Actions

Work Header

Puppy in Love

Work Text:

“Don’t give me those eyes, the discussion is closed,” Chanyeol says to a visibly pouting ball of black fur. If he didn’t know better, he would have had a hard time figuring outwhere the black eyes of the poodle were hidden in this mass of curly pelt, Toben having completely ruined his grooming, “you know chocolate cake are for humans, subtext, me, your human: Chanyeol”, he truly dares Toben to snort at him or to spin, to face the other way around. His dog can be petty sometimes. “Besides, you’ll get your own and healthy meal once we’re back home,” a smile threatens to break on his lips but he doesn’t want to appear suspicious. Toben can tell when he is being played for a fool “What about dry food, hum?”

His dog finally snorts at him and turns around, his black fur tangled in the wind and his butt wriggling as he walks away. What a disrespectful attitude toward his master. Chanyeol would be offended if he didn’t love his puppy so much.

After a long sigh, Chanyeol looks up, the murky weather keeping most people away of the park. The sky is awash with various forms of clouds, colours and a greyish cumulus formation of hooded-like figures that are slowly being washed away by a clearer cloud, the new image being a mix between a deer and a car. A weird mix.

He remembers throughout his sky gazing how much he loves simple moments, his head rolling backwards. Like this, he could spend the day watching the clouds floating by, the white and black crashing against one another, creating an ‘in between’ colour, could it be grey or something else. A more unstable, in-between colour.

Yet, the volatile weather has, unfortunately, different plans for him. As much as he would love to stay here, he is in great need of a shower after his daily morning run. And not a shower coming in the form of a downpour. Not that he minds the rainfall much although he minds very much how Toben will dirty the whole floor of the apartment if they are caught in the bad weather.

He eats half of his small cake before getting up to pick up his ungrateful dog, Toben rolling around in the dead leaves. Colours are tangling in his black coat, red, gold and brown alike. The worst may be Toben’s happy look, the puppy knowing perfectly what he is doing. He knows someone will have to brush his fur and who that someone is. The little demon.

After chasing around an orange leaf circling in the wind, his poodle finally acknowledges him and sits down, only to eye the remains of the chocolate cake in his master’s hand. Chanyeol heaves a sigh, already regretting his decision “I will give you a small piece,” the puppy wags his tail on the soil, happy to have won. Again. “Just a small piece!” he says as the black poodle nearly jumps to get his treat, the raspy pink tongue brushing Chanyeol’s fingers. Toben eats it like he is starving – or afraid that Chanyeol may change his mind. As though he has ever done it inthe past.

Chanyeol rolls his eyes. He really should think again about who is in charge of whom in this relationship, Toben winning their arguments a little too often for his liking.

“Come on, let’s go home.” He declares as the black poodle gracefully accepts the leash around his neck. Even in this situation, Toben seems to make him a favour and Chanyeol doesn’t know if he is grateful or annoyed. Maybe a bit of both.

The walk to the apartment is uneventful even if the rare white clouds were now completely swallowed up by the dark ones, crashing on each other like the waves of a furious sea. Chanyeol speeds up, thankful to have brought a sweater with him. The last thing he needs now is to fall sick.

The black poodle also quickens his pace at the view of their building and nearly runs to the stairs, pulling on his leash. This dog seriously.

Chanyeol climbs the flight of stairs and nearly trips over his poodle at the end of the staircase, Toben having frozen in place.

“What the hell Toben, why are you stopping...” he lets his voice drag on the end, his black poodle’s eyes fixed on a Welsh corgi standing in the middle of the corridor, a few feetaway. Oh.

It has been a fortnight since a new neighbour moved in next door and Chanyeol still doesn’t know much about him. He knows it’s a him and that he has a dog – who is currently avoiding Toben’s stare in favour of looking at the wide-open door – but he merely exchanged more than a few words with the newcomer. He didn’t even get to know his name.

The door closes as the man in question appears, his dishevelled hair and grumpy look being the only thing Chanyeol witnessed so far. Except once, maybe. He remembers three days ago, he needed to take the trash out when the very surprising, bright, bright laugh of his neighbour reverberated through the walls. Something akin to amazement struck him at this moment, a smile of his own spreading on his lips as he held the bin bag. It was the first time he was content to take the rubbish out.

Only now, the man is not smiling. A scowl darkens his pale completion, heavy dark rings under his eyes matching his black hoodie, a big ‘Fuck you all’ written in an angry white handwriting. Well, it mirrors his mood at least.

He nudges Toben with his feet to get him moving but the poodle is still staring at the neighbour’s dog, his black eyes filled with much more excitement than when he had snatched the chocolate cake earlier. Or maybe it’s just the lighting of the hallway. Always too bright, especially in the dead of the night when he gets home late.

Light or not, his dog is not moving and a very sombre neighbour is making his way toward them, a handful of books under his arm, the Welsh corgi waving his tail besides him.

“Can you budge over?” he asks grouchily once Chanyeol failed once again to make Toben move from his spot. “You’re in my way.”

Even if the voice is clearly patronizing, Chanyeol cannot help but notice the smoothness behind the cold words. The softness.

“Sorry,” he picks Toben up even if his puppy gives him a betrayed look. He should be the one complaining, his sweater being good for the washer. “He seemed… interested in your dog.”

The stranger raises an eyebrow, his jet-black hair shy away from his eyes “And?” he demands, clearly bothered. His whole stance is screaming at Chanyeol not to trouble him – and the hoodie is a helpful reminder too – but the man cannot help himself. This is for Toben.

“And,” Chanyeol smiles at his neighbour, his natural cheerfulness taking over the volume of his voice “I think he likes your dog. Wouldn’t it be good to let them play together on a weekend?”

The man gives him a once-over – his eyes darting to Toben for a second too – before huffing and muttering something under his breath, nudging past Chanyeol to the stairs. The Welsh corgi ignores them too and Chanyeol is sightly taken aback by the lack of response. This is a new level of rudeness.

A huff from his dog rouses him from his torpor as he looks into Toben’s eyes. His dog is also affronted, not used to the lack of attention.

“Come on, I’m sure you can find better,” keys in hand and Toben in the other, he struggles for a minute before mastering his keyhole “maybe a cute Yorkshire,” his puppy growls as they enter the apartment. A scent of kimchi tickles his nose and, even if it’s yesterday night dinner’s lingering smell, Chanyeol’s smile spreads easily on his lips. This is home. “Okay, maybe not a Yorkshire. But definitely a nice dog, yeah? A cute one.” His puppy huffs again but Chanyeol cannot tell if it’s in answer or if he is just relieved to be back on the floor.

He stretches his back to help his muscles loosen up, his joints popping as he exhales. His daily run generally helps him focus on his work but right now, he keeps thinking about the dark circles under his neighbour’s eyes. And more importantly, about his rudeness. He snorts and decides to have a shower and, as he makes his way to the bathroom, notices the little traces of paws on his wooden floor.

Dammit Toben.

***

The pencil is slowly tracing a new edge to the cloth shape, something harsher, conscientiously so. The press of the lead is more distinct on the side of his sketch, a thick black line defining the strict aspect of the blazer; strong, cold, electric.

Chanyeol takes a red chalk then, his eyes never leaving his work, never really seeing it either. He is generally in his head in these kinds of moments, his fingers only moving to reproduce what he is seeing inside of it. Not on the paper. Not really. The shapes created by his mind are a curious mix between a violent passion and a cold strictness, the clothes almost hard to define; messy, unstable.

He draws harder, his hand covered in different colours in his hurry not to lose the fuzzy image.

He almost grabs it, his fingers shying away from the final form when his mind blanks, the pencil stopping abruptly on the paper. He blinks. Once…twice… Confusion menacing to show on his face. He lost it. Again.

Chanyeol growls and lets his head flop on his desk. His imagination keeps on failing him, even more so these last few weeks. And yet, he always had a lot of ideas when he…

A heavy sigh parts his lips and his legs move on their own, getting up in search of something, anything to distract his mind. Naturally, his eyes fall on the little black ball of fur, Toben, nipping at one of the cushion on the couch. Countless warnings and threats from Chanyeol were clearly not enough to keep the puppy away from the sacred sofa, the ‘only for human’ warning falling on deaf ears.

The loud, high-pitched sound of his door bell disturbs both of them, Chanyeol winces at the awful noise. He wishes he could change his bell himself, but the landlord won’t let him (“It’s a lovely melody, Mr. Park!”)

Begrudgingly, he walks to the door and is clearly nonplussed when he sees the man standing in front of him as proud as a peacock in his latest designer clothes, stylish orange hair and oversized Channel mantel. The colour is the same as the white dog in his gloved hands, carried by his master like a precious price. And judging by the mighty and pleased look on the puppy face, he likes it.

“Vivi,” at his name, the dog pants happily as his master frowns, his eyes for once not hidden beneath expensive sunglasses. He looks like a prick even without it anyway. “What are you doing here?”

“Are you seriously greeting my dog before me?” Sehun asks with a flat voice, his usual expressionless face annoyed as he penetrates in the apartment. Chanyeol smiles while closing the door, pleased with himself. It’s always difficult to make the younger show something else than his usual resting bitch face.

“Apparently, yes.” Sehun takes in view the room before letting Vivi joins Toben on the couch, the two dogs easily displaying their happiness to be with each other, unlike their masters. “What are you doing here anyway?”

“Apparently, checking on my best friend’s flat arse,” Chanyeol growls and flops on the couch, next to the two dogs. After today, Toben will never listen to his ‘Not on the couch!’ ever again. “And maybe grab dinner. I’m hungry.”

“First of all,” Chanyeol starts, his index proudly standing in the air “my arse is not flat, thank you very much and secondly,” he side-eyes his so-called best friend, the orange hair offending his eyes. Who on earth dyed his hair like that? “You’re supposed to be on a diet. You have a shooting coming up in three days.”

“Yes yes,” Sehun stretches his long legs under the table as he pouts “but that doesn’t mean I have to starve, so hurry up and make something decent… Hyung.”

“If you’re asking so nicely, how could I ever refuse you.” He answers drily but they both know it’s just an act. They have known each other long enough.

A few months ago, Chanyeol wouldn’t have had the time to cook for himself. He didn’t even know how. Now the usual chopping sound is almost relaxing, precious in its normality. Slowly, he chooses the ingredients as he hums, more than content with his actual situation. His old-self would probably disagree but time has passed. Everything changes with time.

A shadow over his shoulders makes him eye Sehun warily, the younger always having a snarky remark at the tip of his tongue, sharper than any of his cooking knife. However his best friend just hovers around him, his gaze curious. Maybe Chanyeol isn’t the only one who likes cooking after all and he smiles as he turns around, a spoonful of tuna mixture ready in hand.

“Are you preparing Vivi’s food? I’m not eating that,” after a second, Sehun adds, thoughtful, “scratch that, it’s not good for my dog either. Vivi deserves way better.”

Actually Sehun is just a little shit who doesn’t know how to appreciate anything.

Chanyeol growls and just continues chopping his vegetables, used to his best friend’s behaviour. He will eat all of it anyway.

They carry on exchanging civilities – or insults, depending on the point of view – until Sehun clears his throat.

“Uh...” uncertainty laces his tone, enough to make Chanyeol turn around and face the younger leaning against the table “I wanted to talk to you about…modelling.” The last word is almost whispered and, under the cooking noise, Chanyeol almost misses it. Almost.

“Sehun...” he starts, knowing very well where this conversation is going “I won’t start modelling again,” a frown starts to darken Sehun’s features, his mouth set in a fine line in protestation but the older continues anyway, “no, I don’t care that the pay is good, Sehun, I really don’t care. I’m happier now.”

“You say that but you’re working half of the time in a small café and,” the younger worries his bottom lip, appearing smaller than he really is “you said eight months ago that you’ll make your debut as a fashion designer but...” his best friend looks at him “…you have never shown me any clothes, Chanyeol. I’m not even sure you have a single one.”

The vegetables are going to be overcooked if Chanyeol let them in the pan any longer but he cannot tear his eyes away from Sehun’s.

“I…have some, I just don’t want to show them to you now,” he turns around, the smell of the fish mixing with the roasted peppers. It’s going to be good. It’s going to be all right. “you will see them in a fashion show like everybody else. Now sit, it’s ready.”

“You won’t let me model for you?” he blurts out, not a care in the world for the plate in Chanyeol’s hand “Chanyeol, please don’t be stupid, I’ve got a name in the industry, I-”

“Yes, you have,” the older man answers calmly, setting everything on the table “and this is exactly why I didn’t ask you. I want to start from the bottom.” The tuna would probably taste better with white wine but alcohol would make Sehun’s eyes puffy and he doesn’t want to risk it. “I’ll succeed on my own, without the help of any connection.”

Sehun is a really popular model and, even if he is bitchy sometimes, Chanyeol has to admit that his best friend is talented. The younger knows how to walk on a podium, knows how to catch the attention of everyone in the room, knows how to work with a camera. Basically, he would be the perfect model and, even if the older is aware of that fact, he still refrains from accepting the outstretched hand, the glimmer in Sehun’s eyes ebbing away at his words.

“It’s like you didn’t learn anything eight months ago,” the unreadable voice resumes as Chanyeol sits on his chair, his own eyes focused on the meal. Really, he didn’t need this conversation today. “You cannot do this alone, not in this business, you...” Sehun finally sits, his orange eyebrows – yes the stylist dyed them too – furrowed in a deep scowl “you know they are true sharks. You’re just… you’re just a baby Nemo now, too good and naive.”

The older snorts but welcomes happily the slight attempt at humour “Look who's calling me a baby while he is barely an adult himself,” he serves more vegetables to the younger, ignoring the pout on his face. This is for his own good, the stylist will thank him later “besides, I’ve been in these waters longer than you”, he gives a toothy smile to the younger, his own plate filled with fish “I won more prices too.”

These kinds of jibes usually rile Sehun up enough to make him forget his initial goal and today is no exception.

“The jury gave you points of sympathy because your mother had to get your ears out of her womb” he deadpans, the phantom of a smirk at the edge of his mouth.

“Oh look at you, making jokes on my mother’s back. This is definitely worthy of a mature adult,” he blinks innocently “I cannot wait to tell her this one.”

Sehun whines and starts to kick him under the table – him or the table itself – while Chanyeol just chuckles. He knows he won’t be able to always escape the reality, to make Sehun forget, to make himself forget but just for another day he wants to.

He pours himself a glass of white wine.

***

A carpet of vibrant colours welcomes Chanyeol at the exit of his building as dead leaves flutter down, one of them nearly falling right into his eyes. With a swift movement of the hand, the man chases the red leaf and hurries himself. He cannot be late for his shift at the café.

He presses his nose into his new wool scarf, the white colour softening his appearance. And by his new scarf, he means his, finally, finished, approved, scarf. He spent nearly two weeks on it, knitting with care each part, like his grandmother taught him. When he was younger he complained a lot (“I’m not a girl Grandma!” “Shush! You will thank me one day!”) but now, he truly enjoys it. Even if he prefers to draw.

He quickens his pace on the last few meters, already seeing the number of people inside the shop. Minseok is probably going berserk on everyone and the thought makes him wince a little. As much as Chanyeol actually enjoys his part-time job, he kind of hates the rush period, like anyone with some common sense. Except Jongdae who doesn’t possess any and smiles happily at each customer, even finding the time to address a wink at Chanyeol as he makes his way to the back.

It’s going to be a long shift.

***

The fragrance of coffee, the whirlwind of patrons, one, two cups, thank you, change the grains, take this order, please make yourself comfortable, a dash of milk, a raking sound, the cup is too hot, the smell of coffee again.

Dark-brown eyes.

Chanyeol blinks, once, twice, and tries to feel the reality of the wooden table beneath his fingertips.

“I’m sorry,” he enunciates at the best of his current capability, the overwhelming scent of coffee making his eyes twitch. He probably won’t be able to scent anything else after today “can you repeat your order?”

The man doesn’t bother to hide his irritation, wrinkling his nose until petite lines appear near the end of it. He looks up at Chanyeol, his dark-brown eyes seeming almost black.

“I want a café au lait with a lot of sugar in it,” the voice is somewhat aggressive but Chanyeol cannot help but like the velvety sound laced to it “and,” the customer eyes the cakes displayed in the glass case, all of them right from the kitchen “a muffin with chocolate chips.”

“Actually,” Chanyeol almost winces at the dark glare he receives but refuses to give in. He has his pride “these are with raisins...not… not chocolate chips”.

The stranger’s glare snaps to the poor cakes, as if they had personally offended him. Chanyeol for his part is just relieved to no longer be the subject of the dark stare, even though the black eyes are pretty.

Chanyeol blinks again, vaguely confused by his last thought. He has been so focused on the murderous stare that he somewhat ignored the rest of the man, the black hoodie on his petite frame familiar. He frowns again until the realisation hits him.

“Oh!” he opens his mouth without thinking, the dark glare back on him “You’re my neighbour!”

The customer seems to want to pin Chanyeol down like an insect with his glower, putting the money on the counter with, Chanyeol is sure, the intention of crushing him in the process. He could be wrong, because he has never done anything to this man, but it seemed like it.

“Marvellous,” by the tone dripping of sarcasm of the smaller – he is definitely smaller than Chanyeol, but it’s not really difficult when the latter is already towering most of the people in the city – it’s evident the stranger doesn’t think it’s marvellous at all “can I get my order now?”

“Hum...” Chanyeol can feel his pride slipping away – way too easily – in front of his neighbour, not really wanting to fight for it. Strangely so. “So just the coffee? No cake?”

“Maybe if you look at the amount of money on the counter, you would have your answer.” He answers drily, his white hands now shoved in the pocket of his oversized black hoodie.

The blunt answer makes Chanyeol’s cheeks flame red, his eyes no longer meeting the dark ones. He takes the coins in hand – the exact amount for a café au lait – and bids his neighbour goodbye once the latter retrieves his order. No need to say, the politeness is not returned.

Chanyeol just has the time to sigh before welcoming the next customer, praying for his skin tone to have gone back to normal.

He still doesn’t know the name of his neighbour but now, he isn’t sure he wants to learn it.

***

When his shift finally ends, Chanyeol is more than relieved to go home. He is in great need of a run and Toben too, probably.

The wind is strangely harsher in the afternoon, scratching at his skin and cutting his breath short. The Korean man knows only too well that the weather isn’t ideal for a run but he won’t miss it. He cannot.

The constancy of running, the daily constancy, helps him stay focused on his work, on himself. Even if he knows only too well the whine Toben will let out once facing the windy weather and, oddly, the thought makes him smile. His dog is kind of petty but Chanyeol loves him for it.

The wind tries his best to make his smile drops from his face, screaming at him but the tall man ignores it. Today again, he will run.

***

Predictably, his dog runs back into the building the moment his first paw touches the asphalt, his black truffle scrunching in defiance: he will not go outside.

Chanyeol sighs, trying to get his poodle to walk out on his own without having to carry him – and without risking his fingers either. Toben’s nipping really hurts sometimes.

“Come on buddy,” the small puppy accepts to look at him as Chanyeol crouches at his level, warm hand petting the head of tight black curls “I really need this now and,” he passes his thumb on Toben right ear to stroke lightly “we both want to stay in shape, yeah? You wouldn’t want to get fat, right?”

His poodle sighs at Chanyeol’s touch and finally gets up to go at the edge of the car park, the whirlwind already messing with his black fur. He gives his master a look and Chanyeol stands too, thankful. He knows Toben obliges him because the puppy never does anything he doesn’t want to. It’s not like he is uneducated or anything, he just has his character. His personality.

As he puts on gloves, Chanyeol steps in the windy weather with his loyal friend next to him.

And they run.

***

Cheeks flushed by the wind and the effort, they both finally come to a stop at the autumn-coloured park, Toben panting heavily by his side. Chanyeol grins as he pets the exhausted puppy, both of them outdoing their previously set record.

“See! Told you it would do you good!” As an answer, Toben just flops on the crunchy dead leaves, spread like a starfish, and doesn’t move at all, dead to the world.

Chanyeol just rolls his eyes and sits on his usual bench, his loud breath calming as he sets his eyes on the grey sky above him, the cumulus rolling on each other like the waves of a tender melody.

The park is calm, even calmer than a few days ago and, even if Chanyeol enjoys the bubbly laugh of families in summer, the light breeze in his hair in spring or the snow-covered path in winter, he has a weird affection towards autumn. It inspires him.

What breaks him out of his reverie is Toben’s sudden joyful bark, the puppy apparently alive again. He is on all four, his black tail wagging happily as he walks toward something. Something being a familiar Welsh corgi and his master, both unaware of the happy black ball of pelt targeting them.

Chanyeol winces and tries to call his dog back but it’s no use, Toben is now running toward them with a new-found energy. Wasn’t his dog exhausted a few minutes ago?

His neighbour has barely the time to even see the excited poodle before being assaulted by him, the Welsh corgi hiding behind his master’s legs. No need to say, none of them seem pleased by the sudden intruder and Chanyeol jogs his way to them, an apology ready on his lips. Damn you Toben.

Of all the dogs in the city – all of them – his puppy had to take an interest in this Welsh corgi. The Welsh corgi of a man who definitely doesn’t like Chanyeol, if the dark glare is enough of an indication. Maybe the stranger looks at everyone like this but Chanyeol doesn’t think so.

“Sorry!” he offers with a smile, his voice still a little breathless from his run. Or maybe the man’s stare, he truly doesn’t know “Toben is stubborn sometimes.”

Chanyeol is unacquainted with his neighbour – accidental encounters are far from enough – but he still somehow expects the smaller to scowl or make a witty comeback. He doesn’t expect the stranger to raise an eyebrow, barely visible under his almost too long bangs of inky hair, a smirk menacing to bloom on the edge of his mouth.

“You named your dog Toben?” the name of his puppy is pronounced carefully, as though the smaller expects Chanyeol to correct him. He doesn’t. “This is a ridiculous name for a dog.”

Chanyeol should be offended, really. He would be if the stranger wasn’t letting his lips pull into a smile, brightening his whole face. It’s the very first time Chanyeol sees the man wearing another expression than a scowl and it’s kind of breathtaking. The harsh wind sweeps the black hair back and Chanyeol has a hard time focusing. The man just insulted his name choice but, as the smile starts to falter, Chanyeol realises he really doesn’t care. He just wants the stranger to keep smiling.

“His last name is Bee and,” he offers his neighbour a lopsided grin, hoping it’ll be friendly enough. He still doesn’t know why he is so adamant about trying to be nice, to reach out to the smaller while it’s clear the latter didn’t seem interested the first time. He persuades himself that it’s for Toben. “his whole name should have been Beethoven but then with the Korean pronunciation I came up with,” he smiles proudly, “Toben.”

“It’s even worse,” the cold wind seems gentler than those words, yet again, the smaller doesn’t offer his murderous glare to Chanyeol, “I can’t believe you came up with this name.”

“What is your dog’s name then, hum?” Chanyeol challenges, “I have high expectations now.”

Chanyeol is almost afraid he’s gone too far, his wording way too familiar. Many people told him he is generally too straightforward and that it will turn against him someday. Someday being probably today as he takes the sudden change of expression in the stranger’s face, his pink lips once more pressed together in a line. But unlike before, a light shade of red takes place on his cheeks.

“Hum,” the smaller looks down at the Welsh corgi – or maybe at his black boots – visibly embarrassed “His name is Bacon.”

Chanyeol blinks “I’m afraid to ask the story behind that name.”

“Well,” the shade of red deepens even if it could be a result of the dropping temperature “My name is Baekhyun,” he enunciates his name very well, carefully so, as if afraid someone else will repeat it wrongly the second after “and my friend Yixing is Chinese and,” he sighs, probably wondering why he is telling this story in a middle of a park, in autumn, with temperature nearing the zero-degree Celsius “well he always pronounced my name like Bacon and my other friend, Kyungsoo, found it hilarious to offer me a dog named after me.”

Chanyeol cannot help it, he laughs. He laughs because the sweat down his neck has transformed in an uncomfortable shiver, he laughs because the wind licks his cheeks dry and he laughs because his grumpy neighbour has managed to make him sincerely smile for the first time in the week.

“I swear to god if you make a joke about eating my dog,” Chanyeol’s laughter intensifies and he tries to conceal it behind his hand with no success “I’m not promising anything about being courteous anymore.”

Chanyeol bites on his bottom lip, eyes crinkling “It’s not like you’ve been in the first place.”

Baekhyun – the name is correctly articulated in Chanyeol’s head – frowns in confusion, “What do you mean?”

At that very moment, Chanyeol knew he had touched a nerve he wishes he hadn’t. The smaller’s face is already closing, the dark glare coming back alive, Chanyeol being its target.

“No, it’s just...” Chanyeol takes a step back, waving his hands in front of himself, “today at the café, you seemed like you were really upset at me for some reason and”, he looks down at their dogs, Bacon still hiding behind his master’s legs “I don’t know, I just didn’t understand what I could have done wrong.”

His words don't ease the scowl between his neighbour’s eyebrows, the wind suddenly more appealing to Chanyeol than this discussion.

“I’m sorry if I offended you,” his neighbour doesn’t seem sorry at all but Chanyeol will keep his mouth shut this time “I have to go now.”

The taller blinks, not expecting this answer at all “Wait! I haven’t told you my name yet!”

“Chanyeol,” the smaller turns his back to him, the black hood hiding half of his face “I know your name.”

He starts to walk away with Bacon, the both of them somewhat smaller in the harsh weather.

Toben is the one who brings him back to reality, Chanyeol tearing his gaze from the moving forms. He crouches down to pet his poodle on the head, not knowing what to think about this afternoon.

***

Once he is back home, Chanyeol jumps into the shower, trying to remember what feeling his legs and arms is like. The water is almost too hot on his skin but he doesn’t bother to change the temperature, his mind wandering to the conversation he had with Baekhyun.

His neighbour might not be the most pleasant person to be around but he let himself smile in front of Chanyeol, just to be told off right after. Chanyeol is just a big, fucking, idiot. If he just had said something about Bacon, a joke or perhaps a compliment, maybe the man would have continued to smile, maybe he would have lightened up the whole park. But with maybes, Chanyeol will never go anywhere and certainly not near his neighbour, Baekhyun probably never wanting to see him again.

It’s not like you’ve been in the first place.’

Chanyeol growls and turns off the water, droplets falling on the black tiles. He looks at himself in the mirror an instant before deciding to let his hair dry naturally. It doesn’t matter anyway.

He is about to snatch a towel when the door of his bathroom suddenly opens and he hisses as a chill of cool air hits him.

“You’re hairy down there,” are the first words getting out of Sehun’s mouth, his resting bitch face looking right where it shouldn’t.

Oh my God Sehun…wait, what are you staring at anyway?” Chanyeol doesn’t try to cover his body, Sehun and himself having being naked in front of each other more than a hundred times but he still feels the annoyance of being disturbed crippling inside him. He pushes it away as he toys with a strand of wet hair and, after a thought, smirks slowly, “Are you envious in front of what a real penis looks like?”

He is quite satisfied with his comeback but the expressionless face of Sehun doesn’t give him the contentment he was looking for. That brat.

“So hairy it must be like petting Vivi...” the younger continues, not a care in the world for Chanyeol’s words. At this point, the older is almost afraid Sehun would try. Knowing the model, it totally could happen.

“Please,” Chanyeol pinches his nose bridge, trying his best to stay calm despite the situation “for the sake of fuck,” he stares at his best friend “never, never say that to a guy you’re about to bone...” when Sehun simply cocks his head, he pushes him toward the door, “and GET OUT.”

Sehun shrugs and makes his way to the television, squeezing himself between the two dogs.

Finally on his own, Chanyeol puts on some pants and a red T-shirt. He can say goodbye to his calm evening.

***

“You’re actually in good shape,” Sehun finally says once they are settled together in front of a Marvel film – was it Avengers 2 or Captain America 3? – a bucket of vegetables crisps between them. Sehun whined a lot about Chanyeol’s choice but the latter was firm. The crisps were still calorific but they contained less fat and sodium than normal potato crisps and, even if the younger was being a brat about meals, Sehun’s health and weight were the first concern of Chanyeol. They were Sehun’s livelihood.

“I know,” Chanyeol smiles as he sees Sehun reaching out for an aubergine crisp “It’s not because I’m not a model anymore I can slack off my diet,” the colours of the film were painting his small living room in green as Hulk is destroying a whole building, Chanyeol not wanting to eat a green bean crisp anymore “nor can I stop sport. It helps me a lot.”

“Hum,” Sehun side-eyes him, a question at the tip of his tongue but, rather than to voice it, he just searches for another crisp “it’s good. It’s really good.”

They watch the next scene mostly in silence, Captain America fighting against Iron Man. Okay definitely Captain America 3.

“I won’t ask about modelling today,” the younger begins, his eyes set on the screen but Chanyeol knows he is not really watching, both of them knowing Marvel films by heart “I just wanted to make sure you know you can come back anytime,” Iron Man is hurt on the screen and Chanyeol let his eyes fall on the bucket. He doesn’t like to see his favourite character bleeding “Mr Hong still wants you for his next spring collection, you know.”

“I know” the screen is only flashes of colours now in front of his eyes, blue, red, past and present .“He sent me emails and even phone calls,” he looks at Sehun, knowing the younger’s intentions “but I’m not interested.”

Instead of arguing this time, Sehun just nods “Okay,” Chanyeol raises an eyebrow at him, surprised by his best friend’s acceptance. The latter just waves his hand in the air – a suspicious-looking crisp between two fingers – and continues, “by the way, why were you looking so defeated in the shower?” he smirks, “Were you playing hide and seek with your butt? Because if it’s the case, I’m sorry to say this but it has been lost since forever.”

Chanyeol picks a green bean crisp and throws it at the arrogant smile. They don’t taste good anyway. “I thought about your ugly face,” and before Sehun can make a socially unacceptable remark, he continues by shoving a carrot crisp into the model’s small mouth “and maybe I was thinking about an uncool comment I made to someone too.”

This got the attention of the younger, his hand full of crisps – did he plan on throwing them at Chanyeol?! – going back primly in the bucket as he cocks his head, his orange hair bizarre in the light of the television, “What do you mean?”

The older sighs, probably as remorseful as Iron Man in front of a hurt Captain America, both of them just wanting the best for the world, “I met someone or,” he frowns “well, technically I met him a few times…”

“So it’s a him?” Sehun’s face breaks in a smug smile and, seriously, Chanyeol prefers the resting bitch face.

He refrains from saying so though.

“Yes, but not like that,” he thins his lips “he is really grumpy and somewhat intimidating but… he smiled at me today and I kind of told him off when he tried to open up,” he looks at the younger again “I don’t know why. For an instant I forgot he was a stranger or… well, not you at least and that I couldn’t speak my mind freely everywhere,” he sighs, “I don’t think he will accept to speak with me after that.”

“So,” Sehun somewhat succeeds in shoving his palm full of crisps in his mouth. So much for the diet, “you don’t want to bang him, but you still care?”

“Yes,” Chanyeol observes their dogs sleeping next to the television, Toben’s nose near Vivi’s white ear “it may be stupid but, I think Toben likes Bacon and-”

“Wait. The dude’s name is Bacon? Did his parents lose a bet against the doctor at the birth or what?”

Chanyeol rolls his eyes “Bacon is Baekhyun’s dog!” he nudges Sehun with his calf “Can’t you be serious a second?”

“Baekhyun,” Sehun smiles like a cat who caught the mouse, “seriously it sounds like Bacon. There is a whole world of jokes opened right here, in front of my eyes.” The older growls and throws his head backward, the white ceiling suddenly more appealing. Why did they become friends in the first place? “But well, I won’t be able to make any of them if you don’t make up with him,” Chanyeol allows himself to glance at his friend's brown eyes softening on the edge, “it’s not for you. It’s for Toben, and your dog's well-being is more important to me than yours, actually.”

Coming from Sehun, Chanyeol wonders where the sarcasm ends and the truth begins, his best friend being a little too fond of his own dog.

He lets himself sit up a little straighter in the couch, his hand reaching for a vegetable crisp – hopefully not a green bean one. It doesn’t really matter if Sehun tells the truth or not – actually it does, he is Chanyeol’s goddamn best friend, not Toben’s – because he owes his neighbour an apology. And he won’t do it only for the sake of his poodle.

“Yeah,” the film is almost over now, Captain America’s team resolutely fighting until the end for their convictions, “I’ll find a way,” he smiles softly before adding, “by the way… how did you get in my apartment?”

“Oh,” Sehun fidgets on the couch, his eyes not really meeting Chanyeol’s “well, I may or may not have taken your keys to make a duplicate for myself,” he cocks his head “you’ll never know.”

“You’re such a brat...”

***

Chanyeol has to wait three days before running into his neighbour, and not the way he would have wanted.

He woke up at arse o’clock this morning because of a fucking nightmare. He tried to lull himself to sleep but his mind wouldn’t let him, nor would the sun as morning light flickered in from the parted curtains, a strip of light hitting right in his eyes. This is why he is out at six – oh yeah it’s six o’clock now – a ridiculous pair of boots on and a bin bag in hand.

The morning is strangely eerie, the whole city barely awake and Chanyeol takes his time to admire the timid sun getting up. It appeases his mind somehow, even if he had seen it a million times.

A loud noise at his right brings him back to earth, his mind now awake. A handful of books is splattered on the concrete, a small figure lying face down. Chanyeol doesn’t think twice and runs to the man to help him stand, taking the small white hands in his owns. They feel icy-cold against his and he has to suppress a shudder.

The man is only wearing a black hoodie and Chanyeol doesn’t need to see his face to know who he is.

“Baekhyun, are you all right?” he asks softly, searching for scratches on the ghostly-looking hands “you...” the smaller presses his hand harder and Chanyeol almost yelp until he sees the worn out look on his neighbour’s face, the dark circles under his eyes heavier than the last time. “I will help you.”

He holds on Baekhyun’s hand – the smaller seems to need the support even if he doesn’t speak – and retrieves the books that landed on the macadam, some of them open in the middle. Chanyeol hopes none of them are damaged as he picks up an important looking one, the blue-bound book massive in his hand.

As he balances the eight manuals in one hand, he notices that Baekhyun is still holding onto his palm, a far away look in the eyes.

“Hey,” Chanyeol almost murmurs at this point, afraid that a loud voice will startle the smaller “I got them all. We can go back in the building now.”

Baekhyun just nods and follows Chanyeol without really following him, lost in his thoughts.

The taller for his part is a little lost too. He planned to apologise in good and due form to his neighbour at a café, to have an adult discussion and just… settle things. He didn’t plan on a zombie-like Baekhyun, looking half dead and chilled to the bone. The worst was maybe the lack of words from the smaller, or his cold fingers.

Chanyeol frowns at the thought. Who would walk around like that without gloves?

The aggressive light of the hallway welcomes them and Chanyeol glances at Baekhyun, expecting him to search for his keys but the smaller doesn’t make a move, he just stays still, his hand warming slowly in Chanyeol’s.

The taller presses his lips together before opening the door of his apartment, guiding his neighbour inside. They are clearly not close enough for this kind of situation but it’s the sole idea Chanyeol came up with. A few months ago, he wouldn’t have bothered. No, he would have turned his back to the almost-stranger like the egoist prick he was.

He bites his bottom lip. Hard. Harder. He doesn’t want to think about it.

The volumes are put on the kitchen table, Chanyeol glancing at Baekhyun’s pale face.

“I’ll make something warm, do you...” Baekhyun is still crunching his hand and Chanyeol wonders where this force could come from, the white fingers seeming so delicate “do you want to drink a café au lait?”

The smaller just nods again and finally releases Chanyeol’s fingers, his eyes now a little more alert. Good.

The taller easily finds the beans he was looking for, the other man needing sweetness. The café au lait requires a different ground than black coffee for instance, each bean having a specific purpose. Chanyeol can almost hear Minseok’s voice in his head, asking him to be more careful while grinding coffee beans.

Baekhyun’s cheeks seem to come alive again as a light shade of pink paints his face, his hood no longer hiding his face. He is not smiling but he isn’t scowling either, his attention on Toben who came to see what the fuss was about.

“You can pet him, you know” the coffee already has a nice colour, each drop filling slowly the Little Mermaid green cup. A gag gift from Sehun, probably, “he is nice”.

If Toben is petty with him sometimes, he isn’t with strangers. Not with the ones his poodle thinks he could get treats from. Clever dog.

“I...” Baekhyun clears his throat “yeah”.

And this is how Baekhyun spends the next ten minutes, crouched down caressing Toben, the puppy more than happy to be the center of attention. A hum of contentment even escapes him as Chanyeol fills the cup with a dash of milk, the warm scent of coffee diffusing in the kitchen.

He approaches the smaller with the mug, Baekhyun now smiling at the small dog. His lips turn down a little when Chanyeol gives him the café au lait but it’s barely noticeable. It hurts anyway even if it shouldn’t. They aren’t even friends, it’s silly.

“Thank you.” He murmurs in the cup, his upper lip testing the hotness of the brown liquid. The rise of steam warms his cheeks even more, the red flush making Baekhyun evidently more alive at each passing second.

The taller just nods and goes away to make his own coffee, knowing perfectly that his neighbour needs some time for himself.

Chanyeol considers the coffee beans and decides to make a little mix of his, the affronted voice of Minseok at the back of his mind. He doesn’t expect a shadow to hover near him, Baekhyun’s small frame backing up until he is against the counter, the half-full cup in both hands.

“I didn’t get to tell you last time,” he smiles softly, “your café au lait tastes very good.”

“Thank you.” the taller says, at least, not sure where the conversation leads. If there is even one.

At the lack of attention, Toben huffs and returns on the couch to nap, letting the two men alone in the kitchen. Chanyeol doesn’t know if it’s a good or a bad thing, having no idea of what to do. He sinks his canine in his lower lip, already wanting to call his dog back.

Baekhyun seems to sense his uneasiness anyway as he sets his mug back on the counter “You know, I’m also sorry for last time… at the park,” he is closer than Chanyeol would have expected and he almost brushes the long black sleeve of the hoodie in his surprise. Nonetheless, he doesn’t, his hands wrapping around the empty pink mug. Sehun’s present too, probably, “I have a bad habit of...” he pauses, “I’m not good with strangers and I tend to let them know.”

“So...” the new mix of coffee is almost ready, “your death glare is for everyone?”

At this, Baekhyun smiles again, white teeth showing in the tender morning sun “No, not really,” he finally looks up at Chanyeol, dark-brown eyes not threatening “Your face pissed me off.”

Chanyeol’s eyes fluster in shock, pretty sure that this is not better than a death glare.

“Hum...”

“I really dislike idle people and,” he looks Chanyeol directly, his eyes a little sharper “people who try to poison me with raisins.”

Chanyeol tightens his grip on his mug. He doesn’t really know what to think about this man.

“Are you calling me idle?” he asks carefully, eyebrows frowned and eyes set on his neighbour. He almost regrets having been so worried about the smaller. He was visibly right about him in the beginning.

“Not now, no...” Baekhyun cocks his head “you changed”.

Chanyeol blinks, completely lost this time “Right...” he watches Baekhyun closely, as if a detail in his face would give away a precious clue, “you knew my name, that day, at the park”.

“Don’t look at me like that,” the man seems amused, as if he knew what Chanyeol was thinking about “we never met before, I’m not a long time lost friend or anything.”

“Then how...” Chanyeol completely forgot about the drink in his hand, the coffee now probably closer to lukewarm than hot. It doesn’t matter anyway, not when Baekhyun’s dark eyes seem determined to strip his mind down.

“You were a model before, a very successful one.” His grip on the mug is too strong but Chanyeol cannot help himself, he hates this subject. He hates his past self. “And you didn’t give a shit about people's hard work for you”.

“You read it in a magazine or you saw it yourself?” His tone is no longer friendly even though Baekhyun is speaking the truth. Sehun for his part is maybe a little shit sometimes but he tries, he really tries, not to antagonize Chanyeol. On the contrary, he is offering a helping hand. Unlike the person in front of him “You….” Chanyeol bites on his lips, not wanting to screw up with his neighbour again, “I don’t want to talk about it.”

“You’re angry.”

“Almost.”

“I’m dead tired today because I stayed up more than forty-eight hours to study for my finals” the sudden subject change usually would make Chanyeol’s head spin but he is sipping on his lukewarm coffee, the caffeine helping him to stay calm. More or less. “And I still think I failed...” the voice is slim and Chanyeol already knows that it wasn’t Baekhyun’s intent to drop his tone like this. He ignores it for the sake of the smaller as Baekhyun shakes his head. They will discuss Baekhyun’s fatigue too one day, hopefully.

“I hate models in general but you were quite a sight a few months ago, in interviews and so on. I thought I didn’t need to know you to judge you, not the way you were acting so nonchalantly about everything and speaking down to people,” he puts his cup on the counter, empty this time, “it angered me a lot to know that rude people were rich without a diploma or anything for them besides their looks”.

Chanyeol should be angry, really. But bizarrely, he wants to agree with Baekhyun’s words, even if he cannot because they are about him. But he still isn’t angry at the smaller.

“You’re honest.” Baekhyun raises an eyebrow, not expecting this answer, “I know how I was.”

“Now… you’re actually interesting.” The smaller’s smile widens and Chanyeol is strangely happy about that. He doesn’t understand anything but he is okay with it.

“It’s a good thing, right?”

Baekhyun observes him before nodding, his black hair falling before his eyes again.

Honestly, Chanyeol would not have let a lot of people talk this way to him a few months ago. None of them actually and even now, he has his pride. The difference is, he barely met anyone new since he quitted the fashion industry and he is more open to critique now. It was difficult at first – he almost snapped at Minseok the first time the older man said that his coffee sucked – but now he is more humble. A little too much according to Sehun.

This is why the younger is overprotective of him now. While he softened his personality, his rivals did not and if he were to return to the fashion scene like he wishes, he would be disadvantaged. At least, according to his best friend. Chanyeol, for his part, does not feel that way. On the contrary.

“I have to say though...” Baekhyun seems almost pleased that Chanyeol answers him back even if the taller cannot be sure. “I was not as awful as you seem to think. The media are controlled, you know? I did say some shit to people, I did not go to university like you and, of course, I was superficial but...” the sun is higher in the sky now, painting one side of the milky face. Baekhyun’s upper lip is still coloured with coffee “I wasn’t… that bad.”

What he truly wants to say is that some people in the industry were far worse than him, but it sounded like a childish answer – even Toben would be snorting at him – so he keeps his mouth shut.

“Like I said earlier, I judged you right away and assumed things, I’m sorry.” Baekhyun, for once, did seem a bit remorseful and Chanyeol is almost certain it’s a rare sign so he drinks every word. “I still have a very bad opinion about people like you… well, you’re not a model anymore but you get my point.”

“Why?” Chanyeol cannot help his curiosity, Baekhyun being like an intriguing puzzle “Why do you care so much?”

“I do not have a tragic story within the fashion industry if this melodramatic head of yours is imagining anything,” he smiles, “but I’ll answer you… once I get some sleep. I don’t want to be rude, but I didn’t sleep for more than two days.”

“Do not give me your dark glare but...” Chanyeol set his eyes on the floor, just to be sure he won’t see the man angry, “you were quite rude with me today”.

A laugh startles him and he looks up in time to see Baekhyun hiding his smile behind his small, white hand.

“Well, take it as a good point, I’m starting to think about you as an acquaintance and no longer a stranger,” the smaller gathers his books in hand, the pile of volumes so high that the one on top touches Baekhyun’s chin “and I’m okay to let Bacon and Toben play together in your apartment this weekend.”

“I didn’t ask.”

“You don’t want to?”

“Okay...”

Baekhyun smiles again and, once he closes the door, Chanyeol is not sure if he is happy to have graduated from stranger to acquaintance, Baekhyun’s intentions confusing him even more.

***

Saturday came around quickly, Chanyeol’s week busy with his shifts at the café and his sketches of clothes. Lately, he has been working on a gown, imagining a soft fabric, long and loose to hug the model’s waist but let the legs move freely, the tissue delicate in its fall, brushing the ankle slightly. The black dress will slip onto the model’s shoulders, peppering the body with soft, timid, kisses like a new lover enveloping the model in a fragile embrace, newly found passion more intense than black.

Chanyeol knows Sehun will call his explanations ‘poetic bullshit’ – he already had – and this is why the older never tries to explain his clothes to anybody. On the contrary, he much more prefers to let the clothes speak for themselves on a catwalk. On stage, each cut becomes a harsh word, each tailored suit a speech, his clothes silencing everyone as they come alive, become art. Free, inspiring and daring. His.

As he thinks, the former model is even happier about his dress, surprised by the result. He doesn’t really know from where the inspiration comes from but he does not complain. This last week, he draws three different clothes and it’s more than these last months. He doesn’t know if it’s because it’s fall, but he smiles as he observes the grey weather.

He is confident.

The familiar yet awful sound of his doorbell resounds in his living room and Chanyeol swears to confront his landlord. He is too young to die of a heart attack.

At the door, Baekhyun is not wearing his usual hoodie and Chanyeol is almost surprised to see a different piece of clothing on him. Nothing too wild, just a plain blue shirt and black pants yet he finds himself staring; the blue fitting Baekhyun’s frame nicely.

“Hi,” he starts as he notices Bacon behind his master’s legs, the puppy apparently wary of him. Chanyeol will accuse Toben for this one, “I didn’t know if you wanted to go outside or inside so I cleaned the apartment and… I don’t why I’m saying this anyway, it’s normal I clean, I mean...”

“You’re rambling, Chanyeol,” Baekhyun offers him a smile and Chanyeol is again surprised of how nice it is. Way better than the dark glare, that’s for sure, “can we enter?”

The taller nods and lets Baekhyun in, not knowing how to apprehend this afternoon with his… acquaintance. Right, not strangers anymore. He just hopes he won’t be insulted this time.

He must bite the inside of his cheek to stop a wider smile from blooming on his face, closing the door as Baekhyun makes his way in the living room. Sehun would throw a tantrum if he knew how compliant Chanyeol was in front of his neighbour, probably planning to insult him even more. But unlike others, the former model is not affronted by Baekhyun’s words. Not really. He speaks his mind, all forms of politeness forgotten and, if Chanyeol is honest with himself, he is tired of being treated with kid gloves.

He turns to see his neighbour taking place on the floor next to Toben, the dog sniffing his hand before letting the other pet his head. Baekhyun might just be the push he needs.

“Bacon can be very snob sometimes or shy,” Baekhyun side eyes his dog “and now he is acting shy. Well, it’s a good sign,” Toben rolls on his belly, his tail waging happily, “at least it means he is curious”.

Indeed, Bacon was hiding behind a chair, his stare set on Toben as he judges the other dog’s behaviour. Well.

“Can we… do something to help your dog feel more at ease?”

“No,” Baekhyun is on his feet again, his dark eyes intently focused on Chanyeol, “he needs time to open up.”

The intense stare makes Chanyeol clears his throat and shoves his hands in his pocket to distract himself, “Do you want to stay in today?” is the only question he comes up with to make Baekhyun change his expression. The smaller is probably not even aware of his glare.

The sky is charged with grey clouds but the weather forecast didn’t announce any rain for this afternoon so they could go outside and enjoy some fresh air. Or be drenched to the bones. It’s not like he trusts his forecast application much anyway. “I don’t really mind about what we do.”

“Actually” the smaller bites on his bottom lip, eyes thankfully softening on the edge. He would have been good at modelling with expressions like that. Chanyeol shakes the thought away as a light shade of pink spread on the usual milky cheeks, “I have to study today so I thought…” his neighbour fiddles with his hand, both of them extremely white even in the warm room “I thought we could just stay here and let the dogs play on their own. Is it...” Baekhyun wets his lips “is this okay? I know it’ll probably be boring but if I did fail my finals like I think I did I need to work more and...”

“Baekhyun, you’re rambling,” Chanyeol allows himself a small smile, “yes, of course, we can stay here.”

The smaller lets out a sigh in relief as his smile turns more confident “I kind of expected your answer but it’s still nice to hear it.”

“Are you always this honest when you speak with people?” the taller doesn’t really mind, but it’s still somewhat unnerving.

“No,” his neighbour takes some books out from his bag – Chanyeol was so focused on the blue shirt he didn’t even notice it, “but you make it easier. Besides, who would say no in these kinds of situations? Nobody except rude people”.

“So you could say no...” the words are out before he can stop himself and Chanyeol mentally curses before seeing a small smirk on Baekhyun’s face.

“Yeah, I could.”

Chanyeol doesn’t know what he expected from this afternoon but clearly not the relaxed atmosphere that naturally sets itself in the apartment, Baekhyun soft scribbling on the paper lulling him in a daze, his mind wandering far enough to make him retrieve his sketchbook and pens. Normally, Chanyeol wouldn’t draw in front of people – he doesn’t even talk about it – but the inspiration is building up inside of him and his fingers twitch in anticipation.

He sits in front of Baekhyun, mirroring the position of the smaller in front of his work: shoulders sightly hunched forward, both hands on the table and an absorbed frown on his face. It’s not even conscious, just weirdly natural for him too. Especially if he lets his mind just… go.

The smaller barely sends him a look before returning to his own work, the quiet question in his eyes being stored away as he takes the information written in front of him again.

The quietude lasts over three hours, occasional barks disturbing the silence set upon them but not their works, the calm, warm atmosphere wrapping around them like Chanyeol’s most priced textiles. The thought of his clothes, of his drawings becoming reality makes him break the quietness of the apartment.

“Would you mind if I go outside for a bit?” the white hand in front of him pauses, stopping in the middle of a sentence. Chanyeol wonders for an instant why Baekhyun doesn’t use a computer. “I need to buy something”.

His neighbour raises his head from his paper, inky hair almost covering his eyes. Almost. The curiosity in his pupil seeming enough to push away the rebel strand of hair “What?”

“I won’t be long, the shop I need to go is like… twenty minutes away on foot. I’ll return shortly,” Chanyeol searches for his black mantel, the fabric soothing under his fingers. This one is a present from Dior, he wore it at a winter catwalk two years ago and the creator loved his performance so much he just offered him the clothes. It’s one of his last coats. “Do you need anything?”

“No...” Baekhyun taps the sheets with his pen, “are you leaving me here?”

“Yeah, but I won’t be long, it’s just around the corner, you-”

“No, it’s not that,” the smaller straightens in his chair, his eyes now solely focused on Chanyeol “you are leaving me here,” the disbelief in his tone worries the former model and Chanyeol wonders what he could have said wrong. He is pretty sure he wasn’t rude this time. “You’re leaving me here…” Baekhyun shakes his head “a perfect stranger, in your home?”

“Oh,” Chanyeol blinks “that.”

Baekhyun raises an eyebrow – even if it's barely noticeable with his bangs – and crosses his arms “Yeah, that. Aren’t you worried I will try to steal something?”

“Not really, no,” Chanyeol shrugs, “I know we hardly know each other but I trust you for that. Besides, I don’t have much left in this apartment anymore.”

Chanyeol didn’t mean to say the last sentence but it escaped him, like usual. Baekhyun seems to sense it anyway and doesn’t ask, instead, he focuses again on his paper and thins his lips, “hum, actually”, he looks up a brief second before focusing on his books, “I would appreciate a new pen if it doesn’t bother you,” the smaller bites on his bottom lip “this one will almost run out of ink.”

“If I say okay… are you going to say you expected my answer?”

This brings a smile on the pink lips, “Thank you, Chanyeol.”

The taller puts on his coat as he huffs, not wanting to give Baekhyun the satisfaction of seeing him smile. This afternoon is agreeable.

***

“So you like, what, studied together the whole day and then he left you just before dinner?”

“Sehun, I’m working.” Chanyeol sighs for the fifth time in ten minutes, the air of the room now probably filled with his frustration instead of oxygen.

“I don’t care,” the model rolls his eyes, an untouched cocoa in front of him. He must have a new photo shoot coming up, “you totally wasted an opportunity to turn this into a date. You should be ashamed.”

Chanyeol sighs – again – while rubbing a difficult stain on the coffee machine, the shop empty enough for him to focus on cleaning the whole counter. After a few energetic rubs, the machine is completely anew, the metallic top shining in the morning sun. However, there is one stain his cleaning product cannot get rid of; a giant model with now blond hair, his resting bitch face annoying the barista even more.

“I’m not banging every man I see, unlike you,” the younger gives him a small smirk at that, apparently happy. The brat. “Besides, we spent time together for our dogs. Toben deserves a playmate.”

“Please, god, have mercy on me, stop this idiot from spitting even more bullshit,” Sehun sighs dramatically before stopping an instant to murmur oh yeah, I’m god and making himself more comfortable on the chair, eyes glowing dangerously. “You drew in front of him...” he squints his eyes, “you never draw even in front of me. In front of anyone. You have to date him.”

Chanyeol rolls his eyes as he sets his tea towel aside, wishing for more patrons “Shut up, you just want me to date because you want some drama,” Chanyeol refrains from adding like everyone in the fashion industry and presses both palms on the counter, “and I’m not interested.”

“Oh I see, he rejected you.”

“Sehun, I just told you-”

“Boys, while I’m sad Chanyeol got rejected,” Minseok appears behind him, his cat-like eyes sharper than usual and Chanyeol tries subtly to escape the strong glare by observing his reflection in the coffee machine. But he did too good a job cleaning the mirroring surface and his boss deadly glare follows him as he grimaces. Why does everyone around him have a powerful stare? “He has to work he if wants his pay by the end of the month.” His boss offers a tight smile to Sehun, visibly annoyed by the model’s presence, “You are welcome to stay Sehun, but do not interfere with my employee's work.”

The cold tone is enough to make Chanyeol shiver but his best friend keeps his blank face on, unperturbed. The model has no qualms about coming at the café, despite the commotion his presence caused… multiple times. While it isn’t the younger’s fault that he is well-known and has insane fans, he is careless sometimes, posting where he is online, his Korean fans transforming into secret agents to find him. Chanyeol would sympathise with his friend if Sehun didn’t do it on purpose sometimes, his fans going crazy in Minseok’s café and not buying anything.

“I know I’m welcome, I’m a client after all,” Sehun eyes his cocoa – completely cold by now – and quirks his eyebrow, “it’s nice to hear anyway, thank you Minseok.”

Chanyeol definitely doesn’t want to face his boss’s glare right now, sensing the dark aura is enough. The coffee machine is pretty to look at.

“Anyway,” Minseok’s voice is directed at Chanyeol now, gentler, “about this Baekhyun guy...”

The taller risks a glance toward his boss, Minseok now having his gummy smile on, the one he reserves for his clients or employees when he wants something.

“I don’t know about dating, since it’s Sehun’s advice I think it’s better to ignore it but,” Sehun rolls his eyes but Minseok snubs him royally, “you could use a friend outside of work or...” this time his boss turns toward Sehun, “the fashion industry.”

Chanyeol feels like there is some unspoken dialogue between the two men but he isn’t naive enough not to read between the lines. It’s no secret Minseok hates the fashion industry and anything related. Per say, Sehun.

“Thank you Minseok but,” Chanyeol begins, his voice firmer than before, his hand closing on the tea towel previously left in a corner, “this won’t be the reason I’ll make Baekhyun my friend or not. I don’t choose my friends based on their status or work.” Not anymore, he wants to add but he bites on his lips, the unspoken words left hanging between them.

Minseok’s cat-eyes observe him an instant before closing in result, his boss nodding, “Well, of course. I just meant he could bring you something new,” he opens his eyes again, the previous glare forgotten to let his warm chocolate eyes convey his thoughts “help you to see the world in a different light.”

“And horses are shitting rainbows and pissing whipped cream,” Sehun deadpans “Why are you trying to sound so philosophic while in reality you don’t even wish the best for him?” Minseok glare is back and way worse than before. “I know you don’t want him back in the fashion industry but it’s where he belongs. He won’t stay a little barista his whole life like you.”

“Sehun, please, stop say-” Chanyeol is cut by Minseok, his boss visibly fed up with the younger.

“Of course I don’t want him back there! It almost killed him the first time!” Minseok shouts and the few patrons presents raise their heads in alert, “And what would happen now, uh?! What would happen now that Chanyeol is like...” Minseok waves in the taller’s direction as he bites on his lower lip, “He is not made for that anymore.”

Chanyeol rolls the tea towel around his hand like a bandage, his whole body burning with shame. Again, they don’t believe in him. In the actual Chanyeol.

“I know,” is Sehun, very unexpected answer, “I know he won’t be able to do it if he is alone. This is why I’ll be by his side.”

“Sehun, I already told you I’ll do that alone because-”

“Shut up,” is the stern answer from both men, and Chanyeol’s left eyes twitch. They would have never spoken to him that way a few months prior. Nobody would have had.

“I know you don’t want me as your main model, but you didn’t say anything about helping you to make your debut as a fashion designer.” Sehun smiles, like he just offered Chanyeol a wonderful present.

The scent of coffee in the shop is suddenly too overwhelming for Chanyeol. His best friend is too much, his boss is too much and there is nothing he can do. He accepts a criticism s now, he accepts his weaknesses and his faults. But he hates to be treated like he cannot do anything anymore, like he cannot stand on his own.

“Maybe you’re right...” Sehun starts to smile at him but it won’t last, “maybe seeing Baekhyun is better for me than seeing people from my work,” he looks at Minseok, “or from the fashion industry,” he looks at Sehun, “at least he doesn’t treat me like a fucking baby.”

“Chanyeol, it’s not...”

“I don’t care,” he undoes his apron and tosses it aside “I’m done for the day.”

He leaves them there, not wanting to stay in the stuffy room for another moment. The odour of coffee is making him sick.

***

The smartphone’s weight in his hand seems more real than usual, heavier. Chanyeol’s index hovers over the “call” button, his stomach knotting on itself unpleasantly. He remembers only too well Mr. Hong’s voice and while he is a nice man, the former model also remember what surrounds Mr. Hong; models, creators, money, fame, envy and betrayal.

Chanyeol almost doesn’t want to call; he is not ready, his clothes are not finished and he still didn’t find the perfect model and perfect clothes to outdo everyone else. Still, he remembers Minseok and Sehun’s compassionate voices and presses the button.

A ring. Two rings. Three rings.

Hello Chanyeol, my dear boy, I knew you would contact me one of these days,” begins the raspy voice of the old man, Mr. Hong cheerfulness being a part of his role “what can I do for my favourite model?

“I’m not a model anymore,” Chanyeol found himself saying, careful with his tone, “but I’m happy to hear your voice, Mr. Hong.”

The pleasure is mine Chanyeol,” answers the man, probably grinning, “of course, my pleasure would be even greater if you were calling me to answer my invitation to be my model for my spring collection but… something tells me it’s not the case.

“You’re as sharp as ever,” Mr. Hong laughs good naturally and Chanyeol’s lips tug at the edge. This man may not be as bright as he wants people to think but he is good enough, “I was actually wondering if you could obtain me an invitation for the Winter Fashion Week in Paris.”

Oh boy,” the surprised tone is something rare for Mr. Hong and Chanyeol finally allows a smile to spread on his lips, “you’re serious about creating a name for yourself again and your clothes.

“You heard then.”

My lovely and dear Chanyeol,” the sound of tapping means that Mr. Hong is in his office or at least somewhere he can work on his computer “of course I’ve heard. Your name cannot die like the other former models, not with a friend like Sehun or...” The sound pauses, Mr. Hong’s fingers probably hovering over the keyboard “with a wilderness like yours.

“You probably heard too then, that I’ve changed.” Chanyeol tries to ignore that his name is still around, not for his quality as a model but for his former bad character and Sehun’s friendship.

Of course, totally understandable after this… scandal, if you allow me to name it that way,” Chanyeol purses his lips but nods anyway, “but it doesn’t really matter, does it? I’m sure you’ll impress me anyway the day you debut,” a pause “I have sent you an official invitation and also two plane tickets. Go with your assistant or whoever pleases you.” Chanyeol can almost hear the smile in the old man’s voice. “I will also book the hotel for you. Any preference?

Chanyeol looks around his apartment until something catches his eyes. He nods.

“Yes, I would like a hotel room with a view on the sky.”

It will be done, my dear,” Chanyeol hums, thankful for the man to always have his back “oh and, Chanyeol?

“Yes?”

I really look forward to seeing you there. I’m sure this is only the beginning for you.

“Thank you, Mr Hong. I will make sure to remember what you have done for me today.” The fashion director laughs and bids him goodbye, their conversation ending.

Chanyeol stares at his black screen. There will be no turning back.

***

Toben seems to sense that something is wrong when Chanyeol has been staring at the black dress in front of him for the last thirty minutes. It’s like his drawing really, better even. But is it good enough to present at a fashion show? Is it good enough to make everyone shut their mouths?

Chanyeol grimaces and gets up, frustration eating him alive. A month ago, he was on the verge of foregoing fashion like he abandoned modelling. He has been content with his part-time job, his dog and Sehun’s impromptu visits. He has been fine.

But then, inspiration kicked in and so was his frustration not to show the world his potential.

He doesn’t miss his old self, he loathes it, but he misses the podiums, the attention and recognition. All of it, he wants it back, but for his talent this time, not his attitude.

Chanyeol eyes the dress warily as if the soft black fabric will hurt him somehow. It's not dazzling enough, the cut is sharp but it could be sharper, daring, empowering. He advances and touches the soft fabric and he suddenly wants to destroy it, to tear everything apart until a small, soft, black paw touches his foot.

The former model blinks a few times, focusing on his dog. Toben looks Chanyeol like his master forgot to give him his meal – Chanyeol did not, but it’s the same stare.

“Sorry,” Chanyeol crouches down to pet the curled black fur “I have a lot on my mind lately.”

The puppy seems to hesitate before licking the outstretched fingers – the one not petting his head – with his sandpaper tongue, Chanyeol lets himself smile at the action. No matter how small his poodle is, he can sense his mood while the rest of the world can’t.

“Thank you.”

He wants to snuggle his dog, the dress forgotten, but the horrible, mood-killing, sound of his doorbell rings. Chanyeol almost wants to cry at the awful noise but he quickly founds himself on his feet again, Toben surprising him by staying close. Indubitably close even as his poodle sits on his right foot at the first chance he gets and Chanyeol’s heart clenches. He doesn’t know what face he has been making, but it was enough to worry his dog and this is the last thing he wanted.

Inch by inch, Chanyeol advances toward the entrance, his poodle sitting still on his foot.

When he opens the door he is surprised to see his neighbour, heavy circles under his eyes darker than his – usual – black hoodie. The message ‘Fuck you all’ seeming to dare Chanyeol to even breathe.

Still, he needs to and, very careful, asks, “Yes?”

This small word makes Baekhyun furrow his eyebrows and Chanyeol wonders an instant if he was back to square one with the smaller, their study session together forgotten, until Baekhyun lets a tired sigh escape his chapped lips.

“Chanyeol, I’m sorry to ask but none of my friends are close enough for this and I’m out of options.”

“Yes?”

“I fucking need to sleep but Bacon needs to be taken on a walk, to take a piss and to eat,” he passes his hand over his tired face, his delicate fingers eaten by the winter dry weather, eczema blotches at the end of his digits, “And I think I will pass out if I try moving for more than a step.”

“Okay,” Baekhyun lets his hand fall by his side as Toben falls on four legs again, going by Bacon’s side, “just enter and… yeah. Tell me exactly what I need to do.”

Baekhyun considers for less than a second, his steps steadier than he most likely feels but that’s his pride talking. Probably.

Chanyeol closes the door as he realises he left the black dress on display in front of the couch, his heartbeat picking up as Baekhyun makes a beeline for the center of the room. He flops on the couch with a groan, his legs stiff like he had run a marathon and finally crossed the finish line, allowing himself to finally stop. Maybe it’s the case.

The taller’s shoulders deflate in relief as Baekhyun pays no attention to his dress, his concern clearly misplaced. Currently, there could have been a mountain of raisin cakes on the couch and Baekhyun wouldn’t even have batted an eyelid, too tired to care.

Chanyeol stops a smile from forming on his lips, not knowing why he remembers this specific information about his neighbour.

He doesn’t have to think about it, though, because Baekhyun starts speaking once his back is slouched against the cushions.

“Bacon usually walks around the neighbourhood, he knows the way but since he is getting a bit fat lately I’m making him walk in the park too. For his food, he needs to eat proper meals with less carbohydrate. I wanted to buy him real meat and fruits but...” Baekhyun bites his bottom lip and visibly fight his tiredness to keep speaking, “I don’t have the money for it. Anyway, good cereals without too much sugar are good anyway. And...” a pause, a blink, “can you play with him too? Not too long, but...”

“I will. Don’t worry, stay here while I search for a leash.”

Baekhyun doesn’t protest – he probably didn’t hear him anyway – as Chanyeol retrieves Bacon’s old leash and a new one he offered his dog for his birthday a few weeks ago. Toben turned six months old and it’s an important age for a puppy. They watched Homeward Bound: The Incredible Journey, for the occasion.

He also fetches a small ball and returns to the living room, finding Baekhyun where he left him. Chanyeol is about to ask about Bacon’s favourite toys when he realises his neighbour is sound asleep, his soft breathing even in the quiet living room.

The soft expression on the pale visage is almost a surprise, even though it’s a good one; Baekhyun looks like he belongs here, on this couch, surrounded by cushions, gag presents and Chanyeol’s dreams. The impression is even stronger with his hoodie and comfortable curled up position, like the smaller declared the couch his.

After having stared at his neighbour a bit too long, Chanyeol shakes his head and looks for his cosy green blanket with impressions of paws on it. Toben’s favourite.

The blanket is rapidly found and the former model ponders for a second, another, before slowly putting the duvet on Baekhyun, hoping the smaller would not wake up and frown at him.

He doesn’t; his eyes firmly closed as his long eyelashes almost brush his cheeks, the deep black circle under his eyes already fading in the afternoon light. Or so the taller thinks as he pushes the blanket past Baekhyun’s shoulders, his fingers grazing the black hair.

It’s soft.

A nudge at his feet reminds him of his duty and he takes both Bacon and Toben outside for a walk.

He will make a detour to buy fruits and meat.

***

Baekhyun stirs awake when Chanyeol places the pie shell in a mould and sparkles it with flour; his neighbour falling asleep again for a few minutes before finally waking up when the lardons in the frying pan starts to colour; the odour of meat and freshly chopped parsley probably waking up everyone, as Bacon and Toben make their way to him.

“No, that’s not for you,” he nudges his dog with his foot and send a playful glare to Bacon, “that’s food for the humans. Yours will be ready in twenty minutes.”

“What are you making?” the sleepy voice of Baekhyun makes him smile; unlike his neighbour who scowls at his own tone “Why am I here anyway?”

“You fell asleep on my couch, so I just let you sleep,” the lardons are ready and Chanyeol removes them to a platter, using paper towel to drain unwanted liquid “you seemed like you could use some sleep.”

The diced cheese is ready; he needs to grate the rest before preparing the crème fraîche.

“I...” a small hushed sound makes his way to Chanyeol and the latter turns away from his recipe just in time to see Baekhyun’s sleepy face, his cheeks rosier than before “I still don’t know what this is.”

“Something our dogs have been eyeing since they are awake, but I won’t give it to them,” he scatters the cheese and the lardons in the pastry case as Baekhyun’s head levels to his shoulders, probably as hungry as the two puppies, “they will have meat and fruits.”

Something passes in Baekhyun’s eyes and his neck almost snaps with how quick he turns to face Chanyeol “What?”

The taller blinks “I… well you spoke about Bacon needing to eat something healthier and I found cool recipes on the internet, I’m sure he will love it and-”

“I told you I didn’t have the money for this,” Baekhyun’s voice rises more rapidly than the crème fraîche and Chanyeol winces, “I cannot give you anything back, I-”

“You don’t own me anything! I just-” Chanyeol forces himself not to sputter “I just wanted to do this… for the dogs.”

Baekhyun bites on his lip and side-eyes the plate, his glaze softening on the edge, “Sorry, it’s just...” a beat, two beats and he sighs, “what are you making?”

“Quiche Lorraine,” Chanyeol easily says, happy to see the curiosity in the smaller eyes “I’m sure you will love it.”

The smaller hums and, with a soft voice he is probably unaware of, murmurs, “Can I help you?”

“You can prepare the table...” he grins, “if you want.”

Baekhyun nods, still somewhat not completely alert, and Chanyeol blends the eggs. It’s going to be delicious.

***

A walk across the park and a few treats seems to be enough for Bacon to like Chanyeol and, by extension, Toben, the two dogs wolfing down their freshly served meal under Baekhyun’s watchful gaze.

“He really likes you,” the slice of Quiche Lorraine in his plate is half-eaten, the smaller struggling with his chopstick to cut small pieces. Chanyeol has to admit, he didn’t think about buying cutlery, “it’s unusual for him to get attached… this fast.” Baekhyun finally succeeds at shoving a piece of the tart in his mouth and Chanyeol smiles, “Don’t get happy too fast though, he may only want you for your meals now.”

“I don’t mind,” the dogs are eating side by side and Chanyeol swears Toben’s eyes are brighter than the lamp, in awe at sharing a meal with his crush, “you’re both welcome to join us for dinner anytime.”

Baekhyun’s expression is unreadable and Chanyeol wonders if he had said something wrong again, his neighbour’s pride easily wounded. An apology is ready on his tongue but then the smaller’s shoulders sag a little, his black hoodie almost hiding his hands.

“Thank you,” he cuts another piece, “I will find a way to repay you,” a pause, “and it’s a real offer. I’m not saying this out of politeness like every educated person should do.”

Usually, Chanyeol would just shake his head and refuse with a smile but, now, he doesn’t want to.

“Actually...” he wets his lips, “I have a small favour to ask you.”

“Oh?” Baekhyun’s eyes are sharp but not menacing “and what could that be, hum?”

“I… I usually don’t talk about this with… acquaintances,” he pronounces the word carefully, “but since I walked your dog and we had dinner, I think we levelled up on the friendship scale.”

“Obviously.”

The tone is borderline sarcastic but Chanyeol just brushes it off as Baekhyun under-appreciated sense of humour.

“And I know you hate the fashion world but,” the taller carefully redirects his stare on his Quiche Lorraine, “I want you to try something for me. I want to test something.”

Silence meets his sentence and even his poodle seems to judge him, his black eyes screaming ‘idiotic master.’

“Okay,” Chanyeol’s eyes snap open – he didn’t even realise he had them closed – to look right at the smaller, his dark eyes curious, “I was ready to yell at you because I first assumed it was your way of telling me I have no proper clothes and, then,” he smirks, “I remembered the black dress. You did it, right?”

“You… saw it?”

“When I woke up.” Baekhyun glances at the gown for a second, “My opinion won’t matter much but I think it’s great. You have some skills after all.”

It’s – yet again – a passive-aggressive comment but it’s still a compliment; Chanyeol grins.

“It matters for me, thank you Baekhyun.”

“Happy to please you,” he continues, “it doesn’t take much nowadays, does it?” he let his head roll on the side, his inky bang following the movement, “You’re like a puppy. Easy to please.”

“I thought so too until a few days ago,” he tightens his grip on his chopsticks, even if he is not hungry anymore,“I want more. This is why, if you will, I have an attire I’ve been working on I want you to try on… I don’t know why, but I think it will suit you well.”

Instead of answering, Baekhyun invites Chanyeol to prove it, an eyebrow raised.

It’s enough confirmation for the taller, now occupied at fixing the red blazer on Baekhyun frame, two pins stuck between his lips. It’s usually a bad habit but now, the occasional stings he feels on his tongue keep him distracted enough from Baekhyun’s body, the man more toned than the former model would have first thought.

Underneath the blazer, the smaller only has a slim white tank and it leaves nothing to imagination as Chanyeol pushes his needle further down, following the course of the gold filament embroidered in the garment, the red blazer becoming darker further down until the only colour left in the end is pitch black.

He then moves to the sleeves, Baekhyun’s cold-bitten fingers jutting out. Chanyeol bites on his lips as he concentrates.

“So collected, Mr. Park, I must say I’m impressed,” Chanyeol almost loses his needle at the sudden comment but doesn’t show it, “I thought you’ll attempt conversation with me, as silence's uneasy for you.”

“Silence doesn’t bother me,” on the cuff, an intricate design that looked good enough for Chanyeol this morning suddenly doesn’t, insipid in front of Baekhyun’s demeanour, “when it’s with people I’m accustomed to.”

“You’re accustomed to me?”

“No,” Chanyeol eyes his design, frowning, “do you think you can raise your arm a bit… thank you.”

“You’re precise...” the dark-brown eyes are on him but Chanyeol tries to stay focus on his work, “what is this blazer for anyway? Not for you clearly.”

“I’m going to Paris for the Winter Fashion Week...” the taller says slowly and Baekhyun stops breathing for a moment, resuming a few seconds later, a spasm coursing his index, “my former… boss got an invitation on my behalf and he is going to want to see if my work is worthy of his attention...” a piece of mahogany cotton thread in hand, the needle starts to dance again,“he didn’t ask for it, of course, but it’s expected of me.”

“This explains the Quiche Lorraine,” out of all the comments Baekhyun could have done, this wasn’t the response Chanyeol anticipated and a small smile appears on his lips, “still, I wonder what a true one tastes like.”

It has nothing to do with Chanyeol’s response and it’s totally intentional, Baekhyun having probably nothing good to say so he chose otherwise. But then again, the former model appreciates the smaller's company for his sharp tongue even if he is the one getting stung at the end.

“You could try, if you come with me. I got two invitations.”

The sleeve is suddenly out of reach.

“I’m trying to be civil with you, Chanyeol, don’t tempt me.”

“It’s true though, I have no one else I’d rather go with.”

“So it was your dirty little plan since the beginning?” Baekhyun’s eyes are glowing and in Chanyeol’s creation, everything in him seems sharper, “To act like a good human being only to doll me up like a fucking piece of meat and present me as the main course of a French buffet.” The raw anger in his murmur is like a cutting knife and Chanyeol flinches. “You didn’t change at all. You still the same self-centred prick you were a year ago. You wouldn’t ask me this kind of question if you weren’t.”

The smaller starts to undress and Chanyeol is more worried about the pins inside of the tissue than the clothes itself.

“Wait-” Chanyeol grabs the smaller’s right hand as he stands up, Baekhyun’s eyes are so tenebrous Chanyeol is persuaded he will have to exorcize his apartment after this argument. “It was on the spur of the moment decision-” Baekhyun slaps his hand away. “I didn’t want to anger you I just,” Chanyeol closes his eyes, the room spinning around him, “I just wanted a real friend to come with me.”

His hand slapped away, Chanyeol is no longer feeling his neighbour and, for all he knows, Baekhyun could have left the room. He bites on his bottom lip until he feels the caress of two fingers on his high cheek bones, wiping away a lonely tear Chanyeol doesn’t remember having shed.

“We levelled up on the friendship scale huh,” the former model opens his eyes, the pale fingers stilling, “don’t cry, they will eat you up in Paris if you’re vulnerable like this.”

“I’m sorry if my invitation was rude, really. I know you hate fashion, I really know but...” a sigh,“I didn’t think.”

“Indeed, you didn’t.” Baekhyun lets his fingers fall, “I… I will think about it.”

“Really?!” Chanyeol lets his mouth fall open in a small ‘o’, not expecting this answer.

“Yes, you...” the smaller lets his tone trail off, his eyebrows relaxing “you have potential. I hate models and this whole fashion thing but...” he locks their gaze together, “I don’t hate you.”

“You told me thirty seconds ago I was the same self-centred prick I was a year ago.”

“You deserved it, but let’s not talk about what happened in the past, shall we?” a pout forms on Chanyeol’s face but the other man ignores it “It’s not a yes, Chanyeol. I have my studies and Bacon to look after. I said I’ll think about it.”

“It’s still good enough for me. Thank you.”

Baekhyun nods at him, replacing the blazer back on his shoulders.

***

Really, Chanyeol should have expected that would happen someday when he returned home.

“I will make you eat so much McDonalds you will shit intact hamburgers and piss ketchup.”

Installed in a chair that faces the corridor, Sehun is petting Vivi in his laps, the whole scene straight out of a bad drama. The former model rolls his eyes and sets his purchases on the counter, Toben following suit with a new ball in his mouth. A red ball this time.

“If I recall correctly, you’re the one who should apologise Sehun, not the other way around.”

“Oh really?” the blond – okay maybe orange was better after all – raises an eyebrow, “and what about you being invited to Paris? Nothing to say about that part?”

Chanyeol stops altogether from organizing his newly brought products to turn and stares at his best friend, the younger tapping his index against the wooden armrest of the chair.

“What?”

“You heard me. Your name is on everyone's mouths, moreover...” Vivi jumps from the younger’s laps when he spots Toben playing with the new ball and, it’s for the best Chanyeol decides, when Sehun furrows his dyed eyebrows, frustration building up, “they say you will go with your assistant but last time I checked, you didn’t have an assistant, you barely had clothes!”

Chanyeol forgot to buy an aubergine and it’s really unfortunate; it would have done a wonderful projectile to aim at Sehun’s head.

“Mr. Hong booked me two tickets in case I wanted to bring someone with me,” he observes his best friend’s expression attentively, “and I first didn’t think much about it but then… I asked Baekhyun to come with me. I’m still waiting for his answer.”

The affronted noise that comes out of Sehun’s mouth is the definition of pettiness.

What?! You asked him instead of me? I’m your best friend!”

“Yes, you are, and you also don’t believe I can make a name for myself without your help,” Chanyeol points an accusing finger at the other man, his patience thinning, “while Baekhyun does. He thinks I can do it alone.”

It’s not entirely true but Sehun doesn’t need to know that. His neighbour believes in his skills and it’s enough for now.

“I...” Sehun deflates and Chanyeol is almost surprised at the red that makes his way on the younger’s cheeks. “I never wanted to hurt your pride, you know. I just wanted to be a real friend to you.”

I just wanted a real friend to come with me.’

The taller bites on his lips, not giving a fuck about how chapped they already were due to the cold. The winter, his fresh products, none of them mattered right now, not when Sehun was making this kind of face. He shouldn’t be making it. Chanyeol has been an idiot. A complete, egoistic idiot.

“Sehun… I’m sorry,” the former model ruffles his own hair, the black strands probably a mess now, “I… I know you only wanted to help but...”

“You want to prove you can do it on your own, without my name attached to it. I get it. It’s just...” the younger stands up to face Chanyeol, “It’s just that before being Oh Sehun the model, I’m also your friend.”

“That’s so sweet I’m afraid we will gain weight.”

It’s a small attempt at humour but it seems to work on his best friend; the small lips twitching sightly.

“Shut up,” the younger’s blush deepens “I was trying to be nice here.”

Chanyeol chuckles, “Come here and hug me.”

“Will I catch your lameness if I do?” Chanyeol raises an eyebrow as the younger grumbles to nuzzle his chin in the taller’s neck, his pout disappearing against the warm skin. Still, he manages to mutter, “Are we good now?”

“Yeah.”

The former model can feel a grin against his skin and instantaneously regrets his decision.

“Great!” blond hair tickles his left cheek when Sehun pushes away and Chanyeol grimaces. “Because I will have a shower in your wonderful bathroom. Then, we will discuss your life decisions.” The bright smile on the younger is almost creepy now and Chanyeol rolls his eyes when he spots his friends shimming his butt at him, already heading toward the stereo.

“Seriously? You need music to shower?” Sehun ignores him and starts scrolling through his songs, snorting at some titles.

“Of course. There is the word 'show' in 'shower time'.”

“You just invented that one on the spot, right?”

“Oh my god,” Sehun’s mouth falls open as he squints at Chanyeol, a betrayed look on his face. “You have Junmyeon’s songs on your playlist? Oh god, I hate this singer, his songs are clichés and he has an awful voice.”

Rolling his eyes – again – Chanyeol goes by Sehun’s side to stop him from deleting all the songs sang by the star. “Sehun, you have like, ten of his albums and you kissed his poster every night for three months straight before going to bed. Did he reject you?”

Chanyeol starts to grin, knowing perfectly that Sehun had met the singer at a gala thrown two months ago, where many actors, singers, models and stylists reunited for the inauguration of a new building dedicated to the arts.

“No, this body is too good for him,” the blond snorts and quirks an eyebrow. “Look at the art in front of your eyes,” he flutters his eyelids before letting a small grin platters on his face, “I’m sure he has a small dick anyway.”

“He definitely rejected you. My poor baby Sehun.”

“Shut up!” Sehun chooses a pop music far from the letter ‘J’ and huffs while making his way to the bathroom, “and don’t put any of his music!”

At this point, Chanyeol is sure that even Vivi is judging his master and he lets himself smile at the thought. He missed his best friend.

***

Chanyeol is persuaded he won’t have any water left for him tonight as Sehun takes forever in his bathroom. A small sigh escapes his lips, not knowing why he forgot this small – but onerous – detail about his best friend. He should have been accustomed though, having lived with the younger in a small apartment in their first years of modelling, both of them struggling to make a name for themselves at the time.

Now Sehun is living in Gangnam in a luxurious apartment and he is still using all Chanyeol’s warm water. Really, the taller doesn’t know what he did to deserve this.

A new song starts as he finally finishes to organizing all the products in his fridge, the bubbly song from a girl’s group making Toben and Vivi jump around, the red ball now forgotten.

Chanyeol picks it up as he makes his way toward the door, left open before. But before he can shut it, he sees his… friend passing by, surprise painting both of their faces.

“Chanyeol?” Bacon is already making his way toward the former model, Baekhyun towing along with his hand full of books. Chanyeol doesn’t remember a time when the smaller had anything other than books in hand.

“Yeah, I just left the door open...” Bacon barks happily and enters in the apartment, passing between Chanyeol legs under the baffled eyes of both men “Oh?”

“Bacon! Come back here!” Baekhyun tries but it’s no use, the Welsh corgi now in the living room, “Oh my god Chanyeol I’m so sorry, he is so...”

“It’s okay,” Chanyeol lets out a nervous chuckle, “do you want a coffee?”

He wants to hold his breath while waiting for the answer, observing Baekhyun’s expression. He shouldn’t though, the smaller and himself already having done this a few times now. Except Chanyeol cannot change his own reactions, his heartbeat always beating a bit too fast, too nervous around his… friend. Unconsciously, he must not yet have assimilated this term with the smaller, his body still expecting piercing dark glares.

“Yeah I,” Baekhyun balances his books in his other hand, “I would like that.”

Chanyeol lets a relieved grin platter on his lips as his neighbour makes his way inside, spotting his puppy playing not with one, but two dogs.

He raises an eyebrow at Chanyeol, the quizzical look in his eyes enoughto not to voice his question.

“Oh, yeah, this is Vivi...” the white ball of fur bounces toward them at his name and Chanyeol crouches down to pet him, “and his master is currently making my water bill explode.”

Vivi is more than happy at the attention, Bacon sticking by Toben’s side, wary of the other dog. Not that Toben would complain, his poodle happily distracting the Welsh corgi.

“Oh,” Baekhyun looks in the direction of the shower an instant before blushing. “I’m sorry. I didn’t know you had someone over or anything...I will just...”

“Hum?” Chanyeol blinks. “No, it’s okay, Sehun should go anyway. He is just here to annoy me about Paris since he has nothing better to do, you...” Vivi stands up to go to the other two dogs side, visibly wanting to be a part of the fun, leaving Chanyeol with no other choice than looking right at the smaller “you’re more than welcome to stay.”

Baekhyun gives him a long stare before nodding, putting his heavy books on the table “If you say so.”

“I do.”

Chanyeol isn’t sure, but he thinks he saw his neighbour rolling his eyes at his comment and he wants to be affronted by it.

He isn’t.

And he is still thinking about it twenty minutes later when Sehun finally gets out of the shower, his wet hair dripping on his white flannel shirt, button-flap pockets and roll-up sleeves on his elbows. He tucks at them while making his direction toward the living room, a smile gracing his face when he spots Vivi.

“Hello my beauty, daddy missed you...”

“Maybe I have a weird mind, but when you use the word daddy, I can’t help but think...”

“Chanyeol shut the fuck up!” the blond glares at him, “do not say anything that could taint the ears of my baby! You’re stupid-” the younger finally notices Baekhyun seated at the table, stopping his hand in Vivi’s fur, “Oh, hello.”

“Hello,” the tone is cool yet not impolite even if Chanyeol stiffens a bit in front of the coffee. He will use old cups he doesn’t like much just in case. “I’m afraid we haven’t been presented yet.”

“I’m Sehun,” the younger crosses the distance between them to offer his hand, “Oh Sehun. You must have heard about me.”

Chanyeol really doesn’t want to face them now, but the three cups are full. He will just hope Sehun will not brag about his model life because he is sure as hell his mugs won’t survive Baekhyun’s stare. Even the coffee might flee.

“Yes, the man who makes Chanyeol’s water bill explode,” Baekhyun doesn’t shake the outstretched hand and the former model is not surprised, unlike Sehun who frowns a bit, “he mentioned you.”

“Well,” Sehun sits down, crossing his legs for good measure, “I’m more than that but since it’s Chanyeol, I’m actually relieved to not have a worse publicity.”

“I could have told him about your crying in front of The Lion King,” Chanyeol sits as he places the three mugs on the table, grinning, “or your habit of speaking to yourself in front of the mirror for-”

“Okay that’s enough!” the younger pushes the mug in Chanyeol’s hands to make him shut up and Baekhyun barely has the time to hide his smile, his small hand hardly enough to cover it as Sehun mouths I’ll murder you later to Chanyeol, the taller thinking this conversation might be okay after all, “This is why I never let him introduce me. Vivi does it better, right my baby...”

The model coos at his dog who barks happily in response, the red ball now in his possession.

“Dogs are more trustworthy than humans, I agree,” Baekhyun relaxes a bit, “they are loyal.”

“Right?” Sehun’s eyes light up, “I always have people around me but at the end of the day it’s Vivi who is really here for me, if that makes any sense?” he sips on his coffee and makes a face, his scowl marring his lips, “Chanyeol, this has way too much sugar in it.”

“Baekhyun likes it sweet,” the taller shrugs as he makes a show of slurping his coffee until he gets hit by the younger, “but I can make you a tea, your Majesty.”

“That would be lovely...” Sehun starts with his innocent smile until realisation hits him “wait,” he eyes the smaller from head to waist – thanks to the table – before blinking, “you’re Baekhyun!? The Baekhyun?!”

“Apparently I’m more famous than I thought.”

“No, I’m the famous one,” his best friend scowls, his bottom lip jutting out in a pout as Chanyeol tries his best not to huff. An adult. Sehun. Yeah, sure. “but… Chanyeol drew in front of you!”

“Is it weird?” the smaller glances at him and Chanyeol suddenly doesn’t care much about the younger’s expression anymore, too busy at hiding his own in the brown coffee.

“Are you going to ignore that I’m famous?” Baekhyun inclines his head and the former model bites the inside of his cheek to suppress a smile, “Anyway, yes it is. He doesn’t draw in front of people. God, he doesn’t even let me see his clothes!”

“I saw them.”

What?!

“Guys,” Chanyeol is persuaded he is bright red but he continues anyway, “I’m right here, you know. And Sehun, for the sixteenth time, I was just feeling like it that afternoon. Can’t you let it go?”

“No,” the younger deadpans, “never. I have to defend my best friend's position,” Baekhyun observes their exchange with interest and Chanyeol’s blush deepens for some reason, “after all, I have all the rights in the world to be worried,” Sehun gives his attention to the smaller, Baekhyun meeting his gaze effortlessly. Sehun is not saying anything but Chanyeol knows that, deep down, his best friend must be somewhat pissed that his beauty is not affecting Baekhyun. His fans cannot look him in the eyes in general and the younger loves it, “Chanyeol chooses you to go in Paris with him instead of me, a well-known model.”

Chanyeol gulps his coffee a bit too fast and he blinks to chase the hotness away. It doesn’t change anything, not his burning throat, not Baekhyun’s hardening stare.

“Oh?”

“Yes,” the blond continues, “it’s his choice and I respect it,” Chanyeol wants to snort at this statement but his throat still hurts, “but I’m still concerned about how well this will go. No offence but you don’t strike me as a person who’s interested in fashion.”

Baekhyun grins “Oh? And what makes you think that?”

“Well,” Sehun shrugs and Chanyeol mentally prays, “first, you don’t know who I am and secondly, your clothes are far from being fashionable…” a pause, “and your blemished hands makes me think you don’t pay attention to your appearance too. I’m not sure you’re suited for the show in Paris, even if you’re cute and all.”

“See,” Baekhyun’s voice is neutral but it makes Chanyeol tighten his grip on his mug “you’re totally right and I can see why you’re concerned,” his neighbour smiles but it has nothing to do with the smiles he offered Chanyeol a few nights ago when they shared a diner; it lacks warmth. “I actually don’t give a single fuck about fashion and if this industry could sink I’ll be more than happy,” he cocks his head, “but Chanyeol needs me there so I’ll be.”

“What? You will-” Chanyeol starts until he feels a kick under the table and he barely represses a scream as Baekhyun’s attention stays on Sehun.

“I’m not just cute, you know, but I’ll take the compliment.”

“You are, but I’m handsome,” Sehun counter-attacks and Chanyeol rolls his eyes because of course this is what his best friend is worried about, “I would be more useful. But it’s Chanyeol’s decision, I’ll respect it.”

“There’s no point in arguing, right?” Baekhyun smiles but Chanyeol can tell the smaller is holding back his usual snarky comments even if he doesn’t know why, “why don’t we talk about Vivi instead? When did you adopt your dog?”

Like a child receiving a lollipop from a stranger, Sehun jumps right in Baekhyun’s trap and starts talking about the delight that is Vivi, Baekhyun satisfied smile partially hidden by the mug as he takes a second to look at Chanyeol, dark-brown eyes curious.

The taller blushes – why is he blushing again? - and lets his eyes fall on his half emptied mug.

He didn’t even notice at first but he used specific beans for this one.

The colour is dark brown.

***

“You were nice.”

“I’m always nice.”

Chanyeol frowns “That’s not true.”

Vivi left with his troublesome master a few hours ago and now they were finally able to work peacefully; Chanyeol on his clothes and, on the opposite side, his comfortably seated friend writing in his notebook, currently smiling.

“Besides,” Chanyeol resumes, “when you said you will come with me to Paris…is it…is it true?”

“Yes,” the pen on the paper doesn’t stop but the former model can tell he got the smaller’s attention anyway, “I’m a man of my word, Chanyeol.”

“You said that… in the moment or...”

Baekhyun rolls his eyes, “I’m not you,” the scribbling stops a second before resuming, “I cannot let myself be…controlled by my emotions. I had to think about how to organise myself. The Fashion Week starts three days after my holidays according to the internet and Yixing is more than happy to take care of Bacon during my absence,” the dark-brown eyes look at him “I can go with you.”

“O-Okay… and,” the fabric under his fingertips is rough, “why don’t you use a computer?”

Baekhyun blinks, “this… was unexpected.”

“I know, for me too,” the smaller smiles, “I mean...”

“I don’t have the money for it,” the tone is soft, like, used to pronounce this very sentence, “and writing isn’t that bad. I can remember my lessons better.”

“And why were you nice?”

“You’re so noisy today,” Baekhyun sighs and pushes an inky strand of hair away,“maybe I will just work at home if you cannot be silent...”

“No!” Chanyeol clears his throat as he looks down on his work, his new apparel far from being finished, “I mean, you can do whatever you want but… I will stay calm. No more questions.”

“I didn’t want to put you in a difficult position,” his friend resumes, his tone as careful as his writing, the blue ink liquid shining an instant under the light before drying quickly on the paper, “your friend Sehun looks like an idiot and by that, I mean no offence, just facts,” the sentence is ending with a small dot, clearer than Baekhyun’s eyes, “you’re both friends, arguing would have been pointless. I just took the easiest path for all of us.”

“Sehun is not an idiot,” Chanyeol takes his scissors as Baekhyun thins his lips in reaction, recoiling in his chair, “and you avoided conflicts like a mature adult,” he cuts in his material as Baekhyun eyes his work, piece of silks, satin and linens spread in front of him like a complex puzzle, “I’m so proud of you.”

“I can’t believe you’re using sarcasm against me when all I’ve done is being nice to your best friend,” the cut is neat in the tissue and Chanyeol places it over another, eyes focused on his work even if his ears cannot ignore the spoken truth, “I’m usually way worse, Chanyeol.”

“See, you finally admitted you’re not always nice,” Baekhyun’s eyes are trying to set holes in him but for once, strangely so, the former model doesn’t shy away from it and openly smiles, “and that you still have assumptions. Sehun is way more than you bargain him for.”

If his neighbour is surprised by Chanyeol’s decision to meet his glare, he doesn’t show it. Instead, he resumes writing, slowly, fingers similar to the white paper; covered in blue ink. “Well, I can’t wait to see for myself then.”

***

Chanyeol is not ready. So he says it.

“I’m not ready,” the grip he has on his armrest intensifies as times goes by, his knuckles white, “This is a horrible idea.”

“As much as I hate to break this news to you,” Baekhyun says, “we’re already on the plane and we will arrive in Paris in… six hours according to the screen, so suck it up.”

“This is a horrible idea,” he closes his eyes in an attempt to escape reality, “I should become a puppy in my next life. My only preoccupation would be to chase after a ball and I would be happy.”

“Or you can finish as the meal of some Chinese family,” the shock on Chanyeol’s face must be evident because the smaller slightly turns toward him – as much as the seat permits him – to smile innocently, “what? It’s still happening nowadays. Even in Korea, you know. Each year, millions of dogs are killed for consumption.”

“Actually, I feel worse now,” he pauses, “I will become a rock. This way I cannot be eaten nor can I make awful decisions.”

“There is a disorder named lithophagia to describe people fond of eating rocks. It’s a subcategory of pica, a more general term to qualify an appetite for substances that are largely non-nutritive such as paper, metal or glass,” as if on cue, a flight attendant is making his way toward them with a trolley full of snacks, “so no, as a rock, you won’t be safe either,” playfulness swims underneath the serious tone, the pink tongue darting outside an instant to mimic appetite for the served sweets, “just accept who you are, Chanyeol.”

The former model blinks, bringing his eyes elsewhere than on the pink lips, “How do you know this anyway? Do you spend time on Wikipedia for fun?”

“Me? No but you should,” his neighbour accepts a green tea from the stewardess as the taller refuses everything, not feeling like having a snack. Honestly, he is still thinking about people who enjoy ingesting dog meat or rocks, “it won’t hurt your brain to fill it with knowledge”, a smirk appears around the cup, “I hope so at least.”

“Instead of telling me that I’m an idiot, you can answer my question,” the smaller stops drinking as Chanyeol observes the outline of the pink lips. They are pretty when they are like that, sightly swelled up, “you never really speak about yourself, you know.”

“I know,” the smaller sets his drink on the plate and turns his head toward Chanyeol, his black hair no longer falling into his eyes. He got a haircut before leaving, “it’s deliberate.”

“And…?”

A sigh, “I’m studying medicine…” an evasive movement of hand supports his sentence, Baekhyun’s cheeks rosier now, “I know it’s quite cliché for a Korean student but it’s a field that can get me money later if I’m successful enough,” he gulps down the bitter drink as a smile forms on the taller’s lips, “and don’t you dare make a comment about my studies because they are way better than your choices. I will earn money with my knowledge, not with my body.”

“I think it’s admirable.” Baekhyun’s eyes widen and the former model finally allows his smile to run wild, so big his cheeks might split, “you’re allowed to like your field, you know. Not everyone has to be a special snowflake.”

“It’s not that I like it,” the smaller explains, tone careful, tiptoeing around the truth, “I’m… good at it. Most of the time. This fourth year is killing me and sometimes I just want to stop everything but at the same time… I don’t want everything I’ve already accomplished to be for nought. I want to make a name for myself, I want people to envy me and I want to be able to save my patients.”

“So it’s not only the money,” Baekhyun glares at him, “even if I’m sure it’s mostly for it.”

“Make fun of me Park Chanyeol and I’ll shove a rock in your mouth as soon as we land,” he plays with the empty cup, his dry fingers following the rounded edge, “and, of course, I’ll do it with all the politeness in the world, passing my greetings to your teeth. I don’t want to be called rude again.”

The former model scoffs, “A doctor, yeah, sure.”

“Our conversation made you forget your fright of having made the wrong decision about Paris,” Baekhyun smiles, “so yeah, I think I’ll make a great doctor.”

Chanyeol has nothing to say to that so he just pouts and, unsurprisingly, thinks about the Fashion Week again.

“I still think I might have made the wrong decision. I’m not like they remember me, I’m not,” he presses his palm against his pants, “I’m not the same.”

“I really hope so because I won’t be on this flight if it were the case,” something flickers in the dark-brown eyes and, after a thought, his neighbour places his hand atop Chanyeol’s. The tips are rough and send shivers down the taller’s arm, unconsciously leaning into the contact, “You were a jerk, a true fuckboy and, even if we already agreed that media played a part in your image, you were still were an arsehole.”

“Thank you...”

“I’m not done.” Baekhyun squeezes his hand, “You were an arsehole and now… you’re gentle, compassionate and you listen to people around you. You’re not the same, you’re a better version of yourself.”

“I...” Chanyeol really didn’t expect the compliments and he has to concentrate on formulating a whole sentence, “thank you but…”

The former model cannot help but wonder and wonder again if Baekhyun would pronounce the very same words if he had shared the vision of the fashion world about him. If he would hold his hand like this if he knew what Sehun and Minseok knew.

“But?”

“Nothing,” he squeezes the small hand one last time before withholding his own, pretending to go to the bathroom.

They have five hours and forty-two minutes left to go.

***

Paris is actually far from being the ideal painting filmmakers are trying to sell in their movies and Chanyeol learns it the hard way as soon as they set foot outside Charles De Gaulle airport.

Baekhyun for his part is still laughing good-naturedly at Chanyeol’s back luck, “Well, you cannot expect me to pity you, can you? You’re travelling in a country without even checking the culture first.”

“Ah because of course, it’s cultural to steal the money of someone right in their hands.”

“Well, at least it’s only the money,” Baekhyun shrugs as they walk on the pavement, aligned cream-grey street-front buildings all around them, carved ornaments at the top of the majority, “it could have been your whole bag and bye bye passport,” French people pass by them, laughing at some joke and this time Chanyeol keeps his bag close, “it’s not like that everywhere but Paris is well-known for its pickpockets problems. Even other French people are wary when they come to the capital.”

“Wonderful.”

“Stop sulking now, it was just a few Euros,” Chanyeol wants to correct him, because three hundred Euros is not just ‘a few’ but Baekhyun’s smile makes him forget his sentence, “We’re in France! We are going to eat a baguette and...” he approaches the taller, white puff of air escaping his pink lips “you will prove Sehun you’re ready to debut as a fashion designer.”

“Yeah,” he hums, “and for your information, I know about French culture,” they resume walking as Baekhyun just hummms, the former model observing his surroundings, “for instance I know about the Quiche Lorraine. It’s a good beginning.”

His neighbour just laughs at this and Chanyeol suddenly feels warm even in the middle of winter. He loves this sound.

They walk on a tree-aligned boulevard, the repeated honk of angry Parisian drivers polluting the air with noises, the smoke of the car's tailpipes not being enough. Yet, Chanyeol doesn’t complain as his neighbour lets a side of himself unravel in the middle of the streets, his bright eyes and playful smirk blooming as they saunter.

“Chanyeol… do you think we will have time for sightseeing?” the smaller stops in front of a bakery with an incomprehensible French name, observing the different pastries, “I really want to visit the Louvre and the Eiffel Tower of course,” a pause, “and the Basilique du Sacré Coeur… and-”

“We will. It’s called Fashion Week but it last five days in general. We will have two free days,” Baekhyun smiles at that and, okay, Chanyeol might like his smile a bit too much now, “besides, we don’t have to go to all of the shows. The one from Chanel is the most important one… it’s there that Mr. Hong will be alongside the other important stylists and names.” He wets his lips and shrugs, “we’re mostly free actually.”

“No we’re not,” Baekhyun stretches his arms, grin barely hidden by his scarf, “even if I want to visit Paris like a good tourist, we’re here for you,” he grabs the taller’s mantel as they start to walk again, catching scraps of French conversations here and there, “and we will spend every minute you need to prepare your perfect garb. I know you’re still unsure about yours.”

“No, actually, I have mine...it’s yours that...” Baekhyun blinks, “yeah, I got an idea last time and… I spend days on it… I hope you will … agree to wear it.”

“Well, you’re the stylist, right?”

The former model nods, biting on the inside of his cheek.

They finally buy a baguette and Chanyeol feels a bit better about Paris.

***

“Chanyeol, I know I said you’re the stylist but I’m going to fucking kill you.”

The soon-to-be dead man wants to wince but he cannot, not when Baekhyun is dressed like that. The result is even better than anticipated and Chanyeol had really high expectations.

Baekhyun is simply gorgeous. So he says it.

“You’re gorgeous like this,” the dark glare doesn’t disappear but he continues anyway, “and, I know it’s quite unconventional but...”

“Chanyeol. This is a fucking skirt,” the smaller turns toward the mirror once again, apparently restraining himself from punching it, “and I know the Scottish wears kilt and that even nowadays it’s quite popular in some countries but… this…”

The former model observes the long black skirt open on the side with Baekhyun’s white legs showing slightly, the fluid cloth falling like puffs of smoke around the legs, soft-textured tulle just transparent enough to draw attention without revealing enough.

“It’s not quite over anyway,” Chanyeol reassures him, “I will draw silver patterns on your right leg before the show...” his neighbour closes his eyes in an attempt to not hit the taller. He appreciates the feeling. “It will match your top...” he eyes the silver branches spreading on the smaller’s chest, contrasting with the pitch-black tulle underneath, “and… yeah don’t kill me.”

“I don’t fucking understand fashion. I look ridiculous in this. And I swear to god if someone, just one fucking person, says I look feminine, I will make him eat the whole skirt.”

Chanyeol bites on his bottom lip, “Hum… you don’t like it...”

“Of course I don’t. It’s a skirt. But...” Chanyeol feels rough fingers lifting his chin, a small smile on the pink lips, “it’s not because it’s not well done. The clothes itself is gorgeous, I swear, it’s just… on me. It’s weird.” The smaller lets his hand fall again, “Remember you’re speaking to the guy who only wears sweaters.”

“It’s not weird on you… I made it for you. You’re beautiful.”

Really, the former model doesn’t know if it’s because they are in Paris but he already forgot how easily he hurts his neighbour sometimes, the compliment making the smaller thins his lips.

“Don’t call me beautiful,” he eyes Chanyeol, his look making his words more powerful even if the taller knows his friend wouldn’t like this thought, “tell me that I’m here because I can offer you something more than just being beautiful. Call me intelligent, tell me I’m needed here as a friend, say that I’m not just a fucking doll you wanted to dress up. Because I have more to offer to this world than that. Much more.”

The taller blinks, “I…”

“Whatever.” Baekhyun starts to undress, carefully so, “I’m tired, I’ll see you in the morning.”

Chanyeol is left in his hotel room alone, pondering the words that left the pink mouth. He doesn’t know what he did wrong.

***

A bitter taste in his mouth wakes him up and Chanyeol wonders if he brushed his teeth last night. He doesn’t remember. Yet he remembers very well Baekhyun's words, the rising tone of his voice until he had stopped, cutting short his speech.

The bitter taste doesn’t go away and the former model forces himself to go to the bathroom, ignoring the digital clock. The night devoid of stars is enough of an indication; it’s way too early.

The time spent on making sure his teeth are clean is more than necessary but he cannot help it, his mind drifting back again and again to the dark-brown eyes and thinned lips. It wasn’t a dispute, not really. It could have been one but Baekhyun closed the subject before the taller could say anything, could apologise.

He puts his toothbrush back in its place and ruffles his hair, his feet taking him to the large window of his room. Without a second thought, he opens it, inhaling the chilly winter air too fast, goosebumps running on his skin like words out of his mouth.

After all these weeks, he should have known better; Baekhyun doesn’t want to be remembered for his appearance but for his work, his determination, his successes. And Chanyeol failed to see that.

He breathes in, the cold air helping to calm his mind. The capital of France may not be asleep everywhere but it is near his hotel where he can think, the Eiffel Tower small in the distance. It’s funny now that he thinks about it, how he had asked a man, who despises superficiality with passion, to come with him to Paris, capital of fashion.

And he had said yes.

He had said yes and Chanyeol isn’t sure of what Baekhyun had seen in him to accept that he had changed, that he deservedto be known as a stylist, as a new person, as his friend.

White smoke escapes his lips as he exhales. Today, he will tell his story to Baekhyun.

***

When the smaller opens the door of his hotel room, Chanyeol is surprised to see him wearing a white T shirt and shorts, his white legs displayed to anyone who could pass by. He blinks.

“Hi.”

“What do you want?” the tone was probably meant to be aggressive but turned out slurred, his neighbour – even in Paris, their rooms are side by side – is probably just waking up, eyelids leaden under the weight of a long night of sleep. “It’s way too early.”

“Actually it’s already nine in the morning,” the taller bites his lips to prevent a smile from appearing, “and if we eat breakfast now, we have time to visit the Eiffel Tower or even the Place of Concorde or...”

“I’ll be here in two minutes.”

The door is closed hastily and Chanyeol finally allows himself to smile. The first show they will be attending to is in the afternoon and their outfits are simple enough for them not to spend hours at preparing themselves.

As an afterthought, he allows himself to lean on the wall. In two days that they will have to make a strong impression… to be strong. He bites his lips as his friend gets out of his room, a sweater and simple jeans on. The taller simply smiles.

“Let’s go.”

***

Colourful plates of confectioneries awaits them in the hotel’s restaurant, his friend making a beeline for the only table left near the window, old and new structures mixing in the background, modern buildings jutting out like metallic geysers, their shadows descending on the old Parisian houses like a bad omen.

Chanyeol has heard that Paris used to be much more beautiful back in the days; at least according to Mr. Hong who was at numerous Fashion Weeks. (“The city is still pretty if you know where to look at but a few years ago, it was pretty everywhere.”) And the former model swears to himself that he will buy a book about the history of Paris. Baekhyun told him reading will do him good anyway.

The said boy was currently enchanted by the city, eyes crinkling as he is looking outside, “I love this view. French people are so lucky,” he sits down as he takes in his surroundings, the restaurant pretty simple for Chanyeol but apparently wonderful for his friend, “I think I like this city.”

The taller serves them coffee, the strong odour soothing him “I don’t know, I prefer other European cities. London for instance… or Berlin. Helsinki is really beautiful too.”

“You’re just pissed off because you lost some Euros,” the student grins, putting as much sugar as he can in his coffee, “give this town a chance.”

Chanyeol offers a non-committal grunt, reaching for a croissant but his hand stills itself, the powerful gaze of Baekhyun making him lift his head, “What?”

“It’s the first time I’m going abroad,” Baekhyun stirs his coffee, the morning light softening his face, “I know for you it’s something common… but,” the spoon is left on the cream tablecloth, a drop of brown coffee tainting the materiel obscurely, “for me, it’s something I didn’t expect to do before… years. I’m not saying the city is perfect, it has its flaws I’m sure of it, but just… try not to judge it right away, okay? I’m the one who is supposed to make assumptions here.”

The last sentence is just to tease him but Chanyeol feels his shoulders tense, remembering his promise to himself, “And what if your assumptions were right from the beginning?” the smaller raises an eyebrow as the former model breathes in. There is not enough air in Paris. “I… I think I must at least explain to you what happened nearly a year ago.”

“You don’t have to if you don’t want to,” Baekhyun drinks a sip of his cup as the taller feels his nerves take refuge in his stomach, twisting on itself. He is not hungry anymore. “I know you were a dick, that’s enough.”

“It’s not. You will hear things about me and… I want to be the one to tell you.”

This got the smaller’s attention, his gaze solely focused on him and a minuscule nod is enough for Chanyeol to begin, tongue heavy in his mouth “Thank you.”

“No problem.”

“I...” he pauses, breathes in, breathes out, “You have to understand that I was not only well-known in Korea but in Asia in general, even in Europe and America. I was… I thought everything should be handed to me on a silver plate… a gold one even,” he lets his eyes fall on his croissant, “I wanted more. This is why when a renowned creator suggested working with me, not only as a model but as a creator myself, I agreed right away. She was…well. She was.” He starts fiddling with his napkin, embroidery of laces and borders reminding him too much of everything.

“I started to work with her on her summer collection and, even if I sometimes skipped our meetings because I was drunk at some parties, she was patient with me because, apparently, my clothes were good,” he smiles sadly, “well, too good to be mine apparently. Seulgi, oh yeah that’s her name, started to ask around if I was really the one who was doing the clothes or if I was delegating my work to someone else. Then, rumours started.”

He lifts his head and lets himself be naked under the heavy gaze of his friend, “I became angry, obviously. It was my work but nobody cared. On the contrary, many were ready to see me fall and fed the rumours, until the day I snapped.”

“What did you do?”

“I...” the napkin is completely ruined now, “I went to see Seulgi, to explain to her it was really me but she wouldn’t listen. I slapped her.” He closes his eyes, “I slapped a woman, the darling of many in the fashion industry,” his hands are clammy and he just wants to leave the room but he cannot, “and I paid the price. Seulgi took a picture and even if she didn’t file a complaint against me, the fashion industry did.”

“What happened next?” Chanyeol opens his eyes in disbelief.

“You’re not going to say anything? To insult me?”

“I said,” Baekhyun’s eyes are hard on him, “what happened next?”

The taller gulps and forces himself to calm down, “I...” he can do this, “The rumours worsened, not only about stealing clothes but about the incident too. Half of them said I tried to beat her to death while others spoke about sexual harassment. It destroyed my professional life and...” he wets his lips, “and me. I thought about… ending all of it.” His vision blurs, “I didn’t see the point of living after this. I was already a dick back then but suddenly I became a monster for the media. I felt so…”

He doesn’t end his sentence and just tries to remember that it was a year ago. It’s over now.

“You felt cornered, wronged... alone.” The usual white fingers lift his chin, the dark-brown eyes serious, “and even if I kind of want to slap you too for harming a woman, I think the fashion industry has hurt you enough for a lifetime.” The fingers don’t leave his chin and Chanyeol is sure Baekhyun is making it on purpose, knowing the taller will break eye contact as soon as he can, “I’m glad you told me this, really. And stop beating yourself over this. Seulgi didn’t deserve to be slapped, no woman ever deserves it, but she is the one who started this mess. She is kind of a bitch.”

“Baek….”

The small nickname earns him a smile, “I know, I’m nice,” Chanyeol grumbles but the fingers tighten on his jaw as a hiss escapes his lips, “and don’t ever think about ending your life.” The fingers hurt him, nails digging in his skin, “Ever. This is not a solution, Chanyeol.”

“I know. Sehun and Minseok repeated it daily after this mess. They… well, Sehun advised me to get an animal to stay grounded and… this is how I met Toben.”

The digits finally leave his face and the student steals Chanyeol’s croissant, expression calm, “Maybe you’re right, Sehun isn’t a complete idiot. Animals are stress relievers and good to help people back on their feet.” The sun is higher in the sky now, their cutlery shining as much as the smaller’s eyes, “they are also good judges of characters.”

“And?”

“And,” he resumes, “that means that you’re a good person now, Chanyeol. No matter what people will say about you at these catwalks, I’m your ally.” He bites his – Chanyeol’s – croissant, “and believe me, I’m a good one.”

Chanyeol believes him. He knows how it feels to be at the end of his murderous glare but he mostly counts on the smaller’s smile to keep him standing tall, proud on the carpet as he is home when Toben finally accepts to sit in his dog bed.

“Except when it comes to food. You stole my croissant.”

“You called me Baek,” he smiles, “it’s a new level on the friendship scale so now take it upon yourself.”

Chanyeol is more than willing to.

***

“I also run.”

“What?”

“To stay grounded, to not… think about things I shouldn’t. I run,” the strong wind sweeps his hair in all directions as Chanyeol turns slowly toward his friend, “it keeps me away from dark waters.”

Now that he has spoken out about what happened, Chanyeol feels the need to tell absolutely everything to the smaller, words flowing down his mouth like an opened tap. Even the insignificant details were told, drowning the smaller in a stream of probably unwanted information. Still, he waited for Baekhyun to tell him something, to make him shut up, but he never did.

The words kept flooding one after another.

Baekhyun has his nose pressed in his scarf, cheeks red as he listens intently to every story, every little moment and asks questions here and there, never losing patience even if they are on the top of the Eiffel Tower, where all the tourists are smiling and taking pictures.

“Sorry I...”

“Don’t apologise,” the park in front of the Eiffel Tower is filled with tourists, tiny dots of colour in the damp park, still wet from the sudden rainfall two hours ago, “I knew you were going to and I’m quite disappointed you felt obliged to do so.”

“What do you mean?”

“Exactly what I said,” Baekhyun pokes at a drop of water on the rail, “you are allowed to speak about your feelings, you know? It’s not because it’s in the past that you’ve necessarily recovered emotionally.” The droplet falls as his friend smiles, Chanyeol is still not used to the sight sometimes, “I know social pressure obliges people to say ‘I’m fine’ but really, between real friends, it’s just a waste of time. We should be able to speak our mind freely.”

“Do you?” Chanyeol blurts out, “I mean… you usually do but...” the dark-brown eyes are on him and, instead of wanting to shy away from the stare, the ex-model finds comfort in it, “you don’t talk a lot about… you. I know you have friends of your own and that you probably talk to them and all but...”

“Are you worried about me?” the teasing in his voice is obvious but the former model kind of wants to say yes. He knows details about his neighbour, his habit of heavily sugared coffee, his distaste for raisins cake and, god, even his careful handwriting. Teasing smile, murderous glare and eczema covered hands distracting him most of the time, Baekhyun more than happy to not talk about himself more than needed. “I don’t see why. I’m not the one who is about to walk into the lion’s den with my heavy past.”

“You’re good at that.” Chanyeol says, “diverting attention from you.”

A Chinese tourist is taking pictures of the park below them, the camera sounds when he presses the button distracting Baekhyun a second, enough to give him a moment to reply.

“I am. But it doesn’t mean I’ve problems. I’m just not as interesting as you think I am,” another picture, another sound, “you would be disappointed. My life revolves pretty much around my studies and Bacon.”

“And here I was thinking your wonderful knowledge would entertain me,” Baekhyun rolls his eyes and hits him lightly on the shoulders as the other simply grins, “you’re far from uninteresting Baek,” the red nose of his friend distracts him a second and Chanyeol thinks, not probably for the first time, that the cold suits the smaller very well, “you’re probably the most interesting person I’ve met in a long time.”

“Well, of course,” his friend smiles cheekily, “I didn’t say I was uninteresting, just not as much as you think I am. It’s all about balance,” his raises an eyebrow, “levels.”

“Did you insult me right now? Because if it’s the case I didn’t realise.”

The answer is a bright, bright laugh that startles the Chinese tourist and probably the whole Eiffel Tower. Chanyeol smiles.

***

The first show is by the Eiffel Tower – how practical – and it’s mostly Chanyeol explaining how catwalk works (“Thank you Chanyeol, without your help I would never have guessed.”), what to say and not to say, people attending the show (“Basically, reporters, journalists, singers, models and a lot of vicious busybodies who are here to talk shit.” “Yes.”) and everything that seemed relevant on the moment.

The former model got a few stares, heard a few whispers, but he enjoyed the catwalk and reunions with old acquaintances. Baekhyun doing a lot by staying by his side, giving his opinion when asked – in a flawless English, even Chanyeol was surprised – and basically being the perfect image of an assistant. So much that a few stars and creators enquired whether his friend was also a model, earning a small shake of head and a polite smile.

Baekhyun was doing so well that, when they were back at the hotel, Chanyeol was sure the smaller had enjoyed himself. At least, he was until the pink mouth opened.

“Between risible reality television brainwashed stars and smartass creators having problems with their penises size,” he lets out a heavy sigh, “I’m fucking done. I don’t know how you can stand this.”

“Humm...”

“I mean,” shoes are discarded as the smaller flops on Chanyeol’s bed, head tangling from the mattress, “they were clearly patronising you. It wasn’t my place to say something but indubitably, some of them deserve to have their tongues cut.”

“Yet again, a proof you wonderfully chose your career, Dr. Byun,” the deadpan glare he receives in answer makes him smile as he collapses on the bed, shuffling near the student. Like this, the former model realise how close they are, how comfortable they became with each other, thousands kilometres from home, “but thank you for letting me speak. It’s important for me.”

“I know,” Baekhyun’s head is a little above his, dark eyes half-shut to look at him, “will all these small talks be of any use?”

A delicate mole near the upper pink lip deflect Chanyeol’s eyes for a second as he never paid attention to it before. He doesn’t know why he does now.

“These small talks will turn into bigger ones, the fashion industry always thirsty for new gossips,” the bed cover against his cheek is tickling him and he moves a little, unconsciously drawing closer to his friend. The dark-brown eyes give nothing away and Baekhyun simply continues to listen, right hand nearly touching Chanyeol’s upper arm, “by tomorrow, the whole city will know I’m here… and that I’m not alone.”

“If someone asks one more time if I’m a model, I’m committing genocide.”At Chanyeol’s smile, Baekhyun hits him on the arm, the taller shying away with no success, “Stop laughing! You didn’t even correct them when they asked if I was your main model!”

The white hand stills on his arm as the ex-model simply looks at the smaller, his low-toned voice almost a murmur in the early evening, “Well, you are,” the pale hand grips his upper arm but Chanyeol keeps his gaze levelled, “I don’t think I want anyone else to be my main model if I debut.”

“You must be kidding me. I’m not even...”

“I don’t care. I know you don’t want to be a model, Baek, I know that. Just… if I debut… if I really debut,” he raises his head to look at the smaller’s face, dark strand of hair falling on his forehead, “I want you to wear the clothes that will represent me. Not because you’re beautiful, but because you’re my friend and that I trust you to wear them with pride. Just once, if I debut… I will not ask for the other shows, if I succeed but-”

“Of course you will succeed you stupid giant,” the smaller shakes his head and Chanyeol’s eyes are, once again, on the small mole, “I have seen their clothes and I know yours. You’re way more talented than these starving pigs,” a sigh, “and I will wear whatever you want so shut up and just believe in yourself.”

“Really?”

Baekhyun looks at him, longer than necessary, and simply nods, a smirk on the pink lips, “Yeah…really.” Chanyeol grins from ear to ear as Baekhyun rolls his eyes, pushing the taller away as he sits up, “except heels or anything weird like that. I’ll already wear a skirt in two days so...”

“And here I was thinking...”

“Don’t even finish that sentence,” the dark glare is back and Chanyeol happily meets it, “or I swear I’ll take the first plane for Seoul.”

“You wouldn’t do that,” the taller starts cheekily, finally getting rid of his blazer as Baekhyun searches for something in his bag – his smart phone, probably, “I know you wouldn’t.”

Baekhyun pauses and, very softly murmurs, “Yeah, I wouldn’t do that.”

The sky outside is already dark but for Chanyeol it also could have been daytime, feeling warmer than he has in months.

***

Capricious weather settled in Paris this morning, rain and sun battling in the sky, the moist atmosphere sticking to residents and tourists like a disagreeable second skin, leaving people with their hair curling and grumbling voice; the weather blamed for all the evil in the world.

Chanyeol didn’t complain though, not when Baekhyun was fully dressed in his attire, right leg left on display for Chanyeol to prettify, a white canvas of skin and muscles.

Now the rain is winning, heavy rainfalls pouring on the creamy buildings outside, the patter on the windows not exactly like music but soothing enough to calm his hand on the milky thigh. He needs to breathe.

“You know, it’s not like you’re about to perform surgery on me,” Baekhyun’s teasing voice accompanies the greyish weather, soft and somewhat careful in the eerily calm hotel room, “it’s just make-up. You can wipe it off if you don’t like something.”

“I...” make-up brush in hand, the cream bristles head is close to the skin, ready to trace elegant silver patterns on the smooth leg, “I know. It’s just… it’s the first time I’m doing make up on a man legs to be honest.”

“Paint me surprised,” the dark-brown eyes are on the silver liquid make-up near the bed, shifting to Chanyeol eyes as he smirks, “I would never have guessed.”

“I will just pretend you didn’t make a bad play on words and start,” he lets his hand glide behind the milky thigh, the skin smoother there, his fingertips warming at the contact. Baekhyun naturally bends his knee a little to accommodate himself to the new position, his leg well-nigh on Chanyeol’s shoulders. A second passes as the ex-model tries to steady himself and his respiration, not expecting the proximity to warm his breathing space so much, “I… I will first apply a powder to protect your skin and make the make-up stay...” the gaze above him is dark and Chanyeol involuntary tightens his grip on the white thigh, “… and yeah.”

Carefully, he applies the powder on the skin as the rain keeps them company, no other sound in the room to disturb the brush slithering down the thigh, Chanyeol’s following a long vein with his eyes. He stops his movement over the knee, letting his index follow leisurely, gently, a scar there, like afraid to hurt.

“I fell from my bike when I was fifteen,” the voice is barely a murmur in the quiet room, Baekhyun sucking on a breath, “I was afraid to run into a car so I braked as hard as I could at the moment, falling on the road like an old rag. Needless to say, I didn’t run into the car but the concrete wasn’t any better. Kyungsoo screamed at me for being reckless and didn’t accept to help me with my maths for a whole week,” the index continues to follow the weird scar, Chanyeol wondering if other bits of stories are hidden on the smaller’s skin, like a map of his past, “even if he took care of me by bringing me home every day after that incident.”

“This is the friend who offered you Bacon, right?” a small hum of agreement is enough for him to pursue his work, the brush now following the curve of the lower limb, extending from the knee to the ankle, steady in his palm. The skin is hot and Baekhyun is probably comfortable in his clothes, unlike Chanyeol, who regrets wearing a pullover. It might be raining outside but it’s bordering on overly warm in the room now. “He seems like a great friend.”

“He is… most of the time. When he doesn’t try to murder me with a cushion when I bother him or worst, with his glare.”

“His glare?” Chanyeol scoffs, the tension he was feeling in his shoulders leaving him as he finishes with his brush, picking up a new one to paint the silver shapes, “Baek, you really have to see yourself. I don’t think I’ve seen anyone with such a murderous glare as yours.”

“I have a good teacher” is the straightforward reply, Baekhyun is probably smiling. The stylist cannot see him, focused on the ankle where he will begin his drawing but he can easily tell, the voice a bit higher than usual, cheerful in the dim room.

The brush is dipped lightly in the silver colour and Chanyeol finally presses it against the ankle, the coolness seeping straight through the milky skin; Baekhyun shuddering at the contact. The former model is so stunned by the reaction that he automatically searches for the dark-brown eyes, wondering if he can continue.

Baekhyun just bites on his lips, “You can resume, I was just surprised by the cold feeling.”

The taller nods, wondering why he feels tense again, too aware of the warmth surrounding him. It’s the last time he wears a pullover in a French hotel. A simple adjustment of the thermostat could save him a lot of trouble, like thinking about the blush that slowly creeps his way on his cheeks, the tender skin of Baekhyun and their closeness. Especially their closeness.

As he traces the silver motif, Chanyeol tries to think about something other than their proximity, his mind supplying him with the conversation they had a few hours ago, when the smaller gave him a deadly glare after being asked to shave his legs to facilitate the work on his skin. Needless to say, the giant obtained Baekhyun’s agreement after a long, long negotiation.

Baekhyun gained free café au lait at Chanyeol’s workplace for three months.

The silver ornament goes higher up, both ends of two different traced patterns twisting in a spiral as he smiles.

“What makes you smile like that?” the student speaks up, “Did you draw a penis on my skin? I swear to god...”

Chanyeol genuinely bursts out laughing, a rich, throaty sound that he hasn’t made in ages as his friend rolls his eyes at him, clearly trying not to smile himself, “Chanyeol...”

“I didn’t,” his grin is wide, almost discordant in their situation, “I just thought about… you. About how thankful I am for everything you’re doing for me…” he pauses, his brush near the scar on the knee now, “you’re really amazing.”

“You really give compliments easily,” his friend says, “is that a fashion thing?”

“It’s a Chanyeol thing… now. I didn’t praise anyone back when I was a model and I promised myself I had to change that, besides...” he curls his fingers around the pale knee to change the leg’s position, slipping them higher than they were before so he has a better hold, Baekhyun’s breathing stopping for a second, “you really deserve to be complimented.”

“I… thank you, I guess.”

The taller just continues to smile as his design comes alive on the smooth skin, smiling is helping him forget how close his face is to Baekhyun’s thighs, Baekhyun’s body. He isn’t supposed to even think about it in the first place.

He isn’t supposed to and yet here he is, wondering how nice it would feel to let his hands roam on the displayed skin with another purpose than painting them. His smiles turned sightly downward, Chanyeol knowing perfectly what is more likely to happen if he ever dares to touch Baekhyun in another way than a professional one; he would lose the student’s trust, he would lose their newly created friendship. He will lose Baekhyun.

The brush follows each curve, each bone, each patch of skin as Chanyeol subconsciously presses the head faintly away, as if repressing himself from approaching the smaller too much, leaving the tip to tickle the skin with thin lines, the delicate pattern that resembles lace emphasised by his sudden change of methods.

Baekhyun must be ticklish because he squirms a little when the brush follows the inside of his thigh, Chanyeol swallowing against the nervousness that tightens his throat as a shudder breaks on the ivory skin, his friend’s body warmer there.

“I’m...I’m almost done.”

As he says it, he isn’t really sure if he had to say this out loud for Baekhyun or for himself, the hotness of the room making him too dizzy to think normally.

Gradually, he trails his fingers over Baekhyun’s hipbones, his thumb brushing the shadowing lines just underneath in order to keep both of them grounded; even if Chanyeol is far from feeling grounded. He feels like he might as well be flying, his dazed mind useless in this moment, his hand tracing the last silvery shapes by memory

When the last line of silver is traced he lets out a shaky breath, his knees ready to give out under him.

“It’s… over.”

After a beat too long, he finally glances at Baekhyun, his face flushed red. The pink lips are sightly parted as the smaller lets out a sigh, his dark eyes not leaving Chanyeol’s, “I… okay.”

Chanyeol rises to his feet slowly, afraid the room would spin if he does not, the student’s dark gaze following him as he stands, not losing in intensity even when Chanyeol is fully upright, the two of them separated by a few centimetres.

“Do you… wish to see yourself in the mirror?” Chanyeol asks, hoping his voice isn’t trembling like he feels it does, “I didn’t draw penises I swear.”

Baekhyun’s flamed red cheeks are evident even in the dim room but Chanyeol knows better than to point it out; his own cheeks set ablaze.

“I’m not sure I want to see myself covered in paint in a skirt above all things but,” he gives the ex-model a look, “I kind of want to know if it was worth it to shave my legs.”

Chanyeol nods and lets Baekhyun see for himself the work on his right leg, the elaborate pattern shining under the bedside lamp near the mirror; silver tree branches expanding on the white skin like branching blood vessels, miles and miles of connected lines.

A minute passes like that and Chanyeol almost wants to close his eyes, to cut himself from reality as Baekhyun doesn’t comment, doesn’t say anything. He almost wants to cancel everything and to give his friend his black hoodie back when the smaller finally talks.

“Well, at least I don’t look like a girl,” he smiles softly, “you’re skilled, Chanyeol.”

“Even if I put smoky eyes on you?” Baekhyun hums. “And make you wear a skirt?” Another hum. Chanyeol definitely smiles, “Thank you. You look absolutely...” Baekhyun’s eyes lock with his in the reflection of the mirror as the taller gulps, finishing his sentence in a murmur, “intelligent. You’re not just beautiful or anything.”

His friend grins, “Thank you. Now, even if I love when we are thanking each other like two well-educated adults, we have a fashion show to attend,” he turns toward the taller, a dangerous smirk on the lips, “let’s make them regret ever doubting you.”

The rain outside morphs into a drizzle, light enough not to shatter the windows anymore, light enough for Chanyeol to concentrate on the beats of his own heart, loud in the room, loud in his head, where Baekhyun’s smile is the only thing he can think of.

***

Flower scent mingles with celebrities and creators, Chanel catwalk is taking place in an artificial garden inside the Grand Palais, high-glazed roof letting timid rays of sunlight through, enough to make glittery boots of some models shine and lift the mood of all the guests present. Except maybe one.

Chanyeol’s heart is in his mouth even if he tries to appear confident in his black suit, hair bleached silver for the occasion and a matching Baekhyun by his side, his friend dazzling in every way. And also for everyone if the ex-model relies on the awed whispers they can hear here and there.

Even if they could be muttering about the clash between Baekhyun’s refined clothes and his simple old sneakers, Chanyeol having little choice in the matter. Indeed, the smaller didn’t even want to hear him out when he argued in favour of beautiful derby he chose for the outfit, (“Chanyeol, I won’t wear these shoes. They are uncomfortable as hell. I will wear my sneakers and nothing else.” “But...” “Just say it’s an aesthetic choice if anybody asks. They are crazy enough in this industry, they will believe anything.”)

Actually, Chanyeol just wanted the outfit to be perfect but, as they advance in the fake garden, he sees Baekhyun’s relaxed expression, steady walk and he realises, easily, that Baekhyun’s comfort is way more important for him. He smiles.

“When will the show start?” his friend enquires, his smoky eyes darting toward the stage, 10 meters high artificial waterfalls, cascading under a board walk catwalk ready to welcome a hundred models, “I’m actually quite curious to see if some of the models are going to fall in the water. It would be a great plot-twist.”

The giant rolls his eyes, “Soon, don’t worry,” he jerks his head toward the thousands seats near the catwalk, “see, many people are already seating. It will start in about thirty minutes I think.”

His friend is about to answer when a loud raspy voice makes them stop dead in their track, the loud exclamation and clapping hands familiar to Chanyeol.

“Chanyeol! My dear boy! It’s such a pleasure to see you!” the strong voice of Mr. Hong is all over the place, some heads turning in their direction. “And I see that the rumours were right! Your assistant is gorgeous!”

The compliment rolls off easily from the old man’s tongue, not because he was trying like Chanyeol to praise others as they merit it but more simply from habit. Mr. Hong has a joyful visage, many wrinkles around the eyes due to a strict diet he imposes himself even if he doesn’t need to and, much to the guests’ dismay, a loud voice to compensate for the lack of weight on his shoulders.

Chanyeol bows a little, just enough for his former boss to clap another time in his hands, “My, my, if someone would have told me a year ago that the famous Park Chanyeol would bow I wouldn’t have believed it!” he laughs good-naturedly as his assistants make their way toward them, the two women visibly dumbfounded to see their boss with Chanyeol, former model, former source of trouble.

“Would you have paid good money to see it?” Chanyeol asks with a knowing smile, shoulders relaxed in a confident posture. He has many enemies in this room, but Mr. Hong is not one of them, “I almost regret my action now.”

“Oh, Chanyeol, my dear, don’t tease my poor heart like that.” He sends his own assistants away with a quick glance and blatantly ignores their troubled look. As nice as the man seems, he is before and above all, a man of business. His favourite people are the ones who can bring him new contentment, new money and right now, Chanyeol knows he is the one who can do that.

Mr. Hong is not his enemy,but he isn’t his friend either.

“Mr. Hong, keep your false weakness of the heart for foreign designers, maybe you’ll trick them but not me,” lopsided smile on the lips, he shoves a hand in the pocket of his black trousers, “we’ve known each other for far too long.”

“You’re right my dear!” his former boss laughs again and, if some people could be startled by his easy smile, Chanyeol isn’t. After all, Mr. Hong is a professional at making people like him. It’s his job. “But your beautiful assistant here is not used to my tricks, is he? May I ask for your name, my dear?”

Baekhyun is probably screaming internally but Chanyeol is relieved – and impressed – when his friend simply offers a polite smile and outstretches his hand, “Byun Baekhyun sir, it’s a real honour to meet you.”

“Dear God, it’s an honour for me too! I rarely meet such beautiful assistants!” Mr. Hong shakes Baekhyun’s hand a bit longer than necessary and smiles, “You would make a wonderful model with a body like yours… and I see that my dear Chanyeol marvellously understood this.” Mr. Hong finally lets go of the small hand and turns his eyes toward the taller, interested. “I have come to see Chanel’s new collection but my boy, I think Mr. Byun here will outshine all of the models. He is already outshining all the guests and I’m talking about thousands of people, dear. That’s a lot.”

“You’re too kind.”

“Park Chanyeol, humble, I thought that day would never come!” the wrinkles around his eyes are deep, even deeper when the man’s eyes are smiling, “I knew trusting you would pay off. I might be getting ahead of myself but, Chanyeol my dear, if you intend to debut in Korea, you’re more than welcome to be a guest at my catwalk and present your own collection. I may not be Chanel but I believe it would be a great opportunity for you.”

Chanyeol cannot find any words at that, stunned. He is very conscious of the old man in front of him in his perfect grey suit, of the light in the dove-grey sky and of the generally soft-textured aspect of the place, his mind clouded with a millionthoughts.

It’s a small brush of fingers against the back of his hand that jolts him out of his reverie.

“I will think about it, Mr Hong, but surely I will take upon your offer if I can.” The fingers are rough with work, with cold weather and yet they are the only ones in which Chanyeol can find comfort in. The back of his hand presses a little against them as he smiles, proud and confident. “And surely, this can only be a great opportunity for you too. You wouldn’t ask otherwise.”

Mr. Hong laughs again and claps in his hands, just like Chanyeol had told the funniest joke of the year. “You’re right, my dear boy, you’re right. I should try my tricks with foreign designers as you recommended.” He sighs, “Anyway, we should take place before my assistants go nuts. They are qualified but so annoying sometimes.”

Mr. Hong readies himself to go before halting, his eyes on Baekhyun, “Oh and Mr. Byun, if you ever want to be a model, you’re more than welcome to visit my agency. I’m sure we can do great things together and you could earn more money.”

This time, it’s Chanyeol who pushes his hand against Baekhyun’s in order to calm him, knowing that the smaller probably wants to paint the whole place red.

“Thank you, Mr. Hong,” Baekhyun offers him a polite nod,“but I enjoy my work with Mr. Park. He values my quality of assistant more than my body and I do appreciate the sentiment, way more than any money in the world.”

“Beautiful and smart, I really like him Chanyeol!” the old man laughs as Baekhyun just offers a tight smile in return, eyes sharp in the dark make-up but not threatening. His neutral expression is a wonder and Chanyeol is so proud he promises himself to offer Baekhyun free café au lait for a whole year.

Mr. Hong waves at them and finally joins his two assistants, both of them already ushering him toward a new designer – a French one, Mr. Hong probably planning to give him a demonstration of his unparalleled talent as an orator.

Finally alone, Chanyeol allows himself to breathe, to really breathe, simultaneously relieved and excited. Mr. Hong may be a joker but not when it concerns business and the former model knows the offer is real. The offer is real.

“You’re smiling,” Baekhyun states, his face relaxing too, “You better be because I didn’t put up with this man’s shit for nothing.”

Chanyeol allows his fingers to wrap around the milky wrist, Baekhyun not pushing him away even if he doesn’t conceal his surprise very well, “I kept expecting you to make a witty remark but you didn’t. I’m proud of you.”

“Should I be offended by your lack of faith in me or ask you for a candy?” Baekhyun lets himself be guided toward their seats as Chanyeol makes his best not to roll his eyes, “I’m actually the one who is proud,” Chanyeol eyes his friend, the pink lips turning into a smile, “you got an offer, Chanyeol. I believe we will still have to wait for a real contract but… you will be able to debut. The world will see your clothes, your talent.”

They are close to their seats but Chanyeol is actually not thinking about them anymore, his mind occupied by a teasing smile and bright dark eyes.

“I… yeah. Thank y-”

“Don’t thank me, I have done nothing except being your doll for the day,” Baekhyun is the one who leads the way now and, before Chanyeol can say anything, he adds, “and it didn’t bother me that much. I hated the way this man looked at me but you...” he lowers his voice, “you look at me with pride so, I don’t mind when it’s you.”

Chanyeol must say something, he knows he has to answer but, instead, he just lets the rough fingers pull him, Baekhyun’s happy grin enough to disturb him again when they find their seats.

“Ha! Perfect! If a model falls into the false pond over there, we will have an ideal view.”

Chanyeol almost hopes one does just to please Baekhyun, the toothy smile enough for him to go through this day.

***

Unfortunately for Baekhyun, nobody fell into the pond, all the models standing proud in their haute couture clothes.

They are chatting about the possibility of pushing someone – accidentally of course – in the said pond when Chanyeol stiffens, knowing only too well the figure making her way toward them.

Baekhyun just has the time to stop speaking to give the taller and interrogating look when the familiar woman stands tall in front of them in her simple pink colour gown with a matching hat, cropped bracelet length sleeve and critical eyes.

“Seulgi.”

The name itself feels taboo, Chanyeol’s tongue heavy in his mouth. He expected – feared – the woman’s presence at the catwalk yet, he still went. He still took a chance and lost.

“Chanyeol.” His name sounds like an insult and the taller cannot really blame her, wanting to dig a hole in the perfect floor for himself and his guilt. Maybe he will need to dig a very big one then. “I didn’t expect you here. You really have no shame.”

“I...”

“No, don’t. I’m not even interested if you’re about to apologise again.” The cold tone is laced with venom and Chanyeol lets his eyes fall to the floor, “I’m not interested in anything you have to say.”

“And yet you’re the one who came to us,” begins Baekhyun, a vicious smirk on the lips, “did you just come to admire his work then? I can understand if you don’t want to hear his voice, he is loud sometimes.”

Seulgi frowns, still looking at Chanyeol, “Is he the one everyone has been speaking about? How much did you pay him for pretending you’re the one who made the clothes?”

She outright ignores Baekhyun, just like the thought of giving him attention was more galling to her than looking right at the man who hurt her a year ago.

“So you expected us here if you have heard of me,” reluctantly, with a slight stiffening of her posture, Seulgi turns toward his friend, showing clearly her annoyance at being interrupted, “I’m Byun Baekhyun by the way. I’m sorry, but I’m not hypocrite enough to say it’s a pleasure to meet you.”

“And why is that? Has Chanyeol spoken ill of me? I’m not really surprised he...”

“Oh, he didn’t need to, I made my own opinion on you after the scandal,” Baekhyun’s smile is almost sweet now, like if he was talking about how nice the weather is, “and turns out some articles are in favour of Chanyeol, saying you made up the rumours about clothes stealing yourself because you were afraid of his talent.”

The taller is left dumbfounded, not expecting the conversation to take this turn. He wasn’t even aware that articles defending him were published. He wasn’t even aware that Baekhyun searched for them.

Seulgi’s skin tone is almost as pink as her gown now, clearly nonplussed by Baekhyun’s statement, “I’ll let you know, Mr. Byun, that it doesn’t change the fact I was slapped by this man.” She straightens her dress, her hips flattered by the delicate fall of a wide band of black feathers at knee height, the gesture enough to remind them how delicate she is in the outfit. Chanyeol feels the guilt eating him up. “I will make sure not to anger him if you don’t want to go home with a black eye.”

“You sound exactly like one of those bitches in bad TV shows, you know? The ones who are here just to create shit?” Baekhyun’s tone is so serious that Seulgi doesn’t reply right away, probably not expecting this answer. “Chanyeol has done you wrong but, actually, I don’t give a fuck and I will probably have a difficult night ahead of myself to convince him otherwise so thanks.”

“Mr. Byun, I don’t...”

“I’m not interested in anything you have to say.” Baekhyun quotes with a sugar-coated smile, “We will take our leave now. Goodbye and let’s not see each other again.”

The rough fingers take him away from Seulgi, from the catwalk, from the false pond and even falser flowers scent, Baekhyun’s leading him out in the open where the air full of pollution hits him, loud honks and wet macadam bringing him back to Paris.

He lets his eyes fall on the death grip Baekhyun has on his hand, wondering where his friend can get all that strength from, whether it is in his arm or in his words. Subtle sentences turning into harsh weapons while Chanyeol was left on the side, unable to stand for himself.

He frees his hand from Baekhyun, halting in the middle of the street where people give them curious look, probably wondering why two Asians were not wearing coats, their skins left red in the chilly air.

“Baek…” the concerned man turns toward him, the black skirt flitting around like an angry cloud, ready to burst into a storm, “I know you are angry.”

“Of course I’m fucking angry!” he shouts, “This bitch doesn’t even know what you went through this year! She came here, in her fucking candy-pink dress and high heels, to make this important day for you turn into a regret.” Baekhyun wraps his arms around himself, clearly shivering even if the taller cannot tell if it’s in anger or cold, “I swore to myself I’ll let you talk, I’ll let you speak for yourself because you deserve it, you can do it, you...” he halts himself, closing his eyes an instant, “but this bitch was too much and please, don’t hate me for speaking in your stead because I don’t regret it.”

Chanyeol takes his jacket off to put it on his anger-devoured friend, his arms wrapping around the slender figure, Baekhyun’s head falling naturally on his shoulders. “It’s cold. Let’s get back to the hotel.”

“Chanyeol, I’m...”

“I’m not angry at you, Baek. I’m actually surprised of how short the conversation with Seulgi was,” he offers a tiny smile to Baekhyun, the smaller probably feeling the shape of it against his neck, “I was ready to take blow after blow but you just… ended all of it right away.”

“Someone told me once: the only way to deal with bitches; don’t talk to the bitches. It works pretty well.”

Chanyeol nods, shivering from head to toes but not necessarily out of cold. No, Baekhyun’s body is keeping him warm, protected against the wind and everything Paris throws at him. Everything except Byun Baekhyun himself, a storm that no city is ready for.

***

Baekhyun still has his make-up on and doesn’t seem in a hurry to remove it, laying on Chanyeol’s bed with his face almost glued to the computer’s screen, watching a film they randomly chose on Netflix. The images are a blur in front of Chanyeol and he wonders an instant why, both of them wanting to settle for a calm French film an hour ago – with Korean subtitles, of course.

“Baek?”

“Hum?”

“What are we watching again?”

A grumble and the smaller turns his head toward him, cheek pressed against his hand like a smashed potato, making the former model smile. “I actually have no idea,” he blinks slowly, “but it has robots in it.”

The taller doesn’t question it and simply hums, Baekhyun having wiped off some of the black eyeshadow on his hand.

“Let’s get that make-up off your face.”

Baekhyun doesn’t respond and just nods when Chanyeol searches for a cotton and make-up remover, returning to the bed with a bounce and a smile. The smaller just frowns at the product, eyeing it distrustfully.

“It won’t bite you,” Chanyeol says as the dark eyes try to burn holes right through the innocent cotton and cleaning product,“I promise.”

Hands resting primly in his laps, Baekhyun sleepily nods and closes his eyes, the black eyelids less intense in the late evening, powder shading off with time. Carefully, Chanyeol lets the cotton slide down the eyes, the cheeks, the nose, voluntary putting too much cleaning milk to see his friend pouts, blindly surging forward to hit Chanyeol on the shoulders.

“When I can open my eyes I swear to god...”

“You swear what?” prompts the taller, a wide smile on the lips, “You’re always making threats but with me, you’re too gentle. You never do anything.”

This earns him a sigh.

“I miss the time when you were afraid of my glare,” Chanyeol presses the cotton a bit harder on the eyelashes, black mascara not wanting to get off, “good times. Really good times.”

“I still am… sometimes.” He wipes off the last bit of make-up until Baekhyun’s skin is left naked, eyes gentler now, softer. “But only when I know you’re serious.”

“Am I serious now?”

“No,” Chanyeol smiles and lets his hand fall on his own laps, “you’re not. I think you already spent your whole murderous glare on Seulgi today.”

The former model doesn’t want to think about her anymore, but he cannot help the words leaving his mouth, always quicker than his mind. Still, his friend’s expression doesn’t change, eyes soft even with the mention of the bitch’s name.

“You’re right, I’m becoming too gentle with you or maybe...” the voice trails off an instant, the robots fighting – definitely not a French film – in the background keeping them both awake, “maybe it’s just, I’m soft here. I don’t know if you realised but… I feel good here… I feel good with you here.”

Chanyeol gulps, willing his heart to calm down, mouth firmly shut to not utter something he shouldn’t even think of. He breathes in, breathes out, the dim light of the room making Baekhyun’s appearance soft, milky thighs on display in his shorts. There is no silver shapes on the right leg anymore but, if the taller concentrates enough, he still can see them. He wants to.

“It’s… you’re sleeping well.” Baekhyun gives him a look, “I mean, I think you would feel the same way with anyone. You’re in Paris, far from your studies and everything… you don’t have eyes bags under your eyes anymore… I think it’s the holidays. Not me. You’re sleeping well.”

The smaller observes him intently, his dark eyes focusing on the shape of his eyes, nose, lips before moving back to his eyes, Chanyeol gulping down his emerging nervousness.

“You’re still nervous about my glare,” Baekhyun smiles sleepily, “but not for the same reasons anymore.” He turns his head away to pause the film, the fighting noises stopping right away, Chanyeol left with the silence of the room and his noisy thoughts, “Let’s go to sleep, Chanyeol.”

Baekhyun pushes the covers away and flops on the bed, tugging one of the cream cushion under his head, dark eyes set on the taller.

“Hum… I will sleep in your room?”

“Don’t be stupid and come here. We’re both tired.” Baekhyun mumbles and closes his eyes, leaving Chanyeol dumbfounded. He nods, once, twice – even if no one can see him – before going under the covers, still surprised by the genuine offer.

He falls asleep while observing Baekhyun’s sleeping form, wondering what it would feel like to fall asleep next to his friend every other nights.

***

Their last days in Paris passed in a blur and Chanyeol is confused when they have to take the plane again.

Baekhyun is scrolling through his phone, reading about the homework his friend – Yixing or Kyungsoo, Chanyeol doesn’t know – sent him, a foot already back in Korea, where Bacon, his studies and everything else awaits him.

The former model bites on his bottom lip as he looks up, the screen of their gate still having the same message as five minutes ago: ‘boarding in waiting’, just like him, waiting for something to happen. For life to resume where he left it, before Paris, before this week with Baekhyun.

Suddenly a flight attendant announces the boarding of the business class and it’s like a wake-up call for Chanyeol, sitting upright so suddenly that he startles the old lady sitting next to him. He apologises quickly before turning toward the smaller, face relaxed despite the early morning.

“Baek,” Chanyeol should really think before speaking, but he doesn’t have time. He doesn’t know exactly why he feels that way, but he doesn’t have time, “tell me we won’t lose what we gain here in Paris”.

An inquisitive look from Baekhyun makes him speak faster, “I don’t want to go home with us just being neighbours.”

“And what do you want?” the smaller asks carefully, his voice awake even if the rest of his body appears asleep, this impression not lasting when Baekhyun stands upright, dark eyes more alert than Chanyeol would have thought, “Tell me, Yeol.”

“I… Yeol?” Chanyeol blinks, “You called me Yeol?”

The people around them are moving toward the gate, excited children running in front of their exhausted parents while the both of them stay where they are, like two stones going against the flow of the stream, solid, unwavering.

“Well, it’s only fair since you call me Baek,” he offers a pretty smile to Chanyeol, bright in the morning hours, “we’re not just neighbours. We evolved on the friendship’s scale, remember?” after a thought, Baekhyun puts his hand on Chanyeol’s “Come on, we have a plane to take.”

“Yeah… I...” he frowns, “no.”

“No?” Baekhyun quirks an eyebrow.

“I want to try something first.” He closes his eyes an instant, “Please, don’t be mad at me. You’re allowed to call me rude afterwards through.”

He opens his eyelids in time to see Baekhyun’s perplexed face before leaning in, the dark-brown eyes blowing wide with surprise as Chanyeol finally kisses the pink lips in the middle of an airport, in the middle of his own world. As cliché as it sounds in his mind, the lips are soft against his and, while Baekhyun is unresponsive at first, Chanyeol can feel, slowly, very slowly, his friend answering his kiss, the grip on his hand stronger now. He deflates with relief and tips over a bit, Baekhyun arms catching him.

“It was rude not to ask me, indeed,” Baekhyun begins, lips shining a bit, “but I’m not mad. I’ll be though if we miss our plane.”

“You...you’re okay with kissing me?”

“I’m okay with whatever you want if we go now to take our plane.”

“And what about a date when we’re back to Korea?”

Baekhyun rolls his eyes and keeps Chanyeol’s hand in his to make him move forward, “Yes, whatever, let’s go.”

“Can we be boyfriends?”

Chanyeol.

***

“I didn’t screw everything, right?”

Baekhyun is the one at the window this time, the endless blue sky reflecting in his eyes. This left the taller wondering how the dark eyes would look with blue contacts in them, his mind already searching new looks to try on his friend in spite of Chanyeol’s intention not to let himself be devoured by fashion. He grips his armrest. Baekhyun will keep him in check, he knows it (“Don’t worry, you will not become a dick again if you debut. I’ll make sure of it.”)

“If you’re speaking about the kiss, Chanyeol, no, you didn’t.” Baekhyun turns toward him, head falling backward on the seat, “I was thinking about it myself actually. I’m still not sure if… if we will work out,” he points between them with his index, “but, I’m willing to try. Although, I will be honest, I may be difficult to be with most of the time. Bacon is coming first, then my studies, then you.”

“I didn’t ask for more,” with a glance, the taller silently asks if he can hold his white hand and Baekhyun nods, sliding his rough fingers around his, the contact making Chanyeol shudder a little, “I’m actually happy with the third place, it means I’m on the podium at least.”

“Actually, I think I will put your coffee on the podium instead of you, and maybe your cooking in fourth and-”

Chanyeol pulls on their liked hands to shush Baekhyun with a kiss, just like in the films, feeling the teasing smile against his lips. It’s nothing more than a quick peck, but it’s enough to reassure him, to appease the fear in his stomach telling him maybe it was a bad idea. And even if it’s enough, it’s not for Baekhyun, who moves back a little before kissing him again, longer this time, pulling Chanyeol’s upper lip between his.

A grunt from an old man separates them but does not make Baekhyun lose his smile, “You’re still coming after the coffee.”

“I can live with that.”

***

Chanyeol doesn’t know who is happier: Bacon seeing Baekhyun or Toben seeing Baekhyun. Even if it’s not of real importance because he feels completely betrayed anyway.

“What about me?” he whines, his two luggage forgotten on the side, just like himself by his own dog. He cannot believe Toben ran toward Baekhyun first, leaving Chanyeol – his real master, his real dad – behind, the ungrateful puppy not sparring him a look. The taller pouts.

Sehun just shrugs while a tall and attractive stranger standing next to him, all smiles, “I’m sure your dog is happy to see you but it’s just his pride speaking.”

Chanyeol blinks, “And you are?”

“My name is Yixing,” he smiles again, dimples appearing on his cheeks this time, “I’m the one who took care of Bacon’s dog.”

“You mean Baekh-...”

“Yixing, for the last time, it’s pronounced Baekhyun!” the Welsh corgi in his boyfriend’s arms barks in agreement and the pink lips form a smile, peppering his dog’s head with kisses.

“Whatever,” Sehun begins, “Chanyeol, we will have to speak about the articles about you in Paris, some people are getting crazy here in Korea and-”

Chanyeol kneels down – completely ignoring Sehun – to face his dog, his puppy bigger than a week ago. Unless it’s his mind speaking but the former model truly missed his poodle. The black eyes look right at him and Chanyeol opens his arms in invitation. Toben huffs and turns around, facing the wall.

“Come on, I will give you a cookie at home,” this got the attention of Toben and, slowly, the puppy makes his way toward him, practically running on the last centimetres and the giant laughs when he can wrap his hands around his poodle. “I missed you too.”

Toben licks his cheek as Chanyeol smiles, ignoring Sehun, ignoring the whole airport in favour of his dog. He missed his sandpaper tongue and the proud attitude. He missed home.

***

The light of the corridor burnt his eyes and Chanyeol swears to start a petition alongside Baekhyun to complain about them – and about the doorbell too – but that’s not his priority now.

Now he should finish with the coffee of each of his friend, sprawled over his couch like they belong there. While Chanyeol has no problem with Baekhyun doing it – even Yixing could be doing it, he wouldn’t care, the man nice enough – he is frustrated by Sehun lack of good sense, even more so since Minseok joined them a few minutes ago, his boss giving his best friend the stink eye for taking half of the couch, making the blond smile happily.

The last drop of coffee falls in the new cup he bought in Paris – it has the Eiffel Tower on it alongside some flowers – and he puts it on his plate with the other cups, all of them different; different shapes, colours, provenance. With, of course, different coffee in them. Different coffee for different friends, all important in various ways.

The chatter in the living room is agitated and Chanyeol makes his way toward them, careful in his step with the plate, and finally sits down as a burning debate takes place.

“We are watching TV reality show in this apartment over my dead body,” Baekhyun states, dark glare not leaving Sehun even when he takes his café au lait, “many studies show that reality shows can harm people by influencing a person’s cognitive performance,” his boyfriend sends him a small smile as he blows on his coffee, his stare on Sehun the second after, “even if I think your brainpower is already affected beyond repair.”

What?!” Sehun shrieks, “I will let you know...”

“Oh Chanyeol, this coffee is really good,” Yixing says happily, gentle eyes on his mug while Sehun keeps babbling nonsense to an unaffected Baekhyun, Minseok visibly having fun at the younger’s expense. “I understand now why Baekhyun is always going to your café.”

“Always?” Chanyeol asks, surprised, “I thought he came only once or twice.”

Vivi passes in front of him to get a ball – a blue one – for Toben, who, once again, gave his to Bacon. It doesn’t matter how intelligent his poodle can be, in front of Bacon, he is stupidly in love and stupid tout court.

Yixing’s discrete laugh brings him back to the conversation, “No, he enjoys studying there and… the workers there.” He sips on his coffee, his calm demeanour in complete contrast with Sehun’s and Baekhyun’s passionate debate, Chanyeol catching the words ‘fuck you’ and ‘brainless model’ here and there. “Actually, one worker. Even through Baekhyun didn’t like you at first, he couldn’t help himself but find you attractive. He was, after all, really into fashion a few years ago.”

Chanyeol wants to kiss Yixing. “I fucking knew it! He knows too many things!”

Minseok is petting Vivi and Sehun is now directing his speech toward his nemesis, far from happy that ‘your dirty hands are on my baby!

“Well, it changed after a few years, when he realised how superficial he was becoming and how much money he was spending on clothes. You know he doesn’t have much, right?” Chanyeol nods while Yixing seems to think about the past, the subject of their conversation now laughing at something Minseok said, eyes crinkling and mouth half-hidden behind his hand, “Now he doesn’t even spare money for gloves and his fingers are always dry.” A fond smile, “but well, I prefer him like this. He has found his path and I’m sure he will make a great doctor.”

“You know a lot about him,” Yixing nods once again, eyes seeming naturally sleepy, “I hope we can become great friends in the future.”

“Because I will be able to tell you a lot about your boyfriend?”

The teasing is evident in his voice and, while Chanyeol is starting to blush, he can also see why Yixing and the smaller are friends, “Not only, I like to befriend nice people,” this makes Yixing beam “and now that I think about it… you pronounced Baekhyun’s name correctly!”

Yixing laughs again, “Yes, I’m calling him Bacon just to annoy him. He still didn’t notice it’s on purpose and this has been going on for years. Your boyfriend is intelligent Chanyeol, but only that much.”

The taller laughs and wants to answer but Sehun frustrated cry interrupts him.

“I hate the both of you! Vivi is the only one who truly loves me here anyway!”

The said dog is still in Minseok’s lap, apparently not understanding the situation but totally cool with it, happily letting himself be petted.

Chanyeol interrupts them, “Guys, let’s watch a film, yeah?”

Sehun huffs, “Okay, but only if it’s The Devil Wears Prada.”

“Oh my god, no more fashion please...” begins Baekhyun and Chanyeol knows, at this very moment, that the evening is going to be longer than planned.

***

After watching Doctor Strange – the only film everybody agreed to watch, or at least Baekhyun and Sehun, the other three too tired to even care – all of Chanyeol’s friends head home, all of them except Baekhyun, staying behind to help him wash the cups and the cutlery – bought in France – they used for diner.

As Chanyeol puts soap in the lukewarm water, Baekhyun sighs slowly, “You know, I’m convinced now that Sehun is an idiot.”

“After tonight, I won’t even argue in his favour,” he smiles, “did you enjoy yourself at least?”

Baekhyun hums, searching for a towel to dry the dinnerware “Yeah, very. I’m not looking forward to the beginning of my semester. I won’t have so much time to do things like this, hanging out with friends, even if Sehun is among them.” Chanyeol washes a first mug and gives it to the smaller, “You… you know this, right? I won’t be fun to be around for a few months. And I’ll be even worse during the exam period… you know, right?” Baekhyun carefully asks, caressing the mug with care, side-glancing at him, “Hum?”

“Give me the mug next to you, please.”

“Chanye-”

“I know Baek,” he smiles softly and, if his hands weren’t soiled with dirty water, he would have ruffled the black hair. “It’s okay, really. I come after the coffee, remember?”

His boyfriend’s glare is back though it’s not on purpose, Chanyeol decides when Baekhyun sighs, his hands fumbling with the towel, “You… you’re more important than the coffee.”

“Really?” Chanyeol’s smile turns cocky, “Tell me more.”

“Oh shut up.” Baekhyun rolls his eyes, “Hurry up with the dishes so we can go to bed.”

“Together?”

“I’m regretting everything right now.”

Chanyeol laughs – not too loudly, Bacon and Toben sleeping side by side on the couch – and hugs Baekhyun who yelps when his sweater gets soaked. “I will stay by your side, don’t worry. We have many things to figure out, about our future, about us but… I’m confident,” he feels his boyfriend grumbling against his shoulders and, after a short moment, the small hands are around his waist. The taller’s smile widens. “I know we will learn more about each other. For instance, today I learnt that you used to like fashion.”

“Oh my god, I’m going to kill Yixing!” Baekhyun tries to free himself from Chanyeol’s embrace but fails as the taller pushes him against the counter, laughing. “Yeol, this is not funny!”

“It is, it really is.”

They keep arguing in ushered tone, careful not to wake up their puppies and Chanyeol truly thinks everything will go smoothly from there on. And even if it doesn’t, it’s okay too. It’s okay because a certain someone with a teasing smile will be there at the end of the day to cheer him up, in his black sweater, dishevelled hair and bottomless eyes.

They finally go to bed – together (“It’s only because I’m too tired to search for my key! Also, I don’t want to wake Bacon up… do you think our dogs are together by the way?”) and falls asleep rapidly, their journey in Paris over but not the one in Seoul.