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For the rest of the week, every time Lay calls for daddy, a shiver of dread runs down Baekhyun’s and Chanyeol’s spines. She calls them equally and she sounds pretty much the same on every occasion, without any distinct sign for each of them. She is always very sure about which one of them she’s calling though. Sometimes, Chanyeol has to call Baekhyun from the kitchen where he’s cooking, and other times, Baekhyun has to fetch Chanyeol from the study where he is composing. It feels awkward for both, no matter how many times they do it. They have yet to find a way to explain it to her.

If they’re all in the same room, they have to look at her to figure out which one she is calling, and then they always exchange a mirroring awkward gaze, which the child can’t understand. The chosen one answers the little girl, while the other blushes and wishes to disappear, each for their own reasons. But they don’t even think of changing habits; Chanyeol is still sleeping in Baekhyun’s bed, Baekhyun is still cooking dinner for three. No matter how uncomfortable this predicament makes them feel, they don’t want to change their sweet little reality, and that’s an unspoken consensus between them.

Every time she calls them, they don’t notice that their behavior encourages Lay to call them both ‘daddy’ more often. In her head, it is progress that they’re both learning to respond accordingly; it’s much more convenient that way. They don’t notice that their awkward gazes last too long to be simply flustered. They both have words that need to be said lingering on the seam of their lips, and it takes just those moments to hesitate and keep silent. They don’t notice that the one who is not busy with the child looks longingly at the other. Not because of jealousy, but because they wish that the moment wasn’t stolen, that they could enjoy its warmth without any guilt or insecurities.

It’s late on Friday evening, and Baekhyun hopes to avoid the routine tantrum; Lay doesn’t like having her nails cut and she makes sure to cry and scream her dislike loud enough for the neighbors to hear, but it needs to be done. At least the task has become more bearable ever since Chanyeol joined his team.

Baekhyun watches from the side after cleaning up the bathroom swiftly, waiting silently while Chanyeol is dressing Lay in her pink baby doll, finishing up her after-bath routine. He loves fawning over his daughter, but sometimes he likes giving Chanyeol a moment with her even more. Lay keeps squirming and babbling things, having a long discussion with the man hovering over her, giggling or laughing whenever Chanyeol pecks her cheeks or nuzzles her tummy playfully. They are both glowing contentedly, basking in each other’s attention. Chanyeol’s fingers are magnetized by her, always busy touching her; Baekhyun knows from experience how cuddly his daughter is after a bath, and he smiles widely, watching Chanyeol fall under her spell.

Lay is cooperative and agreeable when Chanyeol scoops her in his arms, but her expression turns confused and then anxious when he leads her to the corner of the bathroom by the sink instead of her room. He half-sits on the marble counter, just enough to have space in his lap to settle her. She gives him a betrayed look, which sits very funnily on her small features.

“Mochi, I know you know what’s going on” Chanyeol tells her in a serious yet soft voice. Baekhyun moves closer unnoticed, since Lay and Chanyeol have eyes only to stare at each other sternly. He has to suppress a laugh when Lay hides her little hands between her legs and shakes her head in denial, still looking at Chanyeol straight in the eye. This is usually the point when all the screaming and stubborn fighting starts. Baekhyun braces himself with patience and determination.

Then, unexpectedly, Chanyeol tilts his head to the side and pouts at her.

“Please?” he pleads, blinking at her cutely –Baekhyun’s eyes widen is surprise momentarily and his heart throbs. He is guilt-tripping her into cooperating? Lay fidgets a bit and glances at Baekhyun uncertainly. She is visibly torn between the fear of cutting her nails and her consideration for Chanyeol. She keeps looking at him guiltily and Chanyeol’s hand, which is wrapped around her back, starts rubbing her sides gently. “Give your hand to daddy” he says calmly, and Baekhyun gets ready. Chanyeol can smooth talk anyone into anything –but he’s too scared to cut Lay’s nails by himself, believe it or not. She pouts, her eyes never leaving Chanyeol’s, but she lifts a trembling little hand, offering it uneasily…to Chanyeol.

A long moment of frozen silence passes.

Why, honeycomb?

Lay blinks confusedly when Chanyeol doesn’t take her hand as she had expected; if you ask her, she is doing exactly what she’s been told like a good girl, giving her hand to daddy. It’s her new pet name for Chanyeol. Baekhyun wails internally.

He exchanges a look with Chanyeol, who looks just as panicked and apologetic as the first time it happened. He looks so lost that Baekhyun’s protective side pushes him into action. He takes Lay’s hand wordlessly, flashing a fleeting, reassuring smile at them both, before he starts clipping her nails. That fleeting smile needs words, he can’t help but think. I need to tell him. Lay looks wary and frightened tears are welling in her eyes, but she is brave enough not to cry. Chanyeol unfreezes gradually and he starts petting her and mumbling encouragements, keeping her peaceful while Baekhyun works. Lay mumbles a few things too, but Baekhyun stays silent until they finish.

“Thank you, honeycomb” he coos, taking her in his arms. She hugs him tightly, burying her face against his neck and mumbling sleepily. Baekhyun hugs her closer, his heart melting and his head swarming with thoughts.

After they put her to sleep they exchange very few words, Chanyeol showers first and goes to bed, looking just as thoughtful as Baekhyun. He falls asleep soon so, by the time Baekhyun finishes showering and gets into bed, Chanyeol is already asleep, curled on his side, facing away from Baekhyun. His feet are a little cold without Chanyeol near him, but Baekhyun gets little sleep that night either way –thank god tomorrow is Saturday. To be honest, he had expected his insomnia, so he doesn’t even pretend to be attempting to find sleep, he doesn’t toss and turn. He lies on his back under the covers, counting Chanyeol’s breaths, wide awake and staring at the ceiling, using it as an imaginary canvas to unravel his thoughts, which are all about the recent ‘daddy’ phenomenon.

At first, Baekhyun thought his daughter is confused. She spends a lot of time with Chanyeol and Baekhyun is the only other person she sees so much, which must mean Chanyeol is like another daddy, right? Moreover, whenever they are all together, they do things as a family, so maybe she’s only trying to find a place for Chanyeol in that context. Or maybe, she is trying to tell him something; that she wants Chanyeol to be part of the family, because it feels more complete and fun and safe that way. There is no way Baekhyun can deny the love between the man and his daughter –and truthfully, there is no way he can deny his love for the man either. He thinks of the time they’ve spent together, Lay, Baekhyun and Chanyeol. How can he explain to his daughter that this is wrong, when it feels so right for him too?

By the time day breaks, Baekhyun’s eyelids are heavy and his head hurts a little. Chanyeol stirs after a long time, throwing one arm over Baekhyun’s middle section and finally crawling closer in his sleep, sharing some of his warmth. Baekhyun falls asleep then, having made up his mind.

---

The next morning, Baekhyun takes them to the park. It’s unusual for Baekhyun to suggest they leave the comfort of their house on a Saturday morning, the laziest of them all, but Chanyeol cooperates without any protest, except for a surprised quirk of his eyebrow. He knows Baekhyun too well to miss his unexpectedly joyful mood today but he chooses to enjoy it without any remark. Lay is delighted once she realizes they’re going out; Chanyeol dresses her and prepares her bag of necessities while Baekhyun prepares the rest downstairs, remembering to throw into the bag a few toys for her, a bottle of water and, of course, snacks. The weather is sunny and comfortably warm outside, birds chirping in the trees and fluffy, light clouds travelling in the sky up above.

Baekhyun is in a very bright mood, humming under his breath while driving them to their destination. Abandoning his pillow so early on a Saturday is considered high treason, but just look at him doing it so willingly; some things in life might never be explained. Chanyeol seems to be feeling a little uncharacteristically lazy today though, hiding behind a large peach sweater over his black jeans. He doesn’t complain at all, however, gazing at the view from the passenger’s seat; he’s more quiet and thoughtful than usual, which clashes with Baekhyun’s cheerful mood here and there, but the latter finds him so cuddly-looking today, with his pastel, oversized sweater and ruffled black hair, that he can’t hold anything against him. Besides, he’d been sharing Chanyeol’s mood for the past week, so it makes sense to him; if anything, it’s his own inexplicably high spirits that he can’t understand.

He takes them to the same spot Chanyeol took them a while ago, when Baekhyun was feeling under the weather. They settle under the same tree, the scenery looking nearly the same, except for the people who have gathered in the park this time. It’s much more lively today, with families having picnics and children playing on the grass, with puppies having their morning walkies in the park and couples strolling in the sunlight. It’s a beautiful day to be out and about, and Baekhyun feels very content to be here, sitting under the shade and basking in the summer breeze, with Chanyeol sitting beside him and Lay playing close to them. It’s almost as nice as cuddling with Chanyeol in bed in the early morning sunlight. Baekhyun feels feather light today, his smile never leaving his lips.

In spite of being more timid than usual, Chanyeol still plays with Lay’s ponies and does peek-a-boo with her, making her giggle every time. Baekhyun watches them, smiling from the sidelines; he feels all the more convinced he has come to the right decision since last night. When it’s snack time, he takes out the pieces of simple vanilla milk cake he has packed; it’s one of Lay’s favorites, because she’s allowed to eat a whole slice –since it doesn’t contain much sugar– and she can eat it without any help or spoons! She claps happily when she sees it, her eyes sparkling while nibbling on the small piece in her hands; Baekhyun and Chanyeol watch her for a while, with matching fond smiles on their lips. Even though there are two pieces of cake remaining in the container, they end up sharing both instead of picking one each for themselves. Lay returns to her toys and Baekhyun lies down, half on the tablecloth they’ve laid on the ground and half on the grass, enjoying the tender sunlight on his skin.

“Daddy!” Lay calls at some point, abandoning her toys and crawling near Baekhyun with a concerned frown, using his leg as a guide to find the rest of him. Baekhyun looks down at her instantly and Chanyeol stops staring at the horizon pensively and focuses on her too –it’s become a reflex by now, whenever she calls.

“What is it, honeycomb?” Baekhyun asks her, sitting up, and the little child shows him her hand, blinking up at him worriedly. Baekhyun takes her hand into his to examine it for any insect bites or cuts, and he finds a tiny little scratch on her pointer finger, which she got while playing near the grass. It’s probably annoying her more than causing pain, and Baekhyun inwardly sighs in relief. “Aww, it’s not so bad, is it?” he says with an optimistic smile, cleaning the scratch carefully with a baby wipe dunked in water. “There, it’ll be gone before you know it” he reassures her with a wide smile, returning her hand to her. Lay looks at it with her big eyes for a moment, and then she extends it to him again.

“Chu~” she sings with an expectant expression. Baekhyun squeals in his head; she looks so cute! Even Chanyeol’s lips curve into a smile.

“Of course I’ll kiss it better” he chuckles, bringing her small fingers to his lips and pecking them, to take away the pain. Lay lights up with a smile to thank him, and then, instead of crawling back to her toys to play, she shuffles closer to Chanyeol. She stares up at him, extending her ‘injured’ hand to him.

“What is it, mochi? It’s going to be all better soon!” Chanyeol reassures her smilingly, even though he looks a bit bewildered by her behavior. Lay tilts her head to the side, keeping her hand held out for him.

“Daddy, chu~” she asks, making puppy eyes at him. Chanyeol’s smile freezes on his lips, his whole body turning visibly tense. He glances up at Baekhyun awkwardly, not knowing what to do; he doesn’t want to disappoint the girl but he doesn’t want to discomfort Baekhyun either. Fortunately, Baekhyun doesn’t think the same on the subject as he did yesterday, and he has made up his mind; so he doesn’t return the awkward stare and the uncertainty. He nods at Chanyeol to go for it without hesitation, and the taller pecks the little girl’s fingers immediately after he gets permission –indirect kiss, indirect kiss, indire-stop it, brain! Chanyeol grins at the pleased girl, who mumbles something unintelligible and goes back to her toys happily. Chanyeol, on the other hand, sighs and his smile falls.

“I’m sorry, Baek. I feel really guilt for this” he apologizes quietly, lowering his eyes to the ground. His shoulders are dropped in resignation and his head hangs forward, a sad and apprehensive pout settling on his lips. He looks so miserable it breaks your heart. Baekhyun takes a deep breath to prepare; this is the moment he has been waiting for. He will finally say this.

“But I don’t mind” he says gently, looking at Chanyeol with a hopeful look, even though the taller doesn’t dare look at him. Please understand, Yeol. He should have said these words days ago. He really doesn’t mind. Even before he realized that Chanyeol is perhaps the only other person in the world who would deserve to be called her daddy, that he is a good person and a good daddy, that Baekhyun shouldn’t be fighting something he wants in the first place even though the circumstances are not ideal, he didn’t mind every time Lay called Chanyeol daddy. He was surprised but not upset; after the first few times, it even seemed natural to him. So, last night he decided he should finally tell Chanyeol; today. He doesn’t want this tension between them keeping them apart anymore, he doesn’t want Chanyeol to regret it because he thinks Baekhyun is offended, and he doesn’t want to make it stop; it suits Chanyeol just fine.

“That doesn’t make sense” Chanyeol mumbles stubbornly, frowning at his shoes. It would make sense if you looked at me! If you could understand how I look at you… If only Chanyeol could see how he’s the one making Baekhyun’s world colorful and bright and warm, a happy place to live in…

“It does…” Baekhyun insists, shuffling closer to Chanyeol until he is sitting right beside him. He leans forward and to the side, trying to bring himself in Chanyeol’s line of sight, even though the taller does his best not to look at him and keeps staring at the ground. Baekhyun wiggles ever closer and leans even further; he feels a bit ridiculous, like a puppy desperately seeking for its master’s face, but it’s worth it when Chanyeol finally glances at him and Baekhyun flashes a smile the moment they make eye contact. “…because it’s you” he says, his voice calm and his smile curling his lips to the point his eyesmiles appear.

“I don’t follow…” Chanyeol quirks his eyebrows in confusion, unconvinced and bewildered; he’s the fluffiest thing when he’s pouting like a child. He straightens his back and looks up at last, and Baekhyun unfolds himself from the uncomfortable position he had to keep until now, so he looks at Chanyeol in the eyes comfortably, his smile dimming to let his eyes open earnestly. He has Chanyeol’s full attention now and he’s going to say this right.

“There is no other person I’d rather she called daddy too, except for you” he says each word slowly and clearly, and he means them with all his heart. There is a moment of silence and he feels very open and vulnerable, but he doesn’t shy away and he keeps his gaze locked with Chanyeol’s. He observes the emotions on his face; confusion, surprise, shock, daze, hope, twinkles, relief, joy, happiness, smile, big smile. Baekhyun smiles too, happy, without any second thoughts. Chanyeol’s eyes suddenly glaze over, as if he’s about to cry.

“Baek…” he chokes past his smiling lips and in the next moment, Baekhyun finds himself tackled to the ground, coughing in surprise and staring at the tree leaves above them, with a very heavy Chanyeol sprawled on top of him.

“Ompf” he groans, but his smile doesn’t falter; on the contrary, he likes being suddenly swarmed with Chanyeol’s scent, feeling his warmth, holding him close as they lie on the ground and smiling in his hair. Chanyeol is excited, hugging Baekhyun so tight it’s almost hard to breathe with the added weight on his lungs and the vice grip around his middle section, and he is mumbling ‘sorry, thank you, thank you so much, thank you’ like a prayer on Baekhyun’s skin, nuzzling his face in the crook of Baekhyun’s neck. It tickles. Baekhyun pats Chanyeol’s broad back reassuringly, gleeful that the tension has finally disappeared between them –alongside with the concept of personal space. “If not you, who else?” he chirps, chuckling when Chanyeol gets even more shy and tries to hide even more in his neck.

---

It’s a Thursday. Nothing good ever happens on a Thursday. And on this particular Thursday, Baekhyun’s mother decided to surprise him with a visit.

Hell.

Nothing was prepared; the house was kind of messy because Lay had been very active today, the laundry was piled up because Baekhyun forgot to do it this afternoon, the fridge was nearly empty because they usually go shopping late on Thursday evenings, and Chanyeol was playing with Lay in the middle of the living room, turning her into an airplane. His mother couldn’t have picked a worse time to walk in.

They managed to tide up the common areas swiftly –two are much better than one for the job– and Baekhyun transferred the laundry pile to the study room, where she wouldn’t have a reason to step into. It wasn’t ten minutes after she had arrived that Lay called Chanyeol ‘daddy’ in front of her, so they had to explain that too –kind of. Chanyeol kept his eyes on the ground with a furious blush on his cheeks and Baekhyun very briefly mentioned that yeah, she calls Chanyeol daddy too sometimes, and that was the end of that story. Not their brightest moment. Anyway, his mother stayed for a while and ended up extending her visit to have dinner with them as well. Chanyeol managed to whip up a recipe with the bare essentials they had in the cupboards for dinner –he was the one to invite her, after all. Baekhyun swears that sometimes he’s too nice for his own good.

The food was impressively decent but dinner was horrible. His mother was very quiet or ironic, on the few times she opened her mouth to speak, she was glaring at Baekhyun across from her and he is sure she took a hundred mental notes while Lay was eating so that she can criticize him for his parenting skills later; he could see it in her eyes. Baekhyun felt very awkward when he was feeding her under the scrutiny of his mother’s hawk eyes. Chanyeol’s heroic efforts to make dinner more bearable for everyone, with agreeable conversation and polite remarks, all fell through. Baekhyun felt bad for him, watching his mother being mean to him, and yet Chanyeol never stopped trying; his smile faltered in disappointment a couple of times, but he renewed his optimism every time.

Baekhyun wanted the ground to open and swallow him whole.

“Baekhyun, can I have a word?” his mother asks from the living room, where she’s been watching Lay play while Baekhyun and Chanyeol were doing the dishes together. Baekhyun snarls at the sink; how can she be so rude? She’s practically excusing Chanyeol from the conversation, even though he doubts there is any real reason to do that. She just wants to make him feel like he doesn’t belong here, and who is she to do that in Baekhyun’s house? He is about to snap but a warm hand rests on his waist, and Baekhyun turns to Chanyeol, forgetting his ire momentarily.

“It’s okay, we’ll go play upstairs” he says calmly, looking into Baekhyun’s eyes reassuringly. Baekhyun blinks at him helplessly and opens his mouth to protest, because Chanyeol doesn’t really have to go –Baekhyun doesn’t want him to go– but Chanyeol’s other hand squeezes Baekhyun’s wrist to keep him quiet. “You know where to find us” he presses, giving him a good look. Baekhyun pouts and deflates like a defeated child; he gets the message. Behave. Chanyeol grins but Baekhyun returns puppy eyes at him; he has to try and be nice now, doesn’t he?

They happened to discuss Baekhyun’s relationship with his mother the other day, and how it’s a lot less than perfect after Lay came into Baekhyun’s life. Chanyeol seems to understand the cause of soreness between them, but he told him he really wishes that Baekhyun would find a way to improve things between him and his mother, because he thinks it’s worth the effort. It’s probably why he puts up with her too, in spite of her cold and rude behavior. How could Baekhyun refuse him when he knows Chanyeol lost his mother when he was young?

“Mochi~ let’s go read a story, hm?” Chanyeol chirps with a big smile, leaving Baekhyun to stand alone in front of the sink –why does it feel like gravity is changing the further away Chanyeol walks from him?–, and passing by his mother with a polite nod. His mother raises an eyebrow and watches him in disdain as he picks up Lay from the play mat, carrying the excited child to the stairs. Chanyeol is not deterred from Mrs. Byun’s reaction, and he keeps talking to Lay cheerfully. “We haven’t finished the princess and the swans, have we? Do you remember the swans? With their big, white wings…” his animated voice grows distant and disappears upstairs, leaving mother and son in absolute silence for a few long moments.

“He’s just like you” is the first thing she says, spitting it out like an insult –even though he can see nothing wrong with Chanyeol treating Lay as if she were his own beloved child. She looks at him with a familiar, judgmental look in her brown eyes, which Baekhyun chooses to ignore, in favor of being a better person. He looks back at her calmly.

“I wouldn’t think so” he says composedly. Unfortunately, he can’t agree with her entirely; they might be similar around Lay, in the way they act and think and make decisions, but Chanyeol is also different from him. How else would they manage to complete each other? But he doesn’t want to contradict her too strongly, and upset her to the point she’ll start badmouthing Chanyeol, because that will be the end of civilized behavior on his part as well. He will not allow anyone to speak ill of a person so important to him, who has done nothing but offer more than anyone could have ever asked for in the first place. His mother throws her arms in the air in frustration.

“And she calls him daddy! Daddy?! How could you, Baekhyun?” she accuses, walking closer. Baekhyun knew that accusation would be hurled at him at some point; she didn’t seem to like it when Lay called Chanyeol daddy the first time, nor the rest that followed, and she seemed very unhappy with his explanation too. She wouldn’t be happy no matter what he could have said; she’s hardly come to terms with Lay calling Baekhyun daddy, let alone anyone else. It’s not her decision to make, however, and Baekhyun won’t apologize for it. Her expression is a mixture of horror and disgust, and it’s already starting to touch sensitive nerves. The people who know you best can hurt you the most, and Baekhyun has found out about it the hard way. But he keeps himself under control; he promised Chanyeol he’d try to be nice.

“I don’t-”

“I know what sort of person you are, and I understand” she interrupts him, giving him a condescending look. Baekhyun gapes in confusion for a moment; is this about his sexuality again? How many times do they have to talk about him being a gay, single dad? She says she understands him every time, but she never shows it. And that superior look on her face is simply outraging. “Your father and I have accepted you, haven’t we? We let you live your life in any way you wanted. And when your sister decided to give you her daughter –heavens know why–, it was a shock for us…but we relented. The only thing we want for her is to be raised properly

“I am raising her properly!” he interjects, his voice getting louder in frustration. How could she even imply such a thing? Baekhyun is not only offended but also hurt, because it’s coming from his own mother. She glares daggers at him nonetheless.

“I think not, young man!” she yells back at him, and then she starts making her point with patronizing gestures and grimaces of disapproval, pacing around the space; no child should ever suffer through such criticism from their mother, and yet, for Baekhyun, this is not the first time it happens. “Look at you, struggling to make ends meet, cluelessly striving with parenthood! You have not raised children before; you can’t even hold your tears when she’s crying, like a weakling! And instead of accepting my offer to take Lay off your hands, to raise her like a lady, like I raised her mother, you’re being stubborn and ungrateful!” she jabs a finger in his direction and Baekhyun can feel it pierce through his heart. She always comes back to this.

“She trusted her with me!” he presses his fingers against his aching chest, pleading with his eyes that she will understand. No matter how many times he says this, how many times he cries and shouts, she never gets it. It was his late sister’s choice, for better or for worse; why can’t their mother accept it? It’s been more than a year and he still has to defend himself. “I’m always grateful for your help and your advice, but you need to understand that Lay is my child now. She knew I had no parenting experience and no great fortune, but she trusted me nonetheless!” he explains for the umpteenth time, his eyes stinging with tears. He knows he’s not perfect, but he’s doing his best, okay? He might never be perfect, but he’ll never stop trying either, because Lay deserves a good father and a good home and a good life. His mother scoffs and rolls her eyes.

“What did she know-”

“She knew I’d love this child!” he exclaims, tears finally overflowing and making his vision blurry and his breath uneven, but he doesn’t care. “She knew that I’d always smile at her when she wakes up and sing to her when she’s happy; that I’d always kiss her goodnight and watch over her dreams; that I’d hug her when she’s scared and cheer her on when she needs me; that I’d cry with her pain and teach her to be strong and kind; that I would give her a happy life, and that she’d feel safe and loved, always. She knew I’d love her and I do. It should have been a difficult choice to make, but she made it so easily, and maybe you and I and the rest of the world can’t understand it very well, but I trust her and I believed in her, and I will respect her choice to the last of my days” he brings a hand to his lips, sobbing quietly and feeling dizzy, but also proud of himself for saying this. He closes his eyes for a moment but he can’t find his composure, and he ends up choking on his breath, but his words come out loud and clear. “She is my daughter, mom”

If there’s one thing Baekhyun knows in his life, it’s that Lay is his daughter, his child.

“People like you don’t have children” his mother hisses, uncaring that he’s grasping on straws to keep from breaking down. It’s another blow, and Baekhyun feels his stomach turning with all its contents. People like him? He looks at his mother shocked and wounded, but she just goes on to say her part, to hurt him ever more. “Or did you think you could ever have one with that man you have upstairs? He’s living with you now, isn’t he? Are you sharing the same bed too? And your ‘daughter’, my grandchild, calls him daddy –good lord! You are entitled to your preferences, Baekhyun, but you are not allowed to ruin her life; what example are you giving her?” Okay, that’s enough. She can say anything she wants about him, but he will not tolerate her doubting the person he loves or the love Baekhyun is giving to his child every moment he is alive.

“My sister always knew exactly what ‘sort of person’ I am, and she never once considered it to be my fault” he snarls at his mother hostilely, even through his tears. She gives him a surprised look, and Baekhyun takes a breath to calm his blood rushing to his head dangerously; he’s gradually turning desperate. “She would never tell me to go against my heart. The example I’m giving her is a warm and loving home; Chanyeol adores Lay and he completes our happiness, if only you could see-”

“I don’t want to see!” his mother screams so loud that it echoes in the house. Baekhyun is stunned; she hasn’t shouted so loud in a while. She starts yelling at him, messing and pulling her hair in frustration, her eyes grazing over dangerously and the veins on the temples throbbing. “I want to see her, can you do that?! I want to see her smiling at her daughter, holding her, kissing her! I want to teach her how to raise her little girl and see my daughter as a happy mother; do you think anything else could mean such happiness to me?! No matter what you do and how much you love Lay, you’ll never be her. Nothing, no man or woman, can replace her; she was destined to complete this little child’s life the moment she became her mother” her hands are shaking and the first tears are rolling down her cheeks, anger and sadness mixing inside her into a bitter poison; she wants her child back. Baekhyun understands. What he cannot understand, is how she can be so cruel; there is one more child who needs her right in front of her, but she’s treating him like her worst enemy, and now she says “Why did it have to be her?” She covers her face with her hands, sobbing into her palms and collapsing on a chair.

Baekhyun feels like the world falls silent in that moment and an arrow pierces right through his heart.

“And what about me…?” he whispers under his breath, feeling so betrayed and helpless, like the ground has disappeared from under his feet and he’s left spinning out of orbit. His mother doesn’t hear him, naturally, and perhaps she needs a shoulder to cry on right now, but Baekhyun can’t stay here. He loves her but he can’t stay; because it feels like she doesn’t love him. He knows it’s not true but he can’t help but feel lightheaded and tired and stuffy, and there’s so much pain inside him. He has to go.

He can’t even see straight as he runs to the stairs, stumbling his way up with wobbly knees, and feeling so dizzy like he’s floating, but it’s not a good feeling. He feels like he might float away from everything he loves and it’s terrifying. He doesn’t know where he’s planning to go until he trips past the door to Lay’s room; his vision is unclear but he manages to make out Chanyeol, sitting on the floor, and Lay, playing with her toys by herself on the other side of the room. It’s hard to miss Chanyeol’s flinch when he sees Baekhyun approaching.

“Baek, is everything-” he starts, voice heavily laced with concern, but he doesn’t get to finish and Baekhyun doesn’t bother to answer something so obvious. He’s a wreck, broken and desperate and so dangerously close to disappearing into the void. He staggers to Chanyeol and collapses on him, his body feeling limp and heavy, but he still finds the strength to cling on him for dear life.

“Please, Yeol, please” he mumbles endlessly in between his sobs, tears staining Chanyeol’s shirt fast, as Baekhyun hides his face in Chanyeol’s neck. He breathes in as much of him as he can, his arms squeezing around Chanyeol’s shoulders and his fingers clutching any fabric of his clothes he can reach to keep him close. His thoughts are jumbled, his heart is beating frantically, and all he knows is that he has to hold on, he has to, he can’t let go. Chanyeol is shocked for a moment but then he mercifully wraps his arms around Baekhyun and settles him more comfortably in his lap. Baekhyun squirms closer, so close until there is no room for him to be scared, because Chanyeol is holding him and he won’t let him go. Chanyeol squeezes him tighter with every wave of Baekhyun’s hysteric cries. He feels horrible now, but if Chanyeol is holding him, Baekhyun knows he’ll be okay again.

“Shhh, I got you now” Chanyeol mumbles when Baekhyun quiets down a bit. He stops rocking him comfortingly and he gathers Baekhyun’s shaking body close; it makes Baekhyun feel safe and breathing gets easier. He clings to Chanyeol for comfort, staying impossibly close to him, and Chanyeol keeps him enveloped in his arms protectively. He kisses Baekhyun’s hair, his temple, his forehead, he strokes his back and rubs his shoulders, he caresses his arm, his knee, anything he can reach, and holds his hand. Baekhyun slowly melts in his embrace, feeling his sadness ebbing away. “I’m right here, it’s going to be okay” Chanyeol whispers to him, nuzzling his hair and squeezing him again. All his actions are very soothing, comforting and gentle; Chanyeol is so strong, doing his best to reassure Baekhyun, when his own heart is fluttering like a frightened caged bird inside his chest. Baekhyun can feel it against him. He’s not entirely coherent again, when he hears a timid childish mumble from behind him.

((Daddy, is daddy ouchie? Why is he crying? I’m sad, daddy))

“Oh my god, what am I doing?” he panics, hiding in Chanyeol’s chest to wipe his tears hastily. He has to turn his back to her and it feels awful. What sort of parent is he? He’s crying in front of his child and now she is distressed too. Baekhyun is cursing himself for his poor self-control and his weakness, but Chanyeol holds him so tight it’s almost impossible to move, and he brings one hand over the side of Baekhyun’s face, tucking it against his neck where it had been previously.

“It’s okay, mochi. Daddy is a little sad. Will you give him a hug?” he says calmly, over Baekhyun’s head. There’s shuffling noises behind him and Baekhyun worries more than ever that she is close when he’s so broken like this, his heart rate spiking through the roof.

“Chanyeol, she can’t see me like this” he whispers urgently, trying to fight Chanyeol’s iron hold. Chanyeol pulls back slightly but he doesn’t let Baekhyun run and hide as he’d have wished. Instead, he guides Baekhyun’s head so that he will look up at the taller, which is all but what Baekhyun wants to do; he looks horrible, inside and out, and he doesn’t want anyone to see him like this, certainly not Chanyeol and his child.

“Baek” Chanyeol calls softly, a gentle look in his eyes as he gazes into Baekhyun’s frightened and puffy ones. The warm hand which is cradling Baekhyun’s face moves to caress his damp cheek and then his hair. He brushes aside a few tufts of Baekhyun’s tussled hair; the gesture is comforting and intimate, and Baekhyun appreciates it beyond words. The gentle way he’s looking down at him, his soft touches…Baekhyun slowly relaxes, finding his balance again. “We love you when you’re sad, too” he says with a tiny smile, kissing his brow affectionately. Baekhyun closes his eyes and wishes to all the stars that he could keep this moment forever.

Then, he feels something soft landing in his lap, followed by little hands that push their way into their embrace. He looks down with Chanyeol and they find Lay, with big, watery eyes on the verge of tears, looking up at them as she climbs in the little space between them. She has brought her favorite teddy bear too, the cute brown one with the bowtie.

((Daddy, here is Mr. Brownie. You say he takes away tears and brings smiles. Don’t cry, daddy. You can hold Mr. Brownie; he’ll bring you a smile))

Lay offers Mr. Brownie to her tearful daddy, with an adorably pouty mumble. Chanyeol caresses her hair with a smile full of emotions and Baekhyun accepts the stuffed bear with shaking hands, keeping eye contact with her expectant, hopeful and a bit sad eyes. Lay never shares Mr. Brownie; it’s the only thing she keeps like treasure. And yet, she’s offering it to Baekhyun to comfort him. If that doesn’t make her an angel, Baekhyun doesn’t know what other wonderful being his child is.

“Thank you, honeycomb” he mumbles with a wobbly smile, kissing her hair reverently. The little child plants her face against them, trying to hold onto both of them and show them a more deeply felt kind of love than smiles and giggles. Baekhyun’s heart melts and he hugs her with one arm, keeping the other around Chanyeol, who is holding both him and Lay in his lap. Baekhyun is grateful to have them, to the ends of the world and back. He can’t doubt the feeling that he belongs here, that this is complete and perfect, it’s how it’s meant to be. He’s never felt safer and stronger than in this moment, and he squeezes them both in his hold, as hard as he can till he’s shaking. “I love you so much” he says, with new tears of appreciation slipping past his eyes. He means it for both of them.

Lay quietly mumbles something against his ribs, which is muffled by his shirt, and Baekhyun smiles, feeling Chanyeol kissing a tear from his cheek and then holding them even tighter. He doesn’t see his mother, standing by the door and watching them in tears of regret, because she only exchanges a look of understanding with Chanyeol, she mouths an silent apology and leaves, to come back another day and make up with her son, finally. To tell him that she loves him and she is happy for him. She even smiles at Chanyeol.

---


Baekhyun comes home after a decidedly long day at work. Numbers are swirling behind his eyelids every time he blinks and his feet are killing him from going up and down the stairs all day, because the elevator at the office broke; the building has ten floors. He is drained of all his energy, he feels sleepy and guilty, because Lay had to stay with Chanyeol all day today, and now his little munchkin is probably asleep and Chanyeol unfairly worn out. The giant deserves a golden statue in his honor, for putting up with Baekhyun for so long.

He opens the door and tiptoes inside, trying to make minimal noise as he unloads his briefcase, phone and keys, and takes his shoes off. All his effort to keep quiet is nearly ruined when Chanyeol appears at the doorway all of sudden, spooking Baekhyun out of his skin! He did not expect Chanyeol to be up and about; he thought he’d have crushed on the couch while waiting for Baekhyun, like it has happened a few –many– times in the past. But Chanyeol seems wide awake, dragging his feet as he emerges from the living room, with a blanket thrown around his shoulders like a superhero cape. Baekhyun swallows the unmanly scream that was about to rip its way out of his throat and sighs in relief, convincing his heart to slow down. Chanyeol gives him a small smile.

“Welcome back; did I scare you?” he asks in a quiet voice, scrutinizing Baekhyun’s pale complexion with concern; Baekhyun is sure his horror was written all over his face a moment ago, but he waves it off dismissively. He hopes his voice won’t crack and betray him, but that’s after he has already opened his mouth.

“I’ll be fine. Where’s Lay?”

“She’s already asleep” Chanyeol wears a small, proud smile on his lips, and Baekhyun smiles too, because the taller looks so cute when he feels accomplished over such small things. “I left the door to her room open, so you can go check on her…and then come down again” his smile turns playful at the end. Baekhyun’s heart stutters.

“Thank you, but I feel so tired” he whines and pouts miserably, hoping Chanyeol will spare him for tonight. “Can’t I just crush?” he asks, blinking up at the taller and pulling his best puppy face. Chanyeol shakes his head, still smiling unaffected. Baekhyun knew it, he should have gone for the I’m-dizzy-please-let-me-rest act; his puppy charm must be wearing off after all these years, it’s not very reliable anymore…

“I have ice cream” Chanyeol chirps. Baekhyun groans. Why did he have to lure him with ice cream? He knows he can’t resist ice cream. Which means he’ll have to go up the stairs and then down the stairs. This somehow translates to climbing mountain Everest in Baekhyun’s head. But he’s a daddy, and he can’t resist the urge to check on his sleeping angel before anything else. Chanyeol keeps showing him that wide, hopeful smile and Baekhyun is honestly too tired to fight with his convincing strategies, so he ends up mumbling things under his breath like a mopey child as he trudges his feet towards the stairs. Chanyeol doesn’t follow him upstairs but when Baekhyun checks over his shoulder, he sees the giant at the bottom of the stairs, smiling up at him with that same, hopeful smile. Baekhyun stops complaining and flashes him a tired smile. Oh, Yeol.

He first checks on Lay, making sure she is sleeping soundly and she’s tucked in securely, and he kisses her forehead. Then, he goes to his room and changes out of his work clothes, putting on a pair of blue pajamas and washing up quickly. He looks tired when he checks in the mirror, and he feels so tired that his brain skips a few warnings, like how he’s going to show this wondrous spectacle to Chanyeol. All his brain has to comment on the matter is oh well. When he goes downstairs, Chanyeol is no longer at the foot of the stairs but Baekhyun doesn’t have to search long for him either, because once he steps past the living room, Chanyeol comes to him with a smile, to sweep him and guide him by the shoulders to the dining table. Baekhyun doesn’t want to cooperate fully, so he drags his feet a little, but Chanyeol doesn’t complain. He places him on a chair and brings a big tub of ice cream, thawed to the perfect temperature, deposing it grandly on the table with two small spoons.

“You said you already had dinner, so…” he shrugs his shoulders with a little smile as he takes his seat across from Baekhyun, leaning over the table to get closer to the ice cream. When his butt is comfortable on a chair, with melted ice cream begging to be eaten under his nose and with a very cute Chanyeol in his pajamas across from him, Baekhyun doesn’t find the situation as bad as he did before. It’s actually kind of nice.

Chanyeol picks one of the spoons and scoops near the edge of the ice cream tub, getting all that melted, syrupy, yummy content, and even though there’s plenty for both, Baekhyun is quick to object.

“Hey, don’t eat my part!” he protests, picking his own spoon belatedly. Everybody knows the melted parts are his, they always have been! Baekhyun is prepared to spoon-fend with Chanyeol to reclaim his thawed nectar, but Chanyeol only chuckles at his childish behavior.

“I wouldn’t” he says with a sweet smile, waving the spoon in the air before bringing it to Baekhyun’s lips –so that’s what it feels to be airplane-fed… Baekhyun blinks at the spoon confusedly for a moment, but then his frown smoothes out completely and his pouting lips part, to let in the delicious, heavenly spoonful of bliss. Chanyeol is chuckling at him again when Baekhyun opens his eyes –you need to close your eyes to appreciate a good spoonful– and Baekhyun smiles, a little shy but mostly content. Chanyeol makes it a point to stab the frozen middle part of the ice cream, chipping a small section and keeping it in his mouth to thaw, showing exemplary behavior.

Like the good old days.

“Why do you remember these small things?” Baekhyun mumbles with a secretly sad smile, shaking his head and scooping another spoonful of melted ice cream with ease. He hopes it will help with the tugging feeling he has in his chest all of a sudden; because Chanyeol is so sweet and perfect, but not his. No matter how many days they spend together, no matter if they share a house and a mattress, no matter how much Baekhyun pretends in order to keep himself happy and his heart unscathed, they’re simply really great friends at the end of the day. Awesome friends who are raising a child together, yes. But Chanyeol is not Baekhyun’s in any other way that matters; and he probably never will be.

Baekhyun sighs wistfully under his breath. Of course he daydreams about it –has he done anything but that during the past three years?–, but he doesn’t stand a chance in vivo; he’s way below Chanyeol’s league to begin with, and he has a child too now. He is the epitome of ‘complicated’ and it’s just so easy for Chanyeol to have anyone he wants; there is no reason for him to even glance at Baekhyun that way, even if Baekhyun wished and prayed to marshmallows for it. Kyungsoo, Dr. Kim, Sehun –maybe Chen too– they’re all wrong to think Baekhyun can have Chanyeol for himself. And honestly, who wouldn’t want that walking piece of perfection that is Park Chanyeol? The world is not blind; all Chanyeol will have to do is smile at someone he finds interesting and bam! He’s taken and gone forever. It hurts Baekhyun to think that someday, someone who won’t be Baekhyun might have Chanyeol like this; smiling and laughing beside them, pouting and blushing cutely, raising a child together, having ice cream in the kitchen at eleven p.m. and wishing they’d go to sleep soon so that they can cuddle with him…Unlike Baekhyun, they’ll have him wholly and sincerely. It won’t be stolen moments of longing over ice cream; it will be a lifetime.

Chanyeol smiles at him when Baekhyun lifts his gaze, already expecting the eye contact. His smile pulls Baekhyun out of his depressive cloud of thoughts for a moment and this makes it easier for him to smile a strained, tiny smile in return.

“They are my treasure, Baekhyun. They are things I know about you” he answers Baekhyun’s mumbled question casually –it’s too quiet this time at night to miss a breath. Baekhyun’s smile twitches and he pokes the ice cream idly; oh, Baekhyun can relate to that. He remembers everything there is about Chanyeol, and sure enough he keeps that information safe in his memory, exactly like treasure. It’s been two years of absence, so many people coming and going in the in-between, new things to learn, new feelings to remember, memories that overlap, and yet here they are, as if not a day has passed, as if they haven’t faded a day. Baekhyun wonders how long he can possibly make this last.

“But…Chanyeol?” he murmurs with a frown, after his next spoon of ice cream. Chanyeol blinks up at him with interest, looking into his eyes like a loyal puppy. Baekhyun takes a small breath, too small to give him courage but enough for him to hold anxiously. “Please answer me honestly; have I changed too much?” he asks, hoping he doesn’t sound as desperate as he feels. He needs someone to tell him, because Baekhyun is always insecure. It’s confusing and disappointing and frustrating. In a matter of a few years, he has let himself go, and he feels like it’s too soon for this to be happening.

Chanyeol ponders for a moment, with a cute thoughtful expression; Baekhyun is conflicted during that moment, unsure of whether he really wants to know the answer. Not to mention, Chanyeol is pouting cutely, and Baekhyun has to look away, because those pouty lips are too close for comfort. It wouldn’t be the first time he’d wish to kiss Chanyeol and it won’t be the first time he didn’t act on it. “Maybe a little bit; but only good changes” Chanyeol decides, grinning brightly. It’s not what Baekhyun had expected to hear; he can handle the truth, he just needs someone to tell him.

“I said honestly” he deadpans.

“I’m being perfectly honest” Chanyeol frowns seriously, looking at Baekhyun in the eyes. He tilts his head in bewilderment, like he doesn’t understand why Baekhyun would think otherwise. Baekhyun puts down his spoon and huffs.

“What exactly is good about me being a paranoid, over-involved father, who exchanged his personal life and social skills for a routine sleep schedule and a fat butt?” he points out; and that’s only part of his concerns –because he knows he’s growing older. He is one year before thirty. The big thee-oh. And just look at him. Who would want him like this? And by the time he will be able to do something about it, it’ll be too late and nobody will even blink his way, and he’s going to end up with three puppies and five cats, and he’ll die alone.

“Excuse you, mister optimism personified” Chanyeol gasps, looking at Baekhyun with an appalled expression; Baekhyun keeps pouting stubbornly. “I think you are an amazing father who is raising a great child. And you still have friends and people who care about you; what about your mother, Sehun, Kyungsoo, Mrs. Lee? And what am I to you, a potato?” he gives Baekhyun a half-seriously offended look, and Baekhyun’s lips quirk with the beginnings of a smile. Chanyeol’s eyes soften for a moment, seeing his efforts to cheer him up paying off, and then he takes on a professional look, which clashes so funnily with his unkempt hair and pjs. “And for what it’s worth, I think your butt is as glorious as it used to be” he announces seriously, with his back straight and his nose high in the air. Baekhyun chuckles at first, but then he lowers his eyes to the ice cream and pouts miserably; Chanyeol is much too kind, but he’s lying. Baekhyun knows the truth; he sees it in the mirror every day.

“How can you say that when you used to know my butt two years ago?” Baekhyun whines under his breath, poking the ice cream like it’s at fault. Well, it is partially at fault; all those calories are going straight to his tush…He used to have a praiseworthy, ‘glorious’ butt, as Chanyeol put it; he used to dress it up in super tight pants and flaunt it, swaying it like there’s no tomorrow, causing casualties left and right…but that is a dream of the past. Having a toddler around is exhausting but not particularly effective exercise; goodbye supple skin and firm derrière. Baekhyun can only trust his genes to keep everything in place and the rest is history. Chanyeol scoops a melted spoonful and guides it to Baekhyun’s lips again –sharing spoons with no care in the world– and when Baekhyun looks up to eat it with a defeated pout, he finds Chanyeol frowning seriously in determination.

“Baek, I wouldn’t care if you’re fatter than you used to be –which I don’t think you are” he says sincerely while feeding him, and Baekhyun’s ears turn bright red. Why does he have to be made of such perfect material, just why? “But even if you say you are, then let me tell you; you’ve filled out in all the right places babe” Chanyeol’s eyes drop to Baekhyun’s body with a look that’s definitely interested and fuck, did he have to do that after saying what he just said and calling Baekhyun ‘babe’ in that sultry, low voice? It’s getting hot in here. Baekhyun gets goose bumps on his skin from Chanyeol’s hooded gaze and he shifts on the chair; he’s not sure if he’s uncomfortable under the taller’s stare and he’s trying to hide and escape attention, or if he’s starting to feel horny and he’s trying to rub himself and invite attention. Oh god, what if it’s the latter.

Thankfully, the tension breaks when Chanyeol drops his eyes to the table and scratches behind his ear nervously, then he gives Baekhyun a fleeting awkward smile and a matching glance, and then he resumes eating ice cream like nothing ever happened. Baekhyun relaxes in his seat, feeling more disappointed than relieved –okay, it might have been the second option indeed– but also feeling flustered and embarrassed secretly. He almost got hard from something Chanyeol said without really meaning anything indecent, how can Baekhyun be so stupidly sexually frustrated?!

Baekhyun keeps pinching his knee, cursing himself in his head and trying to get it together. In the meantime, he observes Chanyeol struggling to get a decent scoop out of the frozen ice cream part, his eyebrows tangling in concentration and his tongue poking out on the side of his mouth; he looks so endearingly childish. If you looked at this man, with messy black hair, pink lips stained with chocolate on the edge, wearing pastel blue pjs and eating ice cream happily, you’d think he’s still a child and ask for a hug –no one could ever guess anywhere near his actual age. Baekhyun and the rest of the world grow old, but Chanyeol doesn’t get wrinkles; he gets a dimple, how is that fair?

“I’m growing old, why aren’t you growing old?” Baekhyun mumbles quietly, kicking his leg in the air resentfully and pouting at the ice cream, scooping a consolation spoonful. Chanyeol chuckles at him.

“Why, are you bored of my big ears and you need my wrinkles to distract you?” Chanyeol quips playfully, his deep voice sounding in the empty house like a cheerful note of music. It makes Baekhyun feel a little lighter, but he keeps sulking for show. Yeah, he’d like a faint wrinkle on Chanyeol’s forehead or something; Baekhyun has one too –at least he thinks he does. Chanyeol bops Baekhyun on the nose and smiles at him when the shorter looks up. “I am, Baek; we’re both growing old, it happens to everyone. Don’t be so hard on yourself” he says gently, ruffling Baekhyun’s hair mischievously. Chanyeol can make growing old sound good somehow; Baekhyun sighs through his nose and rests his spoon on his lips shyly.

“Can I get a hug?” he mumbles timidly, giving Chanyeol the puppy eyes. The taller doesn’t say a word; he only grins and abandons his comfortable seat, walking around the table to Baekhyun, who is already expecting him with open arms. Chanyeol hugs him close and Baekhyun buries his nose in the taller’s chest, the scent of fabric softener and Chanyeol surrounding him.

“You big puppy” Chanyeol chuckles over his head, petting his hair as if he really is a puppy; Baekhyun would have retaliated with a pinch on Chanyeol’s waist at least, but he doesn’t want to do that today. It is better if he’s a puppy; a needy, lonely, oversized puppy who wants cuddles and affection and love. Chanyeol holds him for a while and lets him lament his frustration in peace; Baekhyun has always felt the safest in his arms.

---

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