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[personal profile] exohousewarming
Prompt number: #3
Title: Cake for Breakfast
Pairing: chanbaek/ baekyeol
Rating: M/NC-17
Warning: minor character death
Word count: 108.280w
Summary: Like the wise Byun family proverb says: Hug it till it loves you.
Author’s note: I hope all readers will enjoy this story, in all its fluffy glory! Dear prompter, thank you; I had so much fun writing this and I hope I did it justice^^ A big thank you to our lovely mods, who’re always kind, helpful and patient! Honorable mention to my betas E & M, for being the most amazing, supportive cupcakes in my universe, who put up with me when I fluff and are always my first readers; you both have so much faith in me and I can’t hug you enough! I hope everyone will enjoy this ficfest! Please treat my story kindly and feel free to talk to me after reveals! Chu~



“I think we have everything, what do you think?”

He is answered with babbling nonsense, as usual. Cute babbling nonsense.

He smiles in response and takes a moment to look around, ticking off items in his mental checklist; he closed the windows upstairs, he has his wallet and his keys, her lunch is prepared and waiting in the fridge for when they return, she’s wearing baby sunscreen, he has her hat and her water bottle, she’s holding her stuffed animal and he’s not wearing his pajama pants this time. They should be good to go. Oh wait, his phone.

He doesn’t have to search long for it, walking to the kitchen counter and picking it up from where he left it earlier, after having a short, heated argument with Minseok over the phone; sometimes working daddies have to fight for a free weekend to spend with their children. There was no way he’d be leaving her at his mother’s place two weekends in a row. He pockets the device swiftly and skips back to her, kneeling down to properly strap her in the stroller. However, she gets excited once he’s eyelevel with her and she starts flailing and mumbling incoherent cute sounds, trying to tell him something she won’t be able to say in a humanly understandable way for a couple more months and clapping her hands, making the task impossible for him.

“Okay honeycomb, sit still for daddy to tie the ribbons of your chariot, hm?” he soothes her, and she looks down at the straps while he tries to fix them comfortably. He takes the opportunity to lead the conversation, to make sure she won’t start another giggling riot while he struggles with that god-awful center clasp.

“We’ll see the lady with the oranges and the lovely old woman who makes pies! Maybe we’ll see Mrs. Lee from across the street. And we’re going to buy peaches too! Yey!” he cheers, wagging his fingers in the air animatedly, already done with the clasp. His smile widens when she exclaims excitedly at the mention of her favorite fruit, cheering and giggling as well.

The sun is bright when they go outside, but it’s still nine in the morning, so the day is not unbearably hot. The sky is blue, with fluffy cotton clouds resting lazily here and there, the birds are chirping in the trees and the air smells clean and fresh. The weather is perfect for an outing and he thanks his luck for allowing him to enjoy such a day with his daughter rather than spending it holed up in his office. He can hear her mumbling things while he locks the door.

“You like the flowers, I know” he reassures her, listening to her chatting while looking at the blooms in their small garden. Their picturesque suburban neighborhood is only now starting to wake, children coming out to play ball and ride their bikes, elderly people watering their gardens, people walking their dogs on the sidewalk and families having breakfast noisily in their kitchens with wide open windows. It’s a safe, family-friendly neighborhood, complete with picket fences, gossiping old ladies and happy puppies.

As he pushes the stroller across the front yard and checks the sparse pavement traffic before venturing out of the fence –you can never know when a morning jogger might pop up– his eye catches something unusual, a few houses down the street. It looks like someone is moving into the old Kim house, but he can’t tell if it’s a new family, because the moving truck is blocking the view. The house had been empty for a few months; new additions are rare to the neighborhood, because most families settle for at least the years it takes for children to finish school.

“Hmm, looks like we have new neighbors…” he hums, hoping they will be as nice as the Kim family was, but he doesn’t concern himself with the matter any further; if by some miracle he doesn’t hear about the new neighbors from Mrs. Lee –yes, he has the privilege of living across the neighborhood’s biggest gossip– he is sure he’ll bump into them sooner or later. It’s a small and welcoming community they live in. His attention is diverted to the opposite direction, when his daughter starts mumbling excitedly and pointing imperatively at the road ahead. “Oh, really, we have to go that way? You’ll lead us to the farmers’ market? I’m impressed, Lay” Baekhyun says playfully, smiling down at his beautiful, smart daughter.

---

Baekhyun settles Lay in her highchair, because it’s time for her mid-morning snack, even though the little girl looks concerned or maybe displeased at the moment, her pink lips pouting. She seems a bit uneasy, probably because he took her away from her play mat and brought her to the table with the grownups, but she brightens up when she sees the sliced peach being served in front of her. If Baekhyun is not busy, he usually takes the snack to her, sitting down beside her and feeding her at the coffee table, which is much more proportionate to her and she can learn its use better, but when there is no time for him to be constantly wiping away fruit syrup from her lips –she barely has three teeth after all, things can get messy– he places her in her highchair, just like for every other meal.

“You are raising such a sweetheart, Baekhyun dear” Mrs. Lee coos at Lay, and the little girl sends her a toothless smile, glossy from the fruit she’s munching. Mrs. Lee chuckles at her cuteness and Baekhyun thanks the woman while patting his daughter’s hair with a smile; she’s a very sweet, social child. Mrs. Lee often praises him for his parenting, mostly because she’s very fond of Lay in the way all women in their sixties like little children, and probably because she thinks he needs the encouragement, being the only single parent in the neighborhood. He doesn’t really, at least not for that reason.

It’s Sunday today and the church finished about an hour ago, not that Baekhyun attends, but Mrs. Lee does, and she came for a visit to her favorite neighbor right after. These visits are not entirely unusual, and thankfully Baekhyun baked a banana cake last night, so he has something to offer her with tea. Mrs. Lee is a widow since a couple of decades ago and she doesn’t have children, but she’s always very agreeable if a little too chatty, hence her tendency to gossiping, although she’s always benevolent; it’s like she has adopted everyone in the neighborhood, in a sense, and she finds anything they do to be important. She visits neighbors regularly as a way of coping with her loneliness, and Baekhyun doesn’t mind her occasional visits; he’s working most of the time, so it’s a good way of keeping up to date with their neighborhood developments.

And of course, their new neighbor is the big news this week.

“So, have you met our new neighbor, Baekhyun dear?” she quires, picking on her slice of banana cake.

“I’m afraid not, Mrs. Lee. Have you?” he smiles politely, even though he knows it’s pointless to ask; of course she would have met him, she’s the first in the neighborhood to introduce herself to new people. The woman lights up at the opportunity to give him the details.

“Oh yes! He’s a tall young man who lives alone, he is single and he doesn’t have a family; I got the impression he’s like Mr. Choi” she sips her tea for a moment. Mr. Choi is a man close to her age who lives alone in a house further down the street. He’s a novelist who never got married, but he likes children and he’s friendly, but very quiet about himself. It doesn’t sound bad for a new neighbor. Mrs. Lee continues with excitement. “He’s a very handsome young man, very friendly and polite; I can tell he will fit right in! He has such a pleasant smile, like a breath of fresh air. Not to imply that you’re not charming, Baekhyun dear, you know I think you’re one of the prettiest fathers in our neighborhood, but this young man…oh how he will tempt the ladies! He’s well-built and quite the looker, not to mention delightful and such a smooth talker!” she giggles, hiding her blushing cheeks.

“I see you already like him” Baekhyun teases her, cleaning Lay’s sticky fingers with a baby wipe. Baby wipes are seriously Holy Grail material. He wonders if she would be as enthusiastic in her descriptions if she knew his sexual preferences; Baekhyun has been gay all his life, but ever since he settled with his daughter, everyone assumes he’s straight. He hasn’t bothered confirming or denying that; it’s not like he has been or will be on a date anytime soon. He’s a full-time daddy. Mrs. Lee fans herself bashfully.

“I’m sorry dear, you’re so easy to talk to that I forget myself! You wouldn’t be interested in such details; I should reserve them for Mrs. Jung. Anyway, this young man visited all the houses in our neighborhood yesterday, introducing himself and bringing cookies to everyone. He stopped by your house as well, but you weren’t home?” she quirks an inquiring eyebrow and Baekhyun smiles at her, giving Lay one of her toys to play with, back on her play mat, before returning to the table.

“We were visiting my friend, Sehun” he informs, knowing that even if the information spreads, it won’t do any harm. Mrs. Lee nods; she has met Sehun, of course, since Baekhyun’s childhood friend often visits their house to spoil Lay, as her self-proclaimed uncle. “Lay adores him and he always complains we never visit him; he even kept us for dinner, so we were out for longer than expected”

“Oh, I see” she hums, sipping her tea. “I advised our neighbor to try his luck with you again today; I hope you don’t mind” she bats her eyelashes innocently, mumbling a compliment for his cake to get on his good side. Baekhyun is mildly surprised, but he guesses he should have expected she would know his schedule so well since she’s living right across.

“My only concern is that he would be disappointed if I happened to be out today as well, Mrs. Lee. Otherwise, I don’t mind” he flashes a polite smile and she relaxes in her seat. Baekhyun offers her another cup of tea and the conversation is forgotten.

---

The week has been hectic, Baekhyun won’t lie. He had to work three overtimes and skip four meals to meet his deadlines, even though Minseok tried to be a good boss and suggested he extended the deadlines to the weekend, but Baekhyun wouldn’t have that. He loves his weekends with his daughter and if he has to die a little to get them, he’ll do just that. He is grateful to Kyungsoo, the doe-eyed man who works at the baby daycare centre, because he always agrees to look after Lay for a couple more hours when Baekhyun needs it; he has become one of the most reliable friends Baekhyun has. He is also lucky that Lay is not a fussy child and she can play by herself quietly while he works on his laptop. He takes his work to the living room, so that she can feel him physically present at least, and to keep an eye on her, but he makes sure to spend at least a full hour of quality time with her every day, giving her all his attention and care. On Saturday, they visited Baekhyun’s parents for the day, which is not a particularly enjoyable obligation for him, but they have to do it nonetheless. This morning they went to the park and they’ve spent the rest of the day at home.

If there is one thing that boosts Baekhyun’s energy for the coming week, it’s the beautiful moments he spends with his daughter. He doesn’t care that he’s still a bit sleep deprived and fatigued or that his bedroom is a mess, because he enjoys being surrounded by heaps of toys to entertain her, singing cheerful children’s songs and having lengthy, nonsensical conversations with her. He likes reading her a book before he puts her to sleep, sweeping her in his arms to waltz around the room after dressing her and cuddling her when she’s fresh out of her bath. Baekhyun loves his daughter and his heart melts and expands every time she shows him that she loves him too. She prefers him to all her toys, and if she’s not singing along to his songs, she stares at him in awe, and in all her jumbled vocabulary, ‘daddy’ is the only word she can say clearly, striking Baekhyun’s soft heart dead on. He is her favorite teddy bear, her idol, her prince, her hero, and Baekhyun has vowed to never let her down, always protect her and love her forever.

It’s nearing bedtime for his little bunny but Baekhyun doesn’t want to believe it, so he ignores the clock on the wall. He’s not sure he won’t regret it tomorrow morning, when he will have to wake her up and take her to baby daycare, but he ignores that concern, too. He is having fun and he doesn’t want to surrender her to sleep yet. They are making flower crowns from small, daisy-like flowers they picked from Mrs. Lee’s front yard earlier, and Lay is currently talking up a storm about who knows what. Baekhyun smiles and concentrates on making out any words, but it’s futile, so he settles with making appropriate exclamations in between her pauses, as feedback.

The bell rings and Baekhyun puts down the flower crown unhurriedly; it’s probably Mrs. Lee checking up on them at this hour, coming home from another of her visits somewhere in the neighborhood. Lay stops talking and frowns at the interruption, watching him get up to get the door, and she makes to follow him on all fours.

“It’s okay, honeycomb, daddy will be right back!” he reassures her, cooing at her from across the room and blindly reaching for the door. When he turns around to look at their visitor, he nearly gets a heart attack.

There is no way in this universe or the next this is happening.

“Hello! I’m your new neighb…” the sentence dies on the man’s lips, his smiling eyes from a moment ago growing impossibly wide, his lips gaping and his complexion paling under the porch light. They stare at each other for a while, silent and equally awestruck. There is a very distinct look a man wears when fate slaps him in the face and unexpectedly turns the world upside down for him, and they’re both wearing it right now. “Baekhyun?!” he calls, his voice pitched in surprise, his eyebrows rising to his hairline in disbelief.

“Chan…Yeol…?” his voice barely comes out of his teeth, confused and breathless. He never thought he’d say that name aloud again, let alone see the very person standing in front of him. He’s the same mixture of a deep voice, a childish face with wide eyes, plum lips and large ears, just like Baekhyun remembers. It’s as if he has not changed or aged a day, even though it’s been two years since they last saw each other. Baekhyun’s heart is beating like crazy –he’s probably gone crazy and imagining all this too– he thinks he’s not breathing and, who are we kidding, he’s about to faint in shock. All the while, his brain is firmly denying everything; this is not happening.

“Oh my god, it’s so good to see you! It’s been so long!” it’s almost unbearable to see Chanyeol smiling at him so radiantly after all this time, pretty rows of too many teeth showing just how thrilled he is. Baekhyun doesn’t even have time to choke before he is enveloped into a hug; he’s thankful for the support of the other’s arms or he would have fainted to the ground. He’s still too shocked to respond however, so he stands limply, staring at Mrs. Lee’s house across the street and trying to make sense of the realty he’s living, until Chanyeol releases him and takes a step back.

“…you’re our new neighbor?” Baekhyun mumbles, his eyebrows tangling in confusion as he looks up at the taller man. Chanyeol shrugs his shoulders and shows a sheepish smile, which makes him look about twenty years younger than he actually is.

“These are for you” he offers the plate he has been holding –and which Baekhyun failed to notice earlier– with a small pile of chocolate brownies in it. Baekhyun remembers Mrs. Lee mentioning something similar about their new neighbor’s visit to every house, but after a week of not hearing from him, Baekhyun thought he’d never stop by and he quite honestly forgot about it. The gesture is very much like Chanyeol though; he’s a traditional, friendly fluff ball like that. At least he used to be. Baekhyun accepts the brownies politely and Chanyeol grins. “I’m sorry for the late hour, Mrs. Lee said you’re home on Sunday evenings and- OH MY GOD is that a BABY?!” he squeals, looking past Baekhyun and positively glowing in excitement. Baekhyun whirls around so fast that the world spins for a moment, only to see his daughter peeking at them curiously, half-hidden behind the doorframe. He runs to her and scoops her in his arms immediately, panicking a little because he completely forgot about his child for a moment there.

“Oh! Yes, this is my daughter, Byun Lay” he introduces her, bringing her closer to the door. Chanyeol is brimming with glee and he looks like he’s about to start hopping on his heels in excitement. Lay leans against her daddy coyly, giving the adorable shy blinks at Chanyeol. You femme fatale, you.

“Hi, pretty thing~” Chanyeol’s voice is still excited but much more tender when he greets her, gently caressing her little arm with his index finger. The difference in size is striking. Lay gifts him with a smile before hiding in her father’s neck bashfully. Chanyeol focuses on Baekhyun again, pouting at him half-seriously. “Byun Baekhyun, you got a kid and you didn’t tell me? I feel offended” he huffs stubbornly. He has no right to be this cute after all this time. Baekhyun’s eyes fly around uneasily.

“It’s a long story…” he mumbles glumly, his hand rubbing the little girl’s back reflexively, as if he still needs to soothe her. Chanyeol’s pout fades to a serious expression, realizing Baekhyun’s somber tone.

“Oh.” he breathes and then remains silent. He stares at Baekhyun while the shorter soothes his daughter distractedly, and Baekhyun tries to avoid his eyes because they can always read too deep. Chanyeol has always been able to figure Baekhyun out, even at his most confusing moments, as if he can magically see the stars beyond a sky of clouds. But this is hardly the time, the place and the person to talk about his daughter, and Baekhyun holds on to his composure tooth and nail, trying to make his thoughts and feelings disappear. When the tension becomes too much for Baekhyun, he breaks the silence by clearing his throat.

“I would invite you inside, but it’s late; I have work tomorrow and this little bunny has to go to sleep, so…” he says, hoping Chanyeol will let him change the course of this conversation. The taller man’s demeanor changes drastically, into timid wide eyes and shy glances.

“Yes, of course, I’m sorry I stopped by so late” he apologizes and then smiles at him a little. “But it’s okay, really. I’ll be seeing you around now that we’re neighbors. We can catch up some other time, hm?” he suggests with more than polite interest in his sparkling eyes. Baekhyun’s eyes widen a little, a shiver of dread running down his spine at the realization that what Chanyeol just said is true. His stomach drops. They are neighbors now. He masks his discomfort with a nervous smile.

“Um, sure” he agrees halfheartedly; Chanyeol seems pleased even so.

“Bye, little lady~” Chanyeol waves at Lay and she waves back at him cheerfully. Baekhyun waves too, smiling down at his cute little girl. She is so lovable. When he looks up again, Chanyeol is standing further down the path of their yard, looking at them with an indecipherable smile, partly obscured by shadows. He waves back. “Goodnight”

“Goodnight, thank you for stopping by” Baekhyun calls after him and waits until Chanyeol has stepped out into the street to close the door. Reality sinks in once he’s alone with his daughter, and his ears flame up, his heart picking up the pace. He leans against the door, staring at the ceiling with wide eyes. Did this just happen?

((Daddy, who was that tall man? Did you see his eyes? They were big, like my Kyungie teacher’s! But prettier. He looks like my teddy bear, who is he daddy? Can I hug him like my teddy bears?))

Lay finds it an appropriate time to start bombarding him with excited, happy mumbles, as if she’s only now saying all she didn’t say in front of Chanyeol. Baekhyun gives her a good look.

“We shall not talk about this” he refuses and his daughter giggles at her father’s distress.

---

Chanyeol breaks his sprint and stumbles to the side, bending over his knees and gasping for breath. He has been a jogger for years but he’s been running more forcefully these days and it often leaves him short of breath. He wipes away the streams of perspiration on his forehead and starts a slow pace down the path; it’s easier to walk off the breathlessness after an intense run.

The weather is nice today, sunny and fresh. The sunrays slide through the foliage of the trees that arch over the path and dance on the ground, making the grass on the sides of the path shimmer. There are many routes in the park with different scenery, from tall trees to nicely trimmed gardens, even a small bridge somewhere. Chanyeol prefers the more secluded paths, where the air is cool under the shade and it’s generally quieter; it helps him focus. He takes deep breath, easier this time, his mind clearing a little.

He’s been coming to this park for his morning jogs ever since he moved here. Luckily, some of his neighbors are avid runners and they helpfully suggested this location, claiming it was the perfect place for exercising –certainly safer than running around the neighborhood while little children are playing outside. He’s seen some of his neighbors during his morning routes and he always greets them cheerfully, but he never joins them. He prefers running alone because it helps him clear his head; that’s why he runs in the first place. But he’s been running sloppily lately, pushing his body to its limits. There are a lot of things on his mind lately; or maybe just one. Every time he tastes that soaring feeling, similar to an arrow piercing the air, his thoughts go Baekhyun, Baekhyun, Baekhyun, shattering his concentration. Chanyeol stops walking, closing his eyes and turning his face to the sunny sky.

Never in a million years would he have imagined finding Baekhyun here.

He first met Baekhyun three years ago. Baekhyun had moved into the apartment across from Chanyeol’s –ironically enough– but they hadn’t noticed each other the first few weeks. It wasn’t until Chanyeol saw the smaller man trying to haul a belatedly delivered pile of boxes full of his belongings into his new apartment that he realized he hadn’t seen the man around before. And if you ask Chanyeol, he still thinks that the petite man clad in disheveled sky blue pjs was the most beautiful thing he’d ever seen. Being a good neighbor, Chanyeol offered his help and, being considerably smitten, he introduced himself. Baekhyun offered to buy him coffee as a token of gratitude for his help and, after a morning spent over coffee and cake, they hit it off like they had known each other for years.

Baekhyun effortlessly became the sunshine in Chanyeol’s life, but after just one short year of blissful friendship, of brunch dates, movie marathons, sleepovers, stormy night cuddling sessions and secretly blooming feelings, life got in the way. It made Chanyeol cherish and regret every stolen moment he had basked near Baekhyun’s glowing warmth, but nothing could be done. Baekhyun had to move abroad for an internship and Chanyeol had to be happy for him. So, Baekhyun left on a windy Thursday, leaving him an address. It was around that time Chanyeol started jogging to get his mind off of things; it soon became painfully obvious to him that he was missing more than a friend. They exchanged letters for a while, mostly making friendly inquiries and exchanging information anyone would expect to be mentioned; Chanyeol could tell Baekhyun was busy, and then he got busy himself, landing a better job. Eventually they lost touch. Chanyeol tried reaching out again after a full year of silence, mailing a letter to Baekhyun on one particularly rainy and lonely November 27th, but his letter was returned to sender.

That’s when Chanyeol realized that sunshine had essentially disappeared from his life that Thursday, two years ago.

---

For the first time in years, Baekhyun feels thankful he’s so busy. He leaves his house early in the morning and comes home in the afternoon, spending the rest of the day in his house, busy with chores and investing in bonding time with his daughter. He’s always protected by walls and windows, be it his house, his office or his car, which means he doesn’t have to worry about run-ins with certain neighbors. Cough, Chanyeol, cough. He is simply not ready to face that truth. He knows deep down, however, that this can’t go on forever. At some point, he’ll probably have to figure things out with Chanyeol, more or less awkwardly. I just won’t do it today, that’s all; that’s what he tells himself. Every morning.

The week passes as merrily as any, even though Lay complains for the lack of outdoor activities; she likes being outside and the sunny weather is not helping Baekhyun’s case, tempting her to go out even more. Thankfully, Baekhyun still has a say in what their activities consist of –try asking again in a couple of years–, and he limits them indoors. He tries to be inventive, moving past hide-and-seek and talking teddy bears, to puzzles, soap bubbles and even hand painting! He made edible paints himself with food coloring and he risked a red-splattered wall for this; at least Lay enjoyed it, so the small stain on the edge of the carpet is worth it.

It’s the first time Baekhyun accepts his parents’ invitation to visit for the second weekend in a row, and the first time the aforementioned visit is not pleasant per se, but at least bearable. Instead of spending his Sunday evening worrying over a certain someone paying them another visit, Baekhyun takes his daughter to a play café, where he can drink his coffee while she socializes and plays with other toddlers; he even finds a couple of familiar parents from daycare and socializes himself. It’s unexpectedly invigorating to confide in people who are going through the same struggles as you, as far as your child’s developmental achievements are concerned. They reach home late at night, both tired and ready to embrace their beds.

The first days of the following week are a blur of budget numbers and laundry, until on Wednesday evening, Baekhyun finds out their food supplies have nearly diminished. He groans in front of the virtually empty fridge. Lay babbles something from her play mat in response.

“It looks like we’re going to the market, honeycomb” he announces, sounding excited for his child’s sake. On the inside, true to his overworked body and couch potato qualities, he’s wailing miserably for having to go outside, brooding over the soon-to-be-lost comfort of his home. On the contrary, Lay seems enthusiastic to go outside, mumbling in between giggles and doing grabby hands until he picks her up and takes her upstairs to change her clothes. She doesn’t stop her little speech while he dresses her in the nursery room, and some of her excitement rubs off on him, improving his mood.

“What are you mumbling about, honeycomb, I’d really like to know sometimes” he coos at her while fixing the suspenders of her skirt –she’s fashionable– and then he pretends to eat her childishly chubby cheeks, lightly mouthing and kissing them while making roaring noises; she laughs loudly, because she’s ticklish on her neck, and it’s the most beautiful sound Baekhyun has ever had the privilege of hearing.

Lay is very energetic during the car ride, singing to herself in gibberish and swinging her legs playfully, or talking in her own language about the things she sees outside. Baekhyun can tell some of it is directed at him and he glances at her through the rearview mirror when it’s safe to do so; she looks so cute in the baby seat. Once they are at the market store, Baekhyun places her in the designated seat of a cart and together they start strolling down the aisles, picking necessities as they go. She’s quieter now, choosing to observe her surroundings rather than talk. Baekhyun still talks to her every now and then though.

He doesn’t know if Wednesday is generally a market-shopping day, but half his neighborhood seems to be in the store; Baekhyun makes sure to greet everyone he knows with a smile and maybe a few polite words if they’re standing close enough. It’s very lively and a bit noisy, especially closer to the candy aisle, which Baekhyun usually tries to avoid. Little children speed by, ignoring their parents’ admonishments not to run in the store, chirping a ‘hello Mr. Byun!’ as they pass him. He greets them all by name. Five-year-old Jongin asks if he can teach Lay how to play ball, and Baekhyun tells him that he’ll have to wait until Lay can walk at least before they ask her. His parents laugh but Jongin seems hyped, hopping on his little feet. This shopping trip might not be so bad after all.

The crowd thins out gradually and Baekhyun finds himself in the diary aisle, lazily pushing down an already heavy-ish cart. Lay mumbles and points at her favorite children’s yogurt, recognizing the unmistakably bright and colorful packaging. Baekhyun has to tiptoe a little to reach it, but he manages, as always.

“Of course we wouldn’t forget your yogurt, honeycomb! We want you to grow into a healthy little girl” he says, adding the package to the rest. She’s looking at him with that look again, the wonderstruck sparkly one, like he is a hero who just saved the world. Baekhyun can’t resist cooing at her and playing with her black locks a little. “You are so pretty and smart already, what is daddy going to do with you in the future?”

Someone clears their throat nearby and Baekhyun practically shoots straight, eyes wide in embarrassment. With all the comfortable greetings he has exchanged with his neighbors and the cheery conversations he has had with his daughter, Baekhyun completely forgot one tiny giant problem he has been having over the past ten days or so, only for said problem to appear in front of him, while he was being an utterly whipped daddy no less.

Of course it would be Park Chanyeol.

“Good evening, Baekhyun” he greets in his deep voice, not caring to hide his amused smile. Baekhyun is sure he has witnessed the whole embarrassing scene and it’s killing his manly pride, but he’s more anxious of the excited glint in Chanyeol’s eyes. An excited Chanyeol with a purpose –Baekhyun has a looming feeling his purpose this time is relevant to him– is a persistent, sweet-talking, pout-till-the-other-person-says-yes Chanyeol, whom you can’t fight off successfully. Baekhyun knows from experience. Chanyeol’s attention shifts to the little girl and he lowers himself to her eyelevel, his smile growing friendly. “Hi, Lay~ Are you helping your daddy with shopping?” Lay responds with a flurry of excited mumbles and sounds, being the friendly creature she usually is, and Chanyeol listens to her attentively, his eyebrow quirking in surprise at the completely different treatment she is giving him since their first, shy encounter.

“Um, we’re shopping for the week” Baekhyun provides a bit awkwardly once Lay has quieted down. He hopes he is not blushing too obviously after being acknowledged as her daddy by Chanyeol; why would it even matter? His brain focuses on really irrelevant stuff at times. Chanyeol nods and shows them a blinding, carefree smile.

“I can tell” he says, and it’s time for another wave of blushing embarrassment to cascade down on Baekhyun. Since he had been planning to make this a short trip to the market, he didn’t concern himself with his appearance in particular; no one requires you to be put-together during such outings anyway. And, for a single father like himself, comfort is key. Which means worn out sweatpants and conveniently roomy t-shirts are haute couture. At some point you stop caring if your clothes make you look good, because it’s not like you’re rocking the body you had when you were twenty either, and since the looser version allows you to chase after your toddler more easily, it’s downhill from there. It’s considered acceptable dress code among parents, so no one cared to notice earlier.

But Chanyeol noticed now and Baekhyun wants to maybe hide behind that stack of powdered baby food over there. Maybe jeans and a simple black hoodie is not what you would expect from a man on the late side of his twenties either, but Chanyeol flaunts the look perfectly and Baekhyun wishes his comfortable attire was something as presentable. His sweatpants are a faded shade of grey and his blue t-shirt could probably fit Lay in it too, sporting a large print of ‘Best Daddy Ever’ on the front –a gift from Sehun, only because he got himself a matching ‘Best Uncle Ever’ t-shirt and he didn’t want Baekhyun to throw a fit– messy hair and dark circles being the cherry on top. To put it simply, he looks abhorrent. Mercifully, Chanyeol doesn’t comment on it.

“I thought I’d be seeing you around, but you guys seem to be rather busy bees” he says instead, pushing his cart next to Baekhyun’s as they walk towards the vegetables section. Lay giggles at the alliteration of ‘b’s. Baekhyun risks a glance and he finds Chanyeol peering at him with curiosity.

“It happens sometimes” when I’m trying to avoid you. Baekhyun shrugs his shoulders nonchalantly, pretending to be innocently occupied with reading the tags over the fruits. Lay cheers when she spots a pile of peaches, pointing at them –it is safe to say it’s one of her favorite foods. Baekhyun pats her hair, reassuring her he has seen them indeed.

“Someone likes peaches, huh?” Chanyeol notices with interest, smiling down at her when she starts responding to him, with wide eyes and grand gestures of her little arms, as if she’s trying to explain to him how majestic she finds peaches. Chanyeol chuckles and there’s a hint of fondness at the sound. “She’s chatty, like you. It’s cute” he muses with a soft smile. The comment makes Baekhyun flush to his hairline momentarily and he picks up his pace, praying to god no one will notice his fluster.

“Um…” he mumbles and then clears his throat with embarrassment. He picks up a bag of onions and throws them in his cart.

“So, do you think you can fit some time with me in your busy schedule?” Chanyeol picks up the former topic and Baekhyun is not so sure he’s relieved they dropped the previous one anymore. Chanyeol is persistent and Baekhyun should have foreseen he wouldn’t drop the subject as easily.

“What for?” he tries to doge –in a totally not suspicious voice, mind you. At this, Chanyeol stops moving and Baekhyun stops too, as if they were supposed to be moving side by side. Chanyeol looks at him in the eyes with a composed expression.

“To catch up, maybe have some coffee” he elaborates, entertaining Baekhyun’s elusiveness. Baekhyun gives him an empty look, as if he still cannot understand why they would be required to spend time together. Lay starts humming a childish tune and Chanyeol rolls his large eyes at Baekhyun’s stubbornness. “Come on, Baekhyun; I haven’t seen you in two years and now I find you with a child. I’m obviously very curious and not ashamed to admit it” he says. His voice is quiet, but so deep and chocolaty that it qualifies for sweet-talking at its finest. Baekhyun doesn’t see a way out of this, not even if he grabs his child and makes a run out of the place. Chanyeol lives across the street; it’s only a matter of time before they accidentally bump into each other again.

“I don’t know, Chanyeol, we’re a bit…Lay’s a bit…” he stutters, glancing around and gesturing at Lay in general. The child keeps looking at her daddy and then at the tall man next to him confusedly, to and fro. What about me, daddy? Chanyeol gives up with a sigh when it’s obvious Baekhyun is not about to make his argument any more convincing sometime soon and this situation only seems to be distressing the child.

“Not even for coffee? Just for one hour?” he pleads. Cue the infamous pout. Baekhyun can feel his resolve wavering at the sight of those glossy full lips, paired with wide puppy eyes and adorably large ears. The sight is tugging at his heartstrings in a distantly familiar way; it reminds Baekhyun of bickering over movie titles and Chinese takeout.

The market employee calls for his attention just then –it’s very anticlimactic, but it gives him an excuse to drop the conversation with Chanyeol. He smiles at the cashier who coos at Lay and he starts pulling out his purchases diligently. In his haste he fails to notice Chanyeol helping him take everything out of the cart. He notices only when he realizes it weren’t his hands that took out Lay’s favorite yogurt. He stares at him, feeling clueless for a moment; Chanyeol only returns a fleeting smile and keeps helping wordlessly. Baekhyun accepts the help, not knowing what else he is supposed to do.

“Okay, I’ll let you think about it” Chanyeol suggests when they finish, and Baekhyun is this close to wailing his woes to the universe. Is there no mercy?! “My number hasn’t changed; maybe you can give me a call?” he smiles a little, giving Baekhyun hopeful puppy eyes. Well, that step is new in his persuasive routine… Baekhyun presses his lips thoughtfully for a moment and then sighs in defeat; he might as well admit his weakness and retire painlessly. A cup of coffee can’t hurt, right?

“Fine…”

---
Chanyeol flops onto the bed, fresh out of the shower. The days are getting hotter as summer approaches, so he goes for a run late in the evenings, but he comes home drenched in sweat nonetheless. He feels so much better now, clean skin resting on clean linen sheets. He stretches and his body feels numb for the most part, but tomorrow he will be suffering, he can feel it. Today he spent seven hours working on his composition nonstop, hunched over the desk, and then he ran till he felt his lungs would burst; his body is quite weary, as is his mind. It’s only eight thirty in the afternoon and he feels so sleepy already. Since he is pleased with his work’s progress, he thinks he will allow himself to sleep like the dead until tomorrow morning.

This sort of long, uninterrupted slumber is a miracle that he has experienced only ever since he moved here. Generally speaking, he’s a light sleeper, and he has often had sleepless nights due to the constant buzzing and bustling of the city. But it’s different here; everything grows very quiet at night, except for an occasional passing car or a puppy whimper. It’s one of the reasons Chanyeol aimed for a house in the suburbs once he could afford it. He thinks he’s old enough, being twenty eight and profitably employed, to settle in a well composed, stable life. His father complains that he should get a wife and children while he’s at it, but Chanyeol knows that won’t be happening.

He searches for his phone on his nightstand blindly; it’s been there since he silenced the alarm this morning and he hasn’t bothered to check on it ever since. He was busy, and it’s not like he gets many calls on a regular basis. His eyes are burning when he opens them to check the screen. There is a message from Luhan, his music producer, about his upcoming deadline, but it’s only a laidback reminder –he knows Chanyeol always delivers his pieces on time. There is also a voice message, and Chanyeol taps on it, letting his phone slide out of his hand and fall on the bed as he closes his tired eyes.

“Hi, Chanyeol; this is Baekhyun. Um, about that coffee you mentioned…We’ll be home this Saturday, maybe you’d like to come over? Just, let me know beforehand. Uhh…Bye.”

Chanyeol’s eyes snap wide open, his heart picking up its pace. He grabs his phone and fumbles with it to listen to the message again, just to make sure he heard correctly. Holy sh…it worked! Baekhyun actually called! Judging by his halfhearted promise to call, Chanyeol thought he’d have to search for him somewhere around the neighborhood and beg for some of his precious time again, his pride be damned. But it seems Lady Luck is smiling down at Chanyeol this time, and the sun is starting to break through the clouds in Chanyeol’s sky.

Moving to this quiet neighborhood was supposed to be a first step to start settling down in his life; he never thought he’d rediscover the person who stole his heart and disappeared two years ago as his new neighbor. Chanyeol has so many questions regarding those two years of absence, he has so many mixed and confusing emotions. Baekhyun’s hair is black now and his face is softer, but he still is the most beautiful thing he has ever seen. It’s ridiculous, how it didn’t take more than five minutes of stuttered, awkward conversation for Chanyeol to know his heart is right where he left it, with Baekhyun. His sister would roll her eyes at him and judge him so hard if she knew –which reminds Chanyeol, he should call her sometime.

Nevertheless, a hopeful smile spreads on his lips, thinking that he has an invitation to the Byun house for the upcoming Saturday. Chanyeol types a message to suggest a time for his visit, and Baekhyun answers not five minutes later that the time is okay and they’ll be expecting him. Chanyeol also wishes him goodnight before he turns himself into a cinnamon roll with the blankets and replays the voice message, this time just to hear how adorably awkward Baekhyun sounds.

---

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