[personal profile] maayacolabackup



#


Baekhyun had become interested in optics when he was a third-year student in high school.

He’d been watching some British spy thriller with his friends, and while they’d all appreciated the attractive female side-kick, Baekhyun had been far more fascinated by the bizarre field of study that had enabled the lead character to defeat the villainous CEO in the end.

If Baekhyun’d had any idea it would end up with him in his own version of a spy thriller, he would have gone into medicine like his parents had wanted. Maybe pediatrics.

Tao coughs, loudly, and Baekhyun looks up from his notebook, where his intellectual –looking scribbles have devolved into weird pictures of cows, and blinks at his assistant.

“What should I input, hyung?” Tao still sounds strange, when he says that word, but Baekhyun is still pretty impressed with how far Zitao’s come with his Korean.

“Let me,” Baekhyun says, and he reels off the string of numbers from memory, editing the equation with deft hands.

“There’s no red,” Tao says, after a few moments. “There’s no red.”

Red means a conflict. Red means Baekhyun’s got a number wrong or a divisor in the wrong place. Red means there’s a conflict, or a violated rule.

There is no red.

Baekhyun peels his eyes away from the computer. The pen in his left hand digs into his skin as he grips it tight.

“You solved it?” Chanyeol asks, and Baekhyun can barely nod, because this is so much more thrilling, for him, than pediatrics. Baekhyun’s always been a little strange. “Don’t write anything down.”

“I know,” Baekhyun says. “I know that.”

All the pieces of the puzzle are in Baekhyun’s head. It’s heady, being the sole keeper of all that knowledge.

Tao sighs. “This is so cool,” he says. “You are so cool.” Baekhyun rests his hand on Tao’s shoulder and grins at him.

“No,” Baekhyun says. “We’re cool.” He and Tao share a triumphant smile.

“I agree,” Chanyeol says, but there’s worry lurking in his eyes, and he bites down on his lower lip, hand gripping his mobile.

It occurs to Baekhyun that the target on his back just got a little bit bigger, and his smile fades, just a little.

“This is huge,” Tao says. “Huge.

“Yeah,” Baekhyun says, and he tries not to notice Chanyeol’s concerned and heavy gaze.

On the way home, Chanyeol’s hand wraps extra tight around Baekhyun’s arm, and Baekhyun looks up at Chanyeol as the train lurches. “How would they even know?”

“They’ll find out,” Chanyeol says. “You’ve got to report your findings, right? You answer to someone, right?”

“I can hold off for a while,” Baekhyun says. “Maybe until the international conference in Beijing.”

“When is that?”

“Early April,” Baekhyun says. “I know it’s a long time from now, but really, we don’t get checked on too often and we have to do a progress report in February for grants but-“

“If you present at the conference, that would be really public, right?”

“Right,” Baekhyun says.

“SM wouldn’t even be able to kidnap you without getting a substantial number of eyes on them, then.” Chanyeol relaxes his grip just a little. “Can you really hide this that long? Knowing that they’ll be trying to kidnap you and make you complete your research under coercion?”

Baekhyun looks out the train window as the train stops. People flood in and out of the car. Anyone could be watching him, he thinks. Anyone on this train could be waiting for Baekhyun to stop paying attention so they can take him.

But Chanyeol is warm next to him, and his hand hurts a bit, but it’s reassuring too. “That depends,” Baekhyun says. “Are you going to protect me that long?”

“Of course,” Chanyeol says, and he seems affronted at the idea that he wouldn’t. “I’m going to protect you until you no longer need protection.”

Baekhyun licks his lips as the train starts moving again, and then he leans into Chanyeol, enough that the fur of Chanyeol’s coat hood tickles his ear. “Then yes,” Baekhyun says. “I can hide it that long.”

#


The only thing Chanyeol can cook is curry. Baekhyun doesn’t know why he’s surprised, considering that Chanyeol is, in general, a mess, but he is. When Chanyeol presents him with the curry for the first time, Baekhyun is hesitant, but it’s good; really good, and Chanyeol claps enthusiastically as Baekhyun stares at him with amazed eyes.

“I’m better at, you know, secret agent stuff,” Chanyeol tells him. “But I make a mean curry.”

They eat it all, and Baekhyun’s not thinking about physics or cryptography or anything like that. The only thing he can concentrate on is the stick of potato and onion to his molars and the luminosity of Chanyeol’s smile.

Chanyeol uses the spoons as drumsticks as they wash up.

“Do you play the drums?” Baekhyun asks, and Chanyeol winks.

“Maybe,” Chanyeol says.

“No personal information,” Baekhyun says. “Sorry.” He grabs a plate, and Chanyeol stills.

“That’s right,” Chanyeol says. “Professional reasons.”

“But you know everything about me,” Baekhyun says, and he tries not to whine.

“I learn something new about you every day,” Chanyeol says. “And you learn things about me, too. Just not things that could be used to track down my family.”

“Yeah,” Baekhyun says. “Right.” He tries to break the somberness that’s settled down on them. “Like the fact that you dress like a colorblind seven year old.”

“Hey!” Chanyeol says, and he puts his hand under the tap. The water sprays at Baekhyun, and Baekhyun screeches.

“Shut up!” Jongin yells from his room, and Baekhyun smiles, and pushes the other thoughts; the miserable ones, about kidnapping and Chanyeol and secrets, aside, at least for now.

#


Baekhyun had figured it was only a matter of time before Jongin had complained enough about Chanyeol to anyone who would listen that their friends would demand to meet him. That it takes four weeks is a miracle, and probably due to the fact that Kyungsoo’s been out of town on business, and Sehun is spoiled rotten and makes everyone else decide plans because he’s too lazy to make any himself.

“Drinks tonight,” Jongin says, when Baekhyun and Chanyeol walk in the door. Chanyeol rubs at his nose, trying to get the heat to return. He looks really cute, Baekhyun thinks. There’s a childlike innocence to Chanyeol sometimes that Baekhyun finds utterly charming.

Baekhyun has always forced himself to be an adult, but with Chanyeol, it feels okay to be young.

“Tonight?” Baekhyun asks, and he swallows. “What if I have plans?”

“Sitting next to Chanyeol on the couch while forcing him to watch the current SBS teenager drama is not ‘plans’, Baekhyun,” Jongin says, and Baekhyun points his index finger at Jongin.

“I don’t force him,” Baekhyun defends. “Chanyeol likes those dramas, too.”

Chanyeol coughs conspicuously into his fist. “I’m sure I could miss tonight,” he says.

Baekhyun glances up at him questioningly, trying to ask with his eyes if a bar is really okay. “Yeah?”

“Mmhmm,” Chanyeol replies, and Jongin looks grim.

“Baekhyun did you really just look up and ask your pet if it was okay to go?”

“Don’t make me come over there,” Baekhyun replies mildly, and Jongin grins insolently and disappears into his room.

Chanyeol takes his coat off, hanging it by the door, and bends over to untie his shoes. Even like this, he looks so tall. Baekhyun’s not really short—just an average sized guy, but Chanyeol is all long limbs topped with a floppy head of light-brown hair. His roots have grown out, Baekhyun thinks, but when Chanyeol looks up at him with his usual toothy smile, Baekhyun supposes it’s not a big deal.

“Is it really okay?” he asks. “There are a lot of people, in a bar.”

“You have to live your life or they’ll get suspicious. They’ll get desperate. I can manage. I’ll call Kris so we have an extra set of eyes.”

“Okay,” Baekhyun says.

They go into Baekhyun’s room, and Chanyeol roots around in his suitcase, throwing things in a small pile next to it. “But what if your friends don’t like me?” Chanyeol says, and it comes out as a whine. Baekhyun isn’t expecting the question, so it tricks a laugh out of him, because Chanyeol sounds like his actual boyfriend. Baekhyun’s stomach does a weird clench at the thought, but he shrugs it off.

Chanyeol holds up two equally horrific looking shirts in contemplation.

“If you wear either of those, I won’t even like you,” Baekhyun says, and Chanyeol snorts, dropping the two T-shirts back into his suitcase. “This is a hypothetical scenario,” Baekhyun adds, “but what if, what if, you folded those?”

“The world would end,” Chanyeol replies, and then he pulls out a powder blue button up and tilts his head in question.

Baekhyun nods. “Odds of acceptance have just drastically improved,” Baekhyun says.

“Phew,” Chanyeol says, and Baekhyun laughs, and it seems like he’s always laughing these days.

It’s nice, he thinks. Despite all the danger, it’s nice.

#


Kris is wearing khakis. Designer khakis. “It’s winter,” Baekhyun says, and looks down at his own tight black trousers, made of a thick material that fits just right. “You’re going to freeze.”

“One must make sacrifices in the name of fashion,” Kris says, deadpan, and Baekhyun wonders if Kris just lives his life like he’s constantly on a runway. “Can I come in?”

“Yes, please,” Baekhyun says. “Chanyeol’s in the bathroom.”

Kris sighs, and looks Baekhyun up and down critically. “You look none the worse for wear.” Kris turns his head to a three-quarter angle. Baekhyun wonders if that’s his good side. “Not that I expected you to.”

“Still trying to figure out why Chanyeol stayed and not you,” Baekhyun says. “Not that Chanyeol isn’t great,” and Baekhyun doesn’t blush, definitely not, “but you seem so much more put together?”

“I’m always on the outside,” Kris says. “Chanyeol is always the one to go undercover.”

“But…”

“You’re not really going to suspect a guy like Chanyeol of being one of EXO’s top protection specialists, are you?” Kris asks, and his hair, slicked back from his forehead, doesn’t move, even when Kris tilts his head.

“Top?”

“Chanyeol’s… good with people,” Kris says. He sounds a bit envious, like a guy who has been left hanging for far too many high-fives. “Much better than most of us. We’re all gruff action, but Chanyeol makes you trust him.”

“Ah,” Baekhyun says, fiddling with the hem of his shirt. The silky material feels nice between his fingers.

Kris smiles, and it looks weird on his face. “I mean, you trust him, don’t you?”

“Yeah,” Baekhyun says, and he thinks about the serious gleam Chanyeol gets in his eyes every time he promises Baekhyun he’ll protect him. “I do.”

#


“So,” Kyungsoo says. “You, um, like boys.” Kyungsoo darts his eyes over at Chanyeol, who is thankfully out of earshot. Not that Baekhyun thinks Chanyeol has any sense of shame. “Tall boys.”

“Surprise of my life,” Jongin says, squeezing in next to Kyungsoo on the other side of the booth, wriggling until Kyungsoo makes a bit more room. Chanyeol, Kris and Sehun are talking at the bar, collecting drinks for the six of them. Baekhyun knows Chanyeol hasn’t taken his eyes off of him, and he knows what that probably looks like to his friends. He squirms.

“It’s just that I had no idea you were even gay,” Kyungsoo says, eyes round and inquisitive, like he’s a morning talk show host and Baekhyun is his guest. Pretty soon Kyungsoo’s going to ask him to talk about his feelings, and Baekhyun’s not prepared to spin that kind of lie. “We’ve known each other for seven years now, and one would assume something like that would come up.” He takes a sip of his cosmopolitan. “All that time wasted setting you up with girls.”

“I like girls,” Baekhyun says. “I’m not gay.” Jongin gives him a hard look. “I just have a…” He turns, a bit, and catches Chanyeol’s gaze. It might be a trick of the dim light in the Apgujeong bar, but Baekhyun thinks Chanyeol’s smile grows a little wider. “Have a boyfriend.”

“Well,” Kyungsoo says, giving Baekhyun a very intense, protective look, “he’s very…”

“Loud,” Jongin says. “Clumsy. A fashion nightmare. A menace in the kitchen.”

“I was going to say friendly,” Kyungsoo says. “He seems very friendly.”

“All of the above,” Baekhyun says, and takes the last sip of his own drink.

“But especially loud,” Jongin says, scrunching his nose. He’s frowning, but Baekhyun thinks Chanyeol is growing on him because there’s not enough venom in his voice to be convincing. “All the time. At all hours of the day, he is loud.”

“That’s all right,” Baekhyun finds himself saying. “My life had been getting a little bit quiet.”

It sounds sappy, but he doesn’t have time to regret it, as the other three return to the table carrying two drinks apiece.

Chanyeol gets along great with Baekhyun’s friends. Even Jongin, really, who playfights with him the whole night as Sehun asks sly, upsetting questions about their sex life and Kyungsoo tries to cover Sehun’s mouth to stifle the words. Kris takes it all in stride, fielding questions with one word answers as Chanyeol rolls his eyes.

“Our friend Lay always tells people that Kris’s hobby is trying to be cool,” Chanyeol informs Sehun as Kris tries to wrap his giant hands around Chanyeol’s neck. “That’s why he’s avoiding all your questions-”

“I could tell them things, Chanyeol,” Kris says warningly. “Things you wouldn’t want your boyfriend to know.”

Chanyeol goes such a dark red that Baekhyun’s stomach does that unexpected wobble again, and Baekhyun hurriedly takes another sip of his drink.

Soon, Baekhyun stops looking around uneasily for kidnappers and gets lost in the conversation. Chanyeol keeps his arm around Baekhyun’s shoulders the whole night, which Kyungsoo seems to approve of and Sehun doesn’t know what to make of, and Baekhyun finds himself ordering another drink, then another, until he’s half asleep against Chanyeol’s side.

“Time to go home,” Chanyeol says, and laughingly drags Baekhyun out of the bar. Kris and Jongin follow as Kyungsoo and Sehun say goodbye and head toward the main road, where they’re more likely to get a taxi. Kris had driven Baekhyun, Chanyeol and Jongin, and Baekhyun is pretty sure Kris is sober, having drunk nothing but soda all night.

Baekhyun’s world is spinning, but Chanyeol seems unfazed, even though Baekhyun was sure Chanyeol had been matching him drink for drink.

“You’re sober,” Baekhyun accuses, as Chanyeol waits for Kris to bring the car around.

“Obviously,” Chanyeol says. “My drinks didn’t have any alcohol in them. I’m on duty.”

“You’re always on duty,” Baekhyun mumbles, and Chanyeol’s arms settle around his waist, fingers splayed across his hip.

“Yes,” Chanyeol says. “I am.” There’s something in his voice that Baekhyun hears but doesn’t quite catch.

Chanyeol sits in the backseat with Baekhyun, and Jongin sits in the front with Kris. Baekhyun falls against Chanyeol with every swerve of the car until Chanyeol just drags him close, Baekhyun’s cheek pressing to Chanyeol’s chest. Chanyeol smells like strawberry daiquiris. Baekhyun guesses virgin ones.

“You smell pretty,” Baekhyun murmurs, and Chanyeol’s chest shakes with laughter.

“You smell like vodka.”

They stumble into the house, and Baekhyun vaguely realizes Kris is bidding them farewell as Chanyeol leads him into his room and shoves him down onto the bed, albeit gently.

“Hey,” Baekhyun says. “We haven’t been dating long enough for you to push me around in the bedroom.”

“Oh my god,” Chanyeol says. “I can’t believe you just said that.”

“I’m just kidding.” Baekhyun’s lips are numb, and his eyes are heavy. He feels stupid and helpless in front of Chanyeol, who’s studying him warmly. Baekhyun’s face must be so red. Tomorrow he’ll blame it on the alcohol.

“I know,” Chanyeol laughs and pulls off Baekhyun’s socks. “You’re so cute,” he says. “When you’re relaxed you’re even cuter.”

“It’s been hard to relax lately,” Baekhyun says, concentrating on keeping his speech from slurring. “Everything’s so scary.”

“You don’t have to be scared,” Chanyeol says. “I won’t let anything happen to you.”

“You’re like a hero in a comic or something,” Baekhyun says, and Chanyeol’s ears go delightfully pink as he reaches up and takes off Baekhyun’s watch, setting it on the bedside table. “Only more goofy.”

“Thanks?” Chanyeol says, and then he’s lifting Baekhyun’s legs onto the bed, and tugging the covers out from underneath him. “Let’s get you tucked in.”

Chanyeol’s hands are so warm. He’d liked the way Chanyeol had smelled in the car. Like strawberries. “Just sleep here,” Baekhyun mumbles, curling onto his side. “Don’t sleep on the floor.”

“But…” Chanyeol’s hands pause in his quest to free the blankets. “Is that… That would be inappropriate.”

“Two guys can share a bed,” Baekhyun says, closing his eyes as things keep spinning. “It’s a big bed.”

“If you’re sure,” Chanyeol says dubiously, and Baekhyun can hear Chanyeol’s jeans hit the floor.

“I’m drunk,” Baekhyun says. “I’m more sure about everything.”

“I’m sober,” Chanyeol says, “so I’m here to worry about consequences.”

“Just get in my bed,” Baekhyun says. “Don’t take that-“ His mouth trips over the words. “Don’t take that any kind of weird way.”

“I won’t,” Chanyeol says, and then the bed shifts under Chanyeol’s weight as he gets in. Chanyeol’s warm, smooth leg brushes his own, and Baekhyun wants to turn and curl into him. He doesn’t, though. “Goodnight, Baekhyun.”

“Goodnight,” Baekhyun whispers, and before he can think anything else, he’s fallen asleep.

#


Baekhyun wakes up feeling impossibly hot. His mouth feels like it’s filled with sandpaper, although there’s also a stale hint of cranberry juice behind his teeth.

And there’s a grown man in his bed. Baekhyun screams.

Chanyeol sits up, suddenly tense, and Baekhyun slowly remembers Chanyeol rolling off his socks and crawling into bed with him. His hands come up to cover his mouth as Chanyeol slowly unwinds from maximum alertness. “You scared me,” Chanyeol chides, as Jongin bursts into the room.

“What the hell?” Jongin asks. His hair is going in every direction, and then his eyes fall on Chanyeol and Baekhyun. “Oh thank goodness you’re clothed.”

Baekhyun covers his face in mortification.

“I think Baekhyun is still a little hungover,” Chanyeol says.

“You’re supposed to freak out when you wake up next to a big ugly stranger,” Jongin says, laughing through a yawn. “But not if you’ve already been sleeping with that big ugly stranger for a month.”

Baekhyun pulls the sheet up to hide his face. “Stop. I’m sorry.”

“It’s okay, Baekhyun. I’d scream if I woke up to Chanyeol’s ears, too. I guess it’s not the sort of thing you can get used to.”

“I was just really confused,” Baekhyun says. “I…” he scrambles for an explanation. “I don’t really remember how we got home last night.”

Chanyeol’s palm is on his stomach, rubbing in gentle circles across the fabric of Baekhyun’s undershirt.

“Chanyeol’s equally tall, stone-faced friend drove us home,” Jongin says.

“And then you fell asleep,” Chanyeol says. “I’m sorry, I took off your shirt because I knew you’d be mad if you slept in it.” Baekhyun’s silky overshirt is folded over the back of his desk chair. He swallows.

“I thought you were being murdered,” Jongin says. “I guess I should just be glad you weren’t getting laid.”

Baekhyun would very much like to go back to sleep and never wake up. Jongin will never let him live it down. He can see the ‘Baekhyun’s a screamer in bed’ jokes as if they’ve already happened.

“You slept like a corpse,” Chanyeol says. “You didn’t even make your cute little puppy noises.”

“What?” Baekhyun’s head is fuzzy, still. All he can see is Chanyeol beaming, looking down on him. He’s still wearing his shirt from last night, but it’s completely unbuttoned, and Baekhyun’s eyes take in the smooth flat planes of Chanyeol’s chest. “I am a silent sleeper.”

“No,” Chanyeol and Jongin say in unison, and then Jongin smiles wryly. Chanyeol is definitely growing on him, Baekhyun thinks.

“Well, it’s Saturday, so I’m going back to bed,” Jongin says. “Try not scream anymore, Baekhyun.”

“Sorry,” Baekhyun says, and Chanyeol flops back down on the bed. His arm is so warm across Baekhyun’s stomach.

“Feel okay?” Chanyeol says, and Baekhyun’s really hungover.

“No,” Baekhyun says. “Not at all.”

“Poor baby,” Chanyeol says, pushing Baekhyun’s hair out of his eyes. Baekhyun feels sweaty and gross, but Chanyeol’s smooth thin legs are tangled with his own and he doesn’t want to move. “Go back to sleep.”

“Okay,” Baekhyun mumbles, and maybe it’s because he’s so tired, but he doesn’t even think before he buries his face back into the hollow of Chanyeol’s neck. Chanyeol’s arm tightens for a moment, but then he relaxes, and Baekhyun drifts off.

Chanyeol’s skin is warm.

#


The snow melts, and turns into a slush; the last throes of winter. The iciest of the Seoul winter winds have abated, and walking outside isn’t as much of a chore as it has been.

Chanyeol, true to form, has made friends with all the vegetable and fruit vendors who live on the sides of the road on the way to Namseong station, and it’s good that it’s less cold, because it takes them twice as long to get down the hill.

Things at the lab are going well as they kick their research into high gear, Baekhyun and Tao testing and testing again; running as many live tests on their limited budget as they can in between the classes Baekhyun has to teach, now that school is back in session. Half of his students are the same age as he is, but Baekhyun just swallows down his nerves and smiles, focusing on Chanyeol who sits in the front row of all his lectures with his hand resting on his open palm.

Baekhyun expects to get tired of Chanyeol, but he doesn’t. Chanyeol, with his terrible clothes and his goofy grins, is so unpredictable that Baekhyun feels like every day is an adventure.

It falls into a routine. One Baekhyun, if he’s honest with himself, likes better than any other routine he’s had before.

Maybe it’s the routine that lulls him into a false sense of security. Baekhyun almost forgets that there are people watching them; people who want the secrets Baekhyun’s got hidden up in his head. He forgets because Chanyeol is so distracting, with his laughing and playing and general jovial noisiness that fills Baekhyun’s life with sound.

He thinks, (when he lets himself think about it), that Chanyeol is doing it on purpose, only reminding him of the danger when he teaches Baekhyun something, like how to check the seal of his water bottle to make sure it’s never been opened (“They might put drugs in there!” Chanyeol cheerfully says, like that’s not terrifying) or other little things that remind Baekhyun that Chanyeol’s not just here to personally entertain Baekhyun.

He’s here to protect him.

It’s early spring now, and Chanyeol’s coat is only zipped up three-quarters of the way. “You’ll catch a cold,” Baekhyun says, and steps closer. He can smell Chanyeol’s shampoo, and on instinct, maybe, Chanyeol’s hands come up to Baekhyun’s hips and rest there. Baekhyun licks his lips, and then zips the coat the rest of the way. Chanyeol’s looking at him with wide eyes, and his face is a little pink.

“Thanks,” Chanyeol says, and his voice cracks, and Baekhyun thinks Chanyeol looks a little unnerved, but then Chanyeol smiles and ups the ante, pressing a kiss to Baekhyun’s forehead that leaves him feeling like he might need to undo the top few buttons of his own coat. “Best boyfriend,” Chanyeol mumbles, and Baekhyun wonders how Chanyeol is so good at playing this game as Jongin pretends to gag from the kitchen.

They walk to the train, as usual, and Chanyeol stays too close, as usual. The old woman at the fruit stall waves cheerfully, and Chanyeol does his weird ‘buing buing’ motion at her, making her laugh.

Everything is fine, normal, until they get to Isu. “Baekhyun-“ Chanyeol starts to say, and then someone who isn’t Chanyeol grabs Baekhyun’s shoulder, right at his neck.

Chanyeol reacts more quickly than Baekhyun’s ever seen, shoving the guy back. Baekhyun is pulled into Chanyeol’s chest, so he can’t see what’s happening, but then Chanyeol is yelling for help, and maybe the guy runs, because there’s a crowd of curious onlookers when Chanyeol loosens his grip enough that Baekhyun can turn around.

“Your neck,” Chanyeol says, staring closely. “He was trying to knock you out.”

“This isn’t Star Trek, Chanyeol. There’s no such thing as the Vulcan Nerve Pinch.” It’s a testament to Chanyeol’s concern that he doesn’t laugh at the nerdiness level of Baekhyun’s joke. Baekhyun himself feels a little bit hysterical. His breath is coming faster and faster, and Chanyeol rubs his hand on Baekhyun’s back to calm him down.

“He would have used this,” Chanyeol says, and he holds up the tiniest needle Baekhyun has ever seen. “It’s probably got some kind of tranquilizer in it. You would have been pliant.” Baekhyun hadn’t even seen Chanyeol take that. Everything had happened so fast.

“But you were here,” Baekhyun murmurs, leaning into Chanyeol’s embrace. “You were here.”

“Of course,” Chanyeol says, and his voice is a little choked. “You’re fine. You’re okay, Baekhyun.”

“Why did you yell for help?” Baekhyun asks, when they’ve finished giving a mostly superficial report to station security, and they’ve gotten on their next train.

“You have to make it look like luck,” Chanyeol says. “Like you’re not expecting them. Otherwise they’ll figure out I’m not just an incredibly devoted boyfriend.”

“Right,” Baekhyun says, and Chanyeol’s expression is so grim. “You looked like an EXO agent, then.” Baekhyun’s hands are still shaking. Chanyeol grabs them between his own to steady them.

“Really?” Chanyeol says, face lighting up. “Did I look cool?”

“No,” Baekhyun says, but the lilt in his voice gives him away. Chanyeol laughs and pulls him into a hug.

“You were really brave,” Chanyeol says, and Baekhyun’s cheek is mashed against Chanyeol’s heart, and Chanyeol’s heart is beating so fast.

“All I did was hide in your chest,” Baekhyun replies. “You’re the one that shoved him away and did… whatever you did.”

“You knew that I could handle it.” Chanyeol’s voice is insistent. “You’re the brains of this whole operation,” Chanyeol says. “I’m just the brawn.” He runs a hand through his hair. “You’ve taken this so much better than anyone I’ve ever protected. Anyone.”

“It’s because of you,” Baekhyun says, and it sounds soppy so he studies his shoes instead of looking at Chanyeol’s face.

When they arrive at the lab, Tao has some of the testing equipment they’ve been using the past few weeks already set up, to make sure Baekhyun’s equation works in practice, not just in theory. To see if it can really tamper-proof information sent along an optic wire.

“You’re late.” He looks closer. “There’s a bruise on your neck.” Now he looks fretful, shifting from foot to foot.

“We were mugged,” Chanyeol lies easily. Baekhyun’s surprised at how well words always just seem to roll off of Chanyeol’s tongue. “At Isu.”

“Wow,” Tao says, eyes wide. He walks up to Baekhyun and checks him over for injuries. Baekhyun thinks he looks like he’s about to cry, but Tao cries pretty easily. “Are you okay?”

“We’re both fine,” Baekhyun reassures him. “Chanyeol was really rough on the guy.”

“He tried to hurt you,” Chanyeol says, and Baekhyun shivers at the huskiness in his voice. “That is unacceptable.” He sounds possessive. Baekhyun’s not sure what he thinks of it, but he can feel his gut clench, and tries to take a deep breath.

“I’m fine,” Baekhyun says. “I’m fine.” If he repeats it enough times, he’ll start to believe it. It’s how Baekhyun had gotten through grad school in half the time it took everyone else. Sheer willpower.

When Tao goes to the restroom, Chanyeol pulls Baekhyun into a backward hug, chest to Baekhyun’s spine. “They’re getting desperate for the knowledge you’ve got in your head,” Chanyeol says.

“You protected me, though,” Baekhyun says. “You kept me safe.”

“That’s my job,” Chanyeol says, but there’s a sureness and solidity to his words that makes Baekhyun’s toes curl.

#


Chanyeol doesn’t ever tell Baekhyun much about the people who are trying to kidnap him.

Whenever Baekhyun asks, Chanyeol just says “they’re the sort of people you don’t want to know more about,” and smiles, but it’s the smile that Baekhyun is coming to recognize as his people-pleaser smile. It’s fake, and Baekhyun doesn’t like that smile nearly as much as the one Chanyeol makes when he wakes Baekhyun up in the morning, looking straight at him from the other side of the bed where he’s been sleeping since that first time, fingers curled around Baekhyun’s wrist or arm or waist.

But then, Chanyeol toys with the inside seam of Baekhyun’s jeans, and tells Baekhyun a funny story about Kris, and Baekhyun finds himself just trusting Chanyeol, more than he’s ever trusted anyone else.

#


“I like him,” Kyungsoo says. “I’ve been reserving judgment, but I like him.”

“Yeah?” Baekhyun asks. Chanyeol is playing basketball with Jongin. They’re both terrible at it, which makes it fun to watch. Chanyeol looks over at Baekhyun and Kyungsoo every few minutes, checking on him.

“Yeah,” Kyungsoo says. “You’re a guy in your twenties who has done nothing but work since forever. You make acquaintances easy, but you never follow up on them.” Kyungsoo sighs, prairie-dog eyes round and thoughtful. “You’re close to him. I’m glad you’re actually close to someone.”

“Hmm,” Baekhyun says, and he focuses his eyes on the travesty of basketball in front of him. “Actually close.” Baekhyun wonders if it counts. Baekhyun really likes Chanyeol, but Chanyeol is here because it’s his job, so it’s not like Baekhyun can afford to get this attached. “I don’t want to get hurt.”

“None of us do,” Kyungsoo says. “But you don’t win big if you don’t take chances.”

#


“You can’t come in with me,” Baekhyun says. “It’s a one-on-one meeting.”

“I’ll be right here,” Chanyeol says. “I hate this.”

“I’m not going to get kidnapped in the office of the head of the physics department,” Baekhyun says, in what he hopes is a reassuring tone. He’s no Chanyeol, and he doesn’t really know if he believes what he’s saying.

Still, he leaves Chanyeol at the door, and steps inside the wide office. It’s bright in here, because there are so many windows. This office, which Dr. Jung shares with Dr. Shim, is bigger than Baekhyun’s lab.

That’s how seniority works, he supposes.

“Dr. Jung?” Baekhyun clears his throat, and Dr. Jung looks up from his papers.

“Ah, Dr. Byun. Good, right on time, as always.” Dr. Jung’s hair is spiked straight up today. Baekhyun thinks he looks a bit like an android. “I hope you have good news for me.”

“I’ve…” Baekhyun licks his lips. “I’ve made a breakthrough with my research.”

“Oh?” Dr. Jung asks. “What kind of breakthrough?”

“I don’t wish to elaborate quite yet, but I’m going to need a presentation slot at the conference this year.”

Jung Yunho’s eyebrows rise on his forehead. “Oh, really? A big breakthrough then?”

“You know I’ve been working with optical fibers,” Baekhyun says. “I’ve… discovered something.”

Dr. Jung studies him for a moment. “Ah, the secrecy of researchers,” he says. “I understand. You’re not going to embarrass the department, are you?”

“Absolutely not, sir. I’ll have an abstract of the presentation to you before it’s time to leave.”

“Great,” Dr. Jung Yunho says. “I’ll get everything ready to send you to the conference then. Get you that presentation slot.”

“Thank you, Dr. Jung,” Baekhyun says, and then he bows, and retreats from the windowed office.

Chanyeol is waiting outside. “Well?”

“We’re on for the conference,” Baekhyun says.

“Good,” Chanyeol says. “It’s time we ended this.”

#


“So what do you think?” Chanyeol asks Kris. Kris and Chanyeol are standing on either side of Baekhyun as Chanyeol discusses conference dates.

Kris is here because they’re at an amusement park. Kyungsoo had insisted they celebrate the beginning of true spring with some outdoor activity, and Baekhyun had expected Chanyeol to say it wasn’t safe but Chanyeol hadn’t. He’d just called Kris, and Baekhyun could hear them arguing in the hall, but when Chanyeol came back into the living room, he’d offered Baekhyun a thumbs up.

“It’ll be really hard to ensure Dr. Byun’s security in China,” Kris says. “Baekhyun would be in much more danger.”

“But it would be the best opportunity to get the information out there. Baekhyun’s pivotal research would be public knowledge, and there’d be no reason to kidnap him.

“Can’t he just write a paper, or something?” Kris sighs. “I don’t really get academia.”

“I could,” Baekhyun says, “but then you wouldn’t have the opportunity to catch one of them.”

Chanyeol is silent. Baekhyun is pretty sure he doesn’t like this idea, but the thing Baekhyun likes about Chanyeol is that he never treats Baekhyun like a child who can’t make his own decisions, even when he’s clingy and pulling Baekhyun this way and that.

Sehun and Tao, who Sehun’s sort of adopted, call Kris over to them, and Kris sighs. “We’ll talk later,” he warns Chanyeol, and Chanyeol nods.

“Thank you,” Baekhyun says, as Kris walks a little faster to catch up with Tao, who’s lingering as Sehun walks ahead. Sehun grabs Tao and Kris’s arms, and walks between them.

“For what?” Chanyeol says, and Baekhyun waits for him to look over and grins.

“For everything,” Baekhyun says. Chanyeol’s eyelashes flutter, and he visibly swallows, before his eyes dart away. “What?”

“It’s just that you’ve…” Chanyeol swallows, and Baekhyun’s not sure if he’s ever seen Chanyeol look so unsettled. “You’ve got such a pretty smile. The prettiest smile.”

“Oh,” Baekhyun says, and he looks at Chanyeol, who flushes under the scrutiny. “Oh.” Baekhyun’s palms are sweaty, and his throat feels tight. Chanyeol doesn’t meet his gaze, staring at his pink converse clad feet and twiddling his thumbs around each other. “Thanks.”

Chanyeol peeks up at him, now, almost shyly, and Baekhyun’s heart stutters at the softness of Chanyeol’s gaze. “Yeah,” Chanyeol says, and he puffs his cheeks out, like he always does when he’s thinking, and Baekhyun wonders what’s on his mind.

Baekhyun kind of… hopes it’s him. As soon as the thought pops up, Baekhyun squashes it down.

“Why is it so tense?” Jongin asks, stepping out of the restroom and shoving his hands into his pockets. “Are you guys fighting? Did Baekhyun finally realize how big your ears are, Chanyeol?”

Chanyeol’s face switches expressions completely, slight flush and thoughtful look disappearing under a playful scowl. “Kim Jongin, don’t make me come over there.” He feigns a forward movement up as Jongin laughs, and pretends to reach for Jongin’s neck.

“Whatever,” Jongin says. “Let’s get on some rides.”

#


The lab is destroyed. Baekhyun’s hands shake as they hold on to the door frame, Chanyeol’s arm preventing him from entering. Tao stands nervously to the side.

“I’m calling Dr. Jung,” Tao says, digging out his mobile.

“Because it’s a building security issue. Right,” Baekhyun says hollowly, and Chanyeol sighs. Tao wanders away, holding the mobile up to his ear.

“It looks like, failing to get you,” Chanyeol says, “they wanted your notes.” He keeps his arm up, like he thinks Baekhyun would want to walk in to his ruined workplace. He doesn’t. “I should call Kris.”

“You might want to wait until after Dr. Jung has come and gone,” Baekhyun says numbly. Every time he manages to push the reason Chanyeol is here with him at all away, something terrifying happens to remind him. Baekhyun figures that’s probably for the best.

Dr. Jung is appropriately appalled. He only steps a bit into the lab before he shakes his head and walks back out, saying he’s going to call campus security and try and get to the bottom of things. He takes Tao with him to give a report on how he’d found things, leaving Baekhyun to shiver and wait here with Chanyeol.

Chanyeol calls Kris. Kris takes one look around and crosses his arms.

“Change in plans. Chanyeol’s crazy idea isn’t going to work after all. This conference just keeps sounding more and more reckless.”

“It’s not reckless,’ Chanyeol says. “It’s calculated risk so that Dr. Byun, here, can keep living a normal life. So we don’t have to lock him up in EXO headquarters because that’s ‘safer’.”

“We have to give up on all of this. No conference.” There’s a stubborn set to Kris’s mouth that fills Baekhyun with alarm.

“What do you want me to do? Just publish my research and disappear? Not a chance in hell,” Baekhyun says. “I’m going to present at the conference. I’m going to make this technology public knowledge.”

“That’s stupid,” Kris says, frustratedly scratching at the back of his neck. “That’s stupid, and dangerous, and-“ He huffs. “They’ll get you on the way there, or while you’re there. What better time? You, away from an environment you know. Away from an environment Chanyeol and I know. We should take you and put you into protective custody right now. Chanyeol was willing to give up his life so you could keep yours, but the risk is too high-“

“Enough,” Chanyeol says. “You’ve said enough. Those were my choices, and they’re not up for discussion.”

Baekhyun has questions he wants to ask. He wants to know what Kris means, about Chanyeol giving up his life. He remembers, all of a sudden, that Chanyeol has a sister. Baekhyun wonders if he’s even talked to her, all this time he’s been living with Baekhyun; doing everything with Baekhyun and living Baekhyun’s life instead of his own. Baekhyun hadn’t really been considering that.

Baekhyun feels selfish.

“Chanyeol,” Kris says, and Chanyeol doesn’t reply. Baekhyun looks away from Kris, and toward Chanyeol.

”I’ll protect you,” Chanyeol says, when Baekhyun turns to him. “Whatever you want to do, I’ll find a way to protect you.”

Baekhyun bites down on his lower lip. “I won’t be scared into compliance,” Baekhyun says. “Just because I’m a quiet researcher. Yes, the kind who goes to work and goes straight home, and doesn’t have a girlfriend, watches dramas aimed at middle aged women, and studies weird stuff that no one else usually even cares about,” and Baekhyun smiles at Chanyeol, tremulously, as he throws Chanyeol’s description of Baekhyun back at him, and Chanyeol’s laughing. “That doesn’t mean I’m a pushover. SM Corporation can’t have my research, and can’t take my life from me.”

“They’re going to get even more desperate,” Kris says, but he seems to be talking mostly to himself. “They’re going to, hopefully, get careless. If we can find a way to catch them…” He looks nervous. “If we can even just get you through the conference… you’d be pretty safe, after your presentation. You wouldn’t have anything that no one else has. But if we could shine some light on SM…”

There’s heat, and Chanyeol is holding Baekhyun’s arm, having moved to stand beside Baekhyun instead of Kris. “We can do it,” Baekhyun says, and he hopes it’s true. The conference is in two weeks.

He just needs to survive two more weeks of kidnapping attempts, and two more weeks of his increasingly unavoidable feelings about Chanyeol. He’s at least seventy percent sure he can do it. In science, those are amazing odds.

“I’m going to have to be extra affectionate at the airport,” Chanyeol says, almost airily, and Baekhyun knows that shouldn’t cause butterflies in his stomach, but it does, as Chanyeol’s shoulder presses against his own. “Security reasons.”

“I’m sure it’ll be a hardship for you,” Baekhyun replies, trying to match his easy tone, and Kris looks at them both speculatively. His eyebrows furrow, but then his face smoothes, like he’s purposefully letting whatever has occurred to him go.

“This is going to mean a lot of extra work,” Kris says, and he’s pensive; apprehensive. Baekhyun doesn’t know what Chanyeol’s thinking; he knows only that Chanyeol’s hand is steady and comforting as those thick fingers close around Baekhyun’s forearm, and Baekhyun feels brave.

“You can use me as bait,” Baekhyun says. “You can use me to catch them.” Chanyeol’s hand tightens. “At least one of them. For information or something.”

“You’re not a toy,” Chanyeol says. “Not a worm on a hook.” But Kris nods, slowly and thoughtfully.

“I’ll talk to headquarters,” Kris says. “Chanyeol…”

“I’ll take care of him,” Chanyeol says. “It’s my job.” Baekhyun turns to looks at Chanyeol, and Chanyeol is looking down on him, a faint downturn to his lips.

“Well, then,” Baekhyun says, and pulls his arm free of Chanyeol’s casual grip, “I’ve got a presentation to finalize.”

“Right,” Kris says, and he’s gone, leaving Chanyeol and Baekhyun alone in the lab. Baekhyun goes into his bag, and boots his laptop, sliding down against the hall wall to sit on the dirty floor, ignoring the heavy weight of Chanyeol’s eyes on him.

“It’ll be so dangerous,” Chanyeol says. “That conference will be full of people, and any of them could be a risk.”

Baekhyun pauses, then types in his password. “You’ll protect me, though,” Baekhyun says. “I’ll be the brains and you’ll be the brawn.”

Chanyeol laughs, and it’s a little too loud, but at the end, it doesn’t sound forced, and he’s clapping his hands cheerfully in that way he has that makes Baekhyun feel like nothing can be too wrong. “You got it,” he says. “Make that presentation good, Doctor Byun.”

“Will do, darling,” Baekhyun says, and Chanyeol’s smile is so bright that Baekhyun, who is used to all manners of light, is left a bit blinded.

#


“I wish you had said no just this once,” Baekhyun says. “It’s too dangerous, Baekhyun. We can’t go to the university gala, Baekhyun. We should stay home and watch Dream High reruns, Baekhyun.”

“I will never, ever say that last thing,” Chanyeol says. “And I do my best to avoid the other ones, too.”

“Why?” Baekhyun says, doing up the buttons on the cuffs of his tuxedo shirt. “Why do you do so much?”

Chanyeol pauses, hands midway through tying his bowtie. His hair is pulled up into a ponytail, and Baekhyun shouldn’t like it, but he does, Chanyeol’s ears and all. “What do you mean?” he says.

“Kris said… And I’ve realized that…” Baekhyun gulps, and turns to pick up his cufflinks from where he’s laid them on his bed. “This is my life. Wouldn’t it have been easier for you to take me into custody, like Kris said?”

“Yeah,” Chanyeol says. “But don’t you want to keep living your life?” Baekhyun’s fingers tremble on the cufflinks. He takes a deep breath.

“Why would you do that for a stranger?”

“At first,” Chanyeol says, stepping back from the mirror and turning toward Baekhyun, “you were just a stranger. And we didn’t know what SM Corporation wanted.” Chanyeol’s lower lip juts out, and he blinks at Baekhyun. His eyelashes are dark on his pale cheeks. “But then you weren’t a stranger, at all. I just think you shouldn’t be locked away.” Chanyeol sighs. “You do enough of that to yourself.”

Baekhyun’s heart lurches. “But what about…”

“Put your jacket on,” Chanyeol says. “Or we’ll be horrifically late for your ‘party’.”

“I don’t want to go,” Baekhyun says, wrinkling his nose. He wants to ask Chanyeol more, but something in Chanyeol’s tone has precluded further questions. “Everyone’s so nosy.”

“This is how you get funding, right ?” He tugs on the lapels of Baekhyun’s jacket. “You look nice.”

“So do you,” Baekhyun replies. “A first time for everything.”

“Don’t be mean,” Chanyeol says. “I’m a free spirit.”

“I bet EXO wishes they had a mandatory dress-code now that you’re on the payroll.”

“Your roommate wears those dumb sandals even though it’s still cold outside,” Chanyeol says, putting on chapstick as Baekhyun walks past him to check his eyeliner. It’s perfect. “Why don’t you pick on him. He has them in, not one, but two colors.”

“Jongin has assured me that he doesn’t feel the cold,” Baekhyun says. “I’m inclined to believe him.”

Chanyeol doesn’t want to take a taxi, so Kris drives them to the gala. Baekhyun’s greeted with curious eyes as Chanyeol helps him out of the car. He figures this is the first time he’s brought a guest to anything, so maybe people are curious.

“I’ll be around,” Kris says vaguely. “Just do what you have to do.” Baekhyun thinks Kris looks a bit like an Armani ad in his tux.

“Kris looks so stuffy in his tux,” Chanyeol says fondly. “Like he’s got a bad case of hemorrho-“

“Chanyeol!” Baekhyun says, laughing, and they venture in to the party.

“Chin up,” Chanyeol says. “You look pretty.”

“I’m going to kick you where it hurts.”

“Can you even reach?”

“Watch me,” Baekhyun says, and Chanyeol brushes the backs of their hands together before he steps a little bit away. Baekhyun can’t have a boyfriend, here. At least not one who clings to him.

Things are going fine until a pretty woman in a low cut dress walks over to where Baekhyun is letting Chanyeol charm a major donor to the chemistry department with his inquisitive eyes and feigned interest in the man’s family.

“Hi,” she says, and Baekhyun’s surprised that she’s talking to him. She’s not the sort of girl that usually goes for a guy like Baekhyun, whose looks lean toward the feminine sometimes, he can admit. “You’re Dr. Byun Baekhyun, right?”

“Right,” he says, turning toward her. Her smile is almost as pretty as Chanyeol’s but not quite.

They talk, and Baekhyun’s pretty sure she’s flirting with him. He’s not interested, but he’s certainly not going to be rude about it.

Chanyeol, on the other hand, has no problem butting in. “Wow,” Chanyeol says. “I leave Baekhyun alone for a moment and he finds the prettiest woman in the room.”

His voice is like silk, purposefully low and syrupy. Baekhyun’s never heard Chanyeol talk like that. He looks up at him, and Chanyeol’s eyes are intense.

“Who- Who are you?” she asks, and she’s flushing, and Chanyeol holds out a hand. She sets hers in it, and he brings it up to his lips and presses a kiss to her knuckles.

Baekhyun feels nauseous. He wants to rip Chanyeol away from her, because Chanyeol is his.

Only he isn’t, not really, and Baekhyun can’t say anything at all.

“Let me get you another drink,” Chanyeol says to her, and then he’s guiding her away. Baekhyun watches with steady eyes as they disappear into the crowd.

Kris appears next to him. “Where did you come from?” He doesn’t think he sounds upset, but he can’t be sure.

“Come with me,” Kris murmurs.

They move out into the hall. Baekhyun’s eyes keep peering into the ballroom, looking for that familiar head of light brown hair.

“She was dangerous,” Kris says, and Baekhyun turns. “Chanyeol buzzed me. She was here for you. Chanyeol’s just getting the jump on her, instead.”

“What?”

“He’s got her. He’ll handcuff her outside. Suho’s here; he’s another EXO operative. He’ll probably take her in. Too bad she’s probably not anyone with any kind of high clearance,” Kris says. “I bet Chanyeol could get her to tell him anything.”

“Me too,” Baekhyun says, and he knows that look that had crept into the woman’s eyes. He’s seen it in his own eyes, lately, when he looks in the mirror.

“What was that?”

“I can’t believe Chanyeol convinced that woman to go with him,” Baekhyun says, his stomach still churning with undeniable jealousy. “I can’t believe he did that with just words.”

“Chanyeol is our best undercover agent,” Kris says, “because he’s such a good actor.” Kris runs a hand through his hair, and sighs. “He’s got a talent for making you believe him, no matter what. And you never know what he actually feels, because he’s just who he needs to be at any given moment. He knows exactly what you want to see, and he delivers.”

“Acting,” Baekhyun says, and he thinks about Chanyeol’s arm around his waist as he laughs, and the way Chanyeol’s eyes meet his softly across the kitchen table, soft and sweet and calm. He wonders how much of that is real, and how much of it is Chanyeol playing the perfect boyfriend. Being the perfect undercover agent.

“We assigned you the best,” Kris says, and Baekhyun swallows, and nods.

“I can see that,” he says, and Kris grabs his arm to lead him back up to the party, disappearing and leaving Baekhyun standing alone at the fringes of smiling academics who have no idea that Baekhyun’s life is in constant danger, and that inside Baekhyun’s head is an invention that one of the most evil corporations in the world would like to get their hands on.

He feels incredibly alone.

“Are you all right?” Baekhyun knows it’s Chanyeol, because Chanyeol’s voice is something Baekhyun hears inside his head even when Chanyeol isn’t speaking. Chanyeol’s hand wraps around his forearm in that way that’s become habit.

“Fine,” Baekhyun says, jerking his arm free. He can still feel the warmth of Chanyeol’s fingers on his arm; the way they had burned through his tux jacket and dress shirt all the way down to Baekhyun’s skin. “I’m fine.”

“Okay,” Chanyeol says, and Baekhyun glances at him quickly. His face is smooth and serious, and Baekhyun rarely sees him like this.

“Did you-“ Baekhyun sucks his lip into his mouth, surveying the room again.

“Everything is taken care of,” Chanyeol says. “I’ll always protect you.”

“I know,” Baekhyun says, because he does.



PART THREE


Date: 2012-09-17 05:03 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] lonerleo.livejournal.com
"He sounds a bit envious, like a guy who has been left hanging for far too many high-fives"

AW! LOL

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December 2012

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