Title: Tip Toe
Word Count: 3734 words
Side Pairing(s): Chanyeol/Zitao
Warning(s): unrequited love
Disclaimer: The celebrities' names/images are merely borrowed and do not represent who the celebrities are in real life. No offense is intended towards them, their families or friends. The original characters and plot are the property of the author. No money is being made from this fictional work. No copyright infringement is intended.
Summary: Baekhyun and Chanyeol have always been friends.
Author's Note: Thank you to the mods for letting me join, my recipient for the excellent prompts ☆彡 to L for helpful advice/reassurance, to R for being so kind as to beta, to the people who know who they are for keeping me going and to A for not disowning me. And a certain other person, thank you :p
Section text, title and cut text from Manhattan by Sara Bareilles.
And so it goes
Baekhyun rubs his forehead with a dusty hand and sits down on a half-full box, wincing as the cardboard crumples dangerously. It's hot, here in the summer, and dots of perspiration are standing out on his forehead.
I guess I have more things than I thought.
He looks around at the piles of half-filled boxes, t-shirts he can't remember buying, notebooks of music notes scribbled on the margins of his physics and chemistry lectures from university. He needs to throw it all away, start on a clean slate. The folder of papers on the table flaps in the idle breeze from the window. YAP CAROLINE ISLANDS — the black text on white paper shouts. Baekhyun turns away.
The sounds of traffic in the streets just beyond the window only serve to remind him that time is, perhaps not pressing, but certainly of the essence, but he can't bring himself to get back to packing, not quite yet. Never. He shakes the thought away, along with his sweaty bangs, and heads to the fridge for a Tsingtao, shaking his head at the name, but the pale liquid is refreshing, no matter what the brand. And Tsingtao has always been good. Even now.
Leaning against the table, the one he won't be taking, his gaze falls on the long rusty-red line cutting across the ivory door of the refrigerator.
Drunk on just being there
"I can't believe we have apartments!" Chanyeol is too loud as usual, hyped up on beer and too much candy, swinging the green bottle in his hand around, Baekhyun wincing and trailing its trajectory with his slightly alcohol-blurred vision.
"Be careful with that, okay? I just moved in." He reaches out for Chanyeol's wrist, grabbing it, but the taller man raises it above his head, laughing at the look of utter disgust pulling at Baekhyun's expression.
"Fine." Glaring, Baekhyun heads for the fridge, bottle opener in hand. When he slips on a pool of something, damn you Chanyeol are the words running through his head as he ends up sprawled across the kitchen floor, his ears ringing.
"Umm," he can hear Chanyeol stumbling over, "are you okay?"
"No," Baekhyun retorts, rolling his eyes and then wincing as the action makes the stars in his head spin, "I'm dead and bleeding on the floor."
"That's not funny," Chanyeol complains. Baekhyun groans to himself as he hears a beer bottle drop to the floor as his friend tugs him into a sitting position, but Chanyeol is a good friend and lets Baekhyun rest his head against his shoulder for a moment longer than he really should. We're just friends.
But Chanyeol's shoulder is big and warm and Baekhyun lets himself snuggle into it, just for a little while. Just for now. Chanyeol doesn't even seem to notice, musing drunkenly about his new job and hoping his boss is nice.
The sun sets like that, two friends sitting against the counter, legs stretching across the grubby linoleum that Baekhyun knows he's never going to get around to changing. Baekhyun looks at Chanyeol's hands, painted in a red glow and curled on his lap, and doesn't think about slipping his fingers between the warm palms. He looks at his own hands, instead, and thinks about letting go.
It's only later that they notice the huge gash on the front of the fridge, and Baekhyun blames Chanyeol for it because it's easier than admitting that he's wrong. Arguing with his friend is predictable, routine, and it's easier to ignore feelings when he's trading half-joking insults about noodle hair and clumsy elbows.
"You dropped the beer bottle!" he says, pointing at exhibit A.
"But that was after you fell!" Chanyeol defends himself, getting a cloth from under the sink to clean up the spill. At least the bottle is still intact, Baekhyun muses.
"Then why was the puddle there? Did it magically appear under my foot, saying, Hey! Let's put Baekhyun on his back today!'" Baekhyun eyes him, and Chanyeol is still too tipsy to reason with him properly. They end up blaming the scratch on the missing bottle opener and leave it at that.
I'll bow out of place
Baekhyun stands up, cocking his head to the side. Now that he's emptied the fridge, besides the last two bottles of beer, he should be able to move it. With a small groan, he manages to push it aside — promptly assailed by rampant dust bunnies and what he hopes wasn't a cockroach.
Once the dust clears, waving his hand in front of his face, he opens his eyes. There, on the ground, haloed in dust, is the long-missing bottle opener. It looks exactly the same as the day he moved in. Too long ago. Picking it up gingerly, he drops it in the sink, and opens the tap. Water flows over his fingers, washing away the dust and the years. But when he dries his hands on the towel, they're still sticky.
There's still so much to do. Baekhyun contemplates dumping it all in the garbage and buying everything over again when he gets there, but he knows there are things he wants to keep, tucked between pages and hidden in piles of mostly clean socks. Things he wants to leave behind, too, but it's impossible to jettison everything. With airplanes now, the destination is too close to the departure; there's no time to decompress, months spent at sea. This time tomorrow, he'll be where he's going.
Goodbye and hello.
It's scary, how easy it is to take the step.
The shadows on the wall have shifted, time is ticking, and the lump in his throat isn't getting any easier to swallow, so he starts dumping his bureau drawers into boxes and taping them up. Winter clothes here to donate to the Salvation Army. Summer clothes there in the suitcase. Books are next; the ones he has ebooks of get shifted to the donation pile, the ones he doesn't but can bear to part with as well, and there are one or two he has to take with. Left sitting on the coffee table, in the end, is his copy of Watership Down, the one from comparative literature, with complaints scrawled on the margins.
Baekhyun doesn't have an ebook of this one but he puts it in the give-away pile, anyway.
I'll wish this away
"I think this whole idea of a book about rabbits— " Chanyeol waves his hand in front of his face, as though collecting his thoughts, though Baekhyun knows for a fact that he has no idea what he's talking about. "Like, I like rabbits, they're cute and stuff, but all the stuff about finding girls to reproduce..." He tosses the book on the coffee table, sits back on Baekhyun's mom's sofa and rests his feet on the wood.
"Stop that!" Baekhyun scolds, nudging Chanyeol's red-and-blue stocking feet onto the floor. "And I agree with you about the male chauvinism, but I thought that there was more to the book than that."
Chanyeol just groans, stretching out on the sofa before reaching down to pull a psychology textbook out of his backpack. "I'll just be glad when I'm done," he says, frowning. "Why are we going to school anyway?"
"Because we want to move out of our parents' basements and get our own apartments." Baekhyun glares at him over his calendar, pencilling in the hours he's working at the library. "Don't be a baby."
Chanyeol groans but starts reading his textbook, skimming over the chapters and highlighting random sentences. Baekhyun shakes his head, he's never going to pass that class that way, and sneaks a hand down to snag the paperback book. He spends the next two hours marking down important sections and tagging pages with neon-coloured arrows — it's only because I have some free time, he reasons to himself, even though he knows he has an upcoming French exam that he hasn't studied enough for yet.
It's more than enough when Chanyeol passes the class with flying colours, picking Baekhyun up by the waist and swinging him around after he nervously checks his grades on his tablet — "I can't believe it, I passed!" The joy on his face keeps Baekhyun warm at night for a long time.
He doesn't even minds when he finds the book discarded on his mom's coffee table the next time Chanyeol comes over. There's a scribbled note in the front and a gift card for Baskin Robbins stuck between the pages.
The brain freeze feels wonderful.
Hang onto the revery
The bathroom is still a minefield but Baekhyun's too hungry to bother with that at the moment. With only a late breakfast keeping him on his feet, he's starving and the empty fridge is a physical pain in the gut. After contemplating trekking out for pho, he looks at the bright mid-afternoon sun and calls for Chinese delivery. Chow mein, American-style, isn't his favourite, but it's food, and the second last Tsingtao in the refrigerator is nice and cold.
Sitting at the table, cheap bamboo chopsticks in hand because he's already packed up all his kitchen things, he slurps noodles and listens to an ice cream truck turn the corner of the street below, the happy cries of children underpinning the tinny music that always reminds him more of clowns and Stephen King's IT.
"You're so morbid," Chanyeol would always complain when he brought it up, and they would always end up heading for Baskin Robbins instead. Or the Cold Stone Creamery if it wasn't too hot; the ice cream was better but sometimes the extra distance just wasn't worth it.
"It's pop culture," Baekhyun would always poke back, smearing a dab of ice cream on Chanyeol's face before ducking under the partition and running away.
The music fades into the sound of regular traffic and Baekhyun's left sitting in silence, looking at the piano. His fingers twitch in a familiar rhythm, the ghostly presence of ten small fingers beside him. He's not hungry anymore. Leaving the half-finished noodles in their carton, he wipes his hands carefully on the napkin and heads for the piano bench, lifting the lid.
"Let's play a little Für Elise today, how does that sound?"
There's no small voice to answer but he lets his fingers fall on the keys anyway.
We were laughing
Chanyeol isn't laughing when he knocks on Baekhyun's door, Baekhyun stumbling out of bed because it's nine in the morning on a Sunday and he was out at a library staff party until late the night before. Who says librarians don't know how to have a good time?
"What on earth do you —" Baekhyun blinks and his voice trails off as he looks at what, who, Chanyeol is holding in a soft bundle in his arms. His eyes are too big, and he's biting his lip. Baekhyun doesn't know what to ask, even, he's just —
"Can you help me?" Chanyeol asks in a small voice, and Baekhyun nods, of course, and lets him in.
The baby starts crying then, and Chanyeol is completely hopeless, he has no clue. Baekhyun blinks the sleep out of his eyes and takes over. He didn't take care of his younger brother for nothing. Chanyeol doesn't have anything, but luckily the baby isn't hungry, she just needed to be patted on the back and soon falls asleep, tiny head on his shoulder. Baekhyun looks up at Chanyeol then, a question forming on his tongue.
"Why do you have a baby?" he asks. He doesn't know if he wants the answer.
"She's mine," Chanyeol says, and finally lets his head fall into his hands. Baekhyun doesn't know what to say. I didn't know... I never... I...
"I got drunk at that work party," he admits, "and I remember, but I didn't think — " He shakes his head, straightening up on the sofa. "It times out right and I don't want her going to foster care," he says, his voice is still soft, bewildered, but there's steel in there, too. What Chanyeol decides to do, he follows through with.
"Her name is Yerim," he adds. "She's my daughter and she's three months old."
"And the… mom?" Baekhyun asks. It feels as if he's choking but he swallows and forces the lump down. You knew he didn't love you.
"She's not in the picture," Chanyeol says firmly, and Baekhyun doesn't ask anything else.
It's almost frightening, how easily they slip into a routine. Baekhyun rearranging his work schedule to accommodate Yerim. How her head fits into the hollow in his shoulder. Chanyeol coming home from work and crashing on his his sofa, Yerim sleeping in the bassinet until Baekhyun has to leave for work, tiptoeing out so as not to wake the sleepers.
When Yerim is old enough to go to daycare Baekhyun takes a leave of absence from work. He doesn't tell Chanyeol why, just says something about overtime and mental health breaks and writing some music again. Yerim spends her days sitting beside him at the piano instead of in a room of screaming children.
Days playing the piano turn into regular piano lessons after school when she starts going to kindergarten. Baekhyun goes back to work, sells a couple compositions on the side, and makes sure he's always at home in time for when she gets out of school.
"Uncle! Uncle!" her small voice echoes ahead of her up the stairs because she doesn't like elevators, preferring to brave the climb when the bus drops her off from school.
"I'm here!" he always calls back, the front door open and waiting, and two glasses and a pitcher of juice sitting on sideboard.
Chanyeol comes for supper, and they end up eating around Baekhyun's table half the time. Smiling and laughing and sitting across from Chanyeol, Baekhyun can almost pretend.
Fear of what's already changed
His fingers dance over the keys as he says goodbye. Elise, I wonder what ever happened to you?
It's not like he's planning on falling off the face of the planet, though. There's always wifi and Baekhyun has a huge stack of postcards and a signed contract to Send a postcard at least once a week or I won't eat my vegetables. ~ Yerim. He shakes his head but packs the postcards carefully in a box and then slips it into a pocket of his suitcase. He wants to keep them safe, because even if Chanyeol isn't his, Yerim is, and he might be leaving but he's not leaving her behind.
Just giving Chanyeol some space.
There's the sound of the elevator dinging and cheerful chattering, Chanyeol's bright laughter and someone else. He can see Yerim riding in the man's arms, her giggles as she tells him about her day.
Baekhyun's gaze drifts over to the windowsill, the blue bottles of layered sand and the pink conch shell from the beach —
I know it's for the best
"She sells sea shells by the sea shore!" Yerim is singing excitedly, kicking her feet against the back of the passenger seat but it doesn't matter; Baekhyun is just as excited as she is to be going to be beach with everyone. He's been looking forward to it for a week already, elaborate packed lunch already placed carefully in the back seat. Chanyeol has barely even parked the car and they're already out the door, Yerim running for the sand, Baekhyun stopping for the cooler and lawn chairs.
Baekhyun splashes with Yerim in the ocean for a while, darting in and out of the waves, and then they settle down to make a sandcastle.
"It has to be the best sandcastle ever, okay?" Yerim says seriously, her five year old eyes wide, and Baekhyun nods. They assign Chanyeol to guarding the picnic cooler and moulding sand bricks, taking their time to set in a good solid foundation and then carefully lay the blocks in every narrowing rings until they have a domed cupola. Yerim is tired by then, despite her sunhat and the thick layer of sunblock Chanyeol was careful to coat her with. The sun has worn her out and so they have a nap after lunch, her fingers still curled around the cup of apple juice she refused to surrender because, "I might get thirsty later."
Baekhyun leans over to take it carefully out of her hand before it overflows, straightening the towel she's curled up on and covering her small form with a small blanket. The beach isn't too busy on a Thursday — there are some families and what looks like a group of friends playing beach volleyball further down the sand, but that's about it. The wind trickles warm fingers through his hair as he sits and watches the waves.
"Hey." Baekhyun looks up as Chanyeol plops down on the towel next to him. "I found this." He hands Baekhyun a huge conch shell, pale pink bleaching to creamy white. Baekhyun holds it gently in his hands; it's gorgeous, like a spring sunrise. Holding it up to his ear, he can hear the waves. It makes him smile.
"Thanks so much for everything," Chanyeol says, and Baekhyun grins back. "I don't know how I could have ever made it without you." It's because I love you.
Baekhyun wants to say it — am I really, now? He's overwhelmed with a sense of completeness, a warm glowing in his heart that overflows to fill his entire body, happiness tingling in his fingertips. This is where he's supposed to be. But Chanyeol keeps talking.
"Thanks for being the best friend I could ever wish for." And Baekhyun closes his mouth, the sun fading slightly, warmth leaching from his limbs. You can't. He grins up at Chanyeol instead, and if his smile flickers a little at the corners, no one says anything.
Yerim wakes up, then, and Baekhyun amuses her out of her after-nap grogginess by showing her the shell and letting her hear the ocean. He's so distracted by her delighted expression that he doesn't notice the sudden impending collision — a beach volleyball suddenly falls out of the air and hits him in the head. He sees stars, for a moment.
Sitting in the kitchen, leaning against Chanyeol's shoulder, new apartment and new job and a life of happiness ahead.
"I'm so sorry!" A tall man, trim musculature moving, beautifully dashes up, retrieving the ball and apologizing profusely.
"It's alright," Baekhyun reassures him, "I'm okay; don't worry about it." He fishes an ice pack out of the cooler and applies it to his cheek, no harm done. But when he turns around, he sees Chanyeol's face, his eyes tracing the folds of the man's lips, and when the man, who introduces himself as "Zitao", invites Chanyeol to join them for beach volleyball, Baekhyun sees the light spring up in Chanyeol's eyes.
This is how one falls in love.
"Are you okay with Yerim?" Chanyeol looks back at Baekhyun, concern wrinkling his forehead, and Baekhyun takes solace in the fact that he still matters. It still hurts, as he nods and waves Chanyeol off.
The sea in the shell sounds sad now.
I can't have you
The front door of the apartment next to his, so close and yet so far, closes with a soft click as Chanyeol, Zitao and Yerim disappear inside. Baekhyun leaves the shell on the windowsill, tucking a small note underneath it in blue ink — For you, darling Yerim.
Everything is finished. Everything is packed. All he needs to do is pass the keys to Chanyeol for the movers tomorrow and Baekhyun can step out, rolling his bags behind him, into his own sunset.
He considers leaving the keys in an envelope in the mail slot but promptly discards the idea. That's not something friends do. And he is friends with Chanyeol, best friends, and nothing will ever change that. Even if I have to change myself.
The familiar bell rings, a sigh of chimes, and the door swings open.
"Uncle!" Yerim shouts excitedly, turning to call for Chanyeol. "Daddy! Uncle Tao! Uncle is here!" Baekhyun can't help but feel a little comforted by the fact that he's the original uncle. The first one. You'll always be mine.
Chanyeol appears around the arch of the doorway, Zitao following his wake, and Baekhyun smiles, even if it hurts a little at the corners. You're happy and that's all that matters.
"I guess this is goodbye," he says simply and hands his best friend the keys to his old life.
"Are you sure you have to do this?" Chanyeol asks, not for the first time. He still looks a little confused, sad. Baekhyun reaches forward and gives him a quick hug. It hurts, the slide of skin against skin, a reminder of what he can't have, but it's all he can do.
"It'll be a great adventure!" he says, trying to keep the misting in his eyes from condensing into tears. Chanyeol's eyes are wet and he doesn't want to see him cry.
Zitao gives him a hug, too; Baekhyun is surprised but the taller man smiles at him and wishes him all the best and Baekhyun knows he means it. If it can't be me, I'm glad it's you.
Yerim is the last, and Baekhyun can't help the tear that escapes his eye then, because she's his baby just as much as Chanyeol's.
"Don't forget me, Uncle," she sobs, and he strokes her hair and reminds her that he could never forget.
All too soon he's handing Yerim to Zitao, waving a last goodbye to Chanyeol, and stepping out into the hallway. The door swings shut behind him. The click of the tongue in the groove isn't loud but it sounds like the end. The wheels of his suitcase whisper behind him as he heads for the elevator, echoing along the silent hallway.
goodbye. goodbye. goodbye.
I’ll bow out of place to save you some space for somebody new
The apartment is empty, waiting, boxes piled up like grey mountains of regret. On the coffee table lies a single book; the cover is obscured in the fading light but the wind from the open window tiptoes in to rustle at the pages, so that the book falls open and the white paper catches the moonlight. There, in the middle of the white space of a new section page, are written the words, still in fresh ink,
I loved you and I let you go.