Chanyeol stares at the screen. The blank screen. The very blank screen that’s been bloody, fucking blank for the past forty-two fucking minutes. He picks up his notebook and stares at it like it will somehow spit inspiration at him. The lined pages are covered from top to bottom in his bold, messy scrawl and there are even notes penciled into the margins here and there. The outline isn't the problem at all because Chanyeol's got pages and pages, and even more pages of outline. He knows what’s supposed to happen in his story. He just can’t seem to convert the notes into prose and dialogue on his computer screen.
It’s been six months since his last book was published. His editor, Kim Jongdae, has been dropping increasingly pointed hints that Chanyeol still owes him a draft of his first chapter. A shockingly overdue draft of his first chapter, to be exact. Chanyeol is exhausted just thinking about Jongdae’s passive-aggressive messages, but he knows Jongdae is just doing his job and Chanyeol is the one who isn't doing his. He understands where Jongdae is coming from but oh God, this is all. . .so stressful, fuck his life.
His phone gives an ominous beep and Chanyeol groans. It has to be a message from his editor.
- Just a friendly reminder that your novel goes to press in 179 days. When can i see chap 1?
Because he hates himself, Chanyeol scrolls up to the top of their message thread and begins to reread each politely worded text. He flinches as the messages become progressively more insistent.
- Chanyeol! How’s that draft of C.1 coming along?
- You need to iron out some plot issues? Maybe we should meet for coffee and thrash them out?
- Ok, but when can I expect to see the completed draft?
- You need to iron out syntax issues? That’s my job! Just send me the draft, Chanyeol. Pls and ty.
Sighing, he places his phone on the desk, screen-down. Maybe if he can’t actually see the screen, the words in those messages will stop haunting him. He leans back in his rolling chair. He’s written two bestselling romance novels from that chair. It’s his lucky chair. It’s been his lucky chair for four years but in the past four weeks, all it’s brought him is a massive case of writer’s block and a huge folder of trashed drafts for Chapter 1.
Everything he’s written in the past month has been so dull and uninspired that he can’t show any of it to Kim Jongdae. He knows he’s written nothing but pure crap but he can’t bring himself to delete any of it. Hence, the bulging Rejects folder.
It had seemed like a good idea when he’d pitched it to his editor three months ago. Free-spirited twenty-seven year old, travel writer Byun Baekhyun flies to Barcelona for a week to do a piece on getting the most out of Barcelona on a shoestring budget. While he’s there, he meets and becomes entranced with Jang Siyeon.
Baekhyun’s love interest is an employee at a secondhand bookstore near the bed & breakfast where he’s staying. She’s spending six months in Barcelona after completing her training at the Grasse Institute of Perfumery near Paris. Whirlwind romance, yada yada, but things get tricky when Baekhyun returns to Seoul while she lingers in Barcelona for the remaining four months of her stay. Segue into the ups and downs of a holiday romance, slash, LDR. Yada, yada.
There’s nothing fresh about the storyline but romance readers seem to like their clichéd tropes well enough. Chanyeol’s always managed to make clichéd tropes work for him in the four novels he has to his name. So far, anyway. This time round though, all traces of his creativity seem to have dried up. Gone into hiding, hibernation. Vanished into some unrecoverable abyss.
He groans, his forehead hitting the smooth maple wood of his desk.
This novel is going to be a huge flop. I’ll never write again. I’m going to have to find a desk job. I’m doomed. I’m fucking fucked.
The negative thoughts swirl around his head viciously and he turns his head to the side so his cheek is resting on the desk. His keyboard seems to be mocking him as it stares at him from three inches away. The blank document on the screen of his monitor is giving him a white, accusatory glare.
He makes a frustrated noise. He needs to get out of here before he suffocates.
He leans against the balcony rail, pressing so hard against the cold metal that it almost hurts. He takes a drag on his cigarette and closes his eyes. The nicotine fills his lungs with that burn he hopes will make him forget today.
Writer’s block is nothing new to him. There have been days in the past where he’s been trapped in a distressing cycle of write, delete, write, delete, delete, delete. His dry spells have never gone on this long, though, and he doesn’t know how to fix this.
Opening his eyes, he takes another pull and watches listlessly as the smoke unfurls and billows before him. A door slides open in the building opposite his. It’s that old man who seems to live alone. As far as Chanyeol can tell, the old man’s only company is the barrage of potted plants on his balcony and two overfed Persian cats.
Chanyeol calls him Opera Ahjussi because there are always strains of opera music wafting out of his apartment. Chanyeol is no expert but even he can figure out that the old man plays only Italian opera pieces. You don’t have to know much about opera music to be able to recognize pieces like Nessun Dorma and O Mio Babbino Caro. He’s gotten so used to having Opera Ahjussi’s playlist in the background that he can tune the music out with almost no effort. Hell, he even enjoys it some days.
The old man is carrying something in his arms which he places carefully on a table of some kind. It’s a. . .Chanyeol squints and swears. Damn. It’s one of those old school typewriters.
The old man goes back inside his apartment and returns with a stack of papers. Then he pulls up a chair and begins to type. Chanyeol wonders what he’s typing. What can people even type on one of those things, anyway? In this day and age? He tries to imagine doing without a delete key and he just can’t wrap his head around it. And all that wasted paper!
Still, though. He’s curious.
What are you writing, old man?
Chanyeol’s grandmother had owned something like that. A shiny, bluish gray Olivetti he’d liked to play with when he was in elementary school. He used to insert blank paper with his clumsy, plump fingers just the way his halmoni did it. Then, he’d lace his fingers together and stretch his arms out before hitting the keys. Just the way Halmoni had always done when she typed stuff on the ancient Olivetti.
He started off by typing gibberish. He liked the way the keys felt under the pads of his fingers, the clack-clack noises the keys made as he pressed them. Gibberish had progressed to sentences and paragraphs. Before he knew it, Chanyeol was writing short stories. When Chanyeol started middle school, his dad had bought him his own desktop computer and he’d started typing all his stories in the privacy of his own bedroom.
He’d never forgotten that Olivetti though. When his grandparents had moved to a new apartment seven years ago, Chanyeol had helped his grandmother to bag the things in the study that she didn’t want to bring to their new home in a quiet suburb located forty minutes outside the Seoul city center.
Dog-eared storybooks, dated magazines and board games no one played with anymore now that Chanyeol and his sister Yura were all grown up. All the remnants of their childhood had been designated for the recycling bin or for orphanages that might benefit from them. Finally, halmoni had asked him to take the Olivetti down from the top of the bookshelf.
“This is going to the recycling bin, I think,” she’d said—her voice firm but her eyes fond as her fingers traced the lines of the keys.
Chanyeol had protested. “But Halmoni! You love this typewriter.”
Her laugh had tinkled, breaking the silence in the study. “I think you love this typewriter more than I do, Yeol. I have no more use for this, child. Laptop keys are much kinder on my old fingers and wrists, you know.”
“Would you like to keep it safe for me? Maybe you can even auction it off on eBay one day. A relic from the past and all that?” She was smiling at him and Chanyeol had never been able to resist that warm smile—not since he'd been a teenager.
“I guess I could,” he’d agreed with a helpless smile.
“Good. Now help me get that red box from the top of the cupboard, Yeol.”
He sighs at the memory. He hasn’t thought about that typewriter in years; but as Chanyeol watches the old man’s fingers hit the keys again and again, he thinks that maybe it’s time he took that old Olivetti out of storage.
Stubbing out his cigarette, Chanyeol gives the ahjussi one last look before he turns around and reenters his apartment.
In the end, Chanyeol decides to set up the typewriter on the small table in his kitchen. It’s right by a large window which lets in a lot of sunlight. It’s not as comfortable as his desk and chair in the study, but Chanyeol has gotten leery of his usual workstation. Maybe writing elsewhere for a change will help to loosen up the tiles in the creativity block that’s had a stranglehold on him for two months.
He inserts the paper in slow, careful movements. For a brief moment, he sees himself as a boy, writing a story about his pet ferret on the Olivetti. But it's just a flash and his mind brings him back to the present almost instantly. And the fingers poised over the keys are long and slim instead of short and plump. He’s more than fifteen years older now, after all. Not to mention more than a foot taller.
Taking a deep breath, he laces his fingers together and stretches his arms out. Just like he’d done as a kid. Just like his halmoni had done. Then his fingers are touching the hard keys he’d dusted off and wiped down a mere ten minutes earlier.
Biting his bottom lip, he types out the first pangram that comes to mind.
걍, 큐트한 필점(筆占)두 쳐보쇼.
Well, all the alphabet keys seem to be in working order at least, he observes with a sense of satisfaction. But what to type next? Maybe he’ll just write random things about Barcelona—remembered snippets from his visit to the Spanish city a couple summers back. Biting his bottom lip, he frowns and his fingers begin to tap at the keys—
The jacaranda trees that grow in front of the La Sagrada Familia are festooned with vibrant, purple flowers. The square is teeming with people. Tourists, buskers, old people, crying children. There’s a mime in front of the tapas truck. He’s covered in white body paint and he’s standing as still as a statue. Dressed in flowing white robes, with a pair of fabric wings cascading down his back, the mime looks like the very definition of a marble angel.
The old typewriter needs some getting used to. It’s tricky having to hit the keys hard when his fingers are used to swift, light taps on his keyboard, but there’s some satisfaction to hammering at the ancient typewriter keys and seeing the letters appear on the page one by one. It’s kind of. . .well, magical. Like witnessing a story appear in front of you, one letter at a time.
All he’s written so far are his sense impressions of La Sagrada Familia. The sentences are sloppily constructed and more than a little stilted, but for the first time in weeks, Chanyeol doesn’t feel the urge to ruthlessly delete everything he’s written. And besides, it’s not like he can. He’d have to rip that piece of paper out, crumple it into a ball and start from scratch. Chanyeol gives a hollow laugh. All that effort. Jesus. How had writers who wrote entire, full-length novels on old-school typewriters survived with their sanity intact? How had they not had meltdowns on a daily basis?
He can’t fathom how they’d done it and he doesn’t want to know how they did, to be very fucking honest. But one thing he does know for sure is that there's something inexplicably magical about seeing the words stain the blank, pale paper. With that lingering thought, Chanyeol decides to play around with the Olivetti a while longer and see what happens.
“PARK CHANYEOL! OPEN UP!”
“GET THE HELL OUT HERE, YEOL!”
“PARK CHANYEOLLL! MOVE YOUR ASS!”
The shouts and frenzied banging dispel the fog of words engulfing Chanyeol and he groans. He'd been gathering momentum in the past hour and putting more and more words to paper. The last thing he wants is to stop. Unfortunately, the ruckus outside his door is escalating and he doesn't want any noise complaints from his neighbors. Plus, he’s just come to the sudden realization that his stomach is a sour pit demanding immediate attention.
How had he forgotten it was a Wednesday? They always came over with takeaway on Wednesday, splitting the bill three ways. It’s the perfect arrangement for Chanyeol because a) he doesn't have to cook, b) he doesn't have to venture beyond his front door and c) he gets a controlled burst of good company. Taking all these factors into consideration, he drags himself away from the typewriter and makes his way to the front door, straightening out the kinks in his neck and back along the way.
“I SAID PARK CH—” Jongin breaks off in mid-yell.
“Ah, you're not dead then. Well, that's a relief,” Sehun quips, his hand still half-raised to knock on the door.
“I was breathing last I checked,” Chanyeol says drily.
“That's enough talk about dying or not dying for one night. Fried chicken and beer for dinner,” Jongin announces, holding up two carrier bags for Chanyeol’s inspection.
Sehun gives him a suspicious look. “When was the last time you ate? Did you even eat today? I swear to God, you'd have died two years ago if we didn't bring you food three times a week.”
“I would like to think I can keep myself alive without any help from the nosiest neighbors in the history of ever,” Chanyeol says with a note of mild sarcasm in his voice. It's true that he has a cavalier attitude towards having regular meals when he's riding a wave of inspiration with his writing. But he's been more than well-fed with how much time he's spent beached with writer’s block in the past ten weeks.
“Wishful thinking, hyung. You would have died two years ago, let's be real,” Jongin says casually as he pops the tab on a can of Cass and hands it to Chanyeol.
The sour-bitter taste of beer is already flooding Chanyeol's tongue when it hits him, belatedly, that he should probably have put some food inside himself before starting on the booze. Shit. It's a good thing he's not a complete lightweight.
"Did you get lots written? I mean you must have been writing since it took us three whole minutes to penetrate your coma. Pretty sure they heard us two floors up and two floors down. I mean, I was just waiting for the people on this floor to run out and choke us senseless." Sehun spoke in a conversational tone as he dug around the takeaway box for a suitable piece of chicken.
"Might not have been a bad thing if they had. Just saying." Chanyeol says softly.
"Rude," Sehun glares at him before passing him a delicious looking drumstick. “I even picked out the biggest drumstick for you.”
"Ok, that was a little rude," Chanyeol admits sheepishly as he accepts it. "I'm sorry and I'm honestly grateful that you guys always drop by to make sure I haven't passed out from hunger.”
Sehun takes a huge bite of chicken. “Fine, I forgive you. This time. Did you get a lot of writing done?”
“Yeah, I did, actually,” Chanyeol grins as he puts down his drumstick. “I mean I don't know if any of it will even end up in my novel but I actually got some flow going and my blood was pumping a little faster than it has in months.”
“That's awesome, hyung. But eat your chicken,” Jongin nudges his elbow.
“So what’s your novel about again?” Sehun asks as he takes a sip of beer.
“Well it’s about this travel writer, Byun Baekhyun,” Chanyeol explains with a little more enthusiasm than he’d intended.
Jongin holds his drumstick in mid-air, a thoughtful expression on his face. “Is this set in Korea?”
“Well, yeah. But most of the story happens in Barcelona.”
“Wait, does he fall in love with a Spanish dude?” Sehun’s eyebrows shoot up in surprise.
“I wish,” Chanyeol sighs. “But you know how conservative my publisher is.” Sehun boos in response.
“How behind the times they are, you mean? I mean there’s a huge market for Boy Love now,” Jongin points out.
“You know I’d pick writing gay romance over straight romance anytime, right? But I also like this apartment and I like being able to pay my bills. So I reckon I’ll wait a year or three before I start rocking the boat.”
“Well, that sucks. But I get why you’re staying lowkey for now. So. . .does your protagonist fall in love with a Spanish chick in Barcelona?” Jongin asks.
“Nope. He falls in love with a Korean girl who happens to be working in Barcelona,” Chanyeol corrects him with a mysterious smile.
“More! More details,” Sehun requests as he nudges Chanyeol’s ankle with his house-slippered foot. Chanyeol obliges, and as he explains the gist of the storyline to his best friends, he tries his best to bury his yearning to write about Byun Baekhyun falling in love with a Korean dude in Barcelona.
He tries his very, very best to bury the yearning. . .and fails, for the most part.
The three friends lean against the balcony rail, arms dangling over the edge and standing in a row—all broad shoulders, long limbs, and narrow hips. Chanyeol had given the Olivetti a longing look as they’d walked past it on the way to the balcony. But he isn’t really worried. Jongin and Sehun know how it is with him. They know Chanyeol needs time and space for himself, so he can spin his fictional worlds, and to create the living, breathing characters that people them. They won’t occupy his time for much longer and in the meantime, he gets to enjoy the human contact. He doesn’t get out enough and he knows that's something that needs fixing. But not just yet. When he’s done with his novel. If he’s ever done with the fucking thing.
Chanyeol and Jongin are halfway through their second cigarette so he knows he’ll have the apartment to himself in a matter of minutes. His friends always make their exit once Jongin has stubbed out his second cigarette. Jongin is a creature of habit who likes maintaining neat patterns in his life. Like waking up around 7 am every morning. Like having breakfast on the balcony with the morning paper for company. Like leaving for the physiotherapy center where he works at 7.30 am, Monday to Friday. Like bringing food for Chanyeol every Monday and Wednesday. Like smoking a total of two cigarettes with Chanyeol after every meal they share.
Sehun, on the other hand, is allergic to patterns. Sehun is like a summer storm. Unpredictable and changeable in ways no one can understand. He wakes up when he wakes up, usually at some random time between 7 and 10 am. Then, he eats whatever he can scrounge from the fridge for breakfast, and he eats it whenever he wants, and wherever he likes. It’s a blessing that Sehun’s managed to make a decent living from being a freelance comic book colorist as it allows him to work from home and to keep his crazy hours. Chanyeol attempts to imagine Sehun trying to keep to normal, office workday hours and his brain wants to break at the impossibility of such a concept.
He’s always wondered how Jongin and Sehun work together when they’re such polar opposites. There are so many ways in which they shouldn’t fit and yet they’ve managed, somehow, to carve out spaces for themselves in each other’s lives. Chanyeol wonders if he’ll end up with someone who is his polar opposite, or whether he’ll end up with someone who’s very much like himself? Which kind of partner will fate give him? Chanyeol isn't sure which kind he prefers, and if he’s honest with himself, he doesn’t care. He just wants a break from being alone all the time, just wants a break from the emptiness that's gnawing at his insides more and more with each passing year.
Jongin takes a final drag on his cigarette before pushing the smoking end of the Esse Bamboo Menthol into the glossy, black ceramic ashtray that sits on the concrete ledge of the balcony.
“Time to go,” Sehun murmurs as he fits his body behind Jongin’s, his right hand slipping into the back pocket of Jongin’s fitting black jeans. It’s dark out on the balcony but it’s not so dark that Chanyeol can’t read the heat and intent in Sehun’s eyes.
“So impatient,” Jongin grumbles and he lives to regret the comment as Sehun’s mouth slides over his earlobe and. . .bites. “Damnit, Sehunnie,” Jongin gasps and Chanyeol doesn’t need good lighting to know that his friend’s tanned cheeks are flushed with a mixture of desire and embarrassment. Jongin often complains that Sehun is the devil and Chanyeol is inclined to agree.
“Ok. Get. Out. I don’t need you two copulating on my balcony and getting reported to the police for indecent exposure. On my goddamned property. Imagine all the neighbors and police crawling all over my apartment. I wouldn’t have a moment’s piece to write. Go, get out. Go home.” Chanyeol waves his arm at them dismissively, eyes tinged with amusement.
“Copulating? Who even says that, hyung?” Jongin laughs.
“I like the way it sounds, all right? Let me live.”
“You're so cute sometimes,” Jongin says and the smile on his face can't be interpreted as anything but fond.
“Are you sure you want us to leave? You might enjoy the show, you know,” Sehun says mischievously as he drapes his long, slender arms around Jongin’s narrow waist.
Chanyeol rolls his eyes before pointing in the general direction of his front door. “OUT.”
“Going,” Jongin says drily as he grabs his boyfriend’s hand and tows him along.
“What’s the hurry?” Sehun protests as Jongin drags him through the open doorway.
“You started this. You’d better fucking finish it,” Jongin growls as he pulls him towards the lift. Chanyeol knows, without a doubt that Sehun will finish exactly what he fucking started.
“Good luck, hyung. With the writing, I mean.” Sehun has a sly smile on his face as Jongin’s arm tightens around his waist. The lift door shuts and silence settles over the corridor.
Chanyeol sighs as he shuts the door. They’ve probably got their tongues down each other’s throats by now. Two years he’s known them and their ardor for each other hasn’t cooled at all. Well, not as far as he can tell. He feels a momentary pang that he doesn't have someone who’ll stick his hand into the back pocket of his jeans, someone who’ll nibble on his earlobe. He just misses the touch of another human being. The craving is a visceral ache, deep in his chest.
Chanyeol has no illusions about what Sehun and Jongin will be doing once they're in the privacy of their own apartment on the seventeenth floor. It's been seventeen months since he had someone touch him in the intimate way Sehun had been touching Jongin on his balcony. He imagines their bodies entwined on the mattress, bathed in morning sunlight. Perhaps it's that which he misses the most—waking up with sleep-warm limbs wrapped around you. The weight of another body pressing against you. When would these little things become a part of his day again?
It's not going to happen if you spend all your time in this goddamned apartment and meet no one, Park.
As the brass latch slides home, he shakes off the sudden melancholy. No time to wallow. He’s alone at last and it’s time to get back to that Olivetti. Letting out a bittersweet sigh, he stretches his arms out and prepares for a long night.
The air is warm against his skin as his fingers hit the keys again and again. It's pleasant out here—just warm enough that he can get by with the shorts and short-sleeved cotton tee he’s wearing, and just cool enough that he isn't covered in a sheen of sweat. He needs to do this more often, Chanyeol thinks as the soft summer breeze teases his hair and tickles his cheeks.
He’d decided to abandon all attempts at working on his novel more than an hour ago. On a whim, he'd moved his typewriter to the small teak table out on his balcony. He’s not used to working outside with the sounds of traffic going by, and occasional snatches of TV dialogue from neighboring floors. Fortunately, these unfamiliar distractions don’t seem to be getting in the way of his productivity; he’s already got six pages of free-form prose stacked messily beside him. What he's doing is reckless as all hell but whatever—tonight is purely for him. The word count on his novel can just go fuck itself for now. Tomorrow. Tomorrow, he’ll make himself work on the novel (he’s so fucking uninspired to write).
So far, he’s just been writing about Barcelona, reliving some of the passion he’d felt as he explored the city all those years ago. But Chanyeol has had enough of random scenes and happenings. He’s worked plenty on the setting and now he’s itching to write people. Specifically, he wants to write some of the characters from his novel.
What little he’s written of Chapter One has several sketchy descriptions of Byun Baekhyun, but his love interest, Jang Siyeon has yet to make an appearance. He can’t understand why, after so many long weeks of planning and botched writing, Jang Siyeon is still so hazy and unformed in his mind. He can't seem to get a bead on her—has no clear idea of what he wants her to look like or be like. In contrast, Chanyeol has such a vivid mental portrait of Byun Baekhyun. Almond-shaped eyes, pointed chin, and a small, slightly thin-lipped mouth. His eyes are open and intelligent, and his smile is playful and bright. There’s something about his smile that creates a pool of sweet warmth in Chanyeol’s chest.
Chanyeol hasn’t decided what kind of personality Byun Baekhyun will have but there’s one thing he is sure of, and that is that Byun Baekhyun is someone Chanyeol wants to know—someone he wants to be friends with. A small part of him whispers that Byun Baekhyun isn’t just someone he wants to know. He's someone Chanyeol wants to hold hands with and kiss, someone he wants to go to bed with, someone he wants to wake up with. Except for the unavoidable fact that travel writer Byun Baekhyun belongs to bookstore employee Jang Siyeon, not romance writer Park Chanyeol.
Chanyeol stares at the blank page in front of him. As he stares at it, he laughs at his guilty indecision. Hasn’t he already decided that he’ll write for himself tonight? Why is he even hesitating? He can borrow Byun Baekhyun for one night, can’t he? Tomorrow. . .Jang Siyeon can have him back tomorrow, but for now, he will write a short story that’s nothing but pure self-indulgence. This story will not be for his editor Kim Jongdae or for his publisher, Exodus Publishing House.
No. This story will be for the writer, Park Chanyeol.
And when he’s done with the story, he’ll save it in his encrypted folder entitled One Fine Day. It’s a title imbued with all of Chanyeol’s unrealistic hopes to make it as a writer of gay fiction in South Korea—to be successful and to be accepted without prejudice. He’s called it One Fine Day because it holds all the unpublished gay love stories he’d written as a high school and college student, stories he had harbored hopes of getting published one fine day.
Among them is a story of Chanyeol and his first love. He'd been in love with his best friend Kyungsoo in high school—had confessed to him when they were in their second year. They were walking home from the cinema that spring night and Chanyeol’s fingers were still sticky from the caramel popcorn they’d shared. Fuelled by sugar, adrenaline, and months and months of pining, Chanyeol had grabbed Kyungsoo’s hand and asked him, in a voice that was just a little too deep and shaky, if he would go out with him.
Eyes burning patterns into his black canvas sneakers, Kyungsoo had thanked Chanyeol very formally before telling him that he was sorry he couldn't return his feelings or hold hands with him or date him. Then, he'd mumbled, in a wispy voice which was very un-Kyungsoolike, that he had suspected for a while now that he might be asexual. So he couldn’t, in all honesty, undertake to date anyone.
“But I hope we can still be friends,” he’d said, eyes determinedly avoiding Chanyeol’s. Too shocked to say anything, Chanyeol had nodded, letting Kyungsoo’s hand slip slowly out of his own. They had remained friends for the rest of their time at high school but things had shifted irrevocably between them. It had been easy to move further and further adrift of each other as they studied in universities on opposite ends of the country. Now, they only saw each other once every few years as they caught up over a few beers at class reunions.
But that’s quite enough about his doomed first love, he thinks as he shuts the mental door with a decisive slam. Skimming through some of the files in the folder, he cringes at how awkward and florid his prose had been in his student days. None of it is publishable, not without extensive editing and rewriting. But one day, one day, he will write better worlds and better stories—when he's ready, when his apartment is paid up completely. He'll publish those stories under a pseudonym, one with no connection to his current one. Chanyeol’s antsy enough about not rocking the boat—he’s not going to capsize the entire thing by taking stupid risks. He still has to eat and pay the bills if his publisher ditches him because he writes “questionable” LGBT content. So he’ll save whatever he writes tonight in that encrypted folder and one day. . .one fine day, he’ll do something with it.
He groans softly as he stretches his arms and shoulders. The burgundy seat-cushion blunts the hard surface of the teak chair he’s been sitting on for the past hour and a half, but not nearly enough. His lower back is starting to ache but he’s determined to make the most of his time out here. The furniture on the balcony isn’t ergonomic or comfortable by any stretch of the imagination, but Chanyeol doesn't give two fucks about peripherals right now. He just wants to write about Byun Baekhyun falling in love with a Korean dude in Barcelona (and if that dude happens to look a lot like Chanyeol, well, that’s just serendipitous).
Chanyeol closes his eyes, his fingers poised over the keys. He sees a young man who’s twenty-eight years old like himself, but there are much softer edges to the man’s face and body. Where Chanyeol's jaw is angular, Byun Baekhyun's is slim, with tapering lines to it. Chanyeol's eyes have a subdued, almost muted glow; he's someone who's seen a lot of life and is more than a little fatigued by now from the rougher aspects of it. Baekhyun, on the other hand, is someone who's seen enough of life that he’s beginning to feel tired, but who is still determined to find the joy in things. The light in his eyes reminds Chanyeol of sunlight on fast flowing water. Quick and mutable and bright. So, so very bright.
Resting his palms on the table, Chanyeol turns to gaze beyond the confines of his balcony. The distant sky is filled with stars. A myriad, unreachable chips of glass in an ocean of midnight blue. Would the stars listen if he made a wish? Because Chanyeol has a wish. He remembers Byun Baekhyun’s eyes and he wishes with all his heart, that he could capture some of that light and let it burn away his feelings of loneliness. He wants a Byun Baekhyun in his life. To keep for more than just one night. Chanyeol wants him so much he can’t speak. He wishes that someone as warm and bright as Byun Baekhyun could just walk into his life tonight, tomorrow or even next year. Like magic.
His fingers are striking the keys now, swift and rhythmic as his yearning translates itself into words on paper. He types and types and types his heart out. And when he’s typing a sentence describing the tiny mole that sits just above the right corner of Baekhyun’s pale pink mouth, the letters begin to drift on the page. The Hangul characters morph from clear to blurry and back to clear again, and more worryingly, the letters seem to be shifting and skating around. Chanyeol knows that this can’t actually be happening. Logic tells him that this has to be a result of exhaustion. He’s been staring at pages and pages of words for so many hours that he’s starting to hallucinate.
Chanyeol blinks in confusion. Why are the words moving around on the page? Is he developing delayed onset dyslexia or—
Fuck, does he have a brain tumor? Goddamnit, he can’t have a brain tumor! He can’t have one because (1) he still has this apartment to pay for, (2) he promised to take his grandparents to Jeju next month and (3) he still has that gay novel to write and publish. There’s literally no time in Chanyeol’s life right now for a brain tumor, what the fuck.
Thankfully, the words decide to take pity on an increasingly panicky Chanyeol and cease moving a few seconds later. He slumps in his chair and covers his face with his hands. What the hell just happened? He’s survived multiple all-nighters to meet deadlines in the past, but nothing like this has ever happened. Nothing. He gives the page on the Olivetti another look and to his great relief, the words remain static. But he’s too unsettled to focus afterwards—constantly on the edge as he waits for the letters to start wriggling around again.
After thirty minutes of unproductive struggle, he decides to call it a night. He takes a shower and unwinds by watching some TV in bed. There’s some talk show on but he listens to the banter between the bespectacled host and his guests with only half an ear. He’s too distracted by thoughts of his fictional protagonist Byun Baekhyun to really concentrate on the show. The talk show eventually ends and the late night news begins. Chanyeol continues to listen with only half an ear until the female broadcaster starts talking about meteors.
When he was twelve, his grandfather had bought him a small telescope and taught him about constellations, supermassive black holes and solar storms. It’s been years since he’s thought about that telescope—more years even than the last time he’d thought about the Olivetti before tonight. The strangely nostalgic day has Chanyeol’s tummy twisting itself into melancholic knots.
“This year’s Perseid meteor shower will peak between the nights of August 11th to the 13th. The Perseids are best observed between 11.30pm and 4.30am and you can view sixty to one hundred meteors in an hour. If you were out in a dark, open area tonight, between 8.45 and 9.45pm, chances are you might have seen multiple long-tailed, colorful meteors moving slowly across the sky. These earthgrazers are meteors that skim the top of the Earth’s atmosphere like a pebble skipping across the surface of a pond. Perseid earthgrazers are extremely rare and you would normally be lucky to see one to two of these streak close to the horizon over the space of an hour. Tonight, however, will go down in history as being the only time such a large number of earthgrazers have been observed. A total of twenty-eight earthgrazers lit up our skies over a period of sixty minutes. Previously, the largest number recorded was three in one hour so tonight’s prolific sightings are truly magical—”
The woman proceeds to talk about sporting highlights and Chanyeol switches the TV off. He suddenly recalls the summer before he entered middle school. His family had driven out of the city for a camping trip, so they could watch the Perseids. After dinner, they had roasted marshmallows over a crackling campfire. They'd eaten them slowly as they reclined on throw cushions on the picnic blanket and gazed up at the sky. They’d seen two earthgrazers and talked about the spectacular orange and green-tailed comets for weeks afterwards. Tonight, there had been twenty-eight meteors in an hour. One meteor for each year he’d been on this planet. What were the chances? Magical indeed.
He should have paid more attention, should have suggested a camping trip to his family so they could stargaze together again. He could have seen twenty-eight earthgrazers tonight instead of hanging out with at a typewriter on the balcony of his apartment. Try as hard as he can though, Chanyeol can’t find it in himself to regret the time on the balcony. Well, except perhaps for those harrowing moments when his typewritten text had come alive. But next year; he would drag his family out of the city next year.
It’s been a weird day. A weird and emotionally draining day, he thinks as he reaches his arm out to turn off the bedside lamp. Left with nothing but his thoughts now that the room has been plunged into darkness, Chanyeol tosses and turns till he settles into a fitful sleep. He dreams of shooting stars and a smile that chases away all the stinging emptiness in his chest.
It’s Chanyeol’s morning wood that wakes him. To begin with, anyway. Groaning, he buries his face into his pillow to hide from the slivers of sunlight that have snuck their way around the blackout curtains. He doesn’t want to get up. Not yet. Why do human beings even have to pee, for fuck’s sake. So unnecessary. Sleeping is necessary. Peeing is unnecessary and should be banned. Feeling very grumpy and put upon, Chanyeol curses his bladder and whoever had decided it was a brilliant idea for human beings to be saddled with the damn things.
It takes him a few moments but Chanyeol finally begins to notice just how warm it is under the covers even though the AC is turned up high. With a growing sense of panic, he realizes that there’s a slim arm wrapped snugly around his chest and a thigh pressing against his own. A very warm and very naked male thigh that’s pressed against his own equally warm, equally naked male thigh. All traces of sleepiness vaporize as Chanyeol’s brain kicks into panic mode. Hoping against hope that he’s not currently snuggling with some crazed serial killer, he cycles through a list of possible scenarios.
- He somehow sleepwalked into a neighbour’s apartment and bed and they somehow allowed this to happen without calling the police.
- A neighbor somehow entered his apartment and subsequently his bed and he somehow allowed this to happen without calling the police.
- Jongin and Sehun are playing some kind of prank on him and he’s going to have to kill them with his bare hands once he figures out how to dispose of the naked stranger currently draped around him like an over-affectionate starfish.
- His bladder didn’t actually wake him up and he’s actually just dreaming that it woke him up and Naked Stranger is just a happy bonus.
- He has a brain tumor that’s making him hallucinate that he has a naked boyfriend to wake up with in the morning (a naked boyfriend who preferably looks like fictional Byun Baekhyun).
Chanyeol likes option 4 best but much as he hates to admit it, option 5 is the most likely explanation. Before he has a chance to figure out what to do next, Naked Stranger nuzzles Chanyeol’s bare back and tightens his arm around his torso. Smooth warm skin brushes against his back and shoulders and Chanyeol’s body tenses in shock. He always sleeps in the buff in summer and he’s never had reason to regret this habit until now. But it’s been so long since he’s woken up in someone's arms that he can’t help but soak up the open affection in the stranger’s gesture.
“’Morning,” he greets in a voice that’s mellow and sleepy and warm. Chanyeol likes Naked Stranger’s voice and the way his body curls into his. He likes it so much he wants to weep because how cruel is it that this is all a figment of his imagination.
“Good morning,” Chanyeol croaks at last.
“You know,” the stranger says as his cheek rests against Chanyeol’s left shoulder blade. “It’s the weirdest thing but I kept dreaming of shooting stars. There were so many of them—colorful and flying low in the sky. I counted twenty-eight. Can you believe that? One for each year I’ve been alive.” He sounds contemplative like he’s trying to figure out what his dream could mean. Chanyeol is more than a little freaked out that the man is cuddling him like it’s the most normal thing in the world to be doing. And had they dreamt the same dream? It’s almost like a scene out of a magical realism novel. But then again, none of this is real so it's hardly surprising.
“I dreamt of shooting stars too, but I didn’t think to count them,” Chanyeol confesses, having decided that there’s no point feeling self-conscious around the man. It’s his dream and technically, he’s the one calling the shots, right?
“I um. . .I don’t mean to be rude but I’m trying to figure out why I’m in bed with a naked stranger. And more importantly, I don’t understand why I’m clinging to you like it’s a habit. I’m trying really hard here but I have no idea what you look like or what your name is—although I can tell you that you have nice arms and really broad shoulders. Do I have amnesia? I must have amnesia. At first, I thought that maybe this was a one-night stand thing, but then I couldn’t remember how we met or how we got here. Considering the amount of alcohol I would have had to consume to get blackout drunk, I should be dying from the most abominable hangover. But I’m not dying. So. . .yeah, I’m guessing it must be amnesia.”
“I—” Chanyeol’s still trying to process the stranger’s words. There had been so many and they’d come at him so fast his mind is reeling. It doesn’t help that he still needs to pee and it helps even less that his dick is still standing at attention mere inches below the stranger’s arm. He really doesn’t want to think about whether the other man is dealing with his own morning wood issues. He’s just relieved that there’s nothing nudging him in the back. So far, anyway.
“Sorry for the info dump but I’m kinda trying not to have a complete meltdown right now and I have this nervous chatter problem and. . .ok, I should probably just shut up so you can actually get a word in edgewise.” For some odd reason, Naked Stranger hasn’t relinquished his grip on Chanyeol’s waist or his thigh so they’re still touching despite the surreal awkwardness of the situation. And for whatever reason, Chanyeol doesn’t mind the contact even though he’d never set eyes on the guy till a few minutes ago.
“I honestly don’t have an explanation for why you woke up in my bed. In fact, I have a theory that this is probably just a hallucination since I don’t make a habit of going to sleep alone and waking up with strangers in my bed. This is a definite first. Also. . .don’t take this the wrong way but um, can we continue this conversation in like, two minutes? I need to pee so bad I might be dying,” Chanyeol says apologetically and the other man laughs. It’s an exuberant, slightly high pitched laugh that vibrates pleasantly against Chanyeol’s back.
“You were dying to take a piss and I was subjecting you to verbal diarrhea, oh my God.” He releases his grip on Chanyeol’s waist and slides his leg away so Chanyeol can finally move. Desperate to take a piss, Chanyeol swings his legs off of the mattress and remembers, almost too late, that he’s buck naked.
“Um. You might wanna turn around because I'm. . .not actually wearing anything.”
“I don’t know how to tell you this, but that's been pretty obvious to me for a while now,” the other man says, laughter curling around the edges of his voice.
“Have you turned around? You need to turn around, ok? Because I would rather your first impression of me be one of my face rather than my ass—”
“Whoa, whoa. I’m staring at your parquet floor now, I swear. Just go do your thing.”
Chanyeol doesn’t have to be told twice, grabbing some boxers and a pair of shorts on his way to the bathroom. Once the door clicks shut, he leans back against the wood with a small moan. There’s a naked guy in his bed. A naked guy with a really nice voice. As he stands in front of the toilet and relieves his overtaxed bladder, Chanyeol wonders if Naked Stranger’s face is as nice as his voice.
He pulls on his boxers and shorts, trying not to think about what he’s going to do once he leaves the temporary haven of the bathroom. Nothing in his twenty-eight years of life has prepared him for this bizarre situation. His brain is doing all kinds of aimless flip-flops when a voice whispers in his head, will Naked Stranger look anything like fictional Byun Baekhyun?
Now wouldn’t that be something, Chanyeol thinks as his hand settles on the brass doorknob. It’s too bad life is never that kind to him. He’s so anxious that he’s tempted to close his eyes, just so he doesn’t have to see the person waiting for him on the other side of the door. Stop being an idiot, Jesus, he berates himself as he pushes the door open. He’s greeted by the sight of a shapeless lump on the bed. Naked Stranger has made a nest out of Chanyeol’s king-sized quilt and he finds it hopelessly endearing.
“Hi. I’m back,” Chanyeol says quietly as he stands by the edge of the bed. The lump moves and a head peeks out, wavy brown hair spilling over the sheets.
“Hi,” the man smiles at him and Chanyeol’s heart is like a dove flapping its wings as it tries its best to beat its way out of his chest. The man has fictional Byun Baekhyun’s face and Chanyeol can’t breathe.
“You know, we should probably have exchanged names before we did the whole waking up naked next to each other thing,” the man says with an easy grin.
“No kidding,” Chanyeol nods, still in an obvious daze.
“So anyway, I’m Byun Baekhyun. And you are—?”
“I’m Park Chanyeol but. . .look, this can’t be happening.”
“This has to be a hallucination and I must have a brain tumor because Byun Baekhyun doesn’t exist—except in my head. So you can’t be real. This can’t be real,” Chanyeol explains, his head moving from side-to-side like he’s trying to convince himself just as much as he’s trying to convince Byun Baekhyun. The other man sits up abruptly and the midnight blue comforter begins to slide downward. Panicking, Chanyeol tries to avert his eyes, not wanting to get an accidental eyeful of dick (or thigh, oh God). He tries anyway, but he can’t seem to look away. Fortunately, the fabric pools around Baekhyun’s waist and the only eyeful he gets is of Baekhyun’s pale chest and abs.
“What do you mean I can’t be real? I’m right here,” Baekhyun argues, giving his left arm a theatrical pinch.
“I made you up. You’re a character from the novel I’m writing, or trying to write, anyway.”
“I’m sitting right here talking to you.” Baekhyun’s eyes are distressed as he points at himself. Chanyeol feels awful because none of this feels like it isn’t real and he hates that he’s responsible for upsetting Byun Baekhyun.
Chanyeol sits on the edge of the bed, being careful not to touch the other man. “Ask me anything about yourself.”
Baekhyun drags his palm over his forehead in a gesture of frustration. “I think this is all bullshit but fine. What do I do?”
“You’re a travel writer.” Chanyeol’s voice is calm even though his insides are in turmoil.
“Lucky guess,” Baekhyun dismisses with a wave of his hand. “What’s my next assignment? Like which city?”
“Another lucky guess,” Baekhyun snorts but his eyes betray his mounting anxiety. “What about my birthday?”
“Your birthday is May 6 and you’re 28 years old, just like me.”
“I told you my age when I was talking about the shooting stars so that doesn't count. As for my birthday, you must have searched through my wallet and seen my ID,” Baekhyun shoots him an accusing stare.
“Look, even if I knew where your wallet was, which I don't, I wouldn’t have done that. I’m not that kind of asshole. And all this is moot anyway because this isn’t actually happening and you don’t actually exist,” Chanyeol says with a wistful smile.
“I am right here,” Baekhyun insists stubbornly.
“Yeah, I guess you are.” He sighs in resignation. Why argue? He might as well enjoy what little time he has left of this gift, just enjoy Byun Baekhyun’s company before he evaporates at the end of this illusion.
“What else do you know about me?”
“That’s it. That’s all I know. I hadn’t gotten that far with your characterization, to be honest. I couldn’t really decide how I wanted the story to go so the details kept changing.”
“Do you have any idea how weird that fucking sounds?”
“Trust me, I know. But it's the truth. I have the notes and manuscripts to prove it.”
“I will,” Chanyeol promises. “I should probably make you some breakfast, too. But I’m a lazy ass cook. I don’t really do the whole rice and soup and banchan and meat for breakfast thing. I do, however, have muffins, cereal and bananas.”
“Cereal and bananas would be great.”
“Let’s go then.”
“Um. You might wanna lend me some clothes unless you’re planning to let me eat breakfast bare-assed in your kitchen.”
“Crap. No, no that wouldn't be a good idea. I’ll find something for you.” Chanyeol is pretty sure he wouldn't survive Byun Baekhyun parading around his kitchen naked. And from what he's seen of the man’s personality, it's something he would totally have no problem doing.
“The sooner the better because now I’m the one who needs to pee real bad,” Baekhyun chuckles. It’s nothing like the easy, open way he’d laughed earlier but Chanyeol decides it’s a good sign.
He gives Baekhyun a very sheepish smile. “Just gimme a sec.”
They’re sitting across from each other and Baekhyun’s spooning Kellogg’s Special K into his mouth as he flips through one of Chanyeol’s writing notebooks. His eyebrows are furrowed in concentration and he has a habit of dragging his index fingertip across the page as he reads. He looks overwhelmed and just a little bit lost as he sits there in Chanyeol’s white t-shirt that’s at least two sizes too big.
“So you’re telling me I get attracted to a girl in a secondhand bookstore?”
“Yeah well, I don’t think that’s happening because it’s fundamentally wrong. I have never had a crush on a girl, not even in middle school or high school let alone college.”
That’s because you don’t exist, Chanyeol thinks but doesn’t say. He takes a sip of too-sweet coffee before explaining, “I was contracted to write a straight romance so that's what I’m doing. Or rather, that's what I'm trying to do. It's just. . .not happening. My editor is about to turn homicidal on my ass because it’s been weeks and I haven’t sent him a single chapter draft.”
“Oh my God. Can you stop doing that?” Baekhyun is giving him a hard look.
“Talking about me like I'm a figment of your imagination.”
“Well, technically, you are a fig—”
“Don’t! Don’t finish that sentence. It’s offensive.” Baekhyun glares at him as he shoves a spoon of cornflakes into his mouth.
“I’m sorry. I won’t bring that up again.”
“So let’s say what you’re telling me is true. . .that means I’m not a travel writer and I don’t live in an apartment in Yangcheon-gu. I don’t have a car and I’m not flying to Barcelona in two weeks even though I remember buying myself a return ticket.”
“You live in an apartment in Yangcheon-gu? I ah, I never put that in my outline.”
“That’s what my mind is telling me but according to you, none of my memories are real.” Baekhyun is frowning again and Chanyeol’s stomach dips.
“I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to upset you,” Chanyeol says and he means it. “So, you had crushes on boys in middle school and high school?”
“I—” Baekhyun hesitates before saying, “You know, I wanna say that I did but. . .I just don’t know. All I know is that I’m not attracted to women and have never been attracted to them. But at the same time, I have no clear images in my mind of boys I might have crushed on in school, or guys I might have been into as an adult.”
“Oh,” Chanyeol says, not quite sure what else to say. He feels like giving Baekhyun a reassuring pat on the shoulder or a comforting squeeze of the hand but they don’t know each other well enough for that kind of intimacy. So his hands stay curled in his lap. Useless.
Baekhyun picks up his coffee mug, fingers wrapping around the ceramic so tightly his knuckles show white.
“I want to see my apartment. I need to see it for myself. If it really doesn’t exist. . .well, I’ll cross that bridge when I get to it. For now, I’m going to work on the premise that I am right here, alive and breathing—until I find out otherwise. Are you cool with this?”
“Sure,” Chanyeol nods. It's not like he has anything to lose. After all, this is just a waking dream or hallucination anyway.
Or whatever the hell this fucking is.
The twenty-minute drive to Yangcheon-gu is a quiet one and Baekhyun spends most of the journey staring out the window. Probably trying to gather the fraying threads of his composure. Chanyeol can’t blame him and he wonders when this hallucination will lose its momentum and fade into nothingness.
He wonders where he’ll regain consciousness. Will he find himself lying naked on a sidewalk somewhere? Slumped over his steering wheel? Lying safely in bed? The goosebumps rise on his forearms at the fear and uncertainty. He's never felt so powerless. It’s the last thing he wants to think about but he knows he’s going to have to see a doctor just as soon as he can schedule an appointment. He’ll probably need a brain MRI and the thought of being trapped in that noisy, confined chamber for thirty to sixty minutes is just—
“Turn here,” Baekhyun’s voice cuts through his agitated reverie and Chanyeol hits the signal indicator just in time. Two streets and one basement car park later, the two men are standing outside the glass doors that lead to the lift foyer.
“I don’t appear to have my access card, seeing as I somehow ended up in your apartment minus phone, wallet and keys, not to mention clothes. It’s like someone teleported me there while I slept.”
Does that mean Baekhyun sleeps in the buff too? Chanyeol really needs to not think about that possibility right now. He can see Baekhyun in his peripheral vision and the man looks swamped and a little unsettled in Chanyeol’s white button-down with the sleeves rolled up to the elbows.
Chanyeol has a few inches on him and much broader shoulders so it hadn't been easy finding him a shirt that wouldn't overwhelm him. Fortunately they’d had better luck with pants as they shared the same waist size. The tan bermuda shorts are a good fit on him and Chanyeol tries to ignore the attractive curve of Baekhyun’s lean calves.
“I hope you remember the passcode to your apartment.” Chanyeol makes his best attempt at sounding neutral, as if this is a perfectly rational conversation to be having with someone who’s just walked out of your novel.
“I do, or at least my memory is telling me I do. I can get us in the apartment as long as someone can get us into the building. We’ll just have to wait for another tenant to show up so we can walk in with them.”
A polite, cultured voice calls from behind, “Can I help you?” Chanyeol turns around to see a small-built man with clean-cut good looks. He's wearing expensive looking clothes in clean, pastel shades.
“Yes, hi! I’m from Apartment 77B and I must have left home without my access card. I wonder if you could—” Baekhyun gestures at the security panel. The man gives them a long, appraising stare before apparently coming to some kind of decision that they’re not homicidal intruders.
“Sure,” he says, giving them a reserved smile before positioning his dove gray card in front of the scanner. The stranger has the tiniest mole above his upper lip. Smaller and fainter than the one that rests just above the right corner of Baekhyun’s upper lip. It hasn’t escaped Chanyeol’s notice that Baekhyun has the exact same mole he’d described that night on his Olivetti. A mole he had decided to add that night on a whim.
“Thank you for your help, sir,” Baekhyun bows and smiles and just like that, they’re in the lift foyer.
Walking into Baekhyun’s apartment is like walking into a radiant patch of sunshine. Butter yellow curtains border the glass windows and sliding door. There’s an overstuffed white couch scattered with daffodil yellow throw cushions and there’s a lush rectangle of beige deep pile in the centre of the living room. Random splashes of yellow break up the sea of beige and Chanyeol can’t help thinking how somber his own apartment looks in comparison—all wood and quiet, grown-up hues of navy blue and maroon.
“Sorry, it’s a little bright in here but I love yellow, y’know? It gives me energy,” Baekhyun chatters as he starts opening the windows. Chanyeol doesn’t know if yellow gives him energy, he just knows that being in this place makes his chest feel lighter than it has in a long time.
Baekhyun slides the glass doors open, letting in the warmth and light of the summer day. Chanyeol spies a small balcony beyond the doors and it hits him that he hasn’t had a cigarette today. It’s a good thing he’s never been a heavy smoker. More of a five to six sticks a day kind of guy. Six to seven when Jongin is over at his place for dinner.
“Can I get you some berry tea or ginger beer? I think I have ginger beer in my fridge.”
“I could do with some ginger beer,” Chanyeol grins awkwardly as he sits on the edge of the couch. His house-slippered feet look so large and clumsy against the pale-bright background of the rug.
“Here,” Baekhyun pulls the tab off the bottle of Bundaberg before handing it to Chanyeol. “Hey, I’m just gonna see if I can find my wallet and also, I should um, return your clothes. Thanks for the loan.”
“No rush.” Returning the clothes seems pointless to Chanyeol but he keeps the thought to himself.
The ginger beer feels cool against his tongue. Sweet and cool and very, very real. He can’t get over how vivid this dream is. His gaze travels over the apartment, taking in the pine wood flooring and the pristine kitchenette. No jacket messily draped over a chair. No magazines scattered haphazardly over any surfaces. The place is so neat. It’s nothing like Chanyeol’s slightly messy and very much lived in apartment. Baekhyun’s apartment is so untouched, for lack of a better word. It’s like no one lives here.
“So, I was thinking,” Baekhyun says as he sits on the nearby armchair. He’s dressed in a black, short-sleeved button-down shirt that fits (across his chest a little too well) and white denim shorts that end just above the knee. There’s a paper bag on the floor, presumably filled with Chanyeol’s borrowed clothing.
“I found my wallet so I’ve got my ID, driver’s licence, bank card. I even found a cellphone and a set of car keys. And well, there’s this apartment. So I must exist, right?”
“Yeah, of course.” Chanyeol says, smile gentle on his lips.
“Here’s the thing. I have this apartment and all these other undeniable traces that I had some semblance of a life before today, but I still woke up in your bed this morning. No rhyme, no reason. No rational explanation whatsoever.”
“Where are you going with this?”
Baekhyun leans forward, resting his elbows on his thighs. His expression is serious and Chanyeol leans back into the sofa warily. Baekhyun begins to speak. His hands are in constant motion as he speaks and Chanyeol can't take his eyes off him. He can’t stop staring at the fluid way Baekhyun moves his slender, long-fingered hands, can’t stop staring at the way his expressive eyes burn with such emotional intensity.
“I feel like this morning happened for a reason. I mean, who are we to question the universe? Clearly none of this can be explained by the laws of physics or logic. I don’t believe in magic or the supernatural but maybe those twenty-eight earthgrazers the universe threw into our atmosphere started some weird shit. We both dreamt about the earthgrazers last night, so what if we got cosmically connected somehow? Or maybe. . . maybe you really did write me into being. I mean I saw all those notes dating back weeks and the typed manuscripts from tonight and I can’t explain why they’re all about me. And that cellphone I found in my bedroom? It only has one saved contact on it.”
“Mine?” Chanyeol asks in a soft voice. Baekhyun looks so conflicted but he doesn't know what to say to make him feel better.
“This is all so crazy and I don't know why any of it is happening, but I want to find out. I don't want to just leave this puzzle in a messy pile of pieces—”
Chanyeol’s never seen anyone so beautiful. He’s mesmerized by Baekhyun’s pink mouth as it opens and closes, opens and closes as the words pour out. His eyes are drawn to the attractive mole above his lip, the mole on his left thumb. He hadn’t even known he had a thing about moles till right this moment. Just like he hadn’t known a day would come when fictional Byun Baekhyun would appear before him, living and breathing and talking to him.
Dreams made flesh.
He wonders if this has anything to do with the strange incident involving the Olivetti. He’d been describing Byun Baekhyun and wishing he’d walk into his life when the alphabets had inexplicably come alive. And while all this was happening, twenty-eight earthgrazers were finding their way across the night sky.
Wishing on a falling star. Everyone knows that’s a myth, but what if just this once, it’s not? What if Chanyeol had wished on twenty-eight falling stars and there had been enough magic there to grant him his heart’s desire? He sighs. Who is he trying to fool? Life isn’t a fantasy and there’s no such thing as magic wishes and he totally has a brain tumor or lesion or something. The sooner he gets to a doctor the b—
“Chanyeol, did you hear what I said?” Baekhyun has one eyebrow raised.
Baekhyun laughs. “Man. For a writer, you sure have a limited range of vocabulary.”
“I’m sorry, I was distracted.” By you.
“So is your answer yes, or no?”
“What’s the question?” Embarrassed at being caught out, Chanyeol feels his cheeks flush. To his great relief, all Baekhyun does is smile as he repeats his question.
“Can I move in with you? Until we figure out what this thing is that's happening? I know it’s a lot to ask but if this is just a hallucination like you say it is, then there’s nothing to lose, right? I need to know what happens next in the story. I don’t know what’s in store for us but I do know that I don’t want the story to end here with us saying awkward farewells, you driving away and us never seeing each other again.”
It seems wrong not to follow this through, wrong not to see how well they fit together—if they even fit. Will they turn out to be opposites like Sehun and Jongin or two halves of a similar whole? Or will this illusion end when Chanyeol wakes up God only knows where? So many questions but Chanyeol doesn’t care what the answers are. He just wants to bring Baekhyun home with him.
“Ok,” Chanyeol says, finally throwing off the fog of inertia surrounding him. He straightens and looks Baekhyun right in the eye. “I want to find out what happens next, too. So. . .come home with me.”
The other man exhales loudly, like he’s been holding his breath the whole time he’s been waiting for Chanyeol’s answer.
“I just need to pack some things.” Baekhyun stands up and he’s grinning, eyes brimming with the very hope and light Chanyeol’s been wanting to capture (or maybe recapture) since he first dreamed up Byun Baekhyun.
“There’s no need to hurry. I’ll wait.” Chanyeol leans back against the sofa, grabs hold of one daffodil yellow cushion and crushes it to his chest. He shuts his eyes and grins. His heart has never felt this light. Not ever.
Come home with me.
Seriously, Park Chanyeol? That's the best you could come up with? He wants to die from how embarrassed he is but at the same time, he doesn’t regret saying the words because he’d meant every single one.
Gently and carefully, Chanyeol sets the huge, glass bowl on the far end of the dining table. The halfmoon betta is swimming around, jerking his exquisite turquoise colored fins and tail in different directions. The fish had been agitated for most of the car journey and Baekhyun had cradled the bowl very carefully in his lap. Chanyeol hopes the fish calms down before he has cardiac arrest or something similar.
Earlier, as the car weaved through the city streets, they had chatted about all kinds of random things. Halfway through the journey, the betta had started thrashing violently, causing some water to splash over the sides of the bowl. Baekhyun had begun speaking in a soft voice, telling Chanyeol that Siamese fighting fish were aggressive by nature and had been bred to fight in ancient Siam. Chanyeol wasn't sure if he'd been trying to calm the fish down with his voice, but either way, it seemed to be doing the job.
Voice gentle and calming, he’d gone on to tell Chanyeol that the biological name for the fish was Betta splendens, and that he’d called his betta Hae because his glimmering blue green scales reminded Baekhyun of the ocean. Chanyeol had enjoyed listening to Baekhyun ramble as he took them on the route back to his apartment. The random facts had spilled over him in that warm, soothing voice, and Chanyeol had loved it.
The betta’s movements finally slow down as he acclimatizes to the new surroundings. His gossamer fins and tail unfurl gracefully, and his turquoise scales shimmer in the late morning light. Splendens is the Latin word for brilliant, Baekhyun had told him in the car and Chanyeol can’t help thinking that the betta’s owner is just as dazzling as Hae.
There’s a sudden whiff of citrusy cologne as Baekhyun stands beside him. He’d disappeared into the bedroom with his suitcase about two minutes ago and Chanyeol hadn't heard him enter the dining room area.
“I think he’s finally stopped trying to fling himself out of the bowl,” Chanyeol comments.
“He’ll be fine,” Baekhyun says reassuringly.
“I can't vouch for that. He’s been attacking the inside of the bowl so much since we got home he might have given himself a concussion.”
“Hae’s head is far too hard to sustain any lasting damage; don’t worry.”
“Well, thank God for that. Maybe he’s just frustrated because he’s lonely. Maybe you need to get him a friend.”
“I'm not getting him a friend because they’ll tear each other to pieces. Bettas are extremely territorial and aggressive, remember?”
“A girlfriend then. Get Hae a girlfriend so he won't be lonely.”
Baekhyun laughs. “Are you kidding? I don't plan on running a daycare center for baby bettas! Assuming any babies even result from putting the male and female in one tank. They’re usually so busy trying to kill each other that they don’t even get round to doing the do. In the unlikely event that spawning actually occurs, the male betta will run the female out of town because female bettas sometimes eat the eggs—even their own. No such thing as motherly love with this species.”
“Jesus.” Chanyeol's eyes widen in shock. “That’s savage.” He shoots the betta a wary look as he glides around his bowl.
“Yeahhh,” Baekhyun nods. “Savage is their middle name. Male and female bettas are equally territorial and aggressive.”
“Well, lucky for you I'm not a betta,” Chanyeol chuckles.
“Believe me, I’m grateful for that.” Baekhyun pauses for a few seconds before speaking again, “Hey, Chanyeol, about the sofa bed—”
“What about the sofa bed? I’m only pulling it out after dinner. No point doing it sooner.”
“Well, actually. . .I was thinking that since you have a king-sized bed, we could just share it? That way we can skip the whole pulling out and storing the sofa bed every day mess.”
“You and me on a king-sized bed together?” There’s definite shock in Chanyeol’s voice as he asks the question. Baekhyun lifts an amused eyebrow.
“Is that so inconceivable? That’s how we met, remember?”
God. Like Chanyeol will ever forget. The two of them spooning in Chanyeol’s bed, for God’s sake. Naked as the day they were born.
“I remember,” he groans and Baekhyun gives him a playful smile.
“We already know we can fit comfortably on your bed so it just makes sense to share it.”
Chanyeol’s about to offer him a whole assortment of bland half-truths about why this is all a bad idea when he stops himself. This is his dream, for the love of fuck. It’s his dream so he can be as blunt and honest as he damn well pleases.
“There’s a whole bunch of reasons but the most compelling one would be the one where I find you really attractive and I’m likely to pop a boner if we share my bed. Seeing as we just met this morning, that might be considered Rude and Inappropriate.”
Baekhyun bursts into laughter, the sound of it loud and boisterous and free. Chanyeol remembers a time when he’d laughed in the same uninhibited way but that had been years ago. Too many years.
“You know, I’ve never been too hung up on manners. Always found them kinda overrated. And since we're being honest, I find you attractive too. So you popping a boner may not be as much of an issue as you seem to think it is.”
“What?” Chanyeol splutters.
“Look, this whole situation is. . .frankly, weird as fuck. Are we gonna waste time tiptoeing around each other like polite strangers?”
“But I’m sure there’s some universal rule that says complete strangers shouldn’t share a bed.”
“Well, we’re not exactly complete strangers anymore and we can wear some pajamas or whatever so we can keep our boners safely tucked away.”
“I don’t even own pajamas,” Chanyeol laughs, his resolve crumbling fast.
Baekhyun's eyes dance with mischief. “I thought that might be the case since you weren’t wearing any this morning. I um, don’t own any either but I’m sure we’ll figure something out.”
“You don’t have much of a filter, do you?”
“We were both naked when we first met and I was clinging to you like a koala. Is a filter really necessary?”
“Well, when you put it like that.” Chanyeol chuckles.
“So how about it? Can we just ditch the sofa bed idea?”
“Sure. We can do that.”
“Good. Now that we’ve sorted out sleeping arrangements, how about we go get some lunch? I was thinking somewhere near my place so I can pick up my car. I should just have driven it over earlier but I was worried Hae would legit backflip out of the bowl if I didn't keep an eye on him. Anyway, there’s a gamjatang restaurant nearby if you’re into gamjatang. And there's a samgaetang place two doors down if gamjatang doesn't work for you. What do you think? Lunch in Yangcheon-gu? Unless you want to work on your book? I can always cab it or take a train if you want to stay in. It's your call and oh God, I'm sorry I’m doing that nervous chatter thing again. Just stop me, okay? When I get carried away? Because I get carried away. A lot. It’s the worst habit. I’m doing it again. Shut up!” Baekhyun groans, covering his eyes in chagrin.
“But I like when you get carried away.” Gently, Chanyeol peels Baekhyun’s hand away. “You know, some days I don't even hear another person’s voice the entire day. So these conversations are a really nice change.” And Chanyeol means it. He enjoys the lilt and cadence of Baekhyun's voice and the way his personality brightens his lifeless apartment. He could probably listen to the guy talk for hours. Baekhyun is like a ball of light and Chanyeol just wants to bask in the rays.
“You lead a really quiet life huh?” Baekhyun watches him with curious and strangely sad eyes.
“I don't get out much, I guess. And I have friends in this building who come by three times a week to make sure I don’t starve or forget how to interact with human beings. They’re convinced I’ll turn into a shut-in if they don’t drop by and shake the dust off me every few days,” Chanyeol jokes but Baekhyun doesn’t laugh.
“But what about family? And other friends?” Baekhyun asks, his forehead wrinkling in concern.
“I moved to Seoul two years ago. My friends and family are back in Daegu. We keep in touch but it’s. . .sporadic. Except for my mom and sis. We talk at least two to three times a week, I guess? I relocated to Seoul because my publisher is here and I’ve always liked this city. It seemed like a good idea at the time. Except, I haven’t made much effort to form relationships with people here and I haven’t seen much of the city in the past year. I like this apartment and my friends Jongin and Sehun, but I’m not really sure why I even moved out here,” Chanyeol says with a self-deprecating laugh.
“Do you regret m—” But Baekhyun’s question is drowned out by a soprano’s voice and strains of orchestral music. Opera Ahjussi is out in full force today, it seems. And if the sheer volume of the music blasting from his apartment is any indication, he might have misplaced his hearing aid.
“Wait. Is that Puccini?” Baekhyun’s eyes widen in surprise.
“I don’t know what the piece is called but the old man in the next building sure loves his opera music. It gets a bit loud around here at lunch time and in the late evening. C’mon,” Chanyeol says as he leads Baekhyun out to the open.
Opera Ahjussi is pottering around on his balcony, diligently watering his large collection of plants, ranging from potted, flowering plants hanging from the ceiling to terracotta planters filled with lush, glossy palms.
“So you get a couple sessions of opera every day?” There's a look of fascination on Baekhyun’s face as he watches the old man across the road.
“Yup. I hope that’s not gonna stress you too much.”
“Are you kidding? I love opera. Or at least, my head is telling me I do. It’s also telling me that this is Un bel dì vedremo, a soprano aria from Madama Butterfly. Don’t ask me how I know this. I just do. Just like I know I love opera. What I don’t know is whether I can read music or play a instrument, because I have no memory of doing so. I guess I won’t know for sure until I get my hands on a piano or a violin or something. Did your. . .travel writer character know how to play an instrument?” Baekhyun’s thumb goes over the back of his right earlobe, over and over.
Absentmindedly, Chanyeol’s hand wanders to the back of his neck—cupping it as he considers his answer. “Musical ability? Hmm. I never really got to thinking about that. I kept tinkering with his backstory and personality. I just couldn’t settle on the right combination,” Chanyeol pauses and gives Baekhyun a meaningful look, “I think that maybe there was a reason I couldn’t decide on a definitive Byun Baekhyun for my novel.”
Baekhyun winces when he hears his name but he seems to recover almost immediately. He turns around so he can face Chanyeol, his back leaning against the balcony rail. It should have been a relaxed gesture but Baekhyun’s eyes are intense in the midday light.
In the distance, the soprano continues to sing, voice heavy with both hope and sorrow. Chanyeol wonders what the words mean.
“Am I anything like him? The Byun Baekhyun you made up?”
“What is he like?”
“Well, I told you I’ve made lots of changes since the character’s inception, but one personality trait has remained intact throughout the whole process. I wanted him to be a reserved man who undergoes a personal transformation in Barcelona. Falling in love with a free-spirited woman brings him out of his shell etcetera etcetera.”
“I’m not exactly reserved, am I?” Baekhyun laughs, dissolving some of the tension that had settled around them.
“Hell no,” Chanyeol grins.
“You love opera music.”
“‘Ok, that’s mildly spooky. Anything else?”
“You hate kimchi.”
Baekhyun is laughing again. “That’s so fucking random!”
“Well, I am no lover of kimchi,” Chanyeol confesses grumpily.
“Are you sure you’re even Korean?” Baekhyun cocks his head and grins at him cheekily.
“Hey! It’s not that weird to hate kimchi!”
“Nah. You’re 100% weird.”
“Fuck off.” Chanyeol tries to look mad but there’s a smile hovering on his lips.
“C’mon, let’s talk more about this in the car. I’m getting hungry.” And to Chanyeol’s surprise, Baekhyun grabs his hand like it’s the most natural thing to do and tows him to the front door in much the same way Jongin had done with Sehun the night before.
The press of another hand against his own. It’s been so long and something balloons in Chanyeol’s chest and he starts to feel like the only thing tethering him to the earth, the only thing keeping him from floating away, is the firm tug of Byun Baekhyun’s hand.
The rest of the afternoon is uneventful. Once they’re back at Chanyeol’s apartment, he tries to work on his novel. Freaked out by last night’s unnerving encounter on the Olivetti, Chanyeol had trudged back to his desktop and his not-so-lucky rolling chair. For the next two hours, he struggles to find the words and fails. He ends up spending more time doodling on his writing outline than he does doing any actual writing. It doesn’t help that his thoughts keep wandering to Byun Baekhyun—the one in his apartment, not the one that lives in his writing notebooks and typewritten pages. Baekhyun had asked for a mug of coffee before setting up his laptop at the dining table. Research for Barcelona, he’d explained with a distracted smile.
He tries to reconcile the Baekhyun in his apartment with the one he’d sketched out over the weeks but he can't. They’re two separate entities that simply refuse to mesh and to be honest, Chanyeol doesn’t want them to. He knows, instinctively, that he won't be able to write a story where Baekhyun falls in love with Jang Siyeon. It doesn't matter that she's a fictional character. He knows he can’t. Maybe replacing fictional Byun Baekhyun with a completely different character will turn out to be the perfect strategy for ending his writer’s block. He needs to talk to Kim Jongdae about this ASAP. The only problem with this plan is that he's going to have to come clean with his hapless editor about how much he has not progressed with his novel. Chanyeol slumps into his chair. He's exhausted just thinking about it.
A good time to take a break, he thinks, as he reaches for his lighter and pack of cigarettes. He’s about to step out of his study when he hears it. Somewhere in the apartment, someone is singing. It sounds like Zion T’s Yanghwa Bridge and Chanyeol smiles because it’s an old favorite.
He decides to stay in the doorway for a while so he can just listen to Baekhyun’s mellow singing voice. He likes Baekhyun’s voice. He likes it a lot, whether it’s singing or just talking. With a pang, Chanyeol realizes just how quiet and empty his apartment is going to feel when Baekhyun is gone. But Baekhyun hasn’t even been here for a day—why is he getting so attached? He needs to stop this madness.
Then a small voice whispers inside his heart: But Baekhyun hasn’t just been here for a day. He’s been in and out of your thoughts for weeks and weeks. Chanyeol grimaces. This time yesterday, he was banging on the keys of the Olivetti writing random things about a Spanish city. Now, just one day later, he’s worrying that he’ll lose someone he’s only known for eight hours. How have things come to this?
Please don’t let this be a dream. Please don’t let this be a dream. Please don’t let this be a dream.
If Chanyeol says it enough times in his head, will his wish come true?
“It’s not supposed to be this awkward,” Baekhyun looks almost annoyed as he sits cross-legged on Chanyeol’s bed. The room is cool from the AC but it’s too hot for any covers. And now that there’s another person in the room, it’s somehow warmer. He’s not imagining it, right?
“This is kinda like the morning after you’ve had a one-night stand, except. . .we didn’t have sex. Is there any way for this to not be awkward?” Chanyeol’s sitting up in bed, legs stretched out before him as he leans back against some pillows. He’s trying his hardest to look nonchalant when in actual fact, he’s so aware of Baekhyun that he’s practically vibrating.
“I can’t believe you said that!” Baekhyun pretends to look scandalized.
“You were the one who said no filters,” Chanyeol says, shrugging, “and we did wake up naked together this morning.” Pulling at the sleeve of his plain white tee, he says, “At least we’ve got some clothes on this time?”
“Yeah. I guess we do,” he grins.
“Do you want to read or anything? Browse on your laptop, phone, tablet? Watch TV?”
“Actually, I might just go to sleep. It’s been quite a day. I woke up in a strange bed, moved into a new apartment, and had way too much tteokgalbi and soju at dinner. But don’t mind me. Just go ahead and unwind the way you normally would.” Baekhyun lies down on the mattress and the hem of his shorts ride up his thighs about an inch or two. Chanyeol turns away quickly. He doesn’t need to see any more of Baekhyun’s compact thighs or his neat calves, and he definitely does not need to see any more of his milk-pale skin. Chanyeol can’t believe Baekhyun had asked him to unwind when the man has Chanyeol so tightly wound he’s barely even breathing.
“I’m tired too,” Chanyeol admits as he switches off the bedside lamp.
“Do you want to like, I dunno, put a pillow between us? To preserve your modesty or whatever?” Baekhyun asks wryly, and Chanyeol has to laugh. He would never have been able to write a Byun Baekhyun as vibrant, maddening, and alive as the one who lay beside him in the dark right now.
“I lost all claims to modesty a long time ago so I think we can forgo the pillow.” Chanyeol wonders if Baekhyun can hear the smile in his words.
“A long time ago, huh? How long? Ten years? Twelve?”
“Nine. It was nine years ago.” Chanyeol doesn’t share intimate details about his life unless he’s known a person for at least six months. He’s known Baekhyun for all of sixteen hours and he’s telling him when he lost his virginity, for fuck’s sake. Nothing even surprises him anymore. None of the usual rules seem to apply to Byun Baekhyun.
“I don’t know when I lost my virginity or whom I lost it to. Chances are I’m a twenty-eight year-old virgin. I really don’t know. No memories of that kind of thing at all.” Baekhyun’s tone is matter-of-fact.
“So tell me about your past conquests because I have no stories of my own to share. Your first time—was it with your first love?”
“Not my first love, no. My first love only had platonic feelings for me. It was a very short-lived and much unrequited love. We're still distant friends, though.”
“I'm sorry things didn’t work out. So it wasn't your first love. Who then?”
“You realize that’s a very personal thing to ask, right? Especially when we just met?”
“I know. But there’s no guarantee I’ll still be here in the morning and I just want to know more about you. To learn you while I still have the chance. Is that so bad?”
Chanyeol mulls over Baekhyun’s words. What if Baekhyun really isn't here in the morning? He doesn’t want to wake up and find him gone. He reaches for Baekhyun’s hand in the darkness, their palms touching and fingers intertwining. Baekhyun doesn't say anything but he seems to welcome the touch as his hand squeezes back.
“Okay. So, my first time. He was this Engineering major who went to the same university as me. We stayed in the same dorm, same floor—”
“But what does he look like? Was he handsome? Taller than you? Shorter?”
“Who’s telling the story here?”
“You’re not giving me enough details!” Baekhyun grumbles.
Chuckling, Chanyeol says, “They’re coming! Stories need to unfold slowly. Give me some time to set the scene.”
It’s too dark to tell but Chanyeol swears he can feel Baekhyun’s eyes roll before the other man gives him a disgruntled fine. This time last night, he had watched a news story about the Perseids meteor shower before going to sleep alone. What a difference a day has made. He still can’t completely grasp the fact that Baekhyun is right here next to him. Living and breathing next to him.
They talk late into the night; they talk until Baekhyun’s snores fill the room. Soon, it is Chanyeol’s turn to drift to sleep, his hand still gripping Baekhyun’s as tightly as he can like it will somehow tie Byun Baekhyun to him—until the morning at least.
“PARK CHANYEOL! OPEN UP!
“HYUNG! LET US IN!”
“Oh crap, it's Friday night,” Chanyeol groans.
“Are Friday nights bad?” Baekhyun asks, staring intently at the main door as the banging gets louder.
“I’ll explain later!” Chanyeol says as he jogs to the front of the apartment and unlocks the door.
“Oh my God, can you guys chill? I don’t want to find my pigeonhole crammed full of noise complaint letters in the morning.”
“Well, if you would answer your door in a timely manner for fucking once?” Sehun gives him a long suffering look.
“I forgot it was Friday,” Chanyeol explains.
“I can’t say I’m surprised. Hey, hyung,” Jongin greets him with a lazy wave of the hand.
“Oh hello, who's this?” Sehun’s eyes are blazing with unabashed curiosity.
“He's staying with me for a while,” Chanyeol replies vaguely.
Chanyeol’s still blocking the entryway and Sehun tiptoes so he can peek over his shoulder. “Oh really? Does your friend have a name?”
“Hi, I’m Byun Baekhyun,” Baekhyun says with a congenial smile.
“Byun Baekhyun? How odd.” Jongin cocks his head in confusion. “Hyung was just telling us on Wednesday that he was writing a novel about a travel writer called Byun Baekhyun.”
Sehun crows in triumph. “Dude, did you name your main character after a crush?”
“Shut up, Sehunnie! It’s nothing like that!”
“Crush, huh?” Baekhyun gives Chanyeol a smug look and he has this sudden, overpowering urge to kiss the smirk off of Byun Baekhyun’s mouth.
“Oh, I like your friend!” Sehun nods approvingly.
“Look, can we do introductions and interrogations some place that isn’t the hallway? Food’s getting cold.” Jongin raises two steamed up plastic bags for inspection.
“But—” Sehun protests and then Chanyeol loses all track of Sehun and everything else around him as a pair of hands settle firmly on his waist.
“Let your guests through,” Baekhyun says in a calm voice as he tugs Chanyeol away from the door—hands still gripping his waist. Baekhyun may not have slipped his hand inside Chanyeol’s back pocket like Sehun had done with Jongin on Wednesday night, but he might as well have for how stimulated his senses are right now. Baekhyun’s hands fall away a few seconds later but for a long while afterwards, Chanyeol’s skin continues to tingle and burn.
“Why does he have the same name as the dude in your book?”
Jongin generally doesn’t get into people’s business but there have been times over the years when he’s shocked Chanyeol with a candid, personal question. It’s just the two of them out on the balcony, blowing smoke-rings into the summer night. Inside the living-room, Sehun and Baekhyun are bent over the coffee-table, locked in an intense battle of Go-Stop.
“Man. You wouldn’t believe me even if I told you.” Chanyeol sighs and takes a long drag of his cigarette.
“I’m a pretty good listener, you know,” Jongin says quietly as a puff-cloud of smoke hangs in the air between them.
“It’s just. . .you’ll have to suspend logic and all that shit. Assuming we’re even having this conversation in real life instead of just in some deluded corner of my brain.”
“Hyung, you’re not making sense. I don’t know what’s going on here—all I can tell you is that I am here with you and yes, we’re talking. Sehun and Baekhyun are actually in the apartment, shouting at each other, slamming cards on the table and flicking each other’s foreheads.”
“Okay, so after you guys left on Wednesday, I did some more writing out on the balcony. On my halmoni’s old typewriter. It was going really well until some weird shit started happening.”
“The letters on the page, they started moving around. Flipping. I told myself it was eye strain and called it a night. Then I heard on the news that they spotted twenty-eight earthgrazers. But here’s the thing, they were spotted around the same time I was out here watching my words somersault across the page.”
“Fuck. That is some weird shit. But I’m still lost. What does this have to do with your houseguest having the same name as your fictional character?”
“I’m getting there. Damnit, you’re just as impatient as him,” Chanyeol glares.
“You mean Baekhyun?” Jongin turns to look inside the apartment. Sehun and Baekhyun are laughing at God knows what and Chanyeol is so glad the two of them had hit it off pretty much from the first hello.
“Yeah, him. He’s not really into slow reveals either.”
Jongin chuckled. “Hyung, you can save the slow reveals for your novels. Just give me the punch line already!”
“The morning after the earthgrazers happened, I woke up to find a naked Byun Baekhyun in my bed.”
“You what? What the fuck?” Jongin’s expression is one of utter disbelief and Chanyeol can’t blame him one bit.
“I wish I were shitting you, Jonginnie, I really do. But I’m not. That’s not all. He looks exactly, and I mean, exactly like I pictured the character Byun Baekhyun in my head. I don’t even know how I feel about all of this. I’m still waiting to wake up from this dream or hallucination or whatever it is.”
“I shook his hand and it felt plenty real to me so I don’t think you’re dreaming. Not gonna lie, it would be a lot less disturbing if this were a dream.” He drags his thumb across his jaw, eyes contemplative.
“Why are you so calm about this? I just told you a character I made up came to life. Why aren’t you calling me all kinds of crazy and delusional?”
“Well, Sehunnie might still call you crazy and delusional but my harapoji used to tell me all kinds of stories when I was growing up. Stories about things that happened in our little town that couldn’t be explained by logic. Things that seemed just a little magical. So I’m just going to go into this with an open mind, y’know?”
Chanyeol places his hand on Jongin’s shoulder and gives it a grateful squeeze. “Thanks, man.”
“But is this what you want, hyung? Do you want Byun Baekhyun in your life?”
“Yes. God help me. I do.”
“Just ride with this, then.” Jongin pats his back reassuringly and Chanyeol lets out a sigh of relief.
“I know this situation is crazy but the fact that you’re not judging me. . .it means a lot to me, Jongin,” Chanyeol says quietly. Jongin just shrugs and smiles as if to say, it’s what any friend would do.
“What’re you two talking about here? It’s too quiet. Are you hatching some kind of conspiracy?” Sehun strolls out onto the balcony, his eyes full of mischief.
“The worst kind,”Jongin says with the quirk of an eyebrow. “Who won?”
“I did, of course,” Sehun scoffs. “But it was close,” he admits grudgingly.
“Next time, I’ll make you beg for mercy,” Baekhyun says with confidence.
“You can try,” Sehun laughs.
The good natured banter goes back and forth for a while but all Chanyeol can focus on are the words: next time.
Living with Baekhyun is an adventure. Or at least that’s what it feels like to Chanyeol.
He’s in perpetual motion—talking, laughing, striding around the apartment, running up and down stairs, frying eggs, feeding his betta, singing, humming along to opera and dragging Chanyeol out the door for a meal or a movie. Chanyeol’s apartment hasn’t seen this much noise and activity since he moved in two years ago. He should be appalled by all the disruption to his serene, writerly life but he’s only fascinated by Baekhyun’s dazzling personality. He’s managed to slip into all the empty spaces in Chanyeol’s lonely existence with almost no effort at all.
He discovers too, that Baekhyun is a very tactile person. Since the first night, when Chanyeol had held his hand in bed, Baekhyun has progressed to grabbing his hand at random moments throughout the day. And sometimes, when they’re sitting beside each other on the couch, whether they're watching TV together or reading a book or a magazine separately, Baekhyun will rub Chanyeol’s knee or the lower part of his thigh in an absentminded way. Baekhyun does it like it’s something he’s done a million times before, the gesture familiar and comfortable. It makes Chanyeol feel wanted, but at the same time, it fills him with so much desire. He knows that if Baekhyun continues this habit, he is going to end up pulling the other man onto his lap and kissing him senseless. It’s just a matter of how soon it’s going to happen.
By some unspoken agreement, Chanyeol always takes Baekhyun’s hand in his after he turns out the light. They fall asleep holding hands but most mornings, Chanyeol wakes up to find a slim, pale arm wrapped around his waist or chest, and a warm thigh draped over his own. On other mornings, he wakes up to find Baekhyun in his arms, his erection pressing against Baekhyun’s ass.
He can’t do anything about the erection so he nuzzles Baekhyun’s neck and breathes in the scent of Baekhyun’s skin and hair. He smells of apples and sunshine (and boyfriend). Mornings where he wakes up with Baekhyun in his arms are both the best mornings for Chanyeol, as well as the worst. He knows that if he keeps waking up as the big spoon, it’s just a matter of time before his hand wanders below Baekhyun’s waist and. . .No. Chanyeol won't touch him like that without his permission.
And somewhere in the back of his mind, always nagging and always nipping at the edges of his consciousness, is the fear that he will wake up one day to find his bed empty and Baekhyun gone. The possibility fills Chanyeol with such deep despair that he always has to find something to distract himself so he doesn’t end up in a black mood for the entire day. Ironically, distraction often comes in the shape of Byun Baekhyun.
Chanyeol turns the knob and closes his eyes just before the shower spray hits his face. It’s been five days since Baekhyun walked through his front door with a fishbowl in his arms. Five days since he’s begun filling Chanyeol’s apartment with noise and laughter and life. So much life.
He’s gotten some work done on Chapter One of the travel writer story. None of what he's written is going to set anyone’s soul on fire but at least the change of character has helped with the flow of creativity. With Jongdae’s permission, he had changed the character’s name to Kim Hyungsik. In his head, Chanyeol had created a totally new face, body type and personality for the travel writer lead. And now that the lead isn’t Byun Baekhyun, he’s managed to get a better handle on Jang Siyeon’s personality and features. He’s gotten more written in the past five days than he’d managed in the weeks leading up to Baekhyun’s arrival. Thank fuck.
“Stop hogging the water.” The words come from somewhere behind him and Chanyeol yelps in shock. Chanyeol’s been living alone for two years so there had never been any need to lock the bathroom door. Not until he got a new housemate, anyway. But old habits die hard and he forgets to lock the door more often than he remembers to lock it.
“What are you doing here?!”
“Taking a shower. What does it look like?”
“But I was here first.” Chanyeol is so busy trying not to panic that he doesn't even care that he sounds like a five year-old.
“Oh my God, I’m not trying to jump queue. We can share. Didn’t you listen to the news last night? Drought warning. The Government is advising the public to conserve water so we don’t run down our reserves too much. So this is just us doing our bit for our country,” he grins.
Chanyeol splutters. “But we’re both naked! Don’t you think we should have discussed this first?”
“I was worried you’d say no,” Baekhyun explains, grinning.
“For good reason!”
“Well, I’m in here now and we’re both attracted to each other so I don't see the problem. The way I see it, we've been working towards getting naked together anyway so this is like an icebreaker, don’t you think?”
“Icebreaker? We're NAKED!”
“I know. Now can you pass me my shampoo, please.” Baekhyun holds his hand out and waits for Chanyeol to pass him the tall, silver bottle he’d brought over from his own apartment.
Don’t look down, Chanyeol. Keep your gaze at eye level. EYE LEVEL. EYE FUCKING LEVEL
They’re wet. They’re naked. They have their dicks out. Baekhyun is standing next to him all wet and naked with his dick out and Chanyeol wonders if he’s the only one here with an imminent boner and oh God, is this what dying feels like?
Calm down. I need to calm down.
Chanyeol is trying his best to calm down but their arms and shoulders and hips keep brushing by accident. The slick glide of wet skin over wet skin is enough to get Chanyeol half hard. All he can do is pray that Baekhyun doesn’t look down. If he’s being honest though, a not-so-small part of him is also hoping that Baekhyun will look down and they can finally end this torment. It’s been torturous sharing living space and a bed but not their bodies. He wonders if Baekhyun’s dick is straight or curved or—
“—you doing anything on Thursday night?” Baekhyun’s eye are shut tight as he shampoos his hair. The rain shower is pelting them with water and the suds are trickling down Baekhyun’s face and neck and collarbones and. . .
He gulps, feeling guilty.
Damnit, Chanyeol. EYE FUCKING LEVEL.
“No. No plans.”
“I found two tickets for a flamenco show at my apartment,” Baekhyun says as he runs his palms over his wet hair. Droplets of water cling to his eyelashes and cheeks and Chanyeol is mesmerized.
“You mean last Thursday? When you were packing?” Chanyeol only manages to lather his arms before Baekhyun is asking him for a turn with the soap. Why isn’t he using his own soap? It’s right there on the soap holder. Chanyeol doesn’t understand why Baekhyun wants his soap but he lets him have the lavender colored bar, anyway.
“I found the tickets this afternoon—when I went to check on the apartment and pick up my mail.”
“Good question. They were just lying there on the dining table. There was no sign of a break-in and it’s not like burglars normally leave shit behind for house owners. They couldn't have been left there by someone I know because you’re literally the only person I know, other than Sehun and Jongin. Maybe the tickets are a gift from the universe? Who knows?” Baekhyun shrugs.
“The universe is giving out flamenco show tickets? That’s wild. I really want to interview the universe on her selection process for gifts,” Chanyeol laughs.
“We should use them. Flamenco dance seems like a fun way to experience Spanish culture, you know what I mean? It could be research for that novel you’re writing about travel writer Byun Baekhyun.”
“His name is Im Hyunsik now,” Chanyeol says, a small smile on his lips.
“Oh? What brought that on?” Baekhyun quirks an eyebrow at him.
“It’s childish but I couldn’t deal with travel writer Byun Baekhyun falling in love with some random chick,” Chanyeol admits. He decides not to add the part about him not being able to deal with Byun Baekhyun falling in love with anyone who isn’t him, period.
“So I’m not a character from your novel anymore?” Baekhyun looks a little wounded and Chanyeol doesn’t like the idea that he might have contributed to that hurt look.
“I guess I’m just selfish, you know? I don’t want to share you with a bunch of readers who don’t even know you. I-I want to keep you for myself.” The water is hitting the tiles hard, the noise threatening to drown out Chanyeol’s words.
“Chanyeol—” Baekhyun’s voice is tinged with anticipation and maybe just a touch of hope.
“Can I do that, Baekhyun? Can I keep you?” Chanyeol asks, his right palm settling on the curve of Baekhyun’s jaw as he stares into the other man’s eyes. He’s never seen Baekhyun so still and so quiet.
“Yes,” Baekhyun answers. “Please.” Then he’s raising himself on his toes, steadying himself with a hand on Chanyeol’s shoulder. As the spray bounces off their skin, Baekhyun’s shower-cool lips slide over his, gentle as a dream at first, then more firm, more insistent. When Baekhyun’s tongue slips inside his mouth, Chanyeol groans and deepens the kiss. He pulls Baekhyun closer, hand traveling up his nape. As the water crashes down around them, their mouths meet again and again—all tongues and teeth and soft sighs. When the kiss ends, Baekhyun rests his forehead on the space where his collarbones meet and Chanyeol’s heart is so full it almost aches.
“You know. . .that’s the first time I’ve ever kissed anyone,” Baekhyun says, voice slightly muffled.
“I hope you liked it,” Chanyeol says as his palm glides over Baekhyun’s back.
“I did, but I could do with more kissing practice,” Baekhyun lifts his head up and gives Chanyeol a cheeky smile.
“I can give you more kissing practice,” Chanyeol laughs. “But we need to get out of here first, like before the hot water runs out.” And before I die of blue balls, Chanyeol chooses not to say.
“Ok, we should go. Before I die of blue balls,” Baekhyun announces shamelessly and Chanyeol can’t help but laugh at the irony.
“Wouldn’t want that to happen,” Chanyeol says and there’s no hiding the amusement in his voice.
“Well, from what I can tell, you’re not doing so hot yourself, Mr. Oh-So-Obvious-Hard-On.” Baekhyun is giving Chanyeol the most obnoxious smirk he’s ever seen in his life.
“Oh my God, are you implying I have no self-control?” Chanyeol shoots him a challenging look.
“I’m saying you should finish what you started,” Baekhyun says provocatively as he drags his hand down Chanyeol’s side, down the curve of one hip before moving lower still. Chanyeol gasps at the brush of wet fingertips along the length of his arousal—the brief contact making his cock twitch. Waves of desire beat insistently against the walls of his self-control and goddamnit, is Byun Baekhyun trying to kill him?
Growling, Chanyeol turns the water off, grabs Baekhyun’s hand and pulls him out of the shower cubicle.
Chanyeol’s mouth covers Baekhyun’s left nipple and sucks—light, teasing pulls that leave Baekhyun moaning loudly, Ohgodohgod. The moans get louder as Chanyeol’s hand reaches for his cock and starts stroking him. Chanyeol is sucking on Baekhyun’s other nipple when he feels Baekhyun’s hand on him, feels his long, slender fingers wrapping around his cock.
“Jesus,” he mouths in shock as Baekhyun’s hand begins to move. “Are you sure you’re a virgin?”
“One hundred percent sure,” Baekhyun laughs. It’s a low, husky sound that only amplifies all the sensations overtaking him right now.
“I don’t believe you,” Chanyeol says as his mouth glides across Baekhyun’s jaw, teeth gently scraping along his throat.
“Some things are instinctual. Some things you just know whether it's your first time or not. I know it feels good when I touch myself this way,” Baekhyun says as he strokes Chanyeol, “so I feel like it would feel good for you if I touched you the same way. Am I wrong to think that?”
“No. Oh God, no,” Chanyeol moans as he pushes his hips forward, chasing the delicious pressure of Baekhyun’s hand.
His palm curls around Chanyeol’s nape so he can pull him closer and then they’re kissing. What Baekhyun lacks in experience, he makes up for in enthusiasm. His kisses are inexpert but passionate and they make Chanyeol feel so much more than any kisses he’s shared in the past. Baekhyun’s lips are so soft and pink against his own, and Chanyeol just can’t get enough of Baekhyun’s curious tongue and his hot, wet mouth and the press of his exploring hands. He can’t get enough but at some point, Chanyeol decides that he needs more. Gently, he moves Baekhyun’s hand from his cock and licks a trail down the other man’s chest and stomach and lower, much lower still than that.
“What are you—” Baekhyun asks just a beat before Chanyeol takes him in his mouth. His lips and tongue slide over the length of Baekhyun’s cock, reducing him to a shameless mess of impassioned moans. Chanyeol loves the gentle curve of Baekhyun’s cock and the way it feels against his tongue, silken and warm and hard. He loves how ruined Baekhyun looks in this moment—pupils blown wide and luscious, pink mouth, half open.
Baekhyun is so beautiful, Chanyeol thinks, his chest heavy with emotion as his mouth glides over Baekhyun’s length, over and over and over again.
“Chanyeol, I can’t—” Baekhyun has one forearm over his mouth as he tries to stifle the desperate noises he’s making. It’s his first time having someone go down on him and Chanyeol knows he can’t last much longer. Replacing his mouth with his hand, he strokes Baekhyun’s cock hard and fast while his tongue swirls over the tip of it. Baekhyun’s moans grow increasingly desperate as Chanyeol picks up the pace and it only takes ten more seconds before Baekhyun is groaning ohgodyesohgodyes and spilling onto his stomach and Chanyeol’s hand.
Baekhyun’s eyes are closed, his bottom lip caught between his teeth as he pants from the exertion, from the ecstasy. He looks so tired and beautiful and so much like he belongs here in Chanyeol’s bed—like he's always belonged.
“That was. . .thank you.” Baekhyun’s voice is low and breathy, reminding Chanyeol of how much he’s still aching for his own release. To distract himself, he grabs a handful of tissues from the bed stand and cleans them off as best he can.
“I hope it was good for you,” Chanyeol smiles as he lies down beside Baekhyun, trying to pretend he’s not dying of blue balls.
“You need to ask?” Baekhyun laughs, sounding the most like himself that he’s been since they’d left the bathroom.
“Just in case you want a refund or anything,” Chanyeol says, his tone dry.
“Don’t be ridiculous! If anything, I want to order a second helping,” Baekhyun says, rolling his eyes. Chanyeol is still trying to come up with a witty comeback when his thoughts scatter, replaced by nothing but pure sensation.
“Baek,” he moans in surprise as the other man begins to stroke him. “You don’t have to,” he protests but then Baekhyun’s mouth is gliding down the length of him and Chanyeol groans as warm, wet heat surrounds him. All thoughts of protesting vanish as he sinks back onto the mattress, enjoying the feel of Baekhyun’s mouth on him, over him. . .
The auditorium is humming with activity. People are milling around in search of their seats and shouting ecstatic ahnyeongs at friends across the hall. Chanyeol and Baekhyun had found their seats five minutes ago so they’re just sitting quietly before the performance starts. The show Alma features the legendary Carmen Mota and her company of dancers and Baekhyun hasn't been able to shut up about how excited he is to watch the show. Chanyeol finds it unspeakably endearing.
“Alma means soul,” Baekhyun informs him as he thumbs through the souvenir program. “It says here that the show is divided into two parts. Part 1 combines traditional Spanish flamenco, tango, jazz and modern dance. The second part focuses more on coping with life and death, and expressing feelings of happiness, sadness, loneliness and joy.”
“Soul and extreme emotions. I like this concept.”
“Okay but here’s the coolest thing about this show. Part 2 is entirely choreographed by Joaquin Marcelo, who is Carmen Mota’s son as well as one of the dancers in the show. This doesn’t sound like a huge deal until you find out that he became deaf when he was eight because of viral meningitis.”
“Wait, so he’s a deaf dancer and choreographer? That’s incredible.” Interest piqued, Chanyeol finds the relevant page in his copy of the program. There’s a quote from Joaquin Marcelo and his eyes scan the italicized words curiously:
I used to and still do focus most of my attention on feeling the vibrations from the stage. That’s how I understand the melody of the music. But now, I try to concentrate more on the visual perception so I don’t restrict my dance in the rhythm. It is hard to imagine flamenco created from silence, but I believe that is when the passion becomes the celestial dance.
“The guy sounds like a genius. I’m so impatient to watch Part 2 now,” Baekhyun says, his hand gripping Chanyeol’s knee.
“Me too,” Chanyeol says, smiling as his hand slides over Baekhyun’s and their fingers interlock.
Later, as the flamboyantly dressed dancers stomp and twirl and pout their way through their performances, Chanyeol keeps thinking about what Joaquin Marcelo had said about creating flamenco “from silence”, about feeling the vibrations from the stage. What if. . .what if Chanyeol creates a character who is a deaf flamenco dancer in a Seoul dance company? A woman who is vibrant, passionate, proud. Wouldn’t that be something?
Without warning, his brain starts exploding with all kinds of scenarios and he’s more excited about this incipient plot than he’s ever been about any other book he’s ever worked on. More than anything, he wants to whip out a notebook and start jotting down things. But he can’t. He needs to watch the rest of the show so he can soak up more inspiration. He needs to absorb every splash of bold color, every staccato beat as the dancers’ heels strike the stage, every lush note emanating from the flamenco guitars. Chanyeol needs to watch the rest of the show so he can reignite his imagination. It's been stagnating for too long and Chanyeol is ready for it to come back to life.
Exhaling deeply, he holds on to Baekhyun's hand and tries to quell the story ideas clamoring in his head, telling them to quiet down until he gets home, at least.
By Saturday morning, Chanyeol has managed to generate no less than two notebooks worth of outline and detailed notes for the flamenco dancer story idea. By 10 pm Sunday, he has an eight thousand word draft of Chapter One. It’s been a long time since he’s written anything in that kind of all-encompassing frenzy. In its current state, the prose is anything but spectacular but he’s okay with that. That’s what the editing process is for, after all. The most important thing to Chanyeol though, is that he’s upbeat about the storyline and that he doesn’t feel the need to purge the entire document into his Rejects folder.
He turns to look at Baekhyun. They’re both sitting in bed together and the other man is wearing Chanyeol’s old Dynamic Duo concert t-shirt. It’s so big on Baekhyun that it’s practically a night shirt. He’s developed a habit of picking out one of Chanyeol’s most comfortable t-shirts to wear after their nighttime shower, the one they take together just before bed. There's something about seeing Baekhyun wearing his clothes that stirs something primal in him. He wears the tee when they’re watching TV or reading, or doing whatever they happen to be doing to wind down, only removing it just before Chanyeol turns out the light.
“Baek, can we talk?” Chanyeol asks as he lays his head on Baekhyun’s lap. They’ve been relaxing in bed for a while now—Baekhyun reading some manhwa he's hooked on while Chanyeol catches up on some of his favorite blogs. Baekhyun marks his place before setting the manhwa volume on the bedside table.
“What is it?” he asks as he runs his fingers through Chanyeol’s hair.
“What if I told you that I’m thinking of asking my editor if I can ditch the travel writer idea and go with the flamenco dancer storyline?” Chanyeol looks up at Baekhyun and he’s moved by the concern in the other man’s eyes.
“I would say go for it.”
“What if he tells me to fuck off?”
“Well, if that happens, I guess you’ll have to keep slogging away at the travel writer Kim Hyunsik story while you work on flamenco dancer story part-time. But. . .if he doesn’t ask you to fuck off, and I don't think he will, you get to write a novel you’re truly excited about and get paid while you go it.”
“You make it sound so simple,” Chanyeol says with a hollow laugh.
“That’s because it is that simple. Just call him tomorrow, okay?” Baekhyun cups his cheek.
“No, I'm not promising. He might yell at me. I haven’t sent him anything in weeks, and suddenly I want to do something completely different? He might actually hunt me down and kill me.”
“I didn't know you had it in you to be so melodramatic. Promise me you’ll try,” Baekhyun insists.
“Fine. I promise I’ll call him in the morning.” Chanyeol gives a long suffering sigh.
“Good. Is there anything else on your mind? That you want to talk about?” Baekhyun asks as his index fingertip skates over his bare chest, drawing small circles of sensation onto his skin.
“Yes. I want to talk about how we haven’t had any kissing practice today,”
“That’s terribly remiss of us,” Baekhyun says teasingly as he lifts Chanyeol’s head off of his lap. Before Chanyeol knows what’s happening, Baekhyun is straddling him, their bare cocks touching under the folds of Chanyeol’s too-large t-shirt.
“I’m not sure this counts as kissing but okay,” Chanyeol chuckles as his hands slip beneath the hem of the shirt. Slowly, his palms glide over Baekhyun’s stomach and chest, stopping to caress his nipples before traveling down his flanks. Baekhyun gasps at the contact, his eyelids flickering shut. Chanyeol caresses Baekhyun’s skin for a while longer before pulling the t-shirt off so it’s just them now, just Chanyeol and Baekhyun. Nothing but skin against skin.
“Kiss me,” Chanyeol whispers and Baekhyun leans in so their chests and mouths make contact. They rock into each other in a slow, lazy rhythm, cocks thrusting as they kiss. As Baekhyun grinds his hips and their cocks rub erotically against each other, Chanyeol slides his large hands over Baekhyun’s ass, clinging desperately as he matches the other man thrust for thrust. Yes, Baekhyun, yes, he pants into his lover’s mouth as Baekhyun’s hips begin to move faster and faster.
“Kiss me,” he begs and Baekhyun makes a sound that's half whimper, half moan before his mouth latches onto Chanyeol’s. Baekhyun’s kiss sears his soul and Chanyeol wants it to go on and on. A few moments later, he's writhing at the warm, tentative press of Baekhyun's tongue against his ear and throat. When Baekhyun licks his left nipple and sucks lightly at it, the pleasure is so intense that it takes all of Chanyeol’s willpower not to scream. When Baekhyun moves his attention to his other nipple, though, Chanyeol can't stop the loud moan that falls from his lips.
All it takes is a few more minutes of intense frotting and groping before they reach their climax, filling the room with their moans. Baekhyun collapses in Chanyeol’s arms, not even caring that there’s slick come between their bodies.
“I think I’m getting better at kissing,” he mumbles, his cheek pressing against Chanyeol’s chest. “What do you think?”
“My mind is. . .gone. Can’t really think right now,” Chanyeol chuckles.
“I’ll take that as a yes, then. Love you, Chanyeol,” he whispers tiredly against Chanyeol’s throat. It’s the first time Baekhyun’s ever said it and Chanyeol’s heart is a swirling mess of happy emotion.
“Love you too,” Chanyeol says as he kisses the top of Baekhyun’s head. And he means it. He means it more than he'd meant it when he'd said the same words to other people in the past.
Chanyeol trails his fingers over Baekhyun’s back one last time before he succumbs to the lulling rhythm of Baekhyun’s snores—
Love you too, Baek.
Chanyeol stares at Jongdae’s phone number like it’s a snake that’s about to strike him right between the eyes. He needs to stop being such a fucking coward and just call the man. Gritting his teeth, he sends a prayer to every deity that will give him the time of day, and presses the call button.
“Chanyeol, it’s good to hear from you! Have you got a chapter draft for me? Or maybe three? Considering how much time we don’t have, three chapter drafts would be really great.” The false cheer in Jongdae’s voice is enough to make Chanyeol’s knees go weak with dread.
“That’s. . .kind of what I wanted to discuss with you, Jongdae. I know I was contracted to write a novel about travel writer Byun Baekhyun and bookstore employee Jang Siyeon but what about a totally different storyline with totally different characters?”
“What the hell, Chanyeol?! We go to press in 172 days, are you fucking serious?” Jongdae isn't being passive-aggressive now. He's just being all out aggressive.
“Hear me out, ok? This idea just came to me on Thursday night and I kinda went with it and drafted the first chapter. Why don't I email it to you? If you still want to go with the initial idea, I'll do it, of course. A contract is a contract, after all. I’ve got two chapters of the travel writer story down so far, but the writing is lackluster. And that’s putting things mildly. I've been struggling for more than a month on the travel writer story and it’s just not coming together. The other storyline I’m proposing is so much more unique and I'm excited about writing it. Really, really excited.”
“What's the other story idea?” Jongdae sounds wary but Chanyeol can hear it: the thread of curiosity running through his voice.
So Chanyeol unravels the tale of twenty-seven year-old Chinese flamenco dancer Zhang Yixing who works for Seoul Dance Company. Sparks fly when cool, unflappable Yixing meets new recruit Kim Minseok, a talented, twenty-six year-old woman with a fiery temper. On the surface, it sounds just like any other “opposites attract” trope that’s been written six ways to Sunday. That is, except for the part where Minseok is a gifted flamenco dancer despite losing her hearing as a fourteen year-old.
“A deaf flamenco dancer, huh?” Jongdae sounds like the gears in his brain are clicking at top speed. A mixture of anxiety and hope blooms in Chanyeol’s chest.
“The idea came to me when I was watching this flamenco show last Thursday night. There’s a dancer-choreographer in the dance company who lost his hearing at the age of eight, but his passion for flamenco motivated him to succeed as a dancer. He can’t hear the music but he feels it through the vibrations on the stage. This whole idea is just so. . .it’s inspired me like I can’t even describe, Jongdae.”
“That’s definitely a concept I've never read before. It might work. I’ll have to see.”
The fact that Jongdae hasn’t thrown his proposal out the window outright gives Chanyeol an unforeseen blast of courage. He knows that if he doesn’t do this now, doesn’t suggest switching to writing gay romances right this minute, he won’t have the guts to do it for another two years, if he’s lucky. So he closes his eyes and takes the plunge.
“Jongdae, what if I tell you I want to try writing a different genre after I finish the current book project?”
“You mean you want to move away from from romance?”
“What change of genre is there then if you're still going to write romance?”
“It's. . .complicated.”
“Uncomplicate it for me.”
“I don't think that's a real word.” Chanyeol’s statement is punctuated by a nervous laugh.
“I'm the editor here. It's a word if I say it is and I'm telling you to uncomplicate things for me by just telling me what's going on.”
Chanyeol wants to just blurt it out, wants to just yell I want to write gay romance! But he remembers his apartment, his car, the Jeju holiday he’d promised his grandparents. And then there's Baekhyun. All the things he wants to do with Baekhyun and all the places they have yet to visit together. Chanyeol remembers all the thick, sticky threads that tie him to reality and he decides that maybe he’ll just set the scene for now, and leave the big reveal for later.
“I can’t tell you yet. That would spoil the surprise. After the current book is done.”
“You can't do that! You can't just dangle things in front of people then withhold information. Dick move!”
“I'll tell you, ok? In due course.”
“Due course?!” Jongdae practically squawks the words, clearly outraged at being kept in the dark.
“I’ll explain everything, I swear. Later. After the current book. You have my word. But for now, my immediate concern is whether you'll let me ditch the travel writer plot and let me carry on with the flamenco dancer idea.”
There's silence on the other end of the line and Chanyeol’s heart sinks.
“You suck, you know that?” Jongdae grumbles.
“Is you suck code for you have the green light to write flamenco dancers Kim Minseok and Zhang Yixing?” Chanyeol is grinning so hard his cheeks ache.
“No, you don't have the green light, you asshole. Send me all the chapter drafts you’ve completed for both story ideas, plus the outline for the flamenco story. Then we'll talk.” Jongdae is still trying to sound gruff and intimidating but Chanyeol can read the signs. He knows he’s already won this little skirmish and he’s itching to start working on Chapter Two already.
He’s tapped out about three thousand words of Chapter Two when the silence in the apartment is shattered by loud, banging noises. He glances at his watch. It’s 11.30 am. Who could it be? It can’t be Baekhyun because he has his own key to the apartment so the only person he can think of is Oh Sehun. Maybe he’s run out of sugar or coffee or milk or some other life-sustaining substance. It certainly won’t be the first time he’s shown up at Chanyeol’s front door with some domestic “emergency”. Groaning, he gets up and trudges to the front door, more than a little annoyed at the disruption to his momentum.
“OPEN UP, PARK CHANYEOL! CAN YOU HEAR ME?!”
Chanyeol breaks into a grin when he hears the familiar voice. It’s not Oh Sehun, after all, he thinks as he unlocks the door and pulls it open.
“PARK CH—Oh, you finally heard me,” Baekhyun says with a bemused grin before giving Chanyeol a quick kiss on the lips. “Sorry for the ruckus but I forgot my keys. I have kalgaksu as a peace offering, though. For lunch.”
“I’m not a huge fan of kalgaksu but I can eat it,” Chanyeol says with a wry grimace as he shuts the door and follows Baekhyun to the kitchen.
“Okay, I’ll remember that for next time. But for now, suck it up. I’m not letting good food go to waste,” Baekhyun says as he sets the takeaway carrier bag down on the countertop.
“You sure can be bossy.” Chanyeol stops right behind Baekhyun, looping his arms around his waist. He nuzzles Baekhyun’s neck and the scent of apples and sunshine drifts into his nostrils.
“Someone has to be,” Baekhyun grumbles, arching his neck as Chanyeol leaves kisses along his nape. “Stop distracting me. I have things to ask you.”
“Like what?” Chanyeol asks, nibbling and tonguing Baekhyun’s left earlobe.
“Have you called your editor?”
“You can be such a buzzkill, Baekhyun. Jesus.” Chanyeol rests his chin on Baekhyun’s shoulder with a noisy sigh.
Baekhyun turns to face him. “Yes or no?”
“Did he tell you to fuck off?” Baekhyun’s hands cup his jaw and Chanyeol leans into his touch.
“Not exactly. He told me to email him everything. The chapter drafts for both ideas.”
“Oh God, that’s great news!” Baekhyun throws his arms around him and hugs him tightly. There’s so much warmth lapping at his insides now that Chanyeol can barely even remember how empty he’d felt just eleven days ago.
“I would never have called him if you hadn’t bullied me into it,” Chanyeol confesses.
“This calls for a celebration.”
“What kind of celebration? Does it include kissing practice? Because you know, technically, you’re still a virgin.”
“I can’t believe you said that, you dick!”
“Dick, yes. You need to get dicked or dick me before we can finally declare you officially deflowered,” Chanyeol smirks as he lifts Baekhyun off the ground. He yelps in surprise but instinctively wraps his legs around Chanyeol’s waist.
“Wow. That was not crass at all,” Baekhyun laughs as he clings to Chanyeol.
“So is dicking what you meant when you said this calls for a celebration?” Chanyeol asks as he holds Baekhyun securely in his arms and starts striding in the direction of the bedroom.
“No, it wasn’t! You didn’t give me a chance to tell you. I was at home earlier, picking up mail etcetera. And this time, I found a return air ticket to Barcelona, for PARK, CHANYEOL MR. Same travel dates and we even get to sit next to each other. The universe is a motherfucking boss of a matchmaker, just saying.”
“I don't know whether to be ecstatic or totally freaked out.”
“Imagine all the inspiration you’d get for the flamenco dancer book. It’s going to be great, do you see?”
“I don’t even care about the research, Byun Baekhyun. Don't you understand? I just want to go on a holiday with you somewhere. Anywhere. And you should just redirect your mail here so you don’t have to drive to Yangcheon-gu so often. I mean unless you really want to. Why don’t you just pack up all your things and move here for good?” They’re finally in the bedroom. Chanyeol lets Baekhyun down but he doesn’t let go of him, still holding him close.
“You want me to move here? Permanently?” Baekhyun asks, his voice soft and tentative.
“Yes, permanently. I love that you love opera and that you love your betta. I love that you love singing and reading manhwa. I love that you make me leave the apartment for outdoor film festivals and walks along the beach and flamenco shows. I love watching how excited you get over outdoor film festivals and walks along the beach and flamenco shows.”
“Shh, just let me finish what I have to say first, ok? Just let me finish or I'll lose my nerve.”
Baekhyun closes his eyes, bites his bottom lip and nods.
“Ok. Here I go. I love that you love wearing my old t-shirts; it makes me feel things. I love that your hair smells of apples and that I get to go to sleep with you and wake up with you and oh God, Baekhyun, I just love you, okay? I love you and I want us to be together always. I honestly don’t believe that the universe would be so cruel as to give the world someone as magical as you, only to take you away. And even if the universe were that sadistic, I'll take and hoard every moment I can. So be with me, Byun Baekhyun. Live here with me. Always.”
“I’d like that. I’d like that a lot,” Baekhyun says, flinging his arms around Chanyeol. His eyelashes look like they could be wet and he's never looked more beautiful to Chanyeol. As Baekhyun reaches up to kiss him, he smiles. “I love you too, Park Chanyeol, and I want to be with you. Always.”
All Chanyeol manages to do is to whisper Baekhyun’s name before the other man pulls him onto the bed with him.
“Later. There will be time for words later,” Baekhyun says, resting his fingertip on Chanyeol’s lips. They lose themselves in tender kisses and caresses and more, so much more, as rays of summer sunlight pour in through the windows and dance on their skin.
The twigs crackle and pop as the flames climb higher and higher.
“Not so close to the fire, Park Sooyoung,” Baekhyun scolds and Chanyeol expertly scoops the ten year-old off the ground and onto his lap.
“The point is to roast the marshmallows, not yourself, silly!” Chanyeol teases the little girl.
“I know what I’m doing, Daddy,” she protests, sounding quite cross.
“We know you do, but if the wind changes direction all of a sudden and you’re that close to the flames, your hair could catch fire. That would not be fun,” Baekhyun explains patiently, his thumb passing over her jaw in an affectionate gesture.
“I would have run away, Appa. The fire wouldn't have caught me. I’m the fastest sprinter in my year—sunsaengnim said so.”
“I’m sure you would have outrun the fire but still, you need to remember that fires are dangerous. We would be very sad if anything happened to you,” Chanyeol’s voice is firm as he strokes Sooyoung’s long, straight hair.
“Okay, I’ll remember,” she agrees with a soft little sigh. She pops a crisped, golden marshmallow into her mouth before asking, “How many earthgrazers do you think we’ll see this year?”
“I’m going with two.” Baekhyun smiles as he scoots closer to where the other two are sitting cross-legged. He takes his daughter’s hand in his much bigger one before resting his head against his husband’s shoulder.
“My super sensitive special shooting star senses are telling me that there will be three earthgrazers tonight,” Chanyeol announces dramatically as he loops his arm around Baekhyun’s shoulders, and they exchange a brief but tender kiss.
“Only two or three? No fair,” Sooyoung whines. “I want to see lots and lots of earthgrazers in the sky. Or maybe some fireballs. Why is the sky always so stingy?”
“You know, there was this one year, we had twenty-eight earthgrazers in one hour.”
“Twenty-eight?! But we never ever get that many!”
“That was the only time the planet ever saw that many earthgrazers,” Chanyeol says as his eyes meet Baekhyun’s. His heart hitches—it still does from time to time even though they’ve been together for fifteen years now. Baekhyun winks at him, reaching up to kiss him briefly on the lips and Chanyeol’s heart gives a happy little hiccup. . .even after all this time. His laugh lines are deeper now, and there's a more angular set to his jaw now that Baekhyun is in his early forties.
There are the faint beginnings of fine lines by the outer corners of his eyes but the light in them still radiates that same, clear glow Chanyeol had wanted to capture for himself that night he’d written out his yearning on the Olivetti as twenty-eight meteorites propelled themselves across the summer sky. Baekhyun looks a little different now and yet, everything Chanyeol feels for him is still very much the same.
So much has changed since the morning Chanyeol woke up to find a stranger in his bed. It had turned out that while Baekhyun had an apartment, a car, proof of a university education, and a healthy bank balance, he didn’t actually have a real job or any actual ties with people. There were apparent limits to the amount of magic the universe could perform, which was a blessing in many ways. For one, he got to pick his own career without having to worry about being tied down to the one Chanyeol had decided on for him.
The whole travel writer gig had never appealed to him. He hadn’t liked the idea of having to travel all the time because it would have taken him away from Chanyeol. He'd also joked that having one writer under one roof was stressful enough—who needed two? After going through a whole array of jobs, Baekhyun had discovered he had a real talent for voice acting. He loved it—loved the excitement of assuming different personalities and working with other voice actors. In the past twelve years, he’d managed to snag roles in no less than twenty animated films.
As for Chanyeol, he’s published eight gay novels over the past decade and a half. When Chanyeol had proposed his storyline for a gay romance, it hadn’t been difficult to convince Jongdae to take a chance on him. The editor had vetoed Chanyeol’s suggestion for a brand new pseudonym, and the risk had paid off. The novel had enjoyed decent success at bookstores but it was digital editions of the book which had sold really well. Chanyeol’s gay novels have continued to gain popularity and he’s so much happier now that he can write LGBT relationship dynamics. It’s something he understands and identifies with more and it comes through in the writing.
Chanyeol still struggles with writer’s block from time to time. Which writer doesn’t? But he’d never again experienced the same kind of crippling writer’s block he’d faced when he was trying to write the novel about travel writer Byun Baekhyun and secondhand bookstore employee Jang Siyeon. Maybe his head and his heart had always known that Baekhyun was never meant for Jang Siyeon.
And last but most definitely not least, there’s Sooyoung. She had been an energetic one year-old when they’d first brought her home. Like a cannonball, Sooyoung had rolled into their lives, bringing along with her tears, laughter, frustration and love—most of all, love. The past nine years with their daughter have been a hectic rollercoaster ride but Chanyeol and Baekhyun wouldn’t have had things any other way.
“You know, the night we had the twenty-eight earthgrazers. . .it was August the 12th, 2016.” Baekhyun has a faraway look in his eyes, like he’s trying to recall every little detail.
“You actually remember the date?” Sooyoung’s eyes are curious but then again, they’re always curious. She’s a precocious and intelligent child who runs effortless circles around her two fathers most days.
“Well, the date is easy to remember because it was the night before we first met, you see,” Chanyeol explains.
“That sounds so romantic, Daddy! How did you meet and where did you meet?”
“Now there’s a story,” Baekhyun chuckles.
Sooyoung grins, excited. “I looooove stories.”
“I guess we could tell you the edited version of the story,” Chanyeol says in a mock serious tone.
“But I want the full, unedited version.” It’s that pout again. The dangerous one they’re both so susceptible to.
“Maybe when you’re thirty.”
“APPA! That’s mean!”
“Trust me, you don’t want to hear the unedited version.”
“But I do!” Sooyoung puts her skewer down and stares at Chanyeol with barely suppressed excitement.
“Fine, I’ll tell you the unedited version,” Chanyeol concedes with an exaggerated sigh.
“Yes!” Sooyoung pumps her little fist in triumph.
“I’ll tell you when you’re twenty-eight and not a day sooner.” He tweaks her nose playfully while Baekhyun chuckles in the background.
She scowls as ferociously as she can before pronouncing, “Daddy, you’re even meaner than Appa.”
“Oh honey, Daddy tries but we all know who’s meaner,” Baekhyun says, still laughing. “Right, let’s move over to the picnic blanket. We have some earthgrazers to find.” He grabs her hands and pulls her to her feet. Then it’s Chanyeol’s turn to get into standing position.
“Let’s go,” he says as he takes one tiny hand in his while Baekhyun keeps a firm hold on the other one. As they walk to the red, plaid blanket they had laid out earlier, Chanyeol turns his gaze to the million twinkling lights scattered across the night sky. His mouth forms a soft, secret smile as he thanks the stars for granting him his wish all those years ago. For giving him Baekhyun, for giving him his love—