A few days later, as Zitao is peeling Baekhyun an apple to eat with his afternoon tea, Luhan comes in, looking flustered as he dumps a large stack of papers on Baekhyun’s bed. Zitao’s hand freezes halfway to Baekhyun’s mouth and an annoyed Baekhyun has to pluck the piece of apple from Zitao’s fingers and eat it himself.
“What is this?” Zitao asks, trying to make heads and tails of the documents, but Luhan turns to Baekhyun, smiling brightly.
“The tests run for your formula...” Luhan pauses, and both Baekhyun and Zitao looks up, surprised. Baekhyun unconsciously holds his breath, at the same time afraid but impatient about the results.
“They were successful!”
The breath Baekhyun had been holding whooshes out of his lungs in a surprised exhale, his mind going blank. Beside him Zitao goes rigid, and, smiling all the while, Luhan takes the knife from Zitao’s hand so he doesn’t hurt himself.
“There were no ice crystal damage, your body is working fine, and your memories are returning at a constant rate. This is good news!”
Baekhyun is still trying to process the fact that he has succeeded his century-long work, that he contributed something worthwhile to the technology. It’s been his lifelong dream, to leave an imprint on the world, to make it a better place, and now he’s finally done it.
“I’m so proud of you,” Zitao says, and Baekhyun looks up in surprise.
He’s smiling down at Baekhyun, not one of his awkward smiles, but a soft, genuine one that pulls the corners of his lips in a gentle curve. His eyes are scrunched up at the edges, obsidian irises glimmering. To say that Baekhyun is surprised is an understatement. Zitao’s smiling face shocks him more than the knowledge that his formula is working does.
“Zitao,” Baekhyun starts slowly, a frown deepening between his forehead. “Did you just... smile?”
Luhan turns to look at Zitao and the smile drops from his face, eyebrows raising. “I -- what?”
“It’s nice to see you smile, you know,” Baekhyun says, sitting up straighter as he grins back at Zitao. “You’re cute when you smile. I like it a lot when you do.”
“Zitao, can I have a word, please?” Luhan says, voice curt as he gestures out to the corridor. Zitao’s eyes becomes guarded again, and Luhan wouldn’t look at any of them, making Baekhyun worry. As if sensing his troubled thoughts, Zitao leans down to Baekhyun’s ear discreetly, lips brushing against his skin when he speaks.
“Do not worry, everything will be fine” he whispers, squeezing Baekhyun’s hand gently. To his own surprise, Baekhyun finds that he trusts Zitao’s words as the two walk out.
Once they’re out of Baekhyun’s sight or hearing, Luhan drops all pretenses, his face becoming emotionless as how it truly is. Zitao is unnerved by the sight, how quickly Luhan wipes his expression free of feelings. Does his face look like that?
“How long have you not taken the pills?” Luhan asks, crossing his arms in front of his chest as he leans back on a wall. Zitao stands in front of him, raising himself to full height. He would not let himself be intimidated by Luhan.
“Almost a week now,” he answers honestly, and Luhan raises his eyebrows in apparent surprise.
“Zitao, you know you can’t just --”
“I know very well what I can, and what I can’t do,” he cuts in. Something simmers underneath his skin, his fingertips tingling. Zitao knows what it is, it’s irritation, the beginnings of anger. It’s so strange to feel it himself and not read it in books. “And I know what the consequences of my actions are, Luhan.”
At this, Luhan sighs, and his fierce demeanor from before falls away to be replaced by something like exhaustion. “I know it’s your choice, but I’m just worried the emotions will get in the way of your job. You’ve never had emotions before, Zitao. What if you don’t know how to handle it?”
“On the other hand, ge ge,” Zitao snaps back, anger rising dangerously. “I stopped taking the medication so I can do my job better. So I can understand Baekhyun better. And if I can’t handle emotions, I can get another surgery to remove the neurons again.”
“It’s not that easy --”
“I have to go, Baekhyun’s waiting.” Zitao turns on his heel and walks away, signalling that this is the end of this argument. Luhan watches him go, shoulders drooping and worry gnawing at his insides.
Eventually Baekhyun realizes what brought about the change in Zitao, why he’s so much livelier these days, why he’s more cheerful and happy. He’s afraid to bring up the subject though, sitting on it for a few days until finally he snaps with curiosity one afternoon. They are watching footages of Baekhyun’s life again, the recordings now on Baekhyun’s middle school stages as he stumbles through the last of his childhood and into the teenage years.
“Did you stop taking the medication that keeps your emotional neurons from growing back?” Baekhyun asks, mumbling the question to Zitao’s shoulder as on the screen, eleven year old Baekhyun loses control of his bicycle and hits a tree. They both wince at the same time.
Zitao’s hand that is resting on the curve of his waist tenses, before it relaxes and gathers Baekhyun closer. Baekhyun is grateful for the comfortable body warmth Zitao provides, wriggling around until he fits in just right underneath Zitao’s chin.
“Yes,” he answers straightforwardly. Baekhyun likes that. “How did you realize?”
He shrugs in answer, body growing lax and sleepy in Zitao’s embrace. “Why, though?”
“I want to understand you better,” Zitao answers, but his words sound rehearsed, almost robotic. Baekhyun frowns up at him, dissatisfied at the answer and slaps Zitao’s chest for a proper one. “Ouch. I don’t know, alright? You looked so lost, without anyone to share your feelings with. I don’t like it.”
Baekhyun is left stunned for a moment, taken aback.
“You did it for me?”
Zitao shrugs, and is it just Baekhyun, or is he hanging his head in a display of bashfulness? He pulls away from Baekhyun, getting up from the bed. He doesn’t even meet Baekhyun’s eyes as he searches around for his jacket, and a knowing grin creeps up to Baekhyun’s face.
“Let’s go outside,” Zitao says, attempting to steer the conversation away from himself. “You haven’t been out since two days ago, and the society has accepted you back, so you just need to socialize to blend in.”
“What? No!” Baekhyun scoots back until his back meets the headboard, annoyed. “Let’s just stay inside for one more day, Zitao, I’m tired!”
“You slept all day, what do you mean you’re tired?”
“I don’t know, I just am,” Baekhyun whines, hiding under the duvet. It’s true, he hadn’t done much these last few days, but he’s tired, like he has no energy from the start anyway. Baekhyun peeks from under the thick material of the duvet, pulling his face into a pitiful, puppy pout no one can resist. “Please?”
Zitao goes rigid, mouth half opened as though he was about to say something. His expression looks dumbstruck and Baekhyun wants to giggle but he holds the urge back for now. Finally, all the fight goes out of Zitao, and he deflates. Baekhyun knows the battle is won and he cheers as he gets out from under the duvet.
The smile Zitao is wearing is soft and affectionate, gentle eyes staring at Baekhyun’s antics. That smile only appears after he is frustrated at Baekhyun for going against him or doing something he doesn’t like, but harmless enough to make him smile afterwards. Baekhyun falls silent under the sight of that smile; it’s always managed to make his heart beat a little faster, his stomach churn with strange feelings, but today, he just wants to kiss it.
So he does just that.
Baekhyun clambers up from the bed, a sense of urgency swelling in his chest. Zitao looks confused now as Baekhyun slots himself to the curve of Zitao’s body, like they were there for him from the very start. He reaches up and cups Zitao’s face in his hands, chuckling when Zitao’s hands rests uncertainly on his hips.
He knows this feeling. It’s attraction, a deep, profound attraction that might just lead to love. Baekhyun thinks he’d like that.
He closes his eyes and leans forward the rest of the way.
Zitao’s lips are soft under his, a little dry and chapped but that’s easily remedied by Baekhyun’s tongue running across his lips and making Zitao gasp. Baekhyun chuckles and deepens the kiss at the opportunity. Zitao’s mouth is sickly sweet, like lemon candy, and he finds himself growing steadily drunk on the taste.
When he pulls away Zitao takes in a lungful of air, expression dazed and confused. It only makes Baekhyun laugh loudly, but Zitao is still trying to comprehend what just happened, and pays no mind to the laughter directed at him.
“It’s called a kiss,” Baekhyun supplies helpfully, and Zitao looks at him with curiosity evident in his eyes, touching his fingers to his lips. “You only kiss someone that you like a lot, someone special. When someone kisses you, and you like them as well, you close your eyes and kiss back. ”
Zitao is silent after the explanation, face thoughtful as he digests Baekhyun’s words. Baekhyun watches him with a smile tugging at his lips, wondering what Zitao’s reaction will be. After a while Zitao looks up with his eyes wide.
“You like me? A lot?”
The childish question makes Baekhyun smile wider, nodding his head eagerly. Zitao’s expression brightens so much the whole room seem to soak in the radiance of his face, a smile of his own taking over Baekhyun’s lips.
“Do that again. Kiss me again.”
Baekhyun grins and happily complies.
Instead of going outside and adapting to and learning about the new world, Baekhyun now spends most of his time cooped up in his room, watching footages of his life from the memory projector. Zitao often stays to watch with him, and he’s almost always unsuccessful in trying to get Baekhyun to go outside, much to his dismay. They are now up to the part where Baekhyun starts college, and so many things has been happening in his life, Baekhyun doesn’t want to stop watching. He’s also finding it easier and easier to believe and remember the events that are happening.
“It’s important to rest, and take it easy,” Zitao tries again to stop Baekhyun and his obsession with his memories. Baekhyun doesn’t even turn to him as he pinches Zitao’s side, making the boy yelp. “Baekhyun, your brain can’t handle too much information at once.”
“Oh, shush,” he snaps, not even once taking his eyes off the videos. “This isn’t new information, just stuff to help me remember myself again. My brain will be fine.”
Truthfully, it’s not that he’s worried for Baekhyun’s brain, Zitao is worried for when a certain someone enters Baekhyun’s life, and the effects of remembering that person will have to the the present day Baekhyun. He’s worried that the appearance of this person might destroy all the hard work he’s done for Baekhyun to be okay again. He knows he has to tell Baekhyun before Baekhyun finds out by himself, but Zitao is not sure how to.
He sighs. Better late than never.
“Baekhyun, there’s something I have to tell you --” Zitao looks up, and he stops when the video shows a younger Baekhyun dragging up his suitcase and boxes up to the second floor of the college dormitory. “Baekhyun, did you rewind?”
“Nope!” Baekhyun answers cheerfully. “I fast-forwarded it! This is the start of my second year, my first year is so boring so I thought, why not?”
“Second year...” Zitao echoes thoughtfully, before he remembers and gasps as he tries to turn the memory projector off. “Baekhyun, you have to turn this off now.”
“What? But why?” Baekhyun snatches the the device from its place on the desk and holds it to his chest protectively, back turned towards Zitao. Zitao growls irritably, thinking up of ways to get the memory projector back without using violence.
“Because there’s something I have to tell you first before we proceed!”
The cheerful voice stops whatever it is that Baekhyun is about to say, and Zitao himself freezes. They both turn to look at the screen, and a tall, smiley person comes to view. He’s wearing a pale blue button up and sand-colored jeans, curly brown locks bouncing with every move makes. The man seems to emit an air of friendliness and warmth as he bounds over to Baekhyun, taking a box of Baekhyun’s things to his own arms and smile widening.
“Who is that?” Baekhyun asks.
“Are you Byun Baekhyun? I’m Park Chanyeol! I’m your new roommate!”
At the mention of that name, Zitao curses quietly and fists his hands, frustrated at himself for not being fast enough to tell Baekhyun beforehand. But Baekhyun continues to watch, puzzled, not an inkling of recognition passing over his features.
“Hi, uh, Chanyeol,” the Baekhyun in the footage replies, and Chanyeol beams brighter, the round of his cheeks swelling and eyes curling to crescent moons. “Nice to meet you, I guess? Um, we’ll talk once I get my stuff inside, alright?”
“Oh, I’ll help you!” Chanyeol says and takes a large duffel bag that belongs to Baekhyun from the pile by his feet. “Come on! Let’s get inside and we can work stuff out.”
“Baekhyun, please, listen to me,” Zitao pleads, but Baekhyun shushes him, transfixed at the screen.
“This Chanyeol person is nice,” Baekhyun comments airily as Zitao’s heart grows heavier inside his chest, a weight pushing down on his lungs. He bites his lip and moves to sit behind Baekhyun, positioning the smaller man between his legs and wounding his arms around Baekhyun’s waist. Zitao buries his face in the dip between Baekhyun’s shoulderblades; he can’t even bear to tell Baekhyun anymore, just resigns to the fact that Baekhyun will have to find out about Chanyeol by himself, and be there for him when it happens.
The fear underlying the worry is slowly eating Zitao up from the inside, and he wishes he can turn off his emotions, rip out everything that feels. He’s scared that when Baekhyun remembers Chanyeol, he’ll throw Zitao away, that Baekhyun will live in the past and yearn for someone who is long gone.
“He’s always with me! Hey, Zitao, it looks like Chanyeol is my best friend, but I can’t remember anything about him yet.”
He’s more than your friend, Zitao wants to say, to get it over and done quickly. But he doesn’t, and instead holds on to Baekhyun tighter, refusing to watch with him. They sit like that for hours, Baekhyun making comments about Chanyeol every now and then, drumming his fingers against Zitao’s knuckles, while Zitao near-suffocates with guilt and fear.
And then Baekhyun suddenly stops all movements, body going rigid in Zitao’s arms. He feels Baekhyun exhale shakily and Zitao closes his eyes tightly, bracing for whatever that Baekhyun is about to say.
“Oh,” Baekhyun says, voice small. “He... he kissed me.”
“Byun Baekhyun,” Chanyeol’s voice interrupts his speech again, and Baekhyun doesn’t even seem to notice that Zitao spoke, attention rapt on the screen. “Be my boyfriend? Please?”
The long-ago Baekhyun laughs and says yes! as he lunges towards Chanyeol, toppling them both backwards. There’s a loud thunk as Chanyeol’s head hits the floor and he groans in pain while Baekhyun laughs louder. He kisses Chanyeol and his hands come up to massage the back of Chanyeol’s head, gentle, soothing rubs that makes Chanyeol shiver.
Zitao braves himself to look at present-day Baekhyun, and his chest aches at the look of confusion on his face. Baekhyun’s hands are gripping Zitao’s fingers tightly, and he turns to Zitao with a questioning glance. But Zitao shakes his head, sighs, and rests his head on Baekhyun’s shoulder, feeling weary.
Chanyeol just comes up more and more often after that. The two help each other with their assignments, go on various dates, exchanges kisses, and sometimes have sex (Baekhyun would always skip those parts, face red). There was hardly ever a major fight in their relationship, and by the time they graduate from college, they’re still very much together, as smitten as they were the day when best friends became lovers.
As the memories continue, present-day Baekhyun grows more and more distressed. He’s often fidgeting and wouldn’t stop moving, his face in a frown and worrying his bottom lip. As the memories continue, Zitao can’t help but feel like there’s so much more of Baekhyun he doesn’t know, things he thought he understands about Baekhyun but is then proved otherwise by Chanyeol of the past.
“If he plays such a big role in my life,” Baekhyun says after a long time of silence. “How come I still can’t remember him? How come I don’t remember him earlier?”
“I don’t know, Baekhyun,” Zitao answers, feeling helpless even as Baekhyun snuggles back to his embrace, looking for comfort. “Everyone’s brain works differently.”
A few days after their graduation, Chanyeol took Baekhyun to a date at an amusement park, where he coerced Baekhyun into riding a forty-meter high roller coaster with him, and other heart-racing rides. Then, tired and dizzy but happy, they went to an ice cream parlour where Chanyeol ordered a large banana split and Baekhyun three scoops of chocolate mint ice cream. Chanyeol stole a spoonful from Baekhyun’s bowl and stirred it into his own, cackling as the neapolitan mix with the mint in a gross, brownish slush. Baekhyun looks like he was trying not to retch.
Present day, Zitao closes his eyes and holds Baekhyun tighter, while Baekhyun whimpers a string of no no no to himself.
A couple of days later Chanyeol and Baekhyun went boating in a lake. It’s a clear, spring day, the water glimmering and reflecting the sunshine into their faces. The two looked so happy as they splash water at each other, Baekhyun laughing when Chanyeol almost fell overboard, awkward, gangly limbs flailing.
“I have lunch prepared at the bank!” Chanyeol announced a while later, clapping his hands and beaming proudly. “If we just get off now, I have a picnic ready waiting for us underneath that big beech tree where we started! I originally planned to have the lunch here, but... well...”
“What did you do?” Baekhyun asked as Chanyeol hung his head shamefully, cheeks pink.
“I forgot and left the basket of food behind,” he confessed in a quiet mumble, and Baekhyun laughed at him before taking an oar to paddle them back.
When they did reach the bank though, the basket was upturned and the food was gone, a trail of crumbs leading to the bushes showing where a small animal, most probably a fox, had stolen their sandwiches and ran off. In the end, Baekhyun and Chanyeol ate at a fast food restaurant nearby.
There, with his mouth full of hamburger, Chanyeol turns to Baekhyun and promptly blurted out, “I love you, Baekhyun.”
Baekhyun stopped eating, lowering his food from his face as he stared at Chanyeol, maybe surprised at the sudden confession. Chanyeol blushed and turned back to his food, shoveling as much as he can into his mouth to hide his embarrassment. But then Baekhyun laughed softly, and it made Chanyeol look up hopefully, all wide eyes and puffed out cheeks with sauce on the corner of his lips. “I love you too, Chanyeol.”
“Oh my god.”
Baekhyun’s head falls back to Zitao’s shoulder, and he’s covering his face with his hands. His body is trembling, tremors that grow steadily in magnitude that Zitao learns are sobs. The sounds Baekhyun makes are so heart-wrenching he can practically feel his heart crumble. Tears cascade down Baekhyun’s chin and between his fingers as he still refuses to remove his hands from his face, wailing into his palms and curling up on himself, the knowledge of the past finally breaking him down.
“Baekhyun, I wanted to tell you sooner, I did!” Zitao realizes that he’s crying as well, the tears blurring his vision. He brushes them away angrily. “But I didn’t know how to, Baekhyun -- I’m sorry...”
Baekhyun stops, and he slowly lowers his hands from his face. He looks like a wreck, tears smudged all over his face and expression unreadable. But he wouldn’t look up and show his eyes, and Zitao’s more afraid than ever before.
“Please leave me,” he says, and the ground disappears beneath Zitao’s feet, deflating as those words struck him. Baekhyun is angry at him. Zitao would rather have Baekhyun not want him anymore and pine over someone who no longer exists over being hated by the man he’s come to love. If it really comes to that, Zitao is going to have his emotions removed again. It’s too painful to even think about.
He has no choice but to obey.
In that instant, when Chanyeol looks up with that ridiculously earnest face and says I love you, Baekhyun remembers everything. All his memories come rushing back to him in great speed and fills up every crack and corner of his brain, memories of Chanyeol, of their lazy mornings and peaceful nights and their whole life together. Of curling up under the covers in one single bed during winter, frosty toes pressing to each other's’ shins when the college dorm heating broke down. Of Chanyeol accidentally rolling on top of him during summer, later when they have a bigger bed in a bigger apartment, sweaty skin against sweaty skin. Of stolen kisses at the record shop downtown and that one night of drunken sex when Chanyeol fucked him hard against the wall and passionate love making when Chanyeol would murmur sweet nothings to his skin.
First comes the ache, the slow burn that makes his heart shrivel and die in his chest, crumbling to ash as the memories return. He sends Zitao away, wanting to deal with this by himself as he heaves for breath because no one should be witnessing this.
And then the anger seeps in, anger directed at himself for being so unfair, for not considering Chanyeol’s feelings, for promising to meet him in the afterlife and then breaking it for Baekhyun’s own selfish purposes. For leaving without even saying goodbye or at least try harder to seek Chanyeol’s forgiveness, if he ever will. But Chanyeol was right, Chanyeol was always right. He doesn’t have the right to cry and be angry, not when he was the one who left. It was a one-sided decision, they had not parted on good terms.
Baekhyun gathers his knees to his chest as the memory projector replays happy times where Chanyeol exists and not just a mere recollection in his head, and fruitlessly wills the tears to stop.
Baekhyun stays in solitude for five whole days. Luhan would come in and bring him food along with kind words and sympathetic gazes, but they are as shallow and empty as always. He’d try to initiate some kind of conversation with Baekhyun, but Baekhyun wouldn’t even try to keep it going. He misses Zitao, who understands how he feels.
Food feels awful in his stomach, and it’s hard for him to sleep at night. Instead, he’d wake up suddenly during random hours of the day, disoriented and dizzy as if he had passed out as opposed to falling into a natural state of slumber. His body is also taking the toll of his emotional turmoils, back aching and joints stiff every time he moves.
Lately Luhan had been trying to tell him something, and by the sound of his voice, it’s something urgent. But Baekhyun is past the point of caring, deaf to the world. He is trapped in his own misery. He wishes it was Zitao who came, with his silent ways of comforting and gentle hands on his waist when he holds Baekhyun close. He wonders what Chanyeol will say about this, whether he will consider this as cheating, because Baekhyun yearns for both of them at the same time.
On the sixth day, Luhan snaps.
He grabs Baekhyun’s shoulders and yanks his thin body to face him properly, erasing all the fake emotions on his face. Now he is the real Luhan, cold, unfeeling and unsympathetic.
“Listen, Baekhyun.” He hisses out Baekhyun’s name like he’s disgusted of it. But then, who wouldn’t be, with the way he has been acting? “Right now Zitao is goddamn broken because of you. Those things you said? Yeah, he thinks you hate him.”
The words take a long time to reach Baekhyun’s consciousness, and when it does, a small part of the haze in his head clears, growing steadily alarmed by the second.
“What?” he gasps, turning shocked eyes to Luhan. “But I-- I don’t--”
“No one cares what you meant or what you don’t!” Luhan’s voice is still low and deadly. He gives Baekhyun a long, calculating look, and then shoves him backwards. “Well, whatever. He’s getting his mirror neurons removed today, so we’ll get our genius scientist back anyway.”
Baekhyun blinks. Mirror neurons. The part of him that feels.
Luhan frowns, tilting his head. “I’m sorry, what was that?”
It’s like a new revelation ignites itself inside Baekhyun. Chanyeol is gone, there is no more use in regretting and beating himself up over the past. No matter what he does, there is no way to go back and retake decisions he had made badly. He’ll never know if Chanyeol ever forgave him or not, and would probably only find out when he meets him in the afterlife.
What’s important is the present, and the future. Zitao is the one who brought him back to life, who helped him find himself again, who stayed with him and made sacrifices for him. Baekhyun loves Zitao, is in love with him. Zitao has done so much for him, and it’s about time Baekhyun gives something back in return.
Baekhyun is going to put the memories of Chanyeol in a silver box, padlock it, put it behind him, and leave it there until the right time comes to take it out again.
He grips Luhan’s arms, and stares straight into his eyes. “Thank you,” he says earnestly.
A flicker of confusion passes over Luhan’s face, but Baekhyun is already dashing away, looking for a jacket. He feels energized all of a sudden, a different person from the one when Luhan walked in earlier.
When he speed-walks out the door, Luhan calls out, “Where are you going?”
Baekhyun beams back at him, not even slowing down.
“To do the right thing!”
(However, when he reaches the lift, Baekhyun realizes he doesn’t know where Zitao lives or stays. He ends up going back to Luhan for help.)
The door Baekhyun standing in front of is a plain, grey one made of metal, with no door knob or handle in sight. If Luhan hadn’t pointed it out, Baekhyun would not have thought it was a door at all, as it blends in well with the bleakness of the corridor. Luhan had left him alone, patting his shoulder and murmuring a good luck, although he didn’t seem to be too happy about this anyway. Baekhyun will make it up to him later.
He inhales deeply and takes a step forward, intending to knock on the door, but it slides open before Baekhyun could even reach a hand up. He jumps back in surprise, and Zitao is standing there, black-and-gold leopard print jacket zipped all the way up, dark shades covering his eyes, bag slung over his shoulder. He looks ready to go out, and Baekhyun gives himself a mental pat in the back for the good timing.
“Baekhyun?” Zitao’s voice is a little hoarse, shifting his weight between his two feet nervously. When Baekhyun first woke up and saw Zitao, he didn’t think he’d ever see him so jittery and unsure. Zitao had always emitted confidence and a cool aura, and to see him like this makes Baekhyun want to giggle a little. It’s adorable.
“Zitao, we need to talk,” Baekhyun says. Even though he can’t see his eyes, Baekhyun can feel the weight of Zitao’s gaze on him.
The boy sighs, and leans his body against the doorframe. “Can you make this quick? I have somewhere to be.”
Panic settles in Baekhyun’s chest, and he fists his hands to keep them steady. “Your surgery?”
Zitao’s eyebrows rise above his shades, evidently surprised. “How did you -- Luhan.”
“Don’t blame Luhan, please, it was my fault from the beginning.” Baekhyun grips at the front of Zitao’s shirt, causing them both to stumble backwards, and the door slides shut again. “Don’t do it, please, I’m sorry if I made you think that I hate you, but I don’t! You’re the only one who understands me, Zitao. I know this is selfish of me to ask you this, but keep your emotions, please?”
Baekhyun gazes beseechingly up at him, tears forming at the corners of his eyes. His hands are trembling, his knees as well. Zitao is looking down at him with his mouth half-open in what is probably shock, and Baekhyun still can’t see his eyes. Hell, doesn’t know what he’s going to do if Zitao doesn’t forgive him. Guilt to one person is already too much.
Finally Zitao gulps loudly, clearing his throat to find his voice again. “But... what about Chanyeol?”
At this, Baekhyun releases his hold on Zitao’s jacket and smiles sadly. The lingering pain is still there when he thinks of Chanyeol, but he hopes it will dull with time; he knows it can.
“Chanyeol is gone,” Baekhyun says, reaching up to zip Zitao’s jacket all the way up again, as it had slid down. He’s wearing a dark grey shirt underneath. “There’s nothing I can do about that. I can’t go back to him, or make things right. What I can do, however, is to say to you that I am sorry, and that I love you, and I don’t want to lose you - this.”
Baekhyun gestures awkwardly to the space between them, cheeks burning. Zitao is silent, head cocked to the side and he seems to study Baekhyun’s face for a moment, before he leans forward and shyly presses their lips together. Surprised, Baekhyun gasps and it alarms Zitao, making him pull away.
“I’m sorry! I didn’t mean to surprise you or anything -!”
“Zitao, it’s fine.”
“I just haven’t kissed you in a while and now you’re here, and within kissing distance I - my body moved by itself?!”
A laugh climbs its way out of Baekhyun’s throat, and all the knots inside him unravels in relief. “Zitao, really, you can kiss me!”
“I really didn’t mean to - what?”
Baekhyun’s laughter only gets louder, and he has to bend over to clutch his stomach with mirth. Zitao’s rambling, the relief, and the knowledge that Zitao’s not going to leave him miserable and alone, is a combination enough to keep Baekhyun happy. He’s so happy.
Frustrated of waiting for an answer, Zitao mock growls and kisses Baekhyun silent, not letting up on his kisses even when Baekhyun starts hiccupping hard his throat hurts, or when he’s out of breath his lungs burn.
Somewhere in the middle of kissing, Zitao’s shades press uncomfortably against the bridge of Baekhyun’s nose, and he reaches up to take them off. He gasps when he sees that Zitao’s eyes are rimmed red, eyebags puffy and swollen. Zitao smiles ruefully as Baekhyun traces the contour of his eyes with his fingers, cooing at him all the while.
“I hate crying,” Zitao whines into Baekhyun’s shoulder. “My eyes hurt.”
“I’m sorry, it won’t happen again,” Baekhyun says solemnly, and kisses the promises to his lips.
With Zitao, it feels like learning to love again. He’s utterly clueless when it comes to feelings, which is understandable, but it often drives Baekhyun up the wall. Like a child, he clings to Baekhyun even in public, earning them questioning stares from other people. They are not judging, but it makes Baekhyun uncomfortable nonetheless, while Zitao is blissfully oblivious, leaning his weight on Baekhyun’s shoulders with his chin propped on Baekhyun’s head and humming cheerfully.
Although it’s Baekhyun who follows Zitao to work, to meet the higher ups of the society, to go jogging around the small park near where they live, it feels as though Zitao is the one following him, like a stray dog. His hand could be mistaken for permanently stitched to the hem of Baekhyun’s shirt, fingers curled around the fabric protectively.
Baekhyun has somehow won Luhan’s approval again. Luhan, like everybody else in this world, despises emotions because they get in the way of the advancement of technology, puts a blanket over people’s rational minds. But he is baffled by the fact that Zitao works better now, especially when Baekhyun is in the same room. The boy would sometimes get distracted, pouring dangerous chemical into a beaker until it almost overflows as he stares at Baekhyun puttering around the lab in one of his shirts and slippers. If he had emotions, he probably would have laughed. Although he can’t deny that Baekhyun’s presence, all in all, raises Zitao’s productivity.
At the end of the day, Baekhyun never knows how to feel. If he hadn’t been so selfish and let himself be cryopreserved, he’d probably be with Chanyeol right now, wherever it is. Eden’s garden, somewhere above the clouds, a mythical place Chanyeol had always believed in with fierce innocence.
But then Zitao would turn his head and smile at him with the same naivety, pull him in for a kiss and Baekhyun is secretly glad he made the choice he did. With Chanyeol, it had been so easy to fall into love, Chanyeol was so full of love and affection Baekhyun barely has to do anything. But with Zitao, they’re both standing at the starting point, walking towards the same common goal, with nothing but their hands intertwined between them. It seems like a frightening journey, all shadows and uncertainty, but as they smile at each other shakily, fingers gripping harder into knuckles, they step forward anyway.
It was a wonderful three years. They had a great run. But all things come to an end.
When Zitao comes home from work, Baekhyun is still curled up on the bed, still in the same position when Zitao had left that morning. His body is aching, all energy seeming to have been drained out of him. He feels like shit, and he’s shivering under the mountain of blankets piled on top of him.
“Baekhyun,” Zitao’s voice is shaky, striding into the room with angry steps. Baekhyun wearily lifts his head up from under the duvet, croaking out a ‘welcome home’ to Zitao before promptly dropping his head to the pillow again. Maybe he caught winter flu. He feels so tired.
Zitao finally stops and kneels on the floor near Baekhyun’s head, pushing Baekhyun’s hair back from his forehead, touch scared and anxious. It’s enough to make Baekhyun worry a little and open his eyes a crack with a questioning gaze.
“Why didn’t you tell me you’re always tired like this?” Zitao finally snaps, pulling his hand back from Baekhyun’s hair as though he’s stung. “Why didn’t you just tell me, why did you have to wait until I notice?”
Baekhyun’s eyes widens, not understanding where this conversation is going. “Zitao, I’m just tired, that’s all.”
“No, that’s not all.” Zitao’s eyes are red, as if he’s holding back tears, which maybe he is. His lips are pressed into a thin line, and, worried, Baekhyun pushes himself up to his elbows and kisses him. But Zitao doesn’t respond. “Anemia. It’s coming back. Baekhyun, your body rejected the cancer treatment.”
Baekhyun stares blankly at Zitao, no trace of emotion in his face; he looks like one of the future-people, only blinking whenever he needs to, ten blinks per minute. Zitao looks like he is growing alarmed by the reaction, or lack thereof. He forces himself to be calm by swallowing hard.
“I think... I think it started growing again a year ago. Maybe earlier. I don’t know, it’s growing faster now, much more than it did before.”
Baekhyun finally breaks his gaze, and stares down at his lap. Honestly, he’s not as surprised or scared as Zitao might think he is. He’s perfectly calm about it, and he’s not worried about the future, or whatever it is ahead of him. It’s not something to be scared about, not when he’s gone through this before.
He looks up, smiling until his eyes scrunch up to crescent moons. “I’m sorry,” he tells Zitao.
Zitao chokes back a dry sob, turning it into a sharp exhale through the middle of it. “There’s nothing to be sorry about. I’m just annoyed you didn’t tell me about it. This is abnormal, you know? You should have realized earlier. But no worries, we can buy you some time with what we have now, and create a new medication that will fix you up properly this time. That one was a generic formula anyway, no wonder it didn’t work--”
“No, I meant I’m sorry,” Baekhyun cuts him off, touching his fingers to Zitao’s lips. “For having to leave you, when we’ve barely started.”
Zitao’s mouth falls open. Is he hearing things? “...What?”
Baekhyun sighs, running a dainty-fingered hand through Zitao’s hair, curling the black locks around his pointer. “Humans shouldn’t toy with death, Zitao. No matter where you go, how long you evade it, it will catch up to you someday. Humans are born to die. You can’t cheat death.”
“Yes we can!” Zitao retorts angrily.
“Yes we can,” Baekhyun agrees, nodding. “But we’re not supposed to -- hey! No crying! You promised!”
“...I did, didn’t I?”
Zitao pouts like a petulant child, but really he’s so afraid of the possibility of losing Baekhyun, of waking up every morning and not finding Baekhyun sleeping next to him, of having to nurse his broken heart by himself because no one else understands. He’s felt that once before, and he’s not keen on experiencing it again.
But he also knows that Baekhyun wouldn’t push him past his limits, Baekhyun knows where the line stands and would never make Zitao jump over it. So Zitao smiles a watery smile and lunges at Baekhyun, toppling them both backwards to the bed. He kisses Baekhyun deep and slow, pouring all the feelings he can’t express in words from his chest into Baekhyun’s throat, until he feels wrung dry, spent, but content. Baekhyun smiles, all white teeth and pretty pink lips and crescent-moon eyes.
A human’s life on earth is so fleeting, so fickle and insanely short. They light up the earth like fireworks in a summer night, some bright and glaring, some small like roman candle, each lasting only a few seconds in the gaping mouth of the heavens. All beautiful in their own ways, bringing happiness to the world with their unique colors. No one can make a firework stay up in the sky forever, because eventually the sun will rise, and a new day will begin. It’s how it has always been, how it should always stay.
The day Baekhyun dies for the second time is a chilly autumn in the year 2116. It’s afternoon, and Zitao is drinking tea from a paper cup Luhan brought in for him half an hour ago. Baekhyun is lying on the bed, eyes closed, breathing even, but Zitao knows he’s awake. His eyes are moving rapidly under his eyelids, quivering like a butterfly settling on a branch.
His gut feeling tells him that tomorrow he won’t see Baekhyun again, that this is the last time he’ll see him like this. Maybe tomorrow he’ll just be ash in an urn on one of Zitao’s shelves. Despite this, Zitao hardly feels the pain. His mind is numb, like someone has switched off the power of his pain receptors and covered them with something thick and woolly. The hurt will catch up soon, but at least for now he can quietly commit each detail of Baekhyun’s face in his mind, etch them to his brain without it getting in the way.
Baekhyun had refused any kind of medication or life support machines, and Zitao had to watch him fight the agony of the sickness by himself. He’s a tough one though.
Zitao had been staring so intently at the shape of Baekhyun’s nose he doesn’t realize Baekhyun had opened his eyes, and is grinning at him.
“Hey,” Baekhyun calls out gently, and Zitao jumps in surprise, blushing at being caught staring. This only makes Baekhyun fall into peals of soft laughter, arm coming up to cover his face with his pillow.
“Stop,” Zitao whines and stomps a foot down.
“That. Laughing. I don’t know.”
Baekhyun grins, and turns on his side to face Zitao. He winces as the right side of his fragile ribs take the weight, wriggling a little on the bed to find a comfortable position. They have a staring contest, in which Baekhyun has a hint of a smile on his lips. Zitao blinks first because his eyes are starting to hurt and the smile grows wider. “What are you thinking?” Baekhyun asks.
Zitao shrugs. “Chanyeol.”
“Chanyeol?” Baekhyun raises his eyebrows in surprise and Zitao looks down, embarrassedly picking at the sleeve of his leather jacket. It has gold studs on the shoulders and Baekhyun had always complained about it, because he couldn’t put his hands there to lever himself up when he wants to kiss Zitao.
Zitao shrugs again. “Will you meet him? Wherever you’ll go after this?”
“Why do you suddenly ask that?” Baekhyun asks, and Zitao looks up. But Baekhyun doesn’t look angry or anything, just curious.
“I don’t know, you--” he sighs. “You still love him, so I guess you would want to find him, right?”
Baekhyun looks up, thinking. Maybe he’s looking for the answer in the ceiling, eyes raking from corner to corner, from one crack in the plaster to the next. Maybe he’s already started looking for Chanyeol. The thought stings Zitao more than he thought it would.
“I would try to meet him, and apologize for everything” Baekhyun says decisively, and Zitao’s heart plummets to his stomach. But then Baekhyun grins, and settles back on the bed on his back. He closes his eyes, like he’s getting ready to sleep.
“But I think he would have already forgiven me, you know,” Baekhyun continues, talking with his eyes closed. “He’s selfless like that. And Chanyeol doesn’t hold grudges. Though it would be nice to see him again. But even before that, I’d wait for you.”
Zitao’s head snaps up from where they have been glaring at the floor, surprised. “What?”
“I’d wait for you,” Baekhyun repeats. “In the gates of the Garden of Eden, or whatever shit is out there, beyond this. Until you’re ready to die, even if I have to wait forever because you keep wanting to get cryopreserved or something, I’ll wait. And then we can meet Chanyeol together. Sounds good?”
Zitao’s eyes water, and he quickly brushes away a stray tear, thankful that Baekhyun’s eyes are closed, or else he would be reprimanded for crying. Baekhyun’s breathing slows, but the smile stays on his face. Zitao knows that this lifetime, his first, will also be his last. He’s not going to keep Baekhyun waiting for long, but it will be a surprise.
He smiles. “Sounds like something I can look forward to.”
a/n: THIS. THING. i started about a month ago, more or less and it has been my baby ever since T-T writing this seriously drained me physically and mentally and omg i am never writing a fic at this length again c r i e s so much thanks to the #craygang rui the_maknae, hanna mebeforeyou, and brain twin lynn perfect_key for all your help in the pre-production of this monster!!!!!!! u guys deserve my firstborn child T-T
Alcor really does exist in real life, this is their website. and i’m not the geek i make out to be, knowing all these science-y stuff and i might get stuff wrong bla bla bla ;m; but i did tons of research and i hope it’s decent. whew i’m glad this is finally done.