Title: I Know Places
Word Counts: ~8K
Side Pairing(s): Sehun/Tao, Kyungsoo/Jongin
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: 18thcentury!AU Chanyeol is a depressed member of the upper classes, living in the countryside to temporarily escape his responsibilities and overcome his depression. His life changes forever when Byun Baekhyun moves into the neighbouring mansion.
Author's Note: Dear recipient, I might’ve deviated from the prompt somewhat, hope you don’t mind too much. This is my first fic for the fandom, so please be merciful! Thanks so much to my beta for her editing and wonderful suggestions.
Spring comes early to the midland countryside, bringing light rain and humidity and reawakening flora. Outside the gates of a modest-sized stone country home, a man stands watching a black horse-drawn carriage come closer and closer. His hair, in brown curls, is matted by the drizzle, and dark spots are forming on his royal blue coat as he walks out to greet the carriage.
When the carriage finally draws to a halt in his modest driveway, a footman alights and opens the door. Chanyeol steps forward, taking the arm of the first passenger to alight. “Krystal.”
The girl inclines her head. “Chanyeol.” She steps quickly out of the rain and onto the porch, handing her travelling cloak to a butler. Chanyeol helps the next two passengers, both middle-aged ladies, off the carriage and exchanges greetings with them.
The party of four move into the parlour, where a table has been set for lunch. “Chanyeol, I’ve missed you so much.” Park Ha-eun holds him at arm’s length and smiles fondly at him, her manner obsequious and practised, Chanyeol thinks. He gives her a smile in return, aware that they are being watched by the mother-daughter duo that stand across the hall, fixing their attire and getting settled.
“I’ve missed you too. You should come visit more often.”
When the others’ backs are turned, Park Ha-eun leans in and whispers, “I really wish you’d get this room properly decorated. It’s unpresentable.”
Chanyeol ignores the comment and finds a servant to pour drinks for his guests. The others file in and begin idle talk over lunch.
“Have you heard that the Lees’ oldest daughter is finally getting married?”
“My nephew has been travelling around the country, he returned and visited us just last week–”
“Many of my friends have been taking up drawing. They say it stimulates clearer thinking.”
Chanyeol’s mother and Krystal’s mother, an imposing, haughty-mannered woman, gradually narrow their conversation, purposefully excluding Chanyeol and Krystal. He moves his food around his plate, and doesn’t meet her eyes.
“Have you been well?” Eventually, Krystal sets down her glass and looks over at him, her tone concerned. “You haven’t been acting yourself lately. Why did you decide to come all the way out here? You used to love the city.”
“I’m fine,” he mutters. He’s tired of hearing the same comment over and over again. “Just needed a break.”
He did need a break. Chanyeol was twenty-three and had, since the age of sixteen, been out in society. He used to love it, but a lot changed in the last six months.
“How long are you planning on staying here, Chanyeol?” This time the question comes from Krystal’s mother. Chanyeol dislikes the way she always looks at him: examining and slightly disapproving.
“As long as the countryside proves itself diverting.”
“Regardless, he will have to come back shortly for the wedding preparations.” Park Ha-eun says dismissively, waving away Chanyeol’s curt response. “You must visit us again once Chanyeol is settled in.”
Krystal’s mother agrees, and the topic is over.
Somehow, Chanyeol makes it through the rest of lunch. By the time the Jungs leave, he doesn’t even have it in him to feel any relief. He walks them to the door, helps Krystal into the carriage and promises to call on her. The words come out automatically, emotionlessly, and he thinks he can see worry in Krystal’s eyes.
“I look forward to seeing you again,” she says, and she sounds slightly hurt by his inattention. Guilt stabs at Chanyeol. He has been good friends with Krystal since childhood, and she doesn’t deserve to be treated so coldly by her fiance. Nonetheless, he nods slightly and turns away from the carriage without another word.
“I really don’t know why you’re acting up,” Park Ha-eun says to him the moment he re-enters the hallway. She rifles through the letters on the mantelpiece, her back to him. “You’re very lucky to have such prospects. Girls like Krystal are few and far between.”
He knows it. Krystal is beautiful and wealthy, and they have been friends for years. He has absolutely no reason to complain.
Still, just thinking of the coming wedding is enough to tighten his chest and sicken his stomach. It threatens to suffocate him.
“When are you returning to town?” he says instead.
“That eager to get rid of me?” Park Ha-eun sighs.
She finally turns to face her son. “I don’t know why you insist on staying here all by yourself, but if you really need to take a break, I won’t stop you. Just please, come to your senses quickly and come back to us.” She looks him over, and her face is not angry but searching, full of worry and concern. Chanyeol feels like he’s let her down. He’s letting everybody down, but he can’t help it. He can’t help himself.
He lets his mother pull him into a hug, and they stay like that for a while. “I only want the best for you, Chanyeol. You need to extricate yourself from this ... slump, before it consumes you.”
“I’m trying my best.” Tears are forming, but he holds them in.
“Your sister misses you. She and her husband come by every fortnight, and she always asks after you. You know that she’s tied to his job and can’t come all the way out here to see you.”
“I know. I’ll be back soon enough. Next month, at the latest.”
“Will you be alright until then?”
“Don’t worry about me, I’m not as weak as you think.”
His mother smiles a little at his last words, and turns back to the letters. “Have you been getting acquainted with all your neighbours?”
“Not a soul. They probably think I’m a recluse.” It’s pretty embarrassing, even to himself, to not know anyone after five months of living here.
“You have an invitation to a county ball,” she says, holding up a card. “Go there and meet some new people. I heard that Lightgate has recently been occupied?”
“Yes. By a Byun Baekhyun and some of his people.” Chanyeol hasn’t actually met them, but he’s been seeing signs of activity in the neighbouring driveway. Prior to that, the mansion had been empty for months.
“I’ve heard of him. He’s quite a mysterious character, came up in society only a few years ago, nobody knows much about his trade or his background. With him and his entourage at the dance the company might be a little more exciting.” His mother smiles, as though trying to reassure him. “And Sehun is visiting soon, isn’t he?”
“Make sure to pass on my regards.”
A day later, his mother leaves for the capital, and two days after that, Sehun arrives. Sehun has been his close friend since they were eighteen and sixteen, young, wealthy, running wild in the city, moving from party to party in search of fun. Chanyeol thinks that they’ve both grown up a lot since then, but Sehun remains playful and laid-back as ever, which is oddly comforting. He likes being around Sehun, it makes him feel a little like his old self.
They spend their days hunting, swimming, and even visiting the village to see several cheaply-produced plays. It’s a very different from the city, but it’s quaint, and has its own charm. At his request, they also attend several musical performances, and it’s the first time in months Chanyeol’s heard anything other than his own dour tunes on the piano.
To his chagrin, Sehun insists on attending the county ball.
“You need to get out and socialise,” he says. “You used to love meeting people.”
It was true, he’d used to. Chanyeol was sociable and charismatic by nature, and he enjoyed the influence and privilege that was his birthright.
“I’ve never been to a public ball, but I’m sure it’ll be an experience. Let’s go and see what the people around here have to say.”
Not entirely reluctantly, Chanyeol agrees. He’s slightly curious about the townsfolk, and the new occupants of Lightgate his mother mentioned. Attending with Sehun is probably the easiest entry he’s going to get – his friend is strikingly handsome as well as a good dancer, and always a hit at social gatherings.
They hear the music from the moment they enter the gates, an ensemble starting up a lively minuet. Residents from the county and the surrounding villages flock to the gates in droves, running across the lawn with their spangled skirts trailing on the grass. Chanyeol gazes out of the carriage window at the people shouting and skipping, out of his depth.
“This is a marketplace,” Sehun comments, sounding quite happy about it. They get off the carriage and enter the mayor’s house, handing their coats to the waitstaff. Chanyeol can feel eyes on them, but he supposes it’s to be expected — everyone in attendance probably already knows each other, and the expensive, heavier material of their suits would single them out as strangers. Most of the guests are dressed in pale, patterned suits or shimmering evening gowns; Chanyeol’s vivid blue jacket stands out immediately. It’s absolute chaos within the house, the air filled with loud conversation and raucous laughter. Middle-aged gentlemen and women stand around in huge clusters, talking animatedly over glasses of bubbly, while young singles flirt and dance in the open space of the ballroom. It’s been so long since Chanyeol last attended a party, he feels somewhat overwhelmed.
A few girls standing near the entrance curtsy as Sehun passes, and he looks them over appraisingly.
“Don’t pull any stunts here,” Chanyeol warns. “I don’t want to gain a bad reputation with people I don’t even know.”
“Just looking for some fun.” Sehun shrugs carelessly.
Mere minutes after they cross the threshold, Sehun goes missing, lost in a flurry of twirling dresses and tinkling laughter.
Chanyeol knows he should probably introduce himself to the host, but instead he finds a convenient corner and stands there watching the dancefloor. Some of the faces are familiar — he must’ve seen them around the local village. Most of the faces are new to him.
Some people come up to him and introduce themselves, and Chanyeol obliges courteously, letting his natural eloquence take over. He makes small talk, doing his best to engage, and dances a few times with a petite blonde-haired girl who introduces herself as Junmyeon.
The band goes through a few dances before Chanyeol catches sight of his neighbours. He doesn’t know how he manages to see them, packed as the hallway is, but his eyes somehow land on a figure at the other end of the room, dancing in a circle. The man isn’t very tall, but his shoulders look strong and broad. He’s wearing a solid camel-coloured suit, which looks expensive and tailored — Chanyeol is sure that it is city-made. He must be Byun Baekhyun or one of his party.
Chanyeol makes his way slowly across the room, and when he arrives the man in the camel suit is standing in between two other men, talking to two of the girls who were dancing in their circle earlier.
“I’d love to attend a ball at your house, Mr Byun,” one of the girls is saying. She is dark-haired, statuesque, and speaks with an accent that sounds slightly foreign. Her friend, standing next to her, is golden blonde, doe-eyed, with the face of an angel. The dark-haired girl’s words are directed at the man in the camel suit, whom Chanyeol deduces to be his new neighbour.
“I’ll make sure to hold one soon, then,” Byun Baekhyun promises, laughing. His voice is a pleasant, boyish tenor, the kind that invites people in. “I’m sure Kyungsoo will be ecstatic.” The slight, wide-eyed man standing to his left throws him an annoyed glance, but Baekhyun doesn’t seem bothered.
“I’m looking forward to it, then,” the girl says, and is interrupted by a tap on her shoulder. Chanyeol sees the dark gray of Sehun’s jacket, for the first time since they arrived. He asks the girl for the next dance, and she agrees.
Sensing an opening, Chanyeol approaches the man — he’s really kind of short — and extends his hand. “I’m Park Chanyeol, you must be Mr Byun Baekhyun of Lightgate.”
Baekhyun looks a little surprised at the sudden introduction, but he meets Chanyeol’s handshake with a slim, almost feminine hand. “Pleased to finally meet you, Mr Park. You live next door? The stone country house?”
“Yes, I moved here a few months ago. I would have invited you over sooner, but my place is just a cardboard box compared to Lightgate.”
“Oh — and this is Kim Jongdae, and Do Kyungsoo.” Baekhyun gestures at his friends, and his two companions incline their heads in turn. Both men are as short as he is, and of even slimmer build. “You belittle your property too much. I’ve seen it, your land has to be at least a hundred yards. The estates in this region are all beautiful, far more so than where I come from.”
“Where are you from?”
“We’re all from further up north, but Jongdae and Kyungsoo are my guests for a month.”
Chanyeol nods. “That would explain why we’ve never crossed paths, I’ve been in the capital all my life.”
They fall silent. Chanyeol has never felt so lost for words. “You came alone today?” Baekhyun ventures awkwardly.
“With a friend. He’s over there.” Chanyeol nods at Sehun, who’s already spinning the dark-haired girl around in the centre of the dancefloor. A circle of onlookers has gathered.
Baekhyun raises an eyebrow. “He dances well. Do you dance?”
“Why don’t you join us in the next song,” Baekhyun suggests. “We’re one short, since your friend just took Zitao away.”
Chanyeol isn’t a mathematical genius, but he figures that if he joins in there’ll be four men and two girls in the circle. But nobody seems to react to Baekhyun’s wild suggestion, and Chanyeol doesn’t know anyone in these circles anyway. Something about the chaos, the alcohol, and Baekhyun’s voice is strangely disorienting. He has no image to protect, and so he shrugs. “Why not?”
The music finally dies down, and Chanyeol slows to a dizzying halt, laughing in giddy exhilaration. He hasn’t felt this elated in so long that even his own laughter sounds foreign to his ears, but it isn’t an unwelcome emotion. Baekhyun is laughing too, and the two of them remain on the dancefloor in hysterics even as the couples all around them separate and exchange bows and curtsies.
“You’re a good dancer,” Baekhyun says, after their laughter finally dies down.
Chanyeol shakes his head. “You must be joking, saying that after I’ve embarrassed myself so completely.”
“I’m not making fun of you,” Baekhyun protests. At the front of the hall, the orchestra starts up once more, a series of upbeat chords marking the start of the next piece. Chanyeol immediately balks at the prospect of another dance, and, amused at his distress, Baekhyun smiles. “If you’d rather not dance another, how about a drink instead?”
Chanyeol doesn’t remember much after that. The rest of the night seems to pass by in a whirl; he vaguely recalls throwing back glass after glass of burning whisky, taking to the dancefloor again, warm hands on his waist, Baekhyun’s dark brown eyes. At some point he definitely gave an impassioned, teary speech about his upcoming wedding. And somewhere in between the frenetic drinking and ebullient music he blacks out, but he wakes up in his own bed the next day with a pounding head and no recollection whatsoever of how he’d gotten there.
“A Mr Byun Baekhyun left his calling card,” his butler announces at breakfast, as Chanyeol devours tea and cold noodles and eggs with a ravenous appetite he hasn’t had in months. Chanyeol pauses; so it had been his new neighbour that had brought him home. The card is simple and unpretentious, ivory parchment with a messy scrawl of words across it.
I hope that you are well as you read this. I am very pleased to have been able to make your acquaintance last night and enjoyed myself thoroughly. Please do call upon Lightgate at your soonest convenience so that we may enjoy the pleasure of your company once more.
Chanyeol frowns. He doesn’t remember them being on a first-name basis, but for some reason, the informality doesn’t bother him as much as he thought it would have. “Kris,” he calls, eyes still on Baekhyun’s message.
“Get me my coat.”
Lightgate is every bit as beautiful as Chanyeol had pictured it to be, carved ivory and marble columns and arched ceilings, blindingly white in the sunlight streaming through the skylights stretching down the hallway. His hosts have already taken breakfast, the butler tells him on his arrival, so he’s led through the house and to the drawing room, where he finds Baekhyun and Jongdae.
“Mr Park Chanyeol,” the butler announces.
Immediately, Baekhyun sets aside the book he’d been reading and stands to welcome him, almost tripping in his eagerness. “I’m really glad you came.”
His smile is so disarming, Chanyeol fumbles for words. “No — I’m glad you invited me.”
“Didn’t you invite his friend over as well?” Jongdae looks up; he’s seated at a desk in the centre of the room, pen in hand.
Baekhyun seems momentarily confused, as though he’d forgotten. “Oh yes, I did; is he busy?”
“He’s gone to the village to meet someone,” Chanyeol had been told as much by Kris in the morning. He’s still standing awkwardly near the doorway, and Baekhyun abruptly realises this. He leads Chanyeol over to the chaise longue next to the window and sits right next to him.
“Kyungsoo has too. I think he met someone last night.” Jongdae taps the end of his pen against his chin. “Could your friend Sehun be out with Zitao?”
“Probably. Who is she anyway?” Chanyeol asks.
“She’s from the mainland, daughter of one of the wealthiest men in the country. She and her friend Luhan are staying here for a few months, with the mayor, not sure what their business is about. She and Sehun were inseparable last night.”
Chanyeol is impressed; for someone who’s only been in town a few days, Jongdae certainly knows his way around. “I’m not sure. Poor girl.”
Jongdae raises an eyebrow but doesn’t question his comment. Baekhyun takes the bait. “Why?”
“I’ve never seen Sehun stay with anyone more than a month.”
“I wouldn’t be so quick to take pity on Zitao. She has quite a reputation herself.” Jongdae says. He says it so conclusively, Chanyeol almost wonders if the man has first-hand knowledge.
Baekhyun is looking out of the window. Rain has just begun to fall lightly. “I was hoping for better weather,” he gripes. “I haven’t seen the castles yet, I hear they’re spectacular.”
Chanyeol glances around the room, hoping to deduce its owner’s tastes from his choice in furniture. He doesn’t find much — the room is very generic, unlike the magnificent architecture outside; it’s decorated ornately in periwinkle with bamboo accents as per the latest fashions. The only thing that stands out is the unvarnished pianoforte propped against the wall.
“Do you play the piano, Chanyeol?” Jongdae asks, seeing Chanyeol’s lingering gaze. Chanyeol nods.
“Yeah. My sister taught me when I was really young.”
“You must be close to her.”
He is. Chanyeol misses Yura more than he misses his own mother. “She raised me like a son.”
“Go ahead, use it,” Jongdae says. “Baekhyun can’t play to save his life. That thing hasn’t been touched once.”
Chanyeol glances at Baekhyun, who has been watching him intently. Baekhyun explains himself. “Jongdae’s right. I never had the chance to learn when I was young, and when I tried to pick it up I was told my fingers weren’t flexible enough.”
“Your fingers will adapt,” Chanyeol murmurs, running his fingers over ivory. He sits down, puts a foot on the pedal and begins to play, a piece he composed himself. Baekhyun comes over to stand and watch, resting an elbow on the top. Chanyeol struggles to focus and lets the music envelope him.
When he hits the second refrain, Baekhyun abruptly joins in, singing a melody to complement Chanyeol’s playing. His voice harmonises seamlessly with the piano, turning the simple sonata into a duet. He sings without words and without ornamentation.
When the song concludes, Jongdae starts clapping and Chanyeol stares at Baekhyun in awe. “You sing amazingly.”
“Where I come from, we teach the children to sing almost before they can speak,” Baekhyun says.
“How did you compose that melody so fast? You have an incredible talent.”
Baekhyun shrugs off his compliment. “I just built on what you’d already written.”
“Would you mind taking it down and passing me a score?”
Chanyeol can’t believe how fast they become friends. In the days that follow, Chanyeol takes Baekhyun and Jongdae around the country, brings them to see the castles and temples Baekhyun has been looking forward to. Sehun and Kyungsoo are not often around, but they join in on several outings.
Jongdae is great, but Baekhyun is nothing like the friends he’s had before — they’re typically indulgent, playful and streetwise, while Baekhyun is a contradiction: seemingly open and carefree, yet a complete enigma. The boy looks much younger than his twenty-three, so it comes as a surprise to find out that Baekhyun is in fact older than he is.
“Are you certain you’re older than me?” he asks in disbelief when Jongdae lets his age slip over brunch. “You look seventeen.”
“You don’t look that old yourself,” Baekhyun retorts, smiling playfully. When Baekhyun smiles, his eyes form crescents, and his entire face lights up like it’s being illuminated from the inside out. Chanyeol doesn’t think he’s ever seen anything better.
Several days later Sehun leaves for the capital, saying that he has plans to return soon.
“Do you want to see the purple slopes today?” Chanyeol asks.
Jongdae looks at Baekhyun for a second, and answers, “You guys go ahead. I have some letters to answer.”
Chanyeol glances at Baekhyun, who shrugs and calls for his manservant to arrange the carriage.
It’s the first time they’re alone together, and the atmosphere is very different from when he’s with Sehun. Baekhyun is a more typically extroverted person than his friend, but Chanyeol finds himself unable to fill the silence with his usual array of insolent jokes and dumb comments.
They get off a few minutes’ walk from the caldera. The slopes are covered in freshly blooming lavender, growing waist high. A gentle breeze blows through the stalks, sending a wave rippling across miles of grassland. Chanyeol has been here alone once before, when he first arrived in the midlands. He leads the way up the hill, and Baekhyun trails several steps behind.
“Can you walk a bit slower,” Baekhyun pants, “I can’t keep up.”
“Your legs are too short,” Chanyeol reproaches, but he slows his pace and stretches out a hand to help Baekhyun navigate some of the steeper ridges.
They come to a stop at the crest of one of the peaks. A massive crater gapes before them, a hundred slopes leading sharply into a steaming lake swirling with brilliant white, red, green, blue.
Both of them watch the viscous liquid mixing and shifting, mesmerized.
“I’ve never seen anything quite like it,” Baekhyun says. “I’ve studied some geography, but I didn’t know it was possible for the surrounding rocks to sustain so much life.” The breeze is blowing his fringe in every direction.
“I don’t know anything about geography. All my life the only things I’ve studied are the arts and trade business.”
“Yeah. I’ve never had the chance to do what I want, I really envy you.” Chanyeol expects Baekhyun to respond with a sympathetic comment, or maybe something about his own parents, but he’s mistaken.
“I’m sure they did it for a reason. They’re your parents, it must’ve been for your benefit.”
“I guess they did.”
Baekhyun is so easy to talk to, Chanyeol can share anything with him — tales of his childhood, strict but caring parents, his escapades gallivanting around with Sehun. The one thing he finds hard to discuss is his engagement. He treads warily around the topic, reluctant to divulge anything, and Baekhyun backs off, stops trying to coax a conversation out of him.
They lay in a shallow patch of lavender as they talk, high up on one of the neighbouring slopes. The sun is setting, colouring the sky red. As it sets, Baekhyun begins to sing, a nostalgic, slightly haunting melody that makes Chanyeol think of choral music. Surrounded by chirping birds and the sweet earthy smell of lavender, the song seems to weave an envelope of peace and he closes his eyes, letting the music work its magic.
Several weeks later, Luhan comes to Lightgate at Baekhyun’s invitation, and Chanyeol feels inexplicably uneasy. Baekhyun and Luhan go out for strolls by the creek too often, and they never take anyone else with them. Baekhyun starts turning down Chanyeol’s invitations in favour of meetings with Luhan. At meals, Baekhyun sits opposite Luhan, and seems completely enamoured of her. Chanyeol doesn’t like Luhan. She looks incredibly innocent, but something about her seemingly perfect, docile countenance makes him feel like she could devour Baekhyun.
Baekhyun doesn’t appear to realise Chanyeol’s shifting mood, even when he’s crashing out angry tunes on the piano to release frustration.
Chanyeol isn’t the only one watching them with disapproving eyes — Kyungsoo is equally skeptical, and he says as much when Baekhyun stares after Luhan, waving from her carriage as she returns home.
“Baekhyun,” he says, “are you serious about her?”
“Why wouldn’t I be?” Baekhyun answers flippantly.
Jongdae laughs. “It’s about time you settled down. About time all of us settled down, actually.”
Baekhyun agrees, and makes to change the topic, but Kyungsoo interrupts. “We hardly know anything about her, and what little I have heard about her family is all bad.” His tone is harsh and derisive.
“I can’t believe you of all people would judge someone by their background.” The comment appears to strike some kind of nerve, because Baekhyun is abruptly serious.
“What are you implying?” Kyungsoo’s voice is eerily calm, and his gaze is flat. Jongdae moves forward to stand between the two just as the Baekhyun steps towards Kyungsoo, eyes alight with anger.
“Stop, both of you,” Jongdae says, holding out his hands towards both of his companions as though to placate them, though neither look as though they are about to back down. “This is ridiculous.”
Chanyeol isn’t sure how he should react to the scene unfolding before him – all three men are suddenly angrier than he has ever seen them, and even Baekhyun looks like he’s about to start shouting. He suddenly feels like a stranger intruding on a private argument, and swiftly excuses himself, turning to leave.
Even as he walks away, he can hear their raised voices ringing in his ears.
They are suspended in time, so far out in the country. Chanyeol can barely keep track of the weeks as they slide by, weeks that seem swathed in a veil of light. He spends more time at Lightgate than he does at his own house, and the airiness and brightness of the place appears to have an effect on his mood, chasing away the dreariness of his own dim residence.
Slowly though, they have to come back to reality. Responsibilities beckon. Kyungsoo leaves first, to attend to his business in the city. Jongdae follows soon after, and Baekhyun says wistfully that he’ll have to go soon as well.
They’re in the woods, on horseback, rifles slung across their shoulders. The pair of them are irrevocably bad at hunting — they have difficulty just keeping quiet enough to listen out for game. Most of the time they bring home nothing, much to the amusement of Jongdae and the exasperation of Kyungsoo. Neither Chanyeol nor Baekhyun actually care.
Riding alongside Baekhyun, round the creek talking and laughing, is more than enough for him.
“I’ll miss this place when I’m gone,” Baekhyun says suddenly. “I’ll have to come back as soon as I can.” He pauses a second. “I mean, I promised I’d visit Luhan.”
At the mention of Luhan, something snaps inside Chanyeol. “I think you should reconsider your pursuit of her,” he blurts out. Stop talking, before you say something you’ll regret. Stop being selfish. “I say this with the best of intentions, but your affections for her appear much stronger than those she has for you.”
Baekhyun is stony-faced. “What do you care?”
Chanyeol feels a kind of savage gratification, winning a war with regret, and the next words come out before he can stop them. “I’d hate to see you in an unbalanced relationship. I’m certain she wouldn’t be able to give you the happiness you deserve.”
“What makes you –” Baekhyun’s sentence is cut off and turns into a scream. His horse jerks wildly, bolting, and Baekhyun flails, struggling to regain control. Chanyeol’s heart leaps out of his throat, seized by panic, and he kicks his mount, racing furiously after the rogue horse and its passenger.
He thanks his lucky stars that he’s been riding since he was a child, because Baekhyun clearly hasn’t. Chanyeol catches up swiftly, but Baekhyun is still struggling to stay aloft, and the creek looms straight ahead. If Baekhyun falls off while his horse is making the jump, he’ll most likely hit his head on the rocks. Desperately, Chanyeol jumps off and tackles Baekhyun, rolling him into the grass and out of the horses’ way.
They land in the grass at the crest of a hill, and their momentum throws them over the edge, sending them tumbling all the way down the slope. When they finally come to a halt at the foot of the hill, Chanyeol finds himself atop Baekhyun, pressing him into the grass. Both are breathing heavily; Chanyeol’s fingers are knotted in Baekhyun’s dark blonde hair, splayed out against the dewy grass. It’s softer than he thought it would be.
In the next moment he’s acutely aware of how close their faces are. Baekhyun’s lips are inches away from his. He catches himself staring at them when looking Baekhyun in the eye proves too awkward, and for one crazy moment he gets the urge to reach out and touch them. His hand, almost of its own accord, starts to drift towards Baekhyun’s face, landing on his cheek and caressing the side of his face. Before his fingers can reach Baekhyun’s lips, however, Chanyeol suddenly freezes.
He clenches his fist and draws back slowly, mortified. Baekhyun is staring at him, unmoving, an unreadable expression reflecting in dark brown eyes.
“Are you alright?” Chanyeol says hoarsely.
Baekhyun is quiet for a while, then he tries to sit up. Chanyeol doesn’t offer him help.
“I think I need to go back — and rest,” he says. His voice cracks, and he sounds forlorn. Chanyeol wants to ask him what’s wrong, wants so badly to pull him close and hold his small frame, to protect him from whatever’s bothering him. Instead he contains himself and just nods.
“You go ahead, I’ll take the horse back to the stables.” He’s still reeling from the shock of what he’s done, or almost done. Not meeting Baekhyun’s eyes, Chanyeol turns and leads his horse away, telling himself that the strange feeling settling in his gut is embarrassment, and definitely not regret.
The next afternoon, Chanyeol goes over to Lightgate, only to find it empty. Movers are loading boxes onto a wagon in the driveway, and most of the furniture has been covered. Baekhyun’s staff are still present, but the butler informs Chanyeol that they too will be leaving shortly. He hands Chanyeol a letter from Baekhyun.
It’s a strange letter, the tone short and clipped. Baekhyun apologises for leaving so suddenly, explaining that he has to return to office urgently to attend to clients. There’s a footnote, saying that he understands what Chanyeol was trying to tell him in the woods and will take his advice. It’s so cryptic that Chanyeol can only guess at its meaning. Only then does he realise that he hasn’t responded to Krystal’s last letter — or the five before that.
With his friends gone and his mind much healthier than it was before, the countryside loses all its appeal. He has to put everything behind him and move on. By nightfall, Chanyeol has ordered a carriage, packed his bags and he heads back south to his mother’s house.
Months pass, and Chanyeol doesn’t feel any less empty. His break has left him more renewed than he has been for a while, and everything doesn’t seem as dark as it had been before, but he feels like he’s left part of himself behind in the midland countryside. He accompanies Krystal to events, meets her parents for the formal tea ceremony, attends suit fittings and wedding hall recces. They arrange to have a couple portrait done by the best artist in the country. He keeps her on his arm, responds to her comments, laughs at her jokes. He feels like an actor putting on a show, with all of society as his audience.
Their wedding announcement is published in the local paper, and all his acquaintances offer congratulations. He smiles and accepts their well-wishes.
The only person he confides in about his misgivings is Sehun. He speaks to Sehun privately at the engagement party, after he and Krystal have raised a toast to a crowd of a hundred family and friends.
Sehun’s response is: “Getting married is stressful, Chanyeol. I can’t pretend to understand, but it’s something everyone has to go through. Just give Krystal a chance. You guys have always gotten along. Count yourself lucky.”
It’s a response that doesn’t help him one bit, and so he bites down and doesn’t say any more.
Chanyeol sends Krystal home in his carriage after the party, and walks her to her doorstep. She lingers in the doorway, and the streetlight illuminates her pale, pretty face. He bends down and kisses her, wishes her a good night. Her cheeks colour and she smiles almost relievedly before turning to enter her house.
Climbing back into his carriage, Chanyeol shuts his eyes and sighs. He can’t stop the images that fill his head. Even as he presses his lips to Krystal’s, the only thing that fills his mind is him. What it would feel like if he could kiss him instead. His small, pointed face, with its small, delicate features, hovering just inches from his own, back in the meadow.
He hadn’t expected to miss Baekhyun this much.
Chanyeol hears through the grapevine that Kyungsoo is coming to town, and he immediately makes plans to meet for dinner. They update each other — Kyungsoo’s business is flourishing, and he has plans to marry a Kim Jongin from back home. When Kyungsoo tells him that Baekhyun is travelling south, Chanyeol decides then and there that he has to see Baekhyun again, whether he deserves to or not. And with his own matrimony impending, he has to come clean, no matter how much it pains him to do so.
He arranges to meet Baekhyun at the earliest opportunity. A crowded restaurant won’t do for what he wants to say, and so he directs Baekhyun to a small teahouse in the outskirts, one he has been frequenting for years.
He hasn’t been waiting long when Baekhyun walks through the doors. Chanyeol immediately stands, and Baekhyun gives him a wan smile. “Hello, Chanyeol, it’s been a while.”
Baekhyun looks different, Chanyeol realises. He’s still as beautiful, but looks paler, more fragile, and his eyes are tired. “Have you been well?”
“As well as it gets.” Baekhyun seats himself, ignoring the chair Chanyeol has pulled out for him. “Shall we order first, then catch up?”
They talk over their tea, falling easily into the comfortable chatter they once shared. Finally Chanyeol gathers himself.
“I have to tell you something, and you’re not going to think very well of me after this.” Baekhyun’s gaze is inquiring, but Chanyeol just continues. He has to get this out or he won’t be able to live with himself. “When I told you I thought you shouldn’t continue to pursue Luhan, I wasn’t thinking of you at all. I don’t know her personally, and she could very well be just modest. In fact it seems that she likes you very much. She could bring you happiness. It was a really selfish thing to do, but I couldn’t help it, because I just couldn’t bear to see her with you.”
He’s met with silence, and continues. “I ask for your forgiveness and hope I have not caused irreversible harm to your relationship.”
He doesn’t know what he’s expecting, maybe for Baekhyun to shout at him or at the very least express disgust and disappointment. He’s taken aback when Baekhyun actually smiles.
“Are you laughing at me?”
Baekhyun shakes his head, but a laugh escapes nonetheless. Chanyeol feels abruptly exasperated. “Can you at least respond to me?” He grabs hold of Baekhyun’s shoulder. He feels so much more delicate than he remembers, and Chanyeol refrains from shaking him. “Say something.”
“You don’t need to apologise to me,” Baekhyun says. “Because I’ve been waiting forever for you to say that.”
Chanyeol can’t believe what he’s hearing.
“I tried very hard to make the relationship with Luhan work, because I’m twenty-three and should probably marry soon. Luhan is nice, and she’s from a country where social strata isn’t so defined, so I know she won’t judge me by my background or come after my money. We get along and could be great friends. But I don’t feel anything when I’m with her. It’s just … empty.”
Chanyeol knows the feeling all too well. As Baekhyun speaks, it’s as though his world is doing a complete one-eighty.
“I realised, probably even before you did. I couldn’t bring myself to feel anything for her, because I was already too much in love with you.”
Let’s run. It’s a crazy idea, but with every second that passes, it seems to make more sense. Baekhyun is originally hesitant, but Chanyeol can’t stand the thought of going back to his jail of a home, and Baekhyun has no one to return to anyway. With his supposed marriage less than a month away, Chanyeol worries that his family will send people searching for him, but Baekhyun assuages him. I know places we won’t be found.
This is by far the most rash thing Chanyeol has done in his sheltered life. He takes only one bag with him, and as much cash as he can gather without attracting suspicion. Baekhyun takes them north, further north than Chanyeol’s ever been, till they’re at the coast. The white waves are enormous, and crash noisily into the almost-luminous ochre mineral cliffs miles below the village they settle in. It’s much colder than Chanyeol’s used to, the sun sets earlier, and the streets are quiet long before dinnertime. After sunset, red lanterns light up along the streetsides, casting an amber glow on the bleached-white pavements. He hears haunting music after dark, echoing through the streets. It’s usually just the twang of strings and the deep hum of pipes, but sometimes it’s accompanied by voices, singing strongly in a chorus. The tune reminds him of the song Baekhyun had sung for him back on the caldera, but in the chilly, empty streets, it sounds more like an incantation, ancient and ominous, not at all peaceful.
He realises he doesn’t know all that much about Baekhyun, who knows the village like the back of his palm. Baekhyun gets them a place to stay. It’s a small place, one of many whitewashed little cottages in a long row. The windows are shuttered with oak, its once-white curtains coated in dust, the room is a little musty and hasn’t been used in a while.
Baekhyun knows a few people around the village, but he must be keeping them quiet, because nobody manages to contact them, and even after several weeks, nobody finds them. They seem effectively isolated. Baekhyun finds them jobs down at the docks, pulling and hauling boats. Chanyeol tries to work alongside him at first, but it’s rough work. The bosses yell at his inadequacy and dismiss him before the week is over. Baekhyun is much stronger than he looks, and he does the grunt work without breaking sweat, as if he’s used to it. It’s yet another thing about Baekhyun that surprises him. Everything about Baekhyun is new.
A few days in, when they’re lying next to each other in bed, he asks Baekhyun whether he knows this village.
“I was born here,” Baekhyun says. “This village is called Fialov, it’s named for the violet glow that surrounds ships that approach from the horizon. My parents passed when I was fifteen, and they left me barely enough to last a few weeks. I ran to the city, joined a choir. Jongdae and Kyungsoo were proteges under the choir conductor. They were well-off, from upper-class families, while I was penniless.”
To Chanyeol, this moment carries indescribable gravity.
“Fortunately the conductor thought I was talented, because he took me in as a student as well, although I could not pay. That’s how I became friends with Jongdae and Kyungsoo. They helped me with everything, to get my business started, everything. I owe everything to them.”
Baekhyun voice carries on in the silence, telling him about his childhood and his journey to the city, how he struggled up the ranks and finally forged a place for himself in the trade. He tells of his suffering, his longing, trials and triumphs. He lays himself bare.
“I realised, some time ago, that I was never truly happy. I had my friends, and I love them, but I was unconsciously looking for something. And I think that moment when I saw you, under that lantern in the mayor’s house, is when that inexplicable feeling of searching finally disappeared.”
Baekhyun falls asleep soon after that, curled up under the thin sheets. Outside the window, there’s nothing but the howling of the winds and the gauzy glow of the lanterns.
Fialov is foreign, their apartment is spare, and life isn’t nearly as comfortable as it once was. He can’t access any of his interests, his family, his friends. But he finds it doesn’t matter, because Baekhyun is with him. He watches Baekhyun’s sleeping face, lashes resting gently on his translucent skin, feels his warmth pressing into his side. He lets himself forget.
Nothing has ever mattered to him more than this.
Weeks pass in a daze. Time seems to move slower here. With every day that passes, Chanyeol feels like he’s getting pulled further into a kind of dreamy stupor.
He doesn’t leave the house much, only to go to the newsstand or to buy necessities. They’ve been in town for a while, and he notices that people are staring at him wherever he goes. He can hear the whispers — two nameless guys appearing out of nowhere, living alone together, what a travesty.
Some of the freedom and liberation he’d felt when he first arrived is beginning to fade. They’ve been living here for long enough that he’s no longer a shadow passing through, he’s a resident with a questionable past and a questionable relationship. He retreats into isolation. Sundown is always the hardest time. He sits alone in the room, and the penetrating silence, the nothingness, begins to weigh down heavily on his chest. Thoughts of his mother and his sister and his friends, and their disappointment, their expectations, come flooding back, tormenting him, haunting him like ghosts. The looks of disgust from the villagers, their scathing comments, their wary avoidance. He lies on the bed, shivering to his bones, cold sweat breaking out, trying to hold in the screams that build in his throat. Sometimes he doesn’t succeed.
But Baekhyun always comes back, and he lies next to him, holds his shaking body in his arms, and kisses the pain away. He knows it pains Baekhyun to see him like this, because sometimes as he lies with his face cradles in Baekhyun’s arms, mind hazy from grief, he feels hot tears hitting the sides of his face. He wishes that he isn’t like this, for Baekhyun’s sake, but somehow he can’t pull himself out of it. The depression is swallowing him whole, and Baekhyun’s touch is the only thing keeping him from falling off the precipice.
It’s Sehun who finds them, almost three months later.
When he comes into the room, Chanyeol is sitting at their small table, dressed in his cotton shirt and pants, holding a mug of tea. Baekhyun has gone down to the docks. Once the shock has faded from his features, Chanyeol tries to force a smile and stands up slowly, slouching to avoid knocking against the low ceiling.
Sehun’s expression is icy. “Where have you been?”
Chanyeol is lost for words, staring at Sehun, who is immaculate as always, hair perfectly combed back. He looks at him and his pressed perfection, and has never felt smaller, or more estranged from his best friend.
“My carriage is outside. Come with me.”
“I can’t.” His voice sounds pathetic, even to himself.
“Why? Because of Baekhyun?”
“Yes.” Chanyeol doesn’t want to explain, doesn’t see how he can make Sehun understand. He has to be here for Baekhyun.
“You really are an idiot.” Sehun is angrier than Chanyeol’s ever seen him. “What will it take for you to wake up?”
Chanyeol stands his ground. “I can’t go through with the wedding. I won’t be able to live with myself.”
“Will you be able to live with yourself knowing that you abandoned your one and only mother? I can’t believe you would do something so cruel to her, who has always been understanding of you and indulged all your moods.” Sehun’s voice brims with barely contained rage. “She’s hysterical, Chanyeol. Depressed, and understandably so. Ever since what happened to Yura — yeah, she passed last month of incurable pneumonia, one more thing you’ll have to live with yourself for causing — she’s a mess. I can’t imagine what she must be going through, to have not one but two of her beloved children she’s enslaved herself to for the last thirty odd years of her life to just leave her like that. And all because of one person’s unbelievable selfishness and utter disregard for anyone except himself.”
Every word is like a knife in the gut. Chanyeol struggles to process fully, feels the blood draining from his face. “What happened to Yura,” he manages. What have I done?
“She was stranded in a storm while searching for you.” Sehun doesn’t wait for a response. “The damage is done. Come back now before anything else happens.” Sehun marches forward, roughly grabbing hold of Chanyeol’s arm, and this time Chanyeol doesn’t resist. Sehun drags him out the door, into the carriage, and Chanyeol slumps on the seat, sweat pouring down his forehead. His mind is numb, but he feels the excruciating stab in his chest all too keenly.
How can he face what he’s done, what he’s caused? How can he face his mother? Baekhyun? Himself? Everything is crumbling, and everything is his fault.
Baekhyun has always been the stronger one. He is weak, unforgivably so.
Chanyeol sends Baekhyun an invitation, though he’s almost certain Baekhyun won’t attend.
The day dawns bright and clear. Chanyeol stands at the altar, dressed in royal blue, and his eyes roam over the crowd, searching, scanning.
Before he finds Baekhyun, Krystal appears in the doorway, and Chanyeol catches himself. He keeps his eyes on her. She is his future, walking towards him.
I know places, Baekhyun had promised then. He’d struggled to run away from his ghosts for so long, but they continued to haunt him nevertheless. It had taken him too long to learn, and he’d almost lost everything.
He joins hands with Krystal, says his vows, focuses only her face. This is his life, and he’s finally strong enough to face it. The priest pronounces them married, the crowd stand and applaud, and as he turns back to the crowd, he finally sees it — the camel-coloured suit, a head of red-gold hair. Baekhyun looks at him and smiles, and Chanyeol can almost see the lantern glowing above his head, a glass of champagne in his hand, hear the orchestra and the laughter. Chanyeol had been so sure he wouldn’t attend. He’d been mistaken, as he always has been about Baekhyun.
Baekhyun is the best thing that’s ever happened to him, and Baekhyun is the one road that he can never, ever go down.