischievous child proud of himself.

 

"Then why did you never say anything?" Baekhyun asked, dumbfounded.

 

"I just wanted to see what would happen and for how long you’d be able to keep the act. It’s been one very fun month."

 

Baekhyun huffed out a snort of disbelief and straightened himself again even if he felt nothing but disoriented. This was so odd. So unusual. He was mortified. And yet, a bit impressed. Chanyeol was a really smart person. No one but Junmyeon had ever been able to see through him.

 

"I’m sorry," he said softly before hiding his face behind his hands again and letting out a small, tiny whine of embarrassment and frustration.

 

Chanyeol looked delighted. He never once looked away from Baekhyun.

 

"It’s alright, I really don’t mind," he said, this time good-naturedly patting Baekhyun’s head. That made Baekhyun glare at him harder but, unimpressed, Chanyeol smiled that boyish, crooked smile and quirked an eyebrow. "I’m just wondering why, though. Why did you enroll for piano classes if you’re already so good at it? You just played this song by ear, there was nothing you could learn it from besides your own video and my recording."

 

As if Chanyeol had unleashed the filter inside of Baekhyun, dread suddenly filled him up. He didn’t know what to reply to that. He didn’t even know what he looked like, what emotion was displayed on his own face. 

 

"I just needed an excuse," he eventually said before stopping himself. What was he saying? "I mean, to pick up the piano again. I needed an excuse for that. Since I hadn’t played in so long. I just saw the opportunity in your video."

 

Chanyeol didn’t lose his amused smile. It only seemed to grow wider at that, as if he knew exactly what Baekhyun was trying to say, or not to say. He hummed softly, the deep timbre of his voice vibrating with jest as he leaned just a tad closer to Baekhyun. He wasn’t sure whether the other had understood, or deemed that excuse acceptable, but he was relieved when he didn’t press on the issue.

 

"Well, then. I’m glad you found that excuse," he repeated and this time, he sounded more genuine. "I gained a really nice friend out of it. And I’ll still have that friend even if you don’t really need me to be your piano teacher."

 

Right, Baekhyun thought as he felt something in him loosen a little. He hadn’t even noticed he had been worried about that until he felt relief flooding in just then. Piano wasn’t his only link with Chanyeol anymore. They were friends. They saw each other outside of classes. They saw each other outside much more than in this academy. Through messages, phone calls, abrupt dinners, planned visits to newly opened restaurants, and since very recently, just visits to random stores simply to spend time together. As friends.

 

Chanyeol let out another soft chuckle when Baekhyun didn’t reply before nudging him a little.

 

"How about you show me the actual extents of your talents? I’m curious."

 

And it was odd, Baekhyun realized, how they even managed to match while playing an instrument. 

 

Baekhyun played for him a little, then Chanyeol played for him a little and it turned into a competition. Baekhyun started a song with one hand and Chanyeol joined in with the other, playing together sometimes clumsily and sometimes uncoordinatedly, but never once letting a single note sound out of place or stiff.