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The mid-January morning air is crisp and unforgiving, biting at the exposed skin of Chanyeol’s ungloved hands as he sits upon a brick rooftop, overlooking the town that has yet to wake up for the day. He spots a few early risers dragging their weary, sleep-heavy bodies out of their cozy little houses, making their slow and steady way to their respective jobs in neat little lines, each and every one of them dressed in grey suits and carrying briefcases undoubtedly weighed down by piles of paperwork. How dull their lives must be, he thinks, huffing out a sympathetic laugh and watching as it curls into the air as a cloud of steam before dissipating as quickly as it had formed.

He stands up, feeling the satisfying crack of bones from being curled up for far too long, and jumps onto the neighbouring rooftop, running across it soundlessly and making his way deeper into the city to people-watch some more.

The tiny, old lady has already opened up the bakery by the time he jumps onto its roof, and the hot steam emerging from its chimney threatens to scald his boot-clad feet as he balances precariously on its edge for a moment before jumping off and onto the safety of the roof’s surface. He sniffs the air and his mouth waters at the familiar scent of pastries, of which he knows there’s bound to be an abundance, stacked up neatly in glass displays, even more baking away in big ovens. If he could just sneak in through the restroom window, which he knows is open to let some fresh air in, he could sneak into the backroom and snag a few, stuff them into his coat pockets, and slip away just as soundlessly as he’d come in.

But today is not a pastry kind of day, it seems, as his stomach rumbles for something else; something not as sweet or flaky, perhaps, but no less appetizing for someone of his kind.

Fresh blood. Not the bagged one he’s been living off of for the past few months. He needs it more than he needs the air filtering through his lungs, and no amount of jelly-filled croissants could ever measure up to the delicious, velvety feeling of the pulsating liquid sliding down his throat.

Chanyeol shakes his head, clearing those thoughts away. Now is not the time to get lost in fruitless fantasies. He’s been feeling restless lately, is all. A few more days of keeping the hunger at bay, and it should blow away in no time. He can’t risk losing his place here, in this quiet little town that he’s come to think of as home. Or, well, as much as someone like him can consider anything a home, after centuries of wandering the earth, living a constant cycle of wanting things he knows he cannot have, and having things he knows he cannot keep forever.

Nothing remains, in the end.

Nothing stays for good.

He whips around at the sound of something crashing onto the ground a few streets behind him, effectively snapping him out of the self-induced stupor he was about to fall into. Chanyeol jumps from rooftop to rooftop in search of the source of the noise, to see if anyone is hurt and in need of assistance. When he does find it, however, it’s not nearly as bad as he’d imagined.

The flower shop has just welcomed a new employee, and he seems to be a clumsy one. Chanyeol can see a mop of curly, pink hair adorning his head, and the boy looks to be no older than he had been when he’d turned. Twenty, maybe, but certainly not a day over twenty-two. And short, too- which isn’t saying much, however, since Chanyeol has come to notice that he seems to be above average in height, at least in this place, so he’s really in no place to judge.

The boy is kneeling on the ground, desperately trying to piece together a broken flower pot that appears to have been the source of the earlier crashing noise that caught Chanyeol’s attention. He’s muttering something under his breath, and even though the other tries, he can’t make out any word in particular, other than a few common curses characteristic for situations like this. Humans are very quick to anger, he’s concluded over time, and they’re often very vocal about it.

Usually, he’d find it amusing, but right now he’s overcome with a sudden urge to jump down and help the boy.

“Do you need some help with that?”, he asks, and the boy jumps at the sudden sound of his voice, predictably so. He’s been told that his voice is unusually deep and rough, perhaps a bit hoarse from the lack of use, too. It’s only natural that someone would be frightened by it upon hearing it so suddenly, and this early in the morning, as well.

Still, the boy recovers quickly enough, and he sends a halfhearted glare to the remnants of what was once a seemingly very beautiful ceramic pot, a floral pattern adorning what Chanyeol can distinguish as its sides. He receives a small, nervous nod and notices a faint blush spreading across the boy’s otherwise pale cheeks, and the fact that he might very well be the cause of it sends something fluttering inside the vampire’s chest, where his immortal heart had long ago stopped beating.

He crouches down and starts picking up what’s left of the pot, putting it on a small pile and then picking that up as well, before depositing it into a nearby trashcan, all the while resolutely not daring to look the motionless boy in the eye for fear of what he might see in them. This is one of his many rules, of course. Don’t get attached to the humans, no matter how lovely they seem, because they are very fragile things that his hands cannot hold gently enough.

“Thank you.”, the boy mutters once Chanyeol comes back, wiping his hands onto the dark fabric of his pants. He smiles in a painfully innocent way, his mouth nearly rectangular, toothy and wide, reaching all the way up to his eyes, which turn into crescent moons and crinkle at the corners. Chanyeol yearns to reach out and trace the lines with the very tip of his index finger, but he remains still, only barely managing a weak smile in return, one he hopes conveys politeness and not the almost nauseating sense of need that he feels suddenly.

How simple it must be, he thinks, to smile at someone and not have to feel this strongly about them smiling back. To know that you deserve the happiness behind those smiles, and to not think that they’ll disappear just like a huff of air in the morning chill. To not know that it’s inevitable, at least for someone like him. To not have to keep a safe distance.

“I’m new here…”, the boy continues, seemingly nervous about Chanyeol’s prolonged silence.

He keeps his gaze locked to the ground, not looking up even when Chanyeol shifts a bit closer, feeling that that wasn’t the end of his sentence and wanting to hear the rest. This boy has such a lovely voice. It sounds like springtime, when the flowers are in full bloom, and everything smells of life and new beginnings.

There’s the soft sound of him standing up, and then his hands wipe at the dust on his knees, before he finally looks up and meets Chanyeol’s steady gaze. His eyes are a warm almond colour, and Chanyeol notices small specks of gold around his pupils. If he didn’t know better after decades of resolutely following the strict rules, he might just try to get lost in them.

“I, um… Do you wanna come inside? I was just about to make some coffee.”, the boy asks him, tentatively so, as if he’s afraid that Chanyeol will dismiss him immediately upon finishing his sentence. As if he doesn’t know that Chanyeol’s resolve had started to crumble all the way back there, when he’d first spotted him from the rooftop. He chalks this error in judgement up to pure curiosity for humankind, of course. It’s not like he’s about to go back on his word or any of the promises he’d made to himself about keeping out of trouble.

However, when he nods and falls into step with the boy, making his way into the flower shop right behind him, Chanyeol can’t help but feel like he’s indulging in something forbidden.

“Milk or sugar?”, the boy asks, his tone much more cheerful now that they’ve come inside. It seems like this is where he feels content, or at least a little bit more confident in himself. Maybe it has something to do with all of the beautiful flowers surrounding them, their intoxicating scents making everything feel more relaxed, more subdued somehow.

Chanyeol looks up from the arrangement of potted cacti he’d been eyeing, and smiles. “Just pure black, thank you.”

The boy grimaces and pours him a cup, sliding it over with a rueful look. “I never understood how you people do that. No sugar? Not even a pinch? I can’t even imagine the taste.”, he shudders, but Chanyeol can sense a note of amusement in the way he speaks, like he’s teasing and not truly disgusted by the mere idea of someone taking their coffee the way he does.

So, he plays along.

“It needs to be as bitter and dark as my soul.”, is what he ends up saying, in a gravelly tone that makes it seem like he’s joking. But it’s not like the words aren’t at least a little bit true. He may be perfectly accustomed to living amongst humans and not causing any casualties, but his soul is still damned to Hell, and he does carry a small amount of bitterness about the fact that he’d had no choice in the matter whatsoever.

This boy, however, doesn’t know any of this, so the words end up making him laugh like they were meant to do.

His laugh is just as beautiful as his smile. And even more melodious than the teasing lilt of his voice.

“So, have you lived here long?”, the boy asks him.

Baekhyun.

That’s his name, he’d told Chanyeol a few minutes ago. It feels nice when he mutters it to himself when Baekhyun turns around to pour water into a vase of carnations.

Byun Baekhyun.

He rests his chin in his palm and hums, feigning thoughtfulness even though he knows very well that he’s been in this town for exactly six months and twenty-one days, just long enough to finally get comfortable, to grow attached.

“Not really.”, is what he says, ultimately, because it’s true. In the grand scheme of things, six months and twenty-one days is nothing compared to the innumerable centuries he has already lived, and has yet to live. “How about you?”

“Oh”, Baekhyun seems surprised by the question, as if he’d already grown accustomed to Chanyeol’s prolonged silences, and his inability to keep a conversation flowing smoothly. It has always been a flaw, he knows. He gets so lost in thought that the conversation wilts away and is replaced by a suffocating silence that many misinterpret as a sign of his disinterest, when in fact he’s just uncertain about what to say.

Baekhyun recovers quickly enough, though, and when he speaks again his tone is a tad more confident, as if Chanyeol’s question has given him the needed courage to keep their conversation going.

“I just moved here a few days ago, but I got this job yesterday. Today’s actually my first proper day of working.”, he smiles, and then seems to remember his earlier misfortune, if the displeased frown that clouds his cheerfulness is anything to judge by. “Not off to a great start, it seems… I was so nervous earlier, about opening up the shop on my own. It may seem ironic now, actually, because I was worrying about accidentally dropping something really valuable and… well… of course my greatest fear came true.”

Chanyeol huffs a laugh and tries to look at Baekhyun in a comforting manner, careful not to let any of his painfully obvious fondness bleed through at the edges, and at the same time wondering why he always needs to be so reserved with his feelings. Being immortal is one thing, but cold? Emotionless? He’s never quite been able to get the hand of that.

“Well”, he smiles, “at least nothing worse can happen now.”

Baekhyun chuckles and leans forward with his elbows on the counter, chin propped up on his hands. Chanyeol glances at them, and notices that he has very long, lean fingers, which are almost delicate-looking, like he could very well be a word-renowned pianist, or an artist or some other sort. His nails are long and neatly manicured, and a small vein protrudes a bit beneath the skin at the back of his right hand when he flexes it slightly. He suppresses the urge to lick his lips upon noticing that particular detail.

“Everything that can go wrong, will go wrong.”, Baekhyun quotes, voice light and teasing, mocking himself.

Chanyeol grins. “Murphy’s law.”, he mutters, delighted. He remembers the day those words were uttered for the very first time, unbeknownst to their original speaker that they’d become known worldwide soon enough.

He’s not particularly in agreeance with them, however. If you follow a certain set of rules, then avoiding the bad outcomes should be fairly simple. Not everything that can go wrong has to go wrong, if you try to keep it from doing so. At least, that’s what he tells himself on the days when following rules seems all too tedious, and a simpler, carefree life calls to him in treacherous whispers.

“I’m the living example of its accuracy.”, Baekhyun grumbles into his cup of overly-sweetened coffee, feigning hopelessness with a pout that quakes at the edges, curling up into a smile as soon as he lets it.

He stares at Chanyeol over the rim of his cup, eyes glinting in the way that Chanyeol has already learned means that he’s joking. He’s very expressive, every emotion clear as daylight on his face, not even attempting to conceal his true feelings. Chanyeol wishes he could be like that, sometimes. It’s very tiring to pretend all the time.

“Hey-“, Baekhyun starts, and he immediately snaps out of his thoughts, realizing that it might have been a long while since he’d last spoken.

He tries to smile reassuringly, but Baekhyun keeps looking at him, like he’s trying to see something that’s not there. Or maybe it’s been there for a long time, and Chanyeol has just gotten better at burying it under clipped replies and politeness.

“You don’t talk much”, he observes, squinting, but not accusatory, “but it’s because you think a lot, isn’t it? Your mind is too fast for your mouth to catch up to it sometimes, right?”

Chanyeol tilts his head to the side and wonders, not for the first time in his long life, but certainly for the first time in a very long while, how humans can be so observant when they put some effort into noticing things. How they can go forever without noticing something, but as soon as their attention is brought to it, it’s all they can think about. Or maybe he’s just allowed his walls to break a little bit at a time today, chipping away piece by piece until a hole has been made, and Baekhyun managed to look through it and see what’s on the other side.

He nods, just a quick bob of his head up and then down, and looks down at his cold coffee. Perhaps he’s allowed himself too much freedom today. It’s been an odd day from the moment he’d opened his eyes after a sleepless night- sleepless, dreamless, like every other night has been for as long as he can remember- and he should have known something like this would happen eventually. A fault in his plans. A stutter in his discipline. A crack in his walls.

Baekhyun smiles and reaches out, settling one of his warm, long-fingered hands on top of his own. He’d been scratching at the wooden surface of the counter without noticing, and he’s stopped, now, because the sudden touch. Chanyeol can’t remember the last time he’d allowed himself the liberty of physical contact, save for the times he’d indulged himself by petting a stray animal or two. It feels nice, and soothing. And Chanyeol falters, staring at Baekhyun with wide, probably frightened eyes, wondering why he wasn’t allowed to do this more often.

He stares, and stares, and the longer he looks, the more details he notices. Baekhyun has very long eyelashes, and they cast dark, elegant shadows across the smooth expanses of his rosy cheeks. His nose is turned up just the tiniest bit, button-like and small, and his lips look soft and glossy, so much so that Chanyeol wonders, for just a moment, if he’s wearing chap-stick. And his hair is a pale pink, curly and bouncy and it’s with a conscious effort that he refrains from reaching out to fun his fingers through it, just to confirm that it’s as silky as it looks.

What’s the most captivating, however, are Baekhyun’s eyes. The very first thing he’d appreciated about the boy even before he’d found out his name, or the sound of his voice, the warmth of his laugh.

A very strange day indeed.

A day for rules to be broken, and things to go terribly- or delightfully- wrong.

He brings a hammer to the wall and chips away at it, thud by thud, until he can see the other side. A gust of warm air fans across his permanently cold skin, and he can see the sun shining down on vibrantly-green blades of grass. A field of wildflowers. The sound of a slow, cool stream of fresh water flowing through it. A laugh echoing through the crack, and a strand of pink hair swaying lightly in the breeze.

“You’re very beautiful”, he forces out, feeling breathless, hoping that his voice doesn’t come out as a wheeze more than anything comprehensible. “I keep looking at you and not knowing what to say. And I feel painfully inadequate.”

Baekhyun is blushing down to his neck, and the soft dusting or rosy-pink disappears beneath the collar of his shirt. He smiles down at the counter and flips Chanyeol’s hand over, pressing their palms together and allowing his fingers to weave between Chanyeol’s own.

His palm is damp, and his hand is shaking a little bit, out of nerves or excitement, or maybe both, and Chanyeol hopes that his own isn’t too bad.

He’d hate for this to end so soon.

Baekhyun does that thing again, where he searches for something in his eyes, looking between them quickly, unblinking, before settling on a pleased smile. He hums low in his throat, and it sounds melodic to Chanyeol’s ears, so much so that he can’t help but tighten his grip on the other boy’s fingers just slightly.

“I don’t think you’re inadequate”, he mutters, soft, vulnerable in a way he hasn’t been since they entered the shop what seems like hours, days, years ago.

He’s lost track of time, too busy trying to count the specks of gold in Baekhyun’s warm eyes. And he does know, deep down, that this cannot last forever. He knows, painfully so, that the only thing that will remain of this moment is him, centuries from now, when all of this will be just a distant memory of an age that he’ll recall only vaguely. Only through a foggy mixture of piled up years and other memories. A monster by nature, not by choice, but no less doomed for it. Made to live out an eternity of hellos knowing that they’ll just shift into heartbreaking goodbyes soon enough.

And yet, he feels content, right here, in this moment, to stare just a little bit longer at this boy.

He thinks it’s been far too long since he’s allowed himself to say hello and not dread a goodbye that could be years away. There are some things that are inevitable, yes. But he can’t run from them forever. That’s an awfully long time to run, and even he would get tired of it eventually.

Maybe he does deserve to be happy for once.

Maybe some rules aren’t meant to be followed forever.