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[personal profile] surgicalfocus
Title: You Remind Me Of No One

Pairing(s): Chanyeol/Baekhyun, mentions of past Chanyeol/Dara

Rating: PG-13

Genre: Romance

Warning(s): Language, sexual references

Length: ~8,000

Summary: The 24-hour diner near Chanyeol’s work serves shitty food, but it’s worth enduring just to see the waiter smile.



He applied for the job because he couldn't sleep.

“Being on night watch is easy enough,” the head of security had assured him, and the pay was alright, it was quite good. “Just do four full circuits of the building over the course of your shift; the rest of the time you can make yourself comfy in the office and watch the screens. If you see anything suspicious, go and check it out. That’s about it.”

So far nothing had ever happened that was worth writing home about – maybe the odd rat skittering across the parquetry, which Chanyeol turned a blind eye to. He usually did four patrols of the museum as required, which was the minimum; he did more if he was bored. One circuit took about forty minutes, or a little longer if he got distracted by something. When he first started he could have spent ages in the human anatomy exhibit alone, but the plastinated cadaver slices were getting a little old by now.

He whiled away the rest of the hours watching YouTube clips of people playing asinine pranks on strangers, only looking up to check the surveillance screens occasionally. When he got sick of doing that he'd find other ways to entertain himself, refreshing his Twitter app repeatedly to hear the little pop! sounds it made, or he’d browse through nearby Wi-Fi networks to see if they had funny names like Hide Yo Kids, Hide Yo Wi-fi or It Burns When IP. Sometimes he brought a book to read, but after twenty minutes or so the words would begin to swim around on the page in front of his bloodshot eyes. It would give him a headache and he'd have to put the book away again.

If he was feeling especially brave (or especially lonely), he would call her at home to listen to the greeting on her answering machine. Since he’d moved out, she’d changed it to include her name only – it used to be both. He never left a message, and knew she wouldn’t get back to him even if he did. He only wanted to hear her voice.

It was one of those nights. Chanyeol scrolled through his contacts until he found her name, read it over in his mind several times, inhaled deeply and pressed the call button. He held the phone up to his ear and waited.

'You’ve reached Dara Park. I’m not at home right now: please leave a message and I’ll get back to you when I c—'

Chanyeol quickly hung up before the beep and put the phone back in his pocket.


* * * * *



That night, his shift ended at three in the morning. Someone else turned up then to relieve him of his post, a nice young guy called Jongdae whom he chatted to for about five minutes before he took off. After so many hours of sitting in silence, it was nice to hear another voice again.

He had a habit of dawdling on his way home, never heading directly there after a shift – he probably wouldn’t be able to sleep anyway, so it seemed pointless. As he walked, he searched the faces of all the girls passing by to see if there was anyone that looked like her. Maybe if he found a clone he’d be able to convince himself at last that she wasn’t the only one of her kind, that there were others like her in the world. The thought that she wasn’t so special after all made him feel a little better.

It was a Friday night and there were so many girls – girls walking down the street, girls with their boyfriends, girls with their girlfriends. There were girls standing on the corners, leaning against signposts, shifting from one foot to the other to relieve the ache from their high heels and flicking glowing ashes into the gutter. I could get a girl tonight, he thought; they made it look that easy. He looked at one of them, a pretty girl with long bleached hair, three inches of black roots. She stood a few metres away from the curb with a sullen expression, opening her leather jacket to show off her bra to passersby, wrapping it around herself again after they’d passed. The jacket was a few sizes too big for her.

He could pay to take her to a room for a few hours, that was no problem... money was no problem. He could offer her twice as much and say how about you keep your clothes on and we just cuddle for a bit? and she’d probably be happy to oblige, given what she was used to doing; with someone's arms wrapped around him he mightn’t feel so ready to burst out of his skin from restlessness. So she would hold him for a little while, and finally someone would feel his warmth again, would acknowledge the weight of his existence for the first time in months, and in turn he could perhaps do the same for her.

As he got closer he saw that her cheeks were pitted with acne scars and she couldn't have been older than twenty. She looked at him and then her kohl-smudged eyes flickered away, but she opened the jacket again and did a little shimmy for him, looking not seductive as she probably intended, but embarrassed. She wore laddered thigh-highs and a tiny strip of spandex for a skirt, hiked up to reveal a glimpse of red lacy underwear. She was trying to look unfazed, streetwise, but Chanyeol could tell that she was scared. She was new to this.

The problem with this city, he thought as he walked right past her, was that the bright lights gave you permission to dream – that you could just show up and instantly reinvent yourself, be saved from whatever it was you ran here from. But dreams had to be earned. Chanyeol didn’t think about the girl again. She looked good in his fantasies for all of ten seconds, but in the real world there would be no amount of money he could offer to make her stay, and he silently wished her the best of luck.


He was looking for a cab to flag down when the smell of coffee beckoned him through the doors of a 24-hour restaurant nearby – one that he’d walked past many times but had never actually visited. It was one of those retro-style diners with the red stools at the bar and booths lined up back-to-back against the front windows. There was a coin-operated jukebox in the corner, faded posters of fifties and sixties icons covering nearly every inch of wall space. The place was in slight disrepair; the paint was peeling a little, the linoleum tiles were scuffed, but it wasn’t empty, and that was encouraging enough to keep him there.

He chose the booth in the corner and slid onto the sticky vinyl seat. Next to him was a wire rack with leaflets advertising various things – a helpline for pregnant teenagers, escort services, home maintenance. He drummed his fingers on the laminate tabletop and looked around.

There was a waitress – twenty-something, blonde hair piled on top of her head, winged eyeliner – and a waiter – pale, not very tall, black hair falling into his eyes. They were both attractive in an unconventional way, but the waiter was the one who really caught Chanyeol’s attention. The waitress didn’t seem particularly thrilled to be there at half-past three in the morning; in fact, she looked miserable. The waiter, on the other hand, would occasionally stop to speak to a customer, and in doing so would break out in a smile so brilliant it made the fluorescent lighting seem a few shades duller, at least in Chanyeol's eyes.

As soon as the boy was looking his way, Chanyeol waved him over. He’d lost the smile by then.

“How you doing?” Chanyeol asked him.

The boy shrugged and flipped to a new page on his notepad. “I’ve been better. What can I get you?”

With all his staring at the waiter, he hadn’t even noticed the menu on the table in front of him. Chanyeol quickly picked it up and, at random, pointed to the first two things his finger landed on. “Two waffles with syrup and a black coffee, thanks.”

The boy nodded, jotted the order down in silence. “Any butter?”

“No butter.”

“Anything else?”

Chanyeol began to chew his bottom lip. “A smile’d be nice..”

“That’ll cost you extra," the waiter said with a quirk of his lips. He flipped the notepad closed and hurried away.

“How much extra?” Chanyeol called after him. He was not dignified with a reply.


* * * * *


The next night, Chanyeol was back at the diner after his shift ended. He wasn’t sure why, at first – last night’s waffles had tasted like they were made from pulped cardboard – but as soon as he laid eyes on the waiter, all unkind thoughts about the food flew right out the window.

He supposed he did still like a challenge, after all. That was one thing about him that hadn’t changed.

Chanyeol felt the boy’s eyes following him as he made his way to the same booth and sat down, the vinyl seat creaking and sighing beneath his weight. After a few minutes the waiter came over to him, notepad in hand.

“You again,” he said flatly.

Chanyeol nodded. “Me again.”

The waiter said nothing. He opened his notepad and looked at Chanyeol expectantly. Chanyeol picked up the menu in front of him without looking at it and played breakfast roulette again, as he had the night before.

“I’ll have a bacon-and-egg roll this time,” he said. “And a coffee, of course. Black.”

The boy scribbled something on his notepad. He licked his lips, drawing attention to a tiny mole above them that Chanyeol hadn’t noticed before. He looked pained, perhaps irritated, and Chanyeol wondered if he actually wrote people’s orders down at all, or if he wrote other things instead, like obscenities directed towards certain customers.

“What’s your name?” he asked when the boy had finished writing.

The boy lifted his gaze from the notepad, looking Chanyeol right in the eye. Beautiful eyes, Chanyeol thought.

“No,” the waiter said at last.

Chanyeol frowned, unsure he’d heard correctly. “No..?”

“That’s right. No.”

“That’s… an unusual name.”

“My parents hate me, what can I say…” the waiter said, and once again he was gone before Chanyeol had a chance to reply. He returned about ten minutes later with a cup of coffee and a sad, withered-looking bacon-and-egg roll sliding around in the middle of a plate that was too large for it, a wilted sprig of parsley posing as a garnish. As he set them down upon the table Chanyeol blurted out “can I get your number?” before he could stop himself.

The waiter looked at him blankly. He considered the request for a moment and slowly nodded. “Alright,” he said.

Chanyeol’s eyes widened. “Really..?”

“Sure. Got a pen?”

“No need – I’ll just save it straight into my phone,” Chanyeol replied, fishing the device from his pocket. His hands were sweaty and he nearly dropped it onto the floor.

The boy nodded again. “Cool. You ready?”

Chanyeol’s finger hovered above the touch screen. “When you are.”

“Right. So, my number goes like this,” the boy said, enunciating slowly for the sake of clarity. “No-no-no-no, no-no-no.”

Chanyeol slowly lowered his phone onto the table.

“Did you get that?” the waiter asked him. “Or do you need me to repeat it for you?”

“No,” Chanyeol said, shaking his head. “I got it..”

The waiter nodded and leaned over until his lips were close to Chanyeol’s ear. “I’ll let you in on a little secret: the food here is shithouse. You’d be better off taking your money someplace else.” Having said this, he hurried away towards the kitchen, his rubber-soled shoes squeaking on the checked linoleum floor.

“That’s not a secret…” Chanyeol muttered, too softly for anyone else to hear.


* * * * *


After he’d finished and paid (the food was no better than last night, but this wasn’t a surprise), Chanyeol caught the attention of a waitress with dyed red hair, ushering her to one side.

“Your colleague over there,” he said, gesturing towards the waiter. “What’s his name, if you don’t mind me asking? I’m almost certain I know him from somewhere..”

It was a lie, of course, but she didn’t need to know that.

The girl’s wary eyes flicked over to the waiter, and then back to Chanyeol. She had a tiny mole above her lips too, but on the opposite side. Unlike the waiter’s, hers was artificial, drawn on with a felt pen or something similar – Chanyeol could tell by the way the ink bled into her skin. “His name is Baekhyun,” she said.

Baekhyun – right.” Chanyeol nodded and thanked her – it was small progress, but progress nonetheless. He had to stop himself from skipping out the door.


As usual, he ran down the street to hail a cab; the trains wouldn’t run again for another hour. During the ride back to his apartment he rolled the name around in his mouth, testing it out – quietly, so he wouldn’t be heard above the cab driver’s tuneless humming to Fast Car on the radio. Baekhyun Baekhyun Baekhyun. He was so entranced by the name that he didn’t notice the driver had taken him some ridiculously long way home, charging him nearly twice the usual fare at the end.


* * * * *


Chanyeol began to walk past the diner every night on his way to work, and then again on his way home. After a while, he was able to deduce that Baekhyun worked several late night shifts a week. Some nights he’d be gone by the time Chanyeol was finished.

Chanyeol wasn’t a stalker, though. He wouldn’t allow himself to stop at the diner every night that Baekhyun was there, for that would have been too much. On those nights when he didn’t go in, he looked through the window and saw Baekhyun floating around amongst the customers, flashing the occasional lovely smile at them. He longed to go inside, pressing himself against the glass for a moment, but then reluctantly peeled himself away and got a coffee to go from the McDonalds two doors down instead. If he wanted to have a real shot at this, he would have to be subtle about it.


* * * * *


The next time he visited the diner, Chanyeol stayed until the place was nearly empty, pushed his half-eaten pancakes away from him and got up from his seat. He walked over to the jukebox in the corner, inserted a coin and selected Daydream Believer from the list of songs.

Instead of returning to his booth, he sat down at a table close to where Baekhyun was standing. The boy was too busy mopping the floor to pay attention to him.

Chanyeol watched him work in silence for a moment. “Isn’t this a great song?” he said at last. “At least, I think it’s great.”

Baekhyun didn’t look up. “It’s alright, I suppose.”

“It just seems to belong to another time, doesn’t it? Another world, even.”

“Yes,” Baekhyun said flatly, “the sixties.” He looked at Chanyeol with a bemused expression, as if to say what’s your point?

Chanyeol laughed shyly. “Well, you know what I mean..”

Baekhyun turned towards Chanyeol and began to mop the area underneath his table without lifting his head. Occasionally he bumped into Chanyeol’s feet without apologising.

“Were people happier back then, do you think?” Chanyeol wondered aloud. “They seem like they were happier..”

“I doubt it,” Baekhyun replied. “Maybe they just had fewer ways to destroy themselves.”

“You must like this song,” Chanyeol insisted. “The way you’re mopping, it looks like you’re dancing along to it.”

“You’re seeing things, I assure you. Why are you always here so late, anyway..?”

“I’m a night watchman at the museum of science. How about you put that mop away and dance with me instead?”

“Haven’t you seen the sign that reads, 'Please do not hit on the wait staff'?" Baekhyun said gruffly.

Chanyeol laughed at that. “No, can’t say I have..”

“That’s because there isn’t one,” Baekhyun replied. “Although I’m starting to think that maybe there should be.”

“Has anyone ever told you that you’re stunning?” Chanyeol said after a moment’s pause. So much for being subtle.

“I have to mop this entire floor before my shift ends,” Baekhyun sighed. He stood up and wiped the sweat from his brow, his lovely face glowing from the exertion. He sounded tired. “Don’t you have a home to go to..?”

Chanyeol laughed again. “Are you kicking me out? This is a 24-hour diner… you don’t even close.”

“Go home. Go to bed.”

“If I do, will you come with me?” (Subtlety could go to hell, for all Chanyeol cared.)

“Nope.”

“Alright… no harm in asking,” Chanyeol said, getting up from his seat and stretching. “Well, goodnight, then.”

He headed towards the door without waiting for a reply, but just before he stepped through it he heard Baekhyun mutter a quick “goodnight” under his breath.


* * * * *


Chanyeol was back again a few nights later, only to discover a piece of A4 paper taped to the counter with a notice written in thick black marker: Please do not hit on the wait staff. Thanking you.

Chanyeol bit his lip to keep from smiling and took a seat at his usual booth. He watched Baekhyun speaking to a group of young girls sitting several booths down from him, and of course the beautiful smile made a welcome appearance. A pretty blonde waitress with a bleeding heart tattoo on her wrist hurried over to take Chanyeol’s order, but he politely told her he wasn’t ready. He fiddled idly with the sugar sachets for a while until Baekhyun noticed he was there and came over to greet him.

“So. We meet again…” Baekhyun said, but his tone wasn’t unfriendly. “What can I get you this time?”

Chanyeol tried to look playfully indignant. “How come you don’t smile like that for me..?”

Baekhyun turned his head towards the table of girls, and then looked back at Chanyeol. “Smiles are free of charge for the ladies,” he said.

Chanyeol snorted. “Hah. Rude.”

“Them’s the breaks, I’m afraid.”

Chanyeol slammed his hands down on the table in front of him. “Question: do you get hit on a lot?”

“Me?” Baekhyun asked, his eyes widening in surprise. “Uh… occasionally, I guess..?”

“By women? Men..?”

Baekhyun paused for a moment. “Both... but not a whole lot by either, to tell you the truth.”

Chanyeol shook his head in disbelief. “Bull.”

“No bull.”

“I don’t see why,” Chanyeol told him. “You’re very cute. Beautiful, even.”

“Are you going to order or not..?” Baekhyun asked, a little more impatiently this time.

Chanyeol shrugged; as usual he hadn’t even looked at the menu. “I just wanted to come see you for a bit. Why won’t you let me compliment you?”

“Because. It makes me feel weird.”

Chanyeol sighed in resignation and nodded. “Alright… I’m sorry. If it makes you uncomfortable I won’t do it anymore.”

“It doesn’t make me feel weird in a bad way, necessarily…” Baekhyun said thoughtfully. “I’m just not really sure how to respond.”

“Well, a smile will do, to start. Just a little one. How about it?”

“Fine,” Baekhyun sighed, and he flashed Chanyeol a quick smile. It seemed a little forced, but it was still lovely.

Chanyeol grinned back at him. “There. That wasn’t so hard now, was it..?”

“You know, I can’t let you sit here if you’re not going to order something,” Baekhyun said, but he seemed a little more relaxed now. Not quite friendly, but there was time for that.

Chanyeol picked up the neglected menu in front of him. “Fine. A black coffee, then. And a slice of chocolate cake.”

“Oh, you don’t want that, trust me,” Baekhyun told him. “Go for the cherry pie. It’s pretty much the only decent thing in this place.”

Chanyeol wondered how Baekhyun managed to keep his job, what with the way he put the food down all the time.

“Alright, I’ll take your word for it,” he said. “Put the cream on the side, if you’d be so kind.”

Baekhyun nodded and wrote this down. “You’ll thank me later.”

“Why? Is the cherry pie as sweet as you?”

Much sweeter,” Baekhyun replied. He was about to walk away when he paused for a moment, as though lost in thought. “Just make sure you chew slowly. We don’t want you cracking a tooth on a stray pip.”

Chanyeol called Baekhyun back and changed his order to the apple pie instead.


Over the next hour and a half he hung around until his coffee went stone cold. He picked at his pie half-heartedly, eating all the pastry and pushing the pieces of spiced apple around on his plate until they turned to mush.

“Are you off soon?” he asked when he saw Baekhyun walking towards him with a mop and bucket.

“Yep. Just gotta clean the floor.”

“Why don’t you take a break for a bit, and come and sit with me?” Chanyeol said, patting the seat next to him. “I’ll shout you something. Anything you want.”

Baekhyun shook his head. “No, really… thanks, but I’m fine.”

Chanyeol laughed in spite of himself. “You must think I’m the biggest creep, huh?”

Baekhyun shrugged and continued mopping. “Not really. At least no creepier than anyone else that hangs out in here.”

“The difference between a creep and me is that a creep will relentlessly hit on anything with a heartbeat,” Chanyeol said. “I’m only interested in you... and if you really want me to, I'll go away.”

Baekhyun looked up at him then, hiding behind the hair falling into his eyes. “Why are you interested in me, though..?” he asked quietly.

“I don’t know. There’s just something about you. Something I can’t put my finger on…” Chanyeol replied. Baekhyun had occupied his thoughts so much lately that it suddenly occurred to him he hadn’t called Dara’s number to listen to her answering machine message in days. He still habitually checked his own answering machine every morning though, just in case anything was there.

Nothing was ever there.

Baekhyun didn’t respond; he simply kept mopping, his back turned towards Chanyeol. Chanyeol took it as an indication that he should probably get going.

“Anyway, I’ll get out of your hair, before you get tempted to spit in my food next time,” he said, standing up from his seat. He looked at Baekhyun pointedly. “Have you ever spit in my food..?”

Baekhyun shook his head. “Not yet.”

“Because if you have, then you may as well just kiss me so I can return the favour.”

To Chanyeol’s pleasant surprise, Baekhyun laughed at the suggestion. “In your dreams..”

Chanyeol smiled. “Do daydreams count? I’m a chronic insomniac these days.”

“It’s 4.30 in the morning,” Baekhyun said, turning to look at Chanyeol over his shoulder. “Bit early for daydreams, isn’t it..?”

“A daydream is just a dream you have while you’re awake. It doesn’t necessarily have to take place during the day.”

“Is that why you stare out the window a lot, Mister Daydream Believer?” Baekhyun asked him. “Because you’re daydreaming..?”

Chanyeol didn’t think it worth mentioning that it was always Baekhyun’s reflection in the window he was looking at, not the street outside.

“Something like that,” he replied with a smile, and slowly lowered himself back down onto his seat. His heart fluttered at the thought of Baekhyun secretly watching him too.


* * * * *



“Listen,” Chanyeol said later when Baekhyun looked like he was ready to leave. “Do you live around here? We can share a cab if you want.”

Baekhyun shook his head. “Oh, no, it's not that far. I usually just walk.”

“Then I'll walk with you.”

“You don't have to.”

“I want to,” Chanyeol said gently. “Unless you don't want me to..?”

Baekhyun bid farewell to the staff members still inside the diner and stepped out into the street with Chanyeol following close behind. His eyes darted around nervously.

“Okay, you can walk me home,” he said in a hushed voice. “But just this once.”


Baekhyun had insisted that it was a quick walk, but it turned out to be longer than Chanyeol was expecting; his own idea of a quick walk was five to ten minutes, and they were fast approaching twenty.

“There’s no subway station near your place?” he asked, looking at his watch. “The trains start running again in half an hour.”

Baekhyun shook his head. “No, sadly. After cabbing it, walking is the quickest way.”

“Alright. Walking it is. Is it much farther..?”

“No. Not much,” Baekhyun said. The street they were in was lined on both sides with apartment blocks, so Chanyeol took his word for it.

“Woah, easy…” he said. He was getting out of breath trying to keep up. “Why are you walking so fast? I’m not going to kill you, you know.”

“It’s not you I’m worried about,” Baekhyun replied quickly. “I had some guy try to mug me on my way home once.”

“Oh god… who was he..?”

“Just a junkie with a Swiss army knife… but he was so out of it he held the corkscrew attachment to my neck instead. So I kicked him in the jewels and ran.”

Chanyeol bit his lip, trying not to laugh; he had a feeling it wouldn’t be very well received. “Why don’t you just get a cab home if it’s not safe?”

“I do sometimes, if the weather is bad,” Baekhyun replied. “I can’t afford to do it all the time.”

“I’d walk you home anytime, you know,” Chanyeol said softly. “I mean it… you could just call me whenever and I’d come. Like I said, I don’t really sleep at night anyway.”

Baekhyun merely grunted in reply. He was exceptionally nimble, jumping over any areas of the pavement where the cracked concrete slabs overlapped each other. Chanyeol stumbled a few times, but thankfully sustained no serious injuries.

He really must walk home a lot, Chanyeol thought.

“That’s it over there,” Baekhyun said at last, pointing at an old apartment building up ahead. He hurried up the path towards the main door without turning back to check if Chanyeol was still there, and began fumbling around in the pockets of his black jeans.

“As soon as you’re safely inside, I’ll go,” Chanyeol reassured him. He stood back a safe distance to give Baekhyun enough space.

Baekhyun didn’t reply. He turned the pockets of his jacket inside-out instead, and came out empty-handed.

“Shit,” he said at last.

“What?”

“My keys,” Baekhyun replied, “I haven't got my keys. I must have left them inside my apartment..”

Chanyeol formed an O with his mouth, but no sound came out.

“Shit,” Baekhyun said again, stamping his foot on the pavement in frustration. “Shit, shit, shit..”

“Um… you could come stay the night at mine..?” Chanyeol suggested.

Baekhyun turned around to face him; he looked like he was going to cry. “No, I can’t do that. You’re very nice and everything, but I don’t really know you that well.”

“Do you have anywhere else to go?” Chanyeol asked.

Baekhyun looked down at the ground and sighed. “Well, not exactly...”

“Then I insist.” Chanyeol grabbed Baekhyun by the wrist and started pulling him back in the direction they came.

“Um… okay…” Baekhyun replied weakly.

“Don’t worry, I won’t make you walk there,” Chanyeol said, flashing Baekhyun a wry smile, and he held out an arm to flag down the first cab that came their way.


* * * * *



"I really hope you don't think this was some ploy to get you to take me home…" Baekhyun said when they were standing out the front of Chanyeol’s apartment. Chanyeol laughed and rummaged around in his pocket for his keys.

"The thought hadn't even crossed my mind.."

"Good. Because it's not like that. At all."

"Relax. I believe you."

Chanyeol pushed the door open and stood aside to let Baekhyun in. "After you."

When Baekhyun was through the door he stepped in after him and switched on the light.

"Nice place," Baekhyun said, looking around. There wasn't much furniture, but what was there was tasteful; Chanyeol liked to keep things simple and clean.

"It does the job."

"So it's just you by yourself?"

"Yeah. You can take my bed… I'll be fine on the couch."

"Are you sure? I don’t want to put you out.”

“No, seriously… it’s fine,” Chanyeol said, and chuckled. “I was banished to the couch by my former girlfriend more times than I can count, so I got used to it. And this couch is far more comfortable than that one was. You hungry?"

Baekhyun nodded. "Uh, yeah,” he said shyly. “A little.."

"I don't know what I have in here,” Chanyeol replied, opening the refrigerator door and peering inside. “I can probably rustle up something quick… how does a vegie-noodle stir-fry sound?"

“Please don’t go to any trouble..”

"It’s no trouble. And please, don’t feel the need to help – just make yourself at home. I actually enjoy cooking… Dara wasn't that keen on being in the kitchen, so I’m pretty good at it now.”

"She couldn't cook..?"

"Oh, she was more than capable. She just didn't like wrecking her manicure."

Baekhyun laughed a little and leaned against the counter top. He watched Chanyeol chop an assortment of vegetables – carrots, broccoli, red peppers and mushrooms. "High-maintenance, huh?"

"You could say that. What she saw in me, I'm not really sure… maybe she just needed someone to put up with her. I wasn’t doing so well with that, towards the end."

“So you like girls, then.” It was almost an accusation, rather than a question or a statement.

“I like both,” Chanyeol said simply. “Right now, I like you.”


Baekhyun watched him cook without replying.


“Why aren't you and Dara together anymore?” he asked a little later, while they were eating. Chanyeol opened his mouth to reply and paused. He put his fork back down on the table.

“It’s not a very interesting story,” he said at last. “We were together for two years. I could have sworn she loved me – at least, she had me convinced that she did. Then it was like she just woke up one day and decided that I should move out. I’m fairly sure it was calculated, though.”

Baekhyun swallowed a mouthful of food. He looked sympathetic. “Ouch. Why..?”

“Don't know,” Chanyeol said quietly. “Perhaps she traded me in for a newer model. She never really gave me a reason.”

Baekhyun narrowed his eyes, searching Chanyeol’s face. “How old are you, even?”

“29.”

“And her?”

“24. She’ll be 25 soon. I suppose one upside is I won’t have to bust a gut trying to find her a present this year. Talk about a high-stress operation.”

Baekhyun nodded. His curiosity seemed sated for the time being. “I'm sorry,” he said, “for making you talk about it.”

Chanyeol dismissed the apology with a wave of his hand. “It’s just a break-up – it happens,” he replied, like it was some random event; a natural disaster in a country he’d never heard of, something that didn’t affect him at all. But it did affect him – it was still affecting him months later – and clearly there was something else he was missing, something he resented her for withholding. It killed him, not knowing what it was.


Who was she with now? Did she love him? More importantly, did he love her, and crave her, just as Chanyeol had? Could he finish her off in barely a minute using only his mouth, do it over and over until her thighs trembled against his shoulders? Thoughts like that still kept Chanyeol awake at night, although less than they did before. He had other things to keep him awake now.

Still, he missed the smell of her – not her salon-brand shampoo, or her expensive perfume, but her. She put that bloody perfume everywhere – even down there. He didn’t like it when she did that; it was completely unnecessary.

Her mouth always tasted like lipstick: long-wear, kiss-proof, she practically slept with it on. She'd come to bed with not a stitch on her body, but she wore a full face. She left imprints of herself on the pillows like the Turin Shroud, and it drove him fucking nuts.

But her silence was by far the worst.


The weight of Baekhyun’s stare suddenly made Chanyeol feel exposed, and he cleared his throat nervously.

“I’m sorry… you must be exhausted,” he said. The sun was beginning to peek through the blinds. “Are you all done?”

Baekhyun nodded. They got up to put their bowls in the sink without speaking.

Afterwards, Chanyeol led Baekhyun to his bedroom and gave him the spare toothbrush he kept in the bathroom cabinet, just in case he had company - which he never had, until now. It was good to be prepared.

“Well, goodnight then,” Baekhyun said when he was ready to go to sleep. He stood against the doorframe of Chanyeol’s bedroom, rubbing his eyes and looking adorable. Chanyeol leaned towards him for a moment, then reached over and brushed his hair away from his eyes with one hand. Baekhyun looked up at him curiously, but he didn’t move away.

“Hey,” Chanyeol said softly, his hand still cradling one side of Baekhyun’s face. “Let me take you out, at least once. If you don’t like me after that then I’ll leave you alone… maybe. What do you say?”

Baekhyun’s eyes flickered away for a moment, but then he looked back at Chanyeol and nodded. “Alright. I’m not working tonight, if you want to do it then.”

Chanyeol exhaled loudly and smiled. “Good… great. I’ll meet you inside the diner at 6? I’m working, but my shift doesn’t start until 10.”

Baekhyun nodded and smiled back. “Okay.”


When Baekhyun had gone to bed, Chanyeol made himself comfortable on the couch, sighed deeply and waited for sleep to come. After a while he heard the sound of Baekhyun's breathing coming from the bedroom; every now and then he sighed in his sleep as well, which Chanyeol found endearing – and, if he was honest, kind of sexy. He smiled and closed his eyes, and for some reason sleep came to him that night much sooner than he expected.


* * * * *



Later that morning, Chanyeol woke up to a pair of lips brushing very briefly against his forehead, soft and barely there. He waited for the sound of the front door shutting before opening his eyes.


* * * * *



Chanyeol arrived at the diner at six on the dot and sat down at the booth closest to the door for a change. He was a little nervous, and the black coffee he’d ordered upon arriving wasn’t really helping; it was a long time since he’d been on anything vaguely resembling a date. He ran his hands through his hair and jiggled his legs under the table and kept his eyes trained on the door. Each time it opened, his heart trilled inside his chest; then it would turn out to be someone else – a young couple, a trio of teenage girls, a mother and father with their two-and-a-half kids – and Chanyeol’s heart would deflate a little instead.

He looked down at his phone. Before he knew it, it was 6.15, and Baekhyun still hadn’t shown up. Fucking hell, Chanyeol thought, and cursed himself; he hadn’t thought to get Baekhyun’s number before he left that morning. Still, he was sure there would be a reasonable explanation, so he waited.

At 6.30, he was still waiting; the waitresses on duty were beginning to eye him suspiciously, so he ordered another coffee.


Chanyeol waited until 7 o’clock – a full hour, which he thought was above and beyond the call of duty – before giving up and heading towards the counter to pay for his coffees, both of which he’d only drunk half of before letting the rest grow cold. As he stepped outside the diner, he took his phone out of his pocket and dialed Dara’s number for the first time in a while, waiting to hear the message on her answering machine, but this time he didn’t end the call before the beep.

“There were things about you I couldn’t stand too, you know,” he said into the phone, and it was only then that he hung up.


* * * * *



Over the next few nights, Chanyeol avoided visiting the diner after his shift ended. He still looked through the window on his way past, just to see if Baekhyun was in there – which he was, sometimes. Chanyeol didn’t know whether to be relieved that Baekhyun was alive and well, or to feel slighted because he’d probably been stood up. One time, he thought he saw Baekhyun looking repeatedly towards the corner booth where he used to sit, but then perhaps that was wishful thinking – a troublesome affliction worse than daydreaming.

He unwittingly lingered a little too long outside the window one night, wondering if he should go in, and Baekhyun turned his head just in time to see him standing there.

Chanyeol froze on his feet; Baekhyun only smiled and lifted his hand to wave him in. Chanyeol felt his cheeks burning with embarrassment at being caught staring, but he waved back anyway and made his way inside.


When he entered, he found that his usual corner booth was taken by a man who sat alone with his head facedown upon the table. “I feel you,” Chanyeol muttered under his breath, and he sat himself down in the next booth instead.

Baekhyun came hurrying over to him right away this time. “Hi,” he said, looking a little flustered.

Chanyeol smiled, but it didn’t quite reach his eyes. “Hi.”

“Where have you been..?”

“Around. Shouldn’t I be asking you the same thing?”

Baekhyun looked guilty at that, and nodded. “I'm so sorry I couldn’t make it the other day… I should have called you, but I had no number to call. I feel so stupid that I didn’t get it off you before I left your place, but you looked so peaceful, and I know you have trouble sleeping so I didn’t want to wake you, and I didn’t know—”

“It’s fine – calm down,” Chanyeol said, holding a hand up to stop him. “I thought something might have happened, but I wasn’t sure, and I didn’t want to push it if you really weren’t interested..”

Baekhyun shook his head. “No… I was – I am. But if locking myself out wasn't enough, the hot water tank in my apartment decided to burst at the most inopportune time, and I couldn’t shut the bloody thing off – I had to call an emergency plumbing service and wait around for them to show up. It was an absolute nightmare.”

“Ah,” Chanyeol said, and smiled. “Well, that explains a lot.”

“Uh-huh,” Baekhyun sighed. He sank down onto the bench opposite Chanyeol. Chanyeol was tempted to mention that he probably shouldn’t be sitting down on the job, but he decided not to.

“In the end, my apartment got flooded,” Baekhyun said wearily, resting his head in his hands. “The carpet’s all ruined, and the place is even more of a mess than it was before. Not to mention I was stuck with cold showers until the new tank got installed..”

Chanyeol smiled and grabbed both of Baekhyun’s hands, rubbing them gently. “Well, you’re okay, at least. I’m very glad about that.”

Baekhyun nodded, and his expression softened a little. He didn’t pull his hands away. “Why didn’t you come until now? I really started missing you, believe it or not.”

“I’m happy to hear it,” Chanyeol laughed, “but, well… I’m not so good with rejection these days. And I know it wasn’t technically a rejection, but… I don’t know. I don’t know what I was thinking. I was just scared, because I really like you. I really wanted you to like me back.”

“Okay,” Baekhyun said. “We seem to have started out on the wrong foot, and I’m not terribly familiar with the whole dating game, I must admit. But despite what you may think, given my earlier treatment of you, I like you too. And I hope we can try this again.”

Chanyeol nodded. “Of course we can try again. What time do you get off tomorrow night?”

“Tomorrow night... you mean tonight?” Baekhyun asked, his eyebrows raised. “Not late… I'm only working 6 to 10.”

“Perfect,” Chanyeol replied, standing up from his seat. “I’ll come back and pick you up then, if you like. There’s somewhere I want to take you, actually... I think you’ll enjoy it.”

“Um, okay. Sure,” Baekhyun said. “I guess I’ll wait for you here, then.”

“It’s a date,” Chanyeol murmured, and he leaned over to kiss Baekhyun on the cheek, right next to the corner of his mouth. He noted with satisfaction that the boy had turned a perfect shade of pink by the time he pulled away. “If you don’t stand me up again, that is,” he added playfully. “I’ll let you get back to work now.”

“Don’t worry,” Baekhyun promised him, “I won’t be going anywhere until I see you walk through that door.”


* * * * *



“Are we allowed to do this..?” Baekhyun asked.

Chanyeol smiled. “Probably not.”

“What if you get in trouble?” Baekhyun whispered, shining the torch right in Chanyeol’s face. “You might lose your job.”

“Don’t point that thing at me,” Chanyeol said, taking the torch away from him. “You’ll make me go blind. Anyway, it’s no big deal. If I lose my job – which I doubt will happen – I’ll just come and work at the diner with you.”

Baekhyun laughed at the idea. “Um, no way... I can’t flirt with the customers if you’re watching me.”

Chanyeol pouted. “You can flirt with me instead..?”

“Oh, I don’t know about that.”

“Come on. Won’t I have the right to hit on you if I’m a fellow member of staff..?”

“You don’t want to work there,” Baekhyun told him. “I’m sure you get paid better working here.”

“Hmm… probably. Anyway, we’re here,” Chanyeol replied. “Now look up.”

“Wow,” Baekhyun breathed, staring up at the glow-in-the-dark ceiling of the Space Room. “That’s just… wow.”

Chanyeol was smug. “Pretty breathtaking, huh?”

“It certainly beats the hell out of the human anatomy exhibit.”

Chanyeol laughed. “Not quite… there’s nothing quite like a pickled fetus, in my humble opinion.”

They shared their first kiss beneath the recreated universe, and when Chanyeol pulled away Baekhyun was smiling at him, a smile he couldn’t quite decode. But a little mystery was a good thing.

After Chanyeol’s shift ended – they had to sneak out a little early so that the next guard wouldn’t catch him with a visitor – they stood under the bus shelter out the front of the museum, holding hands and kissing until the rain died down a little.

“I’ll take you home, now that it’s stopped pissing down,” Chanyeol said, stepping outside the shelter to look for a cab. “Or you can stay at mine again, if you like.”

Baekhyun thought about the offer for a moment and then agreed. “Maybe I’d better… my place still reeks of wet carpet.”

“Good – then it’s settled. My bed misses you, you know.”

“I’m sure it does.”

“I’ll stay on the couch again, naturally,” Chanyeol said softly. He was toying with Baekhyun’s fingers, and he lifted them up to his lips to kiss them. “What are you doing tomorrow? I mean... today.”

Baekhyun shrugged and watched Chanyeol playing around with his hands. “Nothing, during the day at least. I have a night shift again.”

“Me too. How about we do a late lunch together?”

“Sounds like a plan. Oh, and before we both forget…” Baekhyun said, taking his phone out of his pocket, “I should probably get your number, in case something untoward happens again. Who knows, maybe my heater will explode this time.”

“Right. Of course,” Chanyeol said, and cleared his throat. “No-no-no—”

Baekhyun groaned and rolled his eyes. “That was only funny when I did it.”

Chanyeol laughed and kissed the side of Baekhyun’s head. “Alright – give us your phone,” he said, and Baekhyun handed it to him. Chanyeol keyed in both of his numbers, saved them and handed it back.

“I gave you my home number as well,” he said. “Do you think you can do something for me..?”

Baekhyun nodded. “Of course.”

“Leave me messages on my answering machine,” Chanyeol told him, and smiled. “Lots and lots of messages.”


* * * * *



“Are you sure you don’t want to take the bed this time?” Baekhyun asked. He was leaning against the doorframe of Chanyeol’s bedroom again.

Chanyeol patted the couch cushion beneath him. “Don’t worry about me. I’m perfectly comfortable here.”

Baekhyun nodded and looked shy all of a sudden.

“What’s wrong?” Chanyeol asked.

“You can come and join me,” Baekhyun replied. “I mean… if that’s what you want, then… I don’t mind.”

Chanyeol’s eyes widened, but then he smiled and shook his head. “It’s alright, really… I’m fine. I’ll be right out here if you need me.”

Baekhyun nodded; he didn’t seem put out by Chanyeol’s response. “Okay. Goodnight,” he whispered, and stepped back inside the door.


“Wait,” Chanyeol said, getting up from the couch, and Baekhyun poked his head through the door again.

“Yeah..?”

Chanyeol didn’t say anything else, just took Baekhyun into his arms and kissed him. They stood like that for a while, rocking back and forth on their heels, kissing over and over, and Baekhyun went so weak in his embrace that it was all Chanyeol could do to hold him up. Baekhyun's mouth was warm and wet and tasted like nothing in particular. He smelled wonderful, like coffee, and the rain that had soaked into his hair, and Chanyeol held him close, so close, breathing him in so deep until his lungs couldn't take it anymore.


* * * * *



Chanyeol woke up to the racket coming from the construction site across the street and opened his eyes one at a time. He rolled over in his bed to find that Baekhyun was gone; there was a note left on his pillow that read ‘wish I could have cuddled longer, but had to go home & get ready – see you at 2’.

Chanyeol groaned and rubbed his eyes. He lifted his head to check the time on the clock radio on his bedside table. It was 1.25pm. “Shit,” he muttered, and rolled out of bed, stumbling towards the bathroom.

He emerged twenty minutes later, showered and dressed, running his hands through his damp hair to mess it up a bit. A red number two blinked on the answering machine in the hall. Two messages, Chanyeol thought. That was two more than he usually got.

He pressed the play button to listen to the first message: it was Baekhyun, apologising for leaving before he woke up again, but saying he’d still meet Chanyeol in front of the subway entrance closest to the diner, as planned. Then he stopped speaking, and started playing Daydream Believer through the phone until the message ended.


Chanyeol smiled at that; although he was running a little late, he couldn’t resist playing the message one more time.


The next message was a woman’s voice, one Chanyeol almost didn’t recognise at first. She didn’t mention her name, but spoke as though she knew him, asked him to call her back when he was available. Chanyeol let his finger hover over the play button for a moment, wondering whether he should listen to the message again. Eventually he deleted it, watching the red number two turn into a number one; to this he gave a little nod of satisfaction, grabbing his jacket from the coat rack and throwing it over one shoulder on his way out the door.



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