and then, your heart drops
The second time Chanyeol meets Baekhyun is exactly eight days after everything falls apart: he accidentally catches Baekhyun off-guard, and in return, Baekhyun turns around and shows Chanyeol the gun he’s carrying and threatens to splatter Chanyeol’s brains into a brick wall.
“Wait! Wait, no, I know you, I swear, I know you and I’m not going to hurt you,” Chanyeol says, words falling out of his mouth faster than his brain can come up with them. “You sing, right? Um, and - you’re friends with Jongin, right, Kim Jongin? Please don’t kill me.”
Baekhyun lowers the gun; Chanyeol can see that safety isn’t even released and feels a little dumb for being so scared, except Baekhyun is genuinely shaking with fear and he thinks that even though Baekhyun is the one with a weapon he’s also the one who’s more afraid. His heart, unwillingly, melts a little.
“My name’s Chanyeol,” he says, and cautiously offers his hand. Baekhyun hesitates for just a moment before he takes it.
“Chanyeol,” Baekhyun echos, and offers a tremulous smile. “My name is Baekhyun.”
“Are you alone?” Chanyeol asks.
In response, Baekhyun nods tersely. Chanyeol suddenly feels a rush of sympathy.
“I have somewhere to go back to,” he says. “A place I’m staying with some friends, and friends of friends. Jongin’s one of them.” A pause. “You could come back with me, if you want. We have space, and I think Jongin’d like to see another familiar face.”
Baekhyun stares into his eyes intently for a few moments. He looks doubtful - Chanyeol can’t blame him - but he replies, “Okay,” so Chanyeol smiles and takes Baekhyun back with him. On the way back, they talk about the off-color gray of the sky and their favorite bands, and Chanyeol feels his heart lighten for the first time since his world fell apart.
Chanyeol would never dirty the idea of home by using it to describe the hovel of a building that their ragtag bunch have claimed as a place to stay. But it’s good enough, he thinks, considering how most people are living nowadays. The Geiger counter reads a few digits higher than they’d like, but each of them have something passably comfortable to sleep on, there’s a bathroom, there’s a kitchen, there aren’t many people around to bother them, and it’s a secluded location. At the very least, they have each other, and sometimes when they joke with each other, they can forget about how the water they drink is faintly radioactive, about the people dying about the streets, about the roaming gangs of thieves and killers, about worries of how they’re going to feed themselves the next day.
When Baekhyun joins them, they make twelve. “A dozen exactly,” Lu Han says, clapping his hands together. His eyes crease a little as he smiles, and he welcomes Baekhyun into the group. He fits right in, as if they had secretly been saving a spot for him.
All of them have different ways of coping. Zitao meditates and teaches Yoga to Minseok. Yixing raises a bamboo plant that he found one day while scavenging. Sehun takes things apart and puts them back together. For his part, Chanyeol deals with things by continuing to smile widely and needlessly, as he always as - he’s not sure if it’s because he hopes he can convince himself he can still be happy, or if it’s because he doesn’t know what else to do with himself. Baekhyun, also, is like that, and they innately understand each others’ masks without ever speaking about it. They become closer, teasing each other and playing little pranks on the others, falling into a comfortable friendship where they can touch each others’ arms casually and use each other as lifelines.
Days pass one, after another. Chanyeol does not care to keep track of them, though he knows that Kyungsoo and Joonmyeon are keeping a running tally, drawing small, neat lines onto one of the kitchen’s walls. “So we can look back upon them someday, when things get better,” Kyungsoo explains. Some of the group openly disdain them for being so naively optimistic, or for reminding them of things better forgotten, but Chanyeol simply shrugs, because it doesn’t hurt anybody to do something so small like that. Still, he tries not to look at the growing number of marks if he can help it: as they begin to take up more and more space, they seem to start to move further and further away from their old lives.
Chanyeol tries his best to forget what once was - it’s for the best, he thinks, because a life with a heart full of unfulfilled yearning is not a life at all. But, inevitably, every time he closes his eyes, Chanyeol dreams of how things were. He dreams about being with his friends, the ones he hasn’t seen since this whole ordeal began. He dreams about taking tests in school. He dreams about his band, the bad songs they wrote together, the shitty gigs they took because they were willing to do anything for a little extra cash. He dreams about the time he went on vacation with his family to the beach, about the feeling of white sand in between his toes, about the smell of salt on his skin afterwards. He dreams about the girl in class 3-B he gave his virginity to. He dreams about his room at home, about lying on his old bed, about sitting at his desk and playing the guitar instead of studying. He dreams about his parents’ faces. He dreams about the time he first meets Baekhyun (it is at a talent show, and Baekhyun sings a ballad, and he remembers it is beautiful). He dreams about laughter. He dreams about the mundane, but remembering what he used to consider mundane is what makes his heart ache.
His dreams, he thinks, are what will kill him. Chanyeol loves the simple parts of life: of breathing, of touching others, of talking with his friends, of simply being alive - but he fears that someday he will start hating the life he used to have more than he loves the life he can live, and that will be the end.
“I have to go back at least once,” Baekhyun says. “I have to see it with my own eyes.”
It is common knowledge that Bucheon is uninhabitable, a veritable wasteland, but everybody has a compass inside them that points back to the place they first called home. So they agree to let him go, give him a bag with the food and water he’ll need to make the trip - “It’s not enough for the return, so you’ll have to do your best foraging on the way back,” Minseok says with an apologetic smile - and a weapon to defend himself with. Chanyeol wishes he could go with Baekhyun, but he knows it is best for him to wait with the faith that nothing will go wrong and Baekhyun will return safely, and to ignore the sinking feeling of dread that sits in his stomach.
The night before Baekhyun leaves, he confesses to Chanyeol, “I’m not afraid of being killed, you know. I’m afraid I’ll get lost and won’t be able to find my way back.”
So Chanyeol says, “I’ll always come looking for you,” and then he leans over to take Baekhyun’s hand into his own. Baekhyun closes his eyes and squeezes at Chanyeol’s palm lightly, as if reassuring himself that Chanyeol will not disappear. They fall asleep with their hands curled into each other
In the morning, Chanyeol walks with Baekhyun to the edge of Seoul. “I’ll see you later,” Baekhyun says.
See you later, Chanyeol thinks. Not goodbye. He decides to take it as a promise.
Every day that Baekhyun is gone, Chanyeol thinks about him. There is an empty spot at his side that he keeps instinctively reaching towards, only to realize that Baekhyun is not there, and it doesn’t hurt so much as it feels numb. In his mind he paints a picture of Baekhyun’s lips and realizes that he wishes that he had kissed him the night before he left. While the others worry about Baekhyun, mention him with every passing day he doesn’t return, Chanyeol doesn’t - he can’t - because if he doesn’t believe wholeheartedly that Baekhyun will return then he thinks he might go a little crazy.
Baekhyun is gone for almost two weeks, but he finds his way back just fine. He simply returns one night as if he’d only been out for a few hours, bag casually slung across his shoulder and a sad smile on his face.
“Well, I’m back,” he says as he greets Chanyeol, tone a little too deliberately lighthearted. It doesn’t fool anybody, though they are all courteous enough to pretend like it does. “You’re supposed to bring presents back when you go on a trip, right? I didn’t bring any gifts though, sorry.”
Chanyeol laughs with relief (if he doesn’t laugh, he thinks he’ll cry instead). There is nothing to be lose, Chanyeol thinks, when the world has already ended, so he leans over and presses his lips to Baekhyun’s, and feels a stirring of some indescribable emotion when Baekhyun kisses back.
“Welcome back,” he says after they break apart.
“Thanks,” replies Baekhyun, and nudges Chanyeol’s arm with his shoulder. “I missed you.” Then they kiss again, slow and easy and natural.
Paradoxically, Chanyeol finds that he worries more after he and Baekhyun start dating - or whatever it is that they’re doing, because he’s not sure if what they have can really be called dating. He is scared of dying not only because he still wants to live, but because he doesn’t want to leave Baekhyun behind. He is scared of Baekhyun dying not only because he is afraid of being alone, but because he thinks if Baekhyun dies he will give up on what little hope he last left. He is at once both infinitely happier and infinitely more afraid than before.
But Baekhyun has a way of coaxing out his worries, and late one night, Baekhyun admits, “I’ve thought about that too,” and they both vow that if the other dies they have to go on living no matter how much they want to give up. Then Chanyeol brushes his hands underneath Baekhyun’s shirt and Baekhyun makes an encouraging noise in the back of his throat, so Chanyeol presses Baekhyun’s back into the bed and Baekhyun lets Chanyeol touch him all over (in places, Baekhyun will later admit, that he’s never let anybody else touch before), until Baekhyun is squirming and gasping -
It is a satisfying sound, Chanyeol thinks vaguely, when Baekhyun moans and comes into his hand. Even more satisfying: the feeling as he himself comes into Baekhyun’s hand.
Chanyeol knows that he is in love, but Baekhyun is the first to say “I love you.” It comes moments after they’ve narrowly outrun a gang of body harvesters, the first time in a long while that Chanyeol has actually been scared his end might be near - they collapse in an abandoned sidestreet, leaning against each other and laughing nervously. They talk to each other in soft, reassuring tones until they’ve both caught their breath, when suddenly, Baekhyun says “I love you,” in a voice that twists Chanyeol’s heart. “I love you so much and I really thought we were going to die - ” Baekhyun’s voice catches “ - and for the first time since it happened I prayed, I begged to God to let us live. To give me more time with you.”
Chanyeol is breathless all over again. His heart clenches and he realizes: he thought that he would never be truly happy again, but in reality, he’d never known what happiness was until this moment.
The building that they live in somehow becomes home, even though he’d always promised himself it never would be. He thinks it happens the first time he walked out of the bathroom to hear Baekhyun singing, high and clear. His voice has the filmy sound of disuse coating the notes, but what’s underneath resonates deeply, profoundly.
When he hears it, he smiles so widely and laughs so loudly that Sehun frowns and asks him if he’s getting high, and hyung, you really shouldn’t because it’s a waste of money and god knows we don’t have enough of that, oh my god hyung stop laughing you really are high aren’t you, I’m going through your room and finding your weed and selling it and not giving you a single cent of it.
It occurs to Chanyeol that perhaps this isn’t real, that he isn’t really in love, and that he’s just attached himself to the first person that he thought he could be compatible with as a coping mechanism. It occurs to him as he is sitting on the edge of his bed, Baekhyun kneeling between his legs and reaching to unzip his pants.
“I remember,” says Chanyeol suddenly.
Baekhyun pauses - “Remember what?” he asks.
“In high school, in a psychology class, we learned about something called the suspension bridge theory.” Baekhyun hums to indicate he’s listening as he yanks Chanyeol’s pants down. “It’s, like... when you’re in a scary situation, you easily confuse the feeling of fear with the feeling of passion. Attraction. I don’t know. Love, I guess. Misattribution of arousal, I think it’s called.”
In response, Baekhyun’s hands slide across Chanyeol’s hipbones, fingers sliding down and into the elastic of his boxers, slowly pulling them down until he’s face-to-face with Chanyeol’s dick, already half-hard. He looks up and says, “Please don’t tell me you think we’re not really in love when I’m about to suck you off.”
“Okay,” says Chanyeol, and moans as Baekhyun puts his lips to the head of Chanyeol’s cock.
Hours later, after he’s come more times than he cares to think about, lying with his body tangled in between Baekhyun and the bedsheets, Baekhyun says, “You’re wrong, you know.”
Chanyeol pretends he is asleep, but he knows Baekhyun knows he’s listening. “You’re wrong, because I stopped being scared a long time ago,” Baekhyun says. His voice cracks just a little bit as he goes on: “I stopped being scared after you kissed me that one time. When you said you’d always come looking for me if I got lost.”
So Chanyeol holds onto Baekhyun a little harder, closes his eyes, and thinks about promises made, about dreams lost, about everything he would give up for one more night like this -
It is the first night that he doesn’t dream about the past when he falls asleep.
fandom: EXO, Baekyeol
rating: R-18, for non-explicit sexual material
description: post-apocalyptic au. Chanyeol learns, slowly, how to let go of what once was and to fill the spaces with the future.
author's notes: originally written for seoulfulness for the prompt: 'http://24.media.tumblr.com/
"suspension bridge theory?" ... "in a scary situation, you confuse the throb of fear with the throb of passion"'. and posted here. this version is pretty significantly expanded - it almost doubled in length! although everything is p much the same haha. and i resolved a pretty big plot hole i noticed in the original fill, too. i should... really edit my fics more before i post them/