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“I think it’s straight this time, what do you think?”

Baekhyun looks around Chanyeol’s body, to see the back of his daughter’s head. Chanyeol’s creation is a French braid with a pretty pink bow at the end, neat and silky and absolutely straight. All hail older sisters’ teachings for predetermining such amazing daddy skills. “Hmm, it looks better this time. Well done, Chanyeol” he says smiling, before he goes back to making Lay’s bed and tidying up her room. He has yet to find out how she manages to hurl her teddies out of her crib in her sleep; if the railing was any taller, it’d be a fortress.

“Third time’s the charm; cookie points for me, yey!” Chanyeol cheers, throwing his arms in the air, and Lay turns around to cheer for him too –or maybe for the cookies, since Chanyeol promised to make some tomorrow. They’re sitting on the floor, Chanyeol’s long legs caging Lay in place in front of him, along with some toys to distract her while he had been struggling with her hair. Today, Chanyeol has taken over the duty of getting Lay ready for the second time in his life –the first being last Thursday morning, when Baekhyun was running late– because Baekhyun has other things to prepare before they leave. The taller is making a great effort to make her look pretty and proper; it’s sweet.

“Are you guys ready? We don’t want to be late, do we?” Baekhyun picks up Lay from the floor and swirls her in the air –Chanyeol is kind as to gather his long legs instead of leaving them sprawled on the floor like a trap. They will surely be on time, dressing Lay being the final bullet on their list of activities before they leave the house. Lay giggles in surprise and starts mumbling something at Chanyeol over Baekhyun’s shoulder, as he follows them down the stairs with Lay’s bag in his hands.

“Yes, I’m coming with you today. I should say bye to Teacher Kyungsoo, too!” he answers her, confidently taking over and carrying her and the bag outside, while Baekhyun does a quick mental check they got everything and slips on his shoes before joining them outside and locking the door. Chanyeol’s parent skills are improving and it’s making Baekhyun’s life so much easier, to be honest. Lay looks thrilled when she sees Chanyeol settling in the passenger seat of Baekhyun’s car, clapping her little hands and exploding in a flurry of words.

((Daddy, look! Tall man is coming with us! We’re all going to see my Kyungie teacher together! It’s great, daddy!))

He chuckles at her and pecks her cheek after strapping her in the baby seat; he hopes her good mood will last. They will need it for what comes after the summer celebration at baby daycare: the dreadful visit to the pediatrician for Lay’s shot. She hates needles; Baekhyun had to cancel her previous shot three times before he managed to keep her cooperative enough to get it. He optimistically expects his life to be easier with Chanyeol helping him this time. Chanyeol hopes so, too; it’s why he woke up and came over at the Byun house so early this morning.

Chanyeol and Lay spend the short trip to the daycare centre singing, clapping and giggling. They are noisy as ever, but Baekhyun likes it. He keeps stealing glances at them, unable to resist their childish charm that will be the death of him for sure. It’s one of the chirpiest car rides Baekhyun has ever had, and he wishes things will stay relatively calm and cheerful until the day and its frightful appointment are over. Lay cheers when she recognizes their destination and the sun is bright in the sky when they get out of the car. Lay asks for Chanyeol to carry her, probably because he’s taller and she enjoys the view from up there. Baekhyun doesn’t want to miss a minute of their day together, so he hops beside them like an excited bunny, baby-talking with Lay and dragging Chanyeol into their conversation. They cross the parking lot easily, listening to Lay mumbling –it looks like she is trying to tell them something about her school– but they get intercepted at the door.

“Mr. Baekhyun, good morning!” a familiar face approaches them, carrying baby items. Baekhyun greets and smiles back at the woman, who is a mother of a fellow toddler in daycare. They’ve chatted sometimes about parent stuff while waiting to pick up their children; she is very polite and very pretty too. She waves and coos at Lay, who waves back happily. Baekhyun is all smiles, until she proceeds to scrutinize a slightly awkward Chanyeol from head to toe. That look is no good news for him. Baekhyun’s smile freezes on his lips.

It’s the first time he’s doing this and he feels a bit nervous. He has never brought someone with him to daycare before. Most of the parents here know he is a single parent and he usually attends every celebration and parents’ meeting alone. Sehun and his mother have offered to accompany him a few times, but he prefers showing up alone; it saves him unnecessary privy questions about his personal life. Yet here he is, presenting Chanyeol in all his tall and handsome glory, holding his child while they’re about to attend a school event. Of course they would draw attention. Baekhyun thought he would be able to act casual about it; but honestly, whenever Baekhyun was able to act casual about anything?

When he asked Chanyeol to come with them today, he had Lay’s doctor’s appointment in mind, primarily. But he didn’t change his mind even after he realized that Chanyeol would be escorting them to the daycare event as well. Maybe it’s because Chanyeol has picked up Lay from daycare before and it didn’t seem so strange to bring him along, maybe it’s because Lay would be considerably happier –which she is– if she had Chanyeol around today, maybe it’s because Baekhyun is tired of being single and he wants to be seen with someone as gorgeous as Park Chanyeol, pretend they are something more than friends to appease his longing heart and finally feel a little better about himself. Maybe. And Chanyeol said yes so readily.

“Excuse me, have we met before?” she asks Chanyeol in an unnaturally gentle voice, with slow blinks and a wide smile; and if that is not indication enough, she flips her hair over her shoulder. She is flirting. She is a married woman –where is her husband anyway?– and she is flirting with the robust, handsome man who came with Baekhyun. Now, Baekhyun might now have perfect, long hair and red manicured nails or expensive high heels, but he’s right here! And she is flirting…flirting! With the man who is holding Baekhyun’s child. Baekhyun fumes behind his sunglasses, inexplicably irked by her behavior. He has his child draped all over the man, what more is he supposed to do to stake his claim over him?!

Not that he could actually stake his claim over Chanyeol, even if he wanted to; Baekhyun is nothing special, he’s rather mediocre, and he’s not even as eligible a candidate for Chanyeol as he might have been two years ago. And maybe be still wants Chanyeol like that –like he has been wanting him for three years–, deep down inside of him where he never dares search, but he knows he can’t have him. So, he goes for the thing closest to it, which is pretending to have a claim over the man, just for a few hours. So, why does she have to come along on this fine sunny morning and burst his bubble? He thought it was clear he and Chanyeol came together today. Does he need to step up his pretend game?

“I don’t believe so, ma’am. I’m Chanyeol, nice to meet you” Chanyeol’s deep voice startles him out of his thoughts, and he turns to see the polite exchange between said man and the woman. Lay inputs some serious mumbles of her own and Chanyeol shifts her weight to hold her better against him. “I picked up Lay once, maybe you saw me then?”

“Oh, that could be; you don’t look the type to be easy to forget” she giggles shyly, hiding her lips behind her hand coyly and glancing up at Chanyeol from under her lashes. The taller looks somewhat adorably awkward at this and Baekhyun bites the inside of his cheek. If Baekhyun wasn’t seeing red over the black lenses of his sunglasses right now, he would have agreed with her; it took him two years to realize just how unforgettable Chanyeol is, she has no idea. If he spends one more minute watching this, someone’s going to be murdered.

“Shall we go inside then?” Baekhyun suggests offhandedly and he tries really hard not to stomp his way inside the building and all the way to their seats. He wills his brain to forget it and not let it ruin his good day; by the time they’re sitting in the half full theatre, buzzing with chatter and children’s squeals, he has forgotten his annoyance almost completely. Having Lay in his lap and playing silly games with their fingers to keep her quiet until the show begins helps him forget his worries. Chanyeol joins them in all the games, sitting beside Baekhyun, and Lay seems to enjoy the size difference of their hands, giggling whenever something seems funny to her. Baekhyun thinks he can hear people around them coo a couple of times.

“Baekhyun, were you okay back there?” Chanyeol asks a little while before the show begins. He keeps his voice low so that only Baekhyun will hear, although probably no one else could hear in such a noisy room. When Baekhyun turns around to look at him, Chanyeol is closer than he expected, and he is giving Baekhyun a concerned look. Baekhyun’s throat suddenly goes dry. He knows Chanyeol is referring to the incident at the door earlier, and oh how it would be fun to explain his behavior…Why did Chanyeol have to notice?

“Sure” he pulls his best poker face and shrugs his shoulders. Chanyeol doesn’t look convinced, and that look troubles Baekhyun. Knowing how thoughtful he is, Baekhyun wouldn’t be surprised if Chanyeol is conjuring up bizarre scenarios in his head as we speak, according to which he is at fault, even though he obviously did nothing wrong. He can almost read them in Chanyeol’s eyes in such proximity. It makes Baekhyun feel even worse, adding guilt to his shame. Damn it, Chanyeol, why do you have to be such a big puppy?

“Are you sure? You seemed…” jealous. “…annoyed. Did I do something that bothered you?” Baekhyun knew this would happen and his stomach kicks. Here we go. Chanyeol pouts, his eyes looking apologetic and warm. “I’m sorry if I did, I was trying to be polite” And now he is apologizing for something he didn’t do, ugh, speak up, Baekhyun! You should be apologizing!

“I know, I didn’t mean to…um, look annoyed” Baekhyun laughs bitterly inside his head; he was so jealous, he didn’t even know he was capable of such a thing. And he had no right to be, because Chanyeol was never his and probably will never be either. “You did nothing wrong, Chanyeol, it’s just…mm.” Baekhyun’s eyes fly around the room restlessly, his sentence dying with a small piece of his heart; he can’t say what it was. He can’t say ‘it’s just that I have feelings for you, I’ve had them for years, because you really are perfect boyfriend and husband and father material, and would you like to fall in love with me too, please, just a little bit, so that I can hope?’. And he certainly can’t say that with Lay in his arms, in an auditorium full of parents and children who know him.

“If you say so…” Chanyeol relents at last, smiling at Baekhyun reluctantly. Baekhyun sighs in relief under his breath and returns the smile for good measure, even though he feels like there’s a huge hole inside of him.

The show starts and it’s a simple musical about different careers, performed by the slightly older students. There are enough naïve dialogues to entertain the parents and many songs to keep the children happy. Chanyeol laughs along with everyone else during the act of a little girl saying she wants to be a laundry machine when she grows up, Lay enjoys all the songs of her little schoolmates, but Baekhyun thinks his favorite moment was when the whole class sang ‘Billionaire’ with their teacher, Kyungsoo; little Jongin was the one who supposedly dreamed of this future job. It’s so simple and messy that everyone gets engrossed in the clumsy acting skills, the loud voices and shy smiles of the children.

When he feels a small pressure on the back of his hand, Baekhyun looks down curiously. Only then he realizes he is holding hands with Chanyeol, after his daughter noticed first, and she put her little hands over their twined fingers. It’s beyond his comprehension, how he could be oblivious of holding Chanyeol’s hand, especially since their fingers are woven together and resting on Baekhyun’s knee. They both look down in surprise and she smiles a wide, toothless smile at them. Chanyeol seems a little startled, too. They glance at each other and promptly look away, ears tinged pink. They don’t say anything about it, but they don’t let go either, until the show is over and they need their hands to clap and cheer for the little actors and actresses.

The situation after the show is a huge mess of social interaction. Children, in costume or not, are running around and playing, parents are chattering and laughing, everyone is trying to congratulate the teachers and the children don’t want to let go of them. Baekhyun and Chanyeol linger, waiting for their turn to greet and congratulate Kyungsoo, making small talk with parents around them to pass the time. Every mother Baekhyun knows seems taken with Chanyeol from the very moment they are introduced, and they either flirt with him or ask him about his relationship with Baekhyun. Chanyeol is good at dancing around both subjects, redirecting the conversation to their children and sometimes touching Baekhyun a little more, at the small of his back, at the back of his neck, on his forearms and hands. Those small, reassuring touches are the only reason why Baekhyun has not turned into a green monster yet and chewed out half the female population in vicinity.

“Baekhyun, you made it!” Kyungsoo looks happy to see him when they get close enough, and he pats Lay’s cheek. Baekhyun conjures up a small prayer in his head that Kyungsoo won’t say anything embarrassing in front of Chanyeol. “And you brought Chanyeol too! Did you guys enjoy the show?” he lights up with a trademark heart-shaped smile, looking at the three of them as if he doesn’t have five children clinging around his legs and at least a hundred parents waiting for his attention. Baekhyun wonders how someone so small and squishy can feel so comfortable in the middle of such mayhem.

“We all enjoyed it very much” Baekhyun reassures him, raising his voice a little to be heard over the chaos. Lay claps too, making them chuckle. “Congratulations, it was lovely”

“I’m glad you enjoyed it, thank you” he says, trying to detach a child who has started climbing into private territory, even though his smile doesn’t falter; it’s probably standard procedure for him, from dealing with too many too energetic children every day. “It might take a while to finish here, but we might have a parents’ lunch later, would you like to join?” he asks cheerfully, looking up at Baekhyun and Chanyeol. Both of them. Baekhyun feels a little flustered at that; since when is Chanyeol considered a parent as well? A parent to his child in specific? Thankfully, Chanyeol has their response ready.

“That’s very nice Kyungsoo, but we have to go to that place where they give you nice stickers, so we can’t come” he refuses politely, giving Kyungsoo a meaningful look. It takes a moment of silent confusion before Kyungsoo catches onto the code-name for ‘doctor’s clinic’ –where they give you stickers after an injection. They agreed not to mention words related to her shot before it’s absolutely necessary, so that they can avoid tantrums.

Oh” Kyungsoo nods in understanding and then smiles in a mischievous way “Maybe some other time then! You two won’t escape me!” he emphasizes that they are both in his agenda, as if he’s already considering them a couple –even though Baekhyun has told him that they are not. He’s not sure he wants to know what Chanyeol looks like in this moment, but then, fortunately, a legion of children successfully takes Kyungsoo down, and the man has to struggle free. Baekhyun and Chanyeol bid him goodbye and he waves at them while still laughing on the ground with a pile of children above him.

No one cares to ponder on the ‘couple’ impression they left on everyone –since it’s genetically impossible to be seen as relatives. They don’t bother with such petty stuff when Lay’s doctor’s visit is ahead. Baekhyun gets a bit nervous the closer they get, but Chanyeol makes up for it, distracting Lay with cheerful remarks and pointless games, so they manage to keep her oblivious until they step inside the waiting area. She grows solemn in a blink of the eye; Baekhyun swears he hasn’t seen his child looking so serious before. It’s concerning.

Since they have purposely arrived just on time, they are guided to the doctor’s office almost immediately, taking a seat across from her. Dr. Kim gives Chanyeol a good look, but Baekhyun reassures her that he’s here for support –she knows just as well as Baekhyun does that they will need it. Lay stays in Baekhyun’s arms while he discusses about her recent health status with the doctor, glaring at the woman in fear and clutching Baekhyun’s hand almost painfully.

It’s not long before the needle appears and all hell breaks loose.

Lay starts shrieking and crying, throwing a fit and not keeping still. Her legs keep kicking and she twists her body constantly, so much that Baekhyun fears she might hurt herself at times. He tries to hold her but she displays remarkable strength for a baby, and he doesn’t want to hurt her. The doctor does her best to distract her but Lay won’t even blink at her. Chanyeol tries to soothe her or entice her with games but Lay won’t have any of that and she only cries more. Baekhyun’s ears are ringing from her cries, but he keeps trying to plead with her, secretly suffering with her heart wrenching sobs. Baekhyun tries to soothe her at first, then he tries to be strict, then he’s honestly desperate, and then he gives up and waits for her to grow tired. He grows anxious before that happens though, because her face is a worrisome shade of red, her eyes are swollen and her lips purple from the exertion; Baekhyun can already predict her nightmares tonight.

When Baekhyun starts growing distressed, Chanyeol comes to the rescue. He tries his luck, taking her into his arms and rubbing her back comfortingly while Baekhyun holds her hand. It works for about ten seconds before the doctor ruins their efforts with her presence, and Lay starts wailing again, hiding in Chanyeol’s chest and clutching both men desperately. A baby can tolerate betrayal only for so long, crying for help and comfort till its lungs hurt.

“This is not working; can we please have a minute?” Chanyeol asks the doctor with a concerned frown. Lay looks like she is pushing herself beyond her limits and it’s not good. The doctor seems surprised he took initiative, but she doesn’t have any objections, and so she stays by her desk with Baekhyun while Chanyeol takes the little girl for a stroll in the office. Baekhyun can’t hear what Chanyeol mumbles to her, but he catches a hummed tune of a song and then the little girl’s sobs grow more and more quiet. Baekhyun watches him work his baby magic while Chanyeol keeps strolling around, talking to her about nonsensical things and patting her head which is resting against his shoulder, until she is calm enough and quiet. Chanyeol then signals to Baekhyun to approach them with a meaningful look, and Baekhyun nearly springs from his seat.

“Hi, baby” he whispers to Lay, wiping away some of her tears with his fingers. Her eyes are red and puffy, looking at him pitifully over Chanyeol’s shoulder. Chanyeol steps closer.

“Do you want to lie down with daddy for a bit?” he asks and Baekhyun glances at him in confusion but he plays along, nodding at Lay encouragingly. Lay mumbles something tiredly, hiding in Chanyeol’s shoulder. “I know you’re tired, so let’s go to that nice bed, hm?” Baekhyun follows Chanyeol to the hospital bed on the other side of the doctor’s office and he lies down on his side. Chanyeol deposits Lay on the bed too, turning her on her side, facing Baekhyun with her back to the doctor. Baekhyun curls an arm around her waist, watching her blink sleepily, and Chanyeol sits on the bed behind him, reaching over Baekhyun to brush her hair away from her cheek and hold her shoulder securely. The three of them are in the middle of each other’s breathing bubble, but they need to be, so that Lay won’t notice the doctor approaching with her shot.

A single cry of pain is all the protest she makes, echoed by many hushed comforting words by Baekhyun and Chanyeol. Lay’s eyes are brimming with tears again but she doesn’t look about to throw another fit –Baekhyun is afraid to assume she doesn’t have the strength to do it, because he doesn’t like challenging his luck. Chanyeol leans over Baekhyun to kiss Lay on the temple and Baekhyun nearly melts right then and there, breathing in Chanyeol’s cologne and feeling his warmth drape over him. The doctor smiles at them as she finishes her work and walks back to her desk, as if she never saw anything. Baekhyun tries to convince himself that nothing happened either, for the sake of remaining a functional human. “Baekhyun, can we talk about her next shot and expected side effects?”

“Of course” Baekhyun gets up hastily; now that the worst is over, it’s better to keep things short and comfortable, no need to stress the poor child further. He glances at Lay and the doctor indecisively for a moment.

“I have her, don’t worry” Chanyeol assures him, still sitting on the edge of the bed and holding Lay’s shoulder. He gathers the exhausted small child in his arms and showers her with pecks and affectionate caresses, to compensate for her earlier tears. Chanyeol is such a natural talent at parenting sometimes. Lay snuggles in his chest willingly, physically and mentally worn out. “See, mochi? You’re so brave. Now we can get ice cream!” he tries to cheer her up, keeping his voice low and rumbling; she looks one step closer to sleep with every blink. Baekhyun doesn’t catch the rest of Chanyeol’s monologue, starting his own discussion with the doctor.

“That’s quite impressive teamwork” she says, after they’ve gone through all the important points of Lay’s health. Baekhyun follows her gaze to see Chanyeol cradling Lay to his chest and talking to her cheerfully, and the little child looks very interested in whatever he’s saying. Baekhyun smiles at the endearingly familiar picture. He and Chanyeol have found a good rhythm, easily and comfortably, ever since the latter started babysitting Lay, maybe because they used to be so close and they still trust each other. They were kind of good today, weren’t they? “Is he your new partner?” the doctor quips. Baekhyun whirls around to look at her with wide eyes, feeling like he just got showered with a bucket of cold water.

“Oh no; I’ve known Chanyeol for years and she just likes him a lot” he explains. It’s not a lie. It’s just not the whole truth either. Had he included his wishful thinking, it’d be a mess, so better keep it simple. The doctor gives him a good look.

“I’m not judging you, Baekhyun” she smiles at him fondly and Baekhyun’s fingers relax around his chair, but the feeling of disappointment remains; is he really that obvious? “On the contrary, he looks like a good man, you know, the kind you settle down with” she says casually, playing with her pen. Baekhyun’s eyes widen; settle down with Chanyeol? That gorgeous human sitting over there? Her words definitely manage to poke his thoughts and feelings. It’s true that Chanyeol would be perfect to settle down with but…he wouldn’t want Baekhyun, would he? Before Baekhyun has time to wallow in his insecurities, the doctor stands and offers her hand to part with him. “So maybe you should do something about it” she says with a wink. Oh, like that is so helpful.

---
Chanyeol wakes up to his phone ringing in an offensive volume in the middle of the night. He grimaces when the blue light sneaks painfully under his lashes and he rubs his eyes, trying to ease the sting. He answers his phone blindly, if only to make the blasted thing shut up.

“H’llowm?” he mumbles, squinting in the dark to figure the time his clock is showing. In between whirls of blue and green behind his tired eyes, he manages to read it’s well past one. He hopes Luhan is not giving him a post-midnight inebriated call again. Last time that happened Luhan ended up singing –more like wailing– Celine Dionne for half an hour before Chanyeol blacked out again.

“Chanyeol, I’m s-sorry to call so l-late. I’m s-sorry to wake you b-but, I don’t know w-what to do…” the voice is muffled and small, parts of the broken words whispered, but the sniffling that follows each word is very distinctly Baekhyun’s. Chanyeol would never forget the sound he hates the most, even when it’s kind of cute because Baekhyun’s crying over a sad movie.

“Baek?! Are you okay? Is Lay okay? What happened?” he suddenly feels considerably more awake and he sits up, alarmed. He blinks away sleep and dizziness, and he focuses acutely on the ragged breath on the other end of the line, trying to find the edge of his bed covers; his hands are still clumsy and numb from sleep, which makes him embarrassingly inefficient.

“I’m f-fine, just…Lay has a f-fever and she won’t s-stop crying. I don’t know what t-to do” Baekhyun sobs quietly, sniffling again. Somehow, Chanyeol has already thrown away the covers and jumped out of bed in milliseconds, nearly stumbling over on his way and crushing on the doorframe, but that doesn’t deter him from marching on in the darkness. His feet know where to take him.

“I’ll be there in two minutes” he says firmly, disconnecting and harrying down the stairs, skipping two at a time; it feels like flying sometimes. He grabs his keys and the first pair of shoes he finds in his way, not bothering with a coat. He locks his house and runs across the empty street into the night, the tranquil silence of their neighborhood welcoming him, with all its sleeping inhabitants surrounding him obliviously. It’s slightly chilly but he hardly notices the goose bumps on his skin.

Baekhyun answers after the first knock, already waiting for him behind the locked door. He stays silent, standing on the side and clutching the hem of his shirt nervously, while Chanyeol comes inside and steps out of his shoes, leaving all his things messily on the table by the door. Baekhyun shuffles his feet and wipes his eyes with fidgety hands. The house is dimly lit, unlike the bright lights that flood the house on other nights when Chanyeol has been over, probably because he’s never been here at such a late hour before. It’s as silent as the deserted street outside, except for Lay’s cries that echo from upstairs. This has a sense of déjà vu and Chanyeol feels his stomach turn, just like the first time he heard her crying so helplessly in the middle of the night.

“She’s in her crib” Baekhyun whispers, following Chanyeol’s gaze towards the stairs. Even in the dim lighting, Chanyeol can see Baekhyun’s large, watery eyes, his worried expression and the dried tear tracks on his skin. He looks like a frightened animal, hiding in the shadows and holding his breath. Baekhyun bites his lip uneasily and gives Chanyeol a vulnerable look. “She has been crying nonstop for an hour! She has a fever, she won’t let me put a compress on her, she’s sweating but her teeth are chattering, she is kicking and whining. The doctor said she might get a fever from the shot but it’s the first time it’s so-”

“Why are you crying?” Chanyeol interrupts him calmly, raising one hand to cradle the side of Baekhyun’s face. Baekhyun hasn’t taken a breath, and we don’t want him to faint. Chanyeol suspects the reason behind Baekhyun’s tears, and it’s the loveliest reason in the world. Baekhyun looks at Chanyeol in the eyes, the shadows on his face unable to hide the sad expression that takes over his features. His eyes glaze and overflow fast, hot tears streaming down his face again.

“It breaks my heart when she’s crying” he whispers brokenly and sniffles, scrunching his nose cutely. Chanyeol’s lips crack a small, endearing smile involuntarily. “It happens of-ften, I’ll be okay” he lowers his face bashfully, wiping away his tears with his sleeves like a child. Chanyeol helps him, swiping his thumb over his cheek, and then he slides his fingers in Baekhyun’s hair, stroking it softly.

“Hey, I’m here now, don’t cry” he reassures Baekhyun, pulling him close. Baekhyun hugs him instantly, seeking comfort in Chanyeol’s chest and clutching him as if he is his last hope. Lay’s cries are still loud, but Chanyeol hugs Baekhyun tightly, letting him have a moment to calm down and feel better before they go to her. Being a parent sometimes makes you forget every other side of you, so Chanyeol is here to make sure Baekhyun will always have a moment to be himself. Slow and comfortable hugs have always helped Baekhyun calm down, so it’s not long before the shorter takes a breath and steps back, wiping his eyes one more time. Chanyeol ruffles his hair and gives him an encouraging grin. “I have an idea, let’s go”

The sound of Lay’s cries gets more intense with every step; probably the neighbors can hear it too. Chanyeol leans over her crib but she doesn’t even notice him; her eyes are puffy, her whole face is red, she is drenched in sweat and crying hysterically, kicking and pulling the covers restlessly. She looks very uncomfortable, and Chanyeol wouldn’t be surprised if besides her fever she is suffering from a sore throat and an aching head after so much crying. He exchanges a look with Baekhyun, whose red, puffy eyes are more visible now, and he is biting down on his trembling lip to keep from bursting into tears again.

“I’ll take her to the bathroom, can you bring a towel?” he asks. Baekhyun nods distractedly and leaves Lay’s side reluctantly to fetch a towel from her closet. Chanyeol picks her up and holds her against him with some effort, receiving some kicks on his stomach and some punches on his shoulder from a very uncooperative and agitated toddler. Her little body feels very hot and her loud voice makes Chanyeol’s ears ring as he takes her to the bathroom, where the sound amplifies with echoes of her cries.

Chanyeol instructs Baekhyun to undress her, his voice barely audible in the room, which is booming with Lay’s voice, her complaints and protests. She gives Baekhyun a hard time, trying to rub her eyes and shade the brighter bathroom lighting, kicking him sometimes or trying to squirm away. Baekhyun cries silently, feeling hurt from her agony and her behavior; Chanyeol’s heart aches for him as well. While Baekhyun is busy with Lay, Chanyeol strips down to his boxer briefs, folding his pajama bottoms and his t-shirt and stacking them on the side.

“What are you doing?!” Baekhyun shrieks, a horrified look crossing his red face when he sees Chanyeol. The latter tries to ignore the onslaught of embarrassment he feels, and he steps into the shower calmly, turning on the water and adjusting the temperature.

“We’ll give her a shower” he explains, his eyes fixed on his hand testing the water, because he’s very sure he can’t look at Baekhyun right now. Baekhyun keeps trying to soothe Lay with quiet words to no avail. When the water is slightly cold but not uncomfortable against Chanyeol’s skin, he turns to Baekhyun by necessity, extending his arms. “Give me the little steamed bun” he says, in a voice much more serious than he intended; his nervousness is showing in strange ways sometimes. He frowns, keeping his eyes on Baekhyun’s hands only, while the latter picks up the girl and hands her over to Chanyeol. Lay is still crying, but she is too tired to put up a fight, so she accepts her fate in Chanyeol’s arms. She didn’t expect to be put near the cold waterfall though, and she squeals loudly, flinching away from it and clinging on Chanyeol with renewed complaints.

“No~ don’t cry…” Chanyeol rocks her slightly in his arms, wetting his hand and touching her little forearm at first, experimentally. She doesn’t flinch away as much, making him hopeful. “See, this is like bubble-bubble!” he tries to sound excited and he repeats his action, slowly dampening her skin, until he can take a step closer to the water without scaring her.

Chanyeol never thought he could be so patient. They might be inside the shower for less than a minute and yet it feels like an eternity under these conditions, but he doesn’t even think of giving up. Lay keeps crying endlessly, tears and snot and drool mixing with water on Chanyeol’s shoulder. She feels sweltering hot against him and she squirms every now and then, her little hands clutching his shoulder, his arm or his chest agitatedly. Chanyeol can feel her strained little breaths under his hands and his hearing on one side might take a few days to recover, but he keeps doing what he has to do calmly. His heart is torn in his chest but he needs to be brave to help her.

After a few minutes, Lay grows tired and she rests on Chanyeol, still whimpering and sobbing, but not as loud as before. Chanyeol sighs in relief after this little progress, and he starts caressing her hair and her back comfortingly, kissing her temples, mumbling sweet words to her and humming to soothe her. His underwear is drenched in places and water is tickling his skin, but he ignores it. It’s not as easy to ignore Baekhyun’s fixed gaze on him and his daughter, anxious, sad and wide eyes watching their every move, his lower lip caught in his teeth nervously. He looks very concerned and still a bit of a crybaby; even though this is not the time and place for such thoughts, Chanyeol thinks it’s very cute, to be honest.

Yes, he just thought of that. As if he’s not standing in Baekhyun’s shower in his underwear at half past one a.m., with a feverish and crying child in his arms, thinking her daddy is super cute.

Chanyeol feels weird in this situation, having Baekhyun examining him so closely when he’s dressed so skimpily. His body is not bad, but he’s not particularly proud of it either, and he has been keeping it very private all his life, never showing it for more than necessary. To say he is self-conscious would be an understatement. With Baekhyun, they used to be very close two years ago, having sleepovers or simply choosing to spend the day at the other’s apartment, and naturally, they had exchanged clothes many times, but they never had to undress or appear in underwear in front of each other; they kept some privacy standards. And Chanyeol knows that right now it’s the last of Baekhyun’s concerns what Chanyeol looks like naked, but he still feels embarrassed and insecure about it. The only thing that helps him feel a little better is that Baekhyun is standing right outside the shower like a kicked puppy, and that plays with Chanyeol’s heartstrings.

“I think she’s better now” Chanyeol whispers, when Lay has quieted down almost completely, sniffling occasionally but otherwise nearly dozing off on his shoulder, uncaring about the water by now. Her temperature feels more normal too, and her breaths are more steady and deep. Baekhyun tears his worried gaze from Lay and blinks up at Chanyeol.

“How did you know this would work?” he whispers, his eyes amazed and grateful. Chanyeol avoids eye-contact for the same reason as before, opting to attempt to detach Lay from him. The child seems to be comfortable, tucked against his chest, and she’s leaching on him unrelentingly, making him panic for a second. But then her hold slackens and she mumbles something unintelligibly under her breath. Chanyeol slowly coaxes her to let go.

“My mother used to do it; at least, Yura says so” he answers Baekhyun’s question absentmindedly, while handing over Lay, trying not to make a mess. Baekhyun doesn’t say anything further, taking Lay into his arms as gently as possible and placing her on her changing table. Chanyeol turns off the shower and grabs a nearby towel to dry himself with.

“My little honeycomb~ Are you feeling better?” Baekhyun coos in a quiet voice, so that she won’t be disturbed. He keeps whispering and mumbling reassuringly while patting her dry and dressing her in fresh pjs, sneaking little caresses and tiny pecks whenever he can. She looks very tired, but at least she is relaxed and almost asleep when Chanyeol is finally in his clothes and he walks over to them. Baekhyun hands him a children’s hairbrush almost instantly, but Chanyeol stares at it in bewilderment for a moment.

“Will you brush her hair, Chanyeol? Make her pretty?” Baekhyun suggests with a knowing look, and Chanyeol somehow reads a command in his voice. He nods and walks across from Baekhyun to stand over Lay’s head. The moment he holds the brush seriously, he realizes there is something else in his hand too; after an inconspicuous inspection, he finds a baby-sized fever patch, which Baekhyun smuggled to him under the hairbrush. Chanyeol’s orders are clear, and so he starts his mission.

His light piano fingers become useful and he manages to stick the patch to her little forehead in-between brushes against her soft hair, without her noticing. Baekhyun also checks her temperature with expert, unnoticeable fingers; it has dropped to a very low fever, finally. After seeing him so distraught and vulnerable, Chanyeol had almost forgotten that Baekhyun is still a pro in daddy magic and he can handle his daughter as proficiently as cutting peaches into slices. He just has a weak spot for her tears, but who can blame him?

They put Lay to sleep and she is out like a light before they even finish tucking her in. They hover over her for a bit, leaning on the crib’s railing and watching her sleep peacefully. It helps them find closure after the night’s events, and the tension slowly melts away. Chanyeol finds more reasons to feel embarrassed, because his underwear has soaked through his pajama bottoms in some places and it looks like…well, you can imagine what it looks like, and Baekhyun’s tiredness is catching up with him, making him yawn cutely.

“Let’s go, she needs some rest” he whispers, gently guiding Baekhyun out by the shoulder. Baekhyun is reluctant to leave, constantly checking over his shoulder, until Chanyeol half-closes the door to Lay’s room. He turns Baekhyun around and gives him a small smile. “We did it. Now, let’s get some sleep”

“Sleep?” Baekhyun gasps, astounded “We can’t sleep, Chanyeol! We need to check on her and keep track of her fever!” he whispers urgently, his eyes flying around frantically. Chanyeol puts both hands on Baekhyun’s shoulders, squeezing reassuringly. Baekhyun finally looks at him.

“And we will check on her, every one hour for the rest of the night, but that doesn’t mean we won’t sleep at all. If we’re both like zombies tomorrow, she is going to have the least exciting, most whiny day she’s ever had” he points out. Baekhyun doesn’t have to go to work tomorrow, but if they’re both dragging their feet around the house and can’t see straight because of their dark circles, she will be very disappointed and bored, and she certainly won’t spare them the nagging and protests. She is a child and she deserves to have fun every day, especially when her daddy is at home and it’s their Saturday-ice-cream day. Baekhyun looks at him thoughtfully, lips pressed and slanted, unconvinced.

“But, what if I don’t wake up-” he starts objecting. Chanyeol shushes him with a look.

“You know I will; I wake up easily, if she needs anything, I’ll be there in seconds” he assures him confidently. It wouldn’t be the first time he’d wake up from her cries, not to mention he can’t sleep very well when something is on his mind; only a bit of assistance from the alarm would be enough for tonight. Baekhyun bites the insides of his lips, looking like he’s mulling over the words he wants to say, until he sighs in surrender, his shoulders dropping. His hands clutch the front of Chanyeol’s t-shirt, crumpling the fabric, and his eyes drop to Chanyeol’s chest as well, looking adorably droopy.

“That’s not fair for you” he mumbles, shaking his head sadly. Well, Chanyeol can’t say it’s fair but he can’t say he minds it either. If anything, he is happy that Baekhyun trusts him, that he’s the first person he called for help and that he can be of use, instead of sticking around idly. Besides, it’s too late to go back to his house and Baekhyun might need him here again –even if it’s just for moral support. Chanyeol pulls his lips into a small smile, ready to share his thoughts with Baekhyun, but the latter sighs again and shuffles closer, until he rests his forehead against Chanyeol’s chest; paired with his hands still holding onto Chanyeol’s t-shirt, his intimate actions surprise Chanyeol for a fleeting moment, but then his heart twirls in a familiar way. And he’s so small. “I’m sorry I ruined your night, Chanyeol”

“It’s okay” Chanyeol comforts him by rubbing his neck; Baekhyun has had a pretty rough night, he can do without the guilt. Baekhyun’s shoulders visibly relax at the touch and Chanyeol smiles. “It’s still night, we can sleep” There is no reaction for some time, only comfortable silence; then, Baekhyun detaches himself, taking Chanyeol by the hand and leading him to the bedroom drowsily.

“Yeah, let’s sleep”

Does this mean they’re sharing the bed?

---



Baekhyun is not exactly awake and not exactly asleep either, but he knows he needs to go to the warm place to get comfortable. It’s bright behind his eyelids so he doesn’t dare open them, and he squirms blindly, tangling up the sheets on his way. He finds the warm place, where it’s dark and soft and nice too, and the warm place finds him at the same time, pulling him closer. He sighs happily, a pleasant scent filling his head, and he gets comfortable easily, already sinking back into his slumber.

Presumably a couple of hours after that, Baekhyun blinks his eyes open, finally rested. The room is full of sunshine, softened through the curtains, and specs of dust dance on the few bright sunbeams lazily. But there’s a male chest in front of him. Huh? He looks up in confusion, not used to waking up next to anything other than pillows. His memory is still a bit muddled by sleep, but when he realizes it’s Chanyeol he’s looking at, last night’s events come rushing to his mind, and he panics, any remaining sleepiness vanishing instantly.

His child, is his child okay?

He lifts his head, trying to catch the smallest sound Lay might be making all the way from her room, but there is only silence, and Chanyeol’s occasional light snores. Baekhyun’s anxious eyes stumble on a small note, lying harmlessly on the bedside table, full of Chanyeol’s scribbles. He has to squint his eyes to read anything off of it, but he gets the general idea as soon as he makes out a few numbers; it looks like Chanyeol got up every hour to check on Lay’s temperature, and then he jotted it down with a time stamp. Baekhyun focuses on the last few entries after dawn; it seems her fever is entirely gone. He sighs in relief and lets his head fall on the pillow, the squeeze of his heart easing into a tender morning calm feeling.

Thank god she’s better; listening to her crying in pain is torture to Baekhyun, especially when he’s unable to help her. It’s been a year and a couple of months of parenting experience, and he has yet to find a way not to cry when she’s crying. What would he have done without Chanyeol last night? He was feeling so lost and helpless when he called him in the middle of the night; he was the only person he could think of to ask for help, even though, in retrospect, how much more than Baekhyun would Chanyeol know about baby fever? That didn’t matter much to him at the time, he just wanted Chanyeol beside him; because, for Baekhyun, the answer to some questions can only be Chanyeol, no matter how many years and miles come between them.

He is lucky Chanyeol knew what to do to help the crying baby last night. Even though he has no experience with children, Chanyeol mentioned his mother as reference; Baekhyun remained silent at that. From what Chanyeol remembers and has told Baekhyun, his mother must have been an amazing woman who, unfortunately, died too soon, when Chanyeol was only six years old. She is the one who encouraged him to study music –she really liked listening to him play the piano–, she was Chanyeol’s idol and guardian angel, and he loved her immensely. He and Yura strived to cope with her loss for years, but Chanyeol said it brought them closer; they both resemble her too, in appearance and manners, so they see her in each other. Baekhyun wishes his mother was as sweet and kind and gentle, wise and patient; when he first started planning his life with Lay, it wasn’t his mother but Chanyeol’s mother he tried to model himself after as a parent. He even did that thing, poking her cheeks when she’d puff them out; it’s a cute way to break the tension. It seems that, even though she’s not alive, Chanyeol’s mother is still giving them parenting advice, and Baekhyun sends his thanks in a silent prayer.

The more he thinks about last night’s events, however, the guiltier he feels. He startled him in the wee hours after midnight and dragged him over to deal with an endlessly crying child –and her crying daddy. Chanyeol did all the work to bring her fever down and all Baekhyun did was soothe her every now and then, not to mention Chanyeol was the one to wake up countless times through the rest of the night to check on her. Baekhyun promised to himself that he would get up too when he’d hear the alarm, but his sleep was too deep and he passed all the alarms without realizing. How could he ever ask of Chanyeol this much? He feels like a horrible friend.

On top of everything else, he shamelessly dragged Chanyeol to his bed and cuddled him for his warmth all night! Not that he feels too bad about that, because it has obvious perks, but it’s still unfair. It’s been years since they last shared a bed or a couch; Baekhyun had kind of missed this. No one else could ever cuddle him to sleep like Chanyeol.

Chanyeol suddenly stirs in his sleep, taking a deep breath, and Baekhyun holds his own breath, becoming very aware of their position. Baekhyun curses his warmth-seeking sleep habits –he gets cold easily at night and if there is something warm around, you can bet he will locate it and gravitate towards it with his eyes closed, literally. That sort of superpower has brought him in the middle of Chanyeol’s personal space, his nose pressed against Chanyeol’s chest. Moreover, he has one arm curled around Chanyeol’s waist and his right leg is hooked over Chanyeol’s hips –it would be the first limb to be removed if Baekhyun wasn’t afraid he’d wake Chanyeol by shifting so much. Luckily, Chanyeol settles soon, without waking or even moving much under the covers. Baekhyun exhales silently, thanking his lucky stars.

It seems he spoke too soon, because Chanyeol has an arm around him, and he pulls him impossibly closer with it. Baekhyun wonders how Chanyeol can possibly find this comfortable, when another person is positively plastered against him –not that he’s really complaining, but the ethical part of him ought to point it out. Baekhyun flushes upon realizing how many body parts are touching and the color on his cheeks deepens when he catches himself enjoying this.

It’s been a long time since he was so close to someone else, okay? And this is not just anyone else, but Chanyeol, in all his toned, cuddly, sleepy and soft glory.

Soon after Chanyeol settles into this –indecent– position, Baekhyun begins his valiant efforts and he manages to wiggle his way backwards in the end, putting some distance between them. By some miracle, Chanyeol doesn’t wake up and Baekhyun just lies there, catching his breath after this morning adventure. It’s not like he’s creeping on Chanyeol, but there is nothing else to look at –in Baekhyun’s eyes, at least. Besides, he’s not about to have a high school crush run-and-hide reaction because he woke up next to his good friend; no, he’d much rather he watched him sleep for the while he has at his disposal, just like he used to do in the old times.

Chanyeol is still beautiful, just the way Baekhyun remembers. His face has great angles, not as sharp as Baekhyun’s face but much more structured. His skin is soft and fair, without a trace of aging, in spite of his twenty eight years. His lips are plum and pinkish, and his eyelashes curl over his cheeks –something Baekhyun has always been envious of, because his own lashes are straight and short-ish. It’s cute, how his ears peek under his messy, black locks; Baekhyun remembered them brown, but he likes the natural black color, it brings out his pale freckles, dusted cutely all over his nose and cheeks. Chanyeol is not perfect, far from it, but Baekhyun always sees him so beautiful.

Baekhyun smiles lazily, basking in the sunlight next to Chanyeol. He feels so peaceful, and if his heart is fluttering, it’s for all the good reasons. He wishes he can see many mornings like this in the future; he’d love to wake up to this for the rest of his life.

---

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