Pairing: Baekhyun/Chanyeol, (Kris/Lu Han)
Rating: Hard R
Summary, potential warnings: Baekhyun goes to Beijing to visit his old college roommate, and doesn’t quite get the vacation he’d come for. (AU, Alternate History, Magic)
The first thing Baekhyun notices when he arrives in Beijing is that it’s hot; sweltering, even, the humidity clinging to him like saran wrap and wilting his hair. The second thing Baekhyun notices, when he sees his ride waiting for him, casually dressed in soccer shorts and wearing a carefree smile, is that Lu Han’s hair is neon orange.
“Baekhyun!” Lu Han yells, waving his arms back and forth aggressively, almost slapping a passerby in the face. “Over here!”
“Were you under the impression I wouldn’t see you?” Baekhyun replies, when he reaches his friend, dropping his suitcase and the paperback novel he’d been reading on the flight to give him a hug. “Because I totally see you. I would have seen you were I still two kilometers away, with a head of hair like that.”
“I’m mixing things up! Trying out a new look!” He says, laughing, as Baekhyun pulls back to look him up and down. “What do you think?”
“It’s certainly fluorescent.” Baekhyun says. His trousers stick to his thighs; he should have worn shorts. “Please tell me your car has air conditioning.”
“Nope,” Lu Han says. “You’re going to fry like an egg on concrete, but at least we’ll be together.”
“It’s what I’ve always wanted.” Baekhyun finally relaxes his muscles, which have been bunched up in tension since he’d gotten off the plane. “No really, it is.”
“You could at least pretend you missed me, Byun Baekhyun!” Lu Han is teasing him, and Baekhyun is too used to Lu Han to let Lu Han get a rise out of him after all this time. “It’s been a year since I’ve last seen you.” His Korean is clumsy for it, too, falling out of his mouth in uneven spurts as he stops to think about conjugations and noun markers.
“I’m here, aren’t I?” Baekhyun picks up his suitcase again. It’s light because Baekhyun hasn’t brought a ton of stuff with him. All the manuscripts he’s responsible for have been left at home along with his laptop, and he hadn’t felt even a little regret as he’d locked the door of his flat before catching the airport bus to Incheon. “I would like to be somewhere else though. Somewhere with air conditioning. And possibly ice cream, but just the aircon would be a start.”
“This from the man who turned the heat up too high in our apartment for three years.” Lu Han opens the trunk of his car and pushes Baekhyun’s suitcase in without much finesse. “You’d better not be thinking any smartass comments about my Korean right now, either. I will make you try to speak Mandarin, and then where will you be?”
“Wo ai ni,” Baekhyun says, flashing Lu Han a grin. “Ni ai wo?”
“I don’t know what you’re trying to say,” Lu Han follows it up with a cheeky wink that reminds Baekhyun of when they were starting their first year of college, and he’d been pretty sure the whole ‘Lu Han-as-a-roommate’ thing was going to be a disaster, “but whatever noise you just made, it wasn’t Mandarin.”
“I’ll smother you in your sleep,” Baekhyun says with a smile, and it’s almost as if it’s only been a little while since he and Lu Han were last sitting next to each other, fondly insulting each other as a way of saying hello.
“I really am glad you came to visit,” Lu Han says over dinner. “You sounded so stressed out about work. Must be all those lonely nights without a boyfriend.” Baekhyun reaches across the table to punch Lu Han in the shoulder, then dodges when Lu Han tries to punch him back.
It’s been the same since they’ve met, really. Lu Han’s first impulse is usually to hit, and he’s trained Baekhyun to get the first lick in.
“I’m excited to see this hometown you’ve always bragged about.” Baekhyun picks up his thick noodles with the disposable chopsticks Lu Han had handed him when the take-out had come. “Although town doesn’t seem to be the right word.”
“Beijing is a magnificent city.” Lu Han smiles, gazing out the window to the city streets and looking more peaceful that Baekhyun is used to. Lu Han’s always been restless. “If there’s anything going to college in Korea has taught me, it’s that I belong in Beijing. Even if it means it costs a kidney to go to the Seoul-based TVXQ concerts.”
“Your mega-hard life as a stan.” Tapping his chopsticks against his bowl, he follows Lu Han’s gaze. “It seems okay here,” Baekhyun says. “Except for the weather. I never imagined that it got worse than Seoul in July but I was so wrong.”
“You get used to it.”
Lu Han laughs. “No,” he says. “It sucks forever. But the street food is so good that if you just keep constantly eating you’ll forget that you’re supposed to be miserable about the humidity.”
“That’s the most depressing advice you’ve ever given me,” Baekhyun says. He sets his chopsticks down, full, and stretches. “I am going to sleep an eternity. I’m sorry if you had plans for my vacation because I am going to be channelling my inner Jongin and sleeping like a body in a morgue for the next three days.”
“You’ll be staying in my guest room.” Lu Han’s face lights up like the lights at COEX during Christmas season. “My very first guest!”
Baekhyun looks one more time out the window as he stands. Something jumps, and it startles him into banging his knee into Lu Han’s low-sitting table. He clutches at his leg and scowls in the direction of the window. “What was that?”
“What was what?” Lu Han is laughing at him; obviously laughing, too, and Baekhyun doesn’t get what’s so funny when he’s seen Lu Han walk head-on into so many doors he’s surprised Lu Han’s nose hasn’t gone flat to accommodate his face-smashing lifestyle.
“I saw something moving outside your window!” Baekhyun narrows his eyes thoughtfully. “Something fast.”
“Most likely a mosquito or something, Byunbaek. Nothing worth destroying your shins over.”
“It was way bigger than a mosquito.” Baekhyun continues to rub absently at his shin. “Way, way bigger.”
“We’re on the sixteenth floor, Baekhyun.”
“I’m telling you, I saw something!” It’s true that it had looked way too huge to be hovering outside a window, but Baekhyun is sure he saw it.
“The hallucinations have started,” Lu Han whispers sadly. “You told me work was tough but you hadn’t told me it had gotten this bad, buddy.”
Frowning, Baekhyun squints one last time at the window before conceding defeat. “Maybe my eyes are playing tricks on me,” he says, and tugs on the neck of his t-shirt uncomfortably as Lu Han keeps laughing.
“A good three-day morgue nap and you’ll be as good as new,” Lu Han promises, and Baekhyun allows himself to be led to Lu Han’s guest quarters. “You’re here for three whole weeks, so sleep as much as you need to get ready for Lu Han’s mega-foxy-hot tour of Beijing.”
“Does the tour cater to the Mandarin-lacking participants?” Baekhyun yawns wide enough his jaw cracks and Lu Han snickers.
“It was made especially for Mandarin-lacking participants.”
“Sounds perfect.” Baekhyun starts to close the door, and Lu Han smiles again, still so bright and happy about… whatever he’s so bright and happy about. Baekhyun sees him look down at his phone.
“I’m really glad you came, Baekhyun,” Lu Han says, and Baekhyun playfully pats him on the butt.
“I’m glad I came too.” Baekhyun scratches at his full tummy and sighs. “Unless that massive thing I saw out your window really was a mosquito, in which case I should have stayed in Korea.”
Lu Han rolls his eyes exaggeratedly. “Goodnight, Baekhyun.”
Lu Han has taken the next few days off of work exclusively to hang out with Baekhyun, so Baekhyun doesn’t sleep the promised seventy-two hours. Instead he peels himself out of bed, and washes his face, and puts on the least wrinkled of his t-shirts along with his favorite pair of jeans, so that Lu Han can take him out into the city.
“You were right about the street food.” Baekhyun has a skewer of something he can’t identify in each hand, and he’s somewhat sure it’s part of a chicken. “It does distract from the heat.” He takes a bite, trying desperately not to think about the firm diet of boiled turkey breast he’d been adhering to back home, ever since a co-worker had told him how cute she thought his butt-jiggle was. Lu Han, carefree and unsanitary, wipes his greasy hands on his own jersey and throws up a peace sign.
“Told you,” he says. “Where do you want to go? Anything you’ve always wanted to see?”
Baekhyun lifts and drops his shoulders in a shrug, scanning the streets with speculative eyes. When he looks across the street, near a vendor selling knock-off Americana shirts and hats, his gaze falls to a shadow on the sidewalk. “Is that a frog?”
It’s a big frog; bigger than any frog that Baekhyun has ever seen. It’s not just the mosquitos in Beijing that are oversized, he thinks. He rubs at his eyes with the back of the cleaner of his two hands, but it’s still there when he drops his hand; all slippery slimy skin and bulging eyes. It is most definitively a frog, and Baekhyun has never heard of any frogs quite that large.
“What?” Lu Han, who had skipped back over to the food cart to throw away the empty skewer that had once held the maybe-chicken, pokes at Baekhyun’s cheek. “Why would there be a frog?”
“Over there,” Baekhyun insists, pointing toward the vendor, and Lu Han follows his finger skeptically, taking in the shirts with big off-color American flags and New York Yankees hats. “It’s right…” But it’s gone. The frog is gone. “I didn’t imagine it— There was definitely a frog there.”
“Baekhyun, that doesn’t even make sense. A frog would get trampled so easily out here.”
“It was the size of a small dog.” Baekhyun pushes his second skewer into Lu Han’s hands for him to finish. “It would be hard to trample a frog the size of a Jack Russell Terrier.”
Lu Han sets his hand on Baekhyun’s shoulder. “Do we need to talk? I think you need to get out of editing fantasy novels, Baekhyun. They’re tickling your already over-active imagination. You’re turning into one of those people.”
“What are you trying to say, huh?”
“If you start talking to me about how the frog has a stop watch and wants you to follow it to Wonderland—“
“That was a white rabbit, Lu Han. A white rabbit in a waistcoat. I’m talking about—“
“The moral of the story is that you’re imagining weird creatures, Baekhyun. It’s time for a new line of work. Or to make use of that imagination of yours and finish something. Anything.”
Baekhyun does need to get out of editing fantasy novels, that’s for sure. If only because he would rather be writing them, and lately everything that’s been coming out of his authors reads like so much of the same. “I didn’t imagine the frog, Lu Han. There was a huge frog, right there!”
“Sure,” Lu Han says. “Maybe if you kiss him, he’ll turn into a prince.” He starts to pull Baekhyun away, back into the flow of pedestrian traffic down the busy street. “Was he wearing a cute sweater? Frog boyfriends shouldn’t be trusted unless they like European cut sweaters.”
“Ha ha ha.” Baekhyun doesn’t fight Lu Han’s tug. “I’m not saying I believe in fairytales, only that my eyes are not bad enough that I would imagine a huge frog like that.”
“I distinctly remember you swearing you saw Daniel Radcliffe once when we went to Suwon for your hapkido tournament,” Lu Han says. “You yelled Harry Potter off the balcony at the top of your lungs for minutes until Jongin carried you caveman style back inside.”
“I was drunk, Lu Han, give me a break.” Baekhyun quickens his pace to match Lu Han stride for stride as they weave through the throngs of people. “Things happen when you’re drunk. I’m not drunk right now.” He pouts. “I saw the frog, Lu Han.”
“Sure you did, I totally believe you.”
Baekhyun gives up on convincing his friend. The street-food effect is starting to wear off, and Baekhyun feels the most disgusting glaze of sweat rising to the surface of his skin. “We could head toward Tiantan? I’ve always wanted to see it.” One of Baekhyun’s favorite authors is working on a story that takes place at the Temple of Heaven. He’s curious to see if the imagery matches what’s been sketched out in words, or if actually looking at the place will change what’s in Baekhyun’s head.
“Actually,” Lu Han says, his neon-orange hair bobbing thoughtfully as he pulls Baekhyun toward a bus stop where it seems like a million people are waiting, “we do have a legend involving frogs here in Beijing. I mean, it’s a really old one, but it will at least make you smile. You get a kick out of all that fantastical stuff anyway.” Lu Han, for a handsome guy, makes really unattractive faces when he laughs, and Baekhyun finds them especially hideous when Lu Han is laughing at him.
“I like legends,” Baekhyun says, edging on defensive. “It’s like a little bit of fantasy that feels like it could have been real.” As jaded as he’s become about dragons and princesses in towers and red-headed evil sorceresses, Baekhyun would like to think there used to be some magic in this world.
“This legend is about the royal family,” Lu Han says. “About boys who come from the royal family, I mean.”
“Don’t you have a prince right now?” Baekhyun can feel sweat congealing on his upper lip with grease from the street food. He wants to get into the shower and then never get out again. “I seem to remember there being a prince.”
“Yeah, but…” Lu Han scratches at his scalp with nails not nearly as long as Baekhyun’s. “It’s just an old story. See, basically back at the beginning of the Wu dynasty, the Emperor slighted his first love to marry someone his mother had picked out.” Slipping his hands into his pockets, he grins. “She had disappeared, you see, and he was getting older, and he had no heir. So he had to get married. But soon after the wedding, his first love was found. It turned out she’d been stolen away, kidnapped by a family enemy who wanted to prevent her from becoming the Empress. When she found out he had given up on their love so quickly, she was betrayed!” Lu Han gets into it, gesticulating wildly with his hands. “She was filled with anger toward the Emperor.”
“Ouch,” Baekhyun says. “And then?” The bus pulls up, and Lu Han drags Baekhyun on. They’re smushed between bodies, and if Baekhyun had thought it was hot before, it was nothing compared to now.
“It turns out his first love had magical powers because she was the daughter of a dragon.” Lu Han’s face is not so close to Baekhyun’s that Baekhyun can’t stare at him disbelievingly.
“I told you it was only a legend!”
“What did she do with her magical powers, then?” Someone jostles him from behind, and he almost trips, but steadies himself with a hand on Lu Han’s shoulder. “Curse them?”
A couple other passengers turn to look at them; possibly surprised to hear Korean on the bus. “Exactly,” Lu Han says. “She cursed them. It’s a marriage curse.”
“What kind of marriage curse?” The driver announces a stop, but it must not be theirs, because Lu Han is still leaning toward him, making no hint of getting off. Baekhyun will die on this bus, listening to syllables that mean nothing to him as Lu Han regales him with ludicrous fables. “Clearly it isn’t one that keeps princes from getting married.”
“If a prince isn’t married by the time they turn twenty-five,” Lu Han says, “then they turn into a frog. It can happen any time, when you least expect it. Bam. Frog.”
Baekhyun cannot contain the laugh that bubbles out of him. “What?”
“A frog,” Lu Han says, snickering. “The prince gets turned into a frog. And he can’t return to being a prince until he finds someone to kiss him. Then he’ll turn back into a prince and live happily ever after with whatever odd human being walks around kissing frogs.”
“What kind of curse it that, even?” Baekhyun has rejected manuscripts with better plots than that. And Baekhyun works with quite a few mediocre authors. “It sounds like a messed up Grimm fairytale.”
“I think the logic of it was that if they were in such a hurry to marry and have kids, then she’d punish them for not being married at twenty-five?” Lu Han has a single bead of sweat gracefully dripping down the side of his face, even though Baekhyun is might as well have jumped into a swimming pool of his own sweat at this point. “It’s a really old legend. There’s even an old movie version. We can watch it if you want, but it’s pretty dodgy quality.”
“No one gets married at twenty-five anymore, these days,” Baekhyun says. “I feel sorry for your prince.”
“It seems like Prince Wu Fan is around that age,” Lu Han says, finally nodding his head toward the exit of the bus, indicating they should get off at this stop. “All the princes before that have been married off at eighteen, but he was studying abroad. Still is, I think?” Lu Han produces a noise Baekhyun thinks is supposed to be a thinking noise, but instead is a little more like the slow churn of a cement mixer. “He was in Canada, last I heard.”
“How do you not know where the prince of your country is?” Baekhyun says, sucking in greedy lungfuls of smog and humidity. The stop reads Tiantan Ximen Station in English letters. Baekhyun doesn’t know English, but the letters are far easier to figure out than characters.
“I don’t have time to watch the gossip news everyday.” Lu Han walks slightly ahead of Baekhyun. “I have friends. A wild social life.” He pulls out his phone and frowns at it.
“The thrill of keeping Zhang Yixing from walking out into traffic counts as a wild social life these days?”
“I should shove you in to traffic.”
“But I came all this way to see you, Lu Han!” Baekhyun says flirtatiously, and out of the corner of his eye, there it is again. “Lu Han, there’s—“
“If you say you see a giant frog, nothing is going to stop me from pushing you in front of the bus we just got off of.”
Baekhyun turns his head all the way, and there it is again, standing at the bus stop like it had alighted off the vehicle just behind them. He blinks, and the frog is gone again, “Didn’t you see it?”
“I think the heat is getting to me,” Lu Han says. “I need more fried food. Either that or your hallucinations are contagious.”
“You did see it!” Baekhyun says. His jeans are suffocating his thighs. Hell probably feels a little like the Beijing summer.
“I didn’t see anything,” Lu Han replies. “It is very hot. I think we should both drink water and stop imagining giant amphibians.”
They buy overpriced bottled water outside the gate, Lu Han opening up his wallet to pay for it before Baekhyun can even reach into his back pocket. Lu Han claims ‘hyung privilege’ and Baekhyun would fight more but actually he likes it when people buy him things. He’s too used to being the oldest at home, ever since Lu Han had come back to Beijing.
Lu Han has a yearly ticket, so he only has to buy one for Baekhyun to enter.
“It’s beautiful,” Baekhyun says, the cool water a welcome distraction. “Let’s explore?”
They spend three hours there, wandering in and out of the temple complex, and between the loud children and the study-abroaders, it’s crowded enough that Baekhyun doesn’t think about the weird frog all afternoon.
“After this we can go to the park,” Lu Han says, pouring the rest of his third bottle of water over his face. “Taoranting is right around here, a few blocks westward—“
“Isn’t there a museum nearby?” Baekhyun says. Surveying the map he’d printed off right before he’d left, Baekhyun frowns. “After spending a few hours here, I might die.”
“You’re such a wimp,” Lu Han says. “What happened to my big, bad, hapkido champ?”
“My system is extremely sensitive,” Baekhyun says. “I do not react well to extreme temperatures.”
“You’re such a youngest child,” Lu Han says. “Goldilocks, seriously.”
“Shut up, Lu Han,” Baekhyun snaps at him, feeling waspish in the heat, and Lu Han mocks him through mimicry as Baekhyun tries to swat him down like a fly. “Why are we even friends?”
“Maybe we should just go home. You’re getting prissy.” Lu Han pulls his jersey over his head to reveal a gray tank shirt. It makes his hair look even more orange, like he’s a glow-in-the-dark gel pen. Baekhyun had like five hundred of those in high school, and he used to use them to doodle his name in hearts with Kim Jonghyun’s in places he was sure no one would look.
“Maybe it will be cooler tomorrow,” Baekhyun says, and Lu Han pins him with a stare harder than his usual ones. “Or maybe not. I can at least hope the weather will take pity on me.”
“It’s cute that you think Beijing cares about your ‘sensitivity’,” Lu Han says.
It’s still bright daylight when they make it back to Lu Han’s flat, even Lu Han looking a bit sunweary and worn down. “You look disappointed about us calling it a day,” Baekhyun says. “Sorry I don’t have your stamina.”
Two seconds from a sexual innuendo, Lu Han reconsiders. “I wanted you to meet a friend of mine,” he says. “But I haven’t been able to get in touch with him for a week or so.”
“A friend?” Baekhyun prods. “Or a friend?”
“Kris is the one of those that doesn’t require the eyebrow lifting and smug grins, Baekhyun.” Still, Lu Han reaches for his phone again, halting only when Baekhyun’s smirk grows in inverse proportion to the distance between Lu Han’s hand and his pocket. “Asshole.”
“Is he tall? You like them tall.” So does Baekhyun. That’s about the only thing their types have in common.
“I changed my mind, you can go back to sleep for the next three weeks—“ They walk into the lobby of Lu Han’s apartment building, and Lu Han stops walking mid step, clumsily tripping forward enough that Baekhyun has to rescue him reluctantly by grabbing a handful of his shirt to keep him from falling.
“Only you, Byun Baekhyun, could convince me that giant frogs are real without a whole lot more tequila than we’ve had all afternoon,” Lu Han says, eyes bugging out of his head as he looks ahead of them. Baekhyun’s eyes pass the elevator and land on what is sure enough the same frog he’s been seeing all day.
“We haven’t had any tequila this afternoon,” Baekhyun replies faintly, and Lu Han curses loudly. Thankfully, the night guard hasn’t come on shift yet to reprimand him like he’d done last night, when Lu Han had dropped Baekhyun’s suitcase on his own foot.
“Then why am I seeing a fucking frog?” Lu Han’s doing that ugly python face; Baekhyun doesn’t have to look to see it. “Seriously, Baekhyun, now I need some tequila.” Lu Han straightens himself up, rubbing his palms on his thighs. “So we’re going to go upstairs and have ourselves a drink.”
Lu Han jams his finger into the elevator call button repeatedly, like pressing it multiple times will make it come faster. The ding of the elevator doors makes them both turn their heads, and when they turn back, the frog is gone, no evidence that it was ever there at all.
“Hanging out with you is terrible for my mental health,” Lu Han says. “I don’t have time to imagine giant frogs, Baekhyun.” They exit on the sixteenth floor, walking back into Lu Han’s flat and shutting the door on the weirdness they’d experienced downstairs. “I shouldn’t have told you that stupid legend. You’re going to have me imagining frogs everywhere.”
“What if it’s real?” Baekhyun says, as Lu Han pours them each a drink. “What if that’s your prince outside, Lu Han?”
“First of all, I’m pretty sure this heat stroke is bad if we’re both seeing that thing,” Lu Han says. “Second of all, you’ve been reading way too many fantasy novels. You can kiss that thing the next time we see it.”
“I promise I will. Don’t be jealous when he turns into royalty,” Baekhyun says, letting Lu Han push a tumbler full of liquor into his hand. “I’ll let you come to my frog wedding.”
Baekhyun knows alcohol is dehydrating, but it burns in his throat and this afternoon has been so very weird.
“I’ll still be your friend even if you’re into bestiality, Baekhyun,” Lu Han says, after taking a healthy drink from his glass. “I did forgive you for the time you masturbated on the couch with all those toys and then fell asleep until I woke you up with the sound of my screams.” Baekhyun chokes and tequila goes up his nose. “None of your sexual… preferences can faze me now. I’m immune.”
“I still swear that wasn’t what it looked like—“
Lu Han raises his glass, and Baekhyun puts that argument aside for another day. “To the beginning of an exciting vacation,” Lu Han says. “Hopefully with fewer frogs.”
“I’ll drink to that,” Baekhyun says.
“So how’s the vacay?” Jongdae is the only person Baekhyun knows that can sound patronizing even making simple greetings on the phone. “Enjoying time with Lu Han?”
“Beijing is hot,” Baekhyun says. “Repulsively hot. Excruciatingly hot. Hotter than balls in the sauna at the jjimjilbang.”
“I would just walk around naked, if I were you.”
“Do I look like Kim Jongin to you?” Baekhyun replies, curling deeper into his bed, thin blanket more than enough, and Jongdae laughs. “It’s so hot that I’ve started hallucinating frogs.”
“Sounds like something we would be dealing with here at the office.” Jongdae, Baekhyun’s co-worker at the publishing company, has a much less jaded point of view about their work than Baekhyun does. “Hallucinating frogs?”
“Lu Han told me some bullshit story about the Chinese royal family when I told him I was seeing frogs. Then he made me get on an oven bus and then hang out outside. I’m going to freckle, Jongdae.”
“You’re so vain,” Jongdae says. “I suppose you have to be when your looks are so painfully average.” Jongdae laughs. “Not everyone can be blessed with my cheekbones.”
“The city is beautiful,” Baekhyun continues, ignoring Jongdae. “Except for the frog incidents, I’m enjoying myself a lot.”
“Wait, wait,” Jongdae says. “How many times have you seen the frog?” He sounds intrigued.
“Well,” Baekhyun thinks about it, “I saw it three times on the first day of sightseeing.” He pushes his head back into his pillow. “Then, yesterday, twice more.” Baekhyun had tried to focus on the vendors selling art and handcrafted souvenirs, but the frog had plagued his afternoon, like it was following them or something like that. Lu Han hadn’t noticed it at all today, having passed it off as some wacky vision from too much heat, a product of “having become weak from his office job.” “Lu Han saw it, once, but he refuses to believe it’s real.”
“You know how this all sounds, right?” Jongdae snorts. “You sound crazy, Baekhyun.”
“I know, I know,” Baekhyun says. “But I’m completely serious! I keep seeing this dumb frog and I’m going to pull all of my hair out!”
“Calm down,” Jongdae says. “Think of it this way; at least it’ll make good fodder for that book you’re always promising to write.”
“I have a draft,” Baekhyun says. “But it’s not good enough.”
“You’ve been saying that for a year, though,” Jongdae says. “No draft is ever good enough, you know that. You’ve got to let someone else have a look at it.”
“Do you think I don’t realize that?” The thought of someone looking at his work and finding it as lacking as he finds most of the things he reads has Baekhyun’s stomach twisting painfully into itself; a fisherman’s knot of fear.
Jongdae whistles. “Hell, maybe this frog business is a late manifestation of your inner artist, man. After all, you know Fitzgerald was totally off his rocker—“
“Yeah, yeah,” Baekhyun says. “Laugh it up. But I’m telling you, there’s a giant frog following me around Beijing.”
“I cannot wait to tell Jongin about this.” Jongdae makes a thoughtful noise, then. “This is weird, but I think we watched some kind of claymation movie in Mandarin class in college about the whole frog thing. Where the Emperor gets married and then there’s a curse that turns all of his male descendants into frogs until they find someone to kiss them?”
“That’s the one,” Baekhyun says. “Lu Han told it to me on the bus.”
“Our teacher told us that was why all the royal princes got married off out of high school despite the fact that people are getting married later and later these days,” Jongdae says. “It must be so weird to have your future spouse picked out for you at eighteen.”
Baekhyun, at eighteen, had still been wearing braces and had refused to wash his clothes. He wouldn’t have done well with a wife or a husband. “The current prince isn’t married, though,” Baekhyun says. “And apparently he’s off studying abroad in Canada.”
“And he’s twenty-five,”Jongdae says. “So I think that proves it’s just a legend, doesn’t it?” Laughing, Jongdae yells at someone in the room with him, covering the speaker with one hand before returning to Baekhyun. “The Prince of China is a hottie, Baekhyun. Tall as all get out with legs for kilometers and a great smile.”
“More my type than a frog,” Baekhyun says. “For sure.” Baekhyun pouts. “I don’t trust your judgement, though. You’re straight. You can’t possibly understand my type.”
“You keep saying you have a type, but I have never seen you actually go on a date, Byun Baekyun.”
“That’s because I’m waiting to be swept off my feet,” Baekhyun says. He closes his eyes. He isn’t lonely, or anything like that. He doesn’t know why everyone seems to think he should be. “I’m in no hurry to settle down with anyone. Or to settle for anyone.”
“What a princess you are.”
“I dare you to say that to my face,” Baekhyun replies. “When I get back to the office, call me a princess to my face, Jongdae.”
“You couldn’t hurt me,” Jongdae says. “I’ve seen you arm-wrestle. A four-year-old could crush you.”
“I’m a trained martial artist,” Baekhyun says. “I will kick you right in that fat head of yours.”
“Sure, sure.” There’s a familiar cough and Jongdae laughs nervously. “I’ve got to get back to work,” Jongdae says. “Minseok’s on my ass for being on the phone this long already.”
“I’ll talk to you soon,” Baekhyun says. “I’ve got to get up and face the possibility of going outside for the day, anyway.” Lu Han had maliciously mentioned biking over dinner last night, and Baekhyun knows Lu Han will make him do it.
“See ya when you get back, Baekhyun,” Jongdae says, and Baekhyun slithers out of bed to get ready for his day.
Baekhyun smears aloe onto his back and his face as he sits in front of Lu Han’s television. The news is playing, and it sounds like nothing more than background music to Baekhyun, who only knows like ten words in Mandarin, and at least five of those words are foods. “Did we have to ride bikes all day?”
“Yes of course we did,” Lu Han says. “And wasn’t that a lovely way to explore the city?” It had been. The best part of all had been the complete lack of frogs. Baekhyun thinks it must be hard for frogs to keep up with fast moving bicycles.
Baekhyun grudgingly grunts his agreement. “Yeah, it was pretty fun,” he says. “How are you not burnt?”
“Superior genetics,” Lu Han says, dodging Baekhyun’s kick by mere centimeters. “Or SPF 50 sunscreen. I put it on every day after I shower. Kris told me it was important to prevent wrinkles.”
“Kris this, Kris that,” Baekhyun says in a lilting voice. Every day, Baekhyun becomes more and more curious about Lu Han’s mysterious friend. So, he thinks, does Lu Han, who keeps checking his phone waiting for a text message or call that never comes.
“Children should be seen not heard,” Lu Han says, and Baekhyun kicks him again, this time landing his foot right into Lu Han’s thigh. “You little bitch!”
“I’m only a couple of years younger than you, Lu Han—“ Baekhyun begins, but then he sees it, outside the window. “There it is!”
“The frog? Again?” Lu Han rolls his eyes. “Baekhyun, I don’t know what weird drugs were in the water when I thought I saw that thing too, but it doesn’t…” He’s turning to the window as he speaks, and his words cease as he too sees the frog, webbed feet pressed against the glass as it balances precariously on Lu Han’s wide window ledge.
“It’s going to fall,” Baekhyun says, as the frog wobbles. Its webbed feet paw anxiously at the window, and Baekhyun, for some unknown reason, cares what happens to it. “Let it in.”
“How did it even get up here?” Lu Han says, still staring glossy-eyed out the window. “This is the sixteenth floor.”
“Well it’ll be back on ground level unless you open the window!” Baekhyun lifts himself up off the ground, wincing as all his burns pull, and moves swiftly to the window. He fumbles with the latches and finally undoes them. “I’m going to open the window, big guy, so you can’t use it for balance right now.”
The frog seems to understand him, teetering back on thick hind legs and leaning on the side edge of the window where it meets the building for support as Baekhyun lifts the window up. A gush of hot air comes inside that has Baekhyun whining even as he reaches out and grabs for the frog.
It jumps into his arms, slimy and gross and icky, and Baekhyun’s going to change his shirt and pajamas as soon as he gets this sorted because everything feels disgusting.
“You’re letting the air con out of the flat,” Lu Han says faintly, and Baekhyun looks up at him wildly.
“Then close the window, Lu Han!”
The window slams shut, and it’s Baekhyun, Lu Han, and the frog in Baekhyun’s lap, alone together in Lu Han’s flat.
“The frog is real,” Lu Han says. “I hate that the frog is real. Sadly, I preferred the idea that you were just imagining it.”
“I told you I wasn’t,” Baekhyun says, then moves to slap a hand over his mouth because he actually shouted it, and it’s late enough at night he might have disturbed the neighbors. But there’s slime on his hand and now it’s all over his mouth and he wants to die. “That’s so gross oh my god it’s so gross.”
Baekhyun considers being afraid, but so far all the frog has done is breathe on him and be slimy, and while these are not things Baekhyun enjoys, they aren’t really fear inspiring.
Lu Han stares back and forth between the frog and Baekhyun’s disgusted face. He looks paler than usual, and confused, but then a mischievous light comes into his eyes, even as his hands continue to shake. “Oh, Baekhyun,” he singsongs, “you made me a teensy weensy promise, didn’t you?”
“What are you talking about?” Baekhyun asks, and Lu Han smiles at him, fear and anxiousness disappearing behind malicious glee. Baekhyun wipes his hands on his shirt, and wonders if the frog is planning to get out of his lap.
“Remember what you promised me you’d do if we saw the frog again?” Fuck, Baekhyun totally does remember that promise, made before he and Lu Han had had three too many glasses each of that tequila. “It’s the moment of truth, lover boy.”
Baekhyun looks at the frog on his lap, who is looking up at him with what seems to be earnest confusion, and sighs. The frog has human eyes, Baekhyun thinks, a pretty brown color and an expression in them that seems more like the expression he himself makes when Lu Han starts blurting out things to waiters in Mandarin.
The slime from his hands tastes like sour milk on his lips, and the last thing he wants is too lean down and kiss the thing. Baekhyun knows Lu Han, though, and he knows the only way he’ll get out of this is to actually do it, because Lu Han is persistent as hell and only remembers things that bring someone misery.
“Fine,” Baekhyun says, pronouncing his own death sentence.
“That was easy,” Lu Han says suspiciously. “Are you sure you don’t have a frog kink?” Lu Han is lucky that Baekhyun has this really heavy frog in his lap, or he’d be toast.
“You won’t shut up unless I do it, will you?”
“Not at all,” Lu Han says. “Hold on, let me get my phone. I have to take a video for Jonginnie.”
“You’re the worst,” Baekhyun whines, before licking his lips. It’s a mistake, because they still taste like the slime. “Don’t take a video of me, I have an aloe mask on my face.” Lu Han makes an ‘I don’t care’ noise. “Here I go.”
It happens so fast. Baekhyun leans forward, and presses his mouth to the frog’s face, right between his big, wild, human-like eyes, and then there’s a flash of light so bright it burns more than Baekhyun’s sunburn. He closes his eyes, and feels a crushing weight above him, pinning him to the floor as Lu Han screams like Jongin at a showing of Jurassic Park.
When Baekhyun opens his eyes, he no longer has a lapful of frog. Now, instead, he has a lapful of naked man with those same earnest brown eyes and a shocked expression on his face. “Oh,” Baekhyun says, weakly, and Lu Han stops screaming, covering his mouth with his hands, and Baekhyun can barely breathe with the large man’s huge hands pressing down on his chest.
“Hi,” the man says. “I’m Prince Wu Fan.” The man smiles down at Baekhyun, showcasing his gums as his blond hair falls across his forehead. “And I guess you’re my…uh… betrothed.”
“You’re not a frog,” Baekhyun says, intelligently.
“Kris?” Lu Han says, in disbelief, and Baekhyun thinks the only option there is, when a giant stalker frog turns into a big handsome man right on your lap, is blacking out, so that’s what he does.