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“Hello? Who is it?” Chanyeol hums into the phone, tucking it between his ear and shoulder blindly, his eyes and hands busy picking cherries.

“Hi, Chanyeol; this is Baekhyun” the familiar voice calls softly and Chanyeol nearly spills all the cherries in his hands. Who?! He blinks in surprise; is Baekhyun really calling him in broad daylight? He looks around at the oblivious crowd, bewildered that the rest of the world is living this moment normally whilst he is having three heart attacks and an aneurism. Chanyeol fails to compose an adequately human answer in time, so Baekhyun speaks again. “Are you perhaps busy?”

“Me? Oh, no” Chanyeol replies with an awkward delay, holding the phone properly with his hand and composing himself to a socially acceptable degree. He shakes his head to clear his thoughts, aware that he will have to –try to– keep a decent conversation with the man, instead of mute gaping and awkward stutters. I mean, Baekhyun is on the phone. “I’m…doing some grocery shopping. Is everything alright?” he pays for his purchase quickly, a small part of him suddenly dreading that something is wrong and Baekhyun might need him, so he might have to rush over. He thanks the salesman and starts walking in the direction of his car in long strides.

“Yes, fine. I just…Do you think you could run an errand for me?” he asks hesitantly, and if Chanyeol had to guess, there should be an uncertain lip-bite somewhere in there. Chanyeol slows down his walking pace, slightly confused.

“Oh.” he breathes, feeling relieved that nothing serious has happened. So, it’s just an errand; it’s still unusual for Baekhyun to ask, however, since he prefers being very independent and making miracles happen all by himself. Chanyeol quirks a curious eyebrow, balancing his heavy shopping bags in his hand. “Sure, I’m already outside anyway. It won’t be any trouble” he smiles reassuringly, even though Baekhyun can’t see him. Saying it won’t be any trouble rings a few warning bells at the back of his mind, because you can never know, but he ignores them when he hears a soft, thoughtful hum on the other end of the line.

“Well, I was wondering…I got held up at work and daycare closes around a quarter past two, but I won’t make it. So, could you by any chance pick up Lay for me? If it’s not too much trouble? I trust her with you…” Baekhyun mumbles the very last part, and Chanyeol’s smile widens as he skips a delighted step, feeling like he is worth a million. Of course, the only reason Baekhyun would show weakness would be his daughter, whom Chanyeol happens to love spending time with, and he feels so special to be of use.

“Of course! I can go pick her up, and we’ll wait for you at my house like the last time” he reassures him, placing his purchases into the trunk and checking the time on his wristwatch. He has plenty of time ahead, unless daycare is somewhere near the next province. Baekhyun sighs in relief and the airy sound is audible even through the static of the phone.

“Thank you, Chanyeol! You’re a lifesaver!” he says enthusiastically and Chanyeol chuckles. Baekhyun gives him an address and Chanyeol types it in the navigator directly; it’s not very far away, he’ll easily make it on time. “I’ll call daycare to let them know you’ll be picking her up today, just tell them your name. Her teacher’s name is Kyungsoo –he’s short with huge eyes. I’ll tell him to give you a children’s car seat as well, they have all sorts of equipment there. If she throws a fit because you’re not me, call me and put her on the phone, I’ll convince her”

“Oui, mon capitaine!” he nods dutifully and cracks a smile when he hears Baekhyun huffing a small laugh, losing the stiff nervousness he had while shooting directions and orders. “Anything else?” he asks, already settled in the driver’s seat and toying with his keys until the call is over.

“If an asteroid hits the earth, save her” Baekhyun jokes in a serious voice and Chanyeol laughs loudly, the sound echoing inside his car. A muffled laugh joins him through the phone, followed by a brief apology which is not directed at him; Baekhyun is still at the office, after all. Chanyeol quiets down, biting his smiling lips. “And, Chanyeol, thank you” he adds gently, making Chanyeol’s heart squirm. He won’t admit he is blushing, no.

“You’re welcome, Baekhyun. Now, if you will excuse me, a princess is waiting for me” The call ends with Baekhyun’s giggles and Chanyeol’s wide smile.

Chanyeol manages to arrive on time and find parking space in the lot, even though it’s very packed. He parks and takes a moment to prepare himself, smoothing out his clothes and combing his fingers through his hair to look more presentable. The daycare building is not very big, but it’s cozy and bright, as if the sun shines upon it differently, to make it look a prettier and happier place. Chanyeol glances at the door of the building once he steps out of the car, where parents –mostly mothers– are flocking in or loitering around, looking all smiley and prepared to take their little sunbeams into their arms, drive them home and make it a perfect day for them. And here Chanyeol is, a stranger with no child of his own, stranded in mother territory. He pauses for a moment.

Is he eligible parent material? Would any child want him as their parent?

He doesn’t give himself time to indulge his doubts and cause himself a mental breakdown over his life choices in the middle of the parking lot, because Baekhyun has trusted him with the care of his precious daughter and Chanyeol had better do a good job without delay. He braves the steps to the entrance as if he’s been here before, hoping he’ll fit in by some miracle. In spite of his best efforts, it’s very obvious that people are staring as soon as he approaches the crowd of parents; some even drop their conversations to blatantly stare at him and ask themselves and their nearest acquaintances if they know who he is, speculating he’s a new daddy. It’s uncomfortable, and it wouldn’t be the first time in his life he wishes he was shorter, so that he could at least blend in on the sidelines. But he guesses it’s somewhat reasonable to attract attention, since he’s the new face in an otherwise very familiar, safe and stable environment, as all trustworthy daycare should be.

Some ladies are more forward and they greet him on his way in, even though he’s a complete stranger to everyone; all he can do is smile and bow politely, feeling a little awkward. He can feel the eyes of people following him, trying to guess in which class he’ll step in and how old or what gender his supposed child might be, but he pretends not to notice, even when he can hear other people talking about it. He finds Lay’s class easily, all the way down the hall, with a pretty painted sign of the number 1 hanging over the doorframe. When he steps inside, there are many colors and sunshine, a few giggles and ‘I told you so’s coming from behind him. He is not sure if he is proud or ashamed of himself for having everyone convinced he is a parent already.

He stands to the side awkwardly, after the bright example of more experienced mothers. He doesn’t know if he should ask for the teacher, or stand there unobtrusively and wait until he spots Lay in the dispersed flock of tiny children, or if he should go further into the child play area and search for her. Other mothers have the advantage of small talk while they wait, but he feels a bit silly like this, standing with no purpose, and he can’t see Lay anywhere. There are many children her size and age, sharing toys, coloring, building castles or munching on bananas, but none of them is her.

In the midst of light chatter and childish voices from every class and hallway in the building, one of the people around him sashays closer to him. Chanyeol avoids eye-contact at first, because he doesn’t want to answer too many questions about who he is and who his child might be and what’s his sign and age and phone number, but this short person comes close, clearly with the intension to talk to him –other parents are keeping their distance from the tall, handsome stranger, admiring and gossiping from afar. Chanyeol risks a glance at this person, and the first thing that comes to mind is huge eyes. That means, teacher Kyungsoo. We found the teacher, hurrah!

“Hello, can I help you?” the short man asks politely, with a warm, heart-shaped smile. There is something in his smooth voice, his posture, the way he smiles and looks at Chanyeol, that makes the taller think that maybe Lay’s teacher is interested in him, in more than just polite inquiries; but maybe I’m only thinking too highly of myself. Remembering that he is here on a mission, Chanyeol turns to him immediately when he realizes who he must be, and he smiles in a friendly way, fully aware of the mothers around him quieting down to hear him speak.

“Hello, I’m here to pick up Lay. Baekhyun has informed you, I believe?” he explains. The once-over he receives was expected, to be honest. Some mothers start whispering again, mumbles about his voice and his face reach his ears, and Kyungsoo’s big eyes, after they finish their appreciative evaluation of him from head to toe, look up at him with a piercing gaze. The short man raises an eyebrow.

“You’re Chanyeol?” he asks for confirmation, sounding somewhat surprised. Chanyeol wonders what Baekhyun told him to expect, if he told him anything at all. Chanyeol smiles, making a short, polite bow; he is eighty percent sure someone behind him just commented on his physical appearance. “I’m Kyungsoo, Lay’s teacher, nice to meet you” Kyungsoo introduces himself with a wide smile and a flourish, and he shakes Chanyeol’s hand; his grip is surprisingly strong for someone with such a small built. “Baekhyun said you’re tall, but he forgot to mention how handsome you are as well” he says, and as if that compliment was not obvious enough, he throws in a little wink. Chanyeol feels an uncomfortable lump in his throat, not so much because of Kyungsoo’s flirting, but because of the thoughts of Baekhyun that pop in his head. He didn’t mention I’m handsome because he doesn’t see me that way.

“Well…” he shrugs his shoulders and smiles awkwardly, not sure how to respond to Kyungsoo’s words; he’s never been good with forward people, even Baekhyun used to make him feel flustered with the things he said sometimes, when they first met.

“Well you are very punctual, Chanyeol; we just finished” Kyungsoo changes the subject mercifully, sensing Chanyeol’s discomfort. Chanyeol’s smile is easier this time and Kyungsoo looks like he prefers it that way, smiling back comfortably. “I’ll bring you Lay and her stuff. Wait here please”

Chanyeol thanks him and watches him disappear in the crowd of children. He accidentally makes eye-contact with a few mothers before he returns to his patiently awaiting position, and they send him smiles and little waves; Chanyeol shifts uncomfortably, trying not to show it on his face. He is nearly thirty years old, how can he get so flustered when irrelevant people try to flirt with him?! If Baekhyun was here in the crowd of parents, if he ever flirted with Chanyeol like this, he is sure his inner high school girl would surface, and he would be reduced to a blushing, stuttering, shy, awkward disaster.

“Lay was great today! Here we are” Kyungsoo calls, pulling Chanyeol out of his thoughts. He smiles when he sees Lay in her teacher’s arms –and then he notices all the other things her teacher is carrying at the same time: a baby seat for the car and a bag with Lay’s necessities, none of which look very light to carry. He’s sure he can manage in terms of strength and endurance, but let’s face it, he’s never been very coordinated; he worries he might hit someone while carrying all those stuff and a baby, and oh my god, what if he hits a child?! That’s why he doesn’t have his degree in parenting yet, he hasn’t been trained in such things. “These are for you” Kyungsoo confirms, handing over everything inanimate in his arms. Chanyeol arranges them as safely as possible, noticing Kyungsoo’s eyebrow quirk in surprise. “Do you need help? You’ll have to carry Lay as well”

“No, I’ll manage” Chanyeol reassures him with a smile, caressing Lay’s hair with his hand. The child smiles at him brightly in the arms of her teacher –who looks mildly impressed with Chanyeol in this moment, but Chanyeol ignores that. “Hi mochi~ How was your day?” he chirps, hoping to get on her good side, to avoid any tantrums, like Baekhyun warned him. Lay starts babbling fast, looking excited to see Chanyeol.

((Tall man, you’re here! Why are you here? Where is daddy? Are we going home? Oh, are we going to your house? Can we play with the magical table again? Please, more magical table, more magical table! Kyungie teacher, this tall man in mine and daddy’s, I’ve told you about him! And he has a magical table that sings, I want to play with him! Hand me over!))

Lay ends her speech while leaning away from Kyungsoo and doing grabby hands at Chanyeol, determined to go to him; Chanyeol smiles, because she is so cute, and many mothers around coo at her and her obvious love for the tall man, who they haven’t decided if he’s her daddy or not. Kyungsoo has no choice but to pass her to Chanyeol. “She certainly likes you” he says, eyebrows raised in amazement. Chanyeol fixes his hold on the girl –he never fails to impress himself with how easily he can do this– and he smiles at Kyungsoo.

“The feeling is mutual” he assures him, and Lay chooses that moment to cling on him, wrapping her small arms around his neck and shoulder as she can best to give him a loving hug. All mothers around them coo in unison at the sight, halfway convinced that Chanyeol is the girl’s second father, and Lay looks so happy, enjoying the attention on her while she flaunts her love for her tall man. Chanyeol is not so confident though, and this attention is making him nervous; he feels like other mothers will start approaching them asking questions any minute, drawn in by Lay’s charm and the mysterious man who is holding her –looking obliviously gorgeous too, like any mother’s dream has come to life. “We’ll be going then. Thank you for everything” Chanyeol excuses himself, watching Lay wave goodbye at her teacher and her classmates. He smiles politely at Kyungsoo and starts weaving his way through the crowd of mothers –did those come from the other class to see him?– smiling awkwardly at the coos he and Lay get on their way.

“Don’t mention it! Let us see you more often!” Kyungsoo’s enthusiastic voice rings above the rest.

---

From: Kyungsoo

Who’s the hottie?! *o* Your child loves him 14.17

Your new boyfriend? Please, say he’s your boyfriend 14.19


To: Kyungsoo

No, he’s just an old friend 14.20

From: Kyungsoo

WHY NOT BOYFRIEND?! 14.20

Can I hit on him then? He looks perfect daddy material, if you know what I mean ;) Man, I’d soooo call him daddy /swoons/ 14.21


To: Kyungsoo

/shirks horrified/ Why are you allowed near children!?’ 14.22

From: Kyungsoo

I have a life outside daycare you know, and in that life, I happen to be slightly sexually frustrated…or a lot sexually frustrated, depends on your point of view >.< 14.23

I’m just saying, if he comes back another time unsupervised, I’m gonna pounce on that hot, polite, charming, handsome, family-oriented, six foot tall and toned male specimen /drools/ Unless he’s taken, of course… ;) 14.24

Okay, I’m not saying what you should say, but I’m saying you should say ‘he’s very much taken, thank you’ and go kiss him senseless, Byun -.- 14.30


To: Kyungsoo

Easy for you to say :/ 14.31

---

Baekhyun is in an admittedly very unattractive position. He is carrying grocery bags, more of which are hanging from his forearms and cutting into his skin due to their heaviness, he is keeping the fence door open with his foot while trying to lag the stroller through it into the garden, Lay is very confused about what’s happening and Baekhyun keeps getting more and more stuck in this uncomfortable position without any progress. Ugh. He just had to be born as agile as a stubby corgi puppy, didn’t he. Knowing very well he looks utterly ridiculous to all his neighbors who happen to pass by, he swallows his pride and makes one more effort, groaning with the exertion, but the stroller won’t budge and he practically can’t move, loaded with so much stuff and given so little space. He sighs and takes a moment to calm down.

It’s not the worst situation he’s ever been into in his life, and that makes him feel a bit better, even though it does nothing to ease his embarrassment. He can be pretty clumsy on days when the summer sun is scorching down on him as if it’s not too late in the day for such sunshine, when he is carrying bizarre amounts of flour and sugar in his shopping bags, when inanimate objects are being uncooperative, and on Thursdays. Thursdays don’t like him for some reason. In any case, since he is stuck halfway into his yard –don’t even dare mention the size of his derriere and how it might have something to do with this situation– with a large stroller restraining his moves and a curious child sitting on it, he starts thinking quickly for any possible solutions, before it gets too dark; he has weaseled his way out of infinitely more difficult situations, so he’s confident he can do this, eventually.

The first thing that needs to go is the shopping bags, because his arms are starting to feel numb and he has alarming, red marks on his skin. He has to bend in two to deposit them on the inner side of the fence, and he quietly laughs to himself, because how does he always get himself in such weird situations? His need to prove himself self-sufficient is so prevalent in his mind by now, that he doesn’t care about how comical he must seem to the neighbors, and never once does he think of asking a passerby for help. He has been a firm believer that he can do it all his life, and he has always relied on others as little as possible in every sense. He whimpers when one edge of the stroller digs into his stomach but his arms are finally free and that is progress.

“Do you need help with that?” a distinctly deep voice calls behind him, and Baekhyun notices a tall shadow stretching over the fence and on his front loan, its owner presumably standing somewhere behind him. For a moment, he doesn’t want to believe it. Was that Park Chanyeol? Well who else would sound so sinfully good, even if he’d be reading a dictionary? Fuck, it is Chanyeol. Baekhyun curses his luck and flushes a deep scarlet color, because he has been caught acting embarrassingly in front of Chanyeol again. He has lost count of how many times this has happened by now. He is sure he used to act normal and maybe a little extra charismatic around Chanyeol a few years ago; how did parenthood turn him from jeune premier to an awkward potato? Why can’t he act like a decent human being at least?!

“Uhh…” he slurs very intelligently, lifting himself slowly and bracing himself with courage to face Chanyeol after this embarrassing display.

But no. Nope. No amount of mental preparation could ever make him feel ready in the least for the sight of Chanyeol in this moment.

It seems Chanyeol had been on his way home after an evening jog before he stumbled on Baekhyun’s misfortunate butt sticking out on the sidewalk, and he appears in Baekhyun’s line of sight dressed accordingly. He’s wearing sneakers and large athletic shorts, which leave his long, toned calves exposed. His sleeveless shirt is so drenched with sweat that it sticks to his body all over, emphasizing drool-worthy abdominal and pectoral muscles; Baekhyun swears Chanyeol didn’t use to be this deliciously toned back in the day, he would have noticed. Moreover, since his shirt has no sleeves, it makes for a great, illegal view of Chanyeol’s guns, muscles showing everywhere like a perfect sample of the arm anatomy, his smooth skin glistening in the afternoon sun. Chanyeol had always been well built, but on the noodle side, though this scores a whole new level of sexual frustration on Baekhyun’s personal scale. And they say miracles don’t happen.

“…probably…” Baekhyun salvages a fragment of the sentence he had been planning to say and voices it out. His heart is doing a strange number of beats per second when he looks at Chanyeol’s face, black fringe dripping with sweat and plastered to his forehead on the sides, cheeks flushed from his workout, wide eyes sparkling and teeth-rich smile blinding him.

Baekhyun is not okay.

“I got it” Chanyeol chirps and lifts the stroller helpfully, allowing Baekhyun to dislodge himself from the door, before he wheels Lay and her chariot into the yard. Baekhyun sighs in relief that this adventure is over at last, but his cheerfulness is overshadowed by the fluster that the close-up view of Chanyeol’s arms brings as he moves and carries the stroller, taught muscles pulling and bulking under his skin, driving Baekhyun insane with the urge to bite them. Oh my god, what am I thinking?! To his horror, he might or might not be salivating, too. Chanyeol inevitably notices Baekhyun’s wide-eyed staring directed at him, and he chuckles uncomfortably. “Sorry, I’m gross” he apologizes, gathering his limbs close self-consciously and grinning apprehensively, his cheeks looking even rosier than before. Baekhyun shakes his head adamantly; there is nothing gross in the world he has admired more.

“No, you aren’t” he retorts quickly; maybe too quickly to be subtle. Chanyeol realizes the unnatural response and he fidgets nervously, looking uncertain and unconvinced. Baekhyun mentally face palms; if his goal as ‘decent human being behavior’ was to creep Chanyeol out, he’s done just fine. Baekhyun panics and starts rambling, gesturing wildly with his hands. “I mean, I understand. You’ve mentioned you’re into jogging, right? I didn’t expect you to work out this much; wait, what am I saying, haha. Sorry. It’s pretty hot today, isn’t it?” he fans himself for good measure and boy is it hot, the more he looks at Chanyeol drenched in sweat like this. He can’t believe he is digging deeper into his own grave with every word that comes out of his mouth; can he restart this day and wake up on the right side of the bed, you know, the one that helps him tune in to the Earth’s frequencies more easily?

“Yeah…” Chanyeol looks amused with Baekhyun’s general lack of orientation and skill today; no one should look good when lowkey bullying you, yet all Baekhyun can think of is how cute that small smile makes the taller look. What has he done to Baekhyun’s inherent programming? Why am I being like this? Baekhyun whimpers internally, his pride wounded deeply, but he takes a breath to ease his nerves a little, and he composes himself enough to articulate a civilized part of dialogue. It needs to be done at some point.

“Thank you for your help” he says honestly, nodding to his words nervously. Then, he glances at the door uncomfortably, remembering the compromising position Chanyeol found him in; he feels his cheeks getting hotter and he bites his lip, his shoulders shrinking in embarrassment. “And…um, sorry for the show” he says quietly, eyes glued to the crime scene. He needs to get that door fixed sometime. Chanyeol looks in the direction Baekhyun is looking to understand, and then he wordlessly turns to Baekhyun again. Their eyes meet and Baekhyun feels so scarlet, as if he’s burning a million degrees; Chanyeol presses his smiling lips as if trying to keep his words behind them –again, he should not look this good to Baekhyun, he is probably dying of laughter internally at his expense, Baekhyun should be offended. And he is offended; for all the wrong reasons, like Chanyeol’s toned arms and his clingy wet shirt and his overall hotness. Lay suddenly decides to remind them she’s around.

((Tall man, daddy doesn’t like wet people; he says we catch colds if we’re wet. Go change! And then come play with me!))

She is very serious at first, as if she’s lecturing Chanyeol, but then her mood changes one hundred and eighty degrees, and she’s suddenly cheerful. It’s one of her confusing moments, which Baekhyun hopes will be resolved once she starts speaking properly. Chanyeol doesn’t seem to mind the lack of coherency in their communication in the least, and he smiles at her, bending with his hands on his knees to look down at her.

“You are so cute, mochi, and I can’t even touch you right now, aww” he coos, and Lay giggles, hiding behind her teddy bear and stealing bashful glances at Chanyeol adorably. Baekhyun smiles at the sight; his daughter is doing a better job at charming Chanyeol than he is. Not that he wants to charm Chanyeol, like, shine in his eyes and make him fall for his charisma and have him wanting him in a special way or anything –okay, that came out wrong. Chanyeol smiles at the little girl and pokes her teddy playfully, while Baekhyun is mentally panicking at his own thoughts –but on the outside, he’s picking up his grocery bags calmly. And then, he gets an idea.

“Actually, do you happen to have any free time tomorrow evening?” he asks, fixing the heavy bags on his arms and pushing the stroller towards the door. He avoids really looking at Chanyeol, because we cannot know what sort of malfunction that might bring about, can we? He hears Chanyeol following a few steps behind him.

“Sure, why?” he agrees easily, lending a helping hand to push the stroller through the front door, because Baekhyun seems to have lost sixty percent of his mobile capacity today, thanks to the heavy bags he’s carrying. Once Lay is safely inside the house, Baekhyun hums, smiling to himself triumphantly and dropping the bags everywhere to finally be rid of them, before turning around with a bright smile, which he hopes will convince Chanyeol to spend another evening holed up in Baekhyun’s house. He inwardly makes a promise to the holy puppies of rainbowland that he won’t be as much of an awkward potato tomorrow.

“I need your baking expertise, so, can you come by at eight?”

---

“They do this every year?” Chanyeol asks with interest, pushing down the scoop of dough with the help of a second spoon, until it detaches and settles on the tray, next to a row of similar, pretty dollops, dotted with black chocolate chips all over.

“Uh-huh” Baekhyun answers distractedly, holding the top of the small, clear bag with one hand and reaching for the ribbon band with the other. He pulls enough material and then cuts it, picking up the piece of red ribbon to tie a bow around the bag’s opening, creating a little pouch. He observes his work and straightens the bow a little; perfect. Then, he adds it to the growing pile inside the bamboo basket he is keeping on his right, also decorated with red ribbon bows. They’ve been doing this for some time now.

They are gathered here today to bake cookies for the Daycare Fair, which is tomorrow. Every year, during the last few days of daycare, the school organizes various activities for the parents and their children, to celebrate the end of a successful year. Each class is assigned a different task, and since toddlers like Lay are too little to do anything substantial for the festivities, their parents organize a fair with baked goods and other delicacies. They had a parents’ meeting a week ago where they brainstormed for ideas, and then Kyungsoo split the tasks and requested each parent for a contribution based on the list they’d made. Baekhyun was assigned with the ‘mountain of cookies’ –he’d rather something more exciting, like the ‘caramelized apple tree’ or the ‘sky of floating meringues’, but Kyungsoo said he couldn’t assign him his own suggestions, bleh.

Chanyeol’s baking genius was required of course, to construct the actual mountain of cookies, which they both thought would be kind of ugly and plain to make in the end, so they settled on making a centre piece for the display and bake many cookies separately, stored in little bags. Chanyeol made an impressive layered cake, with chocolate-and-cookie-dough-inspired filling, and then he decorated it with cookies and other sweets, while Baekhyun was busy with his teething daughter; yes, they’re slowly welcoming her fourth tooth, after much crying and complaining. She has been much more agreeable since then, sitting on her high chair and watching the two men bake batch after batch of cookies, munching on a cookie they made especially for her, without chips, since she doesn’t eat chocolate yet.

“And what do they do with the money from the purchases?” Chanyeol asks his nth question about the fair; he seems so interested in Lay’s school in general, Baekhyun guesses it’s because he’s never had to know such things about children’s schooling and he finds it remarkable. Those questions pop up at random times while they’re working on the cookies, and Baekhyun has repeatedly caught himself expecting one during their silent moments.

“They use it to pay the yearly fees for children whose families cannot afford daycare” he explains, just like Kyungsoo explained it to the parents. Baekhyun was excited for the fair to begin with, since he enjoys doing daddy stuff, but he got even more invested in it after he found out about the daycare’s initiative. He thinks it’s a very kind gesture and he’s glad to be a small part of it.

“Thakh gyeat” Chanyeol mumbles in awe; even though his tone of voice is easy to decode, his words aren’t. Baekhyun stops for a second and turns to Chanyeol in confusion, only to catch him in the act; he’s eating the cookie dough! Never has a lisp been more incriminating, and Chanyeol turns to Baekhyun at the same time the elder does, his eyes widening and his shoulders cowering guiltily for having been caught; he looks like a combination of a shocked, flustered kid, and one of those guilty puppies from the videos Baekhyun never watches at work. Baekhyun gasps dramatically and snatches the bowl of cookie dough in his arms.

“Heyyy don’t eat my cookie dough!” he protests, raising his chin and pouting accusingly at Chanyeol. With stubbornly furrowed eyebrows, clutching the bowl possessively in his arms, he probably looks like a jealous, selfish child, but all he’s thinking about is that Chanyeol will get a stomachache if he eats too much raw cookie dough; he can be such a mom sometimes, but no one needs to know that. Chanyeol swallows the rest of the dough he had in his mouth and blinks at Baekhyun innocently, all lovely big ears, huge puppy eyes and pitifully pouting lips. Nobody can cope with this amount of cuteness in a moderately sane way.

“That was for quality check” he begs, giving Baekhyun the heartbreaking slow blinks of remorse. Baekhyun stands his ground for maybe two seconds, before he caves in to Chanyeol’s kicked puppy act, which is messing with his head and his heart so badly he can barely remember why he pretended to get mad at Chanyeol in the first place. He harrumphs and puts the bowl down halfheartedly, somewhere where the mess on the counter is relatively less prominent. Chanyeol relaxes into an obedient and keen expression, eager to prove he’s a good boy, holding his spoon to his chest dutifully. Baekhyun is tempted to laugh but he holds his sulking expression for a moment longer.

“Be careful not to repeat this offence, Park Chanyeol, or I will have you removed from cookie-spooning duty, and reassigned to packaging” he threatens, wagging a ladle under taller’s nose for effect. Baekhyun’s assumingly fierce gaze seems to do the trick, and Chanyeol’s face falls.

“But packaging is boring!” he whines, playing along. Baekhyun puts down the ladle, recomposing himself and picking up the next plastic bag to fill.

“Exactly my point.” He says coolly, nodding his nose snobbishly.

They spend a while in silence, doing their respective work. It’s comfortable for both, and Baekhyun secretly feels a little lighter, having someone to rely on, even for such a small thing as sharing the workload. He is so absorbed by his thoughts and his horribly repetitive actions that he doesn’t notice when Chanyeol finishes with the tray of cookies; he does notice, however, when Chanyeol shuffles closer to him and leans his head on Baekhyun’s shoulder, in an honestly uncomfortable angle for his height. Baekhyun pauses his work again to see what the matter is, turning his head to look at Chanyeol in bewilderment; what might be the delightful occasion that brings Chanyeol in such proximity, making Baekhyun’s butterflies jump around in his stomach?

Chanyeol has such a dreamy look on his face, his eyes soft and glazed, and his lips curling in a wistful smile. Baekhyun doesn’t remember the last time he saw him so dazed or stunned, but he would be lying if he said he isn’t jealous of this stupidly handsome expression. And his hair smells nice- what? Focus, Baekhyun. Following Chanyeol’s gaze, intrigued as to what might be that which Chanyeol is staring at with such fascination and adoration, Baekhyun sees his daughter, still sitting in her high chair quietly. The squeeze of his heart is too small to notice, overshadowed by his own affectionate smile.

Lay it too busy to mind the adults, focused on munching her special cookie. It’s not easy business, when you have only three teeth and a sore gum, and the nom-nom is too big to fit in your mouth at once. She has to nibble on it, grain by grain, and that’s nowhere near satisfying when the entire house smells like an explosion of sweet cookie flavor. If she is lucky, her drool softens the cookie enough for her to bite off a small piece, but her little arms get tired of holding up the cookie for too long. She has crumbs all around her mouth, her hands, the table –and probably the floor too– are sticky and dirty, but she is determined to chomp down this nom-nom, and she won’t give up until then!

“Why is she so cute when she’s messy?” Chanyeol coos and Baekhyun hums in agreement, finding her fixed gaze on the cookie very endearing. He can’t even fret over the mess and the cleanup he’ll have to do later, because she looks so overwhelmingly adorable; she deserves a little mess every now and then. Chanyeol sighs longingly at the sight, getting Baekhyun’s attention, and the shorter pats him on the back with one hand for comfort; he knows the feeling. Same, Chanyeol, same.

They keep watching Lay for some time, and for some reason Baekhyun’s hand can be found resting on Chanyeol’s broad back throughout this time. He has switched from gentle pats to absentminded caresses and little rubs, which Chanyeol doesn’t object. A thought returns to Baekhyun –more like it hurls itself in the middle of his cognitive processes– and he keeps his gaze on Lay pensively, toying with the idea that’s squirming in his thoughts and behind his lips.

If we assume he should go for it, is this a good time? Baekhyun bites the inside of his cheek for a moment and then he draws a breath, thinking that now is as good a time as any.

“Chanyeol, I’ve been thinking-” well, maybe not as good as any, because Baekhyun is interrupted by his cooking timer. Chanyeol removes himself from Baekhyun’s shoulder, going back to his place by the counter to stand unobtrusively. Baekhyun swallows his disappointment at the ill timing of the cookies in the oven, and he picks up his kitchen gloves, walking over. A deliciously smelling heat wave comes out when he opens the oven, and he is so distracted that he reaches for the baking tray with his bare hand. “Aw!” he yelps, retracting his hand instantly and holding his poor finger to his lips.

“What happened? Are you okay?” Chanyeol jumps beside him in an instant, his eyebrows tangled with worry as he inspects Baekhyun’s face with concern. Baekhyun holds his hand to his chest protectively, his lips forming a small smile.

“I just burnt myself a little, I’ll live” he reassures Chanyeol, feeling a little guilty for being so loud over something so small that will have probably faded by tomorrow. Chanyeol doesn’t look convinced and he holds out one hand.

“Let me see”

“No, go back to your cookies” Baekhyun turns his whole body the other way to prevent Chanyeol from grabbing his hand for an unnecessary inspection. Chanyeol insists for a few seconds, before he gives up with an eye roll at Baekhyun’s childish behavior, and walks back to the counter. Baekhyun reaches for the cookie tray with his gloved hand this time, pulling it out and replacing it with a new one, full of well-shaped raw cookies. He places the hot cookies on the cooling rack carefully, and then he puts everything aside and walks back to his packaging post. It takes one glance to notice Chanyeol is sulking, idly toying with a spoon and staring at it pensively with a pout on his lips –and it’s all Baekhyun’s fault. Baekhyun sighs and attempts to brighten the taller’s mood with a smile. “They say if you’re pouting while you’re baking, the cookies don’t come out good”

“I’m always here for you, you know that, right?” Chanyeol says, his voice suddenly serious and deep. A frown between his eyebrows makes him look much more brooding, and maybe Baekhyun doesn’t understand perfectly where the question came from, but he has a gnawing feeling in his stomach it’s not just about the insignificant burn on his finger. When Chanyeol’s sunshine dims, it’s usually for something important, perhaps something he’s been worrying about for years. Baekhyun gulps and stays silent, feeling speechless. How can he answer Chanyeol’s question? Of course he knows that he can count on Chanyeol for the smallest, to the greatest, to the craziest of things, but it doesn’t feel right to say it out loud, especially after Baekhyun abandoned Chanyeol two years ago, and if not for coincidence, he would still be without him. Baekhyun’s chest feels too heavy and stuffy all of a sudden, and he is glad Chanyeol’s eyes are too timid to look at him when he is sure he looks so hurt. “Why won’t you let me help you sometimes?” Chanyeol whispers.

If Baekhyun has ever regretted his stubborn tendencies to be independent in his life, this would be the moment he does.

“Actually…” he bites his lip, still unsure of how Chanyeol might take his request, or if he’s allowed to make it at all. Chanyeol is still moping, but he glances at Baekhyun out of the corner of his eye with timid expectation, and Baekhyun decides to go for it. “I was just about to ask for your help” he admits quietly. He feels uncomfortable when asking favors and this time is no different, so he can’t fully appreciate the drastic way Chanyeol’s entire appearance changes so fast after his words, even though it’s very impressive. Chanyeol is suddenly shining, bursting at the seams with excitement, his eyes sparkling, as if Baekhyun just showed him the sun for the first time.

“Really?! Tell me, what is it, anything, I’ll do it!” the words flow out of his mouth fast, and he looks ready for anything, squirming a little in anticipation and looking at Baekhyun with wide, honest eyes. Baekhyun smiles nervously.

“Calm down, Yeol” he says, picking up his work again. Chanyeol is excited now, but maybe he won’t be as pleased to hear Baekhyun’s request. Baekhyun takes a moment to think up a good way of phrasing his request; he had made plans and prepared speeches for it, just in case this moment ever arrived, but those drafts are lost in his memory. He decides to start somewhere and see where it takes him, always keeping his eyes on his hands. “Lay’s daycare closes for the summer this week, so she’ll have to stay at home on weekdays too. I can’t leave her alone, obviously, but I can’t change my schedule at work so suddenly either, and they can’t give me leave yet. So I was thinking…” here comes the tough part and Baekhyun’s words lodge in his throat, his mind blanks, and oh god, he can’t say it, he won’t say it.

“You need a babysitter” Chanyeol guesses, blinking at Baekhyun obliviously. Baekhyun gives him a pained look, pleading for him to magically understand what he had been planning to say, trying to will the words through Chanyeol’s skull by telepathy. Chanyeol seems confused by the half-pleading, half-apologetic, intense look Baekhyun is giving him, until somehow he has an epiphany, and his eyebrows shoot up at the realization. “You want ME to be the babysitter!” he exclaims, making Baekhyun wince. Chanyeol looks only surprised after his sudden enlightenment, and anything other than an immediate, positive answer, is not good enough for Baekhyun, whose insecurity cascades down on him like ten tons of sand, and words start coming out of his lips beyond his control.

“Only if you’re okay with it! I don’t mean to ruin your summer plans or keep you from your work, I deeply respect your work and I don’t mean to imply you’re idle, and of course, I’ll pay for your services, and you won’t have to do anything other than watch her and take her for a walk, I’ll have everything prepared, and it will be only for the days I’m at work, and-”

Baekhyun’s rant is interrupted by a cookie, when Chanyeol shoves it in his mouth to stop him from talking so fast. Still lacking confidence and blushing for his embarrassing outburst, he looks at Chanyeol with puppy eyes, praying to every deity out there that Chanyeol is not mad or offended. The taller looks at him in the eyes, solemn and composed, rendering Baekhyun unable to decipher his mood, in spite of their intense eye-contact.

“Why me?” he asks calmly, a frown appearing between his eyebrows. His stance is stern and serious, and Baekhyun doesn’t even dare bat an eyelash.

“Ah truht youw” he mumbles around the cookie, feeling too stunned by Chanyeol’s gaze and too distracted by his raging thoughts. He was hoping he could one day say those words to Chanyeol’s face, preferably without a cookie lodged between his lips, but oh well. He honestly trusts Chanyeol with his life –he even trusts him with his daughter, for crying out loud– but he doesn’t think he has ever told him that. The fact that he has never said the words out loud doesn’t make them any less true though, and it’s because he trusts him so much that he decided to make this proposal in the first place.

Chanyeol is not confused after Baekhyun’s mumbled words, so he must have understood –if not by the sound, then by the honest look in Baekhyun’s eyes– and since he is not reacting in any way, Baekhyun thinks it’s safe to take that as a rejection, so he takes the cookie out of his mouth with a sigh and he starts babbling away his insecurities and his disappointment. “You know what? Forget it, it’s totally fine. Kyungsoo knows some good babysitters, or I can ask my mother on some days” he dismisses, trying to add a casual but very strained smile. It’s not like he’s out of options, it’s just that he has to strike out the first, but he’ll be okay, he’s not hopeless. “Don’t even worry about it, it was just a thought”

“I’ll do it.”

“I get it, you have your own life, Chanyeol, I would never- wait, what?” Baekhyun stops his pity-party speech when Chanyeol’s words actually register. He looks at the taller as if he’s growing a second head, not believing his ears heard that last part right. Chanyeol beams.

“I’ll do it!” he exclaims with a big smile of glee, jumping on Baekhyun to crush him in an enthusiastic bear hug. Baekhyun flails a bit at first, still disoriented by the turn of events, but Chanyeol’s arms are secure and tight around him, helping him slowly accept his words. He’ll do it. Chanyeol will be taking care of Lay! Baekhyun relaxes in relief and hugs Chanyeol back eagerly, hiding his face in the taller’s chest.

“What took you so long to decide? I chipped my heart over these cookies” he whimpers. Chanyeol’s hold tightens reassuringly, bringing them impossibly close.

“You had me from the start” Chanyeol’s deep voice carries a smile and it reverberates nicely in his chest against Baekhyun’s cheek. Then he pulls back, smiling sweetly at a pouting Baekhyun. “Sorry for stressing your daddy heart” he says, patting Baekhyun’s chest over his heart, as if he can ease the uncomfortable tightness caused by the emotional torment; weirdly enough, he can do that. In a moment, Chanyeol leaves Baekhyun with a blinding smile on his lips, skipping his way around the kitchen and kneeling down next to Lay’s chair. The little girl looks at him with interest and Chanyeol smiles at her so brightly that even Baekhyun’s lips curve into a small smile.

“Lay~ did you hear? We’re going to be spending every morning together! We’ll play together eeeevery day, and go for walks, and cook together, and have so much fun!” he starts excitedly, making plans with twinkling eyes and big gestures, looking thrilled beyond words. Baekhyun nearly bursts to tears; he chose right, didn’t he? And now his child will be safe and happy and loved when he’s not with her, a thought which makes his heart both squeeze and expand, beating fast. Lay keeps her wide eyes on Chanyeol, trying to keep up with whatever the grownup is saying, her leg slowly starting to kick in excitement. She looks just as ecstatic as Chanyeol, by the time the latter asks her “What do you say, mochi?”

((Holy precious daddy’s smile, tall man, you look so happy! Daddy, daddy! I think I’m happy too!))

---



Chanyeol is having the best week of his life, even better than the one he spent at Disneyland –he means it. Even though he and Baekhyun never discussed any details, they’ve easily found a convenient routine; Chanyeol comes over early in the morning –if he hasn’t spent the night on the couch of Baekhyun’s living room already, because he had been too tired to go home last night– and he cooks breakfast for the adults and Lay separately. Baekhyun and Lay join him for breakfast, then Baekhyun gets ready for work while Chanyeol cleans up, keeping an eye on the girl. Baekhyun always makes it a point to kiss his daughter before he leaves, and Chanyeol holds her in his arms to wave goodbye from the doorstep as Baekhyun gets in his car.

The day is all theirs to conquer after Baekhyun is gone, and Chanyeol tries to make every day fascinating for the little child. He makes up games for Lay to pass the time or they play with her toys, and sometimes they go outside to play in the yard –all the neighbors must have heard the news by now, that Chanyeol babysits Lay. Mrs. Lee was the first to ask about it, and Chanyeol explained that he and Baekhyun are old friends and, given the circumstances, this arrangement is not strange in any way; as long as Lay looks happy, people are convinced this is a positive development, so they don’t ask any further questions. The fact that he and Baekhyun look so comfortable around each other helps to appease the conscience of worried fellow parents.

Chanyeol might not be able to compete with daycare, but Lay seems to like spending time with him. She explores his limits and the things she can do with him that her daddy doesn’t do –they can play tigers together, and he lets her sit on her high chair in the kitchen while he cooks lunch!– and she learns the things he’s not comfortable doing without her daddy around, like letting her play with her paints –the damage risk is too high. He gets better at recognizing her moods and finding out what she wants, and she gets better at eating green stuff, because tall man can turn them into airplanes! They usually have their midday snack and their lunch together; Chanyeol loves feeding her during lunch time, but he lets her struggle with her snack by herself –until she gets too messy and frustrated, at least.

Baekhyun comes home shortly after nap time, and even though Chanyeol can be excused at that point, he always ends up invited for dinner. Lay lights up whenever she sees her daddy coming home, eager to let him know everything she and Chanyeol have done earlier in the day, and Baekhyun looks just as thrilled to be near his child again, as if it’s his favorite moment of the day. Chanyeol admires him for always being so enthusiastic and energetic around Lay, in spite of being so tired from work. Baekhyun is a super parent, always so sweet and making her smile, while taking care of himself as well.

Depending on how well Baekhyun feels, he or Chanyeol make dinner and they all eat together after spending some time on games and small talk. Then, Chanyeol watches the bath ritual and wishes Lay goodnight, tidying up the house while Baekhyun tucks her in. Whether he falls asleep on the couch or not depends on how tired he is and how motivated he feels to work on his compositions late at night; it’s clear that he will have to spend some afternoons at his house once his workload increases. He is sure Baekhyun won’t mind but Chanyeol can tell he is going to have trouble composing away from the house –and the people– that he’s growing more and more attached to.

Chanyeol had to leave them only for half a day, to attend the family dinner at his father’s house, just like on every other first Sunday of the month –but he managed to be back before Lay’s bedtime and wish her goodnight before heading off to his house. He needed that moment, to smile at the sleepy girl and pet her hair, because during that dinner, Chanyeol had a fantastic rollercoaster type of talk with his older sister –like all siblings do sometimes– and he wanted to end the night on an undeniably good note.

With the sixth sense she possesses ever since she was five, Yura got suspicious of him before he left their family house, and she cornered him in the kitchen with a million questions; and thou shall fear the mighty older sisters when they want to find out about something. She started very inconspicuously, asking for the nth time if he has settled in after he moved and how he finds the new neighborhood, but her questions got more persistent after she sniffed something was iffy on the topic of neighbors. Chanyeol had already mentioned that there is ‘an old friend’ living in his neighborhood, since his family had been so worried and curious when he first started settling in his new house, but he hadn’t mentioned which friend in particular. He couldn’t see a way out of her schemes this time though, so he told her about Baekhyun.

He knew Yura’s reaction would be frustrated groans and overprotective questions on how he feels about it, how he feels about Baekhyun, and what he’s planning to do on the matter. Yura has never met Baekhyun in person, but they’ve talked on the phone and she knows enough of him through Chanyeol, and she is the only other person on the planet who knows of Chanyeol’s feelings for him. She used to adore Baekhyun, but she grew a bit wary of him after he disappeared two years ago. Chanyeol can’t blame her; he was an emotional wreck after it happened and she was concerned for her little brother. Ever since, her biggest worry is that Chanyeol has been scarred forever and he won’t try to find love again, because according to her, he is a ‘blind, hopeless puppy’. To add to her worry, Chanyeol never tried to find love again indeed, not because of some trauma or newfound principle, but because it never felt right, you know? He never seems able to explain this to his sister properly.

So, imagine her horror when Chanyeol told her he agreed to babysit Baekhyun’s daughter. It wasn’t pretty. She called him crazy multiple times, accused him of ruining his own life for no reason, she begged him to think this through and stop wasting his love and time on someone who has done nothing to deserve it. He can’t say he finds this the most rational and unbiased decision he has ever made, but something finally feels right for him after a long time, so he doesn’t want to reject it without giving it a try first –it’s not like he signed a slavery contract, for crying out loud. Chanyeol doesn’t want to think what she’d say if he told her more about what babysitting Lay is actually like for him; she’d probably call up her psychologist friend right then and there.

Fortunately, she slowly came to terms with Chanyeol’s choices. The more she mulled over and cursed his predicament, the more she seemed to understand it. Maybe it was the sibling blood that never runs cold, maybe it was Chanyeol’s puppy eyes and his earnest commitment into trying this road to happiness that she eventually sighed and told him that, even though she doesn’t agree, she will support him. If Chanyeol thinks he can be happy this way, all she can do is wish him the best –and make sure they’ll always have consolation ice cream at home and her husband won’t eat it. Chanyeol was in the middle of attacking her cheeks repeatedly with childish kisses of joy, when she grumbled and said that this better be worth it, because if Chanyeol can’t make this love work this time either, ‘sorry to break it to you, but you’ll die a spinster, Yeollie’. That might have been the most concerning thing she’d spoken all night.

---

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