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When the door knocks, Baekhyun is in the middle of picking up stray stuffed animals from the floor; Lay has been very active today and her toys are everywhere, so Baekhyun had better take advantage of her short absence to tide up a bit –they are expecting guests, after all…Not noticing the time and thinking it’s probably his mother, who has taken ten steps down the road with Lay before turning around and coming back to nag at him some more about whatever parenting skill she thinks he doesn’t have, he gathers everything in his arms and opens the door with a little difficulty.

Park Chanyeol is definitely not his mother.

“Oh, hi” Baekhyun mumbles, his voice coming out strange because he’s holding a pile of stuffed animals in place with his chin. His eyes widen a bit, realizing how ridiculous he must look with an armful of toys. He should have been checking the clock more regularly to calculate how much time he’d have till Chanyeol came over. Well, he’s here now.

“Hello” the taller greets with a smile which may or may not be sparkling joyfully. “Let me help you with this” he offers quickly, taking some of the most precariously piled toys out of Baekhyun’s hands. Baekhyun is usually a little paranoid with strangers touching his daughter’s toys, but the instinct doesn’t kick in this time and he simply lets Chanyeol gather some teddies in one arm. He even has to hold back a smile, watching Chanyeol being careful with the stuffed animals to the point he holds them all upright, as if they would be hurt or offended if he held them upside down or sideways.

“Thank you” Baekhyun can speak more clearly now that his load has lessened, and he dares smile a little before moving quickly into the house. “Come in” he calls over his shoulder and Chanyeol follows hesitantly, closing the door behind them. Baekhyun leads the way to the living room. “You can leave them here” he says as he unceremoniously dumps all the toys he’s holding on the play mat, straightening his posture and dusting off his jeans. Yes, he took the trouble of wearing jeans today, Chanyeol should feel honored. Chanyeol is more careful when he deposits the toys into the pile, but allow Baekhyun to know better; those stuffed animals have been pulled, squashed, strangled, bitten and hurled on the wall by Lay, they can handle as much.

“I brought apple pie” he says with a small smile, handing a plate to Baekhyun. Why is he always bringing things? Baekhyun recognizes the pie when he sees it, with the characteristic caramelized half-moon apple slices on top; it’s one of Chanyeol’s baking specialties –and one of Baekhyun’s favorites. Given Lay eats a very specific amount of sugar each day, this is all going to Baekhyun’s hips.

“Thank you, you didn’t have to” he accepts bashfully and cracks a fond smile at the memory of devouring this pie for breakfast when they used to have sleepovers at Chanyeol’s apartment. He starts for the kitchen, nodding for Chanyeol to follow him; he looks so lost now that his arms are empty. Baekhyun guesses it’s reasonable, since it’s his first time inside the house. It has an open space design for the living room, the dining room and the kitchen, which comes very handy on occasions when Baekhyun needs to supervise his daughter playing in the living room while he is cooking something.

“Where’s the cutie?” Chanyeol asks, looking around curiously when they reach the kitchen island. Baekhyun takes out two plates to serve pie for both of them.

“She’s out for a walk with my mother, they shouldn’t take long to return” he glances at the clock. His mother visited unexpectedly and she insisted she took Lay out for a walk. He relented only because Lay looked so eager to go; he put firm time restrictions on them though. He doesn’t like being separated from his girl, it makes him anxious. “Maybe it’s better this way…” he mumbles, placing the plates on the dining table and politely motioning at Chanyeol to sit down. The taller seems concerned, but he takes the seat. Baekhyun turns to the kitchen again, still thoughtful. “I need to tell you a few things about Lay” he says quietly while pulling out two cups from the cupboard.

He knows he has some explaining to do, because he’s vastly responsible they lost touch. Baekhyun doesn’t mind any other story they might happen to share in the context of ‘catching up’, but there are a few things he doesn’t like talking about in front of his daughter. She probably wouldn’t understand them yet, but he fears they might make her sad. This is a good time to get those things out of the way. “Coffee?” he chirps over his shoulder.

“Yes, please” Chanyeol says, his concerned frown smoothing out almost too fast for Baekhyun to notice. Baekhyun prepares their coffee in silence. Chanyeol doesn’t attempt to remind him how he drinks his coffee, but it’s not like Baekhyun would need to be reminded. He still remembers just fine, as if it were his own preference. He sets their cups on the table and takes a seat across from Chanyeol. Ideally, they’d start with a lighter conversation topic, maybe he could tell Chanyeol about his internship abroad, or ask him about his life during the past two years, but this is too rare a chance to pass and Baekhyun really wants to explain. Chanyeol is patient enough to sip on his coffee for a bit, withstanding the heavy silence in the house, before he cautiously prods. “So…what about Lay?”

“Lay is my daughter” Baekhyun starts, staring at the swirling coffee in his cup, not quite sure if he’s saying it to convince the man across from him or himself. “She is mine, my little honeycomb. And I love her, I love being her daddy and I want to raise her properly. She’s the best thing I’ll ever have. She’s my daughter. But…” Baekhyun’s expression wavers with an equally unsteady sigh, his eyelids fluttering “…biologically, Lay is not my child”

“Are you kidding me, Baekhyun? She looks just like you” Chanyeol raises a skeptical eyebrow. He’s right to be doubtful, because Lay admittedly looks a lot like Baekhyun; dark hair, fair skin, similar eyes which give the same gaze –under her chubby baby features, she would probably look like him even more. With their resemblance, no one has ever even assumed adoption; even though there’s never been any hint of a woman in his life, anyone who sees them together is convinced about their relation in a heartbeat. Baekhyun glances down at his cup for a moment before speaking in a very quiet voice, barely above a whisper.

“That’s because, biologically, she is my niece” He winces a little; it feels like blasphemy to say that and it’s impossible for him to even think of her as such, as anything other than his lovely daughter. It’s almost funny how fast Chanyeol’s expression changes. His eyebrows smooth out, his eyes widen, his jaw slacks.

“Your sister was pregnant?” he asks in a hushed voice, a little breathless. Baekhyun nods. Of course Chanyeol knows he had a sister, just like Baekhyun knows about Chanyeol’s older sister, Yura; it’s not like they’re complete strangers, quite the opposite. They used to talk about their families enough for Chanyeol to know that Baekhyun’s sister used to be a lone wolf in principle, lessening the possibility of her ever settling down and having a family. His surprise is understandable; Baekhyun had been quite dumbstruck himself at first.

“Yeah, she decided to give IVF a shot; she really wanted to have a child” he explains, fidgeting with the cup in front of him, his lips quirking in a small smile. He remembers how excited his sister was, how much she had prepared for it, how much more happy and affectionate she had become; she would have been a good mother, he’s sure of it. “The problem is, she didn’t get to enjoy it” his smile falls and he bites his lips a little sadly; life can be really unfair sometimes… “After she gave birth she fell ill. She didn’t even get out of the hospital, and before long she…” he trails off, eyes downcast. It’s still difficult for him to talk about it; he sighs, pressing his fingers against his cup to keep himself together.

“Baek, you don’t have to tell me this; it makes you sad” Chanyeol’s voice is low and gentle, caring, and it wraps around the nickname effortlessly, as if not a day has passed. Baekhyun’s heart squeezes; even after all this time, he is putting Baekhyun’s happiness above everything else. Chanyeol’s concerned expression, droopy eyes and pouty lips, perfect eyebrows frowning, makes him look so helpless and despondent that Baekhyun wants to hug him. There was a time when he wouldn’t think twice about it, but it has been two years since then…He extends an inviting hand on the table instead, and Chanyeol reaches for it, like he would always do.

“It’s okay” he says with a small smile for comfort. Chanyeol starts caressing Baekhyun’s hand soothingly, and it does strange things inside Baekhyun; his heart melts a little and a sole butterfly flutters in his stomach. It’s been two years since then, and yet… “She wanted me to take care of the baby” he continues his explanation, feeling the warmth of Chanyeol’s fingers sipping under his skin. “She asked me personally, and she had already arranged all the papers. My mother offered to take Lay” Baekhyun scoffs at that. It’s all they ever argue about, and she makes sure to make his life miserable. “She still thinks she should be the one to raise Lay actually; but I wanted her. I want her. I love her. She is my child, Chanyeol” he stares right into Chanyeol’s eyes, squeezing his hand, as if pleading him to understand just how big a part of him his daughter has become.

“I know” Chanyeol says in a quiet voice, tightening his hold on Baekhyun’s hand; the gesture is reassuring. Chanyeol is staring deep into his eyes, seeing right through the veils of his soul, but he frowns a little then. “You should have told me, Baekhyun. When your sister passed, I mean” Baekhyun averts his eyes to the table, suddenly feeling very exposed. Chanyeol can see too deep in him sometimes. “You didn’t have to go through this alone, I would have been there for you. I was right where you left me” he says, voice still soft but sounding hurt and small. It makes Baekhyun feel like a horrible person, his stomach wringing.

“I’m really sorry for that, Chanyeol. I didn’t mean to” his lips curve apologetically and he looks at Chanyeol from under his lashes, only briefly before dedicating his gaze to the table. He never meant to disappear. He got busy and he stupidly neglected him while he was abroad, and when he came back he spent all his time helping his sister during the final months of her pregnancy; he often thought of Chanyeol but never got the courage to contact him after a few months of silence had passed. When things turned out the way they did and he found himself caring after a child, it got easier to alleviate his guilt. He can only imagine what Chanyeol must have thought of his abrupt disappearance. Chanyeol sighs.

“It’s okay, Baek; I just wish I knew” he nudges the hand he is holding and Baekhyun looks up to see Chanyeol wearing a small smile, one of forgiveness and restored friendship. His heart flutters hopefully; can he really have Chanyeol back? His own lips have just started smiling back, when the front door opens and a flurry of babbling child words echoes in the house. Whatever moment they might have been having is broken and Baekhyun jumps out of his seat instantly, releasing Chanyeol’s hand and running to the door to get his sweetie pie. He takes Lay from his mother’s arms and she clings onto him happily, still mumbling about her adventures.

“Honeycomb, you’re back! Did you have fun? Was it fun? Did you miss daddy?” because daddy certainly missed you. He kisses her cheeks while bringing her to the kitchen, his heart beating joyfully. He’s vaguely aware of his mother following them. He holds Lay close, as if trying to make up for the time they spent separate, while she keeps trying to hug him back with her little arms. His mother scoffs behind him; she always thinks he’s spoiling her, but Baekhyun always ignores her.

Lay giggles when she spots Chanyeol, looking at him and mumbling things even faster, if that is possible. Baekhyun chuckles at Chanyeol’s stunned, speechless look. “Did you hear? Lay was outside today and she had a great time!” he translates animatedly and the taller finally cracks a smile, which soon becomes wide and brilliant. He reaches to caress Lay’s little calf with his index finger gently, just like the first time; he seems very careful when touching her, as if he’s afraid she’ll break. It’s greatly endearing.

“Oh, you have guests” his mother notes, unimpressed, making her presence known. Her voice is so flat that borders on rude. Baekhyun had almost forgotten about her. He turns around and gives her a probably futile warning look to play nice before introducing said guest.

“Mom, this is Chanyeol. Chanyeol, this is my mother” he says simply. She doesn’t need to know anything further and complicate things.

“Good evening, Mrs. Byun, nice to meet you” Chanyeol stands up politely, offering the woman a smile. It’s the perfect introduction, composed, friendly and charming. Baekhyun glances at his mother to catch her reaction; and it’s not pretty. She raises one eyebrow and scrutinizes Chanyeol from head to toe, with hefty disapproval. It never sat quite well with her that Baekhyun prefers male partners and, even though he’s obviously given up the concept of dating people altogether, she still eyes all his friends with suspicion. Even Sehun was proclaimed a bad influence by her last week, because he’s another man and not a woman figure in Lay’s life; well, he’s been a man ever since Baekhyun met him in primary school, go figure.

“Yes…” she mumbles after an awkward silence, and Chanyeol puts on a brave smile, bowing a little and retreating to his seat obediently. Considering that Chanyeol is not completely dense and that Baekhyun’s mother is never shy of showing her emotions on her face, Chanyeol’s reaction was admirably gallant. Baekhyun raises an eyebrow and shakes his head at his mother but she promptly disregards it. “Baekhyun, make sure she eats all of her dinner” she says instead, sounding unnecessarily strict; frigid, if he may say so.

“Why does nana always think I don’t feed you enough?” Baekhyun coos at his daughter, giving her Eskimo kisses by rubbing their noses. She giggles, cradling his cheeks in her tiny hands.

“She’s thinner than last month!” his mothers protests, lifting her hands on her waist and reminding Baekhyun of times when he’d come home with dirty clothes and scratched knees from playing football.

“Because she is growing taller and she moves around a lot more, isn’t that so, honeycomb?” he answers, smiling at his daughter, who is too busy trying to look down at Chanyeol, while the latter is smiling up at her and caressing her calf carefully like before. His mother groans a little in response.

According to his mother, Baekhyun can’t do anything right as far as parenting is concerned, and this week she is under the impression he’s not feeding Lay properly, even though he would never forget his daughter’s meals and his mother has no reason to think otherwise. Her criticism is something that simply happens and he doesn’t have a chance to avoid it; last week it was her nap time, the week before that it was her water consumption. It’s always something.

“What about your dinner?” she jabs after a moment, sounding annoyed, tapping her foot against the floor; but he can tell she’s concerned, too. She’s his mother, after all.

“I’ll cook something later” he shrugs his shoulders casually, patting Lay on the back because she has started growing restless in his arms, probably hoping that Chanyeol will stop only touching her and finally start playing with her properly. His mother keeps staring at him expectantly and Baekhyun stares back blankly. He won’t be inviting her to stay for dinner anytime soon, if that’s what she’s trying to achieve by glaring at him.

“Well I should go, your father will be expecting me” she says suddenly after a long, awkward silence. Baekhyun doesn’t feel sorry. She busies herself by fixing her clothes and hair, always so fussy and uptight, as if to prove she can do parenting and be perfect in everything, in contrast to Baekhyun, who sometimes finds himself struggling. She smiles at Lay, waving at her; it’s like Baekhyun had been talking to a completely different person two seconds ago. “Bye sugar plum” she coos.

“Bye nana” Baekhyun waves alongside Lay, even though his mother doesn’t give him the honor of acknowledging him –or even Chanyeol, just for pretenses’ sake. His mother disappears behind the door without a last glance, seeing herself out. After he hears the door closing, Baekhyun sighs and kisses Lay’s temple. What to do with your incorrigible nana… He turns around to find Chanyeol sitting quietly, his smile small and uncomfortable. “I’m sorry, Chanyeol…she’s a good woman, I just bring out the worst in her” Baekhyun apologizes for his mother’s scornful behavior. Chanyeol shakes his head dismissively.

“I’m a big boy, don’t mind me” he waves nonchalantly. Baekhyun feels slightly relieved by his response but he still feels guilty on behalf of his mother. “Will you…be okay?” Chanyeol’s question is hesitant but clearly concerned, and it catches him by surprise. Baekhyun shifts Lay in his arms nervously before glancing at the clock, to keep his eyes safely away from Chanyeol’s insightful gaze.

“I’ll be okay” he says in a quiet voice, flashing a short smile. He’s always okay, for Lay. “Well, I should really start on dinner then” he changes the subject, avoiding Chanyeol’s unconvinced stare. Lay mumbles something, looking at the clock as well; Baekhyun always tries to follow their schedule for meals and sleep as accurately as possible. He would love to spend some more time with Chanyeol today, but his daughter’s needs come first. The latter is smiling at them in an unreadable way when Baekhyun turns to look at him again, and Baekhyun blames that for blurting out the first thing that comes to mind. “Will you join us?”

Did he just invite Chanyeol to stay for dinner? Like, dinner with him and Lay, that infallibly messy ordeal with food ending up everywhere for grand finale? That was not the plan; he was supposed to ask if Chanyeol would like another cup of coffee and steal, perhaps, another half hour with him, before sending him away to fulfill his parenting duties. What am I doing?

“If you’ll have me” Chanyeol agrees easily, smiling happily, and Baekhyun nearly forgets how to breathe. Let’s just agree for sanity’s sake that people just don’t glow under kitchen lighting, but the sight makes Baekhyun’s heart stutter indecisively. Trying to hide the panic alarm going off in his head in full blast, Baekhyun nods and takes Lay to her play mat with wobbly steps. This evening is going to be interesting, if he manages to survive.

Chanyeol offers to watch over Lay while Baekhyun cooks, since Baekhyun won’t allow him to help in the kitchen, but Baekhyun checks on them often, glancing over his shoulder or openly staring at them from across the space –like any concerned parent would do, he’s totally not checking Chanyeol out. Chanyeol is sitting down on the play mat with Lay, looking huge in comparison to his surroundings. He stays very still, as if afraid to touch anything. He is smiling but he looks so lost while Lay piles toys in front of him, mumbling things in various voices, and Baekhyun cranes his neck curiously, trying to get a better view of his daughter’s ploys. He laughs at the picture when he realizes what she’s been trying to do, much to Chanyeol’s dismay. Oh, his ever lovely daughter…

“She is introducing her favorite toys to you, Chanyeol” he calls from the kitchen and a look of enlightenment shines across Chanyeol’s features.

“Ah, I see! Nice to meet you, teddy bears~” he bows formally to every teddy bear, but he still refuses to move or touch anything after that, responding to Lay with smiles and gentle hums, sometimes exclamations that seem appropriate. But Lay’s intensions get confusing once again, because she moves her toys back and forth, sorting them according to her unknown criteria, before piling them on the floor in front of Chanyeol’s crossed legs. She looks up at him expectantly, mumbling a few words, but Chanyeol returns a confused, helpless and apologetic look. Baekhyun mediates again.

“You can play with her, Chanyeol” he urges with a smile, leaning his elbows against the kitchen island comfortably. Both Chanyeol and Lay turn their wide eyes to look at him.

“Are you sure?” Chanyeol seems hesitant, as if he is afraid to do it. Well, am I sure? There are only three people on the planet allowed to play with Lay: Baekhyun, his mother and Sehun. It’s another thing Baekhyun is paranoid about, and if anyone else tries to approach her, he hovers close by to make sure nothing goes wrong. It’s against his instinct to turn his back to his child while she’s with a stranger. But Chanyeol doesn’t feel like a stranger; it’s been two years since he last saw the man, but it feels like it was only yesterday.

“Well, it looks like she really wants to play with you, so why not?” Baekhyun shrugs and smiles, seeing the small shrine of toys Lay has built for Chanyeol. Lay blinks up at the taller man pleadingly and Chanyeol reluctantly shows a cheerful smile.

“Okay, princess, let’s play” he agrees and Lay lights up with the force of a million suns. She bombards Chanyeol with enthusiastic mumbles and gestures, which are naturally not coherent enough for adults, but Chanyeol looks like he’s making an effort to keep up. When he takes initiative after a while of consideration, picking a grey koala in his lap, Lay quiets down and watches carefully, willingly cooperating to play a game with the adult. Her communication skills might not always be very efficient, but she understands everything and she is always trying to adapt, showing interest and responding to her play partners, learning the appropriate behavior through trial and error. Baekhyun has learnt to do the same for her in every aspect, not just play time.

Chanyeol manages to lure her into a game of peek-a-boo, moving the koala’s arms over its eyes and wondering in a cute voice where Lay just disappeared to, before removing the arms of the teddy, cheering he has found her and proceeding to make the koala hug her. The house reverberates with Chanyeol’s deep voice straining to sound cute, Lay’s mumbles, and sometimes her excited claps. They both look so happy and childish and excited, it’s as if there is a bubble separating them from the world, and Baekhyun can’t get enough of their sweetness. Baekhyun is so fascinated, watching the two interact from his perch in the kitchen, that he almost forgets about the food on the stove –okay, the noodles might have turned out a bit soggy, but let’s pretend that’s just his cooking style.

((I know this game! Daddy plays it with me sometimes! I can play it too, tall man! Watch me, watch me!))

Lay mumbles energetically then, this time looking at Chanyeol instead of the koala he’s holding, and Chanyeol looks surprised she’s addressing him all of a sudden. Then Lay proceeds to attempt doing peek-a-boo too, covering her eyes with clumsy little hands and cooing in a singsong voice before opening them again and giggling, her eyes turning into smiling crescents as she looks up at Chanyeol.

“Whoa, you’re so smart, princess! That was perfect!” Chanyeol praises her enthusiastically and Baekhyun joins him.

“I’m so proud of you, my little honeycomb! You did great!” he cheers from the kitchen, nothing like his ugly sobbing at her cuteness on the inside. How can this be my child, what have I done to deserve her? The child glows in glee and does peek-a-boo again, earning more praises from both men and giggling even more. Unfortunately, at this point Baekhyun has to return to his cooking, if any part of his stir-fry vegetables is to remain un-charred. Chanyeol keeps playing with Lay, showering her with compliments, and it feels strange but nice for Baekhyun, to be able to trust his daughter in good hands.

Dinner with Chanyeol turns out to be an interesting experience which Baekhyun survives, even though the food is far from optimally cooked and Baekhyun’s conversations with Chanyeol are broken and scattered on the table, since he needs to be checking on Lay constantly. He tries to make sure she eats properly without making a mess –which is an unheard of, superhuman feat–, and it turns out to be practically impossible, but all is good after baby wipes come to the rescue. Lay sometimes contributes gibberish and giggles to the conversation, and Chanyeol is fascinated by the toddler in those moments, but Baekhyun is too worried she might choke on her food to notice.

He notices, however, those long looks of wonder Chanyeol takes while Lay is eating peacefully, as if he has never seen a child eat before. It gets a bit weird when Lay starts reciprocating those looks, staring back at Chanyeol like he’s a curious, unknown species, consequently making Baekhyun feel left out –even though he never thought he’d ever want to be looked at as an unidentified specimen.

For all their conversation, Baekhyun gathers very little information about Chanyeol and his life during the past two years, which is disappointing. Even more disappointing is the fact that Chanyeol can’t stay after dinner, even though he stays long enough to help with the dishes, insisting it’s the least he could do after being offered such an enjoyable dinner. Baekhyun doubts any of their dinner was enjoyable, because well, it was overcooked and nearly burnt, but he reluctantly lets Chanyeol do whatever he likes, because he gets busy with Lay. She starts whining and trying to get her fingers into her mouth, because she’s probably teething again and her gums must be sore. It was about time a forth tooth joined them…He tries to calm her and distract her with toys, which works after a while and a bottle of slightly cold water. By that time, Chanyeol is done, so Baekhyun picks up his daughter to see him out.

“Bye Chanyeol, thank you for your company! Say, bye~” Baekhyun waves at the taller male who is almost on the sidewalk, and Lay waves enthusiastically as well, giggling when he sends her a flying kiss.

---

Chanyeol is not stalking his neighbor. He just happened to be looking out his window when Baekhyun and Lay decided to go out for an evening walk, and coincidentally Chanyeol was about to go out himself. Yeah.

Bottom line is, they both got out of their houses in the same time. Chanyeol saw Baekhyun pushing the heavy stroller out on the pavement while quipping endearing things to Lay, so he jogged across the street to greet him and his lovely daughter. It’s the polite thing to do. Nothing to do with Chanyeol’s bizarre and irrational, secret desire to be around Baekhyun and his little angel again, nothing of the sort, no.

“Are you going for a walk?” Chanyeol asks after the exchange of pleasantries, and Baekhyun nods, starting to walk down the street. Chanyeol walks beside him, keeping a casual distance between them.

“It’s a nice day for a walk outside”

“Would you mind if I join you?” he asks with a nervous smile. He is not sure he is allowed to ask to spend time with Baekhyun and his daughter, as if he is breaking an unspoken rule which forbids him to stay with them during their family moments, but god knows he wants to. He can’t help but feel the happiest he has been in years when he is with them; having dinner with them last night was the coziest, most enjoyable meal he has ever had. Even though it didn’t match to Baekhyun’s true cooking potential, it didn’t matter to Chanyeol; it was cooked for him with care, and last night was the closest he has felt to having a home. Baekhyun blinks in surprise.

“Don’t you have anything more interesting to do?” he chuckles nervously, his eyes looking doubtful. Intermingling with Baekhyun and Lay is very interesting for Chanyeol as a matter of fact, but he doesn’t say that out loud. He only shakes his head with a reassuring smile. “Um, okay then. We’re just going to walk to the park and back again” Baekhyun smiles a little in response to Chanyeol’s enthusiastic smile, but he doesn’t seem convinced that anyone would be so willing and eager for an afternoon stroll with a child. Well, Chanyeol is.

At first they don’t talk much on the way to the park; they greet their neighbors and answer Lay’s mumbles, mainly. Chanyeol thinks he’s getting better at responding to her, recognizing some of her moods while she speaks and reacting appropriately. Their peek-a-boo game yesterday seems to have helped them both, because she talks more to him now and he is more confident when they are interacting. Chanyeol loves children and he knows more than the average bachelor about them, but he has never had to spend much time with any child, so he’s a bit timid. There’s a big gap of inexperience between theoretical knowledge and active practice, but Chanyeol is starting to fill that gap with the best child as his tutor.

Chanyeol notices she points at many flowers and mumbles about them a lot. When he tells that to Baekhyun, the latter agrees, and they start a conversation about things Lay does and doesn’t like, things she can and can’t do, and things she will be able to do soon. Chanyeol is taking notes mentally, asking questions which are probably self-explanatory and silly for an experienced parent, but Baekhyun is more than happy to answer them without judging. He positively glows while talking about his daughter, his eyes sparkling and his lips smiling constantly, he even skips a few of his steps. Chanyeol is a bit surprised by this side of Baekhyun, which is completely new to him. He has never seen Baekhyun speak with so much dedication and adoration about something before; it’s a beautiful, heartwarming sight.

They end up taking a break at a small ice cream parlor, with pastel walls and luscious ice cream. It’s easy for Chanyeol to convince Baekhyun to spend some time there, since he knows all too well about the latter’s incurable case of sweet tooth. They settle in a quiet corner by the windows after picking up their order. Lay seems about to burst with happiness while Baekhyun spoon feeds her carefully in his lap, not to ruin her pretty clothes. Chanyeol spends a good amount of time staring at the child while she eats, just like he watched her yesterday during dinner. That small mouth opening and closing, cheeks puffing out with every bite and eyes twinkling, Chanyeol swears it’s a wonder of the world and he could stare at it forever.

“You finished all your scoop, good job, honeycomb” Baekhyun coos at her, patting her hair. The child licks her lips and looks at the table curiously, but she seems content and sated for now. “Now, can daddy enjoy his ice cream soup too?” he muses, pushing the strawberry stained bowl to the side and drawing his slightly melting chocolate and cherry ice cream scoops closer. Chanyeol chuckles, remembering times when they shared tubs of ice cream together, and Baekhyun would always enjoy the molten parts, pushing Chanyeol’s spoon away and leaving him to struggle with the hard, frozen part. He got so used to it that he can’t revive his love for melted ice cream anymore. “What?” Baekhyun asks with a small smile, directed at Chanyeol.

“You’ve always liked ice cream soup” he explains simply and Baekhyun chuckles, lowering his eyes to his sweet treat. Chanyeol is not sure he is not imagining this, but it looks like Baekhyun’s ears tinge pink. Lay mumbles something at her daddy, stealing Chanyeol’s attention, and Chanyeol bites his lip, because this has been plaguing his mind for a while now and he decides to go for it, or else he will explode. “Baekhyun, can I…can I hold her?” he asks hesitantly, fidgeting with his fingers under the table. Lay’s cuteness level is nearly painful and he’d very much like to hold her, even for a bit, but he is not sure it’s okay to ask to hold someone else’s child. Is it too weird to ask? Will Baekhyun be offended?

“You want to hold her?” Baekhyun looks taken aback more than anything else, looking at Chanyeol as if he’s the first person who has ever asked that –unbeknownst to Chanyeol, he is the first person to have ever asked that, because people prefer cooing from afar rather than getting involved with a toddler in their arms. Truth be told, Chanyeol used to be one of those people, because he’s always afraid he might make a tantrum-worthy mistake if he meddles too much with someone else’s kid, but Lay feels different to him for some reason. Maybe because she is so precious to Baekhyun and Baekhyun is so precious to Chanyeol, Chanyeol wants to try getting close to her. Baekhyun blinks a couple of times and Chanyeol blushes slightly in embarrassment, looking down at his tangled fingers.

“Yes…I mean, if that’s okay. She’s very sweet and calm, and I’ve never held a baby before; b-but I understand if you don’t think this is a good idea or if she doesn’t want me to, I don’t want to make her cry!” he lifts his hands and waves them defensively, his eyes looking at Baekhyun with honest concern. Baekhyun shakes his head, a smile slowly appearing on his lips.

“Of course it’s okay, Chanyeol; I don’t think she’ll have a problem either. So, come over here!” Baekhyun smiles cheerfully and pats the chair next to the one he is sitting. Lay seems a bit confused but Chanyeol positively lights up.

“Really? Thank you!” he squeals and scrambles to get to the chair, his excitement making him clumsy; he hits a few stray limbs against bits of furniture, but a few bruises are not so bad comparing to his reward. Baekhyun laughs and Chanyeol blushes, but he is smiling too as he sits down obediently, his posture perfect, and waits for further instructions with a huge smile of anticipation on his face.

“Well, you can take her now” Baekhyun points at Lay in an obvious voice. Chanyeol gapes at him in shock. Isn’t holding babies some sort of nuclear science only parents know? Apprentices are not allowed to tamper with such things unsupervised; one mistake and the world as we know it has crumbled to pieces.

“Just like that?” he doesn’t try to hide the panic in his voice, especially when Baekhyun only laughs very unhelpfully and lifts Lay off his lap, transferring her to a very flustered Chanyeol. “Aren’t there any rules on how to hold her, or dos and don’ts, I mean, she’s so small, oh my god, Baek, she’s so small, I’m dying here, stop laughing!” his voice is nearly shrill at the end, when Baekhyun has placed Lay in Chanyeol’s lap fully, and Chanyeol feels like his eyes might pop out from how wide they are.

He is holding a baby. Holy sunsets in heaven.

“Don’t worry, she’s old enough to hold herself upright, and if she doesn’t like something you do, she’ll tell you. Just hold her in place with your hands a little, for safety reasons, that’s all” Baekhyun sits back in his chair comfortably and watches with amusement, as Chanyeol curls an arm around Lay’s back and touches her small arm experimentally. He exhales in relief when she doesn’t burst in loud cries or something similar. Lay looks at her daddy, who waves at her with an excited grimace, and then she looks at Chanyeol. They have direct eye contact and Chanyeol part thinks that this is it, she’s going to scream now, but a bigger part thinks wow, those big brown eyes are so deep he could drown in them and be a happy man.

They blink at each other a couple of times, both feeling a little confused, but then Lay makes a popping sound with her lips and giggles at it mirthfully, leaning on Chanyeol. It feels like the heavens have blessed him and granted him mercy. Chanyeol sighs under his breath and laughs with her a little breathlessly, still afraid he might break her if he jostles her too much.

He holds her carefully, aware of how fragile she is at this age. She looks so tiny in comparison to him; small pink shoes and frilly skirt wiggling as she moves her feet to get comfortable, small fingers fisting any fabric of Chanyeol’s clothes she can hold and use to move herself in his lap, small ponytail swishing in the air in black, silky strands. Baby hairs frame her face, she has the smallest nose and ears he has ever seen, pouty lips and puffy cheeks, but her eyes are really huge and sweet, like chocolate puddles. Chanyeol can’t believe he is holding a small bundle of thoughts and feelings and sunshine. It feels like his heart is trying to shove itself out of his chest and leap into her little arms. He caresses her back gently and carefully, looking down at her, completely charmed.

“I can hear you taking pictures, Baekhyun” he chides, with no real bite in his voice, and sure enough Baekhyun giggles.

“Sorry, I had to; you look so whipped” he giggles more, sliding through the pictures he has taken with a wide smile and a soft look in his eyes. Chanyeol doesn’t want to know what expression he is sporting in those pictures. “She looks happy, too” Baekhyun mumbles, still sliding through pictures; how many did he take, exactly? Chanyeol is about to make a teasing remark, but Lay starts mumbling, looking up at Chanyeol and securing all his attention.

((Tall man, ice cream can be soup, too?! Do you know how to make it? Can we have it for dinner? Why are you looking at me like that, only daddy looks at me like that. You look like my teddy bears a lot. I’m going to hug you now.))

Lay suddenly throws her small arms on Chanyeol, burying her face in his stomach. It’s ticklish but that’s not why Chanyeol freezes for a moment. This hug is so simple, so honest and innocent that it makes Chanyeol’s heart squeeze. Only little children can hug like this and it’s the first time Chanyeol has experienced it. Baekhyun gasps in surprise as well, but their shock lasts only for a moment, because Chanyeol soon melts into a puddle of marmalade. He wraps his arms as best he can around her small body, and it’s a bit awkward, but it’s definitely the warmest hug Chanyeol has ever received.

“I can’t believe she hugged you so soon!” Baekhyun wonders in disbelief, his puppy eyes wide. “She must like you a lot…Are you okay?” he asks in the end, his voice a little bit concerned, making sure everything is alright. His parent is showing.

“I think so” Chanyeol muses with a smile and Baekhyun quietly exhales in relief somewhere in Chanyeol’s peripheral vision. Chanyeol plays with her ponytail and she looks up at him with a toothless smile. Is it too soon to say he loves her? “Thank you, princess~ I like you a lot too!” Lay squeals and faceplants on Chanyeol’s stomach again shyly, making him laugh, overflowing with fuzzy feelings of affection for this precious girl. “She is so cuddly and cute, Baek!” he fanboys, and he is answered with a short, quiet laugh.

Baekhyun snaps more pictures and Chanyeol chuckles.

---

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