16 November 2016 @ 10:27 pm
title: nepenthean encounters
rating: pg13
length: 13.7k
genre: single parent au, slice of life, domestic, fluff, some angst
pairing(s): chanyeol/baekhyun
description: baekhyun is willing to do anything to escape his sorrows, even if it means running away and starting his life over in a new city, with a new job. his nepenthean encounters come in the form of a single father and his five-year-old son.
warning(s):mention of depression
a/n: written for the debut round of exohousewarming fest (2016).


– 25 years ago –

“Can Baekhyunee hold him?” six-year old Baekhyun asks as he stands on his tippy-toes, arms grasping at the edge of the couch as he uses his strength to push himself up so that he can peer into the bundle of blankets that hold his newborn cousin. “Please Mama?” The boy claps his hands together happily when his mother nods, and then brings his pointer finger to his mouth the instant after to remind himself that he needs to be quiet lest he startle the baby. Baekhyun climbs onto the middle of the loveseat the sits opposite the hospital bed and situates himself right next to his mom.

“Remember to support his head, okay?” his mother whispers as she gently places the baby into Baekhyun’s waiting arms, helping the boy to adjust his position, not letting go until she gets the nod of affirmation that Baekhyun is ready for her to. She sits back and smiles contently as she watches her son holding his cousin like the baby boy the most precious treasure; smiling down at the baby as he makes faces, and then giggles on his own.

“Hi baby Tae-Tae,” Baekhyun whispers to his baby cousin as he leans his head down to place the gentlest of kisses on the newborn’s forehead. He gasps in surprise and turns, bright-eyed, to his mom when the baby’s lips part slightly and curve upward naturally. “Did you see that Mama? Tae-Tae smiled at Baekhyunee!”

His mother laughs and places a kiss of her own on Baekhyun’s cheek as she takes the baby from him. “Let’s return baby Taehyung to his own mama and papa, okay?”

Baekhyun watches as his mother walks over and hands his cousin to his aunt. He watches as his aunt cuddles Taehyung close to her chest while his uncle sits on the edge of the hospital bed beside them, smiling fondly. Both of Taehyung’s tiny hands are being held by both of his parents. Baekhyun looks from his cousin’s happy family, and then back to his mom; the image of the picture-perfect, blissful family ingraining into his mind at that very moment. He reaches up and takes his mother’s hand in his own and frowns sadly at his other hand, which remains empty. As he looks around the otherwise cold hospital room, which is now being filled with all the warmness of love from the people within in, Baekhyun can’t wait to grow up find a complete and happy family of his own.









* * *











“Bye Mr. Baekhyun!” the little girl waves her free hand, while her other hand is held firmly in her mother’s.

“Goodbye, Nari,” Baekhyun waves back, “I’ll see you tomorrow.” A smile graces his gentle features as he watches Nari and her mother walk off towards their car; and as Nari’s mom buckles her in and closes the door, the girl excitedly waves once again at her new teacher. Baekhyun laughs and waves back, mentally cheering himself on for getting through his first day without any mishaps. He had been weary when he’d decided to move from his quiet, small town to the bustling city to take the position of the kindergarten teacher at the elementary school in the middle of the school year, but one look at the twenty or so smiling faces staring back at him when he’d walked into the classroom that morning affirmed that the move may have been the best decision he’d made in a while.

He watches as Nari and her mother drive away before turning to head back into the building to tidy everything up before leaving for home himself, but stops when he sees the lone, raven-haired boy sitting in the middle of the top steps. Baekhyun’s eyes widen, and he chastises himself for almost forgetting that he still has one student left – Jaehyun, his most quiet pupil. He heads over to the steps and lowers himself down to sit next to the boy.

“Just you and me, huh, Jaehyun?” he smiles, nudging the boy’s knee with his own. Baekhyun glances down at the watch on his wrist, noting that the time for pick-up has already passed thirty minutes ago. He reaches into his bag and pulls out a Strawberry Cheesecake Lindt chocolate bar, unwrapping the candy and breaking off a piece before handing it to the boy. Jaehyun looks up from staring at his feet and accepts the chocolate with a soft smile.

“Thanks, Mr. Baekhyun…” he mutters, nibbling on the treat. “I’m sorry…”

Frowning, Baekhyun turns to his student. Jaehyun, from what he has observed throughout the day, is a quiet and reserved boy; never speaking out of turn. He is a kind classmate to all of his friends, and treats Baekhyun with utmost respect. “Why are you apologizing?”

“’Cause Daddy is late again,” the boy mumbles, looking down at his shoes once again. “Daddy probably forgot about me again…so Mr. Baekhyun has to stay later with me.”

Baekhyun shakes his head, feeling a sharp pang in his chest as he wraps one arm around the small boy’s body. “I’m sure your dad is just held up in traffic or something,” he says, offering a reassuring smile. “He’ll be here in no time, just you wait.” Jaehyun nods, albeit gloomily, and continues to nibble of the piece of chocolate currently melting in his hands.

Baekhyun wonders how many times Jaehyun has had to wait for his father.

When another hour passes without any sight or sign of Jaehyun’s father, Baekhyun is livid. What kind of parent just forgets to pick up their child from school? He stands up, dusts off his slacks, and extends a hand towards the boy who stares up at him in confusion. “Let’s go, Jaehyun.”

“Where to, Mr. Baekhyun?” the boy asks, cocking his head as he obediently stands and grabs his teacher’s hand.

“Inside,” Baekhyun replies, doing his best to keep his annoyance out of his tone, “to call you father.”









* * *











Chanyeol glances at the clock on his dashboard once again as he anxiously strums his fingers on the steering wheel. He’s late. Fuck. He’s late, again. He honks impatiently at the cars in front of him as soon as the traffic light flashes from red to green, and curses, as one of the cars takes too long to turn.

“Come on…come on, damn it!” He takes a sharp left turn, ignoring the angry remarks of drivers he’s just cut off, and pulls up to the school. Chanyeol looks around as he unbuckles himself and exits his car at the speed of light, and becomes frantic when he doesn’t see his son sitting on the front steps waiting for him like he’s always done. ‘Way too often, Park Chanyeol,’ he reprimands himself as he runs up towards the building, scanning the playground to his right as he does so. He makes a round around the school and leans over panting with his hands on his knees when he returns right back where he had started. “Jaehyun!” he yells, getting desperate when he still can’t find his son. ‘Was he kidnapped?’ he wonders, panic turning to dread as he turns and heads towards the playground once again.

“Daddy!”

Chanyeol whips his head around and almost sinks to his knees in relief when he spots his five-year-old son standing at the top steps in front of the school, smiling widely as he waves towards his father. He makes a mad dash for the boy, almost tripping up the steps as he takes them two at a time, and envelopes his son in a hug. “Where were you?!” he asks, his question coming out louder than he’d meant for it to. “What did daddy tell you about wandering around Park Jaehyun?” He pulls himself away from the boy, now holding both hands on Jaehyun’s small shoulders. “What if you were kidnapped?”

“That’s enough,” a soft voice sounds from behind Jaehyun, and the next thing he knows, his son is being pulled from his grasp. “Can’t you see that you’re upsetting him?”

Chanyeol stands and folds his arms across his chest as he scowls down at the petite blonde in front of him, who is currently standing protectively in front of his son. Jaehyun peeks around the man’s legs, and only then does Chanyeol notice the unshed tears, and the heart-rending expression in his son’s eyes. The smile has melted off Jaehyun’s face, and in it’s place, the boy’s lips curve downward with his bottom lip slightly jutted out and trembling. Jaehyun’s eyes are wet, like he’s trying his best to hold back tears, as he casts his gaze downwards; and his hands make small fists into the pant material of the man shielding him. In that instant, Chanyeol feels like the world’s worst dad. He stands, his legs threatening to give out on him as the guilt weighs down on him, crushing him.

“Jae?” Jaehyun’s subtle scuttle to move further behind the blonde man when Chanyeol reaches his hand out towards him is another punch to Chanyeol’s gut. He watches as the blonde, who he assumes is his son’s teacher, turns and kneels down on one knee so that he’s at eye level with Jaehyun, and gently caresses his son’s hair. The man is saying something to Jaehyun, but Chanyeol is beyond hearing as he watches the way his son focuses on the man comforting him, all while casting occasional wary glances his way. He swallows and fists his hands at his side. That should be his job; comforting his son should be up to him. “Jaehyun,” he says, clearing his throat and interrupting the pair. “Come here, let’s go home.”

Chanyeol ignores the glare sent his way by the petite male and holds his hand out for his son to take. He internally shouts a cry of victory when Jaehyun wraps his small fingers around three of Chanyeol’s own; but almost growls in displeasure when his son sends a bright smile towards his teacher and waves enthusiastically.

“Bye-bye Mr. Baekhyun!” Jaehyun smiles and continues to wave, cranking his neck around as Chanyeol leads him down the steps.

Baekhyun’s dazzling smile easily rivals Jaehyun’s as he waves back at the child. “See you tomorrow, Jaehyunee!"

Chanyeol pretends to not notice as the teacher continues to stand at the top of the steps to watch him buckle Jaehyun into the back seat of his car. He ignores the yearning look he sees on the blonde’s face as the man gets smaller and smaller in his rearview mirror.









* * *











Chanyeol finds himself staring at the blank canvas in his studio. Again. It has been a while since he’d come across a client willing to pay such a high price for his work; and getting this piece done would ensure he and Jaehyun a comfortable, worry-free life for at least the next two months. The only problem now is his serious case of art block. That, and the fact that the money from the last commission he did was rapidly dwindling down to nothing after his recent rent payment. He exhales in frustration and throws his paintbrush onto the wooden table next to him. The apartment is quiet as he makes his way to the kitchen – Jaehyun had thrown his backpack into his room before asking to play with the two hyungs across the hall as soon as they’d gotten home. The little boy had zoomed out of the front door, shouting something about a tournament, before Chanyeol even had the chance to respond.

Chanyeol glances at the clock, which reads 6:41pm. Jaehyun had been gone for a little under two hours now. He grabs a water bottle from the fridge and closes the door with a kick of his foot before heading for the door. Chanyeol strides three steps across the hall and knocks on the door opposite his own, raising his brow when he hears the sound of something – or someone – crashing onto the ground on the other side of the door. A moment later, the door swings open and the smiling face – and bare top – of his neighbor greets him.

“Hey, Chanyeol hyung,” Jongin says with a grin, showing off his teeth-rich smile and holding his hand up for a high-five. Chanyeol ignores the hand and nods at the twenty-something-year-old college student as he walks past him into the apartment, scrunching his nose up at the smell of stale pizza and god knows what; and the piles of clothes randomly spread around the apartment.

“Games again?”

“You know it!” Jongin responds, swinging his arm around Chanyeol’s shoulders as he leads him into the living room. “I was kicking Sehun’s a–” Jongin pauses when Chanyeol sends a glare his way and smiles sheepishly at the single father before glancing over at the five-year-old sitting on his couch, “I mean butt, when you showed up.”

“Nini hyung was losing!” Jaehyun yells from the brown, lumpy couch next to the stoic-faced boy staring intently at the television beside him. “Sehun hyung was winning! He was kicking butt!”

“He was not!” Jongin argues, making his way over to sit in front of the TV, leaning back against the couch in the space between Sehun’s legs. “He just got the upper hand when I got distracted for, like, a millisecond!”

“Shouldn’t you guys be studying instead?” Chanyeol asks, crossing his arms. “Don’t you have homework or something?”

Sehun scoffs and Jongin laughs. “Don’t be such a buzz kill, hyung.”

Chanyeol rolls his eyes and studies the boys. There was a time when he was like them; but all that quickly changed after Jaehyun came into his life. “You guys are being a bad influence on my son,” Chanyeol grumbles. His words fall on deaf ears, he realizes, when he glances over and all three sets of eyes are glued to the TV. Jongin and Sehun share mirrored expressions of concentration, while Jaehyun kneels on the couch, occasionally shouting a cheer for whoever is in the lead. Chanyeol sighs and rubs a hand down his face. “Jaehyun, let’s go home. It’s time for dinner.”

“In a minute, Daddy!” the boy whines. Chanyeol knows he has lost when Jaehyun’s eyes grow wide and his lips pinch together to form a pout. Reluctantly, he walks over and plops down onto the couch next to his son.

Twenty minutes later, all thoughts of dinner are gone from Chanyeol’s mind when there is a controller in his hands; and Jaehyun and Jongin’s cheers for him to beat Sehun drown out the sound of the game.









* * *











Baekhyun says his goodbyes to Jisoo and her parents, and then turns and sighs when he sees Jaehyun sitting on the top of the steps, staring down at his shoes with his yellow Pikachu backpack slung onto his back. He makes a note to have a chat with the boy’s father as he makes his way over towards the boy and sits down.

“Those are some pretty cool shoes,” he says, pointing at Jaehyun’s worn red and gold Iron Man shoes.

“Thanks Mr. Baekhyun,” Jaehyun mumbles into his knees, still not looking up.

Baekhyun frowns at the boy’s despondent tone and lets out an exaggerated sigh as he stretches his legs out in front of him. “Of course, Iron Man’s got nothing on Captain America.” He hears Jaehyun gasp beside him – ‘Bingo.’ – and stares up at the sky, squinting as the sun’s bright rays shine into his eyes.

“Iron Man is the most amazingest!” Jaehyun exclaims. “He can fly, and he’s super duper smart too!”

“Ahh, but he’s not as strong as Cap.”

“Nuh uh! Iron Man is super strong too, Mr. Baekhyun! Iron Man is bestest! Jaehyunee and Daddy are both team Iron Man!”

Baekhyun laughs and reaches over to ruffle the boy’s hair. “Okay, okay,” he says, holding his hands up in defeat. “If you say so, Jaehyunee.”

Jaehyun flashes a triumphant smile, but then narrows his eyes and turns towards Baekhyun. “Mr. Baekhyun… Are you team Captain America?”

“Sure am.”

“Oh no…” Jaehyun gasps, bringing both hands up to his cheeks in shock, “but it’s okie! Jaehyunee still likes Mr. Baekhyun even if he is on the enemy’s team.”

“The enemy?” Baekhyun barks a laugh. “Thanks Jaehyunee, I’m glad you’re so accepting.”

Jaehyun nods and smiles, his eyes creating small crescents alike Baekhyun’s own. “Daddy says we should be accepting of everyone, even if they aren’t like us or don’t like what we like,” Jaehyun says. “Daddy says that if everyone played nice with each other then we can all be friends and no one would get mad and hurt each other.”

“Your daddy is right,” Baekhyun nods. “Jaehyunee is such a smart and good boy.”

The five-year-old beams at the praise. “Did you know they used to light up?” Jaehyun suddenly says, holding up his feet and pointing at the bottom of his shoes. “Right there. The lights used to flash red when I walk, but they stopped a while ago…”

“Have you had these shoes for a while?”

“Yep yep!” Jaehyun nods. “They’re getting a little tight…and the lights stopped flashing. Daddy says we have to save the money to buy food though, so we can’t get new shoes. But!” the boy turns to face Baekhyun again with a bright smile; “Daddy says that Santa will bring Jaehyunee new shoes for Christmas!”

“JAEHYUN!”

Baekhyun and Jaehyun both turn towards the voice; Baekhyun scowls and Jaehyun’s face lights up at the sight of the boy’s father running towards them.

“Daddy!” Jaehyun yells back, waving his hand excitedly as he stands next to Baekhyun, holding his teacher’s hand as they walk down the stairs to meet his dad. Chanyeol bends over, out of breath, when he reaches the two of them. “Daddy, you were late again…” Jaehyun whispers.

“I’m sorry buddy,” Chanyeol huffs, “Daddy was working and got carried away. I totally forgot.”

“What kind of father forgets to pick up his son…” Baekhyun mumbles under his breath, glancing at the single father in disapproval. “Maybe you should pay a little more attention to your son, Mr. Park. Do you even know how upset Jaehyun gets every time you’re late to pick him up? Every time he realizes you probably forgot about him?”

Chanyeol narrows his eyes at the teacher and scowls as he feels his face heating up. “How I raise my kid is none of your business, Mr. Byun,” he growls, taking Jaehyun’s hand from Baekhyun’s and picking the boy up in his arms. “How about you focus on your own kids rather than lecturing me on how to raise mine?”

Baekhyun opens his mouth to argue, but finds himself closing it again as he tries to swallow the lump in his throat. “You. Know. Nothing.” He spits out, prodding Chanyeol’s chest with his pointer finger with each word. His blood is boiling, and he blinks rapidly to try and chase away the tears that are threatening to fall as he glares at the single father.

“Yeah, well you know nothing about me, either,” Chanyeol retorts, unaware of the turmoil he’s caused the teacher, “so how about you worry about yourself and your own life, and let me mind mine.” He turns his back on the teacher and walks back to his car with Jaehyun in his arms, unaware that the tears on his son’s face mirror the tears falling down Baekhyun’s cheeks as the father-son duo move further and further away.









* * *











– 6 years ago –

“Well?” Baekhyun asks, holding his breath as he waits on baited breath for his wife’s response.

Sunhee shakes her head sadly. “Negative.”

“Oh…”

“I was so sure…” Sunhee chokes as a single tear escapes her eyes, followed by a steady stream of others. “I thought that it would definitely be positive this time.”

Baekhyun frowns as he walks over to his wife, wrapping his arms around her. “It’s okay, baby. We’ll keep trying. We’re still young.”

“We’ve been trying for over two years now…” Sunhee sniffs, clinging onto Baekhyun, finding comfort in her husband’s familiar scent. “Maybe…maybe we should go see someone.”

Baekhyun purses his lips, but nods all the same; he tries to push aside the unsettling feeling in his gut as he holds onto Sunhee, rubbing comforting circles onto her back as he reassures her that everything will be okay.










Three weeks later, Baekhyun and Sunhee sit in the small office across from Dr. Kim. The doctor’s expression gives nothing away, which only serves to make Baekhyun even more anxious than he already is.

When the doctor finally does start speaking, Baekhyun hears nothing beyond “infertility” and “cystic fibrosis.” When Sunhee reaches a trembling hand over to squeeze his, only then does Baekhyun realize that he’s shaking. He tries his best to breathe deeply; to keep from breaking down. Sunhee’s tears are already free flowing, and Baekhyun tries his best to keep a strong front for his wife.

“W-What can we do?” he hears himself asking, his voice shaking despite his best efforts to remain calm.

The doctor explains the procedure…suggests testing; but the only thing running through Baekhyun’s mind is how utterly wrong everything has become. He and Sunhee had prepared themselves to hear of the news of infertility; the couple had discussed their options, had considered adoption. He had prepared himself, he thought, to the best of his ability; but what he wasn’t prepared for was the heartbreaking realization that he would soon lose his wife – his best friend, his partner in crime, and the love of his life.

“There must be a mistake…” he mutters, looking from Sunhee to Dr. Kim. “You must be mistaken!”

“Mr. Byun, please, calm down.”

“FUCK YOU!” He’s yelling now. The emotions are too much to handle; too much for him to reign in. “Don’t fucking tell me to calm down! You have no idea what it’s like! You’re not about to lose–” He chokes on a sob, unable to finish the sentence; because finishing the statement would mean he would have to face the truth, and Baekhyun was not ready. He was not ready to face reality; unwilling to accept the shitty hand fate had dealt them.

He feels Sunhee’s arms around him, and all of his defenses fail. Baekhyun allows himself to break down as he feels Sunhee’s tears soaking the material of his shirt, mixing in with his own.









* * *











Everything is different in the city. The sounds, the sights, and the people are vastly different than what he’d been used to for the greater part of his life. It had taken a few days for Baekhyun to get used to living in the same building as others; and a few weeks before he was able to sleep with the constant noise of the city. Back home, he had shared his space with no one but his wife. Their three-bedroom, two-bathroom ranch house sat on half an acre of land on the outskirts of town; just far enough away so that he and Sunhee could have their privacy, but close enough so that they could take the short walk into town to mingle with the locals. He was able to be as loud as he wanted without having to worry about disturbing his neighbors. Not that Baekhyun was a particularly loud person in the first place, but having the option was always nice. Here, however, Baekhyun was always worried about disturbing his neighbors with too much noise; so the music he likes to listen to as he unwinds for the evening is always set at the lowest setting; and the television volume never surpasses the quarter way mark.

To say that he doesn’t miss his old life would be a lie; but he couldn’t bear the pain of dwelling on her for much longer. He had spent far too much time in the bed they used to share, hoping and praying that he’d wake up to find it all to be a nightmare; that Sunhee would walk into the room with a smile on her face, telling him that dinner was ready like always. That was never the case, however, and after months of moping around the empty house by himself, Baekhyun knew something had to change. He’d jumped at the first job offer that would take him away from his own imposed isolation, and didn’t give moving almost fourteen hours away a second thought as long as it would take him away from the home that he used to love so much, but now only detested.

He’d always loved children, and seeing the bright, smiling faces of his students throughout the week had worked to lift Baekhyun’s mood. He looks forward to waking up and going to work every day, and dreads the end of the school day, when he’d have to trek back to his apartment by himself, and distract himself until the following day. Weekends always pass by much slower than Baekhyun wants and hopes for, and the weekdays seem to zoom by in the blink of an eye.

He’d spent all day yesterday in bed with a bag of chips, marathoning his new favorite drama in hopes of passing the weekend faster. Today, when he opened his fridge to find it nearly empty, with the only thing remaining a half rotten apple and a half-full bottle of water, Baekhyun forces himself to get dressed and walk the short distance to the market. It’s not that he doesn’t have money for the food; he has plenty, actually. He just doesn’t have the energy to care; and frankly, Baekhyun had never been the best cook. Ever since Sunhee passed away, his diet had consisted of microwavable dinners, ramen, and take-out. If Sunhee were still alive, she’d probably nag his ear off, chastising him for neglecting his health; but she wasn’t around anymore, and Baekhyun is too exhausted to care anyway.









* * *











“Daddy! This?”

Chanyeol turns and nods at Jaehyun, who’s holding up a box of Chocolate-Banana Pocky, and mentally deducts the amount from their budget. Jaehyun happily skips over and tosses the yellow box into the cart before grabbing onto his father’s fingers as they move along the aisle.

“What’s next, Daddy?”

“Rice,” Chanyeol responds, glancing down at his list. “Then milk, eggs…and vegetables.” Jaehyun makes a face when Chanyeol mentions vegetables, and Chanyeol chuckles. “Vegetables are good for you, Jaehyunee. They’ll make you big and strong.”

“Like you, Daddy?”

“Yep, just like me!”

Jaehyun seems to contemplate for a while, but then nods shortly after. “Jaehyunee wants to be tall like Daddy.”

The father and son make their way around the market, efficiently working in tandem to knock off the items on Chanyeol’s list. They’re on their way to the produce section when Jaehyun suddenly stops, yanking on Chanyeol’s hand. Chanyeol turns around and finds his son staring down the frozen foods aisle, squinting, before breaking into a smile.

“Daddy, look!” Jaehyun yells, pointing down the aisle. Chanyeol barely has time to remind his son to lower his voice before Jaehyun yells again. “It’s Mr. Baekhyun!”

Chanyeol takes a step back and peeks down the aisle, and sure enough, there was the petite teacher standing in the middle of the aisle with one of the freezer doors open, filling his cart with various frozen dinners. Before Chanyeol can stop him, Jaehyun lets go of his father’s hand and runs towards his teacher. Chanyeol watches, unsure if he’s embarrassed or amused, when the poor man looks up like a deer caught in the headlights when Jaehyun calls his name again only seconds before colliding into his legs. The single father figures it’s time to move when the blonde stumbles backwards and has to grab onto the freezer door to keep himself from falling over.

“Are you okie, Mr. Baekhyun?” Chanyeol hears Jaehyun ask as he stops his cart next to Baekhyun’s. He eyes the boxes of frozen dinners and bags of chips with distaste – ‘Is this really all he eats?’

“Oh, yeah…” Baekhyun chuckles as he regains his footing. “I’m fine. It’s good to see you, Jaehyunee.”

Chanyeol offers a polite smile at the teacher and a two-finger salute, to which Baekhyun returns with his own impressive smile. Jaehyun is beaming up at his teacher, and only then does Chanyeol notice the uncanny resemblance between the two. If it weren’t for Jaehyun’s eyes and ears, which he inherited from his father, Jaehyun could easily pass for Baekhyun’s child with his facial features so similar to the blonde kindergarten teacher.

“Whatchu doing here, Mr. Baekhyun? Are you buying vegetables too?”

Baekhyun sheepishly rubs at the back of his neck as he tries to hide his cart behind him. “I…umm…”

“Is that all you eat?” Chanyeol cuts him off, raising his brow at the petite man as his fatherly instincts take over. Jaehyun curiously shuffles his way around Baekhyun’s legs to peer into the cart, and gasps a second later.

“Mr. Baekhyun! You should eat vegetables, not this!” Jaehyun points at the array of unhealthy food in Baekhyun’s cart, causing Baekhyun to shrink back in embarrassment. “Daddy says in order to grow big and strong you need to eat healthy foods…” The boy turns to his father inquisitively. “Is this why Mr. Baekhyun is not big like Daddy?”

Chanyeol tries, but he can’t hold in his laughter, which results in Baekhyun turning red in the face.

“I’ll have you know,” Baekhyun says, pouting down at Jaehyun, “that I am a normal size. Your father is just abnormally tall.”

“Just admit you’re short,” Chanyeol chuckles, amused by the way Baekhyun’s eyebrows furrow and his bottom lip juts out further.

“I am not short, Mr. Park!”

“Sure you aren’t,” Chanyeol replies, reaching over to ruffle the blonde’s hair playfully before he can stop himself. He pauses when he feels Baekhyun freeze under his touch, and yanks his hand back like it’s burning when he notices Jaehyun standing in between the two of them, looking back and forth between his father and his teacher in confusion. “S-Sorry…”

“Daddy? Mr. Baekhyun?” Jaehyun asks, still confused, as the two adults look anywhere but at each other. Chanyeol clears his throat and holds his hand out towards his son, beckoning him over, saying they should finish their shopping and go home; but Jaehyun adamantly shakes his head and clings onto Baekhyun, wrapping his small arms around Baekhyun’s legs. “I want to stay with Mr. Baekhyun! Can’t Mr. Baekhyun come with us?”

“Jaehyun,” Chanyeol says, reaching out and grabbing onto one of his son’s arms, pulling him towards him. “Leave Mr. Byun alone and let’s go.” What Chanyeol doesn’t expect as he leads, or more like drags, his son away, is for big, fat tears to start streaming down the five-year-old’s face as he cranes his neck to peek back at his teacher. What surprises him even more is when he steals a look back at the teacher and notices the expression of aloneness on the man’s face; and how Baekhyun seems to look like a lost puppy in the middle of the frozen foods aisle.









* * *











“Daddy! Daddy, it’s starting!” Jaehyun yells, walking as fast as he can without spilling the two cups of milk in his hands.

“I’m coming!” Chanyeol says, shuffling into the living room with two plates in his hands.

“Hurry! Hurry!”

Chanyeol places Jaehyun’s Iron Man plate onto the ground next to his cup and settles down to sit next to his son, being careful not to pull on the sheet currently draped across the couch and chairs in their living room. “Just in time,” Chanyeol grins as he takes a bite out of his cheese quesadilla, just as the opening theme song starts playing on the television. Every Wednesday, Chanyeol and Jaehyun would pull the bed sheets and comforters from both of their beds and hang them onto the chairs and furniture strategically placed around the room to make a blanket fort. It had become a ritual, of sorts, and something both father and son looked forward to. It was a time that Chanyeol didn’t have to worry about finishing any of his art pieces; a time for him to focus one hundred percent of his attention on his son, with the only thing he had to worry about being what they would have for dinner as they sit in their middle of their makeshift fort watching that week’s episode Jaehyun’s favorite show on TV. It was their bonding time, and Chanyeol wouldn’t trade it for the world.

“How was school today?” Chanyeol asks after swallowing his mouthful of milk.

Jaehyun wipes his milk moustache off with the sleeve of his SpongeBob pajamas and grins. “Good! Mr. Baekhyun taught us about families today,” Jaehyun explains, taking a bite out of his own quesadilla. “Daddy, did you know families are all different? Some people don’t have a mommy and a daddy…”

“Oh? What else did Mr. Baekhyun teach you?”

“Mr. Baekhyun says that families come in all shapes and sizes, and sometimes there are two mommies and two daddies. But sometimes there are no mommies or daddies too.” Jaehyun scrunches his eyebrows together and half-turns towards Chanyeol. “He says that even though we may not be the same, we’re all very special and there are people who love us.”

Chanyeol nods. “Mr. Baekhyun is a smart man.”

“Daddy, I want Mr. Baekhyun to be my daddy.”

Chanyeol chokes on his milk as he stares, flabbergasted, at his son. “W-What?”

“Mr. Baekhyun says that it’s okie to have two daddies…so can I? I want Mr. Baekhyun to be my daddy, too.”

“You…like him that much?”

“Yep yep! Mr. Baekhyun is the bestest! He’s as cool as you, Daddy!”

“As cool as me?” Chanyeol gasps, feigning offense. He puts on his best pout as he looks down at his son. “I thought I was the best in the whole wide world.”

“Daddy is the bestest in the whole wide world!” Jaehyun yells, afraid that he had hurt his father’s feelings. “But Jaehyunee thinks Mr. Baekhyun is the bestest too… Daddy, can’t you both be the bestest?”

Chanyeol chuckles and wraps his arm around Jaehyun. “Sure, I suppose we can.”

They quiet down as the theme song ends and the show begins. Jaehyun’s eyes are glued to the television as he robotically stuffs food into this mouth. Chanyeol, however, spends the entire duration of the show thinking about his son’s words, and finds his thoughts drifting off to a certain kindergarten teacher.









* * *











Baekhyun would be lying if he says he isn’t surprised to find Chanyeol standing at the bottom of the school steps among the other parents waiting to pick up their children. He can’t help himself from smiling when Jaehyun catches sight of his father and presents a blinding smile up at his teacher.

“Mr. Baekhyun, look!” the boy calls, pointing at the tall man waving sheepishly towards them. “It’s Daddy!”

Baekhyun shoots his thumb up and urges the boy towards his father before turning to converse with the other parents. He’s sure Chanyeol and Jaehyun would have left by the time he says goodbye to the last few families, given that it was a Friday and most kids were eager to go home. When he turns to head back into the building to pack up his own things and head home, however, Jaehyun’s shout stops him in his tracks.

“Mr. Baekhyun!”

Baekhyun turns and sees Chanyeol and Jaehyun sitting on the brick half-wall at the bottom of the steps, both waving up at him. Baekhyun chuckles as he makes his way over to them. “I thought you’d have left by now.”

“We were going to, but Jaehyun has something to ask you,” Chanyeol explains, hopping down from the wall. Baekhyun raises a brow and turns to his student.

“Daddy says we can go to the park tomorrow!” Jaehyun says excitedly, bouncing where he sits on the wall.

“Oh?”

“Yep yep! Mr. Baekhyun, will you come with us?”

“Me?” Baekhyun asks, surprised. “I wouldn’t want to impose on your father-son time…”

“You wouldn’t be imposing,” Chanyeol cuts in. “We’ll just being hanging out at the park. Probably will have a picnic, and maybe play some ball.” Chanyeol shifts on his feet, and if Baekhyun didn’t know any better, he would’ve thought the single father was anxious. “Jaehyun really wants you to come, it would make him really happy.

“Daddy wants Mr. Baekhyun to come too!” Jaehyun adds in happily, much to his father’s despair. Chanyeol clears his throat, trying to ignore the fact that his face is probably as red as a ripened tomato. He doesn’t look at the teacher when he speaks, or he would’ve noticed that Baekhyun is just about as red as he is.

“I-It would be cool if you came…”

“I…um, sure. I guess I’ve got nothing else to do,” Baekhyun replies, and then mentally slaps himself as soon as the words leave his mouth. ‘Way to make it sound like spending time with them is a hassle, Byun Baekhyun.’

“Great!” both Chanyeol and Jaehyun shout at the same time.

“Will it just be us?” Baekhyun chooses to ask, holding in his urge to coo at how cute the family of two is.

“The two guys across the hall are coming along too,” Chanyeol responds. “They’re college students…Jaehyun goes over to their place sometimes to play with them.” Chanyeol is rambling, and he knows it. He clears his throat and rubs at his nape, “So, yeah… you’ll come?”

“Sure,” Baekhyun nods. “Which park are you going to?”

“The one with the big fountain!” Jaehyun offers.

“Redwood Park,” Chanyeol supplements.

Baekhyun nods. “I know that one. What time should I meet you?”

“Noon? We’ll be in picnic area by the riverside, but I’ll give you my number just in case you can’t find us.” Baekhyun hands his cellphone over to Chanyeol, who inputs his number. “Great! Well…we’ll see you tomorrow, Mr. Byun.”

Baekhyun watches Chanyeol and Jaehyun leave, smiling at the way Jaehyun holds onto his father’s fingers and swings his arm back and forth. That night, Baekhyun tosses and turns in his bed, too excited to sleep. He continuously looks over at the alarm clock on his bedside table, cursing the glowing numbers and time for passing way too slow.









* * *











Baekhyun hears Jaehyun before he sees him. The boy’s melodious laughter carries across the enclosed area of the park, leading Baekhyun to them without much difficulty. When Jaehyun spots his teacher, the boy abandons his ball and his dad to run towards the blonde man. Baekhyun chuckles as he catches Jaehyun in his arms, swinging him around in a circle before placing him carefully back on his feet. “Hello, Jaehyunee.”

“Hi Mr. Baekhyun!” Jaehyun beams up at him. “You’re here! We can eat now! Daddy said we should wait for you to eat,” the five-year-old explains as he takes ahold of Baekhyun’s hand and drags him towards the blue and white plaid blanket spread on the ground nearby the riverbank. Baekhyun can’t explain the warm feeling in his gut when he hears those words, which quickly turn to butterflies when he spots the single father walking towards them.

“Mr. Byun, hi!” Chanyeol greets him.

“Hello,” Baekhyun shyly replies. “Please, call me Baekhyun.”

“Haha, okay Baekhyun. Then no more of this ‘Mr. Park’ business for you either, okay? It’s Chanyeol.”

“Daddy, can we eat now?” Jaehyun asks, rubbing at his tummy. “I’m hungry.”

“Sure, kiddo,” Chanyeol nods and leads the way to the picnic. He pulls out sandwiches and a container of fruit from the basket, and offers a sandwich to Baekhyun.

“Thanks,” the blonde man smiles, accepting the sandwich as he looks around. “I thought you said there would be two more joining us?”

“Ah, yeah,” Chanyeol says as he opens the fruit container and hands a fork to Jaehyun. “They went to buy some ice cream, they’ll be back soon.”

Baekhyun nods and settles down on the blanket next to Jaehyun, chuckling as he watches the boy stuff watermelon into his mouth. Jaehyun grins as his cheeks puff out from too much watermelon, and a trail of the sticky juice runs down his chin. Baekhyun grabs a napkin and dabs at the boy’s mouth before he unwraps the sandwich and takes a small bite, painfully aware that Chanyeol was observing him. “It’s good,” he compliments, holding the half of the sandwich up. Chanyeol seems to sigh in relief before he unwraps his own sandwich and digs in.

“Dabby, alb done!” Jaehyun says around a mouthful of watermelon. He makes a show of swallowing the fruit and then shoots up to his feet. “Can Jaehyunee go play?”

Chanyeol nods and reaches up to wipe the watermelon juice from his son’s face. “Stay where I can see you,” he says and shakes his head when Jaehyun pulls a smaller red blanket from the basket, wrapping it around his neck like a cape before running off. Baekhyun leans back and watches the boy play with a smile plastered on his face. “Thanks for coming today,” Chanyeol says from beside him, bringing his attention away from Jaehyun.

“Thanks for inviting me.” The two share a comfortable silence as they watch Jaehyun play make-believe, fighting aliens and monsters with his super powers. After a while, Baekhyun turns to Chanyeol. “Can I ask you something?”

“Hmm?”

“Jaehyun’s mom…where is she?” He hears Chanyeol sigh, and is quick to add that Chanyeol doesn’t have to answer if it’s too personal, or if he doesn’t want to.

“No, it’s fine,” Chanyeol replies, wiping his hand on his pant leg. “She left.”

Baekhyun cocks his head and slightly shifts his body to face Chanyeol. “Left?”

The single father nods and reclines, propping himself on his arms. “We were together in college. Long story short, we were stupid drunk…and she ended up pregnant. She didn’t want the baby, but we didn’t want to abort him, so she gave birth and then waited until I went to fill out the discharge papers before sneaking out of the hospital, leaving Jaehyun with me. We haven’t seen her since.”

“Ah, I see…”

“I was in my senior year, but the work was just too much to handle with a newborn on top of it. I don’t have any family left, so I just dropped out and focused on raising him. I started taking commissions, and, well… yeah. Here we are now.”

“The commissions…they’re enough?”

“Sometimes yes, sometimes no. I’m pretty good with budgeting though,” Chanyeol grins, “so we manage.”

Baekhyun nods. “Do you…” the blonde worries at his bottom lip, “do you ever regret it?”

“Regret what? Jaehyun? Never. Even if I could go back and do it all over again, I’d choose the same path. Jae’s my life, and I wouldn’t trade him for the world.”

Baekhyun smiles and reaches over to place a hand on Chanyeol’s shoulder. “You’re a good dad, Chanyeol. Jaehyun is lucky to have you.”

Chanyeol barks a laugh. “I thought I was a horrible father for being late to pick up his son all the time,” he teases.

Baekhyun turns red as he twists the hem of his shirt with his fingers. “I… I shouldn’t have assumed. I’m sorry.”

“Forget it,” Chanyeol laughs. “You didn’t know.” He glances over at his son and shouts a warning for the boy to not play too close to the water. “So, how about you? It completely slipped my mind to invite your family to come along, but you could’ve brought them. We wouldn’t have minded.” Chanyeol grins and reaches into the picnic basket, pulling out more sandwiches. “I came prepared.”

Baekhyun chuckles forlornly and looks down at his hands. “It’s just me…”

“Single?”

“Widowed.”

Chanyeol sits up and shifts to face Baekhyun. “I’m so sorry…”

“It’s okay.” Baekhyun offers a weak smile, but Chanyeol catches the way he tries to blink back tears before turning to look away. “It’s been a while now.”

Chanyeol’s curiosity is mounting, but he’s able to stop himself before anything stupid leaves his mouth. He gnaws at his bottom lip anxiously as he glances at Baekhyun, who has folded his knees to his chest and has his arms wrapped around them as he stares blankly at the rippling river water. Chanyeol racks his brain for something to talk about, anything to change the subject and hopefully lighten the mood. He’s just about to open his mouth to speak, probably to spout something stupid again, when Baekhyun beats him to the punch.

“It was three years ago.”

Chanyeol’s mouth forms an “o” as he mimics Baekhyun’s position, also bending his knees up and wrapping his arms around them. He rests his chin on the top of his kneecap and turns his head slightly towards the man next to him. “If you don’t mind me asking, how did she…?”

A sardonic smile flashes across Baekhyun’s face. “We went in for an infertility check, but we left with our whole world torn apart.” Chanyeol remains silent. He’s not sure if there’s anything he should, or can, say to help ease the mood. “Sunhee…she took it better than I did,” Baekhyun continues; and at this point, Chanyeol is content to just listening; to provide comfort in the only way he knows how. “I think she was just acting tough though…I know she was just doing it for my sake. I heard her every night in the bathroom, when she thought I was asleep… I heard her crying by herself.”

Chanyeol’s hand moves on it’s own, reaching over to wipe the tears from Baekhyun’s face. “It must’ve been hard…”

“I was selfish,” Baekhyun cries, subconsciously leaning into Chanyeol’s touch, seeking for comfort. “I tried to ignore it. I tried to pretend it wasn’t real. I let her bear all the pain and loneliness by herself because I didn’t know how to handle my own emotions.”

Chanyeol wraps an arm around Baekhyun’s shoulders, pulling the man closer towards him. He rubs Baekhyun’s back, but still does not say anything. Anything he says now wouldn’t help; Baekhyun, it appears, has been bottling up his feelings for far too long.

“We were even considering adoption,” Baekhyun chuckles, wiping at his face. “We thought that even if the doctor said we couldn’t have kids of our own–” Baekhyun chokes on a sob, and Chanyeol goes back to rubbing calming circles on his back.

They sit like that for a while. Chanyeol continues to hold onto Baekhyun as he allows the blonde to calm himself. He sneaks a glance towards where Jaehyun is now crawling around by the sandpit, and is grateful that Baekhyun’s crying has not attracted the child. Jaehyun is a curious boy, and Chanyeol would have no idea how to explain to his son why his favorite teacher is crying in the first place. After a few moments, Baekhyun seems to have calmed down enough to move away from Chanyeol. He wipes the remaining tears on the sleeve of his shirt, and casts an embarrassed smile.

“I don’t know what got into me,” Baekhyun smiles sheepishly, trying to hide the fact that he is still hurt.

Chanyeol shakes his head. “I’m sorry I brought it up. I didn’t know.”

“I guess there was something we both didn’t know about each other…”

“Yeah,” Chanyeol laughs. “I guess so.” He holds out his hand and smirks at the teacher. “So, what do you say? Truce?”

“Truce,” Baekhyun takes Chanyeol’s hand in his own and shakes it. “Oh, are those your neighbors?” Baekhyun asks, wiping the remaining tears from his face as he gestures towards two males making their way towards them, one of them holding a plastic bag.

“Yep, that’s them. Let me introduce you,” Chanyeol says, standing up and dusting off his pants as the two boys get closer. Baekhyun follows his lead. “This is Kim Jongin,” Chanyeol gestures towards the tanned, raven-haired boy carrying the soccer ball under one of his arms. “And the one behind him is–”

“S-Sehun?”

Chanyeol pauses and looks from Baekhyun to the multi-colored haired boy standing behind Jongin. “Oh, you two know each other?”

“What’s he doing here?” Sehun asks instead of responding, his eyes narrowing to slits as his face becomes darker. Sehun’s cold reaction, and Baekhyun’s flabbergasted one, confuses Chanyeol. He glances at Jongin, who shrugs, also displaying confusion. Jaehyun, unaware of the tension between the adults around him, runs towards the group and grabs an ice cream cone out of the bag, happily digging into it.

“Sehun, I–” Baekhyun begins, reaching out towards the boy before Sehun takes a step back with a look of disgust on his face.

“I’m leaving,” Sehun declares, glaring daggers at Baekhyun. “Jongin, I’ll see you at home.”

Baekhyun can only watch, dejected, as the boy turns and walks away. He blinks back the tears threatening to fall again and plasters on a smile for the sake of keeping appearances, turning towards Chanyeol. “I should probably leave too… I’m sorry I ruined mood,” he says, bowing to the Chanyeol and Jongin before kneeling down to face Jaehyun. “Jaehyunee, I’m sorry, but something came up and I have to go.” Baekhyun’s heart clenches when Jaehyun frowns. “I’ll see you on Monday, okay?”

“Daddy,” Jaehyun says, pulling on Chanyeol’s shirtsleeve as he watches his teacher walk away, “what happened?”

Chanyeol can only shake his head in puzzlement. “Daddy doesn’t know either…”









* * *











– 3 years ago –

“Byun fucking Baekhyun, open this door right now!”

Baekhyun groans as he rolls over on the bed, throwing his pillow over his head in hopes of drowning out the incessant pounding on the door. “Go away…” he mumbles, wanting nothing but to sleep or pass out, whichever happened first, and forget about the world. He ignores the sound of glass breaking, but finds he can’t ignore the enraged teen that storms into his room moments later.

“Get up!” Sehun yells, pulling at his covers. “Get off your ass and go outside!”

“Why?” Baekhyun responds impassively.

“Do you plan to stay locked up in this house forever?”

“Why not?”

“God damn it!” Sehun screams, walking over to the side of the bed. He grabs onto Baekhyun collar and pulls him up, forcing Baekhyun to look at him. “Pull yourself together. She’s gone!”

Sehun had hoped to pull some sort of reaction from Baekhyun when he’d made his way over to his house, but what he didn’t expect was the punch to the face he’d just received.

“Shut the fuck up! Don’t say that!”

“Don’t say what? The truth? She’s gone, hyung. She’s not coming back!” Sehun yells, rubbing at his jaw.

“I SAID SHUT UP!” Baekhyun yells, lunging out of the bed and aiming another punch at Sehun, which the younger boy deflects. “SHUT THE FUCK UP AND GET OUT!”

“DO YOU THINK SHE’D WANT THIS?!” Baekhyun pauses, and then slumps down to the ground. Sehun knows he’s finally got his attention. “Do you really think she’d want you to throw your life away like this? To waste away like this?” Baekhyun remains silent; the only sound coming from him being soft sobs, muffled sobs.

“It’s so hard,” Baekhyun finally cries out.

“You don’t think I know that? You don’t think it’s hard for me too? You don’t think it’s hard on all of us? But you need to move on, hyung. Get ahold of yourself. She’s gone, and moping won’t bring her back.” Sehun kneels down next to the anguished male, giving the empty glass bottles scattered across the room a snubbed look before placing a comforting hand on his shoulder. “Go talk to someone, hyung…you need help. You’re just killing yourself this way. Look at yourself, you’re wasting away.”

“What if I want to waste away?” Baekhyun mumbles so quietly Sehun almost misses what he says.

“What did you say?” Sehun growls, hoping that he’d heard wrong.

“I SAID WHAT IF I WANT TO DIE, TOO?!” He lands on his side not a second later when Sehun’s fist connects with the side of his face.

“You disgust me,” Sehun snarls, standing up and walking towards the door. He stops at the doorway and turns his head, looking at the depressed and broken man on the ground. “You didn’t deserve her. A weak man like you… you never deserved my sister.”









* * *











Chanyeol taps the paintbrush on his chin as he stares at the canvas in front of him. ‘Wrong… It’s all wrong!’ He groans in frustration as he trades his No. 6 flat brush for his No. 1 round brush, dipping the tip of the brush into the black paint to focus on detail. He closes his eyes and tries to drown out the loud volume of the television in the living room. ‘I can salvage this…’ he thinks, no, prays, as he brings the paintbrush towards the canvas.

“Daddy, look!” Jaehyun yells, suddenly crashing into his legs, causing him to smear and thin black line across the canvas. “Look what I dr–”

“PARK JAEHYUN!” Chanyeol’s voice booms as he glares down Jaehyun. “What did I say about keeping it down when I’m working!?”

“B-But…Daddy…”

“Just go to your room and be quiet!” Chanyeol yells, turning around towards his canvas and groaning at the mistake, missing the way his son rubs at his eyes and runs out of the room.









* * *











Baekhyun collapses onto the couch and groans, stretching his arms above his head. He’d spent a good part of the day cleaning his apartment, dusting everything from the books on his bookshelf, to the ceilings and windows. He glances down at the watch on his arm and sighs. 7:07pm… He’d hoped that cleaning would have made the day pass by much quicker. ‘At least the weekend is almost over,’ he thinks contently. His stomach growls in the silence of his apartment, and he pushes himself up to head into the kitchen in search of something to eat. He pulls out two boxes, choosing between macaroni dinner and frozen pizza, and is just about to put the pizza into the microwave when his phone starts to vibrate on the counter. Frowning, Baekhyun places the box down and reaches for his phone. It’s unusual for him to get a call at this time; considering the only people who ever called him anymore are his mom and best friend, Jongdae. Baekhyun knows Jongdae is overseas for a business trip; and his mother usually goes to sleep early – she’d probably be in bed at this time. He looks at the screen, and is surprised to see “Park Chanyeol” displayed across his phone’s screen.

“Hello?” Baekhyun answers tentatively, unsure of why the single father would be calling him out of the blue. When he doesn’t receive a response, he tries again. “Chanyeol?”

Instead of Chanyeol’s deep voice, what Baekhyun hears on the other line sends him into panic, and breaks his heart.

“M-Mr. B-Baekhyun…” Jaehyun sobs into the phone. Baekhyun’s frown deepens.

“Jaehyun? What’s wrong? Where’s your dad?”

“D-Daddy…” the boy can’t seem to continue as the mention of his father sends him into a sobbing mess; he’s crying so hard that he starts hiccuping.

“Jaehyun, where are you?” Baekhyun asks, already heading out of the kitchen and towards the closet to grab his jacket. “Jaehyunee? Breathe, okay?” he says into the phone as he stuffs his arm into his jacket, anchoring the phone between his face and shoulder. “Tell me where you are. I’ll come to you.”

Baekhyun is afraid the boy is too upset to hear him, or is too upset to answer. He lets out a sigh of relief, however, when Jaehyun whispers his destination. “Stay right where you are,” Baekhyun says, grabbing his keys and running out the door. “I’ll be right there.”

He hangs up the phone and scrolls through his contacts, pausing for a second before pressing the green call button.


part ii

 
 
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