Author: Anonymous until 1/30/14
Word Count: 3,300
Summary: We're from different worlds, but that's okay. We belong together anyway.
It’s raining the day Baekhyun finds Jongin.
The streetcorner just outside his apartment complex is deserted when he gets back from work. Baekhyun always forgets to bring an umbrella with him, so his head is down and his hands are balled inside his coat pocket as the sidewalk darkens with droplets.
He hears it before anything else. Baekhyun has always felt like the rain made the rest of the world seem so very quiet, so the soft noise catches his attention through the pitter-patter of the downfall. It sounds like a sudden burst of smoke, and he turns his head towards it.
Standing there is a boy, one that Baekhyun is sure hadn’t been there before, dressed in strange clothing, looking incredibly confused and blinking rain out of his eyes.
Baekhyun opens his mouth to ask ’Who are you?!’, but the other boy beats him to it.
“Baekhyun?” he says.
Baekhyun is about to say something again, when he’s interrupted again. There’s a rising feeling in his heart and a faint buzz in his mind as he gets a good look at the stranger. Then, a sinking feeling in his stomach. He knows what that feeling means.
The day breaks with the sun shrouded behind a swath of clouds. It’s always like this nowadays--Baekhyun can’t recall the last time he’d seen the sun alone in the sky, unblocked by a curtain of gray. When he had been a child, perhaps. The only time it really clears up is at night, when the sky sometimes parts its foggy cast to reveal the velvet blackness dotted with stars, scattered alongside the luminous glow of twin moons hanging against the inky backdrop. But it’s always gone by morning.
Baekhyun is among the earliest to wake up in New Seoul, along with other workers who need to show up early, donning their jumpsuits, each color-coded for their respective professions. They line the sidewalks until the rest of the city rises. Baekhyun is a clerk, so instead of the jumpsuit, he gets to wear a pressed shirt and tie and pants. “We have to put our best appearance forward when clients walk through our doors,” his manager had said during his placement into the position, after he asked where he should pick up his work jumpsuit.
The building of the District 17 Soul-Bonding Research and Information Center is lined with large panels of reflective glass so that it looks like the horizon goes on and on when looked at from a distance. Baekhyun bets that it had been built that way on purpose, meant to give someone the feeling of their “horizons being broadened” or some subtle bullshit marketing scheme like that. Personally, he thinks it looks very imposing and impersonal, like they’re trying to keep people from looking inside. Ironic, for the purpose of the establishment.
Baekhyun doesn’t know what goes on in the upper floors of the place--his task is on the first floor, processing new clients and giving them information on soul-bonding, its benefits, costs, risks, and the like. Technically, the whole process is government-owned, but the prices are so exorbitant that really only people who have the financial means to afford it go through the procedure. A couple screenings, some visits to a lab, and they’re connected with their soul-bond partner for life. They say everyone has a soul partner, but the District 17 Soul-Bonding Research and Information Center, along with the centers of all the other Districts in New Seoul, only match it up for people willing to dish out the money. You can supposedly find your soul partner through chance, but the likelihood of that is near impossible.
Today seems off, because it’s 8:30 and Zitao hasn’t shown up to fill his post next to Baekhyun. None of his supervisors had come to check on him, so no one says anything about his absence for the whole morning while Baekhyun taps away at the spreadsheet on the computer, entering rows and rows of data until it’s lunch time.
“Afternoon, Baekhyun,” Minseok, a research assistant from one of the upper floors greets when Baekhyun enters the break room.
“Hey,” Baekhyun nods in response. “Uh, I’m not sure if I just missed something but Zitao hasn’t shown up yet?”
Minseok pauses from where he’s waiting over a brewing pot of coffee and turns to look at him. “You mean you haven’t heard yet…?” he asks, eyes rounded.
Minseok looks around, as if to make sure there’s no one around to hear what he’s about to say, even though they’re alone in the break room. “You know how he’s been...unhappy lately, right?” he whispers.
“Yeah…?” It wasn’t really a secret. Zitao had begun to say a lot of dangerous things lately, like how unfair it was that people were being denied the opportunity to be happy unless they could afford it, how people were placed into jobs based on their skill levels. The kind of things that would make any kind of official very unhappy to hear.
“Last night, Lu Han told me that Zitao paid him a visit.”
Baekhyun widens his eyes. “You don’t mean…?”
Minseok nods minutely. “Yeah. Crazy, huh...I never knew he was that fed up.”
“Me neither,” Baekhyun says, shaking his head slightly. “Are they going to replace him?”
“Guess so,” Minseok shrugs. “Looks like you’ll have to be dealing with some freshman soon.”
He turns over what he’s learned from Minseok in his mind as he walks home later that day. Very few people know about Lu Han, and even fewer know what he really does...he supposes he’s lucky, since he’s on good terms with Minseok, who happened to be one of Lu Han’s childhood friends growing up.
Very rarely does it happen, but there have been certain instances of the Soul-Bonding Center not being able to find matches for clients who come in. Technically, there’s supposed to be a soul partner for everybody ever born. But some years ago, the discovery of multiple worlds was unveiled. How many there are or where they are or what they’re like are all things that nobody knows. There began the experimentation of prototypes for portals to these alternate dimensions, but there had been a fundamental flaw. They found a way for people to go in, but once someone went in, it was impossible to go back. Essentially, a one-way track was created--one way in, from this world to another one.
Only one person has ever successfully traveled back and forth between the worlds, in secret. It was Lu Han, and he never, ever spoke of what he experienced after crossing over. Instead, he moved underground, moving into the shadows of New Seoul, never to be seen or heard of again by most people. But there are always whispers, rumors that if you were able to somehow get ahold of him, you could ‘pay Lu Han a visit.’ They say he replicated a portal, and that if you knew where to find him, you could get yourself a one way ticket to the beyond.
It was still quiet enough that nobody really said anything about the disappearances or noticed the silent unhappiness of a few people. Baekhyun guesses Zitao had finally fed up with the system and had chosen the unknown instead.
His thoughts are interrupted, however, when he hears a strange sound.
Suddenly, it begins to rain.
“Thank you,” the stranger says, voice small as Baekhyun hands him a towel to dry off. Baekhyun had led him up to his apartment hastily, before anyone on the street could see the boy. He seems skittish and fidgety, like he’s expecting Baekhyun to do something or say something.
“Um,” Baekhyun begins, “how--how do you know my name?” As if having a person appear seemingly out of thin air wasn’t startling enough, having the stranger know his name on top of that was...it was something else.
“You mean you...don’t know who I am?” the stranger asks, peering at him through long, dark bangs that are still damp with rainwater.
“Am I supposed to?”
“I...I don’t know. I guess not,” he replies quietly, but he seems upset. “Oh, uh, I’m Jongin,” he adds, giving a small, hopeful smile. And for some reason, Baekhyun smiles back. It feels natural and automatic, and suddenly Baekhyun is aware that this is possibly the first real smile he’s had on his face in a long time. Then, he’s reminded of the feeling he had when they first met, and his smile disappears.
“Nice to meet you...I suppose,” he responds, still very confused by the whole situation. “I...can I ask you something, Jongin?”
Jongin nods, pushing his index finger against his lip nervously.
“How--,” Baekhyun is about to ask how Jongin had appeared behind him out of nowhere, but he changes his mind mid-sentence. There’s something else he wants to know first. “Okay. This might seem a little weird but...do you feel anything…strange when you look at me? Like a weird rising in your chest or anything?”
To his surprise, Jongin brightens up and nods slowly. “Yeah, I do,” he says, a slow smile spreading across his face. Baekhyun bites his lip--he had been afraid that was going to be Jongin’s response but...he guesses there’s nothing he can really do about it. Instead of saying anything else, he falls silent, lost in thought while chewing on his lower lip.
“Are you okay?” Jongin asks hesitantly. Baekhyun blinks a bit and looks at Jongin again--the feeling is back, like he could just sit right there at his kitchen table for the rest of his life, so long as Jongin is sitting there with him.
“Yeah, yeah, I’m okay,” he sighs, running a hand through his hair. “Uh, so, can I ask you something else? How did you...do that? You know, appear like that?”
“Oh…,” Jongin says, shifting in his seat. “Um, I don’t think I can tell you...yet...,” he says after a pause, brushing his fringe from his eyes. “I’m not going to do anything weird or illegal though, if that’s what you’re thinking,” he adds hastily.
“Actually, I think you being here is already illegal,” Baekhyun says with a small laugh. Technically, it is. People are not allowed to be unaccounted for, nor are they allowed to house unaccounted-for people. Everyone has a place, a position, a job to do. Baekhyun had heard about cases of outer-city people trying to get into New Seoul, and for a time, there had been a market to smuggle them in and give them a place to stay, food to eat, beds to sleep in. But that’d been all shut down very quickly once the authorities found out. The outsiders were shipped away and those who helped them were never to be heard from again. Baekhyun looks at Jongin and wonders if they’ll ship him away too, and the thought makes something twist inside him like an angry snake coiling around its prey.
Nowadays, though, nobody is looking to sneak into New Seoul. Instead, people are looking for ways out. There are none, however, other than for those lucky enough to have heard of Lu Han.
“Oh, right,” Jongin replies, looking down. “Are you...going to turn me in?”
Baekhyun raises his eyebrows when he looks back at Jongin. For someone who seems to know who he is already, Jongin is awfully nervous all the time. “No,” Baekhyun shakes his head. “No, I won’t turn you in. You can stay here for now, but you’re going to have to answer my questions sooner or later.”
Another smile makes his way across Jongin’s face, and a matching one starts to spread to Baekhyun’s without warning. “Thank you,” he says, and the way he says those two words makes Baekhyun feel like he could give Jongin anything and everything he wanted.
He remembers himself and sighs. This soul-bonding thing isn’t as easy as he had expected.
It’s been three days since Jongin had appeared at the streetcorner below Baekhyun’s house. Baekhyun goes to work as usual, rising early to walk to the Center. Jongin is apparently a light sleeper, because although Baekhyun tries his best to be quiet in the morning, a drowsy “come back soon” always follows him as he’s walking out the front door. And those three words stay with him throughout the rest of his work hours for the next three days. “Come back soon” plays in his conscious as he mindlessly enters data into the computer and as he deals with scheduling clients until the work day is over. As soon as it is, he rushes home as quickly as he can, weaving through the throng of other workers making their way back to their respective homes.
Today is no different, and he reaches his apartment as the sun sets through the fog of clouds on the horizon. When he opens the door, though, Jongin is not in the living room, sprawled out and napping on the couch like he usually is. A quick peek into the conjoined kitchen tells Baekhyun he’s not there either, and an irrational sense of panic starts to rise in his throat.
“Jongin? Are you here?” His voice is still calm, but he has to make an effort to keep it that way.
A shuffling comes from the bedroom and Baekhyun sags with relief as Jongin shuffles out, hands twisted into the hem of his shirt.
“Oh, there you are,” he sighs, trying not to sound too allayed. “Are you ready for dinner? I was thinking I could try to make something tonight instead of going to get portions from the dining service--”
“--Baekhyun,” Jongin interrupts.
“...What? You don’t think I can cook?” Baekhyun says indignantly.
“No, that’s...not it,” Jongin says, going over to Baekhyun and clutching at his sleeve. “Baekhyun, someone came to the apartment today.”
Baekhyun stills, the same panic returning to his throat. “You didn’t answer the door, did you…?” he asks carefully.
“No, I didn’t, but they knocked for a long time, asking if anybody was in here. I went to the bedroom and stayed there…”
Baekhyun runs a hand through his hair. Shit. He has no idea how, but the authorities are onto him. He guesses there are eyes and ears everywhere, but he’d been so careful not to get extra portions at the dining service--only enough to make it seem like he was just saving up or really hungry--so careful not to breathe a word of Jongin to anyone. But now that they’re suspicious, Baekhyun knows it’s only a matter of time until he’s found out. And if that happens...the coiling snake twists again and Baekhyun knows he can’t let that happen. He sighs and takes Jongin’s wrist, guiding them towards the couch to sit them down.
“Jongin, do you know what a soul bond is?” he asks slowly, getting ready to explain just why the connection between them is so strong.
“Yeah, I do,” Jongin says, nodding.
“It’s when--wait, what? You do?” Baekhyun sits back, surprised. “How?”
“You told me, once,” Jongin explains, except that doesn’t make any sense because Baekhyun had purposely not told Jongin they were soul-bonded so he wouldn’t freak out or anything.
“This is going to be...difficult to explain,” Jongin sighs. “Look, you know about parallel universes, right? Like the ones Lu Han makes portals to?”
“I...yes? You’re from one of those, aren’t you?”
“Yes, I am,” Jongin confirms. “But there’s more to it than that. The world I come from is totally different, and certain people are born with certain...abilities.”
“And you’re one of those people?” Baekhyun finishes what Jongin had been about to say.
“Right,” Jongin nods. “My ability is teleportation. But it’s a different kind--it’s sort of like a version of Lu Han’s portals. One way only, between different dimensions.”
“You know about Lu Han, too?” Baekhyun asks. “Wait, you said...that I told you about soul bonding? And you knew my name when you appeared...does that mean we’ve met before? In a different dimension?”
“We’ve met a lot of times, Baekhyun,” Jongin says, giving a tentative smile. “And each time, this connection between us is still there,” he adds, reaching over to take Baekhyun’s hand and lacing them together. Baekhyun automatically curls his fingers around Jongin’s, warmth running up his arm from where their skin meets. “Sometimes you know me, sometimes you don’t, but I always manage to find you anyway.”
“Find me…? You just go through worlds looking for me, you mean?”
Jongin nods, blush spreading across his cheeks. “You’re just worth finding, I suppose,” he mumbles. Baekhyun gives his hand an affectionate squeeze. “But I don’t think I can stay here,” he says quietly, shifting his gaze to the front door. “They’ll come back to look for me, and eventually they’ll find me and then you’ll get into trouble. I can’t let them hurt you.”
Baekhyun wants to say that should be his line, but he ruffles Jongin’s hair instead. “But where will you go, then?” he asks.
“That’s the thing,” Jongin says. “I’ve been thinking...I think this is the first world. Your first world, at least.”
“What do you mean?”
“Well...for each universe, there are different timelines. It’s not just one, singular stream of time for all places. Out of all the Baekhyuns that exist in every universe, this is the first time you’re meeting me.”
“Is that good or bad…?” Baekhyun asks, trying to process the information.
“It’s good,” Jongin reassures him with a smile. “It’s definitely good. Basically, all the Baekhyuns that I’ve met that didn’t know who I was existed in timelines before this one. All the ones who remember me are from timelines that exist after this one.”
Baekhyun nods, trying to understand everything. Jongin looks at him patiently, waiting for him to say something.
“So that means you do have to leave here, eventually,” Baekhyun says after a moment.
“Yeah, I do,” Jongin replies. “But Baekhyun, that means you do too.”
“Well, we can’t stay here anymore...they’re going to be looking for both you and me.”
“How am I supposed to go, though?”
“You know how.”
Jongin is talking about Lu Han, Baekhyun realizes. He has to go to Lu Han...and leave behind this world, if he wants to meet Jongin again. Baekhyun bites his lip in thought.
Jongin seems to sense his hesitation and nudges him softly. “Hey, I’m not going to make you do anything, okay? I’m just...asking you to trust me.”
“I do trust you,” Baekhyun says, and it’s the truth. He can’t explain it, but he trusts Jongin like nobody else, and feels closer to him than anyone else. “But even if I do go...how will you find me?”
“I found you in this world, didn’t I? And I’ll find you in the next, and if we can’t be together there, then I’ll find you in the next, and the one after that until we find someplace that will let the both of us stay,” Jongin says, running his thumb gently over Baekhyun’s knuckles where their hands are joined. Baekhyun realizes, then, that Jongin loves him. He can feel it in the softness of Jongin’s gaze, in the warmth of his skin, and he feels deep in his being that it’s the truth.
I don’t love him, Baekhyun thinks, not yet. But I could.
The next morning, Jongin is gone.
There’s a slip of paper on Baekhyun’s kitchen table.
See you on the other side? Don’t be late!, it reads.
Baekhyun had said he trusted Jongin, and now Jongin had put his trust in Baekhyun in return.
There are two slips of paper crumpled up in Baekhyun’s pocket as he walks down the street. One is the note Jongin left him.
The other is is a carefully written address he had gotten from Minseok.
Thank you for reading to the end! ♡ Dear recipient, I hope you liked it at least a little bit and that I didn’t interpret your prompts weirdly. /o\