baekhyun/chanyeol, baekhyun/tao ; pg-15 ; sci-fi, romance ; 24k~ words
warning: character death
This is a story about death, cheating the inevitable, and all the sacrifices in between.
a/n: i was reading mitch albom’s book the time-keeper the other day, where it skimmed over cryonics, and i wanted to write about it and did a shit ton of research for this and i am royally fucked 8|a also kind of self indulgent because baektao and baekyeol ;w;
If there’s one thing humans should never tamper with, it’s death. It’s something that no one can stop, something so inevitable and natural. It’s something Baekhyun believes in right to his core, but here he is, working in a cryonics lab searching for ways to cheat death. The clock ticks closer to three am but he’s still hunched over his work, because holy shit, he thinks he’s going to make a breakthrough in the technology.
His spine is throbbing from hours of sitting and reviewing molecular models on the computer and peering through super bright microscopes. Baekhyun knows this isn’t good for his quickly deteriorating health, but he can’t stop, not now. It’s like an unspoken rule: nothing disturbs Baekhyun when he’s working, not even the stupid disease spreading through his body this very instant. Even Chanyeol’s long given up trying to get Baekhyun home and had retreated to the couch an hour ago, exasperated sigh leaving his lips.
Baekhyun spares him a quick glance, and feels the familiar pang of guilt for his sleeping boyfriend. There are dark rings of weariness around his eyes, and Baekhyun knows he’s the one who put those there, along with the tremendous sadness in his heart Baekhyun knows exists but Chanyeol never shows. Chanyeol is a very selfless person.
But he can’t let sentiment take over yet. He has a job to finish, and it’s become even more crucial as the last grains of sand trickle down his hourglass. He resumes working, occasionally taking comfort at the sight of Chanyeol’s sleeping form. Baekhyun progresses quickest when he’s plagued with guilt or any other bad feeling, and when he finally decides to call it a night an hour later, he’s pretty much pleased with his work. He turns off his computer and the microscopes, sliding each sample into their protective glass cases and stacks his books neatly in a corner of his desk.
The loud, cracking noises his back makes when he stands up and stretch used to feel good and satisfying, but now the pain they cause shoot straight down reaching Baekhyun’s toes, and his knees buckle for a bit before it steadies again. After he makes sure nothing is really broken, Baekhyun shuffles over to the couch, smiling affectionately as he pokes Chanyeol’s side.
“Huh? Wha--?” Chanyeol sits up immediately, still groggy and disoriented. Baekhyun laughs and flicks his forehead, pulling Chanyeol’s attention to him. Hair is sticking up on one side of Chanyeol’s head, and he looks ridiculous.
“Let’s go home, Chanyeol,” Baekhyun says, taking a hand and pulling Chanyeol up. Now that he’s not immersed in research anymore, Baekhyun can feel the weariness finally creeping in on his muscles and settle in his bones.
“You don’t look like you’re up to walking home, Baek. Should I call a taxi?” Chanyeol asks, tone worried.
“No.” Baekhyun wraps his arms around Chanyeol’s torso and snuggles into his chest. They haven’t done anything together these past few days because all of his attention is on his work, and the guilt is coming back. Besides, he just misses Chanyeol a lot. “Carry me home.”
Chanyeol hesitates for a while, hand on Baekhyun’s shoulder. But he gives in in the end anyway, sighing fondly as he scoops Baekhyun up in his arms, holding him close to his chest. Baekhyun feels safe like this, like he can tuck away his fears for a while and just bask in Chanyeol’s warmth. Chanyeol nuzzles his face into Baekhyun’s hair as he kicks the door open and kicks it shut again, while Baekhyun chastises him for it.
“Wow, four in the morning. You really do like destroying yourself, don’t you?” Chanyeol asks as they pass by the large clock at the lobby. Baekhyun hides his face in Chanyeol’s chest because even though his tone is light, he knows Chanyeol’s hurting as well.
“I’m sorry,” Baekhyun mutters, feeling very small and helpless.
“God, you’re really light Baek,” Chanyeol practically wails, gripping Baekhyun’s body closer as he steps out to the chilly night air. He really has lost quite some weight, recently. Well, even more than before, anyway. Baekhyun curls more into him.
“I’m sorry,” he repeats, voice hollow. What else can he say?
Chanyeol stops walking and Baekhyun looks up, and is met by Chanyeol’s eyes staring intently into his, like he’s trying to figure out why Baekhyun doesn’t take care of his sick body properly, why he chooses to go on with the research and drive himself to the ground instead.
“Don’t be,” he says, and tries to smile. Baekhyun thinks it looks rather like a grimace, coupled with the sad eyes. Baekhyun puts that there as well; Chanyeol had never smiled like that. He wants to apologize again, but he’s tired, he knows Chanyeol is, too, so he leans his head on Chanyeol’s chest and pretends to be asleep. It’s a good move, because then he can pretend he doesn’t hear the quiet sniffles Chanyeol makes.
Later, Chanyeol lays Baekhyun down on their bed and strips him down to his underwear, intending to change him into pyjamas but Baekhyun is cold and cotton isn’t as warm as Chanyeol is. He holds on to Chanyeol’s hand and whines like a baby even though he’s the older one until Chanyeol caves and joins him. Chanyeol spoons him, his bare chest flush against Baekhyun’s back and the slow heat of Chanyeol’s warmth travel up his toes to his head, fueled even more so when Chanyeol pulls away slightly to kiss each bump of Baekhyun’s spine.
If only they could preserve time and live in the moment forever.
The Alcor Life Extension Foundation Seoul branch is sort of like Baekhyun’s hiding place from all the harsh reality constantly on his shoulders. When he’s in his little lab and is faced with the chemicals and models of the cryoprotectant molecules, he can forget for a while the Multiple myeloma - bone marrow cancer - eating him out from the inside. This is him, working for what he believes in, which is death itself, and that it is inescapable.
But Baekhyun also believes in life, that everyone has the right to live until their bodies collapse on its own out of old age. He believes in living life to the fullest, which is why he never likes it when the foundation takes in older patients who are afraid of death. He believes that only the young who could have done so much in the future but couldn’t due to diseases and such should be cryopreserved, until medical technology catches up and they can be healed. People like him.
He sighs as he hits another dead end at the freezing chemicals, still unable to find the right formula and ratio of substances to lock the cells into a “coma mode”, whilst not letting ice crystals form and cause damage to tissues even the tiniest bit. It’s getting a little frustrating, and Baekhyun’s spine cricks painfully as he straightens up after being bent over a microscope for quite a while. The aching in his bones are getting worse. Sometimes it would even wake him in the middle of the night and throb painfully while he could do nothing but grit his teeth and squeeze Chanyeol’s arm, making him worry even more.
Chanyeol walks in at that moment, without knocking and startling Baekhyun, who jumps in his seat. His boyfriend laughs a little at Baekhyun’s glare but then holds up a Krispy Kreme bag, wiggling his eyebrows. “Snack?”
Baekhyun couldn’t say no to that and Chanyeol grins, taking a seat on the couch and gesturing to Baekhyun to come sit next to him. He hands Baekhyun an apple cinnamon doughnut and takes a strawberry glazed one for himself, and promptly begins munching on it happily.
Baekhyun watches Chanyeol as they eat, eyes raking over his features affectionately and silently committing each little detail to memory. Just in case of anything. Honestly, he doesn’t know how he’s going to cope with his sickness plus his work at the same time without Chanyeol to take care of him. Chanyeol’s always there to remind him to eat, to take him home, to hold his hand and kiss all the pain away. He’ll be so lost in the world without Chanyeol in it.
Chanyeol finally seems to realize he’s being stared at, and looks up with big eyes and full cheeks frozen in mid-chew. “What?” he asks, and some crumbs fall out of his mouth. It’s disgusting.
Baekhyun laughs anyway and leans closer to lick at the corner of Chanyeol’s lips and then kiss him there. “You had icing on your face.” Baekhyun’s grin widens when Chanyeol flushes pink and shovels more of the doughnut into his mouth, mumbling a thanks. There weren’t really any icing, Baekhyun just wants a reason to kiss him.
Fifteen minutes later Baekhyun’s leaning back into Chanyeol’s chest, feeling happy and drowsy from all the sugar. He snuggles closer to Chanyeol’s embrace, and Chanyeol’s arms fall naturally to his waist and pulls him in. They stay in that position for a while, swaying a little to the left and right and slowly falling asleep.
And then Baekhyun suddenly sits up very quickly, causing Chanyeol to knock his chin painfully on Baekhyun’s shoulder.
“Sorry!” Baekhyun apologizes as he gets up and attempts to rub the sleep out of his eyes. Chanyeol is rolling pathetically on the floor, clutching his bruised jaw. “I can’t sleep now, I have to go back to work!”
As Baekhyun returns to his computer and switches the microscopes back on, Chanyeol sits up but stays on the floor, blowing his bangs with a huff and looking dejected. His long legs stretch almost across the doorway and Baekhyun had half a mind to tell him to cross it or he’ll trip someone, but Chanyeol’s looking so kicked he couldn’t bring himself to do so.
“Hey, what’s wrong?” Baekhyun asks softly, carefully sliding in a sample of the cryopreserved rabbit organ he had been observing before Chanyeol came, into the microscope.
Chanyeol looks up at him and tilts his head, eyes sad. Baekhyun’s even more baffled by the expression. “Nothing, it’s just... are you sure this is really worth it?” he asks as he gets up and slowly shuffles to Baekhyun’s desk.
Baekhyun pauses from trying to find the correct focus of the microscope lens to stare at him with a frown. “What is?”
“This,” Chanyeol answers with the tone he uses when he’s upset, and he doesn’t use that voice a lot. “This whole research. This whole... working-yourself-to-the-ground-even-thou
“Stop,” Baekhyun interrupts, gripping the edge of his table so hard his knuckles turn white. “We’ve had this argument before, Chanyeol. This is what I want to do, even if it’ll make me die quicker.”
Chanyeol deflates at that, the fight going straight out of him. Baekhyun’s stubbornness cannot be changed by anyone, and it’s a lost cause even before it’s started. A long, pregnant pause stretch between them, so stiff and heavy in the air and Baekhyun busies himself with his microscope, biting the inside of his cheek.
“I just want you to be happy,” Chanyeol whispers finally. This is bad, because the both of them are hurting just as much, and Baekhyun thinks the only thing he can ever do properly is make Chanyeol sad.
“But this makes me happy,” Baekhyun replies and it’s such a selfish answer it makes Chanyeol close his eyes shut and take in a deep breath, before he turns around and heads out.
“See you at home,” Chanyeol says, and leaves. The silence that follows is more suffocating than anything.
There was a time when Baekhyun used to believe in life after death. A place your soul goes to after it leaves the earth where everything is not ephemeral, where everything is forever and where all the good things are.
It’s childhood thinking, of course. No such place exists.
There's no such thing, especially not after being told during his routine check-up that his bones are getting very brittle because of the deformation in the marrows. The news leaves Baekhyun numb, although he's sort of expecting it anyway. But his mind still freezes in shock when told that he can't work any longer, and that he should be admitted into the hospital since he's entering the middle stage of the last stadium.
"Your bones can break as easily as a twig," his old doctor says, peering down at Baekhyun through his half-moon glasses sympathetically.
Later, when Baekhyun tells Chanyeol, the taller man closes his eyes and pulls Baekhyun to his chest. He's very careful now, so afraid to accidentally break anything, but it breaks Baekhyun's heart to feel that despite the current position and situation, Chanyeol is still the one to hold him up. Without him, Baekhyun will probably be on the ground, retreating into his own mind and closing off the rest of the world. But Chanyeol's body is shaking subtly when it never did before. Baekhyun's rock is crumbling as well.
"Please," Chanyeol whispers, voice cracking at the end of the word. This is what Baekhyun has managed to reduce smiley, happy-go-lucky Park Chanyeol into. Baekhyun knows Chanyeol already knows what he's going to say.
"No," Baekhyun says, and curls his fingers deeper into Chanyeol's shirt because honestly? He's terrified.
Baekhyun resumes work, to no one's surprise. He's made some changes in the components of the deep freeze chemical, some of them really big and drastic like swapping the glycol for sulfoxide, creating a new substance completely different from those before. He's getting pretty close to what he’s aiming for, but he’s not exactly there yet.
He neglects all of Chanyeol’s and his doctor’s pleas for him to resign from work and rest his thinning, frail body. As Baekhyun’s body grows weaker his mind whirrs even faster, constantly restless and always thinking for new ways to improve his formula before his time is up.
If he’s going out, then he’s going out with a bang.
It’s some weeks into the new year and spring is approaching. The snow in the streets had started to lessen but the winds are still as strong as ever. Baekhyun’s anemia from the disease is getting worse, and he’s very easily tired now and would often be found passed out on his desk, microscopes still on, half-written observations tapering off to squiggly lines when his head hits the desk. It didn’t help when his doctor said not a week ago that he’s starting to experience renal failure - that his kidney is slowly failing to filter toxic waste from the blood as well.
It did nothing but make Baekhyun grow more desperate by the day, glancing at the calendar every now and then and slowly counting down six weeks in his head.
Chanyeol is just as persistent, and he even quits his job just so he can be with Baekhyun and stay with him in his lab, even though the whole time Baekhyun would be intent on his work and would ignore him. He knows he's selfish, but he's not going to live for much longer anyway. And then Chanyeol would be free of him, even though the thought hurts Baekhyun a lot.
"I mean it's not like I'm going to pass out if you're not here," Baekhyun says, eyes still glued to the microscope as he watches the chimpanzee brain he preserved a week ago thaw and convince Chanyeol to go down to the cafeteria to get lunch at the same time. Baekhyun just knows Chanyeol is pouting and frowning at him right now even without seeing it.
"It happened once!" Chanyeol cries out accusingly, sounding very childish. There's a thump to the floor and Baekhyun knows Chanyeol just stomped his foot.
"That was a coincidence." If Baekhyun could roll his eyes, he would. But not right now. "Where is the logic behind that anywa --"
Baekhyun's sentence is suddenly cut off as he freezes, limbs locking. Chanyeol's frown deepens at the sudden silence, and he huffs annoyedly at being ignored again. He sniffles in an offended way before turning back to the magazine he's reading, pointedly ignoring the rumble in his stomach.
And then Baekhyun jerks back to life, hurrying over to the second microscope that holds a second brain, peers through it, then runs to the third one, and the fourth one, and the fifth one. When he's done he stops and stares off to the distance, glazed look in his eyes and mouth a little agape.
"Hey, are you okay? Hello? Earth to Byun Baekhyun?" Chanyeol said, completely baffled by Baekhyun's behavior. Baekhyun turns to him slowly, blinking as though he just remembered Chanyeol's there as well.
"I think I did it," he breathes, sounding incredulous himself.
"Did what? Baekhyun, are you sure you're okay because you're scaring me right now --"
Chanyeol stops because he suddenly realizes what Baekhyun's holding up in his hands. It’s a vial of Baekhyun’s latest formula. The almost-clear liquid has a bluish tint to it, sloshing a little in its container because Baekhyun’s hands are shaking. Baekhyun can see that Chanyeol’s mind had ground to a stop just like how his did a few moments ago, and Baekhyun rushes to his side after carefully placing the little bottle on his desk.
“There are no ice crystals growing in the cells, or damaging between it, and all the information stored in the brain are intact,” Baekhyun says in a rush, words tumbling out of him in urgency. He climbs on to Chanyeol’s lap and holds Chanyeol’s face with his shaking hands, the whole thing not entirely processed in his brain yet. “Well, I’ll have to run CAT scans, MRI, and other tests first for that last one to be properly confirmed, but I’m almost completely sure... it’s... working well... Chanyeol?”
Chanyeol’s grip on his arm is tight and he won’t meet Baekhyun’s eyes, but Baekhyun can see that his gaze is flying everywhere as though he’s panicked and that his body is trembling as much, probably more, than Baekhyun’s does. Baekhyun lowers his head, trying to peer into Chanyeol’s face in concern because Chanyeol isn’t answering him.
“Does this mean you can finally rest, now?”
The whispered question takes Baekhyun by surprise, and he pulls away slightly when Chanyeol looks up with wide, hopeful eyes. He’s about to say that he needs to run the tests first before everything’s confirmed, but then thinks that what’s left are all just technical stuff, and that it could be done by an assistant.
“Well, yes, I think, only the tests left to do and I guess -- Chanyeol, hey!”
Chanyeol had pulled Baekhyun to his chest and buried his face in Baekhyun’s shoulder, holding him tightly. Baekhyun’s frail ribs ache and strain under the pressure, but he realizes that it’s been a while since they’ve been this close, this open and vulnerable to each other. His heart falls to the pit of his stomach at that, the guilt and horror that he’s been neglecting Chanyeol all this time comes rushing back and robbing him of air.
“Congratulations, Baekhyun,” Chanyeol says gruffly, voice thick as if he’s speaking while holding back tears. “Congratulations, you finally did it, I -- I’m happy for you, I --”
And maybe Chanyeol has been holding back all the emotions all this time, keeps them bottled up inside him because he doesn’t want to burden Baekhyun any more with them. Chanyeol shakes but doesn’t cry and it’s Baekhyun who has tears down his face, realizing that Chanyeol’s probably terribly lonely because Baekhyun’s attention was always on his work. While all Baekhyun can do is worry his extremely selfless boyfriend all the time.
“I’m sorry,” Baekhyun breathes, choking on his own sobs. Chanyeol holds him tighter but still doesn’t say anything, and Baekhyun can see him scrunching up his eyes tightly. “I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry.”
Chanyeol silences him with a kiss so soft and tender it has Baekhyun rendered breathless. He knows in that instant that he's forgiven; Chanyeol has already forgiven him from the start.
That day Baekhyun takes half the day off. He tidies up his equipments and desk, hands in reports to his boss, and instructs an assistant to run the brain tests for him. And then he takes Chanyeol's hand and leads him out of the building, intertwined fingers swinging between them. It's just going to be one of their normal lunch dates, but it is also going to be the first one in a long time, and Baekhyun's excited. Chanyeol is happier as well, smiles and laughter wide and genuine like how they used to be.
"So where do you want to eat?" Chanyeol asks as they descend down the steps to the ground floor of the Alcor building. It's a hectic Tuesday, and the lifts are all full so they're taking the fire escape down instead. It's hot in here without the AC, and Baekhyun wipes some sweat off his brow before answering.
"Hmm, how about that dim sum place we visited for your birthday last year? I want to go there again, it's a nice place," Baekhyun suggests and Chanyeol shrugs, grinning.
"Whatever you want," he says and ruffles Baekhyun's hair affectionately. Baekhyun glares up at him, and it only serves to widen Chanyeol’s grin even more.
“Stop doing that, it makes me feel short,” Baekhyun grumbles annoyedly and Chanyeol bursts to raucous laughter.
“B-But Baekhyun! You are short!” Chanyeol’s gasping for breath, clutching his stomach as Baekhyun stomps ahead of him. He knows he’s not exactly gifted in the height area unlike his stupid laughing boyfriend, okay, but he’d rather not have the fact thrust to his face 24/7, thank you very much. “Hey, wait up! I still love you that way!”
The comment doesn’t make Baekhyun slow down his steps, instead makes them faster as he sends an angry glare up at Chanyeol. It’s not really how he wants it to look, because he can’t ever stay mad at Chanyeol, especially when he’s smiling down at him like that. “You are the worst boyfriend ever. I don’t know why I’m still dating you, honestly.”
“Aw, you love me!”
Baekhyun snorts in mock irritation. But inside, his chest feels warm and fuzzy; he doesn’t realize he even misses this kind of playful banter with Chanyeol.
“Well, unless if wanting to kick you in the balls count as love, then I guess -- whoa --”
Baekhyun’s left feet, the always stupid, clumsy left feet misses the next step entirely. His vision tilts and gravity takes him down, eyes widening in surprise as Chanyeol shouts his name, face panicked. Air rushes past his ears as he tumbles down and Baekhyun closes his eyes, bracing himself for the impact.
He hits the bottom landing on his side, and something - or maybe a couple of things - splinters. Breaks with clean snaps that sound like shotguns in the near silence of the staircase and Baekhyun lets out a surprised gasp at the excruciating pain suddenly travelling through his body at great speed. He lays still with his eyes still closed, confused and in absolute pain; even taking breaths hurt. He’s still trying to process what happened.
Suddenly there are hands on him, and Chanyeol’s voice calling out his name over and over again and Baekhyun fights through the haze of pain to open his eyes. Chanyeol’s face slowly comes to view, eyes gleaming with unshed tears as he holds Baekhyun’s head gingerly in his arms.
“Oh my god, Baekhyun I’m so sorry, what have I done, why didn’t I catch you, I --”
Baekhyun’s even more horrified because Chanyeol is blaming himself for an accident, something that happened because of Baekhyun’s carelessness. If anything, it should be Baekhyun who is to blame. He wants to tell Chanyeol that he’s okay, but he knows it’s not. He glances to his side; his left arm is bent at a weird angle and his leg probably is too. Some of his ribs are most likely also broken, judging from how painful it is to take a breath. He only fell down five steps but the damage is huge, and Baekhyun has to fight to even stay conscious.
Chanyeol’s crying now, fat tears rolling down his cheeks and it hurts him more to see it. Baekhyun takes a painful lung of air and tries to speak normally, but it’s useless, the agony is seeping to his voice. “Chanyeol, hey, it’s -- it’s going to be fine,” he coos as best as he could.
“People are coming to help you, th - they’re on their way, you’ll be okay.” Chanyeol says it as though he’s trying to convince himself, hands shaking as he brushes Baekhyun’s hair out of his eyes. “You’ll be okay, you’ll be okay, you’ll be okay.”
Minutes later a team of paramedics arrives, places him on a stretcher, and wheels him to the ambulance. Baekhyun drifts in and out of consciousness throughout the whole journey and his head feels woozy from the painkillers the medics gave him, but Chanyeol's hand in his is strong and sure and warm.
When they arrive at the hospital he is brought into the E.R. straight away and examined, and the results has him gripping Chanyeol's fingers with his good hand even tighter.
"Left arm and leg fractured, and there's a fissure in the right leg as well. Three ribs also broken and puncturing the lungs. Internal bleeding," the doctor reports to them in a solemn voice. "We need to get him to surgery straight away."
"But he'll be okay, right?" Chanyeol asks the question that's in Baekhyun's mind. The doctor doesn't answer for a while, gaze trained on the ground. Baekhyun feels his stomach drop.
"We'll try," he says finally. "It will take longer to heal and will require more effort because he's -- well, he's..."
"Please do your best," Chanyeol whispers as he wiggles his fingers free from Baekhyun's grasp and backs away a step. Baekhyun's panicked as Chanyeol's hand slips out of his, eyes wide as he tries to reach out to Chanyeol.
"No, Chanyeol --"
Chanyeol bites his lip, brows in a frown, as if he's thinking hard before he rushes to Baekhyun's side again and kisses him quickly. His hand lingers on Baekhyun's jaw, stroking the soft skin before pulling away to let the nurses wheel him into the operation room. Chanyeol attempts an encouraging smile but Baekhyun thinks he looks like he's going to cry.
He wishes Chanyeol could come as well and hold his hand because Baekhyun is not as strong as he seems, and that he's scared.
Baekhyun’s surgery is successful, but the doctors say that his broken bones will never mend properly, if at all. Chanyeol’s shoulders sags as the doctor who brought him the news pats his arm awkwardly, face sympathetic. He’s trying hard not to cry as he peeks in through the little window on the door and sees Baekhyun, still sleeping from the effects of the anesthetic, skin pale, but breathing evenly.
“I know it’s hard,” the doctor says quietly, and Chanyeol turns his attention back to him. “But you have to be strong, for him.”
Chanyeol gulps, unsure. “I know. I just...”
His words taper off to silence and the doctor smiles sadly, patting his arm once again, before turning to leave. Chanyeol tries to take deep breaths to calm himself but the sterile smell of the narrow, white halls of the hospital makes bile rise in his throat. After a moment of silence, he grits his teeth and enters the room.
The room is bare and plain, smelling too much like desperation. Chanyeol makes a mental note to buy some flowers and maybe cards tomorrow to get rid of it as he circles the room. The walls are painted a cheerful light green and there’s a painting of a vase of orchids opposite the bed. The view out the window looks out the Seoul skyline, all glimmering lights amongst the blackness of the night. Chanyeol sighs as he pulls up a plastic chair beside the bed and takes Baekhyun’s good hand in his, suppressing a shiver because Baekhyun’s skin is a few degrees colder than Chanyeol’s own.
He sighs again and presses Baekhyun’s palm against his cheek, resting his head on the bed. Chanyeol hasn’t eaten all day, appetite gone, and his stomach rumbles weakly in protest but he pays no mind to it. He has to be here when Baekhyun wakes up.
An hour or two later, as the rhythmic beeping of the heart monitor starts to lull Chanyeol to sleep as well, Baekhyun’s eyes flutter open, silent like butterfly wings. He lets out a little groan and Chanyeol’s suddenly fully awake again, scrambling to sit up straight. He nearly falls off the chair in his haste.
“Baekhyun! Oh my god -- how are you feeling?” Chanyeol touches Baekhyun’s face with slightly quivering hands, afraid he’ll cause Baekhyun more pain.
“Chanyeol?” Baekhyun’s hand search his, and when he finds it, he holds on to it, fingers tight and desperate. “Chanyeol, I’m so sorry.”
Chanyeol freezes, surprised at the tears that suddenly flowed down Baekhyun’s face. He’s starting to sob, shoulders shaking and breaths short and choked as he attempts to sit up, sending Chanyeol into panic and pushing him back down on the bed. His crying is threatening to tear a sob out of Chanyeol’s mouth as well, and it’s worse because he doesn’t even know why Baekhyun’s crying.
“No, you can’t get up yet! And why are you apologizing?” Chanyeol wipes the tears away and kisses the salty tracks, nuzzling his nose to Baekhyun’s cheek. Baekhyun leans in to the touch, letting go of Chanyeol’s hand to trail a finger up his nose, and laughs as he scrunches up his brows in response.
Baekhyun shrugs, shifting his position on the bed a little and then wincing. “I mean, when I’m finally done and we could actually spend time together, I fuck up and now... look at me.” He sighs, picking at the plaster on his arm woefully. His crying had stopped, but the terrible sadness Chanyeol hates is still there. Baekhyun should never be sad, he thinks. “What did the doctors say?”
“That you’re going to be okay,” Chanyeol answers automatically, but Baekhyun’s strained smile tells him that he sees right through Chanyeol’s lie. He waits as Chanyeol battles with himself inside on whether he should tell Baekhyun the truth or not, eyebrows raised.
Finally Chanyeol sighed, defeated. “They said that there’s a slim chance you’ll recover fully.”
“That’s not all they said, is it?”
Damn it. “If -- well, if you ever recover at all.”
Baekhyun is silent after that, staring out the window contemplatively. His face betrays no emotion, blank and indifferent, and it kind of scares Chanyeol. To distract himself, Chanyeol presses Baekhyun’s palm on his cheek once again and closes his eyes, listening to the rush of blood underneath the skin. He couldn’t bear to think that it will stop soon. Three weeks. Four, if they’re lucky.
“I expected something like that, I guess,” Baekhyun says suddenly, and Chanyeol raises his head. “But honestly, I’m terrified.”
At this, Chanyeol’s heart plummets to his stomach, and he grips Baekhyun’s hand tighter. Baekhyun chuckles, voice clear but weary in the silence.
“But you’ll be here, right? I’ll be okay then.”
“Don’t -- please, let’s not talk about this.” But what about me? was what Chanyeol wanted to say. But he keeps it to himself and kisses Baekhyun silent instead, licking his way into his mouth as Baekhyun shudders and threatens to break into fresh tears.
They are together but their hearts aren’t whole, and where broken bones can mend with time, hearts will always bear scars of long-inflicted wounds. Chanyeol thinks he’d gladly have all the bones in his body broken any day over this.
Four days after he is admitted to the hospital, one of the higher-ups from Alcor comes to visit Baekhyun. Mr. Lee gives him a tight smile as Baekhyun’s mouth gape open, and Chanyeol looks between them with a questioning expression. But Baekhyun is just as confused as to why he’s here, especially now that Baekhyun’s in a condition unable to work.
“Baekhyun!” Mr. Lee says and settles down on the chair on the opposite side of the bed where Chanyeol is sitting on. “So sorry to hear of your accident, and it’s a shame. You’ve been such a great scientist and contributed very much to the foundation, and I am sad that your career has to end like this.”
“It’s okay, Sir.” Baekhyun sits up straighter, lifting his shoulders in a little shrug. “I should have been in the hospital from a month ago, actually.”
“But you are young and talented! Shame, shame.” He shakes his head with a dismal expression and then looks up to face Chanyeol, smiling good-naturedly. “And you are the boyfriend he talks about all the time, when he’s not talking science, I suppose?”
Baekhyun splutters indignantly and Chanyeol turns red. Baekhyun never talked about Chanyeol outside his tiny circle of friends; especially not to the man who’s now laughing boisterously at their reactions, thank you very much!
Well, he may have mentioned him once or twice. But Baekhyun’s mouth always has a way of running away by themselves on words, anyway.
They lapse into silence and Baekhyun shifts uncomfortably on the bed, still wondering what Mr. Lee would want with him. The man is staring out the window with a small smile, not saying anything. If he’s visiting on behalf of Alcor, the company shouldn’t have to send someone as high-ranked as him, and he didn’t need to stay this long. Mr. Lee is a busy man, surely he has more important businesses to attend to?
“The reason I’ve come to visit you today, Baekhyun, is to tell you the result of the tests run on the five chimpanzee brains you did a few days ago.” Mr. Lee turns to him again, and Baekhyun is even more surprised at the information. Why must he deliver the results himself? “The tests... were successful. All five of them. There were no ice crystal damage, everything is the way it’s supposed to be, all information stored on the brain intact. Although it took the brains about half a day to come back to it’s original state and even longer for it to perform optimally. But your formula was successful, Dr. Byun. Congratulations.”
Chanyeol had gasped halfway through the speech, excitedly shaking Baekhyun’s good hand, but Baekhyun himself is still frozen, mind in shock. His formula worked? Had it really?
“Of course, as you know, the technology we have today is not possible for complete recovery without damage during the thawing process, and the brains are now lost,” he continues, but now his expression is grim, and Chanyeol stops shaking in his seat. “But... there was one brain that showed signs of toxication from the sulfoxide, and it could be fatal, but we don’t know. Not yet. We are going to carry out another experiment, to make sure. It could be a coincidence.”
Chanyeol’s shoulder falls, but Baekhyun’s breathing eases. Of course, he didn’t think it would run so smoothly. “Of course, sir. Anything you like.”
The man smiles and pats Baekhyun’s hand. “Good lad. I have to go now, I hope - well, I hope you get better, Baekhyun.” And then he leaves the room and takes the excitement with him.
As soon as the door closes, Chanyeol turns to him with a proud smile and gathers him to his arms, and Baekhyun laughs along with him. His hard work is going to pay off.
Mr. Lee returns a little over two weeks later, when the nurses have just finished hooking him up to an oxygen tank. It’s getting harder to breathe, as if his lungs are refusing to expand and take in air, and Baekhyun is easily light headed. Chanyeol had gone home for a while to shower and change, so it’s just Baekhyun and Mr. Lee in the room, the nurse bowing out as she closes the door for the two of them.
The middle-aged man doesn’t sit down, instead he paces the length of the room, expression serious. He doesn’t ask how Baekhyun’s doing, and Baekhyun doesn’t really have any energy to spare to greet him. He hasn’t slept since yesterday because of the uncomfortable feeling of something constantly pressing against his chest, and he’s exhausted now.
“I’ll just get straight to business,” he says finally, stopping his pacing to stand at the end of the bed and looking straight at Baekhyun. Baekhyun’s heart thuds just that little bit faster in anticipation.
“The experiment returned the same results as the last one, albeit this one is a little better. Not so much damaged, and it was just a small damage to start with, anyway. But still, we don’t know whether it will be fatal in the future or not.”
As the words sinks in, Baekhyun’s heart plummets further and further down his stomach. All he wants is to leave something worthwhile in the cryonics technology, but now, it seems unlikely; the company is going to scrap his work, and Baekhyun is going to die without contributing anything to humankind. He swallows his disappointment down bitterly and nods, clenching his fists to the blanket. He wishes Chanyeol was here.
“But the company is not going to abandon this project, my goodness, no! They spent so much on this and still have high hopes for it!” Mr. Lee continues, and Baekhyun’s head snaps back up in hope. “Although the tests shows almost no danger in using the formula, we only tried it on brains, not an actual person, and we don’t know how it could affect humans.”
Baekhyun’s eyebrows rise in surprise. “Human experiments?”
At this, Mr. Lee actually looks sheepish, coughing awkwardly and scratching the tip of his nose with a nail delicately. “Well, it is illegal to use new, untested products on our patients, you see. And as you very well know, by law, we cannot perform cryopreservation until legal death, when the heart stops beating. And none of the people ensured to us for cryopreservation are dying or going to die soon, at the moment.”
“I see...” Baekhyun’s shoulders, which had been tense and straight with optimism before, slumps again. He couldn’t bear to think of the work he had been doing these past two and a half years to just end up in the bin, but what can he do?
The room lapses into silence as Baekhyun despairs internally, and it is a while before he realizes that Mr. Lee is looking at him expectantly, as if waiting for Baekhyun to say something. Baekhyun’s eyebrows scrunches up in confusion, wondering why Mr. Lee is looking at him like that, before his mind fits the pieces together. He blinks.
He is to be the human experiment.
Despite working for a cryonics company, the thought of being deep-frozen himself never really crossed Baekhyun’s mind. He conducts all these researches and experiments for other people, not himself. His feelings towards preserving people has mostly been neutral, but Chanyeol had always hated it; stating it to be unnatural and to go against fate. Chanyeol’s naivety and almost childish belief amuses Baekhyun, but the younger believes in it so deeply and so fundamentally it’s no laughing matter.
Now, Baekhyun just doesn’t know what to say.
“I mean, I’m sure you don’t want all your work to go to waste, right?” Mr. Lee says, twiddling his thumbs anxiously. “And you... you have nothing to lose, anyway.”
Mr. Lee rambles on about things that Baekhyun doesn’t care about, and he’s not even listening. The words rings clear in his head, You have nothing to lose, over and over again. Assuming that he agrees to this, this will definitely break Chanyeol’s heart. Chanyeol is by far not religious in any way, but he does believe in life after death, something Baekhyun always scoffs at. Chanyeol would be heartbroken if Baekhyun actually chooses the success of the formula over living with him in the afterlife. It’s a silly notion, but Chanyeol’s like that, pure and innocent and good-hearted, things Baekhyun can never be.
“I need time to think about this, sir,” Baekhyun cuts in in the middle of Mr. Lee’s speech, and the man raises his eyebrows.
“No need to worry about financing, you know! The company will fully endorse this if you agree --”
“I know, sir, I just...” The man’s voice is starting to irritate Baekhyun, and his chest is starting to hurt again, the places where his bones had broken and shown no signs of repair so far throbbing with a dull ache. “Please, I’ll give you the answer as soon as I can. But not now.”
“I see. I’m sorry.” Mr. Lee inclines his head politely and walks out, the door closing behind him with a snap.
If his current position allowed it, Baekhyun would have very much like to gather his knees to his chest and press his face to them, and search for comfort there because Chanyeol isn’t here. This is too much for him to handle right now. So instead he reaches for one of the sleeping pills on his bedside table and swallows it dry, and lets the combined forces of the cool air from the oxygen mask and the medication coax him to a restless, dreamless sleep. He would worry about these things later.
Chanyeol returns with a bright smile and a fresh bouquet of flowers two hours later. His smile falters when he sees that Baekhyun doesn’t even notice him enter, gaze out the window and detached from the world around him. Chanyeol bites the inside of his cheek, angry at himself for being so helpless but he fixes the grin back on and marches to the bed, settling down on the covers and being very careful not to jostle Baekhyun too much.
Baekhyun looks up with a surprised expression, blinking rapidly to clear the thin film of confusion and what looked like sadness from his eyes before he smiles at the lilies in Chanyeol’s hand.
“Oriental lilies!” Chanyeol announces with a flourish, thrusting the bunch of white flowers under Baekhyun’s nose. “Elegance, charm, beauty and grace. Like you.”
Baekhyun stares at him for a moment, dumbstruck, before he bursts into peals of laughter, whole body shaking with mirth while Chanyeol’s brows furrows in confusion. Sure flowers are for women and neither Chanyeol nor Baekhyun is the romantic type, and they’ve never really done this before, but hey, there’s a first time for everything, right? Although it’s nice to see Baekhyun happy even at a time like this, Chanyeol thinks, with warmth blooming in his chest.
“Gross,” Baekhyun wheezes in between laughter. His eyes are scrunched up until the corners are wrinkly, and tears are actually sliding down his cheeks, and Chanyeol’s sort of worried for Baekhyun’s broken ribs. “That’s gross, Chanyeol, I’m not a girl.”
“I know you’re not, thank you very much,” Chanyeol pouts, flicking his boyfriend’s forehead. “But still.”
Baekhyun sticks his tongue out to Chanyeol and takes the lilies to put them on the bedside table. His gaze is soft and rather sad and Chanyeol doesn’t know why. The question lingers at the back of his throat but he’s unsure whether to say it or not. Baekhyun hums as he arranges the flowers so they sit neatly on the table, long fingers smoothing out each leaf and snow-white petal diligently. His hospital gown hangs looser on his shoulders, sharp clavicles jutting out from the collar of the shirt, seeming to almost tear right out of the fragile skin.
Baekhyun turns to him and Chanyeol quickly, almost automatically, puts a smile back on his face, but it doesn’t sit right on his mouth. Chanyeol knows Baekhyun noticed, but before he can say anything, he takes Baekhyun’s hand and presses the palm to his cheek, breaking eye contact.
He hears Baekhyun sigh, before he speaks again in a low voice, nervous around the edges. “Mr. Lee came again, today.”
Chanyeol hums in affirmation that he’s listening, lips slightly vibrating against the skin of Baekhyun’s hand.
“He said the results were the same like the last one, except this one’s a little better. He thinks there should be another, ah, experiment, before we can make sure it’s safe for use.”
Chanyeol doesn’t mention the little catch in Baekhyun’s voice at the word experiment, and a nagging feeling is stirring in his stomach, uneasy, but he pushes it away for now.
“I’m so tired, Chanyeol,” Baekhyun whispers, and Chanyeol finally looks up. Baekhyun has that look on his face, the look he wears when one of his experiments go wrong, or that time when he finds out about his sickness. Chanyeol swallows down the lump in his throat and nuzzles back into Baekhyun’s palm, kissing all over.
He doesn’t say everything’s going to be fine because they both know it’s not.
Three days later Baekhyun goes into the ICU.
Instead of bonding back together, the calcium ooze out from Baekhyun’s broken bones and infiltrates his blood system, and his kidney’s inability to filter it had led to the damage of the soft, delicate tissues of his lungs.
Chanyeol couldn’t bear to watch as the doctors hook him up to even more life-support machines to try to keep him alive. He slides down the wall of the long corridor and gathers his knees to his chest, burying his head in between in an attempt to block out Baekhyun’s screams and sobs from inside the room.
When they first started dating, Baekhyun said he doesn’t like it when Chanyeol is sad because Chanyeol’s face was never made for sadness. He should always be happy and laughing, and from then on Chanyeol keeps Baekhyun’s words to heart, but there was no need to be sad what with Baekhyun always next to him, anyway.
But today, for the first time in a very long while, Chanyeol lets the tears fall freely down his face. They drip down his chin and onto the linoleum floor, seeping into the collar of his shirt. He can’t stop it, shoulders shaking as Baekhyun falls silent, his screams replaced by the frantic beepings of innumerable machines. Just this once, Chanyeol thought, pressing the heels of his palm to his eyes.
When Baekhyun’s condition finally stabilizes the next day, he takes Chanyeol’s hand in his and presses their palms flush together, thin, thin fingers seeking purchase on his knuckles. Baekhyun used to have perfectly manicured hands, but now his nails are a dull pink, cuticles cracked and skin ashen gray.
“Chanyeol,” Baekhyun begins, eyes on their entwined hands. “Come to the future with me.”
They are having this conversation again.
“No,” Chanyeol sighs wearily, and his answer disappoints Baekhyun even though he knows what it will be, anyway.
“Not even for me?”
Chanyeol shakes his head. He closes his eyes and lets the cool linens of the bed soothe the headache in his temple.
Baekhyun is silent for a while. Then, “I’m sorry.”
The room is quiet again, heart monitor beeping monotonously and the white noise of various other machines buzzing in the background. There is no window in this room, unlike the last one. Just the foul stench of anesthetics and despair thick in the air, clogging up his airway and Chanyeol tries not to breathe. He’s not allowed to bring flowers inside as well.
“Baekhyun, I--” he looks up, but finds that Baekhyun is asleep, head lolling sideways on his pillow. His breathing is loud because of the oxygen mask, and Chanyeol cups the sound of each exhale in his palms and stores it away in a corner of his brain to pull out and reminisce on later.
Byun Baekhyun, time of death: 27th March 2016, 20:43.
As soon as those words were spoken, Chanyeol is pushed out of the way, out of the room, out of sight from the pale, dead body on the bed. The team from Alcor is quick and efficient, unpacking the bottles of chemicals from their large bags and injecting them straight to where Baekhyun’s dead heart lays in the cavity of his chest, immediately beginning the deep-freezing process.
“He won’t be dead,” one of them had tried to explain to an enraged Chanyeol when he found out about Baekhyun’s plan only yesterday. Baekhyun had begged him to calm down and listen, choking on his own tears but Chanyeol was so angry and hurt at the time he didn’t think Baekhyun has a right to cry. “Death only occurs when nothing more is done after the heart stops. Resuscitation is possible, and all we have to do is wait until the cure for Multiple myeloma is found. He would still be Byun Baekhyun.”
He won’t, Chanyeol knows. A body could be frozen and thawed again, but where does the soul go? A soul cannot be put on wait until the body is ready again to contain it. Chanyeol is in love with Baekhyun; not just with what’s physically there, but with his personhood. Not just with those lips but the words those lips say, not only with the touches but what those touches mean. No, Baekhyun wouldn’t be the same.
But he stays beside him when Baekhyun struggles to take in his last breaths, when his body shakes with pain he can no longer feel and the doctors have put up their hands in defeat.
He smiles at Chanyeol and Chanyeol tries to throw away the image, because this is not how he will remember Baekhyun. He’ll remember Baekhyun as a smiley, happy person, a hard worker, with a rock for a head. He’ll remember Baekhyun from his kisses and soft, needy moans underneath him and laughter that he pours into Chanyeol’s throat.
“I hope one day you’ll find it in yourself to forgive me.” The words are choppy and rasped out, but Chanyeol hears them anyway, and leans down to capture Baekhyun’s last exhale with his lips.
And so, Baekhyun begins his long, lonely journey to the future.