Title: Panel by Panel
Word Counts: 6408
Side Pairing(s): slight mention of HunHan
Warning(s): clichés and awkward EXO members
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 is an aspiring manhwa artist who meets his ideal male lead at a bookstore.
Author's Note: Greatly inspired by the manga, Hiren Trip. Hope you enjoy!
The anticipation was killing him. Nerves were slowly getting to him as the glossy cover of the magazine rubbed against his fingers. It was now or never.
Opening the magazine, he closed his eyes, almost as if blinded by the panels and articles in said magazine. Wanting to take a peek, Baekhyun opened one eye, and then finally let out a sigh.
It was another failure. His work was yet again pushed aside for other works. Dejectedly, he walked towards the counter, thinking of what he could possibly do at this point to improve his work. As he waited for the cashier to finish his transaction, he couldn’t help but mentally weep at his situation.
Fifteen. That was the number of times he had tried to his luck at submitting his work in the hopes of being scouted and published. Fifteen was also the number of times he was rejected for his works.
Was he supposed to give up now? Move on and try his hand at something else?
But he wasn’t any good in other things. He wasn’t in any organization or club in school, to make sure he had more time to work on his manhwa, and he sure as heck wasn’t succeeding academics-wise.
Baekhyun looked up, startled at the shout of the cashier.
“I’ve been trying to tell you, you lack 1000 won!”
Blinking, Baekhyun stared down at the money he had laid to pay for the magazine. Counting the bills and coins, he realized that he did, in fact, lack 1000 won. In shock, he started going through his bag and his pocket. He was so sure that he had brought enough money to buy the magazine. He had even counted it before leaving the house.
“I’m sure I have it somewhere!” he murmured to himself, avoiding looking at the furious face of the cashier.
“If you don’t have the money, move out of the way and I’ll cancel your transaction!”
Frantic, Baekhyun pleaded to the cashier, “W-wait, I’m sure I have—”
He was cut off by an arm placing a 1000 won bill on the cashier. Looking up to who the arm belonged, Baekhyun found not his cousin, but a tall stranger; a guy not much older than him, if not the same age as him, by the looks of it.
“You dropped this awhile ago,” the stranger said, staring blatantly at the sign on the cash register saying ‘We aim to be the best! If you have any complaints, please don’t be shy and tell our manager!’ The cashier then stopped glaring, and served Baekhyun with an awkward smile.
“T-thank you for giving the exact amount! Come again!”
Happily walking out of the store, Baekhyun made to place the magazine in his bag when he noticed a folded note at the bottom. Pulling it out, Baekhyun realized it was the 1000 won bill he was missing earlier. Quickly looking around, Baekhyun spotted the stranger that had helped him out, waving his hand to get his attention.
When the stranger had noticed him, Baekhyun pointed at the bill, hoping to pay back the stranger. Instead, the stranger mouthed, ‘Don’t worry about it,’ smiled, and left with his friends.
Baekhyun gripped the 1000 won bill, feeling his face grow warmer and warmer.
“Hey! Baek!” A hand then gripped on to Baekhyun’s shoulder, turning him around to face his cousin, Jongdae.
“I’ve been calling you since you exited the store,” he said, staring confusedly at Baekhyun’s red face. “What was that about?” he asked, tilting his head in the direction the stranger had went.
“I think… I think I just found my model.”
Glancing back at his brunette cousin, Jongdae asked, “Model for what?”
Shocking Jongdae, Baekhyun snapped out of his daze, and instead of answering Jongdae, grabbed his cousin’s hand and dragged him back home.
“Let me get this straight. A guy lends you 1000 won, and suddenly you’re basing your whole career on him?”
Jongdae asked, staring incredulously while chewing on some Peppero.
“You’re exaggerating Jongdae. It’s not my whole career,” Baekhyun said, not bothering to look at his cousin as he continued to sketching from memory what the stranger looked like. “I just want to use him as inspiration for the manhwa I make. There!” he exclaimed, holding up the finished sketch.
As Jongdae continued to inspect the sketch, he was reminded of the fact that his cousin did indeed have a knack for drawing manhwa. Baekhyun had started sketching since he was a young boy, and had continued to improve since then, something Jongdae’s enjoyed watching, especially when his cousin made such amazing replicas of what he’s seen. What he never understood was Baekhyun’s penchant to draw romantic manhwa when he had never even been on an actual date.
And it looked like Baekhyun was planning to make the stranger he had met into the poor soul who’s love life he’d puppeteer.
Actually bothering to look at the sketch as a whole, Jongdae felt like he had seen the boy somewhere, and not just outside the bookstore. With a jolt, Jongdae started hurriedly typing on his phone.
“Baek, that sketch you’re holding… it wouldn’t happen to be the guy you suddenly idolize, would it?” Jongdae asked, unable to break his stare on his phone. Baekhyun turned around, suddenly eyeing his cousin curiously.
“Yeah it is. Why?”
Jongdae then looked up, staring at his cousin with wide eyes. He then stood up and placed his phone in front of Baek’s face.
“You might want to re-think about making him the star of your manhwa.”
There on the phone’s screen was a picture of the stranger he had just met, on what looked like their school’s online newspaper account. Underneath the picture was a headline dating to a few months back; a headline Baekhyun could not wrap his head around.
Park Chanyeol elected as the new Student Body President.
“I still don’t understand how you didn’t recognize Park Chanyeol. He’s famous in our school!”
“It’s not like you recognized him either!” Baekhyun snapped, gripping his bag’s strap with both hands nervously as he and his cousin took their normal route to school.
“He was standing far away.”
“He was standing right across the street.”
“I had other things to do.”
“Let me guess, flirt with girls who pass you by without a second thought?”
“Hey! She seemed pretty interested; she glanced at me for a second!” Jongdae refuted, before retorting back. “It doesn’t matter what I was doing, because I was distracted enough not to see the guy’s face. You, on the other hand, were right in front of him!”
“I have to use whatever time I have outside of studying to improve! How else do you expect me to get published?”
“Honestly, Baek, sometimes I wonder why you even go to school,” Jongdae sighed, shaking his head at his cousin’s priorities.
Ignoring his cousin’s remark, Baekhyun smiled at his cousin, a smile that said he needed something from him.
“Come on, spit it out. What do you need?”
Jongdae swore Baekhyun’s grin had grown with his response. “What can you tell me about Park Chanyeol?”
Sighing again, Jongdae facepalmed. “You claim to idolize the guy but barely know him. Where do I even begin…”
“Park Chanyeol! Wait up!”
Turning around, Chanyeol found his best friend and co-council member, Oh Sehun.
“Were you able to close the deal with the food stalls? The school festival is only a few months away, Sehun. You should’ve finished this a month ago.”
“So early in the morning and straight to business,” Sehun said, wrapping an arm around Yeol’s shoulder. “Cut me some slack, Yeol. I may not be a workaholic like you, but I know when and how to get the job done.”
“You mean you know how to cram your work,” Kyungsoo said, walking up beside the duo.
“Call it whatever you want, I still do it well.” At Sehun’s wide grin, you could hear a few of the girls squealing.
The trio were quite admired throughout the school. Murmurs of the small but dangerous head of discipline, Vice President Do Kyungsoo, the charming and loved by most if not all, Secretary Oh Sehun, and the strategic and wise President Park Chanyeol, was buzzing through the school entrance as they passed by.
One topic the crowd of students loved to talk about was the fact that though Kyungsoo and Sehun were polar opposites, and seemed the unlikeliest to become friends, Chanyeol was able to get in between them and create a great monarchy council.
“What about you, Soo? Find someone up to your standards to make the posters?”
“No. And don’t start on the ‘my standards are too high’ argument again. As I’ve said before, the posters are what bring in the customers, so it has to be done by someone who loves what he does, can dedicate enough time into creating all the posters by hand, and is pretty good with their hands.”
“Pretty good with their hands. Do you know how dirty that sounded, Soo,” Sehun said, dodging a kick Kyungsoo directed at him.
“Hmm, I wonder if there’s even such a worthy person,” Sehun said, whistling as the trio separated and went to their respective classrooms.
As the bell rang for lunch, Jongdae made his way to his cousin’s classroom. There, he peeked over Baekhyun’s shoulder to find the brunette sketching not just the brunette’s idol, but said idol’s two best friends.
“So now you’re stalking him?” Jongdae snickered, sitting on the window sill beside Baekhyun’s seat.
“I’m not stalking him. I just… need to do a little research for the storyboard I’m making. Research is key to a great story,” the brunette replied, slightly turning red as he continued to refine the sharpness of Sehun’s jaw.
“Research, sure. Next thing you know, you’ll join their fanclub and start camping outside the council office,” Jongdae said, before rubbing his belly as he felt a grumble ring through.
“Okay, time to take a break from all that drawing and get some food!” the boy said, before dragging the brunette outside.
At the school’s store, Jongdae left Baekhyun a few feet away from the crowd before plunging through the crowd in hopes of lunch.
“Stupid Jongdae. Didn’t have to drag me all the way here…” the brunette grumbled, before a shadow covered him.
“You dropped this in the hallway,” the giant said, holding out the pen he had picked up. Realizing the deep voice he had just heard was the same voice he heard back at the bookstore, Baekhyun looked up, and gulped at seeing the student body president in front of him.
“Thank you!” Baekhyun cringed at how high his voice had gone.
Chanyeol grinned saying, “I’ve never seen a pen like that before. Must be pretty expensive.”
“No! I mean, yes! What I mean to say is, I need it for darkening some parts of my sketches, so even if it costs a lot,” Baekhyun gulped, his grip tightening on the pen. “I still need it so—”
The giant chuckled, making the brunette pause. “So the price doesn’t really matter. I get it. Since it’s so important though, next time, make sure you don’t just drop it in the hallway.”
As the giant started walking away, Baekhyun was able to find his voice again and called out to the boy. “Wait! The 1000 won!” he said, hurriedly looking for the 1000 bill in his pocket, before rushing to catch up to the giant.
Staring at the bill in the brunette’s hands, Chanyeol looked up at Baekhyun, staring at him before saying, “Instead of paying me back with money, would you be interested in helping me out with my council duties? You see we need help in making—”
“Yes! Of course!” Baekhyun responded eagerly. Almost too eagerly.
“Great! Then I’ll see you on Friday at the council room after class!”
Once Jongdae returned from buying both of them lunch, he couldn’t help but notice the faraway look Baekhyun sported yet again.
“Prince Charming pass by?”
Baekhyun nodded, a goofy smile evident on his face. He then proceeded to recount what had just happened to Jongdae as they ate.
“And on Friday, I get to go to the council room and work with them!”
Chewing on his 3rd sandwich, Jongdae sat silently, before swallowing and saying, “You do know what you got yourself into, right?”
“Yup! I get to work closely with Park Chanyeol,” Baekhyun said in a sing-song tone.
“And you’re also responsible for making 20 or so posters by hand.”
Nodding, Baekhyun continued to smile before freezing and looking at his cousin. “Wait, what?”
It was Jongdae’s turn to nod, before he pointed at a poster hanging on a nearby bulletin board.
ARTISTS WHO ARE WILLING TO WORK ON THE SCHOOL FESTIVAL POSTERS
APPROACH ANY COUNCIL MEMBER IF INTERESTED
“A lot of people have tried out for the job, but apparently the Vice President wants someone not only artistically-inclined, but also someone who can make all the posters by hand.”
Staring at the notice, Baekhyun froze before another grin broke out on his face.
“This is perfect! Not only is it an opportunity for me to improve as an artist, but it’s also an opportunity to observe him up close!” Baekhyun exclaimed, before crossing his arms laughing.
“Definitely a stalker. And a weirdo.”
It was a good thing Jongdae had informed Baekhyun of the job description, for if not, he wasn’t quite sure how he would have passed the Vice-President’s interrogation. He wasn’t quite sure how he passed in the first place. All Kyungsoo said was that, he liked the ‘fire in his eyes’. It was an expression he’d encountered before, especially in manhwas he had read, but he didn’t know it actually happened in real life, and he sure as heck wasn’t expecting to do have it himself.
After the interrogation, it was straight to working on the hand-crafted posters. After a few hours, Baekhyun felt accomplished at finishing 3 identical copies of the poster. Though it saddened him that Chanyeol was nowhere near the council room during those few hours, attending to other council work with Sehun in another part of the campus, he was happy to see Kyungsoo’s approving smile as he compared the three posters Baekhyun had finished.
“It’s a good thing Chanyeol found you. I was starting to lose hope I’d ever find the right person for the job,” Kyungsoo said, before handing back the 3 posters. “Good job—”
A bang resounded in the room as the door to the council room was suddenly slid open.
“SOO HONEY, WE’RE BACK!”
Twitching, Kyungsoo banged his fists down on the table before glaring at Sehun.
“For once would you ACT LIKE AN ADULT!”
Wrapping his arm around Kyungsoo, Sehun smiled at the doe-eyed boy’s furious expression. “Sorry Soo. The Peter Pan in me just refuses to grow up.”
Ignoring the ruckus the two were making, Chanyeol looked at the posters in Baekhyun’s hands.
“I guess it’s coming out well,” he said, before holding out his hand. “May I?”
Staring wide-eyed at the giant’s grin and outstretched hand, he quickly placed the posters in Chanyeol’s hand before placing his hands behind his back, hiding how clammy his hands were starting to become.
Smiling as he looked through each of the posters, he said, “Kyungsoo, did you see these?”
Kyungsoo and Sehun paused, Sehun in a headlock. “Yeah I did. You really found the right one Chanyeol,” the doe-eyed boy said, smirking at the giant.
“I know! Why don’t we go out and celebrate at our new-found artist!” Sehun said after taking advantage of Kyungsoo’s lack of attention on him to escape the headlock and stand up straight.
“That’s actually a pretty good idea,” Kyungsoo agreed before looking towards Chanyeol.
Handing back the posters, Chanyeol turned to Baekhyun. “Go ahead. I think he deserves a break after a great start.”
Once Baekhyun found his voice, he asked, “You’re not coming?”
Apologetically, the giant replied, “Sorry, but I have other tasks I need to finish tonight. I’ll make sure to make time for next time instead.”
“Next time?” Baekhyun blinked, not quite sure if he heard the giant right.
“When you finish your work. If all your work turn out the same as those first three posters, I’m sure we’ll have another cause to celebrate,” Chanyeol replied, patting Baekhyun on the shoulder before moving towards his own table in the room.
“Alrighty then, time to celebrate the newbie’s first day on the job!”
“So Baekhyun, how long have you liked our President Park? You do like him, right? I mean you turn red every time you see him.”
Choking on the juice he was drinking, Baekhyun coughed, afterwards stammering to reply.
“Eight. You tripped eight times while walking up to the football team’s captain. You’re in no position to bully the poor boy, Sehun.”
“My shoelaces were untied that day!”
“Sure, your shoelaces were untied that day. Mind explaining the other days of the week?”
As the two continued to argue, Baekhyun finally finished clearing his throat, his cheeks burning red.
Taking notice of this, Sehun stopped arguing with Kyungsoo, and said, “See, you’re red again. Bet you’re thinking of our dear President again.”
“Hush, Oh Sehun,” Kyungsoo growled at Sehun.
“It’s not what you think! I don’t like him that way, I just admire how he is. I’ve been drawing manhwa for half my life, and though at first I sucked, I worked hard to improve, but even now I still have yet to publish anything, not even a small comic. I thought maybe, if I had the right character, the right inspiration, someone like Park Chanyeol, I’d be one large step closer to achieving my dream of becoming a published manhwa artist,” Baekhyun admitted, staring all the while at the glass of juice in front of him.
“I know it’s silly and kind of like a stalker for me to say this, but I thought I could capture a character like that if I observed the President. I know it’s not the proper motivation, but that’s why I took the job.”
Silence rang throughout the table the trio was sitting at, until Kyungsoo picked up his drink, sipped a bit, and smiles as he placed the glass back down.
“It’s not weird. And who am I to judge what is a proper and an improper motivation. I said I wanted someone motivated enough to work hard on these posters, it didn’t matter what motivated them in doing the job. The reason I chose you is because I could see you were not motivated to the point that I could see how hard you were willing to work in your eyes. The other candidates were motivated, but they weren’t motivated enough that they could stomach the idea of making more than 20 posters by hand.”
“I think this is the first time I’ve heard Soo talk so much,” Sehun said, blinking at Kyungsoo.
“Shut up, Sehun!”
“Thank you,” Baekhyun mumbled, a small smile making it to his face.
“But if you don’t mind me saying, I think you’d make a better character—no, a better manhwa if you not only focused on one side of a character, but if you viewed his other sides too. From what I can tell, you’ve only seen the President Park side of Chanyeol. Try to get to know more about him—”
A knock sounded on the café’s window beside them. It was Kim Jongdae, signaling Baekhyun to come outside.
“Ah! I’m really sorry, but I have to go!” Baekhyun said, fixing his stuff and leaving his share of the bill on the table.
“Boyfriend?” Sehun asked, a teasing smile on his face.
“No, just my annoying cousin, Jongdae. Thank you for giving me the job!” Baekhyun bowed at the both of them, before looking up to Kyungsoo. “And thank you for the advice! I really appreciate it!” He bowed once more, before making his way outside, making sure to drag Jongdae with him, away from the window.
After watching the brunette leave for a while, Sehun then turned back to Kyungsoo, a devious smile on his face.
“You think he figured it out?”
“You think he suspects anything?”
“Guess he’s really dense after all. But he said so himself, Soo, he doesn’t like Chanyeol that way.”
“Not yet. Once he follows my advice, it’ll only be a matter of time before he does like Chanyeol.”
“Only a matter of time? Well aren’t you confident.”
“Confident? Oh I know he’ll follow, as much as I know he’ll grow to like Chanyeol that way. He’s already one step there. One step’s all you need to slide down the inevitable slide.”
“… You’re starting to sound like some kooky old sage in those movies.”
Get to know him. Get to know him.
How exactly was Baekhyun supposed to do that when he could hardly look at the giant? When the brunette visited the council room to work after his “welcoming party”, he had been left all alone with Chanyeol to work. They both worked on their own, no exchanges made aside from the greetings and farewells. It was unbearable, and something Baekhyun didn’t want to sit through again.
Today, it seemed fate had designed its web to make sure Baekhyun was alone with Chanyeol, as the other two were nowhere to be seen yet again. After the traditional greeting, they had resumed working, neither uttering a word to the other.
The silence did not help Baekhyun, as the silence only helped the voice of his inner thoughts grow louder, as well as perfectly feel how nervous he was.
When Chanyeol stood up from his chair, stretching his arms far above his head, Baekhyun couldn’t help but stare as the giant’s uniform top rose ever so slightly, giving Baekhyun a peek of what was underneath.
After gulping down whatever sound tried to leave his throat, he forced his eyes back down to the poster he was working on, all the while thinking, Note to self: he has abs. I repeat, Park Chanyeol has abs.
As his brain continued to go haywire, Baekhyun became oblivious to the approaching student body president. Even as said council member stood over his shoulder, inspecting the number of posters the brunette had finished, Baekhyun had yet to snap out of his stupor. It was only when Chanyeol spoke, that he jolted back to reality, becoming hyper-aware of how close Chanyeol was.
“I know I’ve said this before, but you’re really good.”
Glancing up, Baekhyun’s hands itched to get his drawing pad and utensils, and draw the image of Chanyeol leaning forward as he was doing so, inspecting the posters. The way the afternoon light splayed on him was just right to make a contrasting but balanced light and dark sketch.
When Chanyeol looked down at Baekhyun who was still staring at him, Baekhyun felt his face suddenly grow warm at getting caught staring, looking away as he willed his cheeks to cool down.
“In my opinion, you’d make a great manhwa artist,” Chanyeol said, moving to sit across Baekhyun on the table he was working on.
Blinking, but still avoiding looking at Chanyeol, Baekhyun asked, “Why manhwa artist specifically?”
“I’ve loved reading manhwa since I was a kid. I guess it’d just make for such a nice coincidence if I knew someone who dreamed of being a manhwa artist.”
“You like manhwas… too?” Baekhyun inquired, finally having the courage to look up at Chanyeol.
The giant chuckled before humming in agreement. “I take it, from your question, you like manhwas too. Not to mention, Kyungsoo and Sehun mentioned something about you looking for the perfect inspiration to your manhwa.”
The brunette’s eyes grew, his mouth opening and closing, unable to find the words to say what he wanted to say.
Chuckling again, Chanyeol smiled at Baekhyun, “Don’t worry, you’re secret’s safe with me. Although I’m not sure why you’re keeping your dream of being a manhwa artist a secret, nonetheless I’ll still keep it a secret. In exchange, I want you to tell me when you do find that perfect inspiration!”
As Baekhyun stared at Chanyeol, he suddenly found himself thinking how cute Chanyeol’s smile was, especially when it there was a boy-ish charm added to it whenever he spoke of manhwas. He also noticed how adorably like an elf’s Chanyeol’s ears were.
Baekhyun wasn’t sure how he could have stayed sane if every time he worked at the council room, he was left to work with silence and Chanyeol as his only companions. Thankfully, after that second time they were left alone, Baekhyun and Chanyeol continued their small conversations. They’d talk about the weather, their favorite band, the dish they’d eat on a cold winter’s night, and other small topics. It was small talk, but Baekhyun felt he was slowly accomplishing what Kyungsoo advised him to do, and it was indeed working out.
His cousin had mentioned that the character in his manhwa felt more defined now than before, making Baekhyun grin as he continued to draw out more scenes. When Jongdae asked where he was getting the ideas for the short panels Baekhyun would make, Baekhyun would grow quiet, hiding a smile from his nosy cousin.
These short moments with Chanyeol continued for weeks, Sehun and Kyungsoo either completely absent or leaving half-way through the time Baekhyun spent in the council room, working on something that apparently required “urgent attention from the Student Body Vice President and Secretary”.
And after these moments, Baekhyun would realize something about Chanyeol he hadn’t noticed before. At first, it was realizations that didn’t really shock him. He had simply pushed it aside as him admiring Chanyeol as who he is. What shocked Baekhyun was when he looked down at Chanyeol’s hands and thought How well his own small hands would fit with Chanyeol’s.
From then, Baekhyun’s realizations regarding Chanyeol suddenly turned into realizations of Chanyeol and himself.
This then brought back the time when Baekhyun, Sehun, and Kyungsoo were at the café for his welcome party. He had said then that he didn’t like Chanyeol in that way, and simply admired him. Now, he wasn’t so sure.
Baekhyun was so deep in thought regarding his feelings, that he hadn’t realized that, after finishing the poster he was working on, his time with the council was done. He had only realized so when Kyungsoo congratulated him for a job well done after coming back from whatever errands he was busy with.
Like before, Sehun invited them to all go out together to celebrate all the hard work done, but Baekhyun could only focus on the sad fact that he could no longer spend his afternoons with Chanyeol, something that got his heart aching and confusing him even more. The brunette was drawn out from his thoughts when Chanyeol clapped his shoulder and said, “As promised, I’ll come along this time. I think we all should celebrate Baekhyun’s accomplishment.”
When Chanyeol went to the bathroom, Sehun took it upon himself to interrogate Baekhyun on how his afternoons had been.
“Was it lonely without us?”
“It was okay, actually. Chanyeol was more than enough for company.”
“So you didn’t miss us? So much for becoming friends,” Sehun pouted, crossing his arms and looking away as Kyungsoo took his turn at questioning Baekhyun.
“More than enough, huh? Guess you must have really had fun with him. Did you take my advice into consideration?”
Baekhyun nodded, staring down at his hands on his lap, remembering what he had learned.
Smirking, Kyungsoo placed his chin on the knuckles of his right hand. “Looks like you learned quite a few things. Anything you want to share with us?”
Shaking his head quickly, Baekhyun’s grip on his pants tightened as he refused to look up at Kyungsoo.
“You know, it’s okay to admit you’ve fallen for the guy. I can say that it’s actually healthier if you do,” Sehun said, for once, instead of having a playful look, had a serious and knowing look on his face.
“Hmm, I wonder how you’ll tell him,” Kyungsoo hummed, closing his eyes as he leaned his head back and tapping his fingers on the arm of the chair he was sitting on.
“Tell him? I can’t! I—”
“Trust me, you’ll want to tell him, cause if you don’t, it’ll slowly eat you up. So think fast, cause you won’t like waiting and drowning in your own thoughts while thinking of how to simply tell him,” Kyungsoo said, sipping from his glass.
When Chanyeol got back, he stared curiously at the trio he had left, knowing something had happened while he was away.
“So what’d I miss?”
The response only made him more curious.
It was a resounding “Nothing.”
As Chanyeol made to get his shoes from his shoe locker, he noticed a slip of paper drift down unto the ground from where his shoes had been. Picking it up, Chanyeol unfolded the note. On it, were panels from what seemed to be a manhwa.
The panels depicted a boy, buying milk at the store for his mom, but seemed to be missing part of the amount given to him by his mother. The boy was going more frantic by the second, until a stranger gave him the amount he needed. It was only later at home did the boy realized the amount he was missing was in the other pocket of his jacket.
On the bottom of the strip were the words: Tune in next week for part 2!
Chanyeol found himself smiling as he folded the note yet again, and kept it well in his bag.
A week later, Chanyeol found another slip as he began putting on his shoes. This time, it was inside the school slipper.
The panels depicted the boy, bumping into the stranger after some time, wanting to repay him back, but the stranger refused any kind of monetary payment. Instead, the stranger asked for time. Feeling indebted to the man, the boy agreed.
Again, on the bottom were the words: Tune in next week for part 3!
This time, Chanyeol could only think of what the stranger requested for. Time?
On the third week, Chanyeol found that strip, not folded, but placed neatly on top of both his shoes.
This time, the panels depicted the boy spending time with the stranger, getting to know the stranger different things about the stranger slowly, but surely, until one day, the stranger said that this was the last time, and that with that, the boy had repaid him with enough time. The boy was sad, not wanting to leave the stranger after getting to know the stranger so well, but the stranger insisted, telling him that it was just about time, since the boy was to return to school the following day, his holiday ending on that last day with the stranger.
Below the panels, written were the words: Tune in for the last installment next week!
Expecting the last part of the series of panels being left in his locker, Chanyeol was surprised to find a landscape sketch in his locker, rather than the usual manhwa panels.
The sketch was of the pool at the back of the school. Looking at the back of the sketch, Chanyeol found a small note: Go here!
Once there, he found the swimming team and Mr. Kim Minseok, the teacher in-charge, training. Not quite sure what the sketch was asking him to do there at the pool, Chanyeol looked around, finding nothing to be out of the norm. Mr. Kim, noticing Chanyeol, dug out a folded piece of paper from his pocket, and handed it to Chanyeol without a word.
Staring curiously at the paper, Chanyeol unfolded it, and found another landscape sketch. This time, it was of the football field, with the words: Go here! written yet again on the back.
At the football field, Luhan, the captain of the football team handed him another folded piece of paper, with a landscape sketch on it too. This continued, bringing to different placed around campus, with different people holding the paper, until finally, he was led to the council room, where Kyungsoo and Sehun sat, doing paperwork.
“Did you two do this?” Chanyeol asked, holding out the sketches to them.
Looking up from his work, Sehun looked at the sketches, then to Chanyeol.
“You know I can barely draw a tree, Yeol, let alone the school’s swimming pool.”
Sighing, Chanyeol looked to Kyungsoo.
Kyungsoo didn’t respond. He didn’t even look at Chanyeol as he drew another folded piece of paper from his desk, wordlessly handing it to Chanyeol.
As Chanyeol opened it, the landscape depicted the scene one could see from the school rooftop. On the back, instead of the usual Go here! was a note that said, You’re nearly there! The ending’s close!
“What’s this about, Kyungsoo?” Chanyeol asked, getting nothing but the sound of pen writing on paper as a response from the doe-eyed boy. Sighing, Chanyeol made his way up to the roof, where he, unsurprisingly, found Baekhyun.
“So they did ask you to draw these for them. I had a feeling you drew everything from the first time I received the notes in my locker. I was curious how everything would end and what this was for, so I followed. Sorry for Kyungsoo or Sehun put you up to this. They really shouldn’t be making you do anymore work after what you’ve already done for us.”
Baekhyun stayed quiet, squeezing the folded piece of paper in his hands, before holding it out to Chanyeol.
Opening the paper, Chanyeol found what seemed to be the ending to all the notes. On it, were panels of the boy, gripping on to the stranger, saying that he didn’t want to repay the stranger back anymore, he simply wanted to spend more time with him. The boy continued, saying that the stranger meant a lot to him now, and that he wasn’t quite sure what he’d do if he and the stranger simply never saw each other again. The last panel was of the stranger, with an empty speech bubble above his head.
Chanyeol stared confused at the paper, then stared confusedly at Baekhyun.
Baekhyun took a deep breath, and said, “I like you, Chanyeol. At first, I simply admired you. You were handsome, tall, cool, nice, and always smiling. The perfect guy to be my manhwa’s main guy, but then I was made to realize something I hadn’t before. All those things I admired of you, was only one side of you, and that was how I had been viewing making my manhwa. I was only viewing one aspect, when I should be viewing everything.
“My manhwa should be able to reach other people and make them cry, or laugh, or angry, and not just make them happy. Those afternoons I spent with you, I learned other sides to you. I learned what made you cry, what peeved you, what made you laugh. I also learned smaller things about you that made me realize some things about me. Then I realized, that from admiration, I had grown to like you.”
Silence ensued, making Baekhyun nervous. Seconds passed by, and all Baekhyun wanted to do was make a run for the door, and not look back.
He was about to do just that when he noticed a smile make its way to Chanyeol’s face. Chanyeol looked down at the panel, then to Baekhyun.
“It’s kinda ironic, how everything played out. I lied. I lied about learning of your dream of becoming a manhwa artist from Sehun and Kyungsoo. I knew, even before we bumped into each other at the store. How? Because that time at the store, wasn’t the first time I met you. My story started long ago, with a younger you, sitting under a tree, a sketch on his lap, and a pen in his hand. The sketch on your lap was of a baseball game, earlier that day, where our school won.
“When I saw the sketch on your lap, I grew envious of you. It wasn’t because of how artistic you were, because at the time, you weren’t half as good as you are now, but you were getting there. No, it was because of your ability to capture a moment in time with your own hands, when I could barely do that with my dad’s camera. I was jealous because you caught the last day my mom was with me, smiling, and celebrating the win. She was just a small spectator in your sketch, but she was there nonetheless. I was jealous of that ability of yours, but it also made me admire you.”
Chanyeol walked closer to Baekhyun, staring him in the eyes as he continued,
“I admired you, and wanted to know more about you, in case I could pick something up from you. I know it sounds kind of like a stalker, but you have to understand, I wanted to be able to catch moments like that too. So I ended up learning more about you before I could even utter a word to you. That day, at the store, it wasn’t a coincidence I was there. I had gone there a few times before,” Chanyeol said, chuckling at his own actions.
Baekhyun had to bite down the urge to say “Definitely a stalker”, as his cousin once told him.
“Along the way, I stopped wanting to be able to capture moments for myself. I grew to want to help you capture those moments. I wanted to be there as you caught those moments. I guess you could say I…”
“Fell?” Baekhyun finished, grinning at Chanyeol.
Chanyeol nodded, “So you see, it’s kinda ironic how—”
“How similar our stories are?” Baekhyun finished again, the gap between Chanyeol and Baekhyun growing smaller.
“A friend of mine once told me that, all it takes is one step. One step to slide down the inevitable slide.”
Baekhyun craned his neck up as Chanyeol leaned down.
“The inevitable slide,” they both whispered, as they grew closer.