From: ANONYMOUS until December 30, 2014
Title: The Countdown
Length: 14,000 words
Summary: If you had one year left on Earth before you became just another light in the night sky, what would you do?
Warnings: unprotected sex, dangerous activities, angst, figurative character death (no one actually dies)
Notes: This has sci-fi aspects in the story regarding space travel, time dilation, and technology which does not yet exist. Creative liberty has been taken in that regard. Location intentionally not specified. Dear recipient, I sincerely hope that you enjoy this and my take on your prompt.
From: ANONYMOUS until December 30, 2014
Title: The Countdown
Length: 14,000 words
Summary: If you had one year left on Earth before you became just another light in the night sky, what would you do?
Warnings: unprotected sex, dangerous activities, angst, figurative character death (no one actually dies)
Notes: This has sci-fi aspects in the story regarding space travel, time dilation, and technology which does not yet exist. Creative liberty has been taken in that regard. Location intentionally not specified. Dear recipient, I sincerely hope that you enjoy this and my take on your prompt.
It’s not often that Baekhyun doesn’t know exactly why he’s meeting his best friend for something outside of their homes and regular lives. Typically, it would be something along the lines of a surprise party, which Baekhyun can typically predict as subtlety isn’t a specific forte of his best friend. But this is different. This is late spring and him sitting at a nice garden patio restaurant waiting for his lunch companion to arrive and feeling acutely nervous without a specific reason as to why.
Which, in turn, makes him more nervous.
Being friends with Chanyeol for so long has left him with many benefits. He knows when something upsets his friend, how to cheer him up, when to leave him alone, and when he’s the cause. Today is a blank space he can’t read underneath and it’s putting him on edge.
When Chanyeol arrives, he’s smiling, the same big bright smile he usually wears and sits down across from Baekhyun. He’s wearing a nice tailored suit, his waistcoat a dark red under his jacket and a smart bowtie. It makes Baekhyun feel incredibly underdressed in just a vest and dress shirt, his dress coat left at home.
It’s not often that he and Chanyeol will dress up to meet each other.
“I have something to tell you,” Chanyeol tells him, without even opening his menu yet.
“Can it at least wait until after we’ve eaten?” Baekhyun asks, looking down at his menu finally. He’s not specifically hungry, his stomach crawling with apprehension at Chanyeol’s abnormal behavior, but he’d appreciate the distraction. It’ll be easier to process something if he’s at least not already agitated from hunger, considering he skipped breakfast.
“Fine,” Chanyeol says, nodding a bit. “I’m buying.”
For a moment, Baekhyun observes his friend, the definite statement without argument.
They always argue over the bill, going back and forth with a ‘oh no, please allow me’ sort of banter. Baekhyun’s stomach knots further.
It’s during tea after lunch that Chanyeol tells him.
“I’m going on a mission,” he says. Blinking, Baekhyun puts down his teacup.
“I just got word the other day,” Chanyeol say. He’s smiling down at his teacup, his eyes bright and lips soft. “I passed the screening tests and they're putting me in the program.”
Baekhyun’s mouth is dry as he holds his teacup by his lips. It’s shaking slightly in his grip. “Which program?” he asks. It’s not like he didn’t know one day Chanyeol would get accepted through the screening programs. It’s been years since he’s been working at the Global Institute of Space Technologies and Exploration, trying to engineer ways to travel deeper into space.
There are a huge number of programs GISTE offers, and Baekhyun knows before Chanyeol even tells him which program it is. The small soft smile on his lips tells him before Chanyeol opens his mouth.
“They selected me for the first round of the Deep Space Research division,” Chanyeol says, voice uncharacteristically soft.
Baekhyun puts down his teacup before he can drop it. He’s heard about this program repeatedly, Chanyeol discussing it and the others countless times, about the long journeys into space that will separate them by not only years, but centuries. The explorers who will never return.
“When do you launch?” Baekhyun asks, trying to keep his voice light.
“Well, don’t look so happy for me,” Chanyeol says, laughing a little as he leans back in his chair. “It’s not like I haven’t been dreaming of this my whole life or something.”
“Congratulations,” Baekhyun says, but most of the enthusiasm he might usually have is gone. It is a huge accomplishment, but Baekhyun remembers the protocol discussed for the pilots of these missions. “You get to finally go and meets some aliens. Bring me back a souvenir would you?”
Chanyeol’s face falls a little, and the small cracks that Baekhyun had begun to see, in how the usual energy of his friend is slightly subdued, rolls off him now in waves. “Baekhyun,” he says softly. It would be better if he yelled. “You know I won’t be coming back.”
“Exactly,” Baekhyun says, and takes his napkin from his lap, throwing it on the table. His chest is burning, the feeling of betrayal, of being abandoned rising in him so cruelly that looking at Chanyeol’s falling face just makes him hurt. “Why would I congratulate you for deciding to bury yourself in space? It’s cold and dead up there and soon you will be too, I guess. So good job.” His throat tightens. “I hope you have fun leaving us all behind.”
It’s not the reaction Chanyeol wants from him, and he knows it. But he and Chanyeol have always been honest with each other and found comfort with their friendship in hard times. He can’t help but feel a bit abandoned and used.
This is Chanyeol’s dream, but it hurts too much. To know that soon all that will be left of Chanyeol on this earth for him is a tombstone with his launch date, marking him departed from this world and all Baekhyun will see of him is among the billions of lights in the night sky.
Wondering which one is his.
“Baekhyun.” Chanyeol’s face is sad, looking up at him as Baekhyun stands in a hurry.
“I have to go,” Baekhyun says. He wishes he had a coat, something else to hold onto instead of just his silk top hat. Heart shivering in his chest, he closes his eyes, facing away from the table and his friend, letting out a long breath. “How long?”
“I have a year,” Chanyeol’s voice is soft and vulnerable. “I have one year left on this earth.”
“Well,” Baekhyun spits to cover up the shake in his voice. “I hope you enjoy it.”
He walks from the table before Chanyeol can see him raise his hand to wipe at his face, fingers coming back wet.
It takes a good few weeks before Baekhyun is composed enough to see Chanyeol again. It’s at a party, hosted by their mutual friend Sehun. Baekhyun ends up being the one to first approach his best friend. Only Baekhyun knows about the launch, about how Chanyeol will be socially dead in a year, nothing except computer reports and transmissions from worlds away.
When Chanyeol sees him, he gives him a small little nervous smile. It’s the first time he hasn’t been big smiles and welcoming arms, dragging Baekhyun to his side with a laugh and a jibe at his clothing choices.
“So,” Baekhyun says, slipping to stand beside him, looking out at the group of friends. “One year to live, huh?”
“Well, I suppose you can look at it that way,” Chanyeol murmurs, looking into his tumbler of whiskey and swirling the ice ball in the glass. “A year is a long time, you know.”
“Not really,” Baekhyun scoffs, raising his glass to his lips and drinking the whole thing. He closes his eyes, letting his own whiskey burn down his throat and ground him.
It had been a while that he’d thought about this, hands running over his face as he thought about the best friend of his that would be leaving him forever in just a year. He’d come to the decision that he didn’t want to be angry with him. Both he and Chanyeol deserved better than that.
It had helped that he knew that anger was a part of grieving. Putting it in perspective to know that his anger at Chanyeol is less at him going to live his dream among the stars and more at being left behind. Of not being able to follow him when Chanyeol means as much as he does to Baekhyun.
“So what are you going to do?” Baekhyun asks, staring down at his empty glass and feeling the whiskey warm his belly. “In your last year? Got any last requests or ideas of stuff you never did in your life so far?” Chanyeol lets out a soft laugh beside him and Baekhyun turns, his own smile on his face. “I guess you haven’t been able to do much since you’re barely thirty.” He sighs. “Why is it that they’re taken so young these days? You’re your own self made tragedy, Chanyeol.”
“I always did have a flair,” Chanyeol says with a smile, taking another sip of his whiskey. “I made a list.”
“A list?” Baekhyun asks, staring at him.
Chanyeol hums in answer. “I’ve been making it for a while. Kind of like a bucket list. I had to take a few things off, like have children, because that’s just cruel. I narrowed it down to about twenty things I figured I can do in a year before…”
“So it’s a countdown,” Baekhyun says, looking out over the party. Sehun’s highrise apartment is stunning, the styling mostly attributed to his roommate and friend Junmyeon, who kept things mostly clean and attractive. The group isn’t huge, but it’s large enough that no one bothers the two of them by the far wall. “You’ve made yourself your own countdown.” His eyes travel to the windows, looking out into the night sky and the stars blinking through the city light pollution, dim glimmers in the sky.
Beside him, Chanyeol chuckles, and finally seems to relax, leaning into Baekhyun’s side. “I guess you could call it that,” he says, and a smile remains on his face, wistful but happy. “Just kind of things I want to remember from my last time on earth. To look back at home and remember what it meant to me, all the things I did. I don’t really have much time though.”
“That shouldn’t stop you,” Baekhyun says. “Unless you’re planning something stupid, like hiking the Himalayas or learning how to actually dance.”
“That’s actually the first thing on my list,” Chanyeol says. His eyes crinkle when he turns to Baekhyun, smile broadening on his face.
“What, the Himalayas?” Baekhyun asks, choking down a laugh. He can feel the warmth from the whiskey spreading through him. It courses along his veins, making him more aware, almost sensitive.
“No,” Chanyeol says, laughing fully. The same wonderful too loud laugh surprised from him, genuine and real. Baekhyun watches him and a small pain flares as he realizes he only has a year left to see it. “Dancing.”
“You need more than a year to learn how to dance,” Baekhyun tells him, and Chanyeol laughs again.
“Just one dance, actually,” Chanyeol explains, quieting. His eyes drop, back to his glass of whiskey. “I wanted to dance on a rooftop with someone. It always seemed magical to me to dance up in those rooftop gardens with only the city lights around you and the clean open air. Like dancing on the top of the world.”
Looking up at him, Baekhyun contemplates with the weight of his empty glass in his hand, the ice slowly melting as his eyes travel over the image of his best friend. Chanyeol’s hair styled back from his face and he’s in his perfect suit again, a light blue vest under the jacket and a black bowtie for the event. His eyes are distant, stuck between the spaces of Ursa Minor and Antares.
Putting down his glass on the table behind them, Baekhyun takes Chanyeol by the wrist, giving a small tug. “Okay,” he says, making a decision he hopes neither of them will regret.
“Okay?” Chanyeol asks, looking perplexed.
“Yeah,” Baekhyun says, and smiles as brightly as he can. “Now hurry up.”
Dragging Chanyeol along by the wrist, the people in the party parting for them easily as Baekhyun flashes them quick breathless smiles, Baekhyun’s own heart pounds in his ears. He doesn’t stop, almost running as Chanyeol barely gets out a protesting yelp, until he bursts through the door to the roof. Panting, he turns to Chanyeol, dropping his wrist to hold out his hand.
“Dance with me.”
Staring at him, Chanyeol’s eyes reflect all the light of the city around them. The wind up here tangles in his hair, pulling it free from the styling he’d fixed it in, and his cheeks are slightly pink from running. “Are you sure?”
“What? You never specified if you wanted to dance with a boy or a girl so what’s the problem?” Baekhyun asks, breathless as he smiles. It makes him feel alive, the blood racing under his skin and lightness rises in his chest. He holds out his other hand, both arms open to Chanyeol. “Dance with me.”
It takes a few moments before Chanyeol stops staring at him like he doesn’t believe he’s real, like he’s waiting for the punch line to drop, his emotions flickering over his face. When he finally steps to Baekhyun, he wraps his arms around him, one hand settling at his waist and the other lacing his fingers with Baekhyun’s.
“I said you didn’t specify if you wanted to dance with a girl, not that I should dance like one,” Baekhyun grumbles. Yet he rests his head to Chanyeol’s chest, easing into the soft step that Chanyeol guides him into.
“It’s my list,” Chanyeol tells him. He rests his head against Baekhyun’s, the two of them slowly dancing as the wind picks at them. “My list means my rules.” He falls silent, simply stepping in a gentle circle with Baekhyun in his arms, slowly dancing over the roof. “Does it bother you?”
“Oh, shut up and look at your pretty city lights,” Baekhyun laughs, pulling away to look up at Chanyeol. The city lights reflect in Chanyeol’s eyes, making them shine. Baekhyun grins up at him feeling more than the whiskey warm him. Chanyeol grins at him, wide and happy. As Baekhyun settles back, letting Chanyeol lead him, he looks out over the roof to the city beyond them.
He has to admit, it really is stunning. The light from the world below them flickering and shimmering in the darkness, and they over it in their own world.
Finally, when Chanyeol pulls away, Baekhyun isn’t left feeling cold even in the brusque wind. “So,” he says, looking up at Chanyeol who still hasn’t released his hand. “What’s next?”
Baekhyun watches as Chanyeol unwraps the small handheld camera with reverent excitement. The grin on his face is massive, like a child’s with their first gift. He’s so careful holding the device in his larger hands.
“Yeah!” Chanyeol says, looking up at him with that same near to bursting joy. “I’ve always wanted to make a movie!”
“What on earth are you going to make a movie of?” Baekhyun asks, laughing as he sprawls back in his chaise. They’re out, in one of the catering parlors of a local department store. Chanyeol had shown up with the small box before Baekhyun had made it through his coffee, looking more excited than Baekhyun had seen him in a long time.
Chanyeol pauses, the camera resting gently in his hands. Baekhyun remembers when Chanyeol was more careful with his money, saving almost every penny. Now it’s like he has no other need but to spend it, giving it away to charity and having bought his own sports car the other day just ‘because he could.’
“My last year,” Chanyeol says finally. “My countdown. Record it all and keep it for when I get homesick.” Baekhyun feels a little numbed, the reality that he keeps ignoring said so casually it almost makes it more alarming. Chanyeol talking about his departure like he’s not dying to everyone he knows. Baekhyun watches as Chanyeol stills, his legs folded up in front of him, too long to rest comfortably on the already short chairs. “Want to help me?”
“Only if I get a copy,” Baekhyun tells him, grinning as he picks up the last of his coffee. It’s cold by now, but he still drinks it. “What do you want to film firs- hey!”
“Say hi!” Chanyeol almost cheers, leaning back in the chaise and with the camera trained on Baekhyun with a little red light blinking. Recording him.
“Chanyeol, this is ridiculous, at least give me lines,” Baekhyun scoffs, sitting back into his chair and throwing the camera a look. “You can’t just treat your movie stars like this. It’s rude.”
Turning the camera on himself, Chanyeol tells the camera, “I still don’t know why I like him so much.” Then he makes a face and shrugs, bursting into laughter when Baekhyun throws a sugar cube at him. Slipping into Chanyeol’s chair, Baekhyun takes the camera, positioning it on himself.
“Welcome to the Countdown,” he says, grinning widely. “The most amazing year of Chanyeol’s life. Staring me, Byun Baekhyun, and my co-star, Chanyeol.” He angles the camera to both himself and Chanyeol, waving.
When he glances over to see if Chanyeol is waving as well, he feels himself soften at the brilliantly happy expression on Chanyeol’s face.
This is probably the weirdest thing Baekhyun has ever done. He feels a bit like a creep, half hiding behind a potted mini-tree and holding the camera, keeping it focused on Chanyeol as he goes over to a young woman. They’d watched her during their lunch that afternoon, Chanyeol’s face falling as he’d seen something over his shoulder, calling it to Baekhyun’s attention.
It had barely been five minutes before the man the woman had been seated with was standing, leaving her with tears pouring down her face. Chanyeol’s expression had turned from sad to thoughtful, and he’d pushed the camera at Baekhyun without an explanation.
“You really want me to film you bothering some poor woman who just broke up with her boyfriend?” Baekhyun choked at him as Chanyeol stood up and straightened his clothes.
“Doesn’t mean you have to,” Chanyeol told him with a shrug, and then walked away.
Baekhyun barely had a moment to grab the camera and fix it on Chanyeol before he was walking up to the table with the young woman. She looked up, her face streaked with poorly hidden tears, and choking back sobs. Chanyeol was saying something, a kind expression on his face. Baekhyun’s eyes widened as after a moment, she gave a watery smile and gestured for him to take the man’s vacated seat.
Over the next few minutes, Baekhyun tried not to look too conspicuous as he filmed his best friend talk to a complete stranger. It was a little amazing though, watching as Chanyeol chatted with someone he only just met, gesturing a little and giving little kind smiles. In less than ten minutes, the woman was laughing, her cheeks rounding at the apples and eyes crinkling up in amusement. She had stopped crying and was tucking her hair back behind her ear, smoothing her hands over her Sunday dress.
Barely with a moment to recover, Baekhyun watched as Chanyeol gestured to the table he and Baekhyun had been sharing, and the woman nodded. Then they were both standing and walking towards Baekhyun, who hastily shoved the camera in the branches of the potted mini tree he’d been filming through.
The woman’s eyes are still a little red as she comes behind Chanyeol and offers a small shy smile to Baekhyun.
“Baekhyun,” Chanyeol says, taking his old seat and offering it to the young woman. “This is Jinri. I hope you don’t if she joins us for lunch.”
“Not at all,” Baekhyun says, standing and offering his hand to Jinri with a small bow. “It’s a pleasure to have you join us, Mrs. Jinri.”
She smiles, and despite the tear tracks on her face, she looks happy. Chanyeol pulls up a chair for himself, and calls the waiter to bring Jinri’s food to their table, as well as a bowl of fresh fruit and some cakes.
“Thank you for accepting me,” Jinri says, settling her skirts about her. “I don’t- well, it’s not every day that you receive the kindness from a stranger.”
“Let’s not be silly,” Chanyeol tells her, laying his hand over hers and squeezing briefly. Baekhyun watches him, the kind and gentle expression on his face making his chest tighten. “You’re sitting with us now, welcomed to our table. Consider yourself a friend.”
She smiles, her eyes lighting up a bit and she lets out a pretty soft laugh. “And friends we shall be,” she says. She raises her water glass to both Chanyeol and Baekhyun. “To new surprising friends.”
Chanyeol is beaming as their glasses clink and Baekhyun can’t look away for a long time.
“What was that about?” Baekhyun asks later after they bid farewell to Jinri.
“She was sad,” Chanyeol says. “And even if you don’t know a person, there’s nothing to stop you from being kind to a stranger. You may just change not only their day, but their life.”
Baekhyun can’t work out a reply to that for a long time.
“We’re going to get arrested,” Baekhyun whispers harshly, trying to crane over his shoulder and check for the department store staff. His heart is beating fast in his chest, almost painfully but he’s also excited and can’t stop smiling.
“Well, consider this, I doubt we’ll get anything more than just a fine for this, and I’ll pay,” Chanyeol says, dissolving into giggles.
“Well then, aren’t I lucky,” Baekhyun says, rolling over to bury his face into the clean bedspread. It’s incredibly soft, almost impossibly so, thought that’s probably because there’s about six layers of mattress padding to demonstrate the degrees of comfort one can sleep on.
Baekhyun had nearly yelped when Chanyeol had wrapped his arms around his middle and thrown him on the display bed. Baekhyun had flown up, trying to scramble off when Chanyeol threw himself beside him with a laugh, and wrapped them into the bed together.
Not for the first time, Baekhyun is convinced Chanyeol has never grown up, at least not all of him. It’s fortunate that Chanyeol managed to save so much, a small fortune from working at GISTE for the last five years that he’s using as his ‘expense fund.’ It’s especially fortunate because Chanyeol has basically told Baekhyun it’s a free ride, that as long as Baekhyun is on board with his countdown, he’s ‘hired’ and his payment is that it’s all expenses paid.
“Very,” Chanyeol tells him with a smile. Then he rolls over onto his bed, arms raising his video camera over them both, and grins. “Thus begins number four,” Chanyeol says, leaning his head against Baekhyun’s. “Take a nap on a department store bed.”
“For the record,” Baekhyun chimes in. “I had absolutely no influence on the making of this list. I’m just here for the soft bedding and thrill seeking.”
Chanyeol laughs and takes a brief shot of the rest of the department store before he shuts down the camera. Settling down, Baekhyun finds himself calming the more he lies on the soft comfortable bed, his eyes drifting closed. He doesn’t flinch when he feels Chanyeol’s arm lay over his side or his soft slow breaths fan over his face.
Some of the panic fades, and before he knows it, Baekhyun has slipped off to sleep with a smile on his lips.
The airport is packed, people walking all over in their own directions towards destinations all over the globe. The announcements echo through the high atrium all through the building, enormous holographic bulletin boards broadcasting the flight times and locations.
The small suitcase behind Baekhyun doesn’t feel heavy enough, having been packed in less than fifteen minutes, a few shirts and necessary items. After Chanyeol called him and told him to be ready in that much time, it hadn’t really been a lot of time for excellent decisions. He’s got sunglasses on, but they’re his old almost broken pair, and he’s pretty sure he forgot his toothbrush.
“So, where are we going?” Baekhyun asks, looking at Chanyeol as they walk to the ticketing counter.
“No idea,” Chanyeol says carelessly. Baekhyun almost stops walking.
“Well, we’re going to find out right now,” Chanyeol tells him, as if that’s obvious.
Arriving at the counter, Chanyeol asks for the cheapest flight out of the country for the two of them. In just a few minutes, he’s purchasing two one way tickets for himself and Baekhyun to one of the many islands in the Caribbean that just dropped down to discount and leaves in three hours.
“You’re insane,” Baekhyun tells him, grabbing his own ticket and thanking God he remembered his passport. “You couldn’t have told me? I might have had a heart attack.”
“But you didn’t,” Chanyeol says, grinning at him as he wraps his arm around Baekhyun, pulling him close. Their feet almost tangle but Baekhyun smiles, leaning into him. It’s strange, how even as they were best friends before this, the whole countdown has made him feel like they’ve crossed a line, like that gray area of being together doesn’t matter.
The walls are all coming down, and both of them are not holding back. It makes Baekhyun’s heart race, and each time they cross another thing off Chanyeol’s list, he feels a warm satisfaction.
“Next time can you give me a sort of heads up at least?” Baekhyun asks, as he pulls his suitcase along. “Like let me see the list?”
In all the time, four things in the past month, Baekhyun hasn’t seen the list yet. It’s been kept almost reverently out of his hands, Chanyeol remaining oddly secretive with it, like he thinks Baekhyun will demand some things be changed. Now, he looks at Baekhyun like he’s waging an internal war with himself. “It’s my list,” he says slowly, like trying to rationalize not showing it to Baekhyun.
“Yeah, but it effects me if I’m doing all of this stuff with you.” Baekhyun sighs, pulling out his phone to call his supervisor. He’ll need to ask for a few extra days off this week, considering he has no idea how long he’ll be gone with Chanyeol. He squawks loudly when Chanyeol takes the phone from him.
“Baekhyun will be away from the office for the next week,” Chanyeol tells his supervisor and Baekhyun punches him in the side. Chanyeol grimaces, but his voice is unchanging when he continues. “I’m terribly sorry for the inconvenience. It’s an emergency. Thank you for understanding,” and he hangs up.
“What the hell are we doing for a week?” Baekhyun demands, glaring up at Chanyeol.
Instead of an answer, a piece of paper is pushed into his hand. It’s folded carefully, and the handwriting is perfectly neat and clean. There are twenty things listed, and the first four have been carefully crossed off. Looking up at Chanyeol, Baekhyun sees him biting his lip, as if nervously.
“This is your list,” he says, and looking at it now, it’s suddenly very, very real. In less than a year, either everything will be done on this list, or it’ll be left incomplete and never with the chance to be finished again.
At number five, Baekhyun’s eyes rest on the words Flash trip to anywhere in the world. His eyes widen at the thing written just below that.
6. Mile High Club.
When he looks back up at Chanyeol, his best friends ears are red and his cheeks tinged scarlet. “You don’t have to do everything on the list with me,” he says, and goes to take the list back.”
“No,” Baekhyun says, a small jump in his chest as he pulls the list away from Chanyeol. “As you official helper… person thing with this list, I’m in charge of making sure you get everything on here crossed out before…” Trailing off he has to take in a breath, glancing away from Chanyeol. He swallows, trying to clear the choke from his voice. “Before you leave me.”
His hands are shaking, and so he hides them and the countdown list behind his back, staring up at Chanyeol resolutely.
Chanyeol’s mouth is in a thin line, like he’s not sure he’s ready to let Baekhyun make that decision. Then he sighs, and nods and walks off towards their check in station, his own suitcase rolling behind him.
“So,” Baekhyun says, stepping up and trying to push the serious feeling behind them. “Where are we going in the Caribbean?”
“The…” Chanyeol squints as he checks their tickets. “The Turks and Caicos?”
“Oh, of course,” Baekhyun says, and steps to Chanyeol’s side, linking their arms. “Where else would we be going?” It gets a smile from Chanyeol, happier and at ease. “Sounds like fun.”
Chanyeol is just nodding off on Baekhyun’s shoulder, the scenery outside of the small airplane window that of evening, when Baekhyun feels Chanyeol’s hand slip to rest on his thigh. Leaning into him, and pushing down the small warm curl in his gut, Baekhyun wraps his hand around Chanyeol’s.
Meeting Chanyeol’s blinking tired eyes, Baekhyun smiles at him nervously. “We may have to put the Mile High Club on hold.”
Chanyeol’s eyes widen, and then he sighs, pulling back into his own seat. “I was serious when I said you don’t have to do everything on my list with me.”
Reaching over, Baekhyun takes his hand in his own. “It’s not like we haven’t slept together before,” Baekhyun reminds him, keeping his voice down. “It’s not a big deal.” He smiles even as the curl of heat in his gut stretches up into his chest, wrapping around his heart. “Unless you just don’t want to have sex with me. In which case, you’re the one missing out.”
Chanyeol doesn’t laugh, instead his eyes flickering between both of Baekhyun’s. “I just don’t want you to do something you don’t want to because you feel like you have to.”
There’s sincerity in his voice, touching on things, on nights, on moments in their history that they don’t often talk about. It makes him smile, squeezing Chanyeol’s hand a little tighter. “Okay,” he says, and leans his head against Chanyeol’s shoulder to nap.
It’s another twenty minutes before he feels Chanyeol finally relax and lean back.
The gorgeous sky above is a bright brilliant blue, with only a few soft cotton clouds skittering across it and over the horizon. It’s pleasantly warm but not in the sticky hot disgusting way that a lot of summer heat can get to be. Instead just a pleasant feeling that sinks into the skin as the soft breezes whip over the land and ocean.
The smell of salt is heavy on the air and Baekhyun closes his eyes, drinking in the feeling of the sun on his skin.
“You know,” he says, pushing his elbow gently into the side of the man beside him. “I really didn't pack well for this.” There is a soft chuckle beside him, lazy and relaxed. “You could have at least told me to pack a variety.”
Both he and Chanyeol are still dressed in the clothing they stepped off the airplane in. Rumpled and creased from a long flight, they had rolled up their shirt sleeves, and stepped into the sunlight of the tropical islands. Baekhyun watched as Chanyeol closed his eyes, a smile spreading on his face, and spread his arms wide to the sky, head tilting back to take it all in.
Since then, he hasn’t once tried to push his hair back into it’s styled perfection, instead letting the wind pull it free to fall about his face. He looks incredibly handsome and happy. Baekhyun can’t help but to smile.
Now a few locks of hair fall into his face, the blades of grass tickling his nose and cheeks. Baekhyun turns, rolling onto his side to take in his friend. Chanyeol is on his back, stretched out in the field near their hotel, removed from the other tourists. He’s smiling, like nothing in the world could make him happier than to just lie here in the grass with the wind tugging at his clothing and hair.
Like this is the only thing he cares about. The best place in the world.
“Shit,” Chanyeol says with a low rumbling laugh. Turning his head slightly, he opens one eye to peer at Baekhyun. “We forgot the camera.”
“Don’t blame me,” Baekhyun tells him, hitting him lightly on the chest. He lets his hand stay, resting just over Chanyeol’s heart. He can feel it beating under his palm. Steady and calm and reassuring, Baekhyun wonders if his heart beats at the same pace. “You’re the one that called me to pack fifteen minutes before kidnapping me on your mad endeavor.”
“Oh shut up, like you aren’t enjoying the adventure,” Chanyeol snorts at him, reaching out and jostling him. He relaxes a moment later, arm resting warm against Baekhyun’s side. “Thank you,” he says a moment later, soft and almost lost on the wind.
Baekhyun doesn’t answer, just settles back into the grass. Looking up at the sky, he shifts until he’s just barely pressed against Chanyeol’s side. Sharing the space. It falls silent, until all he can hear is the sound of the wind, the ocean at the edge of the cliff they’re at the top of, and the ocean birds.
Closing his eyes, Baekhyun can imagine he can hear Chanyeol’s heart beat beside him. He breathes in, and can picture the rise of Chanyeol’s chest beside him.
Unbidden and unwanted, he wonders how he’ll remember this when Chanyeol is gone. When it’s only him.
Opening his eyes, he carefully shifts to look over at Chanyeol.
The sunlight makes Chanyeol almost glow, his skin dusted in the golden rays of sun and it pulling the stunning highlights from his hair. It catches on his eyelashes of his closed eyes as Chanyeol sleeps, his mouth parted slightly.
Baekhyun settles back down, watching him as he thinks in the difficult part of his mind that they’re one step closer to when he says goodbye.
Baekhyun wakes to the hard shove and loud laugh of his best friend. He’s sent tumbling in the grass, completely disoriented from falling asleep on the grassy cliff. He stumbles as he tries to get up and falls when he catches sight of his best friend.
Chanyeol is already shirtless, a brilliant smile on his face and hair whipping off his face as he looks to the horizon. When Chanyeol looks at him, Baekhyun tells himself his breath doesn’t catch. “Come on,” Chanyeol tells him, stopping to roll up his pants, shoes already off. “We’re going to jump.”
“Look, I get you wanted to do something where you might die before you may actually die,” Baekhyun says. Shaking himself from the moment, he pulls his shirt over his head. “But that doesn’t mean I have to risk my neck, or the rest of me, just to make you happy.”
Turning to him, Chanyeol pouts.
“And stop pouting, you look like an idiot,” Baekhyun tells him, even if it is a little endearing. And his heart feels a little too big for his chest. “Fine, I’ll do it.”
As if he wouldn’t. Yet Chanyeol lets out a loud triumphant crow and before Baekhyun knows it, long strong arms have wrapped around his waist. He’s half tugged as he runs, fear racing through him, as they hurtle to the edge of the field.
There is nothing but open sky and ocean stretching before him. Baekhyun’s scream nearly drowns out Chanyeol when the ground vanishes as they leap. The ocean rushes up to meet them in a pounding white and blue frothing mass before they hit in a crash of water and the thrill of life.
Breaching the water, all Baekhyun can hear over his own gasping breaths is the gorgeous sound of Chanyeol’s laughter echoing over the waves.
“Are you sure you didn’t plan this intentionally?”
“Plan what?” Chanyeol is barely a shadow, the outline of him wrapped in a few blankets shown only by the light of the stars and moon. The dying embers of the fire they’d dug into the beach sand barely gives any light anymore.
“This,” Baekhyun says, gesturing to the whole scene. The stretching ocean, the sprawling beach, the paradise that they’ve been in for the past few days. “This place. This tropical get away extraordinaire. There’s no way you just chose this out of the air.”
“Consider that the beauty of it,” Chanyeol hums. His voice is soft with sleep, slightly slurred and warm. “Just imagine, you could have been stuck on a beach in Iceland with me instead. Waiting for the sun to rise and we’d be popsicles.”
Baekhyun gives a small shiver and scoots closer to Chanyeol. He’s warmer, and Baekhyun has found himself wanting to be closer to Chanyeol more and more. Just having him there. The more the days pass, the more Baekhyun becomes aware of how little he has left.
“In which case, I’m glad you played the system,” Baekhyun murmurs. Reaching over, he steals a corner of Chanyeol’s blanket, wrapping himself in it. Rather than fight him, Chanyeol gently lays his arm over his shoulder, tugging him to his side.
“I never played the system,” Chanyeol tells him. Baekhyun can hear the rumble of his voice through his side. He closes his eyes, exhausted by the late hour and letting Chanyeol’s warmth seep into his side. “If I had I wouldn’t have been able to count it for the list.”
“So it’s all for the list,” Baekhyun murmurs. The crash of the ocean in his ears, just yards away, is comforting. Soothing and constant, always there. A reminder than when Chanyeol and he and everyone else is gone, at least it will remain.
Somehow, it helps. It makes the breathing come easier, his heart beat calmer. It lets him feel sad but also at peace with it.
“The countdown means many things to me,” Chanyeol says quietly. “More than I think even I can explain.”
In that moment, with the warmth of Chanyeol pressed into his side, when Baekhyun opens his eyes and sees the first beginning glow of sunrise on the horizon, he decides he doesn’t want to know. He never wants to know.
Sometimes it’s better to not know the pain than to understand why it exists.
When Baekhyun had seen the list completely, he’d had some reservations. After he’d stolen it, made it his job to make sure it was complete, he knew he didn’t agree with them.
But the list wasn’t his, and it wasn’t his choice.
“I changed my mind,” Chanyeol says, looking mildly terrified as a helmet is fitted to his head. His eyes are wide and the smart high coat looks silly with the high smooth pants. He looks even more stretched than he does normally and Baekhyun has made sure to tell him so many times already.
“No, you haven’t,” Baekhyun tells him with a laugh. He’s not used to the attire, but the riding boots he might be able to get used to. “It’s on your list, and as official countdown advisor, I’m making sure you do everything.”
“What if I switch this out with scuba diving?” Chanyeol suggests. He shakes his head, and the helmet wobbles a bit. “Much more practical. You know, exciting and daring and-“
“We’re not going scuba diving,” Baekhyun tells him. The stable hand who has been helping them is hiding a smile, and Baekhyun relaxes with it. “Can you please tell him the horse isn’t going to throw him?”
The guy turns, looking Chanyeol up and down with a sort of calculating expression. “I can’t make guarantees— “ Baekhyun’s smile fixes painfully “—but I can promise to put you with one of our nicest mares.”
It takes Chanyeol a bit of coaxing before he and the horse finally are introduced. Baekhyun watches as Chanyeol softens to the mare, gently talking to her and smiling as she responds. He’s less nervous when they mount, long legs swinging over the saddle.
It’s a little strange, seated up so high on a large animal, with nothing but a strip of thin leather in his gloved hands to guide the way.
“You know, it would have been a lot easier to just ride me,” Baekhyun says, almost without thinking.
“Yeah, but I’ve ridden you before. I’ve never ridden a horse” Chanyeol says completely nonchalant. Startled, Baekhyun jerks in his saddle. Jarred by the movement, the next thing he knows is the pain of the solid ground and Chanyeol’s sudden loud startled laughter beating into his ears.
It’s oddly relaxing, the gentle movements of the horse under him as they follow along after their guide. Chanyeol and he ride together, chatting lightly and Baekhyun can see why he’d put this on his list. There really isn’t anything like it, and never would be something like it again.
It’s softer, gentler, with the comfort of company and the feeling of never being alone. Being connected in ways deeper than just spending time together. Not only with each other, but with the earth and the world around them.
“Is that why you chose it?” Baekhyun asks when they’re taking a break by a stream. They share a water bottle as the horses drink and their guide gives them snacks.
Helmet in his lap, Chanyeol leans back. He runs his fingers through his hair and lets out a long breath before letting his hand fall to his lap. Looking into the running stream, he smiles softly. “Something like that.”
It isn’t until later when he’s home with aching thighs and staring at the list on his desk he realizes.
There’s only ten more left.
It’s been over a month since Baekhyun looked at his list when he gets the call.
“There’s going to be a huge thunderstorm this weekend.”
“Are you planning on getting electrocuted?” Baekhyun’s fingers tap against the table top in his kitchen, his teeth worrying his lower lip. He’s been avoiding it. The list, the countdown, the reality that time is running out.
Ignoring it and the sudden tightness in his chest that gets worse every time he thinks about Chanyeol.
There is a pause on the other line. “You don’t have to,” Chanyeol tells him.
Chanyeol has never been very good at dancing. It’s something they used to tease him about back in undergrad. Talking over and over and teasing during the moments when Chanyeol would just move because the music he loved guided him. It was silly and he looked ridiculous most of the time, but his smile made everyone happy. Chanyeol made everyone happy. Like a ball of optimism and happiness that just stuck to the mind like a burr.
Just a steady reminder that not everything was terrible in the world lingering in that smile.
It’s not controlled or perfect or stylistically pleasing when Chanyeol dances, but it’s freedom, life, and pure joy. It’s flinging himself into it because he can and because it makes him happy. It’s intoxicating as much as it’s hilarious.
The rain beats down on the earth, the skies gray and dark as the water pours down, soaking the world in rich colors and haze. Amidst the gray, Baekhyun laughs, watching as Chanyeol runs into the downpour, flinging himself into it without care, arms to the sky. Baekhyun can’t help but laugh as he watches him, the strange dancing and the huge smile on his face, hair soaked and whipping about his face.
Mindless for the welfare of his clothing, Baekhyun runs to him. He leaps to the softened earth, joining in the dance. Hands meet and push and pull together, spinning each other around and Baekhyun can’t stop laughing. The rain is cold against his skin, soaking through but Baekhyun has never felt so full, warm, and happy.
Looking up into Chanyeol’s smiling face, so bare and happy, Baekhyun can only feel the same.
Nothing but happiness at being here, with Chanyeol, soaked to the bone in a downpour, dancing like an idiot until he’s breathless.
He keeps dancing, spinning away from Chanyeol only to swing back in, moving faster and faster. When he slips in the mud, the thud to the earth has him letting out a shriek that dissolves into laughter. He’s still laughing when he accepts Chanyeol’s hand to pull him up.
He’s still smiling when he’s standing so close to Chanyeol in the rain washed world he can feel his rapid breathing on his face. Against his lips.
He’s smiling and the water streaming down his cheeks is hot when he reaches up and pulls Chanyeol down to meet his lips in a kiss. His eyes close tight as he seals their mouths together, muddy fingers buried in Chanyeol’s hair.
He’s still so happy even as he realizes he’s crying.
Once, Baekhyun could lie beside Chanyeol, warm and drowsy with sleep, and tell himself it didn’t mean anything. That it was just a part of who they are, how they are. It wasn’t confusing or strange or complicated.
They just understood each other in different ways, could be there sometimes when others couldn’t. It didn’t mean anything.
Lying now in the warmth, just off the edges of sleep with an arm draped around his waist and warm soft breath at his shoulder, Baekhyun knows.
It does have meaning.
It always did.
It’s a fine line when Baekhyun answers this time.
“I told you, I’m paying.”
That line where Baekhyun has reached the point where he’s not standing on a wire, it’s the point of a needle, and so many places have a hard fall. One where he’s furious at Chanyeol for doing this; one where the grief is preemptively felt; one where his heart is too small for the joy that is Chanyeol in his life; and one that just wants to forget.
It becomes harder, as the more Baekhyun thinks about it, the thoughts come crawling to the front of his mind rather than staying in the back. It becomes harder as more people know, more people take away Chanyeol to spend time with him. Cherishing their last moments with him before he’s gone forever.
As they take him away from Chanyeol.
“Do you not want to go?” Chanyeol asks him over the phone.
“An all expense paid trip to Europe? Are you nuts?” Baekhyun laughs at him through the phone. “Of course I want to go.”
Just please let it be just us.
Arriving at the airport, Baekhyun has packed better this time. The weather outside is chilly, but it will be nothing like where they’re going. He’s got a scarf draped around him and gloves on his hands, holding back the approaching winter chill.
“Are you sure you’re okay with being away from family this close to the holidays?” Baekhyun asks when Chanyeol meet him.
Chanyeol’s last winter.
“I’ll be home before the holidays,” Chanyeol tells him. He smiles, edging his chin up so it’s visible over the scarf he’s wrapped snuggly about his neck. He was never specifically good with the cold. “Besides, it’s not like I have another opportunity to do this. They’re starting my pre-departure training after the new year.”
Baekhyun swallows, but says nothing on that. He smiles instead, accepting his ticket from Chanyeol when he’s handed it. He keeps smiling, pushing his happiness at doing this at the forefront. Pushing it over the gnawing in his bones. It feels almost desperate, like he’s clinging to every moment, greedy to have them all.
They’re going to Europe for a week. Even Baekhyun doesn’t know the schedule, but Chanyeol sounded happy when he told him over the phone. Baekhyun lets himself ride on that same happiness, letting it pull him under the wave of life moving too fast.
It has him hot under the collar as they finally take their seats. Despite the superior seating that he could hardly dream of having himself, Baekhyun closes his eyes. He feels shaky, nervous and too hot to the touch. “Are you sick?” Chanyeol asks him, leaning into him with concern on his face.
The shake of the airplane vibrating through him, fingers clenched on the armrests, Baekhyun turns. He looks at Chanyeol, the flicker in his eyes and the way his mouth is pressed closed in worry. The way it darkens his face, making it almost alluring.
Blindly, his hand stretches to find Chanyeol’s, wrapping their fingers together as he holds on, his heart beat in his ears. He holds on, knowing in six months the shake of the airplane will be nothing compared to the shake of the rocket that will fire into the sky with Chanyeol inside.
Please don’t leave me.
Words too volatile to break from him, Baekhyun leans forward, breath stoppering in his throat. It stays there as he presses his lips to Chanyeol’s, drowning himself in the feeling. Focusing on that, Baekhyun’s world stops shaking apart with the roar of engines. Fingers tightening in Chanyeol’s, Baekhyun pushes, trying to lose himself in the feeling of the kiss, in the feeling of Chanyeol, wanting more.
I never want to forget. Please don’t forget.
The kiss ends too early, and Baekhyun blinks dazed and hot under his clothing as Chanyeol pushes him back. Whispered lips to the shell of his ear tell him “later,” and Baekhyun closes his eyes. It would be once in a lifetime to unfasten his seatbelt and crawl into Chanyeol’s lap, melding them together. “Later,” whispers again to the curve of his neck and Baekhyun’s breath shudders.
Once altitude has stabilized, Baekhyun gives Chanyeol a significant look and gets up, walking down the aisle towards the ‘unoccupied’ light. Breaths hot in his mouth, he’s barely counted the seconds of being in the cramped bathroom before the door opens.
Before Baekhyun can move, Chanyeol’s hands are on his shoulders, holding him still. His eyes are dark and serious, his mouth a stern line. “Just because it’s on my list doesn’t mean you have to do it,” Chanyeol tells him. His hands are hot and inviting even through the fabric of Baekhyun’s clothes. “I told you, it doesn’t have to be you.”
“Do you not want it to be me?” Baekhyun asks, and swallows down the rush of panic, anxiety and heartbreak that threatens to rush him.
“I don’t want you to do something you don’t want to,” Chanyeol murmurs. His eyes deepen into a dark softness, akin to the richness of molten chocolate.
“I want to,” breathes from Baekhyun’s lips as he reaches forward. Nothing holds him back as the lock clicks in the small door. Fingers curl in short cut hair, mouths open in tangled tongues and gasping breaths as Baekhyun’s back connects with the hard edge of the sink counter.
The space is too small, too cramped and elbows smack against walls and limbs crook at odd angles. The moan that Chanyeol lets out when Baekhyun’s nimble fingers wrap around him is too loud in the confined room, and Baekhyun loves it. He pulls more of them from Chanyeol’s deep voice as he wraps his mouth around his hardened dick. Chanyeol’s voice pressing into his mind as his fingers knot in his hair, the smell of him filling Baekhyun as his weight on his tongue gouges into Baekhyun’s mind like a scar.
Likely to fade, but permanent.
Baekhyun shoves his own fingers into his mouth, sucking down on them to soften his own voice as Chanyeol’s spit slick fingers work into him. There’s so little room, Baekhyun’s neck cramping as he’s pushed against the wall and a corner. But the pain almost heightens it, the stiffness making him rush, pushing back onto those fingers impatiently.
Both his and Chanyeol’s voices mold together as Chanyeol buries in him. Fingers clench and scrabble against the walls, the air too hot to breathe as knuckles turn white. All that fills the air is the soft gasping moaned demands from Baekhyun, ‘harder, faster, more, fuck me, fuck me,’ over the ragged low tones of Chanyeol’s voice and the slap of skin.
It’s too fast, too desperate and dirty and Baekhyun’s mind and body burns with it, taking as much as he can. Selfishly demanding more for something that isn’t even for him as the pressure in his groin builds to near blinding pleasure.
No words are exchanged, only the desperate sounds of time running out and bodies pushing to their limit. No pace is kept and Baekhyun soon cries out, the release of pleasure like a snap that races through him in wave upon wave of shuddering. Gasping and quaking through his climax, he feels Chanyeol follow him, hears him in his ear with a breathless guttural moan.
“I’m sorry,” breathes hot into the sensitive skin of Baekhyun’s neck. Baekhyun keeps himself turned away, letting one tear fall, his only regret being there isn’t more time.
He won’t apologize, not as he feels himself empty once more, slick and aching and clenching around air. He refuses to apologize as he cleans up. The cramped compartment makes it difficult, but they manage. He doesn’t speak, only letting out a soft startled sound as Chanyeol kisses him, bitterness on his tongue.
“You moron,” Baekhyun says, seated and still feeling the afterglow skitter along his veins. Chanyeol is dozing beside him, cheeks still faintly flushed. Baekhyun’s heart aches in his chest. “Why would you apologize?”
They don’t talk about it when they land, navigating through customs. They talk of everything else even as Baekhyun’s body still reminds him in a slow residual throb. It’s masked by smiles and laughter and the cold nip of the winter air as the cause of his shivers.
The buildings in Vienna are stunning, gorgeous high ceilings with stunning architecture, old and whispering from generations of artisans. The seats creak as weight is place into them, a low humming from the audience in anticipation.
“We can’t even see,” Baekhyun says, leaning over to peer down at the stage, so far below them. “Why would we come to a show we can’t understand if we can’t even see?”
“We can see,” Chanyeol says, and pokes Baekhyun in the cheek when he frowns. He gestures to the small set of binoculars fixed to a metal handle. “Use those.”
“You’re joking,” Baekhyun deadpans to him, looking at the small device. He sighs when Chanyeol’s smile doesn’t change, remaining fixed and unrelenting. “Well, I’m glad you’re the one that paid.”
“I’m just sad they didn’t let us bring the camera in,” Chanyeol sighs. He’s almost too tall for their seats. They’re both dressed in their finest, both tuxedos newly purchased as part of the deal. If they were going to enjoy fine things, they were going to look the part.
Baekhyun feels out of his own skin, wanting to crawl back into their hotel bed and into the familiar warmth of the man at his side. He wants to be selfish and not care.
But he does care.
The lights flicker and the audience hushes. Chanyeol perks up, excited and his eyes shine in the dimming light of the opera house. His hand reaches over to grab Baekhyun’s, squeezing his fingers as they rest on Baekhyun’s lower thigh. Baekhyun breathes in the stillness before the starting notes and a brief moment of calm, eyes closing.
They open with held resolution to stop his greed as the overture begins and the tympani pounds louder than his heart ever could.
It’s frigid. The ice bites at any skin exposed and Baekhyun wants to leap out of his own skin, close his eyes and never open them again until solid ground is under his feet. His heart pounds so hard it hurts and he never wants to look down.
“Why is it?” he bellows over the noise of the helicopter they’re in. “That you keep doing things where you’re probably going to die on a list of things to do before you kick the damn bucket?”
An enormous grin returns him. Chanyeol’s eyes are bright even behind the goggles fitted over his face. He looks huge, the layers of clothing bulking him up against the cold. “Because that’s what life is!” he shouts back over the din. “Living like you may not tomorrow! It’s not about trying to hide from the inevitable, it’s about living every moment like it’s your last!”
“I still don’t get why we have to speed up the process!” Baekhyun hollers. His fingers are aching from the cold. He can feel the length of his own life whittling down as his heart races, the fear in him probably shortening his own time on earth.
“Just consider me you’re personal advocate for a bit of adventure in your own life!” Chanyeol tells him. His grin doesn’t fade, and Baekhyun’s stomach twists as he looks at it.
Everything in him is a jumble, a confused mess of fear and nerves and feelings and he’s not ready when his guide straps them together. He looks beside him to where Chanyeol is being attached to his own guide, and wonders if this is it.
If this is when he tells Chanyeol he loves him just in case he may never get a chance to do so again. Even if he’s not sure the words are true in every sense, they’re true to him.
His heart is louder than the thumping beats of the helicopter blades.
“Ready?” shouts Chanyeol’ poised on the edge of the helicopter door, his guide holding them in.
“No!” Baekhyun bellows, knowing he’ll never be ready. He’ll never be ready to let go.
“Too bad!” Chanyeol yells with a laugh and the next moment, there is nothing but the feeling of falling. Tumbling over and over in the air as it screams past them and the only other sound Baekhyun can hear apart from his own heart is Chanyeol’s loud whooping laughter.
“This is living!” Chanyeol shouts, his voice snatching away in the wind.
Below them, the world spreads out forever, a dizzying landscape beyond true comprehension.
“I hate your writhing guts!” Baekhyun screams as his body locks in terror.
Chanyeol’s exalted laughter tells him that Chanyeol knows that’s not true. “I love you too,” he shouts back instead and Baekhyun’s heart locks in his throat.
They fall, down and down and down, falling endlessly as Baekhyun’s terror turns to thrilled joy and life has never tasted so bold.
Chanyeol has never much liked the cold. Even back home, he was notorious for hating it, bundling up and burying in layers to fend it off. It was treated with a bitterness and a dislike that rivals many, Chanyeol viewing winter with a sort of dismal acceptance.
“So remind me why you want to spend a night in a place that is only cold?” Baekhyun asks. They’re sitting in pajamas at the small breakfast table of their room. The inn has a small kitchenette and a small dining space.
“Consider it conquering a fear,” Chanyeol says. Even now, he’s cradling his coffee in his hands as if trying to leech the warmth from it into himself.
“Except it isn’t a fear. It’s just some sort of enforcement to any suspicions one might have that you’re a giant masochist,” Baekhyun sighs, looking over the details of where they’re staying that night. “Do we seriously just swaddle ourselves in fur? This is ridiculous.”
“It’ll be an experience,” Chanyeol tells him, and smiles showing nearly all his teeth.
Hours later, all of those teeth are chattering, and Chanyeol can’t seem to stand close enough to Baekhyun.
Aside from the cold, it’s absolutely beautiful. The ice carvings and structure of the small domed hotel are actually very pretty and impressive, the walls thick ice. Baekhyun is at least grateful he doesn’t get as cold as easily as Chanyeol does when he sees where they’re going to sleep.
“It’s an experience,” Baekhyun reminds him, looking up to Chanyeol from where he’s practically glued himself to his side. He can feel Chanyeol shivering next to him. It tempts him to take his hands and slip them into his own, or inside of his coat, knowing they’re frozen. “It’s like facing your fears. Remember?”
“I know, I know,” Chanyeol chatters. His shoulders are hunched up, the tip of his nose red with cold as he looks around. Despite how cold he is, he still looks excited, almost bouncing on the balls of his feet in anticipation.
Though, Baekhyun considers, perhaps that’s also due to the cold as well.
After a piping hot dinner, they’re sent to bed with thermoses of hot chocolate. Baekhyun sips his, wrapped up in the furs on their slab of ice for a bed, letting the steam warm his face. He smiles as Chanyeol’s weight settles into his side. Despite how awkward the angle is, Chanyeol still manages to snuggle down so his head is resting on Baekhyun’s shoulder, the fur rimming his hood tickling his face.
“It’s not so bad,” Chanyeol murmurs, his own furs wrapped around him to keep him warm. His hands are in mittens, huge on his already large hands, but Baekhyun pulls them into his lap anyway to keep them warm. His breathing has slowed, gently ghosting over Baekhyun’s fingers around his hot chocolate cup. “With you here.”
Curled up in the furs and with ice under him and all around him, Baekhyun closes his eyes and feels nothing but warm.
The winds at the base of the lodge are bitingly cold. The air is crisp and Baekhyun would be more worried about the skies on his feet if he weren’t laughing so hard.
“You can’t be serious!”
“Why else would I have told you to bring a bathing suit?” Chanyeol asks him. He looks the part, his skier outfit perfectly suited for the scenery. Baekhyun can’t help but remember when he’d seen Chanyeol that morning though. Walking around in his swim trunks and hopping over the kitchen tiles to avoid the chill.
“I thought you were going to stay at a place with a pool. Or a hot tub,” Baekhyun says. He burrows his nose into his muffler, peering up at Chanyeol. “Why can’t we just do that instead? Go to a hot tub, relax in our bathing suits, then we can take them off each other.”
A warm pleasant curl begins in his gut at that suggestion. He wouldn’t mind.
“No,” Chanyeol says, almost musingly. When Baekhyun looks at him, feeling slightly crestfallen, Chanyeol is looking up the snow-covered mountain. “I’ve always wanted to do this.”
“Literally freeze your balls off?” Baekhyun scoffs. “You really must never have wanted children,”
When Chanyeol doesn’t reply, Baekhyun’s laughter fades a bit. Watching him, the way that the blinding sun makes him squint, the ski attire masking most of his face, Baekhyun feels disconnected. The cold in the air settles between them as well, and he shivers.
“Too late to think about starting a family now,” Chanyeol says slowly. Then he turns, all bright familiar smiles and enthusiasm. Baekhyun still feels chilled. “Wouldn’t be fair, would it? Starting a family just to leave them. If I were my dad, I’d hate me.”
Staring for a moment, Baekhyun finally shakes his head, prodding Chanyeol with his pole to get moving. “The shit that comes out of your mouth sometimes, Chanyeol.”
“Better than some of the crap you say,” Chanyeol trades with him, and wraps an arm around him before they are scooped up by the chairlift.
In the last five months, Baekhyun has seen Chanyeol do many stupid or strange or unexpected things. In the last twenty seven years of his life, he’s seen Chanyeol do a great many weird and different things. Most of them, he’s been there for, right along side him, laughing and making just as big a fool of himself.
Today is no different, as even despite his teasing, Baekhyun strips down to his swim trunks, and looks down the ski slope.
“Ready?” Chanyeol asks him, naked save for his swim trunks, hat, ski goggles and gloves.
“I think my nipples just froze off,” Baekhyun calls to him, trying to suppress the shivers that shake his whole body.
“We can glue them back on,” Chanyeol laughs before launching down the ski slope, Baekhyun tipping down after him in a race to the bottom.
“They won’t look right!” Baekhyun yells against the wind in his ears. His skin feels like ice against the wind and cold, but he’s never felt more alive. A simple fall sending him into the searing burn of frost.
Chanyeol’s laughter rings over the snow and ice, refracting into millions of lights against the crystals in prisms of rainbows that imbed into Baekhyun’s heart.
A month passes.
Baekhyun is seated at one of their favorite cafes, hot drink before him as he looks over the reports from his job. A light tap to the table has him looking up, hope jumping in his chest only to die a moment later.
“Well, don’t look so pleased,” Jinri says, sinking down into the chair opposite him.
I start training in two weeks.
“I am pleased, I’m just more subdued than usual, so the effect is muted,” Baekhyun tells her, trying to smile. It fades at the corner like the pages of an old book, tired and used too many times. “How nice to see you. To what do I owe the pleasure of your company?”
Jinri’s fingernails drum over the top of the small table. “Well,” she begins, and bows he head slightly. “I expect you’ve heard.” Baekhyun blinks at her, nonplussed. He was never as close with Jinri, only bristling slightly when he’d hear Chanyeol talk about her easily, as if they were close. He’d only just met her. “About Chanyeol?”
Blood goes cold in his veins and Baekhyun sits up, throat dry. “What happened?”
It’s been a month.
Wide eyed, Jinri stares and takes a moment to compose herself. “About how he’s leaving soon.”
The initial fear that had rushed to him so fast fades, Baekhyun relaxing back to his chair with a soft relieved sigh. “Yes, I know of that.”
Yet Jinri’s eyes are curious. “Have you heard from him lately then?”
It’s been a month.
“We’ve both been busy,” Baekhyun says offering her a wan smile. He puts at the back of his mouth all the bitterness and pain from being shut out again, locked and forbidden with subtle digs to his heart.
Baekhyun never did well with being ignored, especially by Chanyeol, who always was there.
Once, he had thought he’d always be there.
“I see,” Jinri says, and sits back. “It’s very exciting for him though. You must be happy for him.”
“Of course,” Baekhyun answers, his smile cracking with the spidering splinters of porcelain after time has worn it down. “I'm very happy for him.”
The cracks extend down, joining those that weaken the structure of his body and make him break.
A month is a long time when the end is so close Baekhyun can see the dawn of it brimming on the horizon in darkest of reds.
The world is nothing but neon. The bright lights and city world of brilliant lit signs and beckoning temptations of establishments, clubs, bars, restaurants, and casinos. The suit Baekhyun wore only one time before is almost too hot. He forgets it though, pushing it to the back of his mind as he looks out the window, taking it all in. He keeps one hand firmly on the knee beside him, holding on.
“Don’t let go of me tonight,” Baekhyun days, his breath fogging the glass. “I don’t think I’d be able to find my way back to you.”
“You can’t lose me, you promised.” When he finally turns from the window to look at Chanyeol, he can see him in mimicry of Baekhyun. He is also looking out the window, his face pressed against the glass with his eyes wide in childish wonder.
“It’s all about you, isn’t it,” Baekhyun sighs, squeezing Chanyeol’s knee teasingly.
“Well, you have your whole life to do things for yourself, I just have the next six months,” Chanyeol says, his breath fogging up the glass.
Five months and seventeen days.
“You’re lucky you have me,” Baekhyun tells him instead of I never made the choice to lose you.
They stay at one of the casinos. Baekhyun barely has time to take off his jacket before Chanyeol is pulling him from their room, grin on his face, and shoving him to the elevator. Just before the doors open to the main floor, Baekhyun turns, dragging Chanyeol down to his mouth in a breathless kiss.
“For luck,” he whispers against Chanyeol’s lips before flashing him a teasing smile. It covers up the shiver in his chest and the emptiness left from not seeing him for a month.
Money is easy to spend when it isn’t Baekhyun’s and soon drinks and good spirit are all around. The cards flux back and forth between their favor until Baekhyun, half drunk on the atmosphere, is pulled away. With the world spinning, he doesn’t realize until it’s too late that he’s not with Chanyeol.
Panicking, he pulls back, only to run directly into him. “Found you,” he murmurs, relief flooding him in a haze as he wraps his arms around Chanyeol’s middle. Burying his face into Chanyeol’s front, he breathes him in as deep as he can.
The world doesn’t stop spinning in bright lights and music and excitement until Baekhyun opens his eyes again. They’re standing in a small church, Chanyeol in front of him with a white veil over his face. He’s biting back laughter poorly.
Between them, a man dressed in a ridiculous Elvis costume asks if they’re ready to marry each other. Chanyeol hiccups a yes and Baekhyun chokes out an affirmative. Even as sound dulls in his ears as they rush, lip reading the confirmed marriage, Baekhyun knows why it hurts.
The tightness around his chest doesn’t leave after they leave the chapel, Chanyeol’s face red with amusement and the veil long forgotten. Baekhyun drops him as Chanyeol attempts to get him to carry him into their room and they both end up on the floor laughing.
The one thing Baekhyun vows to remember Chanyeol by is his laughter. Even when he’s gone.
“We forgot to film this,” Baekhyun murmurs into Chanyeol’s chest, head pillowed there. “Fuck.”
“S’ok,” Chanyeol says, patting his head lazily. “We got photos. ‘s real.”
Dawn is just barely rising when a phone call pierces through the room and Baekhyun’s aching skull. Dragging himself up, he answers the phone to a confirmation of his divorce, filed against Chanyeol Park the night before.
Ending their marriage.
As he hangs up the phone and looks back into the hotel room, Baehkyun feels a part of him go numb. The cold chill from back in Switzerland spreading through him until it reaches his fingertips. Chanyeol is still lying asleep on the floor, the space open beside him where Baekhyun had lain.
When he closes his eyes again, it’s as he’s falling, landing amid the white blankets and sheets of the unused bed. Curling in the white fabric to chase away the stains that have so crippled his heart.
Jealousy, love, selfishness, greed, and denial.
Denial that this would one day come to an end.
Accepting that, the preemptive knowledge that in less than half a year, Chanyeol will be done from his life. That no matter if Baekhyun marries him in Las Vegas or is falling in love with him in the reverse order of things, Chanyeol will be gone.
Because he wants to.
It’s past noon when Baekhyun wakes again. He doesn’t move until the bed dips and Chanyeol lays down with him, looking tired and handsome and everything Baekhyun wants and can’t have.
Baekhyun wants to greet him in the morning with a kiss.
Instead, the days starts with a slow spread smile and Chanyeol’s thickened voice saying, “what happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas. Right?”
Baekhyun nods and closes his eyes to keep from breaking apart.
The spring air begins to tickle at Baekhyun’s neck from the open door behind him. The floor under him creaks and he smiles and walks about with an optimism that lacks sincerity. The shelves all around are stacked with bottles and barrels, the smell of sweet fruits heavy on the air.
The glass in his hand swirls with dark burgundy liquid, and his mouth is still tart with the taste.
“How is that one?” the guide asks, turning to him with a smile.
“Not bad,” Baekhyun answers honestly before turning to Chanyeol.
“I like it,” Chanyeol tells the woman, raising his glass. “A bottle sent to our room.”
It’s brittle to call it their room, when Baekhyun knows Chanyeol will sleep on the floor as he stretches on the sofa. It’s better than lying on the bed and facing the back of the man he wants to be wrapped up in.
The world shimmers a little as Baekhyun finishes his sixth glass, leaning against the balcony in a heavy sweater. It makes his tongue loose, old songs of longing slipping from his lips. The words shake as the songs melt to his skin, his eyes on the setting sun beyond the edge of the vineyard.
“Baekhyun?” Chanyeol asks, his voice edged with concern that cuts too deep.
It’s too late to care. Baekhyun’s already too far gone.
“Go sleep,” Baekhyun tells him, looking up and pulling away. This isn’t his dream they’re making come true, and he has to stop forgetting that.
He made a promise.
“Are you sure?”
It’s been months that Chanyeol has been training almost non-stop for his mission. Months that Baekhyun has hardly seen him, left alone after being so surrounded by Chanyeol he didn’t know what silence was.
Silence is the reminder and silence is the one that listens to him now.
“Yes,” Baekhyun tells him, and lets their hands slip together once more. There are only two more things on the list.
Two tings. Two months.
His smile hurts.
“I’ll be there soon.”
“You have to let him go.”
Baekhyun sighs, running his fingers through his hair. “I’m trying,” he says, a bite to his voice as he looks up. Sehun is frowning at him, as if he doesn’t approve of Baekhyun struggling with letting go of the closest person he has in his life. The one that he cares about more than anything.
It’s ironic that when he realizes how much Chanyeol means to him, he’s leaving his life forever.
Chanyeol isn’t dying, but in many cases Baekhyun feels like this is worse.
Chanyeol is choosing to leave with no chance of ever coming back, of contacting, of anything.
Today is the day Chanyeol is choosing a tombstone for himself, the funeral already scheduled for the day after the launch. Baekhyun will wear his full tuxedo for the last time and stand and stare at an empty grave with an empty heart.
“He’s not doing this to punish you,” Sehun tells him gently, wrapping his arm around Baekhyun. “He’s just doing what he’s always wanted to do. I’m happy for him, and I know that really, you’re happy for him too. Is it so hard to let him go?”
Baekhyun doesn’t respond, staring at his fingers in his lap as he knows the answer.
Back to square one. It’s almost full circle, how in the beginning Baekhyun ignored it all and refused to believe it until it became too much. Now, he’s back to ignoring it.
It’s more effort now, but at least he’s there. He’s out of shape and panicking at the start line, glancing down the line at Chanyeol.
They’re both dressed in all white, people surrounding them matching, with spectators cheering and screaming for them.
A gunshot sounds, and everything surges to motion.
Baekhyun turns just in time to see the first hit land against Chanyeol’s shoulder, the small powder packet exploding in a shower of yellow dust. It floats over him like a cloud as he runs. So distracted is Baekhyun than when his own color packet hits, it smacks him directly in the ear, exploding bright pink all over his shoulder and torso, staining into his hair.
It pulls a high shriek from him, followed immediately by laughter. His steps almost falter, but he pushes on. Running the race because it’s all he can do.
He made a promise and his time is almost up.
A race to the finish, bathed in rainbow colors of exploding dust and powder. To his side, Chanyeol runs a bit ahead, stained in the mixed colors of the world and stunning, his own moving piece of art.
Lungs searing in pain from exertion, Baekhyun finishes the art piece as he runs directly into Chanyeol at the finish. Colliding into him, he blends their colors and laughter until neither of them can breathe.
Chanyeol simple smiles down at him, warmth in his eyes and Baekhyun thinks that perhaps he can live from this.
Live with memories of happiness that is as full as this.
Baekhyun’s hands are shaking.
“You didn’t have to come.” Beside him, Chanyeol looks sad. It’s not fair, that Chanyeol can stand beside his own grave and look moderately sad when Baekhyun feels the ache of hollow inside.
“There’s one more thing on the list,” Baekhyun says, tongue numb with the rest of him.
Chanyeol’s eyes darken, and he turns to look at where will soon be his grave. “Once, I had a lot of things on that list,” he says quietly. “I had a marriage where I didn’t get divorced, I had a family, sports I never learned, things that take time I don’t have. A whole life time that was crossed off that list before you saw it.”
“Because I gave them up,” Chanyeol says, still just as quiet. “I realized those were things I could live without, and that if there was a choice between doing what I’ve always wanted, what I’ve dreamed of doing, even if that choice was slim, I would take it. It’s not just simply choosing one thing over another, it’s bigger than that.”
Baekhyun’s eyes are clouded and he can’t see from the water brimming in his eyes. “That must have been hard.”
“Yeah,” Chanyeol says, and his voice is rougher. “It was.” He takes in a long shaking sigh, letting it out slowly. “I met my partner for the mission today. It’s was a little weird, considering we’re going to spend the rest of our lives together, but he seems nice.”
Baekhyun can’t speak, too afraid it’ll come out as something he’ll regret. Anger, humor, sadness, or accusations.
Joy and happiness are far from him right now, and he so wishes to pull back the soft happiness that he’d tucked away from Chanyeol.
“The launch is next week,” Chanyeol speaks so quiet, it can hardly be heard over the whisper of the wind in the grass. “Will you come?”
Letting out a surprised laugh, it sets free the dam of emotions and Baekhyun is sobbing and laughing as he turns to Chanyeol. “Of course I’ll come, you idiot,” he says, half laughing half crying and grabs Chanyeol into a hug.
Some of the shaking subsides as Chanyeol’s arms wrap around him to return the hug.
“Thank you,” whispers into his ear and Baekhyun’s fingers clench in Chanyeol’s jacket. “For making my Countdown possible.”
After today, Chanyeol Park won’t exist in the world anymore.
Chanyeol Park will simply be a memory, a name passed around among friends in fond memory. A name on a tomb stone over an empty grave.
Chanyeol Park will be the name used in reference to the man up in space with his copilot and partner.
Chanyeol Park will be just another light in the night sky when Baekhyun looks up.
After today, it’ll all be nothing more than all the things Baekhyun wished he’d said and done.
One final hug though, with Chanyeol wearing the full suit that makes him look unearthly, and the words are still stoppered. The security clearance tag and Baekhyun’s breast pocket clicks against Chanyeol’s specialized suit.
Chanyeol’s hair is cut even shorter, almost scant on his head, flattened by a helmet and it makes him look young. Too young to go up like this and leave them all behind.
“So now what?” Baekhyun asks, pulling back from his last hug with a sniff. “Who do I call up when I’m bored and need someone who really knows how to hug?”
“You’ll find someone,” Chanyeol says, warm and kind and with his eyes dancing with light anew.
“No one could replace you,” Baekhyun says, and it aches in the hollow that will be slow to heal.
Chanyeol’s expression falters, but then softens. He pauses, and pulls out something. Holding out his hand for Baekhyun’s, he takes it in his own, opening the palm. A piece of paper slips into it, folded up with clean crisp lines.
There are twenty things listed. Only twenty.
2. Make a movie.
3. Befriend a stranger in need of kindness.
4. Take a nap in a department store bed.
5. Go on a flash trip to anywhere in the world.
6. Join the Mile High Club.
7. Fall asleep on a grassy field.
8. Jump off a cliff into the ocean or a lake just to feel the crash
9. Stay up all night on a beach just to watch the sun rise.
10. Go horseback riding.
11. Dance in the rain.
12. Kiss someone I really want to in the rain.
13. Go to the Opera.
14. Go skydiving to see the whole world.
15. Stay overnight in an ice hotel.
16. Ski down a mountain in swimwear.
17. Go to Las Vegas. Gamble, get married, get divorced. Do not get robbed.
18. Go wine tasting at a vineyard.
19. Do a color run.
20. Fall in love.
Baekhyun’s hands are shaking when he reaches the end. All are crossed off but one.
“I have one more thing to ask you Baekhyun.” Chanyeol’s voice is soft, tender as if he knows Baekhyun’s pain has revisited. “I want you to go and make your own list, finish it for yourself and, if you can, finish mine for me.”
Inhaling sharply, Baekhyun looks up, feeling water slide down his face and drip onto his hands. “Did you?” he asks, voice trembling. Chanyeol’s eyes are so patient. “Did you fall in love?”
“Does it really matter if I did?” Chanyeol asks him. Baekhyun wants to be selfish and says yes. He wants to shove and push and pull and demand to stay and selfishly keep this. Instead, his hands are closed around the paper as Chanyeol holds both of them in his own. “I’m happy,” he says, quietly and sincerely. “I feel like I’ve done all that I really wanted to do on Earth. There are more important things for me to do now.” Baekhyun’s hands stop shaking. “But I’m happy,” Chanyeol continues, and his voice tightens. “I’m so happy, and please now that.”
There is no lie in Chanyeol’s voice, in his eyes or his face and Baekhyun bites his lip to nod.
“It’s thanks to you, you know,” Chanyeol tells him, and looks down at their hands. “So thank you, for making me so happy and doing this with me. These are memories I’ll cherish forever.” As Baekhyun watches, tears silently slide down his face despite his real and genuine smile. “Thank you for making my last year on Earth full of the happiest and most memorable times, Baekhyun. I hope you can remember me well and live your own life with as much happiness as you’ve given me”
Baekhyun only closes his eyes when Chanyeol leans down and presses a soft kiss to his cheek. But as Chanyeol tries to pull back, he moves. “Trust you to be so damn eloquent and wordy an sentimental,” he says gruffly, reaching up and dragging Chanyeol into his arms.
Hugging him tight. Hugging him one last time.
“Of course I’ll remember you well,” Baekhyun says, face pressing into Chanyeol’s shoulder and taking this one last moment into his heart.
As he lets go, it’s in a long exhale. It leaves him feeling dryer, lighter and tired, stretched but worn in a comforted way as he watches Chanyeol walk away and not turn back. He continues to watch from the safety of a distance as the blinding light of the rocket disappears high into the atmosphere above him.
Continues until the sky is black and the world above is nothing but the tiny pin pricks of light.
“How could I ever forget you?” he asks to someone who can never give him an answer.
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