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Chanyeol is on his way home from work. It’s a rare occurrence. The company allows him to work from home and he has to visit the downtown studio only once a month or so, the rest can be taken care of through lunches and phone calls with Luhan. Today he had a simple scheduled meeting but then his beloved coworkers had him join them for lunch, complaining that they hadn’t seen him ever since he moved in the suburbs; it was a cuteness massive attack.

Chanyeol smiles as he turns into his familiar neighborhood, with the memory of his friends’ attempts at persuading him to stay for a few more hours in the city and explore some new, cozy little restaurant with them; it was fun. However, the smile freezes on his lips when he hears shrill cries as he drives by Baekhyun’s front yard, and it’s immediately replaced by a concerned frown. He tries to peer over the fence, but all he can discern is a crouched figure. Then he gets a glimpse of Lay’s small face scrunched in pain.

And that’s the moment when Park Chanyeol feels panic for the first time in his life.

He accelerates for the remaining few meters to his house, parking his car messily in the driveway and jumping out of it faster than his clumsy limbs have ever allowed him before. For all the ten long steps that separate his house from Baekhyun’s, Chanyeol can feel his stomach churning, as if slimy tentacles of worry are curling around his spine. The closer he gets the louder Lay’s cries become, and soothing lies in a voice which is not Baekhyun’s can be heard. He practically leaps over the fence, using his tall legs to his advantage.

“E-excuse me? Mr. Park?” Chen stutters, looking up at him in surprise when he’s looming over the toddler and the teenager, who happens to be another of his new neighbors.

“Chen? What happened? Why is she crying? Where is Baekhyun?” Chanyeol asks restively as he squats down beside them, inspecting the crying little girl, his eyes zeroing in on a small gush of blood on her left knee. His hand dwarfs Lay’s chubby calf as he examines her skin. The seventeen year-old flails beside him.

“I’m so sorry, Mr. Park! I watch over Lay sometimes, but she’s never gotten injured before! And now she’s bleeding and she won’t stop crying, can you help her? I don’t know what to do! I called Mr. Byun at his office and he said he’d be here soon. I’m so sorry!” Chen keeps apologizing like the responsible boy he is, looking like he’s about to start crying himself. Chanyeol sighs, somewhat relieved after finding that Lay’s injury is not serious.

“It’s okay, accidents happen” he reassures the pouting teenager, picking Lay off the ground and drawing her into his lap to dust off the dirt on her hands. The little girl wails and falls into his chest, leaving wet smears on his shirt. Chanyeol hugs her and strokes her hair comfortingly, unsure of what else he could do with a crying child in his arms; it feels so strange, it’s making his heart beat faster. He bites his lip, thinking of the city traffic at this hour; Baekhyun will probably be late. I can’t leave her here like this. “It doesn’t look very serious, it’s probably just a scratch. I can take care of it at home; do you think that would be okay?” he asks the teenager, getting up with Lay in his arms. Chen still looks frazzled.

“Should I come with you or…?” he asks, watching Lay cling to Chanyeol like her life depends on it. Chanyeol is a bit surprised she has warmed up to him this much after having met him only a handful of times, but he smiles at Chen confidently –he’s the responsible adult here, after all.

“I think I can manage her” he says, rearranging her in his arms so that he can hold her more securely. For someone who has held a child only once in his life before, he thinks he’s doing well. She hides her face in his neck and Chanyeol rubs her back, like he has seen Baekhyun do –she is so squishy, he could do this for hours. Her little hands are firmly clutched around his shoulder, with more strength than Chanyeol thought a toddler could possess. “It looks like she’ll be staying with me until Baekhyun returns” Chen nods and pats the little girl’s back.

“I’ll call Mr. Byun to let him know and apologize. Thank you, Mr. Park” he says, blinking up at Chanyeol and following him to the gate. “We’re still on for playing videogames at your house tomorrow, right?” he asks, shielding his eyes from the sun. Chanyeol cracks a smile at the irrelevant comment and nods. He’s been making friends with his neighbors for the past few weeks, and he recently discovered that the older teenagers are willing and eager to play videogames with him, even though he’s at least a decade older. Chanyeol is proud of himself; he has turned into one of the ‘cool’ grownups.

After bidding Chen goodbye, Chanyeol wastes no time, carrying the little child to his house and fumbling with his keys, trying to open the door without a clear view of the lock. Lay quiets down a bit when they step inside the house, distracted by the unfamiliar surroundings. Chanyeol gets the chance to smile at her when she blinks up at him with wide, wet eyes.

“Welcome to my house, princess! You’re my first visitor, did you know that?” he chirps, kicking off his shoes and walking to the kitchen. It’s also my first time alone with a child, oh god. The little girl mumbles something at him like an urgent complaint, and she starts whimpering again. Chanyeol hums in response, praying that she will focus on their interaction rather than her injury; miraculously enough, it seems to work, because she mumbles something more instead of starting another crying fit. So they keep their pointless conversation going while Chanyeol fetches the first aid kid and settles her on the breakfast bar to take care of her scratch. She watches him closely when he starts pulling out various items from the box, looking back and forth from his hands to his face with suspicion.

“Why are you so quiet, princess?” he asks with a small smile, sensing her discomfort. She was so chatty just a moment ago.

((What are these strange toys, tall man? I don’t like them, they aren’t pretty and they smell ewie. What about my boo-boo? It still feels ouchie! Daddy always chu~s my boo-boos away. Where is daddy? Holy unicorns, why are you making a mess? We shouldn’t make messes!))

“We will clean up your scratch with this, so that it won’t hurt anymore” he explains softly, after noticing her eyes widening and her speech becoming faster once he dipped the cotton in a bit of iodine. She looks at him warily, clearly unconvinced. She looks so much like Baekhyun with this expression on her small features. Thinking it’d be best to just get on with it, he tries to be swift and thorough in disinfecting her injury, but she cries out nonetheless, and the sound stabs at Chanyeol’s heart. “It will be okay, princess, please don’t cry~ See, we’re done!” he coos at her, blowing on her scratch gently. She looks at her knee and then at him, blinking away fat tears and mumbling at him halfheartedly.

((You painted a red dokkie-dokkie on my boo-boo ouchie?))

“You are so brave! Now let’s put a sticker on, shall we?” he says animatedly, picking an appropriately sized adhesive plaster to cover her scratch with. “Help me stick it on?” he suggests with a mischievous smile. He is surprised when she returns the exact same albeit toothless smile, her eyes glinting. She understands so well! It’s as if she has forgotten all her pain in an instant, her little fingers joining his enthusiastically as they push the edges of the plaster to stick on her skin. She cheers when they’re done and Chanyeol claps for their successful collaboration, listening to her babbling and clapping. It seems surreal to have such angelic sounds resonating in his humble kitchen.

She giggles up at him, looking straight into his eyes with her cocoa orbs, cheeks still wet, and she looks so cute that Chanyeol doesn’t stop to think twice about it before he sweeps her in his arms and brings her in a circle. She squeals and clings onto him, and then she giggles again, so Chanyeol spins them in slow circles, stopping every time just to hear that sweet baby sound. When he thinks she’s close to getting dizzy, he stops in spite of her protests and sits on the couch for a while, giving them both a bit of time to calm down.

Slowly but steadily the thrill fades, and Chanyeol starts considering that he still has some time to spend with the girl, but he has no toys to entertain her. He looks around and he realizes that he doesn’t even have a space for her to sit and play safely, without dangerous cables and fragile sound composing equipment scattered around. His house is not childproof by any means. He pouts while trying to think of a solution about it, and suddenly, a small finger pokes his puffed out cheek. He looks down, exhaling in surprise, and Lay giggles heartily, swaying in his lap. Chanyeol blinks, stunned, but his lips manage to form a loose smile in response. His mother used to do that, poke his cheek when he was pouting; Chanyeol is certain he mentioned that to Baekhyun once a long time ago, but…Baekhyun taught her that? Why?

“You are so sweet, princess” he mumbles with a soft smile, brushing strands of her silky hair away from her face. She has such a cute face, cheeks plum and eyes sparkling. She leans into his touch, enjoying the affection –a small part of Chanyeol’s brain is whispering that he is not supposed to grow so attached to someone else’s child, but most of Chanyeol’s whole being is inevitably falling madly in love with this little creature and all its antics. “Let me show you something” he suggests, picking her up naturally, and she mumbles her agreement happily.

He crosses the living room and reaches the furthest back, where his piano sits quietly. It’s too large in comparison to the space, but he likes the original crystal sound of it. He lifts the lid before he sits down on the stool, placing her in his lap. Lay looks at the piano curiously, and when she decides that she can’t decide what to think of it, she looks up at Chanyeol questioningly.

“This is a piano” he announces helpfully and she looks back at said object as if expecting it to say something too. She has probably never seen a real piano before, so he demonstrates its use by running his fingers over the keys once. Chanyeol chuckles when she jumps a little in surprise at the loud, mingling notes. He presses a few keys slowly, and she relaxes again, eyeing the instrument in a more friendly way. Chanyeol’s heart melts when she leans against him, getting comfortable. “Hmm, what should we play today?” he wonders aloud, posing his fingers for action. “Something pretty for the pretty princess” he coos, smiling down at her. She returns the smile and the world lights up, Chanyeol swears.

He starts playing La Vie En Rose and he is surprised his fingers remember it so well. It’s been a while since he performed with an audience of any kind, and his spectator this time is truly precious. Her eyes widen in awe, sparkling, and her little lips gape. She looks enchanted, taken with the sweet notes and the lulling, slow melody. It’s so endearing. Chanyeol is sure no one who has heard him play has ever paid him so much attention. He extends the song with an improvised take on the main notes, just to watch her dazed expression for a while longer. When he finishes, he watches her with interest as she leans forward towards the piano, observing it in admiration.

((What sorcery is this??!))

She whispers something –or maybe she sighs– and then she takes one of his hands in both hers, looking in his palm really hard, as if trying to understand what created the music earlier. After a while of fruitless staring, without warning, she places her hand against his, as if trying to compare them. Her hand is so small and warm. Chanyeol’s cheeks flame up all of a sudden.

“Should I play something else?” he asks with a smile, and she looks up at him with amazed round eyes. Chanyeol starts wondering what other things Lay might not have seen in her short lifetime, and how many of those he can show her himself, just to see that twinkling look in her beautiful eyes.

It takes five more songs, some better performed than others, and an additional time of ten minutes until Baekhyun arrives. Lay and Chanyeol are having such a good time, playing in the cushion castle they’ve built on the couch, that they nearly miss the urgent knocks against the door. Assuming it’s her worried daddy knocking fretfully on Chanyeol’s front door, he fishes the giggling child from the sea of pillows and listens to her babbling vigorously as they approach the door.

“Where is she?!” is the first thing Baekhyun asks, before the door is out of the way properly. Chanyeol blinks in surprise, but he can’t really blame Baekhyun for being so flustered; he was pretty worried earlier too, and he is not even Lay’s father. When Baekhyun’s eyes focus on Lay’s smiling face he heaves a great sigh of relief. “Oh baby, there you are!” he exclaims and takes her from Chanyeol’s arms as the taller ushers him inside. Baekhyun kisses her hair and cheeks repeatedly, and the child giggles from receiving such a shower of pecks. “I’m so sorry, honeycomb! Daddy is here now. Did you get hurt? Are you okay?” he frets over her, looking her up and down and touching the edge of the plaster on her knee with a sad look. Chanyeol bites his lips shyly, responsible for the cartoon puppy drawing on the plaster.

“She has a scratch but we cleaned it up and put a pretty sticker on it” Chanyeol provides helpfully, keeping his voice cheerful. “She probably got it while crawling around on all fours, she’ll be fine. She hasn’t complained about it since we were done treating it and she moves just fine. No other injuries” he flashes a reassuring smile and Baekhyun exhales, his shoulders relaxing.

“Thank you, Chanyeol, I really appreciate this” he says earnestly, looking at him with grateful eyes. Chanyeol cannot imagine what a fright Baekhyun must have had. He feels oddly proud, for being there when Lay and Baekhyun needed him.

“Don’t mention it” he shrugs his shoulders and smiles widely, fighting down a blush which threatens to spill on his cheeks from having Baekhyun’s eyes focused on him so sincerely. Baekhyun is soon distracted though, because Lay starts mumbling and pointing at the piano frantically with big, round eyes.

((Daddy, daddy! Tall man has a magical table! He pokes it and it sings! Isn’t that amazing?))

“Well, someone looks like she’s been having fun” Baekhyun observes with a smile, raising his eyebrows in disbelief. Chanyeol shuffles his feet bashfully, but deep down he’s happy with himself, for surviving any amount of time alone with a child for the first time in his life.

“We did, didn’t we?” he asks Lay cheerfully “We played the piano and then built a castle!”

“Nice parenting instincts” Baekhyun comments offhandedly, almost as if he doesn’t realize he’s saying it aloud. Chanyeol is stunned for a moment and then his ears turn bright pink; he can feel them burning, but thankfully it goes unnoticed. He got praised.

For his parenting skills.

By an actual parent.

By Baekhyun.

“Honeycomb, did you have fun?” he hugs his daughter close once more, burying his nose in her neck. The child squeals cutely. Baekhyun doesn’t move, hiding behind the little girl, but he looks at Chanyeol, the lines of his face looking more relaxed and a bit shy. “Hi, Chanyeol” he mumbles in a small voice, blinking up innocently. Chanyeol hadn’t realized he was missing a greeting, but it’s nice to receive one.

“Hello, Baekhyun. Welcome to my house” he smiles, making a small curtsy. Baekhyun’s eyes widen and he holds Lay in his chest so that his panicked face is visible now.

“Oh my god, I’m sorry for barging in like that” he starts rambling “It’s just that, my brain kept coming up with these scenarios, like, what if she’ll need stitches, or plastic surgery, or a blood transfusion, what if we need to take her to the hospital, what if she’s crying, what if she’s in pain, what am I going to do, and the car was not moving in that bloody traffic and all I could think of was WHERE IS MY CHILD?!”

“Baekhyun, breathe, you’re scaring her” Chanyeol interrupts his frantic speech, which had started growing louder and louder. He strokes the shorter man’s arm comfortingly and Baekhyun takes a deep breath before tuning his breaths to Chanyeol’s rhythmic touches; thank god that trick still works. Lay looks at her father with reserved eyes, unsure what to make of his current state; if only she knew how worried he was about her.

“Daddy is fine” Baekhyun reassures her with a small smile and a kiss on the forehead. “He’s tired, hungry, probably missing a part of his soul from this scare and a bit of his dignity, but he’s fine” he nods to his words like a cute little puppy. Chanyeol chuckles; he had missed this self-assuring side of Baekhyun, even though he had always hoped Baekhyun would share his feelings and let others help him more often, instead of trying so hard to be self-sufficient all the time. Maybe that’s part why Chanyeol always felt that Baekhyun could do so much better than him.

“Would you like to stay for dinner?” Chanyeol proposes on a whim, his smile still fresh on his lips. He’s just not ready to let go of them yet. “I wouldn’t be able to live with myself if I sent you home famished” he says dramatically, placing a hand on his chest. Baekhyun’s laughter sounds nice, resonating in Chanyeol’s kitchen –he always laughs even at the silliest jokes Chanyeol makes–, until it fades to be replaced by cautious eyes and a nervous grin.

“I don’t want to trouble you any further; all you’ve done is more than I could ask for” he says politely, pointing at Lay’s injured knee. Chanyeol shakes his head. That wasn’t any trouble. Lay looks down at the knee her daddy is pointing at and then at her daddy, mumbling a few curious words.

((Daddy, that’s not where my boo-boo is; my boo-boo is on the other side. Tall man, can’t you see?)) But no one is looking at the girl, too busy looking at each other blindly. Baekhyun is too flustered to notice he’s being very obvious, and Chanyeol’s eyes are sparkling so much with hope that his vision might not be entirely clear beyond the shine.

“Please?” Chanyeol tries to do puppy eyes at Baekhyun, not so sure it’s working well with his age, but Baekhyun has always been weak for cute acts, so maybe it will work this time too. Chanyeol just wants a bit more time with them, with Lay’s giggles and Baekhyun’s presence, with their lovely warmth. Baekhyun’s eyes widen momentarily.

“Why are you the one begging-” he rasps in disbelief and then he shakes his head, composing himself and fixing his hold on Lay. Chanyeol bites his lips, ready for rejection, because who is he for Baekhyun and Lay to waste their precious family time on; but Baekhyun gives him a pretty smile, complete with the eyesmiles he hadn’t seen in a while, and Chanyeol’s heart summersaults suddenly. “Okay, we’ll stay”

---

Baekhyun sighs and lets the water reach his jaw line as he relaxes back into his bathtub. It has been an exhausting day, made a tad bit brighter only after eating delicious dinner cooked by Chanyeol. But everything else was horrible. His child was injured, and for that alone this has to be one of the darkest days in history.

Baekhyun can’t begin to describe what he felt when Chen called him, with Lay crying in the background. She has had scratches before, ever since she started crawling on her sensitive hands and knees, but she’s never bled actual blood before. It was like the ground slipped under his feet and the air vanished from his lungs. Something tore inside him, the reality of being so far away from her hitting him hard. His child was in pain and he wasn’t there to protect her and soothe her and kiss it better. Seeing as her injury was nothing serious, she was probably crying so much because Chen was panicking, but Baekhyun couldn’t know that over the phone –and even if he did, who says there is ever any room for rational thinking when your child is crying?!

He left work like his house was on fire, incoherent, panicked and frustrated already, not bothering to tide up his desk. The ride home is a blur of traffic, honks, nerves, infuriatingly oblivious people and maybe a bit of crying in his memory. He entertained the thought of abandoning the car to run the distance back home, but even in his wildest moments, there is some sense in Byun Baekhyun. The noose in his chest relented a bit when Chen called for the second time to let him know that the injury was not serious, and that Chanyeol would be taking care of Lay and staying with her until Baekhyun got back, but he still felt a scorching need to be near his child as soon as possible. If only he could teleport there. At least his child wouldn’t be crying, helpless and alone; in fact, she was anything but helpless and alone and crying when he finally reached home. She was cheerful, playing and laughing; such is the effect of the happy virus which is called Chanyeol.

It’s been a day of plenty new discoveries for Baekhyun. Now he knows he can’t fulfill his unrealistic, absurd wishes to keep her in a safe bubble, and minor baby accidents are to be expected, as long as no great harm or damage is caused. Now he knows he has more swear words in his vocabulary than he thought, because he used all of them just fine while he was frustrated from being stuck in traffic while his child was in pain. And last but not least, now he knows he has changed from the person he used to be three years ago.

He already knew he has changed in the past two years –he is a parent now after all, and that’s bound to bring a big change in anyone’s lifestyle– but it had never occurred to him to what extent. Being around Chanyeol again makes those differences strike him, stark and sharp, especially since Chanyeol himself doesn’t seem to have changed much since the last time they saw each other, as far as Baekhyun has seen of him thus far. Chanyeol is still the kind, optimistic, stubborn giant he used to be. Baekhyun used to be even messier, disorganized and impulsive, upfront, lively and carefree. But now he is a responsible man, with a well planned out schedule for every day, with a well-paying job and a nice house, with a designated nap-time and expert laundry skills, he’s composed, mindful…boring.

Oh god, he is so boring. He is so stale and quiet in his either-way-nearly-dead personal life that he could be an eighty-year-old retiree. He hasn’t gone out in ages, he can’t remember the last time he ate preservatives, he hasn’t touched eyeliner in a year, he can’t even remember how to make jokes properly. Long gone is the sultry, playful little minx he used to be, always keeping himself in top shape, charming his way into people’s lives, making Chanyeol blush with his naughty jokes but laugh all the same.

But he doesn’t mind. That chapter of his life has closed, and he feels less pretentious now, more secure, and he feels like his life is really happy and fulfilling. He kind of likes the person he is now. These changes have come very naturally, and he would do it all over again if he had the chance. If he has to sacrifice a few irresponsible, youthful qualities for raising a loving child and being a happy man, so be it.

The only problem is that with Chanyeol around, Baekhyun is starting to selfishly want again. Chanyeol gives more than he asks for in return, he has his awkward and his superbly affectionate moments, he is supportive and caring, he is easily everything that Baekhyun has ever wanted in a partner, and Chanyeol’s obvious love and care for Lay, his effortless parenting skills, his qualities that compensate for Baekhyun’s shortcomings, the happiness and comfort his presence brings to their family, don’t make life any easier for Baekhyun. He has no right to want him; even if he reached out to him, he would only disappoint him and drive him away.

And so, Baekhyun can be found undergoing a life crisis inside his bathroom at one a.m. Until he remembers the pile of clothes for ironing, which are waiting for him in his home office.

---

Chanyeol is invited for dinner a couple of days later, because it’s the least Baekhyun can do for the care he has shown to his daughter. He can’t begin to describe how distraught he felt, knowing his daughter was in pain somewhere away from him, but the thought of Chanyeol looking after her brought him some comfort, in spite of his raging panic, and Baekhyun can’t say it without sounding weird, so here he is. Her scratch is almost gone by now, her skin healing quickly without any pain, although she was a bit upset when they had to replace the plaster, and he had to bribe her with peaches for her good behavior.

He glances at the clock on the wall and bites his lips; it’s almost time, and oh my god, the food is not ready yet! The preparations for Chanyeol’s visit took longer than expected today. Since this is the first ‘official’ dinner Chanyeol is having at the Byun house, Baekhyun has made sure the house is spotless and tidy, from the sofa cushions to the last inch of flooring. Cleaning up is not easy when a toddler is crawling around –especially when vacuuming the floor– but Baekhyun managed to convince her to play quietly for a while so that he could get everything done. Then, they freshened up and now Lay is wearing her festive pink bow, Baekhyun has squeezed himself in his jeans again –that certainly took more time than he had anticipated– and he is currently cooking Chanyeol’s favorite dish. He is making that extra mile for their guest today, and he even bought a bouquet of decorative flowers and lit up some scented candles. Lay was really bummed out when he told her she can’t touch the pretty flames.

And, in spite of all the preparations, Baekhyun can’t shake off the fear that everything he does will be disappointing. He tries to convince himself that he is still worth a tiny chance.

Baekhyun is still cooking and Lay is playing with her stuffed animals when the door knocks, and she lets out a playful vocalization. He doubts she understands who their visitor might be, but she must have realized today is a bit more of a special occasion, when things don’t happen the way they usually do in the Byun household. Baekhyun leaves the unfinished food to shimmer, jogging to the door. Chanyeol is smiling for him when he opens it, looking gorgeous as ever with a hallo of dying sunlight around him. Baekhyun’s stomach flops at the view.

“Welcome back, our dearest guest” he finds a way to smile as he says it, even though all he wants to do right now is close the door and fanboy incoherently at how handsome Chanyeol can look in a freaking butterfly-patterned blouse and a pair of tight black pants. He’ll probably look good even if you dress him in an actual sack of potatoes. Chanyeol smiles even wider; and Baekhyun is sure this is pretty much what angels look like.

“I’m glad to be back! This is for you” he offers a cake, covered in ombre white, pink and fuchsia swirls. Baekhyun accepts it mechanically and gapes; how much time did that take to assemble? Did he make it himself?

“Thank you, it’s…very pretty” he blinks in awe. It’s so pretty he’s almost afraid to touch it –but, let’s face it: it is a cake. Its future is set in stone since the beginning of its existence. Who can refuse cake? Cake is made to delight the valiant ones who know how to wield a spoon, and Baekhyun has been one of them ever since he was two years old. He can never get enough. Baekhyun’s mouth waters at the thought of devouring this beauty he is holding.

“It’s a cake, with strawberries and cream. The one you used to like –only fancier” Chanyeol chuckles awkwardly, rubbing the back of his neck, almost shy. Baekhyun forgets to be surprised over the fact that Chanyeol still remembers his favorites after two years, in favor of licking his lips appetizingly, remembering this divine cake the likes of which he’s never found. Chanyeol has always been a pastry genius and his skills seem to be evolving with time and practice.

“I had missed this delicious miracle” he whispers reverently, his eyes glued to the pretty delicacy with newfound fervor.

“I thought so” Chanyeol presses his lips in a restrained smile as Baekhyun lets him in. He follows behind Baekhyun on the familiar route to the living room, but he stops there instead of following Baekhyun all the way to the kitchen. “How is our little princess? What a pretty bow!” he exclaims cheerfully and rushes to Lay’s side, picking her off the floor and holding her to examine the bow in her hair and her new plaster on the knee. It’s driving Baekhyun insane how good Chanyeol looks with a small child in his arms. Lay is already overflowing with news, which Chanyeol listens to attentively, maneuvering them closer to the kitchen; he looks so at ease, nothing like the first time he visited the house, or the first time he held Lay.

“What have you done to my child?” Baekhyun mumbles with a poorly concealed smile as he returns to his stove. How can Lay like Chanyeol so much already? Is it because he took them for ice cream once? Or because he played the piano for her? He’s not complaining though; they look so cute together that he can’t even be jealous. If he is honest, another sort of feeling squirms in his chest when he sees them smiling in each other’s arms…

He listens to them conversing incoherently for a while, wondering how much of each other they understand and sprinkling some last minute additions to the food.

“Let’s see what your daddy is cooking, hm?” Chanyeol sounds too close suddenly, and a look over his shoulder confirms for Baekhyun that Chanyeol is too close. So close, in fact, that Baekhyun’s hip brushes against him as he shuffles his pans; his ears turn pink at the infinitesimal touch, which Chanyeol doesn’t seem to have noticed. Pull yourself together, Baekhyun! “Ooh, that looks interesting” the taller says, peering down, Lay mimicking him cluelessly in his arms. Baekhyun is glad they’re looking at the food and not at the interesting color of his ears.

“It’s almost ready, but I can’t cook with you two breathing down my neck!” Baekhyun protests in fluster and shoos them away, smiling too much to be strict. In spite of his valiant efforts, in the end Chanyeol sits Lay on the counter and he stands in front of her, holding her secure in place with both hands, and together they watch Baekhyun cook. Baekhyun feels like he might faint from the willpower he invests in keeping the blood from flooding his cheeks, knowing Chanyeol is watching his every move.

“Do you know what this is?” Chanyeol starts a game with Lay when she starts getting impatient. He steals one of Baekhyun’s cases for spices and presents it in his hand, and Lay blinks up at him curiously. Baekhyun smiles at the sight. “This is pepper. What color is it?” Chanyeol asks her, and Baekhyun wonders if Chanyeol remembers when Baekhyun told him that he has been teaching Lay different colors lately, or if this game he’s making up is just a coincidence. Either way, it’s a question she can answer, so she points with her little finger at a spot of black color on Chanyeol’s patterned shirt. “That’s right, it’s black!” Chanyeol approves and picks another spice jar. “And this, what color is it?”

Chanyeol keeps picking simple colors she can match to his shirt and Lay keeps answering successfully, even mumbling things sometimes, until Baekhyun is finished with the food. While he is serving the food, Chanyeol and Lay relocate to the dining room and make a lot of noise with the excuse of setting the table, but Baekhyun doesn’t mind. He laughs when Chanyeol anxiously prevents Lay from munching on a napkin –it wouldn’t be the first time that almost happened–, looking very relieved afterwards and asking her what color it is. Lay looks around for something white but she can’t find anything, so she starts mumbling to explain.

((It’s white, like my milk! I know my milk all my life! It’s yummy and daddy says it makes me grow.)) Chanyeol chuckles and pets her hair affectionately, taking his seat across from Baekhyun, with a fully set table between them.

“So, how is the food?” Baekhyun asks eagerly after Chanyeol’s first bite, hoping he got everything right –not too spicy, not too sweet, just like Chanyeol likes it. He might have been a bit overeager with serving Chanyeol a huge portion, but the taller doesn’t comment on that. Chanyeol chews a little and then nods fervently, making a sound of appreciation. He swallows and smiles.

“It’s delicious, Baekhyun!” he says, picking up some more. Baekhyun cheers excitedly, feeling more accomplished than he would have after finishing four presentations in time. Lay blinks, troubled; why is her daddy cheering? Brimming with success, Baekhyun tastes his own food and hums –it really is delicious. It’s a pity Lay can’t share their experience because she can’t eat anything spicy yet. “It’s actually my favorite” Chanyeol mumbles after a few moments of hesitation, keeping his eyes on his plate. Baekhyun looks up from his plate and his gaze softens at how impossibly small the giant looks. I know, I remember.

“I’m glad I got it right”

Their dinner goes smoothly and all the food is cleared out, to Baekhyun’s delight. They talk about Baekhyun’s hefty work schedule and Chanyeol’s compositions, about Lay’s school and the park Chanyeol visits often. Lay is more quiet and obedient than the first time Chanyeol stayed over for dinner, and that allows them to have decent conversations this time. It surprises Baekhyun that someone is willing to listen to his tedious daily parenting struggles and that he has so much to tell in the first place. Chanyeol never grows tired of listening, and Baekhyun realizes he had missed his company, in a way that sparks a special warmth inside him.

Baekhyun considers his efforts far more successful this time in learning things about Chanyeol’s life during the past two years, even though his curiosity couldn’t be described as fully sated yet. At least now he knows that Chanyeol had been living peacefully, working hard, no accidents, no cause for sorrow, no romantic relationships, cough-cough, and all that is enough for Baekhyun to know; for now. After they’ve finished their food and an interesting conversation about one of Chanyeol’s clubbing expeditions –Baekhyun can’t even remember when the last time he went to a club was–, Chanyeol helps clean the table before they bring the cake for the ceremonious cut. Baekhyun takes pictures before it is ruined, and he doesn’t care if Chanyeol laughs at him; he wants to remember it. It tastes even better than it looks if that is possible, and Baekhyun moans internally when his taste buds feel the smooth sweetness of the dessert. This is better than he remembers.

“Can we give her a bite?” Chanyeol asks uncertainly after a while, bringing Baekhyun back from sugary wonderland. He blinks and turns to Lay first, who is looking at Chanyeol’s plate with glazed eyes, her lips glossy and gaping at the piece of pastry which Chanyeol hasn’t ruined further than two bites yet. Chanyeol is looking at Baekhyun with round eyes, caving in under the pressure of her silent begging; let’s not forget he’s not a trained parent, his spots are still too soft. “She cheered when we cut it, we should give her one small bite” he reasons, trying to convince Baekhyun, who looks at his daughter and then Chanyeol, back and forth, pensively.

Generally speaking, he avoids giving her artificial sugar every day, minding the additional natural sugar levels in everything she eats. He allows a scoop of ice cream every now and then, a cookie or fruit jam on bread a few times a week, but she has never had cake before. He is not particularly strict on food, but he wants her little body to be healthy, and he certainly doesn’t need the after-sugar hype effects. But maybe just for today, just for the cake Chanyeol made for them, just this once…

“Okay, just a small one” he relents ruefully, but he feels a smile on his lips when Chanyeol flashes a brilliant grin, eyes sparkling. Baekhyun averts his eyes to his slice and tries to hide his small blush, because Chanyeol is giving him that look, as if he is his most favorite hero –Baekhyun knows that look, he has received it many times from Lay. It’s a bit different on Chanyeol’s facial features, but the feeling is the same, and it’s making his heart palpitate. Lay, however, stares at her daddy with wide eyes.

((…I can eat the pinky pink nom-nom? But, daddy, when I want these nom-noms, you say I’m small and I can’t eat them…today is an exception? Is it because tall man asked nicely? Tall man, teach me how to ask nicely! Or come to our house more often! I want to eat pinky pink nom-noms more often! You can make daddy say yes, only you can do it!))

Both adults chuckle, watching Lay babbling at Chanyeol excitedly, making various gestures.

“Can I…?” Chanyeol asks hesitantly, pointing at his cake slice. Baekhyun thinks about it for all two seconds before he agrees. It won’t do any harm if Chanyeol feeds her a bite. He watches in amusement as Chanyeol picks a pretty and soft part of his slice for a bite, and then he scoops it in his spoon. Lay is drooling, her eyes glued on the nibble, which she has realized is meant for her; it’s endearing how thrilled she gets over something so simple. She opens her little mouth as widely as it goes, waiting reverently for Chanyeol to bring the spoon close enough, and Baekhyun chuckles at the sight. Chanyeol is very careful –this might be the first time he is feeding a baby, now that Baekhyun thinks about it– and he stares at Lay with wonder; they are sparkling in each other’s eyes and Baekhyun wants to hug them both and feed them cake happily forever.

The moment Lay’s lips close around the spoon, her eyes widen impossibly and she gives Chanyeol a look of utter amazement which, safe to say, strikes the receiver’s heart dead in milliseconds. She claps her hands excitedly and kicks her little legs, bouncing in her seat like the happiest person alive, and then she turns to Baekhyun and smiles, such a heartfelt smile that Baekhyun almost cries. Had he known she would be so happy, he wouldn’t have hesitated for a moment to feed her cake; he lives to see her happy like this. Chanyeol returns a soft smile when Lay smiles at him too; he looks so accomplished and nearly moved to tears, and that look really takes the cake.

---

((Sorry, peaches. The pinky pink nom-nom is my new forever favorite. But I still love you!))

---

Baekhyun confidently walks through the door right on time, dressed in his polished shoes and perfectly ironed office suit and tie. He takes off his stylish black sunglasses, gifting a brilliant smile to everyone gathered inside the broad, sunlit space. He drops off his daughter like any other day, with a peck on the cheek and a reminder to be good.

“Good morning, Baekhyun! How’s our little girl today?” Kyungsoo approaches them by the door, smiling widely and patting Lay’s hair. The little girl giggles in Baekhyun’s arms. From his big smile to his bright sky blue t-shirt, Kyungsoo really is Mr. Sunshine, always happy and smiling around the children, always helping them and cheering them up. His true self is a bit darker, if Baekhyun may say so as a personal friend, but only a tad bit. Think ‘dark lord of the underworld’, something like that.

“Good morning, Kyungsoo; we’re good today, very cheerful~” Baekhyun smiles at Kyungsoo, shifting her in his arms. She has been such a bundle of sunshine since she woke up this morning, all smiles and giggles; not to imply she’s moody on other days, but today there is a particularly happy and energetic aura about her. Baekhyun can’t guess yet what sort of changes in her small world make her so happy on some days, but he loves it when his daughter is joyful and cheery from the moment her eyes open to the light of day, brightening his day like the sun never could. Lay starts babbling fast, to respond to her teacher.

((Kyungie teacher! Tall man who paints dokkie-dokkies on boo-boos stayed for dinner before I slept this nighty-night! He gave me sweet nom-noms, which is called cake, and I think I tasted heaven! –whatever that is…Is heaven pinky-pink? And my tummy was happy! I am happy!))

“She’s in a very good mood, I can tell” Kyungsoo raises his eyebrows in surprise and Baekhyun chuckles. She’s been chatty like this since she woke up –and he seriously hopes he’s not missing anything important in her speeches. He hands over her bag of necessities to Kyungsoo first, keeping her in his arms for a just little while longer; no matter how many mornings they do this, he’ll never be able to let her go easily. It is funny how even Lay has gotten used to it by now, but he’s still about to cry whenever he leaves her in the capable hands of Kyungsoo. Said hands suddenly clap and Kyungsoo’s eyes widen, as if he has just remembered something important. “Oh, Baekhyun, this is a standard reminder for all parents: we’ll be closing for the summer in a week”

Say what?

Drop a bomb on him and his brain would probably process it more calmly than this.

“What? Already?!” Baekhyun’s eyes widen in alarm, clutching Lay close to him reflexively. Closing for the summer?! Throughout all the three months of summer? This is disaster, how can such a thing happen?! What is he going to do with her in the mornings? He can’t take her to work, and he doubts they will let him switch his schedule so suddenly to accommodate the change in their daily lives. He can’t ask Chen to babysit her regularly either, and he really doesn’t want to resort to his mother concerning Lay’s care, for various reasons. Baby daycare is so convenient; it helped him survive his first year as a working parent, why does it have to end?!

Baekhyun takes a big breath and composes himself, pausing the mental breakdown and postponing it for later. The point is, he has only one week of safe routine ahead of him before his life explodes. Oh great.

“It’s summer already, I need to rest too” Kyungsoo deadpans, but then his face softens “I know single parents rely on daycare immensely and the change in your schedule will probably be hard. Most people usually ask for their parents’ help, or maybe I could suggest a few reliable babysitters for you?” Kyungsoo blinks his big eyes calmly. He knows Baekhyun doesn’t have an optimal relationship with his parents or a partner to rely on in his life, so Baekhyun appreciates the thought. Not wanting to make any rush decisions as to who will be his child’s caretaker for the coming three months, Baekhyun shakes his head with a polite expression. He knows he doesn’t have much time at his disposal, but he needs to think about it calmly first; and maybe eat the rest of Chanyeol’s delicious cake for consolation, deploring his sad, lonely life.

“Thank you, I’ll keep that in mind and see what I can do” he reassures Kyungsoo, hugging Lay tightly one last time before giving her to Kyungsoo’s skilled arms. He feels so empty without her weight against him, but he smiles and waves at his daughter nonetheless. She waves back cheerfully, mumbling as always, probably some sort of parting lines that Baekhyun has yet to decode alongside the rest of her speech. “Bye, honeycomb~ Listen well to your teacher, okay? Bye, Kyungsoo, I appreciate the reminder” he waves at Kyungsoo as well, who smiles a heart-shaped smile, but it gleams mischievously in his eyes, sparking Baekhyun’s interest and keeping him in his place for a moment longer.

“Then take me out to lunch, Byun!” he sasses playfully, right in the middle of a room full of children and their curious mothers, ever so uncaring about being discreet and subtle. Baekhyun laughs at Kyungsoo’s request; they haven’t had lunch together in a while, but that’s the life of a single parent for you, and it’s only about to get more hectic with Lay at home every day, so lunch with his friend or any social life at all sounds ridiculously impossible at the moment. Kyungsoo opens his eyes wide, being earnest. “I mean it! I need to hang out with someone who is not five years old or younger!”

---

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