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Achilles' Way of Love

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“If you think this Universe is bad, you should see some of the others.”

Philip K. Dick, 1977

 

PART 1: The code

What can be said about the conundrum of dreams is that, essentially, there must be a reason why we’re not supposed to remember most of them.

The opening of eyes is the frailest yet most powerful moment in someone’s life.

It was of no use to fight against it. Shownu knew he should make himself get up and face that new day, and first of all, his roommate. As he examined his figure in the bathroom’s mirror, the sound of mugs and plates being whirled around the kitchen were muffled by the water flowing from the wash-basin tap; the dark circles under his swollen eyes were proof of how unsettling his night was.

Shownu went back to his room to pick his phone, it informed him it was hardly 8:00 a.m., which would’ve confused him if he didn’t know the reason for all that clatter. Despite not being much of a morning person, a coffee was enough to cheer his roommate up.

Peeking at the man from the corner of the corridor, Shownu reminisced about the phenomenon of their meeting.

He was pulled towards him, there’s no better wait to describe it. Every single atom of his body recognized the ones in Minhyuk’s body as soon as Shownu locked eyes with him, in front of the modest building where both of them came to sign up for painting classes. The blond man gave him the brightest smile and, just like that, Shownu knew he was the one he was looking for without being aware of it.

The weird feeling of the recognition of souls dissipated into a friendship that had been the only thing keeping him sane.

His life took an unexpected turn one year before, even though he wasn't actually sure he could pinpoint when it started. Out of the blue, Shownu became exposed to the deepest sensations around him; like a volcano inside him, dormant no more. Its eruption overflowed his entire being, not even sparing his dreams.

At first, it was about small things, like dreaming that it’d rain by the end of the afternoon and said event happening exactly as he foresaw. His first self-questioning was, obviously, if he was going crazy; being around people irked his visions, gradually making him distance himself of almost everyone. Shownu couldn’t talk to anyone about what he was going through — who would believe him? — and that was broke him the most.

For a while, Shownu decided to fiercely ignore those dreams and visions for it, maybe, would go away; one shouldn’t be able to see things like that, it wasn’t normal. Confined in his small apartment, his routine included mostly in trying to forget what he shouldn’t have seen; the contact with most of his friends was lost, and his family tried to reach out, but Shownu knew better and fooled then with promises he’d get better soon.

During that entire year being harassed by those daydreams, Shownu never had thought about the possibility of meeting someone like him. First, because it wasn’t a subject one threw in the middle of a conversation, and second because what happened to him, whatever it was, could be a single event only. Even without a clear reason for what was happening to him — Shownu did a bunch of medical exams, but nothing was out of place — the awareness that, maybe, he’d be in the loneliness of that experience for the rest of his life hit him hard and fast.

Minhyuk hugged him in the first minute they saw each other, as if he was meeting an old friend after a long time apart. Despite being taken aback by that, for Shownu, it was the same. It felt like he knew absolutely everything about the younger man, landing on the level of comfortableness only achieved by few people. To him, Minhyuk was the living embodiment of relief, safety.

Not much later, as they discovered that they shared most of the visions they had, Shownu became more open to talk about it, regardless of the lack of logic in that situation. It didn’t take too long until they became friends and started living together.

Ambling towards their tiny kitchen, Shownu calmly prepared himself for the stressing day they’d have. His friend, on the other hand, seemed to be on a verge of a breakdown.

“I know.” Minhyuk wasn’t being much careful washing the dishes, standing with his back to Shownu. “It’s him.”

Among the visions they had almost every day, one was specifically unsettling to them. One year before, they dreamed of him for the first time; only after discussing this event, they noticed that shortly after that strange dream their precognitions began. The men never saw him again until the night before.

 

They found themselves in the middle of a dark street, in the middle of nowhere. The absence of noise was the scariest thing about that scenario; the dense forest covering both sides of the roadway gave the impression something was going to come out of there; even worse, they couldn’t move their legs, as if their feet were glued to the ground.

All despair disappeared under the sight of him.

Minhyuk named him “The Umbrella Man”. Strangely for that situation, the individual walking towards them transpired serenity like no one else they had ever met. As he got closer, Minhyuk and Shownu noticed the man wore a black three-piece suit, but couldn’t get a proper look at his face for his umbrella covered half of it.

“Come find me.”

His voice was deeper than both of them expected, sort of ominous. He didn’t wait for a reply from the men.

“I can give you answers.” The stranger lifted his umbrella and gave them a clear look of his face; sharp features almost didn’t match his svelte body. “But first, I need your help. Remember when you wake up. One-fifteen. Underground. Jump.”

 

“How the hell are we supposed to know what to do when he only told us 3 things?”

Shownu paused midway to sip on his sacred morning coffee before responding his disturbed friend, standing on the other side of the counter.

“We don’t have to do anything, Minhyuk.”

“But hyung…” He found funny the way Minhyuk pouted, especially because he still wore the blue onesie he used to sleep. “He said he needed help. And we want answers.”

“How do we know what he wants from us? We can’t tell for sure he’s a good person.”

“Don’t gimme that excuse.” It could be irritating how Minhyuk could see right through him. “You felt that. No bad person would make us feel like that.”

No much could be done but to sigh at his lack of argument.

“So… What does he expect us to do with that vague info? If he was so desperate, he wouldn’t be throwing riddles.”

“It was too fast!” The younger, now self-proclaimed defense attorney of The Umbrella Man, retorted. “Maybe he didn’t have time, so he just said the essential. Now let’s crack this up.”

 

Shownu’s eyes could barely observe the movement the water pot made to hit the floor, spilling water everywhere around him. Sure, that kind of thing happened once in a while because he was a bit of clumsy person, but not like that. Nothing in his life had ever been just like that. Shownu felt as if he was being bombarded by multiple visions, a mental version of being pushed back over and over again.

The wail he let out had Minhyuk running to his side in a matter of seconds.

It was way too rapid for someone to comprehend quickly, and a part of Shownu wanted to be able to forget. However, to forget, to let it go, it also meant to throw away an opportunity to understand what was happening to him, and Minhyuk consequently.

“Hyung, talk to me!”

To both of them, having those capabilities wasn’t a painful experience; sure, they’d get a headache sometimes, nothing more than that, though. That was new. Shownu had been waiting for that moment his entire life, and yet it frightened him to be so certain of that.

“I saw…” Minhyuk seemed terrified when he craned his neck towards the younger. “I think I know. What he meant.”

“What did you see?”

“Us…?” Way too dark for Shownu to be 100% sure. “We were running in… a subway station? 514 Street. Then just… I saw a clock. 1:15 p.m. That’s… two hours from now.”

Minhyuk seemed completely dazzled.

“He said, hyung. One-fifteen. Underground. It’s time and location. But… what about ‘jump’?”

Right. That didn’t make sense.

Every single thing about that made Shownu want to scream of frustration, but he couldn’t deny that it could change his life if he just…

“Minhyukkie.” His tone was never more serious. “Do you want to go?”

If his friend was afraid, he didn’t make it become obvious.

“No. But maybe we’ll never get another chance like this. He was right. We want answers, and we won’t find them staying here.”

 


 

Amidst the silence of their work room, Jooheon almost fell off of his chair with the squeal coming from Changkyun’s desk behind him. To be honest, he would’ve turned on some music in the small warehouse they settled themselves in, but his friend claimed he wouldn’t be able to work with such noise, so Jooheon usually brought headphones with him. That was a particularly bad day, one could say, to forget his headphones at home, just when his spare one was currently broken.

“HYUNG! MY? OH MY GOD? WHAT—”

“Holy shit, Changkyun.” Jooheon inhaled sharply, turning his chair around. “I’m too young to have a heart attack.”

“Hyung.” There was something in the man’s eyes that gave Jooheon chills. “I saw… myself.”

“Yes, Kyun. There’s this thing called mirror, life is crazy.”

“NO!” Changkyun fervently pointed at one of the four computer screens on his desk. “There! I was checking the surveillance system of the area around the place of the new gig, and… I was there. In there. Me. The other me… he was looking straight at me.”

“Im Changkyun. What kind of drugs are you on, boy?”

The younger looked offended at Jooheon’s statement.

“I’m serious!”

“And I’m going back to be the sane person of this duo.”

Patting his friend on the back to cut off any silly argument the man could throw at him, Jooheon pushed his chair back to his desk.

As much as he’d like to believe that was a single event, Changkyun’s previous experience didn’t help him much to absorb that Jooheon, too, saw himself on all of the six computer screens on his work table.

But he wasn’t alone.

A strange man stared at him for nothing more than a couple of seconds, but it sent shivers all the way up Jooheon’s spine, and another footage of himself glaring at a CCTV.

“Changkyun.”

It took a while for his friend to respond, possibly from the shock.

“Hmm…”

“I just saw myself. And a guy. In the screens.”

Jooheon turned his chair around to find a wide-eyed Changkyun.

“Shit. What is happening? Hyung? Is this a collective delirium?”

“I…” Deep down, he knew the answer. “Remember that we couldn’t find out who hired us for today’s job? Maybe it’s the guy I saw. We never received other directions than to hack the city’s main power grid and channel the energy to that abandoned subway station, today, at 1:15 p.m. It’s two hours from now.”

“This is crazy? What kind of guy can do this?” Changkyun looked like his brain was frying. “So that was us? Two hours from now? It looked we were inside a train or something.”

Science was entirely against all that situation. As someone who did watch a lot of science fiction content in pop culture, mainly because Changkyun forced him to, it wasn’t an original move to send a message to yourself in the past. However, there, in real life, that kind of stuff didn’t exist.

Right?

An unknown force was pulling him towards that puzzle.

“Go over that area again.” Jooheon hauled his chair towards his friend’s desk again. “Check every damn camera around that locality. Seems like we don’t have much time to make a decision.”

 


 

At that point, Kihyun was willing to admit that he was an excellent candidate to be put in a straightjacket and locked up in the darkest room of a psychiatric hospital. What kind of sane person gets obsessed over something they saw in a dream?

Apparently, him, since one year before.

 

Everything changed when Kihyun saw him. It was a weird occurrence — like when you know you’re in a dream, but can’t actually do much about it. Kihyun knew he wasn’t really standing in the middle of a road, surrounded by a bright sky only. For a place he had never been, not even in real life, that place felt more familiar than it should.

Kihyun tried to move, but his legs seemed to be frozen, just like the rest of his body. The fear and panic running through his veins made him want to scream, but he also wasn’t able to do that. All he was allowed to was to stare at the horizon until its end.

Once he saw him, every single muscle in his body relaxed; wondering later, the weirdest thing was how peaceful Kihyun felt as soon as he laid eyes on the tall man ambling in his direction. He wore black from head to toe and was way taller than Kihyun wished he was, giving a strange vibe that they had met before.

“Come find me. Memorize this.” Looking down at the paper the stranger put in front of his face, Kihyun could see a few numbers. “Closed Timelike Curve. Solve this equation. Not alone. Go to Wonho.”

He was desperate for more time and as he tried to let out a yell inside his dream, it came out as soon as he opened his eyes, scaring the living shit out of his friend. Kihyun didn’t have time to feel guilty, though. Before he could forget, the man ran towards his desk, on the other side of the room, writing down the information given to him.

“Jesus, Kihyun.” Wonho’s voice behind him sounded almost offended. “I feel sorry for your roommate if you’re like that every morning.”

“Shut up, Wonho. I… No.” Kihyun almost missed something. ‘Not alone. Go to Wonho.’ “You.”

His older friend raised an eyebrow with curiosity at his — possibly — crazy staring.

“Yes, me. Me, the person you asked to pick you up this morning so we could go to the uni together.”

“No. You… He said…” Kihyun gazed at the info written down in a piece of paper, then back at Wonho. “You. You have to help me.”

“With what?”

Good point.

“I think… We’re going to discover how to time travel.”

 

“Kihyun. I swear to God. I’m going to interdict you.”

A part of him agreed with Wonho’s behavior, since the older man found him in class at lunch break, working on his dream equation, for the fourth time that week.

The other half of him was too obsessed to care.

Kihyun had been working on that problem for almost a year already, but every time it seemed he was about to crack it up, he discovered that the numbers didn’t fit, or were completely wrong.

“If you helped me like I asked you to, this would be solved by now. I’d be eating.” Making a move to stand up, Kihyun left his friend behind and strolled towards the whiteboard. “So it’s your fault.”

Wonho scoffed loud and clear as he trailed behind Kihyun.

“You know this is insane, right? It was just a dream, Kihyun. Do I have to explain what dreams are? A series of images, thoughts and emotions during your REM sleep. It wasn’t real. That guy wasn’t real. Time travel isn’t real. You have a degree in physics, you know that.”

“And you teach theoretical physics and add nothing to my theory. Can’t you at least try for just once? For me? Please? Please, hyung.”

For a moment, Kihyun thought his friend was going to reject him for the 500th time. He was about to put on his best pouting face when Wonho gestured for him to move over, so he could get a good space to work on the whiteboard.

“I’ll try just once. And you’re getting out of here to eat something after I fail.”

It was hard to get under Wonho’s skin, always had been. They participated in the same debate club in first year in college, and Kihyun often had a wish to stab him to death, but Wonho always remained stoic, retorting his arguments one by one. A perfect recipe for an enmity, but all those insults and endless quarrels actually bonded them into a long term friendship.

The remembrances of their past almost distracted him from what Wonho was doing at the whiteboard.

“You’re considering the wrong theorem.” He pointed out at his equation. “In this scenario, the best possibility is…” His writing carried on unwavering. “Let’s say mass is… and a possible singularity would be added to the second part… so it’s… X=4155102M.”

What a huge bitch idiot.

“Are you…” Kihyun stared back and forth between Wonho and the board. “Did you just…”

Wonho himself checked the calculations over and over again to search for a mistake. Found none.

“This isn’t possible. It doesn’t work with our laws of psychics. It’s all theory.”

“It makes sense! It’s a coordinate! M it’s a measure for time information in the worldline. Maybe it’s the precise time he’s going to be within reach because it’s the moment he’s going to be passing by. Or just be in that location. Is he in a loop? That’s my best theory, there’s this period in time that—”

“Are you hearing yourself, Kihyun? Singularities are supposed to exist at the center of a black hole and… There’s no basis to support this.”

It’s possible Wonho spoke more than the younger man paid attention to it, since he was already running the calculations on his phone’s GPS to find the location.

“Got it!”

Kihyun felt a tug on his wrist holding him back as he motioned towards the exit.

“Don’t do this. Act like a rational person just for once. Among all the people, why would a time traveler choose you for something?”

Freeing himself from the hold of his best friend, he wished he could explain to Wonho what that meant to him. But words didn’t make it justice.

“He chose you too.”

 


 

Hyungwon liked to believe there was bravery in reaching out to the uncertain, no matter how many times he was sure it all could go very badly. It’s not like he had another option, though; history had been written down a thousand times, and the only common factor of it all was them, all of them.

What sharpened the difficulty of his current situation was that it was absolutely his fault.

As he fell into that trap, Hyungwon once more felt he had failed to live up to his purpose, certainly the only reason for why he was still around. However, the question that occupied his mind was a simple one: what right did he have to bring innocent boys into his mess?

It was for their survival too.

Where the concepts of right and wrong stood in those circumstances? Too many possibilities, sometimes, could be worse than a linear, simple fate.

Natural selection had betrayed him from its very start. Since birth, Hyungwon had never been the strongest or the smartest among his people and yet, he was the only one who survived. Just like his people, he wished he had been gone to whatever place that waited for humans after death; denied of a closure, the weight of a responsibility was thrown on him, so that’s more or less how he ended up stuck in a temporal loop.

Hyungwon wanted to laugh at the fact that he, someone who can travel across dimensions, was running out of time. It hit him how that was such a human thing to experience, and Hyungwon almost didn’t feel too lonely.

The years spent inside that machine were longer than any ordinary person would ever dream of, especially when you have no one to share it with. To be alone, at that point, was something Hyungwon got used to. The gist of this topic inside his head led to a matter of great importance for any common human he had ever met.

If that was the end of it all, who would miss him?

Wrong question.

In his hand, the dial of his pocket watch briskly spinning never seemed more menacing.

 

PART 2: Finding the road

“Minhyuk. This is a bad idea. I have no doubt.”

Shownu’s voice almost passed unnoticed in the middle of his musings around the place they just entered. The address his hyung caught in his vision led to a subway station, apparently abandoned, and to be quite honest, creepy as hell. At the very least, it wasn’t in the dark due the blue LED tube lights placed on the floor.

“How do we know this is the right way?” Minhyuk had no idea, and neither Shownu. “No new vision?”

“Minhyuk.”

“Hmm?”

Turning around to face his friend, Minhyuk took the chance to point his flashlight at their surroundings once more.

“There’s a CCTV camera here. It’s on.”

“Well…” The blond man pointed his flashlight at the camera then back at his hyung. “Do you want to combine our stories in case we get arrested?”

Shownu rolled his eyes at him.

“I mean… Hyung, there’s glow sticks on the floor everywhere. People probably take care of this place. I think—”

An abrupt screeching inside his head gave Minhyuk the impression his brain was about to explode. It just lasted a couple of seconds, only to be followed by a particularly long foresight.

As if he was watching himself outside his body, Minhyuk was in the same place he previously stood on, touching a subway sign that wasn’t there once the man opened his eyes again.

A sudden voice behind him was the reminder that he wasn’t alone.

“Did you see it too?”

His hyung seemed perplexed.

“Now we know where to go.”

 


 

 

“BOO!”

Wonho saw the opportunity, and he took it. He was far from being amused with his friend’s misery, but that entire situation asked for a comic relief.

“God… I… Are you a child?” Kihyun vehemently shoved his flashlight on his face, bringing a contrast to crimson light above their heads. “I shouldn’t have let you come with me.”

He couldn’t help but chuckle at the shorter man.

“I want to be there when you finally admit that this is preposterous.”

“Hyung, with all due respect, you’re full of shit. I know you’re curious too.”

That day was defying everything Wonho believed to be right, starting by that stupid equation he, somehow, knew how to solve. His hand seemed to move so naturally to write on the whiteboard that it was almost as if he had done that before, countless times.

Regret was consuming every single part of him, especially because he didn’t want to be drawn into that tomfoolery.

Wonho wasn’t curious, just worried that something bad could happen to Kihyun. It was impossible to talk him out of something once he got obsessed with it.

“I’m not—”

Kihyun cut through his defense with a squint at the wall.

“What’s that?”

Following the illumination provided by Kihyun’s flashlight beside him, Wonho found a few things scratched on the wall.

“‘514 Street. Montre Station.’ This place’s address? Groundbreaking.”

“That…” He waved with the flashlight to something beside the numbers. “Looks like an hourglass.”

Wonho couldn’t handle that anymore without letting out a disappointed sigh.

“Kihyun. Stop feeding your delusion.”

“Montre means watch in French. Watch as in clock.”

That was going to be a long afternoon.

“You’re sounding like the theory guy from Buzzfeed Unsolved. Do you really think they named this place because of the man you saw in a dream?”

The glare Kihyun directed at him was scarier than being in an abandoned tunnel system.

“We only have 10 minutes.” It frustrated him how determined his friend sounded, as if that was indeed something important. “Just believe in this for the next 10 minutes.”

Goddamnit.

 


 

Changkyun didn’t know why, but only a few minutes separated them from what they saw earlier, and the anxiety was beginning to take over him. With a look beside him, the man saw his friend pacing like crazy.

“Did you do it?”

“Yes!” Changkyun exclaimed higher than he intended. “The area is clear, hyung. There’s three entrances in the—”

A squeak similar to the sound of a train slamming its brakes reached their ears so loudly it dazzled him for a few seconds.

“It got to be the subway.” Jooheon seemed pretty convinced after that. “Come on, come on, Kyun. We have only 5 minutes!”

 

PART 3: Connected

Dreams weren’t allowed where Hyungwon came from, regardless of the semantics. Actually, not even the basic concept of it was presented to him; he was forced to forget, to forget that he forgot about it. The leash around his throat was never loosened while there was someone to hold it.

Hyungwon survived, therefore he won, right? Out of every single living being in his world, only him. Among the thoughts of curses and blessings, the one he chose to focus on was responsibility that he, after all, had. The rule book for a situation like his was yet to be written, but the multiverse wasn’t going to wait for someone’s good will before crumpling.

It was conceited to think he could keep going alone until that point, but deep down, Hyungwon would’ve choose any other route than to involve them, if he could. They didn’t deserve to be ruined.

Not again.

However, the control of his own machine was taken away from him and Hyungwon couldn’t take back his plead for help; on his right side, the very sight of the broken hourglass that powered his engine made his chest ache with anxiety, with… fear.

If Hyungwon lost, would the multiverse be okay? Would Time just seek for another asset?

Maybe he indeed thought too thought highly of himself.

One could be find funny that Time, basically, was a part of Hyungwon as much as he was part of Time itself, like twins connected by a strange and unexplainable bond — nothing much scientific, it’s just something he heard people in a previous world saying. And yet, when he needed the most, Time seemed to be slipping through his fingers.

He was so young. Too young. For it all.

So were those boys, but Hyungwon had pulled them under a falling house of cards.

The pocket watch he clasped in one hand was a very good conductor for guilt.

1:10 p.m.

 


 

Much to his surprise, Wonho and him weren’t the only ones to arrive in that subway station, coming in second.

Deep down, Kihyun knew they weren’t the only ones involved in that mystery. Things seemed bigger than he could ever fathom, if something could be understood from the absurd way the matter, in that space, looked to be in current distortion. In all his 24 years of life, Kihyun had never seen the air he breathed moving in waves, neither pieces of the walls splitting into different rectangular combinations in a span of five seconds, as if attempted to solve a puzzle picture.

Beside him, his friend seemed too shocked to even speak. In any other situation, Kihyun would’ve bragged about being (kind of) right, but that was too otherworldly for him to even think of some mock — maybe if they had time later, when the reality around them didn’t seem completely different from everything he was taught.

“I’ve seen you before.”

A taller, tanned man stared at him with so much sureness in his eyes that Kihyun considered to evaluate that affirmation. His first reaction was to glare at him, though, looking both ways to check if the man wasn’t talking to someone else.

“Excuse me?”

While Wonho preferred to gaze at their surroundings — most likely to try to find a way to debunk it — Kihyun now stared at the two strangers that seemed to have arrived just a few minutes ahead of them, seeming as lost as anyone could be in that situation.

They were too awkward around each other to ask what the fuck was going on.

“I’ve seen you before.” The taller man declared again, tilting his head as if he was trying to comprehend Kihyun’s existence. “In a dream.”

What?

“This is an awful pick up line.”

“Me too.” The second guy finally noticed his presence when he turned around to gaze at the tanned man, getting further from the edge of the platform. The way he glanced at Kihyun kind of intimidated him. “Why were you running? You seemed sad.”

“Why are you two here?”

Obviously, Kihyun chose to cut to the important part. Behind the two strangers, one of the walls sliced a X in and out of it.

“He called us.” The second man, blond and slim, buried his hands inside the pockets of his jeans. “In a dream.”

Jesus Christ.

“You mean like… a precognition?”

The taller man nodded and Kihyun couldn’t hold back a chuckle. His friend opened his mouth to reply something when a loud thud of footsteps warned more people were coming in.

Two distraught boys ran in their direction so fast that Kihyun was truly surprised they didn’t tackle one of them.

A black-haired man, bending his body forward to regain his breath and taking his laptop out of his bag at the same time, didn’t look bothered by having company.

The words coming out of his mouth were barely audible in the middle of all that panting.

“What time is it, hyung?”

Kihyun was certain the other stranger was younger than him just as much as the boy breathless on the floor, but the golden-haired man seemed more determined than his friend.

“1:14 p.m. Come on, Kyun. Cut the power, hurry!”

Apparently, that snapped Wonho out of his denial trance.

“Cut what?” His friend asked, moving closer to Kihyun and the others. “Power? You mean electricity?”

The dark-haired boy slammed his finger so hard on the ‘enter’ button that it echoed for a bit.

“Ops…” Laptop still on his lap, the man shrugged without a care. “My hand slipped.”

“Did you just cut the city’s power?” Wonho sounded quite outraged. “Really?”

“No.” Typing on his computer again, he seemed almost too lazy to explain. “I directed all the electricity to this building. But yeah, the rest of the city is in the dark. Not really, because it’s afternoon but you get the gist.”

Kihyun’s friend wasn’t quite keen about that.

“Are you insane?”

“At least three shrinks would agree with you.”

While Wonho paced nervously back and forth, Kihyun looked at the ceiling only to witness the fabric of reality getting even more warped. A loud screeching, sound of an incoming train, silenced them all.

“Hyung…” The blond man poked his taller friend in the arm. “I think we have to jump. It’s 1:15 p.m.”

“Did he tell you that?” It was stupid, but Kihyun had no choice but to be open minded at that point. “In the…”

“He brought us here.” The golden-haired younger man was visibly nervous. Or excited. Kihyun didn’t know which. “And he appeared to us, in our computers. And we appeared in it too. Our versions… from the future. Today. 1:15 p.m.”

“Come on!” The blond man dragged the tanned man by his hand, getting certain distance from the glass doors. “We have to jump!”

Wonho’s question was pertinent.

“Into what?”

The blond pointed to what stood in front of him.

“The doors.”

“Is everybody here insane?”

“Wonho.” Kihyun called for his friend’s attention. “The roof above your head is dematerializing. If they are crazy, so are we.”

“40 seconds.” The golden-haired man announced, and his friend stuffed his laptop in his bag again as he got up. “I’m having a very weird day. You two.” He pointed at the tanned man and his friend. “You sure we gotta jump?”

“Yes.” They answered in unison.

“Fine. Come on, Changkyun.” He gestured for the dark-haired boy to follow him towards the other side of the platform. “If we’re gonna die today, at least this gotta be cool. You guys coming?”

The glare Wonho directed at him had a very clear message.

Don’t you fucking dare.

Kihyun was a very logical person, had always been his entire life. He didn’t understand why people were scared of silly things that clearly didn’t exist — like ghosts, goblins or monsters in general. And yet, he found himself walking backwards towards the strangers.

“I’m sorry.”

He was. Kihyun wished he had come alone to that place, so his friend wouldn’t have to deal with such a hard choice, but that was once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. He wanted answers, and no one would get in the way of it.

“On my count to three.” The golden-haired boy declared, getting ready to sprint off. “One…”

His mind pleaded him to not look at Wonho and to swallow the guilt, but Kihyun could indeed end up dead in the next seconds, so he had to take a last peek as his best friend judging him.

“What?”

One second was enough for Wonho to disappear of his previous position, near the door, only to show up incredibly mad beside him.

“I hate you, Yoo Kihyun.”

“Two…”

Perhaps was the absurdity of the moment he was living, but Kihyun snorted at his friend’s face before focusing on their target.

“Three!”

 


 

1:15 p.m.

The feeling of being trapped, mayhaps, was the one Hyungwon hate the most in the entire observable multiverse.

He virtually grew up in a cage. The illusion of freedom Hyungwon was conditioned to believe in was shattered hundreds of years ago with slow efforts, but once it did, the man swore to himself he’d never be anyone’s slave again.

His guard was down, that’s what got him stuck there. The hundreds of years he spent all by himself inside that train must’ve turned him into a bigger idiot than he already was.

All the hope inside his body began fading again as Hyungwon accepted the fact that they weren’t coming. It was his last shot; it drained most his vitality for that. If Hyungwon were to attempt again, there was an 87% chance of him dropping dead.

Maybe it’s for the best.

“Six new human life forms entered the train.”

The robotic female voice above his head — pretty much his only partner for conversations — impassively adverted, turning the white lights around them into a shade of dark red.

“I know.” Hyungwon, standing on the middle of the wagon, lifted his head to direct his voice to the A.I., connected sideways athwart the top of the roof. “Withdraw to standard mode.”

Here we go again.

As the lights went back to normal, he could finally observe the six men walking in his direction; most of them seemed to be having an existential crisis, eyes wandering all around the machine and outside it, trying not to stumble on their own feet.

The shortest boy, that had silver hair in that universe, was the first to take a step forward; four out of the five others had his eyes fixed on him, as if Hyungwon were going to disappear if they blinked.

“You’re… real. We are… still alive. We jumped…”

Out of instinct, Hyungwon tilted his head a bit while trying to come up with a suitable reply.

“Yes, Kihyun.”

The latter’s eyes widened fast like a balloon.

“How do you know my name?”

Explain, idiot.

“We’ve met before.” Certainly awkward to hear, but there was no better way to begin. “Oh. None of you… remember me. So let me introduce myself.”

“Are you an alien?”

Im Changkyun, always lighten up his mood with his questions, no matter what universe.

“I’m human. Just a little different, Changkyun. My name is Hyungwon. I did call you all here because I need help. I’ve been trapped in this loophole for a month now, which feels like more time to all of you. Nothing I could do was able to be of help. It will consume everything in this machine in a short time.”

“Wait.” Jooheon, running a hand through his golden locks, began inquiring. As usual. “Are you… Did we really… Is this a time machine? We jumped into… We’re alive. You’re a time traveler?”

“I’ve come to know that people are keen of this term in most of the universes, so I’ll say yes. To all of your questions.”

“What do you mean by most of the universes?”

“I’ll start from my very first observation.” The eyes of the other boys didn’t leave him for a second. “We’re currently traveling inside a loop inside a wormhole. This universe is just one within an unmeasurable multiverse. You, Lee Jooheon, succeeded to prove this theory, by experiment, in 2041. In your original timeline. I brought you all into this brand new one, which isn’t your original.”

“I did what?”

Jooheon had to take a seat in one of the benches after that.

“Lee Jooheon proved the existence of the multiverse in 2041, which led to Im Changkyun’s invention of a primitive model to travel through time. In every single universe I’ve visited, you two always had the same roles. This machine where you all stand only exists because of Lee Jooheon and Im Changkyun’s discoveries.”

The two men shared a bewildered look before the youngest of them spoke again.

“Are you dead serious?”

“Dead… I’ll assume this is a slang. Yes, I do speak the truth. The problem in your original timeline was that both of you died too soon. However, it was the first timeline the five of you shared the same time period, so I interfered.”

Now Jooheon seemed terrified.

“How?”

“You previously died in a car crash after dropping Yoo Kihyun off, colliding against truck. Im Changkyun was kidnapped in 2015, and found dead eight months later. I try not to hinder the fabric of reality, so I couldn’t personally save you… so I sent your friends. Lee Minhyuk and Yoo Kihyun.”

“I feel like I’m going to throw up.” Kihyun stated, sitting down in the opposite bench in front of Jooheon. “This is fucking unreal.”

Hyungwon could see it was being though for them to believe that.

“I used Changkyun’s rudimentary traveling system to approach them, which was in the form of a wristwatch. With the destination already set, when they pressed the watch’s crown, they went back in time to do what they were meant to. Lee Minhyuk was supposed to bring Im Changkyun to 2017, and Yoo Kihyun…”

The mentioned man craned his neck fast towards him, breathing heavily.

“What? What about me?”

“I assumed it’d be an easy interpretation. However, once back in 2015, you kept trying to save Lee Jooheon over and over again, but failed. I saw I had to intervene and met you to explain the issue. Yoo Kihyun wasn’t meant to save Lee Jooheon. He should switch places with him and die. And you did.”

A dreadful silence paired over them.

“Are you saying…” It startled Hyungwon a bit the way Kihyun clenched his jaw. “That you send me off to die?”

“You didn’t hesitate to take the offer.”

“WHAT DID YOU EXPECTED ME TO DO?” The yelling. Hyungwon forgot how scary the man could be when angry; Kihyun had been nice to him in most realities. “DID YOU WANT ME TO LET SOMEONE DIE?”

Hyungwon was aware he sounded like a cretin.

“I was trying to save your universe.”

“SO, DID YOU DO IT?”

“…No. That’s why I took the six of you out of there before the entropy. Lee Minhyuk also failed, alongside Son Hyunwoo…” Wrong. “I assume you prefer to be called Shownu here, too.”

“Yes…” Shownu’s expression conveyed a lot of confusion. “But where do I fit in here? You said five of us were in the same period. Who wasn’t?”

“Shin Hoseok—”

“That’s not my name.”

The profound irritation in the eyes that stared back at him wasn’t something new, but never failed to make Hyungwon a bit sad. Thousands of years passed by, and he was yet to understand what made Wonho dislike him so much.

“I’m sorry. You tend to alternate between names… In your original world, Wonho and Shownu were the first humans to test time travel after the invention of Changkyun’s device, in 2047. They were not from the same generation as the others.”

“But you said…” Shownu carefully chose his words. “That we existed at the same time.”

“In your first trip, you two went back to 2017, which led to your choice of staying in that year while Wonho went back alone. Your task was to make sure he stayed in 2017, Shownu. You couldn’t. It was safer for both of you in that time. The government found out about Wonho’s illegal use of time traveling and took his device. His destiny was to also end up dead.”

“I have a question.” Changkyun, sitting on the ground, slowly lifted his hand. “Why should we stay in the same time period? And am I the coolest person that ever lived? Just checking.”

A prolonged squeak above their heads, proof that his machine was fighting until the end, delayed Hyungwon’s response for a few seconds. The six men looked around the train more timorous than ever.

“Well…” Hyungwon tried not to falter, but he was so tired. “I’m not sure about the semantics of the second question. What’s important is that the six of you are the Constants of Humanity in the universe. Your lives are intrinsically connected by the fact you’re the only ones to have a doppelganger in every known universe. Basically, you were born to change your world. However, the lives of the Constants, in multiple universes, have been suffering an interference that shouldn’t happen, so that’s why I appear. I do my best to keep your doubles safe from those whom aren’t interested in peace. They either enslave or kill the Constants they encounter, preventing them to meet the person you were meant to and fulfill their destiny.”

“You mean… the people we know now?” The youngest man was unsure. “Or the people we met before. And why we don’t remember our life back then?”

“The people you currently know. In your original timeline, you and Jooheon met for the first time only in 2043. Wonho and Kihyun’s original roles were enter the government and the military to support Jooheon and Changkyun’s work. Minhyuk and Shownu are usually… causalities. Your roles tend to change a lot.”

Leaning in one of the metal bars between the seats, Minhyuk squinted at the time traveler.

“Why do I feel I should be offended? Are we useless? So why do we need to be here?”

“Pardon me, I should have phrased it better. Your roles are regularly unpredictable because you were the very first tangled human beings. The unique balance of yours and Shownu’s existence allowed the rest of us to exist. Not even the oldest worlds in the Multiverse’s Council know why. It’s one of the few mysteries still not unveiled by human kind, anywhere.”

“Oh…” Minhyuk nodded at no one in particular. “Are we like Jesus?”

“Is that a deity? The scholars used to compare your creation to an upshot of the structure of Time, in the first Big Bang.”

Jooheon had his priorities.

“You don’t know who Jesus is?”

“No. I haven’t been in this universe for much long, pardon my ignorance.”

“Then where are you from?”

Right… I’d have to speak about it anyways.

“I was born a long, long time ago. My original universe was born from the sixth Big Bang, which is the current one. We were the first ones to discover how to manipulate wormholes, so naturally they ended up governing it. I’ve been traveling in this machine for 322 years now.”

Shownu detected a detail.

“Why do you speak of it as if it was in the past? I mean… like we talk about dead people.”

“Because they are dead.” Hyungwon reached the peak of his distress, but couldn’t deny them that. “My world doesn’t exist anymore. I’m the only one left. I know you still have a lot of questions…”

“What happened to ours?” Wonho showed interest for the first time, folding his arms across his chest.

“It was destroyed. Like my own.”

“Are you saying…” Here comes back the fury in that gaze. “That eight billion people died? Why?”

Breathe, Hyungwon.

“My people… They were not good people. As my world advanced in terms of technology, their cruelty grew at the same rate. Our society no longer faced problems of any kind, but we lost track of our humanity. Entire countries turned into industrial facilities, people’s roles began to be delegated right after their birth… Power remained in the hands of few, forcing the rest of our world be of assistance, or die. In less than a hundred years, we descended into madness. Our yearned golden age was filled with wars and famine, way before I was born, until one day… something happened.”

Breathe, Hyungwon. Keep breathing. You’re doing well.

Hyungwon knew if he kept facing them, he wouldn’t make it to the end. He looked away as swiftly as he could.

“I was never taught about this oddity, but its power extended all the way until my generation. When I was born, countries were united under a single flag. A dystopia. There were no revolts or wars, for every single human abided by the rules. Our Constants long gone, just like any pure hope. After a decade of the non-stopping work of countless people, we discovered how to utilize dark energy. Our wormholes became more stable, allowing us to travel farther across the multiverse. Other worlds reached out to bargain, only to be destroyed without mercy. Hence, for three hundred years, everything happened as my people wished it to. Our era came to an end when what an organization called The Eye, from a similar universe, infiltrated themselves in every sector of our society and quickly took over. Somehow, they were smarter and faster and… decimated my universe before we realized. Mine was only their first target. Many have been perishing in the last centuries.”

There was no way that something so ominous wouldn’t leave the men in front of him shocked.

Or at least until Wonho began faintly chuckling.

“Are you saying…” The scoff Wonho let out was way worse than his glares. “That eight billion people died because your crazy people decided to play ventriloquism with the rest of us? Our families, our friends, everybody we knew. They’re dead because you couldn’t do your job? To fix the shitstorm you created?”

Before he could reply, Kihyun stepped out with a bit of sympathy.

“Wonho…”

“Tell me I’m lying, Kihyun. I’m not. This is his people’s fault. He’s not one of us. He’s not like us, normal.”

That’s the version of him I’m fated to repeatedly meet. And he’s right.

“Stop.” An austere voice came from Shownu, that stood beside Wonho. “To err is human. What is done, is done. All we can do is to try to do better from now on.”

That’s the version of Shownu I like the most.

“I assume you can…” Shownu gestured vaguely. “Travel across dimensions. Why don’t you just go to their universe and solve stuff?”

“Their only defense is to prevent me from getting in, so they developed an untraceable technology to safeguard their world. If I don’t have the coordinates, it’s a leap in the dark.” The questions seemed to have ceased by the silence that ensued. Hyungwon took a deep breath before continuing. “I understand if you don’t want to help me anymore. But… I decided I should be honest due the importance of this issue.”

“You didn’t answer my question.” Changkyun shyly pointed out. “Why we don’t remember our other lives?”

“All of you agreed that I should erase your memories. Once you crossed to this universe, your lives in this reality were reorganized so all of you can keep the balance of everything, by staying together in the same era. They found out you didn’t die in that universe and came after you. My best efforts to protect this universe were undermined. I swear. I just don’t have another choice.”

“Can you give it back to us?” Changkyun questioned.

“Yes.” All the work that would demand already troubled Hyungwon. “It requires a huge amount of energy, though. Much more than you redirected to the subway station so you could get here. My machine can provide that, but I have no control over her now.”

“How can we be sure of this?” Wonho argued again. “Why should we believe and trust you?”

“I can’t give you guarantees, only my word. I was honest when I said I’d answer your questions, and if I manage to get control of my machine again, I can tell you much more.”

“What if we say no?” There was no resentment in Jooheon’s voice. “You said you’re trapped. Are we too?”

“If you choose to decline, I can take you back.”

“How?”

“I can use my own energy. Time is part of me, and I’m part of Time.”

“Would it harm you?” Changkyun was too good for any world. “The odds?”

“It’s…” An 87% chance. “They’re a bit high. But I survived worse scenarios.”

“Why don’t you just use your energy and leave?” Kihyun asked, genuinely curious. “Just jump like we did.”

“This is my home.” Hyungwon didn’t know why he sounded so melancholic about it. “I don’t belong anywhere but here. I can’t abandon it.”

They were good people, that was the bedrock of their existences. Hyungwon knew he was asking too much for someone they knew for only a few minutes, but as stated before, he was desperate. If he died, there would be practically no one to stop that killing spree. For Hyungwon, there was no other decision than to continue to try his best, until his very end.

“I’ll do it.” Jooheon was the first to break the silence of making a decision. “I’m already here, I might as well help.”

“Me too.” Changkyun agreed. “I really like this world, it would be nice if it didn’t explode.”

“Us too.” Shownu spoke for Minhyuk and him. “We’ve seen you. We know you’re not a bad person, we’d know you if you were. It’s our duty if what you say is true.”

“It’s not. None of you hold some culpability. Thousands of other versions of you are living an ordinary life, and you are entitled of that too. Don’t agree out of guilt.”

“We’ll help anyways.” Minhyuk affirmed with a smile. Hyungwon never met a version of him that wasn’t warmhearted despite any circumstance. “Hyung is right.”

“It has to be the six of you, though.” Hyungwon could feel Wonho’s weary gaze on him without even looking. “It should only work with all the Constants.”

“What do we need to do?” Kihyun questioned, crossing his arms over his chest to receive instructions. “Don’t look at me like that, Wonho. How do you expect me to go back to my normal life knowing this? You won’t be able to do it either.”

Wonho looked like someone was shoving rotten food down his throat.

“Let’s end this nonsense quickly so I can go home.” Wonho sighed in defeat. “If my home still exists, of course.”

 


 

They didn’t have to wait much longer until Hyungwon brought all of them to what seemed to be the driver's compartment of his train, two wagons ahead. The time traveler moved smoothly across the simple room; in front of them, there were five set of thin touch screen panels, all in white, floating above the ground and under a long windshield. Nothing could be see through that, though. Two doors completed the composition of that space, one in each side of it.

As Jooheon’s eyes wandered across the roof, he could see that the bright lighting of the room didn’t came from a single lamp; instead, something inside the cracks of the iron alloy ceiling conducted the energy in a very weird way, for not a single spot in the room was covered by darkness.

Less than a minute later, Hyungwon came out of the room he had entered, on the right side of the room. For what Jooheon knew about the structures of trains, it shouldn’t have enough space for Hyungwon to drag six chairs out of it.  Or so he thought.

“Hyungwon.”

The time traveler handed him a metal chair, and proceeded to do the same to the others.

“Yes, Jooheon?”

“Is this room…” Jooheon gestured towards the door the man had just closed. “Bigger on the inside?”

“Yes. This entire machine is expandable.”

Changkyun, beside him, perked up quicker than a dog seeing a ball being thrown at him.

“Like in Doctor Who?”

“Doctor… What?”

The time traveler worked on finishing a circular metal object, twice as big as a steering wheel, adorned by six little glass balls. Each one of them was connected to pipes that led to a much larger sphere in the middle of the thing. The increasing squeaks, even though it were pretty muffled, scared the crap out of him.

“All of you, sit in a circle in front of the center panel.”

After they did as Hyungwon told them to, Jooheon observed the man place the metallic ring in the middle of the circle for them to hold. To finish, Hyungwon connected a thick cable in the center panel directly to the object in their hands.

“Each one of you should hold one sphere, and don’t let go until I say so.”

“What does it do?” Kihyun asked. “It will hurt?”

“It collects your energy and combines it in the central sphere. It is very powerful when the energy of the Constants is mixed, so it is pretty certain that it will be able to break me free. And about the second question… In theory? It won’t hurt. But I just finished building this, and never tried this before.”

“Are you fucking kidding me?” Wonho didn’t seem to be so cool with that, as usual. “Could this kill us?”

“Of course not.” Hyungwon declared with confidence. “It might cause some discomfort. This is my last chance. Do not let go.”

Standing sideways, the time traveler first clasped onto of the circular object, between Minhyuk and Kihyun, while his free hand moved across the center panel’s large screen. Hyungwon let out little hisses of pain as he typed on that thing, but no one dared to say something.

Inhaling sharply, Jooheon tried to stabilize his breath, even though he was already drowning in anxiety.

“Remember I said I was a little different?” As he looked down towards them, Hyungwon seemed almost apologetic. “Don’t be afraid of what you’ll see. It won’t harm you. I’ll get you all home, no matter what happens.”

“Sure…” Minhyuk didn’t look too fazed about it. “We just gotta hold it?”

“Yes. Five seconds. Be ready.”

Jooheon wasn’t ready for anything.

If he ever thought he was, from the point he decided to jump through a goddamn door to get inside a time machine until discovering that he’s not even from that universe, Jooheon completely accepted he was mistaken.

None of the other men seemed to be too, by the way they stared at Hyungwon as if the man was an apparition.

As soon as the time traveler click on the panel’s screen again, the veins inside Hyungwon’s body lit up like a freaking Christmas tree, at least the ones Jooheon could see across his neck and hands. It wasn’t as if the man was translucent; all that cobalt light didn’t pass through him. It came from inside him.

The energy increased until the point where even both of his eyeballs emanated it, glowing like stars in the sky.

It was the most absurd and beautiful thing Jooheon had ever seen. To be honest, he got very close to cry.

What Jooheon hadn’t noticed was what happened in the device he had on his hand, but Wonho’s shout snapped him out of his musings.

“It hurts!” The black haired-man grabbed his own wrist to keep it steady, visibly distressed.

It felt like Jooheon’s hand was an iron object being pulled down towards a magnetic field. His first instinct was to fight against it, but as he remembered the instruction he received from Hyungwon, Jooheon tried to calm down — in all honesty, it hurt as much as Wonho hinted it did. From the back of his own hand, Jooheon could see the same bright light that ran through Hyungwon’s body irradiate through his skin.

He didn’t know if he should be scared or impressed by that.

Right after Wonho’s complaint, a thin string of light ran across the metal ring faster than Jooheon’s eyes could keep up with. He chose to focus on how the bigger sphere, in the middle of it, began to accumulate more and more energy. The pain ceased, but with only a glance at Hyungwon was enough to know how badly he was struggling to keep his grip on the ring and panel screen.

It was a weird atmosphere to be in, obviously. Nothing more than a buzz of static could be heard since no one uttered anything after that; the look in the other men’s faces, as they probably tried to make sense out of what was happening, would be hilarious if Jooheon wasn’t someone involved in that. From the participant’s point of view, that was just straight up terrifying.

Even if one of them wanted to be of some help, they didn’t even know where to begin. Jooheon was looking at it through the lenses of his ordinary life, so he couldn’t have much accuracy on the man’s suffering. His attempts to help, maybe, could wind up worsening everything.

Hyungwon’s burgundy wispy bangs remained stuck on his sweaty forehead as he bent down, steadying himself — or at least trying to. His lip began to bleed because of how hard Hyungwon bit it to hold back a cry, but began to disappear from his vision field; all that energy only seemed to get stronger and stronger, engulfing the time traveler as if it was eating him alive, and almost blinding them.

Using his other hand to cover his eyes, Jooheon couldn’t look away for too long and saw the exact moment Hyungwon stopped fighting against whatever soreness he was feeling.

On the roof above their heads, the lights began to flicker rapidly like it does in ghost movies, being followed by a long screeching sound of metal clashing against something that made Jooheon yelp out of instinct.

Everything came to an end with Hyungwon’s blaring grunt that lasted no more than a couple of seconds, allowing them to just have a glimpse of what the man was experiencing. With that, the room faded into its natural lighting, but it seemed too ordinary after being obfuscated by seeing Hyungwon shining so brightly.

Jooheon didn’t notice he was holding his breath just until the moment the time traveler abruptly got up and disconnected the biggest sphere from the middle of the ring, carefully placing it on the central panel’s screen.

In the middle of his panting, Hyungwon managed to mutter something clear.

“It’s done.”

Shownu’s hands slid sideways to pull the ring away from them and set it on the floor, with extremely caution.

He seemed to be concerned about the time traveler.

“Are you… okay? Did it work?”

Jooheon got up to get a better look at him and saw the man nodding at Shownu’s question, still with his back to the rest of them.

A different voice arose.

“Can you walk?” Kihyun, the one with silver hair, quickly got up and moved towards Hyungwon. “Oh… You’re bleeding. Are you done here?”

“Just…” The strength Hyungwon put in just stretching his arm seemed to hurt like hell. “It’s set. To 2018.”

Not what Kihyun seemed to be interested.

“Do you have a first aid kit? Or something like it.”

“There’s…” Hyungwon inhaled sharply. “A med bay. Fourth wagon, first door.”

Wrapping one arm around Hyungwon’s, Kihyun started to push the man out of the room, being followed by the other men right after. Just before their exit, Jooheon heard Kihyun mumbling under his breath.

“I hope there’s a booze bay here too, ‘cause I need it.”

 


 

“There.”

Crashing on a black leather chair next to a big cylindrical machine Kihyun had no idea what was meant for, Hyungwon pointed to a glass cabinet beside it. Anyone who took a look at him would have the idea he just came back from a fresh tour in hell.

“Is this antiseptic?”

The man craned his neck towards Kihyun to see what the latter had in his hands and actually snorted.

“Not really. But maybe works.”

Kihyun couldn’t help but to roll his eyes.

At least the piece of cotton he grabbed seemed like it was cotton, so he decided to make the best out of it, dragging a metallic chair he spotted right under the glass cabinet near to Hyungwon's chair. The time traveler took a deep breath while Kihyun observed the extent of his wound; didn’t seem too deep, thankfully. The man certainly had pretty sharp teeth to make a wound like that, though.

“I don’t know if is going to hurt.” Kihyun warned.

“It will.” As Hyungwon chuckled again, Kihyun watched him began to tap on the leather chair’s arms. “Just a second, Kihyun.” Hyungwon lifted his head upwards as if he was facing someone, but they were alone. “How are we?”

Kihyun got very close to shriek.

A female robotic voice did come out of nowhere from a horizontal glass duct above their heads, methodically flickering the lights that were supposed to be stable lights — as if it was keeping up with the A.I.’s speech pattern. Quickly glancing at the room, Kihyun saw it encircled the entire bay.

“Fully operational. A few issues should be addressed, though.”

“Later.” He didn’t seem to be in the mood to anything that wasn’t passing out. “Take the string route back to 2018. The rest… later. Thanks, Monbebe.”

“Is this an A.I.?” Kihyun couldn’t just not question after the twinkling in the lights faded away. “Monbebe?”

“Yes.” The time traveler displayed a feeble smile before continuing, still drumming his fingers on the arm chair. “I built her in France. She’s all I have, that’s why I named her ‘my baby’.”

You must be so… lonely.

“What about your friends?”

“I don’t have any.”

“So you’ve always been alone here?”

“No. Monbebe is with me.” Hyungwon tilted his head while the cotton on Kihyun’s hand was sort of forgotten. “Well, no other humans have lived with me. If that’s what you mean.”

All of sudden Kihyun felt too self-conscious.

“I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to pry. I’m just wanted to… know more.” Looking down at his hands to avoid awkward eye contact, he remembered what he should be doing. “Sorry.”

“I don’t mind. You’ve always been curious, every time I met you.”

Pouring the solution from the plastic bottle on the cotton, Kihyun stretched his arm towards the man face. Hyungwon wrinkled his nose as he received treatment, and Kihyun couldn’t really tell what that meant.

“Do you have something to cover the wound?”

“No need. I heal fast. Thank you.” The look in the man’s eyes was almost melancholy, ceasing his tapping on the leather for a moment. “You are kind to me, to everyone. Always.”

“This is still weird to hear…” Kihyun was quite delighted by the chuckle he got out of the other man. “How many times you met me? All of us.”

“Well…” The man lifted his gaze to the ceiling, as if he was trying to remember the info. “As I said, it’s rare for me to encounter all of you at the same time. From the 301 universes I’ve visited, I’ve met you 148 times. Minhyuk, 135 times. Shownu, 206 times. Jooheon, 147 times. Changkyun, 205 times. Wonho, 301 times.”

Kihyun wasn’t disappointed for him to be at the bottom of that list. He was bitter as hell that his friend was the one to get first place.

“You met Wonho every single time?”

“Yes.” Hyungwon’s eyes went back to wander across the roof, only diverting to Kihyun a few seconds later. “Somehow, we always manage to bump into each other, and he always dislikes me. It’s complicated, but it’s not his fault. Simply his nature. 301 times must be a pattern.”

Hyungwon looked away quickly, fidgeting on the arm of the chair.

“Did you met your doubles?” Kihyun tried to throw another question to dodge the awkwardness.

“I don’t have any.” He sounded a bit… sad about it. “Seems like when I became part of Time, the other versions of me were erased. The only time where a Hyungwon has ever existed was in my world.”

“Well… this got even more uncomfortable.”

“Don’t feel bad, Kihyun. I’ve come to terms with who I became.”

“How much do you… know? About stuff? Wait. That doesn’t sound scientific, I'm a scientist. About our timeline, I mean. How does that work?”

Hyungwon seemed puzzled by the question, looking away briefly.

“Okay.” The man began explaining. “Imagine there’s an infinite road, like the one I used to call you in your dream. This road has thousands of bifurcations ahead and behind me, so I cannot walk down all the roads at the same time. However, it’s possible for me to get a glimpse of what happens in there, if I try hard to. It’s mostly about the human history and my own timeline, and even though I can access someone’s timeline, I don’t do it unless it’s necessary for me to violate someone’s privacy. The road in which I walk is always changing because I travel across different universes a lot, which is different than yours, who is always on the same road. The past, the present and the future pass through us on that road, constantly being molded by the choices you make. The difference between you and me is that I can come in contact to these periods of time more than once. So, yes, I have control over Time, but only to a certain extent. Because it’s part of me. Which means my brain gets really loud, sometimes, even though I’ve learned how to control it.”

Regardless of Kihyun’s brain having absorbed well that enlightenment, it was really a lot to take in. He didn’t how to make that feel 100% real yet.

“Can you do that dream thing because of that?”

“Partially. I built a machine for that, but it’s meant to work with my abilities.”

“By the way…” Kihyun remembered of his previous key point. “How did you know we’d be able to solve that equation exactly today? You saw it?”

“It was the closest variable I saw. I knew Wonho wouldn’t want to… get involved, but I thought you could be a good enabler.”

“The dumbass solved it in half a minute. I had to work so hard and…”

Kihyun didn’t want to sound bitter. Kihyun did sound bitter.

“I’m deeply thankful.” The traveler showed another empathetic smile. “You’re designed to greatness, so don’t be too hard on yourself. You did well.”

“Thank you for caring about us.” The words slipped out of Kihyun’s mouth quickly. “I’ve only dreamed of seeing things like… a time machine. Or you… looking like a Christmas minutes ago, which was kind of scary, but pretty cool.”

“What’s a Christmas tree?” The man tilted his head again, clearly puzzled. “A tree made of Christs?”

Maybe it felt patronizing how Kihyun snorted at those questions, but that was just adorably funny.

As he continued to laugh, a little voice inside him reminded him of something that was probably true.

“We’ll never see you again, right?” Kihyun didn’t know why he sounded so full of sorrow about someone he barely knew, and yet… “After this…”

Hyungwon simply stared at him for a few seconds, then nodded.

“It’s for the best. You won’t want to see me once you get your memories back, anyway.”

After excruciating minutes, Kihyun opened his mouth to reply something, but was beaten by the voice of the AI announcing something he, also, didn’t know why made him so sad about it.

We’re arriving in the year of 2018, at 1:16 p.m. 30 seconds.”

 


 

Contrary to Hyungwon’s belief, he didn't actually feel as bad as he expected to be after that entire process. Sure, it hurt like hell to have to absorb all that energy, but at least he could still walk on his own, moving without seeming he was about to pass out within a second.

With Kihyun trailing behind him, Hyungwon stepped out of the med bay to face the rest of the men and show his gratitude.

“Are you okay?” The worried eyes of Jooheon granted him the spotlight to Hyungwon.

“Yes. Now is my time for me to do as I promised and give your memories back.” The men seemed a bit skeptical about it, but didn’t protest. “Monbebe, brief me about our situation.”

The flickering lights over his head always had been of some comfort.

“In 10 seconds we’ll arrive in 2018, at 1:16 p.m. We’re fully operational, CHW.”

Hyungwon’s feet froze on spot while his heart sank like an anchor.

Crap.

“Monbebe?” His shaky voice betrayed his attempt remain calm.

“Yes?” The AI promptly replied.

In the seconds of silence that ensued that response, Hyungwon forced himself to crane his neck up towards the robotic voice.

“What’s my name, Monbebe?”

“CHW.”

Crap.

“What’s my name, Monbebe?”

“CHW-000115.”

“What’s going on?” Kihyun looked confused when Hyungwon directed his attention to him.

“Years ago, I programmed her to call me Hyungwon.” Kihyun’s eyes widened out of confusion and surprise. “That’s not Monbebe.”

Ultimately, it was his fault. As pretty much everything in the multiverse was.

Before being stuck in that time loop, Hyungwon chased the enemy down as the organization discovered about the existence of the Constants in that universe. At some point, he got cornered when followed the trail left by their generated wormhole, but Hyungwon knew he had escaped. He remembered the darkness left behind him as he embarked in his machine, then… 

Hyungwon was sitting there, in one of the blue seats of one of his passenger cars, aware he was stuck in a loop. Was that what happened, right?

It was too late for it to matter, so he chose to focus on what he still could do.

Overlooking his residual tiredness, Hyungwon ran at full speed in the direction of the control room; his lungs clearly warned him that he needed to get more rest, but the thing is that time, ironically, escaped through his fingers. Before Hyungwon could reach his destination, the reality around him was already lost in the realm of ilusions.

 


 

Changkyun thought that, maybe, the reality collapsing around them would get a proper reaction out of him; like Jooheon and the others, who screamed and jumped around as the floor disappeared like a tower of Lego crumbling down.  

However, the only thing he could think in that situation was of the Vine compilation that he saw earlier that morning. His brain is weird, and Changkyun had given up on trying to understand it a long time ago.

Gradually, the end of that deception reached Hyungwon as the man sprinted off towards something that didn’t exist anymore — probably never did. In a last attempt, the man launched himself forward, extending an arm to be able to grasp what he needed, the essential to him.

The time traveler fell flat on his face, gasping heavily as he accepted his fate on the cemented floor they now stood on.

One man's disgrace is another man's luck. In that case, the luck of more or less thirty men, who surrounded them wearing nothing but black suits and black sunglasses.

Now that the atmosphere fell into silence again, Changkyun noticed that apparently, they were actually in an empty parking lot, inside a building. To know what was the path that took them there was something his brain didn’t have the energy to process.

Hyungwon tried to push himself up, unable to look at any direction that wasn’t the floor.

“Give it back.” The time traveler muttered, not sounding very confident. “NOW!”

The squeak of something metallic being dragged around startled them, making Hyungwon finally look up to face what waited for him.

A lanky woman in a black suit, with short brown hair and maybe in her mid-40s closed the distance between her and Hyungwon. On her hand, the ring built by the time traveler came to a halt only when it was settled right in front of the man on the floor.

“I have to admit…” Crouching down, the brown-haired woman smugly smiled down at Hyungwon. “I didn’t think it would work. But… it’s always them, right?” It gave Changkyun the creeps how fastly she snapped her head in their direction, for not more than a couple of seconds. “They’re your weakness. Do you even know how you got here? Or them? You’ll be thrilled to know that you tested our new simulated reality device. While the Constants did nothing but to jump into a generated wormhole all the way to this place. All we had to do was to create a digital replica of your machine to make you think you were there when actually… well, you were always here.”

Still panting, Hyungwon’s response was a resigned fiery glance.

“You can’t save them and the multiverse at the same time, CHW-000115. You should’ve learned that by now.” With her free hand, the woman laid a finger under Hyungwon’s chin. “You’re a golden god, child. Gods don’t weep over the fate of men.”

A single tear rolled down the time traveler’s cheek as he clenched his jaw.

“Your energy is low. You can either save yourself…” The woman shifted a bit to get up. “Or save them. In five minutes, this building will be reduced to rubble. Choose well.”

Alongside the woman, the dozens of people in black suits turned around towards the nearest wall, disappearing into thin air leaving nothing but a single flash of light behind.

So the countdown began.

 


 

The first thing you need to know is that, normally, that wasn’t how Wonho reacted to that kind of stuff.

He blames on the pressure of that situation, having to work against the clock to survive; even though he had the means to do it, he hardly used his physical strength as a first resort.

But the guy was asking for it, and being on the brink of certain death surely didn’t make a better argument.

“Hyung, stop!”

Even with his friend’s pleas, his grip on the time traveler’s blazer jacket didn’t lessen as Wonho shoved the man against the blocky pillar, just a few meters away from them.

What made him madder was that it got no reaction out of Hyungwon.

“There is a way.” The taller man mumbled after a grunt. “I—”

“I’m tired of listening to your bullshit. I did once, and look where it brought me.”

“Wonho!” A pair of hands wrapped around his biceps, trying to pull his arm down. “It’s enough. Please, stop.”

Since the damned day Kihyun received that Closed Timelike Curve equation, Wonho watched his friend lose endless nights of sleep to fulfill that wretched quest. It was a whole new degree of lunacy, no other conclusion could fit that case, but nothing Wonho appealed to in order to convince Kihyun to let that go was of much use.

Ever since they met, in their first month in college five years before, Kihyun had always been a dreamer, and he admired the younger man for that. It was something he couldn’t grasp the idea of, and to be honest, Wonho thought that maybe that was an easier way to live. Kihyun wanted to reach for the stars and whatever it was that existed beyond it; everything else seemed like a consolation prize. To Wonho, it was a powerful recipe to frustration.

As the weeks passed by, Wonho took a peek of the unveil of the equation on the whiteboard Kihyun used and it felt incredibly familiar, as if it was something it had once passed by his eyes; it was impossible, though, and his brain knew it made no sense.

Irrationality was about to become a current theme in his life, apparently.  

Truth is that he wasn’t keen of anything that couldn’t be explained by his logic.

His biggest mistake was to give the equation a shot, earlier that morning. All he did was applying a theory that should debunk that stupid calculation… now, alongside four strangers and Kihyun himself, Wonho was a couple of minutes away from the eternal rest.

“We don’t have much time.” Lifting his head a bit, Hyungwon lightly tapped his fingers on his wrist. “It’s the only way.”

“What?” Wonho fastly pulled away.

“When time comes, rage against the dying of the light. Right now…” The time traveler’s eyes shifted down at Kihyun, who stared wide-eyed at them. “For you to survive, I need to die.”

“We need to find a way to get out, now!” The blond man, Minhyuk, jolted his body forward in their direction. “There must be a way out.”

“There isn’t.” Hyungwon shut down any hope they could have. “They shut down all the—”

A muffled blast, coming from many floors above their heads, made the ground beneath their feet vibrate as if they were facing an earthquake.

Agile fingers wrapped around his and Kihyun’s wrist, pushing them back to where the others stood with such strength that Wonho didn’t expect to find in such slender figure like Hyungwon’s.

“Stay close, and stay down.” Hyungwon ordered, grouping them all together.

As the taller man took a short step forward, Kihyun mirrored him. The walls in front of Wonho received multiple of crooked cracks around their structure, from the ceiling until the bottom. It was so damn loud that the only thing Wonho was able to hear at that point was his own thoughts.

“GO BACK!” Quaking violently alongside the building, he managed to hear Hyungwon yelling at Kihyun. Surprisingly, his friend did as he was told to.

Life, for sure, was being creative about how he was about to die. Insanity after insanity, now a building collapsed over his head; perhaps, if everything had been faster, Wonho would’ve appreciated more the fact that… you know, he was going to die.

Even though he absolutely had the right to have a mental breakdown, Wonho chose not to. Mainly because in front of him, pressing his legs against his chest, sat Kihyun, not daring to lift his head to face what was about to happen.

A large block of cement fell right beside them, making Wonho drag himself forward to embrace his friend, right on time to witness his life actually not ending.

But at what cost? Just everything he believed in.

Wonho heard the sound of something crashing right above his head, but not a single grain of dust touched his skin — which didn’t make sense until he finally craned his neck upwards.

Another heavy piece of joist fell from the ceiling right on top of them only to hit what seemed to be an impenetrable energy field, that encircled the small space they squeezed themselves into, right behind the time traveler. Wonho didn’t know why he was astounded to found out that Hyungwon, indeed, was the designer of their shield.

His attention diverted completely to the time traveler’s hands, raised above his head, as he fed that otherworldly protection with his own energy, similar to what he did before in the train. What could’ve had happened to a human being for them to attain such… abilities? Hyungwon never explained how he came to be, or how he survived, but considering that things went to shit pretty fast under his nose, Wonho didn’t expect him to be exactly honest about what the hell was going on.

It was a fascinating process, though; under that sphere of cobalt energy, Wonho felt like he was in the very core of the sun. Not even the structure around them crumbling down piece by piece obfuscated that experience, despite of their plunge into darkness in less than half a minute.

The frightened cries of those beside him were stifled by tons of concrete filling every space outside that shield, making him aware of Kihyun’s hands clutching his leather jacket as his friend buried his face into his chest, unable to face that destruction.

Blood dripped out of Hyungwon’s nose, probably due the immense effort he was putting into holding a collapsed building all by himself. When Wonho thought about it, it was almost laughable to think that someone as Hyungwon could have such strength, but there was nothing to laugh about the fact the man, that already seemed weakened before, was putting all his power into that last act.

“For you to survive, I need to die.”

Within those ruins, the ominous creak of metal against metal arose in the background, so Wonho tightened his hold on his friend to muffle that sound as much as he could. The time traveler, on the other hand, increased the energy that emanated from his hands, hardly masking the fact that he looked like he could pass out in less than a minute.

By the amount of rubble around them, Wonho could estimate the building’s structure to be, at least, a five-story one, which only made that accomplishment inhumanly enough for Hyungwon. The latter’s head snapped backwards as his shoes rasped violently against the floor, allowing Wonho to see that his eyes glowed so brightly its light was almost completely colorless.

What an amazing fate it was to be buried under a random edifice in an even more random place.

Despair was beginning to creep into his chest when Wonho saw the light of the day again.

Putting one foot behind, Hyungwon slightly bent his knees to boost the shield around them, overflowing the energy coming out of his body. With only that force field separating them from death, the time traveler lengthened the distance them and the debris by bending his knees once again, between groans, pushing the weight on his shoulders all the way up.

Like a geyser, the wreckages on top of them flew sideways up to the sky, leisurely pouring concrete dust over them like the first snow; an ominous message, a bad omen.

Breathing heavily, the traveler pulled his arms down and the energy shield around them disappeared, but nothing threatened their life anymore.

Only Hyungwon’s.

Raising his head again, Hyungwon looked up at the greyish atmosphere above their heads, gasping for oxygen even though he did nothing to block the dust to fall on his face. At the first sight of sunlight, Hyungwon slowly turned his head in their direction, glancing at them for no more than a few seconds before succumbed to the unconsciousness.

Wonho didn’t know exactly why, but he held his breath to muffle the strange feeling in his chest.

Kihyun broke free from his embrace as soon as he heard the time traveler’s body hit the floor, contrary to Wonho whom instinctively froze on spot.

“Hyungwon!” His friend called for the unconscious man, shaking him a bit. “He’s—”

The other men, whom seemed as baffled as Kihyun, joined the latter in a circle around Hyungwon.

“Hyung… is he…” The blond man’s voice, Minhyuk, was nothing more than a trembling murmur.

Minhyuk’s friend, Shownu, placed a hand under Hyungwon’s chin and confirmed what, deep down, they already knew.

“He can, I don’t know, control time and stuff?” Changkyun, crouching down next to Shownu, pointed out. “He can’t be that easy to kill.”

“He was weak…” Kihyun choked back a sob, checking the time traveler’s pulse over and over again. “That… thing back in the train and…” His friend didn’t try to stop the tears rolling down his face. “He’s really…”

“What do we do?” Minhyuk whimpered. “I don’t even know where we are.”

The light sound of an object hitting the ground, allowing a thin fog to arise, proved that nothing could be done in the end; the world fell into pitch black darkness without giving any of them the chance to fight back.

 

PART 4: Destroyer

After hundreds of years roaming carelessly across time and dimensions, for the first time Hyungwon was certain of a curious fact.

He was dead.

His brief encounters with death before seemed quite amusing, mainly because of the fact that Hyungwon wasn’t supposed to be alive in the first place. No matter how deplorable his world was, their atoms dispersed faster than it took for them to evolve, but instead of extinction, all Hyungwon got was the weight of his universe’s history on his shoulders. Sole survivor, last of his civilization, anomaly created by the multiverse to assure its existence; the fabric of reality could only endure so much between the endless wars humanity, seemingly, was so fond of.

Truth is that, fundamentally, Hyungwon’s existence was never about himself.

Lifeless perspective made him feel like floating in the bottomless void; eyes closed, Hyungwon dived deeper into the unknown, way lighter without the burden of caring about the fate of the multiverse. No worry clouded his mind, no responsibility engulfed his chest. Was that how regular humans felt, at least a few times? One of the many questions Hyungwon could only wonder about, never experience.  

What happened?

A voice inside of him insisted he should remember what led him to that path, but it seemed too much of an arduous task. If made the decision to pursue that feeling, Hyungwon would be leaving behind the newly found peace surrounding him to face the fact that there was no place he belonged to. So… was it worth it? What had been worth it, from the beginning, to stripe him from his aptitude to feel human?

Before Hyungwon could come up with an excuse to himself, a strong breeze hit his face with a gelidity he had experienced only a couple of times when he was alive. His body reacted spontaneously; his eyelids widened faster than he wished to face the clarity across a horizon of skyscrapers.

Hyungwon felt no heavier than a leaf, being forced to hold himself back to not stumble on his feet. The clothes he wore were still the same he remembered leaving the train with, but felt strangely foreign, as if it was shamelessly stolen. His lips brushed against each other only to make Hyungwon sense how deeply chapped they were, a side effect of the rarified air he currently experienced; in the middle of a rooftop, Hyungwon felt unusually small among the countless buildings around him, a blessing that didn’t fall upon him every day.

But he wasn’t alone.

The Constants stood in a circle formation, one Hyungwon was part of, but didn’t seem to identify his presence in there.

A second conviction came to Hyungwon’s mind.

That wasn’t supposed to be happening.

Despite the steadiness of the floor beneath his feet, Hyungwon’s first step inside that circle was cautious, but it didn’t stop his action to, apparently, trigger a chain reaction among the men; leisurely turning around, the Constants moved at the exactly same time, heading towards the building’s ledges.

“Jooheon.”

Hyungwon’s trembling voice called for the man right in front of him, but it proved to be useless. Turning his head to his right side, the time traveler tried reaching out again.

“Shownu.” They got closer to the ledge, still aloof to his calls. Hyungwon turned to his other side fast. “Kihyun. Minhyuk. Stop. Changkyun, Wonho…” Hyungwon’s steps seemed to have fasten their footsteps towards the plunge. “STOP! STOP!”

At the brink of despair, Hyungwon lifted one foot and pushed it down with all the force he could summon in order to create an energy field around the rooftop, but his abilities were long gone in his hour of need. Maybe it was only fair; he was dead, after all.

Trying to cool his respiration, the traveler closed his eyes again to remind himself what was that about.

It’s not real. It’s not them.

Logic wasn’t on his side as Hyungwon let himself be terrified of that situation — which he thought to be under control a long time ago — and the dilemma he had to face were of no help at all; all the men strolled in different directions, and a powerless version of him couldn’t protect them all at once.

In other words, Hyungwon had to choose a person to save.

The calculations ran across his brain as fast as he could, and maybe the odds made possible for him to save two of them, if he was agile enough. But the others…

Why is this happening to me?

Beyond weak, his knees brought him down into a squat as he tried to conceal a breakdown; the tears already escaping out of his eyes told a different story, though.

Hyungwon tried not to be too emotional during his lifetime. He did what he had to do to fulfill the tasks that concerned the future of the multiverse, even if that invited ghosts that made no break in haunting him. What he did to save others wasn’t all he really was, and Hyungwon tried his best to believe that.

Out of instinct, the time traveler ran.

His first mistake was to think he could pick one of them to keep alive, and the second one was to run without a particular destination, squarely sprinting onward to reach the first person in front of him. Jooheon.

Distracted by his anguished panting, Hyungwon wasn’t able to see Jooheon’s body shifting sideways as he got closer to the man, making the traveler advance further to the edge. Just as sloppily as the entire situation began, Hyungwon felt his feet hit the edge of the parapet and consequently, making him trip on his back into his downfall.

What ensued next in those seconds were deliberately dragged through the time, as if that moment was under the curious eyes of someone observing him under a microscope. Hyungwon could perceive himself hopelessly stumbling and falling on his back to dive in the grey fog circling the rooftop and, contrary to the void where he floated before, that fall had not a single trace of restfulness, even though there was nothing he could do to possibly remedy his situation.  

Hyungwon’s last thought was about the six men he kept trying to save, over and over again.

At least they have each other. It’s more than I ever did.

Expected from the final impact, a jolt of pain engulfed his body as it hit violently against the surface of water; at that velocity, it was like crashing against the toughest concrete ever made by mankind. Hyungwon’s lungs barely functioned enough to allow him to gasp for air; the rest of his organs seemed to be shutting down at the same pace, no matter how his perception of that drowning worked. Now, plunging into uncharted waters, Hyungwon wasn’t interested in thinking about what was happening and more importantly, why that was happening; a part of him, as his limbs stirred all the way up with his back to the veiled depth, truly wanted to fight back, but in the end… Hyungwon didn’t care, not anymore.

Eventually, they all grew old and forgot his name. The multiverse survived for thousands of years before him, and still would once he vanished into nothing — just like his universe.

“Rage

The blurry light breaking through the surface was the only view in front of him as the water invaded his organs.

Was he hallucinating? Possibly. Did it felt real? Maybe—

The voice emerged again, owner undisclosed, but this time Hyungwon heard everything perfectly. Their tone was frantic, almost fearful of something.

“Rage against the dying of the light.”

That was the call.

 


 

59 MINUTES EARLIER, THE EYE’S UNIVERSE. UNDISCLOSED LOCATION.

Kihyun woke up with Wonho shaking his shoulders as if he thought the man was dead, and not actually unconscious.

During those first seconds, he considered if everything hadn’t been just a really vivid dream; he barely slept the past week, it wouldn’t be too crazy for him to just black out and imagine all of that.

But he wasn’t in bed. Or in any other place familiar to him. The floor where Kihyun lied down was made of a weird type of glass that conducted heat, because he could feel a warmth under him.

“Kihyun.” Wonho looked quite terrified, which was the proper thing to feel at that situation. “Are you okay?”

“Yeah.” Only his head hurt a little, making him scrunch his nose. “Where…”

Kihyun sat down and found the rest of the men they met only hours before sitting near them. It wasn’t like they had other choice, since they were all confined in an odd type of cage that hovered above the ground.

“I don’t know.” His friend murmured, letting out a heavy sigh. “You were the last to wake up, I was getting worried. I think—”

They conversation was cut short by those who imprisoned them, entering the obnoxious white cubicle that contained their cell.

“Greetings.” The same brown-haired woman that spoke to Hyungwon earlier led the way, with six men behind her.

“Get fucked.” Kihyun craned his head a bit to his right side to see Minhyuk squinting at those people. “Where is Hyungwon? What did you do to him?”

As expected of every sociopath-like asshole, the woman tilted her head to display a creepy smile.

“He died. You don’t know much about him, do you? First off, allow me to introduce ourselves. We are The Eye. Welcome to our universe. Our civilization is a perfect shared intellect. For I am them, and they are me. What I see, they see. What they see, I see.”

“Do you want a medal or what?” Changkyun, the younger black-haired man in glasses, spouted. “What the hell do you want from us?”

“Your cooperation.” The woman stated. “Our world’s Constants are long gone, and none of those we encountered before were prone to it. We can grant you a wish if you choose to assist us here. If not, we can take you back to your universe, so you all can be there when we destroy it.”

Kihyun shared a dejected look with Wonho and also with the other men in the glass cage, who all seemed as conflicted as him. Kihyun’s heart thumped with fright, louder than his thoughts.

“Let us see him.” Kihyun’s words flowed swiftly. “Hyungwon. I know you brought him here.”

“That’s astounding, coming from you.” She replied with a smirk. “Your world is on the verge of extinction and you call for a dead stranger.”

“He saved our lives.” Minhyuk argued faster than anyone else. “I don’t know about you freaks, but we show respect at least once for those who died. Or maybe he isn’t actually dead and you’re just lying to our faces.”

“In the end, he became too predictable.” The woman took a few steps towards their cell, and the men accompanying her trailed behind. “He wasn’t immortal, child. The stories of the old eras were quite right about all the heroes having weaknesses fated to be their undoing. Of course he wouldn’t be able to watch the six of you die, even though the opposite was proven to differ. He’ll soon meet his people on the other side after we finish studying him.”

“YAH! HE ISN’T A GODDAMN LAB RAT!” Jooheon yelled, slamming a hand on the glass wall of the cell in front of them.

The woman in a black suit didn’t even flinch at that.

“May I require your final answer on the offer?”

The atmosphere inside that glass cage fell into a dense silence as Kihyun and the other jailed men shared, mainly, indecipherable looks.

Surprisingly for everybody in that room, Wonho was the one to answer for all of them.

“We’ll take it. Let us see him.”

They were left in uncertainty, alone in that room again after the woman responded Wonho with nothing but a quick nod.

Minhyuk, sitting opposite to Wonho and Kihyun, tried to voice his concerns.

“Do you think they—”

Wonho immediately shushed the man in front of them, choosing to mouth something as a reply.

“They. Are. Listening.”

The memory of how Kihyun almost missed their only chance to survival come to his mind.

 

2 HOURS AND 09 MINUTES EARLIER, INSIDE THE SIMULATED TIME MACHINE. ACTUAL LOCATION: UNDISCLOSED.

“We’ll never see you again, right?” Kihyun didn’t know why he sounded so full of sorrow about someone he barely knew, and yet… “After this…”

Hyungwon simply stared at him for a few seconds, then nodded.

“It’s for the best. You won’t want to see me once you get your memories back, anyway.”

A crestfallen silence arose in the room, only broken by the small sounds Hyungwon made with his fingers on the arm chair. All of a sudden, the time traveler held his hand for no more than a few seconds, staring at Kihyun as if he was trying to say something.

Because he was.

IT

IS

A

TRAP

In the noiseless med bay, Kihyun’s muddled thoughts came into sight on his confused mien.

There was a high chance that, at that point, Kihyun had forgotten how to use tap code. When he was a child, his father, a military, taught him how to communicate through tap code; to be honest, he thought the hell would freeze over before that would be of some help in the real world. For he didn’t have much of a choice, he learned only to please his father, storing that knowledge in the back of his mind.

However, Kihyun’s ability to recognize patterns enlightened the situation and he paid more attention to the timing between the taps on the chair.

ACT

NORMAL

His first thought was that they were being observed, if that was indeed a trap. Kihyun didn’t fully understand what was going on, but the few clues Hyungwon tried to convey were more or less clear.

Kihyun busied himself with gathering the medical supplies he used on Hyungwon, bending his head down until his chin hit his chest, still focused on the taps.

Most of all, he was trying not to freak out despite the fact that his hands began to tremble.

THEY

ARE

LISTENING

Dropping a piece of cotton on the floor on purpose, Kihyun seized the opportunity to swiftly tap a question on the time traveler’s leg.

WHO

It was a wonder he could even understand, Kihyun concluded. After a brief sigh, Hyungwon continued to drum his fingers on the chair.

THE

EYE 

Kihyun had to muster all of his willpower to not choke on thin air.

Hyungwon’s next message weren’t of much help too.

ACT

SURPRISED

For a moment, he forgot that Hyungwon advised him to not speak and opened his mouth to reply something, but restrained his voice.

The A.I.’s voice arose in the room again, bringing its flickering lights and a message.

We’re arriving in the year of 2018, at 1:16 p.m. 30 seconds.”

“Are you coming with me, Kihyun?” The sound of his voice made Kihyun flinch a bit. He sounded completely unbothered by the fact that he was tricked into something. “The others are waiting.”

What does one say in a situation like that? His brain would’ve thought of something better than a nod if he could’ve stopped screaming on the inside.

 

“What’s my name, Monbebe?”

“CHW-000115.”

For a moment, a small part of Kihyun was relieved he was briefed about that situation minutes earlier, for he could only imagine what the other men in the wagon thought about that.

“What’s going on?” Kihyun gave the time traveler his best surprised look, which wasn’t much but was passable.

“Years ago, I programmed her to call me Hyungwon. That’s not Monbebe.”

Within seconds, the world around them fell apart.

 


 

1 HOUR AND 42 MINUTES EARLIER, PARKING LOT. UNDISCLOSED LOCATION.

Wonho’s brain wasn’t done melting from the fact that he just had seen people vanish into thin air right in front of him when the time traveler hurriedly approached them.

“I don’t have time to explain. Do as I say.”

“No, no.” Jooheon interjected, taking one step ahead. “This is a good fucking time to explain.”

Kihyun came in the time traveler’s defense.

“Didn’t you hear that in less than five minutes this building is going to fall on us? That’s literally the most important part.”

“We’re going to die anyway!” The boy with golden hair, Jooheon, seemed closed to a mental breakdown. But who could judge him? “Might as well know what the hell is going on.”

“I’m sure Hyungwon has a plan!” His friend visibly restrained himself to not scream. “Can’t you even listen to it?”

Jooheon didn’t budge.

“Sorry if I’m trying to avoid bullshit in the last minutes of my life!”

In the middle of that discussion, Hyungwon made an odd request to Wonho.

“Give me your cellphone.”

“What?” Wonho squinted at him.

The man sighed heavily.

“Just do it!”

Once his phone was on Hyungwon’s hands, it didn’t last more than a few seconds until it was given back to him. He never had seen someone type so fast in his life.

When Wonho glanced at the device, he saw the Notes app was open with a message.

“I KNEW IT WAS A TRAP. TAP CODE. SHOVE ME AGAINST A WALL NOW. THEY ARE LISTENING.”

Looking up at Hyungwon, he wasn’t entirely convinced of that cryptic message, but did what the man asked for, anyway.

It wasn’t something he was comfortable doing, but the guy was asking for it and being on the brink of certain death surely didn’t make a better argument.

And possibly he’d never have another chance to do that to the time traveler, so Wonho shoved the man against the blocky pillar, just a few meters away from them.

In the middle of action, Wonho felt Hyungwon’s hand slip something inside his leather jacket.

As expected, Kihyun came in Hyungwon’s defense.

“Hyung, stop!”

Even with his friend’s pleas, his grip on the time traveler’s blazer jacket didn’t lessen. Regardless of having no other clues to what was put into his pocket, he decided to play along.

“There is a way.” The taller man mumbled after a grunt. “I

“I’m tired of listening to your bullshit. I did once, and look where it brought me.”

“Wonho!” A pair of hands wrapped around his biceps, trying to pull his arm down. He didn’t like to see Kihyun scared like that. “It’s enough. Please, stop.”

“We don’t have much time.” Lifting his head a bit, Hyungwon lightly tapped his fingers on his wrist.

“TAP CODE.”

Long story short of how Wonho learned how to use this communication system is that his mother taught him as a way to share messages that only the two of them could decipher.

How Hyungwon knew that he could understand it? Probably just another of his mysteries.

“It’s the only way.” Hyungwon spoke out loud, but kept drumming his fingers on Wonho’s wrist. His silent message was way less soothing.

PUT

THE

WATCH

ON

ME

“What?” Wonho fastly pulled away, only realizing later that he voiced his confusion.

Looking him in the eye, the time traveler sent him another cryptic message, differing from before by voicing it.

“When time comes, rage against the dying of the light. Right now…”

Still with Wonho’s wrist on his hand, Hyungwon tapped his last note to him. His hand quivered badly, but his determination made it clear.

FIND

ME

PRESS

THE

BUTTON

The time traveler’s eyes shifted down at Kihyun, who stared wide-eyed at them.

“For you to survive, I need to die.”

And he did.

 

21 MINUTES EARLIER, THE EYE’S UNIVERSE. UNDISCLOSED LOCATION.

The glass cell fell into silence, giving Wonho the opportunity to gingerly grab Kihyun’s hand on his.

Much to his astonishment, his friend was the one that who commenced the puzzling communication.

JERK

Looking back and forth between Wonho’s face and his hand, Kihyun silently searched for some sort of comprehension.

The older man promptly gave it to him.

SHORTY

In any other situation, his friend would’ve slapped his head already, but in that moment only rolled his eyes at him.

HE

KNEW

Craning his neck towards Kihyun, he made it clear on his face that he didn’t expect Kihyun to know about that.

If he still had his phone, lost in the middle of that entire mess, that dialogue would’ve been way faster. But it wasn’t like they had another option.

HE

TOLD

ME

Kihyun stared at him stupefied.

Pointing at his wrist, Wonho tried to remind the younger man of the moment before. Kihyun seemed to pick that info up fast, nodding in acknowledgment.

It only occurred to him in that moment to check if what Hyungwon gave him earlier was still in his pocket; the chances it was taken away by The Eye were high, but as soon as Wonho guardedly slipped a hand inside his leather jacket, he felt that it was still there.

Wonho let out a breath he didn’t even know he was holding.

A

WATCH

The younger man nodded and was about to tap an answer when the woman and the men in black suits entered the room again.

“YAH.” Jooheon jumped forward to the front of the glass cage. “Are you gonna keep us here forever?”

“You have 60 seconds.” The brown-haired woman declared, glancing over her shoulder. “Handcuff them.” Returning her gaze to them, she uttered a warning. “If any of you try something, it will be your end.”

It was undeniable that Wonho felt a strong shiver down his spine, but he knew that at that point he was left with only one alternative, a last shot to get out of that hell hole.

Did he hate the fact that Hyungwon left nothing but vague instructions to a kamikaze plan? More than anything. But that wasn’t only about him, so the only choice was to suck it up.

He was the last one to be handcuffed with transparent shackles made of something that resembled plastic, but it wasn’t really it — the thing didn’t even move when Wonho discreetly tried to push it out of his wrists. In the space between his hands, he observed an apparently simple printed circuit board its system.

A light pat on Wonho’s elbow startled him a bit, quickly motioning for him to keep walking normally. His voice was barely inaudible as the man voiced a whisper.

“It won’t work.”

Intuitively, Wonho turned around in surprise for a second.

“Minhyuk and I just had a vision. You died.” Shownu spoke in his most cautious and casual tone, as if that wasn’t bonkers as shit. Glancing at the blond man beside Shownu, Minhyuk nodded. “Wait until we’re inside.”

In front of him, three men walked alongside the brown-haired woman, which made him uneasy for a moment. Taking a peek over his shoulder, Wonho observed the other three other men keeping an eye on them behind the last ones in the queues, the two younger hacker boys. Another shiver went violently down his spine.

“Protect them.” Wonho toned his voiced down as much as he could, glancing at Jooheon and Changkyun over his shoulder.

Separated in two queues, the six men and the captors in black suits crossed four halls in more or less 10 minutes until they reached a white double door.

“The gun—”

Shownu’s speech was cut short by the sudden stop made by the ones walking ahead of them, also reminding them of the peril they were facing.

“Once you’re inside, you have 60 seconds.” The woman warned them, gesturing for one of the man to step forward and unlock the door. “Don’t force me to hurt you.”

Wonho thought, at some point during that walk, about reconsidering that suicide attempt and just complying, but he simply wouldn’t be able to live with himself if their last chance to escape went down the drain because of him.

The room they entered was extraordinarily cold, covered in thick cables that looked like plastic, much like his shackles, circling a large type of transparent medical pod. Kihyun, as expected, was the first to run towards it.

Walking slower than the rest of them, Wonho warily checked the six men and the woman who stood by the door; the possibility that the entire thing was a treat was very real, and the doubtful thoughts crossed his mind again. Shaking these feelings off, Wonho tried to calculate their remaining time and their ability to defend themselves. Things didn’t work very well when he was reminded of the fact that they still had to put the damn watch on Hyungwon.

Speaking of him, as Wonho made his way to the pod, he observed the other five men crowding the time traveler put in cryogenic suspension and was brought back to the very last moment he saw Hyungwon alive.

To have a stranger literally dying for you provokes a very weird feeling inside of your chest.

The deceased time traveler wore totally different attires; instead of the khaki long-sleeved shirt and a sweater vest under a dark purple houndstooth blazer and trousers, Hyungwon wore only a cotton white shirt and pants of the same color and material.

“Wait for my sign.” Shownu, standing next to him, spoked as low as possible. “Take her down first.”

After that brief instruction, Wonho suddenly became aware of what happened around him and noticed his friend tearing up at the sight of the dead man.

Using their last seconds to make some progress, Wonho approached Kihyun and hugged him, bringing his friend’s head to his chest. But his intentions were less noble than he let it show.

“Take it.” He whispered to his friend, with no need to explain what he was talking about. Kihyun’s hands were fast in obtaining the wristwatch and hiding it on his sleeves. “You gotta press the button. Can you do it? We’ll distract them.”

Without a hint of hesitation, Kihyun voiced a “yeah” under his breath.

“Time’s up.” The dreadful voice of the lanky woman arose again.

Wonho could feel the air being sucked out of his lungs with all the anxiety he was feeling, but it was too late to go back; even if they didn’t make it, which again was a very real possibility, it was still better than to aid a civilization of murderers.

Just a few steps away distant from their captors, Wonho walked behind the rest of the men with Kihyun and nudged his friend to get ready.

“Are you satisfied?” The woman displayed another of her creepy smiles. “As you could see, CHW-000115 is no longer alive. Studying his brain is the crucial step to our evolution.”

“You know what?” Wonho sighed, trying to sound less suspicious as possible. He was just fed up as hell, honestly. “I hope he fries every single one of you to death.”

The brown-haired woman looked confused for a second; a perfect timing for Shownu to give him a positive sign by nodding.

Putting Kihyun behind Shownu and him, Wonho jumped forward at the same Shownu did to tackle the woman and they achieved their goal while Minhyuk tried to deal with the rest of the men; the younger boys were quick in finding shelter next to Hyungwon's pod.

Chaos emerged in the room as Wonho stayed down to restrain the woman while Shownu moved up to take down the other six men with Minhyuk; kind of surprising, honestly, since the blond didn’t look like the type to fight at all.

Kihyun ran in the pod’s direction and blast shots were fired around them, creating a panic inside his mind of his friend getting hurt; it forced him to try to get up to help Shownu and Minhyuk, ready to knock the woman down for good. However, the woman he held against the floor seemed to have found a breach in his actions and tried to fight back by pushing him further behind a glass pillar until his head hit the wall.

That shit hurt really bad.

At that exact moment, Wonho observed one of the men Minhyuk had taken down pulling a gun in his direction and shifted quickly to use the woman as a human shield.

The female body fell lifeless over him, but not without a warning from his brain that it was not the right moment to feel guilty about it; like everything else in his life, he’d deal with this kind of crap later — when, maybe, he survived — or simply pretend it didn’t happen.

Wonho managed to get on his feet, noticing that the other two men fighting on his side were now hiding behind the medical pod with the youngest boys and Kihyun because of the odd type of guns being fired at them; not exactly bullets, but it was something that could be grasped, or physically felt if it were to hit them. He knew that the chance of him getting to the other side without getting hurt were very short, and Kihyun still couldn’t get access to Hyungwon probably due the pod’s security, so Wonho did what he hated the most.

He improvised.

Two men in black suits survived their assault and divided themselves to attack both sides of the room. Beside Wonho, hanging on the wall he was pushed to, stood what it seemed to be a yellowish fire extinguisher, but he was pretty sure it wasn’t; it didn’t matter though, as long as it was heavy enough to make some damage when thrown.

The dumb luck that accompanied humanity all the time during the ages was on his side, and before one of the two men could've shot at him, that stupid offensive got in their way; pretty convincing though, since one is prone to get distracted when more than 20 kg of some shit was about to hit them.

His mind warned him to act fast, so Wonho wasted no time in jumping into the physical fight with the last enemy standing while the other guy was on the floor because of the assault. For a difference of a centimeter, the man he fought almost managed to fire his blaster gun at Wonho’s chest; that small victory was being celebrated in the seconds that took Minhyuk and Shownu to ran to help, only to be shattered by the fact that Wonho underestimated his previous opponent, earning him an agonizing shot straight in the stomach.

When Wonho thought about how getting shot felt like, it wasn’t exactly the sensation of having a massive flock of crows biting his organs at the same damn time; sure, that wasn’t a traditional weapon for what he could observe after Minhyuk knocked the guard with the guy's own gun, but nothing about that feeling was familiar, and Wonho loathed it.

This and the fact that he was bleeding to death on the floor of that godforsaken place.

“Minhyuk, lock the door!” Shownu ordered, kneeling down next to him.

On his peripheral vision, Wonho saw the sudden move Kihyun made towards him when his friend saw him wounded.

“Do it.” Wonho practically begged. “It—” There was blood coming out of his mouth, giving him a horrible metallic taste in his throat. “I’ll be fine. Kihyun.” Calling for the younger man snapped Kihyun out of his panic. “DO IT!”

“I can’t open!” His friend shouted from the other side of the room, near the pod. “It has a lock or code or—I don’t know how—”

“Move aside.” From his point of view, Wonho saw the golden-haired man kneeling down next to what seemed to be the lock. “Nothing is unhackable.”

Turns out that, apparently, some things are. Minutes passed since Jooheon began his attempt and no satisfying result came out of it.

The ruptured blood vessels in his throat blocked the air to pass to his lungs, so you can guess that Wonho wasn’t really having the time of his life. Shownu occupied himself in pressing down on his stomach wound, but deep down they both knew that was all for nothing.

 


 

“IT’S NOT WORKING!”

Kihyun’s shouts next to him were worse than the situation they were in, but it became even more terrible when Minhyuk yelled an incoming danger.

“THEY’RE TRYING TO GET IN! HURRY!”

Jooheon watched the man running towards Shownu and Wonho, whom was still agonizing on the floor. The emotional side of his brain ignited the red light that meant that Jooheon had every right to freak out, but the logic prevailed, even though he had no idea what the fuck was going on.

It also hurt his pride that he wasn’t being successful.

“I’ve never seen a software like this.” Jooheon couldn’t help but to clench his jaw in frustration. “I don’t—”

Loud and persistent thuds coming from the outside made Jooheon flinch; nothing less than an army of men in black suits tried to break the door to their room.

Jooheon hated that day more than he could ever imagine.

“What do we do?” Kihyun crouched down next to the small electronic panel of the pod, hopeless. “I have to put this watch on him!”

“What?” Jooheon frowned. “Why—”

“MOVE!”

Changkyun’s warning message almost got Kihyun to not get out of the boy’s way, but the silver-haired man did it at the first sight of the metal bar his friend had in hands.

Smashing it against the electronic panel was oddly effective.

A blue light circled the edges of the pod, automatically opening the heavy lid in a matter of seconds.

“Do it!” Jooheon franticly motioned for Kihyun to approach Hyungwon’s body.

Now standing on his feet, Kihyun did his best to control his shaky hands as he strapped the watch band on the time traveler’s wrist — which was already a difficult task to do with the handcuffs put on them. However, Kihyun looked a bit puzzled once he pressed the watch crown and the result didn’t seem to be what he expected. The room was filled with violent thumps made by those outside it; it was only time until they achieved their goal.

“IT’S NOT WORKING!” Kihyun announced. “HE SAID TO PUT ON HIM AND PRESS THE BUTTON!”

The sound of an explosion caused them to get down to protect themselves, still hearing shots and yells in the background.

“THINK!” On the floor beside Kihyun and Changkyun, Jooheon forced the man to review his plan. “YOU’RE FORGETTING SOMETHING! WHAT DID HE SAY TO YOU? THINK!”

“I DON’T KNOW!” Kihyun was desperate, flinching at the sound of the blasts. “I— MAYBE THERE’S A PASSWORD FOR IT TO WORK?”

From some point of the room, a voice that Jooheon couldn’t identify yelled for them to hurry.

“COME ON!” Changkyun yelled, otherwise they wouldn’t be able to hear each other. “YOU’RE MISSING SOMETHING!”

“I’M TRYING!” The silver-haired man seemed about to have a breakdown, but still trying to concentrate anyway. “HE—SHIT, SHIT, SHIT, I THINK—”

Kihyun sprang up towards the inside of the pod, wincing at the couple of shots being fired at the other side of it.

“RAGE AGAINST THE DYING OF THE LIGHT!”

Kihyun’s trembling hands put more force than necessary to press down the watch crown, taking a step back. A faint blueish light circled the glass of the wristwatch, turning on the inside of it. Where usually has the twelve hours of a clock only had four numbers engraved in a tiny piece of iron.

0000

As if he had never been there, Hyungwon’s body vanished into the unknown right in front of their eyes.

 


 

Hyungwon tried to fight his way back to the surface, but his body had a powerful foe for a strange force pulled him down into that bottomless pit. His arms didn’t respond to his commands and his ability to breath underwater was never too remarkable. Even though he was stronger than normal human beings, there was only so much Hyungwon could take and remain conscious. The water filling his lungs made him desperate to regain control, but nothing was efficient.

The light that hit his face from the surface became more and more beyond range, and so was his hopes. Hyungwon tried to not let that fright take over him to make out of there alive, but each time he tried to swim all the way up, something much more persuasive tugged him down to blend where the cobalt waters merged with the darkness beneath him.

The oxygen was becoming scarce and Hyungwon was so damn tired of that useless fight that, in that moment, he just wanted to give in; there was nothing he could do to stop that smothering. Ready to accept his destiny, Hyungwon shut his eyes down and let himself go.

“Are you… Did we really… Is this a time machine? We jumped into… We’re alive. You’re a time traveler?”

“Thank you for caring about us.”

“You can’t save them and the multiverse at the same time, CHW-000115. You should’ve learned that by now.”

The salty water crashed into his retinas as he swiftly opened his eyes and Hyungwon gasped for air again, still unable to move his limbs.

More importantly, he remembered.

Hyungwon remembered the trap he fell into and how he took the Constants with him, the riskiest act of his entire existence. He could feel in his body the exhaustion that took over his body when he died, sparing the six men a thoughtful glance before collapsing.

Anguish took over his body by the time he recollected it all, for his job wasn’t still done. He couldn’t die like that, not when he made those boys jeopardize their own lives. However, the strength of what hauled him down couldn’t be beaten, not by him.

If he wasn’t underwater, Hyungwon would’ve started crying.

His throat and his stomach burned like it was on fire; as Hyungwon let out the rest of the oxygen that he still had on his body, small air bubbles formed in the water. The brightness of the only light that could guide Hyungwon towards life seemed more remote every passing second.

I’m sorry.

With his organs almost shutting down, Hyungwon was convinced that the muffled splash above his head that he heard was nothing more than the reflection of his own desire to escape… until he felt fingers wrapping around his wrist.

Hyungwon blinked over and over again to try to see who was yanking him up, and when he managed to do it he realized it wasn’t just one person.

Despite Kihyun being the first to have grabbed his wrist, Shownu, Jooheon, Wonho, Changkyun and Minhyuk secured a hold on his elbows and shoulders, pulling him up with them as the men rose towards the sun.  

Between right and wrong, there was a relief of knowing exactly who he was and what he had to do.

 


 

“WHAT THE F—”

A second after Kihyun pressed the crown of the watch, Hyungwon disappeared in a goddamn flash, which led to his rampant sentence of confusion.

“WHERE DID HE GO?” Jooheon stared at him dumbfounded. “WHAT DID YOU DO?”

“I—”

“GUYS!”

Changkyun caught their attention, pointing at the lights on the roof incessantly flickering as if it was about to explode the lamps above their heads. Every single electronic in the room began to furiously glitch until the point that a few devices simply exploded.

Power went out in a wave of sparks that made them cover their faces to protect themselves, from the inside of that room until every single part of the facility that they could observe from there.

Just as sudden as he vanished into thin air, Hyungwon was the only source of energy illuminating the place around them, hovering one meter above the ground as a blue force field encompassed his body.

Sure, that was a very batshit crazy situation from the very beginning until that point, but what shocked Kihyun the most was how all the men trying to kill them ran out of the premise as if they just had seen the devil in person.

Hyungwon still wore the white shirt and white pants that were given to him by those people, the only difference being the fact that the man was drenched from head to toe, as if he was underwater for a long time.

Maybe it was for the best if he didn’t try to seek some logic in that. His mental health didn’t need one more thing to get fucked up.

When Kihyun focused again on what was happening in front of him, Hyungwon began to descend, but everyone was still too apprehensive — mostly afraid — to move closer to the time traveler.

Without a hurry, Hyungwon passed by Minhyuk and Shownu, whom stood next to Wonho, still on the floor bleeding.

The adrenaline that fueled Kihyun’s worries kicked in, forcing him to run towards his friend.

The power went back on out of nowhere, but now the color of the lights across the place had a dark shade of red. As Kihyun got near the other men, he saw Wonho’s ever paler face as he spat blood on the floor beside him.

No one managed to utter a single word, too entranced by what ensued in front of them. Hyungwon crouched down in front of his friend and Kihyun had the opportunity to see the energy emanated by the man, glowing everywhere from the inside out, including his eyes.

Stretching out his arm, Hyungwon voiced his first sentence after, you know, coming back from the dead.

“Hold my hand.”

Panting because of the pain, it took Wonho a while to react to it. Leisurely, his friend did as he was told to.

Wonho’s back arched at the first touch of Hyungwon’s hand on his, for a jolt of energy hit every centimeter of his being that could be seen by them. It took no more than a glance at the other men’s faces to confirm they were pretty much aghast like Kihyun — mouth agape and all.

The intensity of that scene could make one believe that it lasted more than it actually did, when in reality no more than half a minute passed by.

His friend gasped hard for air as soon as Hyungwon let go of his hand, gently freeing him from the shackles he still had, and getting up. Wonho, in contrast, brought a hand to where he wound on the stomach was. Kihyun practically threw himself on the floor beside him and, as Wonho lifted his black shirt to check his injury, it wasn’t there to be found.

Wonho shared a bewildered look with him before shifting a bit to look up at the time traveler.

As if he hadn’t done anything out of the ordinary, Hyungwon now busied himself by taking the cuffs off of the other men. When he made his stop next to Kihyun to release him, he couldn’t help but to look up at him totally blown away.

At the sight of that, Hyungwon gave him a warm smile. Which was hard to achieve if someone is soaked to the skin and lit up like a Christmas tree.

One glance around was enough for the time traveler to choose to squat next to one of the unconscious men in black suits, wrapping his fingers around the guy’s wrist for less than a minute.

“What are you doing?” Shownu asked.

As he let go of the stranger's wrist, Hyungwon raised his head to stare at the tanned man.

“Learning everything I can about this world.” His captivating grin made him seem more harmless than he actually was. Especially when he was, you know, freaking glowing.

Kihyun zoned out for longer than he noticed, only to be snapped out of his reveries by Hyungwon. The time traveler stood by the entrance, beckoning for him to tag along with the others. The odd feeling of déjà vu creeped into his chest.

 


 

Considering the fact that Minhyuk’s day went extremely different than he had imagined it would, it was quite remarkable that he felt so placid; there was no such thing as another level of stress to achieve, Minhyuk was way past that. He saw Hyungwon die right in front of him, got capture by crazy people and brought to another dimension, then risked his life for a plan he knew virtually nothing about — one of them got shot, for Christ’s sake — only to be able to witness the previously very deceased man materialize into the freaking air, drenched and glowing.

Barefoot, Hyungwon led the way under that red lighting as water dripped off of his clothes, but this fact failed to annoy the time traveler as it created a pathway for the six of them to follow. Ambling across the third corridor they found themselves in, the man made an abrupt pause.

“Wait here.” Hyungwon commanded, not feeling the need to spare them a glance before knocking a down door with just a feeble kick on it.

The bang that the door made as it crashed against the floor only validated their sudden fright, causing one of the boys behind him to squeal.

“The fuck?!” Changkyun, the younger boy with glasses who yelled, had a hand over his chest out of fear. “He—”

His friend with golden hair squinted at the man.

“Out of all the things we’ve been through today, this is what scares you?”

Minhyuk couldn’t hold back a snort, tainting the other men around him to burst into laughter too. The moment was broken only for the return of Hyungwon.

“Come on.”

“Hyungwon?” Changkyun requested the time traveler’s attention, taking a few steps in his direction. “Can you… I don’t know, turn off that energy thing on your body? It kinda gives me anxiety.”

Hyungwon nodded, curving his head down a bit. A few seconds of a focused gaze at his own hands, the blueish light that emanated from him faded away.

“What did you do there?” Kihyun asked as he passed by the entrance of the room Hyungwon was in.

“There’s a shortcut to the controlling area of the bridges. I closed them all.” The time traveler made a pause to let them catch up to him. “Even though I think it’s possible someone escaped, the majority of them is here. They're a shared conscious, so in the end taking them down will stop the others too.”

“What do we do now?” Jooheon scratched his neck, seeming a bit nervous.

Fully turning around, Hyungwon suddenly came to a halt before replying in a gravelly voice.

“Reckoning.”

 

A deep grey and cold atmosphere greeted them as Hyungwon pushed a double door to open, taking them to the outside of whatever that facility was. Under that ashen morning sky, the sea of heads that now glared at them only confirmed their suspicions that it was not the end yet.

Minhyuk couldn’t quite have a good idea of how many people dressed in black sieged them, but he was sure that they surpassed the horizon in front of him. Out of instinct, Minhyuk shifted closer to Shownu, who warmly welcomed him beside him by streching his arm around Minhyuk's shoulder.

“Oh, shit.” Kihyun softly cursed, standing beside his friend Wonho in front of him.

With his most nonchalant expression, Hyungwon sighed.

“Stay here.” The time traveler warned. The wind blew his still damp hair out of his forehead. “Please.”

Shownu looked back and forth between Hyungwon and the massive army that stood around them.

“Are you sure?” Shownu asked. “Because, you know… the odds.”

Hyungwon nodded, making his way towards the crowd. The blood in Minhyuk’s veins froze as soon as fully comprehended the amount of danger they put themselves in less than 24 hours.

Taking a look around, the other five men beside him didn’t seem to be feeling something much different from him. It absolutely didn’t help that the tension that ensued made the air too dense to breathe; Minhyuk’s heart beat so fast that he had to take a moment to control his respiration.

The time traveler's feet created noiseless steps as Hyungwon strolled smoothly for the longest and uneasy seconds of Minhyuk’s life. Nothing in those people’s faces indicated their fear or their desire to harm them, and that was what scared him the most. How come people that were just like him evolved into a horrific kind? In his reflections about the future, he couldn’t have imagined such obscure fate. It was sort of sad to see it happen.

Beside him, Shownu called for the man that now stood on his left side.

“Hey.” Shownu’s voice was no louder than a whisper. “Are you okay?”

“Yeah.” Wonho unconsciously brought a hand to his belly. “I didn’t know he could do that kind of… stuff.”

“Look at them.” Changkyun pointed out to the men and women in dark suits. “Hyungwon is right in front of them, but they won’t attack at all.”

“So what?” Jooheon questioned his friend’s point.

“They know they can’t win.”

What happened in the peculiarity of that situation defied everything human history proved to be set in stone. As much as Minhyuk could feel in his bones the peril they were in, the spontaneous movements of Hyungwon stopping in front of all those people brought some comfort.

A blond man with European features, but without a single hint of accent while speaking Korean, took a step forward.

His voice came out loud and clear.

“Name your demands.”

Hyungwon didn’t waver as the breeze became harsher.

“There’s a mistake in your discernment…” Hyungwon told him. “There is no pact to be made. I came to read your sentence.”

“Under which authority?” The blond man, a few centimeters taller than Hyungwon, glared at the latter. “Not even the Council dared to support you, child.”

Even though Hyungwon had his back to them, it was possible to feel in the air the growing rage.

“I answer to no one but Time. And I’m no child.” His guttural voice made Minhyuk shudder. “You decimated my world and I burned in that bridge. The child I was died that day.”

Minhyuk’s chest was struck by a twinge, instinctively sharing a knowing look with Shownu, who seemed to feel the same.

Hyungwon wasn’t finished, though.

“Your killing spree lasted more than 300 years. Countless universes crumbled under the touch of your rapacity.” The time traveler slowly took a step forward. “I speak to you knowing I speak to every single human in this civilization, united by a shared intellect. Hence, this world is ultimately banned from the multiverse and will be divested of all the scientific achievements so far by total loss of memory. The multiverse will begin to recover.”

The man beside Minhyuk, Changkyun, shrieked at the sight of the blond man clasping Hyungwon’s neck, making them impulsively try to intervene; the time traveler was way ahead of them and ceased any retaliation from their side by motioning for them to stay put.

“You’re not everlasting.” The man visibly put all his strength in that grip. “You may cheat death, but I can destroy you all over again.”

Without a hurry, Hyungwon effortlessly pushed every single of the guy’s fingers off of him. Said action evoked the precise movement of the army of black suits that now pointed their guns at them. Minhyuk pressed his nails against the palm of his hand so hard it could've began to bleed.

“I’m not lethal.” The time traveler came even more closer to the european man. “But if you think I’m inherently bound to my sense of morality, you’re misguided. Do not test me. I will burn you to the ground.”

The reason why lions will never be house cats is that they will gut you if they have to.

Hyungwon’s hands moved quickly to press them against the blond’s forehead without a single drop of intimidation by all those guns; the blueish light that emanated of his body became brighter than the day, but was not what made Minhyuk and the others hold their breath.

It was as if the air suddenly was shut down, when the collective snap sound of thousands of guns being fired at them arose.

Obviously, not the most unpredictable thing to happen during that day, but Minhyuk winced badly as he put his other arm around Shownu’s waist to hide his face on his hyung’s chest. Some of the boys yelled, but he couldn’t see much of their reactions; in those milliseconds between shooter and target, Minhyuk couldn’t face anything.

As the silence fell again between the six men, they heard the muffled crash against something in front of them.

No bullet shells fell on the floor next to them, but it wasn’t difficult to understand that Hyungwon protected them once more by projecting one of what Minhyuk believed to be called force fields or something like that, just like in super heroes’ movies.

Their attention diverted back to the time traveler, whom now seemed pissed off for real.

“Tell them to stand down.” The huskiness in his voice made him a bit terrifying for the first time since they met.

Evidently struggling against one of Hyungwon’s hand pressing all that weird and powerful energy against his brain, the blond european dude laughed.

“I want to see you lose everything once again, CHW-000115.”

The protective energy field faded away and the man screamed in pain as Hyungwon used his other hand to increase the energy that came out his insides, swiftly moving behind the guy’s back to press down one hand under his chin — Minhyuk saw enough action movies to know a neck was about to be broken. Every other person standing behind the blond fell on their knees, writhing in agony.

Oh, shit.

Changkyun jumped forward, still minding the threat of the horde.

“HYUNGWON!” The younger boy waved his arms at the time traveler, screaming so the time traveler could hear him. “DON’T DO THIS. PLEASE.”

His touch became softer yet remained menacing, like a predator that entices their prey before showing their true nature. Hyungwon’s eyes wandered athwart the line in which the six of them stood, and Minhyuk was pretty sure that was the closest to witness a God’s mercy that he’d ever get.

What took place after than was faster than their ordinary perception could ever keep up with; Hyungwon’s went back to push down hard the guy’s forehead, emanating the sparkling blueish energy from his hands just as much as his eyes began to display the unearthly glow. The blond man cried in pain, which spread like a wildfire through the crowd behind him, clearly implying that what Hyungwon inflicted on that one man had the same effect on the rest of the people in black suits.

In the seconds that Minhyuk could barely inhale properly, the clarity obliged him to cover his eyes as whatever Hyungwon was doing reached its peak; the light coming from the time traveler’s body was so intense that he couldn’t look directly at it.

The first body hit the floor with a quick thud, but the domino effect transformed the process into a crash of limbs scattered across the horizon as every single man and woman in that army fell senseless on the ground.

Changkyun was the first to sprint in Hyungwon’s direction, promptly being followed by Minhyuk and the others.

“They’re not dead.” Hyungwon elucidated after reading Changkyun’s alarmed expression. His eyes quickly lost their brightness. “I wiped out their memories. They are a shared consciousness, so take one out…”

“Not to be rude or anything…” On Hyungwon’s left side, Jooheon scratched his neck. “But can we get the hell out of here?”

Without signalizing for them to come along, Hyungwon moved forward no more than a meter away from them.

“Wait a moment.” The taller man lifted his arm to press the lateral button of his watch.

And disappeared again.

Before they could open their mouths to complain about, Hyungwon showed up again out of nowhere, but now he had a glowing sphere on his hand, the stolen one in the middle of the metallic ring.

“Hold this.” Hyungwon stretched out his hand towards Minhyuk. “Don’t drop it.”

An incredibly weird object by the way; it wasn’t hot or cold at all, but Minhyuk felt very apprehensive only by holding that.

And he did almost drop it once he saw Hyungwon shaping an enormous ball of cobalt energy on his hands, but thankfully his reflexes acted faster to get his shit together. The time traveler hurriedly retrieved the sphere in Minhyuk’s hand and, in a blink of an eye, that ball energy was thrown towards the sky engulfed by the blueish energy generated by Hyungwon's body, spread in a million of different directions up in the air, out of their sight.

Kihyun, staring at the time traveler mouth agape, pointed at the latter.

“That was… us? That—”

“Yes.” Hyungwon affirmed. “That’s the amalgamation of the energy of the Constants. It will weaken the fabric of this reality for the process of transference. We have to cross to the other side of the world now. That’s where my machine is.”

The harsh wind turned Hyungwon’s bangs into a mess, almost covering his eyes as the man extended both of his arms in their direction.

“Hold onto me.”

Minhyuk, Shownu and Changkyun shifted to Hyungwon’s right side while Jooheon, Kihyun and Wonho moved to the other one. Once they were all good to go, holding on to his arm, the time traveler asked Jooheon to press the crown of the wristwatch he wore.

The weather changed drastically in a matter of seconds; Minhyuk didn’t felt anything too extreme, just the weird sensation of being pushed in every single direction at the same time — what really mattered was the pure sunlight painting his face like a canvas, and how good that felt. Where they stood were no longer the weird glass flooring, but a pitch black cemented one.

“Where are we?” Minhyuk asked out of habit, not really curiosity. 

“There’s no countries here.” Hyungwon swiftly pulled away from their grip, taking a look around. “In your world, somewhere in West Africa. Oh, there.”

The six of them followed the motion of Hyungwon’s arm pointing at an exceptionally large three-story building, not wasting any time with other questions. Hyungwon led the way once again.

At that point, it wasn’t surprising anymore the easy manner that the time traveler put doors down, but Minhyuk made a self-note to ask a question about it later. The insides of the facility were a huddle of mechanic stuff Minhyuk couldn’t even begin to guess what it was, but it all sounded expensive as hell; at one point, he noticed a small group of people passed out on the floor in the first floor, but no one was there to be seen.

Trying not to get distracted by all that weird tech, they finally made it to an underground part that was completely out of their sight before.

Two flight of stairs later, that got closer to the ground as you moved forward, and a short walk on a very weird material that felt like rubber took them to a structure that had the size of a regular football field. Or at least it seemed it was, judging the apparent range Minhyuk’s eyes could observe in the goddamn distance.

Fortunately, their destiny wasn’t too far.

Hovering over absolutely fucking nothing, a train with seven passenger cars was the only thing in the middle of that huge fucking space. Either those guys did appreciate intensely Hyungwon’s time machine or were just too damn dramatic.

Hyungwon stopped on his tracks right in front of the door of the first car.

“Open up. It’s me.”

A streak of flickering light encircled the margins of the train’s double door.

“I thought you were dead. Seems like I have to cancel my retirement.”

The door immediately opened, followed by a chuckle coming from Hyungwon.

“I missed you too. Come on.” He shifted sideways to give them space to get in. He was the last to board the train after Minhyuk. “Monbebe, run a full body scan on them to see if they need something.”

Without looking back, Hyungwon head towards the driver's compartment. The men silently agreed in following him into that room.

It was nothing much different from the fake version made by those people; the panels and walls and ceiling lighting were the same, even though there were a few dissimilarities that Minhyuk couldn’t quite put his finger on it. Hyungwon wasted no time in turn on whatever those panels were, and what they did.

“Monbebe, track the black-body radiation in the fifth section and lock on the frequencies. All of them.”

Within half a second, the lights flickered above their heads again, indicating its presence.

“On screen.”

“Take control! It must follow these coordinates.”

“The fabric of this reality is already too unstable. You’ll have to do it manually.”

“FINE!” Hyungwon suddenly jerk forward, marching between them. “Redirect the frequencies to the coordinates as soon as I stabilize it and start the train. Got it?”

“The odds you won’t make it back are 89.7%.”

Hyungwon smirked at the twinkling lights of his A.I.

“Not with that attitude.”

A nasty bump hurled them forward as Hyungwon made his way out of the room, turning into a full seism as if they were in the middle of an earthquake.

Clinging onto Shownu, Minhyuk was the first to express his concerns.

“HYUNGWON!” The noisy tremor made it impossible to be heard without shouting. “WHAT—”

His indifference to the train shaking like it was about to snap in half knew no limit, so it shouldn’t have been too shocking to watch Hyungwon run towards no point in particular inside the machine, and vanishing into thin air once again.

“WHERE DID HE GO?!” Kihyun yelled at the A.I. “WHERE—”

In the windshield right above all the panels appeared the live feed of the place they were formerly in, where all those men and women in black suits remained knocked out.

Much for the benefit of Minhyuk’s nerves, the train became stable even though it still trembled every now and then.

In the corner of the screen, Hyungwon showed up sprinting towards the center of the place.

“What is he doing?” Jooheon questioned.

“In simple terms, Hyungwon is using his own energy to counterbalance the instability of radiation so it sustains the ideal state until it can be relocated.”

“This isn’t simple at all.” Shownu interjected, which made Minhyuk feel less dumb on his own.

“WOW!” Changkyun shouted, pointing at the screen. “Damn, he’s…”

Without hesitation, Hyungwon raised his arms and let all the energy inside his body pass through his hands, forming a mighty cloud of light a hundred times larger above his head. His attempts to hold it still were proving to be difficult, even though they could only see Hyungwon from afar. His feet struggled to be stuck to the ground, but the time traveler pushed his arms all the way up to maintain his position.

The train shook violently again and Minhyuk almost fell on the floor if not for Shownu’s fast reflexes.

“Spacetime stable. Initiating relocation sequence, we’re good to go.”

“WAIT!” Minhyuk screamed at the ceiling, feeling sillier than ever. “HYUNGWON ISN’T HERE YET.”

“The opportunity will be missed if I wait for him. I must follow his orders.”

A harsh pull backwards brought all of them to the floor, as if someone had slammed the brakes of a car. Minhyuk brought his hands to cover his ears for a screeching of metal against metal took over the entire machine, wincing a little when he felt Shownu putting his body over his to try to muffle that deafening sound.

It didn’t last much longer, by good fortune. The machine, now at full speed off to God-knows-where, came back to its unwavering state.

Hyungwon was nowhere to be seen, though.

Is he dead? Again…?

“Relocation will be completed in three… two…”

 


 

Throughout his long life, Hyungwon learned to dislike a lot of things; it made him feel quite human to be able to have these kind feelings, to be sincere. Means of transportation driven by humans, interrupted naps, certain historic figures and the human obsession with computer networks were perfect examples of distaste, but nothing topped having to teleport into a moving vehicle. The variables were too many and Hyungwon’s brain usually took the shortcut that assured he wouldn’t die, but wouldn’t be too comfortable or happy about it.

Blood came out of his mouth as soon as he felt his body collide against the metallic floor of his train, at such high speed that it was possible that a few of his bones were broken.

“Ouch…” Hyungwon moaned between his coughs, slowly turning to lie on his back. The watch on his wrist burned his skin, so he quickly got rid of it.

“The relocation was successful. Also, you have six fractured ribs and a dislocated knee. Congratulations, I guess.”

Rolling his eyes, Hyungwon shifted his head to the side.

“I’m taking the sarcasm out of your software.”

“You won’t. One of us has to be funny.”

His soft chuckle made his insides hurt even more.

"The Constants are coming.”

The floor wobbled with the hurried footsteps that turned into frantic running towards Hyungwon’s figure on the floor, but the latter couldn’t afford to move at least for the next minutes.

“HYUNGWON!” Kihyun’s voice echoed through the wagon. “Oh my God…”

Not much longer, six troubled faces hovered over him and Hyungwon had to summon a good amount of willpower to not giggle at them, or else the pain would only grow.

“I’m fine. Just a few bruises.” It didn’t help his case at all that he coughed blood right after it. “…And that.”

But of course Monbebe had to be a snitch.

Six fractured ribs and a dislocated knee.”

Shownu crouched down next to him.

“Want some help?”

“Yeah.” Hyungwon never felt worse, so he wasn’t about to refuse.

The man picked him up without much effort, but the time traveler had to bit his lips to hold back a deep groan.

“The med bay is one wagon ahead.” His A.I. informed, giving Shownu a destination to where to take him.

 

Voices and questions mingled with the electronic sounds around Hyungwon, turning his head into a mess of noises that had no images to be linked with. Inhaling sharply, the abrupt jolt of his body made him hit his head on something.

His blurry vision could see nothing through the glass cased area, making him plunge into a deep terror.

“OPEN UP!” Hyungwon smashed his hand against the translucent walls around him, still weaker than the usual. “LET ME OUT! LET ME OUT!”

The glass cover immediately opened laterally and Hyungwon didn't think twice before jumping out of it, instantly crashing on the floor like the idiot he is. A twinge in his lungs indicated that hadn’t been his finest moment.

“Hey, hey.” A gentle voice approached fast, and Hyungwon quickly recognized it by being Minhyuk’s. “Had a nightmare?”

Breathing heavily, Hyungwon only managed to shake his head negatively.

“Got confused… for a moment.” The time traveler tried to explain in-between his gasps. His eyes roamed behind his back to face the hyperbaric chamber he was previously in, one of his own stupid design. “I don’t like… closed spaces.”

Minhyuk’s eyes were full of concern and a tad of guilt.

“Sorry. You blacked out before we got here so we did what the A.I. told us to. I mean…” The blond man scratched his nape, quite abashed. “Everything here is yours so we thought it was okay…”

The robotic female voice of his A.I. rose in the room.

“Forgive me, Hyungwon. It was the fastest method to heal.”

“It’s okay, Monbebe.” Hyungwon put up a feeble smile on his face to appease the man. “It’s alright. How long was I out?”

“A bit more than one hour, I guess. We’ve been taking turns to watch over you. The boys are in the kitchen, wanna go there?”

“Sure.”

 

“I never thought someone really had the guts to survive on ramen only. This is gruesome.”

Kihyun’s heartfelt speech of concern made him laugh, bringing the attention of the rest of the kitchen to him and Minhyuk, who had an arm wrapped around Hyungwon’s.

“I don’t usually eat here.” Hyungwon explained, with a shy grin.

On the four chairs around the metallic table in the center of the kitchen, Shownu, Wonho, Changkyun and Jooheon gazed at him with a lot of disconcert; Kihyun, standing by the shelves, dashed to where Hyungwon were.

“Are you okay? Shit, your knee is okay?” Kihyun’s gaze shifted down his leg. “Are you in pain?”

“Calm your balls, Kihyun.” Wonho retorted, earning a glare from his friend. “He seems fine.”

“Anyways… Is everything alright? I heard screams…”

A flood of excuses invaded Hyungwon’s brain, but none managed to leave his mouth. Luckily, Minhyuk felt his discomfort.

“I dropped a tray by accident and scared myself. Kinda woke up Hyungwon in the process.”

Kihyun didn’t seem to buy that, but let it go for more pressing matters.

“So… is everything okay now? You know… in general? Can we go home?”

There was always a time to let go, Hyungwon should’ve remembered that. He forced himself to smile, at least.

“Yes. But I have a promise to keep first.”

 


 

Changkyun didn’t know why he was nervous. No one dared to break the silence after what happened and mostly, what happened to them. All he could be sure was that he felt a tiredness that he usually only did after staying up for more than four days, but nothing that would keep his body to function normally.

Perhaps that deep uncertainty clouding his entire being was the normal way to react to the current moment — the one where he allegedly was about to get the memories from his original life back. Just think about it for a damn second and say it isn’t quite terrifying. Imagine how would you feel if someone came to you and say that you are special and needs to save the world — wait, that also happened to Changkyun, so there’s that.

Returning from the front of the machine, apparently to set the course to their year of origin, Hyungwon sauntered in their direction wearing new clothes — a navy blue chalk stripe suit with a wine red tie. For someone that didn’t look as old as he was, the dude sure dressed as if he hadn’t seen anything new in fashion since the ‘50s. On one hand, he carried an object that resembled an iPad made of glass, but was twice bigger than a common one.

“Are you really alright?” Shownu, whom sat beside Changkyun in one of the benches, tilted his head to gaze at the time traveler. “Like… you broke a lot of ribs…”

“Oh, yes.” Hyungwon nodded. “I didn’t mention to no one but Kihyun, but I heal very fast. It’s just a small inconvenience. In a few moments we’ll be arriving in 2018. Meanwhile…” Without stalling, he turned on the iPad-like thing and threw it on the floor, instantly stepping on it.

“The hell?” Changkyun pointed at the device under Hyungwon’s shoe.

“Oh. It’s kind of an electrical conduit. Channels the dark energy harnessed by the machine while in the wormhole to me. Shownu. Wonho. Come here, please.”

Kihyun’s friend took an apprehensive step backwards.

“How sure are you about this?” Wonho crossed his arms around his torso instinctively. “And how—”

“I’m not patronizing you, but it’d take you a long time to understand. And yes, I’m sure. By the way…” Hyungwon’s gaze shifted towards the man sitting beside Changkyun. “Shownu, your foresights. I can help you and Minhyuk to get rid of that, if you wish. It was a side effect of the connection made by me. I’m sorry.”

Changkyun wondered what was the extent of Hyungwon’s skills, and how the hell it was possible for someone like him to exist.

“It’s alright.” Shownu affirmed, after a brief silence. “Somehow… I think I would feel empty without it. It helped us when we need it.”

“Same.” Minhyuk’s voice emerged from the other side of the wagon, crouching down next to other bench. “Don’t fret.”

“As you wish.” The traveler beckoned once again. “Sit down in front of me, please.”

The first two men requested by the time traveler sat down in Hyungwon and Jooheon’s previous seats, with a terrified expression. After taking a deep breath, Hyungwon stretched his hands in Wonho and Shownu’s direction.

“How this thing works?” The tanned man asked, sitting on the bench in front of Changkyun. “We have to… do something?”

“Close your eyes.” Hyungwon affirmed in a soothing voice. “I just need to touch your forehead. If I’m right, it’ll feel like a strong impulse.”

If you’re right?” Wonho seemed ready to give that up, squinting at the time traveler. “You said you can do it.”

“I am not like you, Wonho. Normal. I can only estimate proper human sensations by math, not empiricism.”

Well… that made the atmosphere a bit awkward.

“I’ll begin now.”

The same modus operandi of what they saw in the control room began to work inside Hyungwon’s body, springing light a bit too bright for them to stare directly at it. Strings dived all the way down his hands, dancing around it until they entered a type of superposition; hyperphysical power, exactly how Changkyun was already used to seeing the time traveler being like.

After a brief moment with his eyes closed, Hyungwon opened them again when he touched Wonho and Shownu’s foreheads at the same time, revealing once again his flaming eyeballs immersed in the deepest blueish-white Changkyun had ever seen in his life, and the reason was certainly because there was no one else like that man.

His thoughts diverged to the fact that if Hyungwon was ever in a blackout, he surely wouldn’t be in any trouble at all.

Back off, stupid thought, back the fuck off!

No one could look away from that scene, even though it was evident they should. As pretty much everything involving the time traveler, that was another thing they experienced for the first time, which felt less weird for it seemed less real. Wonho and Shownu seemed to be quite motionless while Hyungwon visibly struggled to do his task; if they didn’t have experienced all that shit that day, Changkyun wouldn’t have minded to wait a bit more just until the time traveler looked a bit more put together. But at that point, he just wanted to get that done and go home to pass out for the next 72 hours.

Hyungwon pulled away from them and the energy he produced dissipated in the air, leaving the place to be illuminated for the machine’s ceiling lighting. Hyungwon stumbled back a little and immediately glanced at Shownu and Wonho.

The two men stood still for a solid couple of seconds, startling the others as their eyes swung open, mouth gasping for air as if they just had come back to the sea’s surface.

“Shownu hyung?” Minhyuk cautiously approached his friend. “Are you okay?”

One could be convinced, by the way they acted, that they had been blind their entire lives, just now seeing the world as it truly was.

Another voice emerged.

“Shownu?” Wonho’s voice was barely audible. When the tanned man craned his head towards him, Wonho looked about to cry. “I—”

Changkyun watched as Shownu enveloped Wonho into a hug full of understanding, much more than any amount of sentences would provide. The rest of them stood there stiffly witnessing that reencounter.

If anything, Changkyun could almost grasp the fear that was taking over his body.

What would that feel like? Not only the entire process, but the life after that. Would he be two people in the same body, two different lives in just one world? If Hyungwon was being true to his words, Changkyun should remember he knew the blond dude, Minhyuk, but it was difficult to know if he ever would be… whoever he had been.

Maybe someone on Yahoo! Answers went through the same thing in 2009, it’d be worth the try.

“Kihyun.” Hyungwon, crouched down, cleared his throat before continuing. “Jooheon. Come here.”

What would that mean to Jooheon too? They had been friends since they were kids, but now the tables were being turned and… would he lose the person he had known? Changkyun considered himself smarter than average, but at that moment he wished he was dense as fuck just to not have to deal with the possibilities of that aftermath.

Also, that was not a good time for a panic attack and yet Changkyun could feel the dizziness hitting him.

His eyes followed as Kihyun and his best friend walked to the opposite bench, where Wonho and Shownu sat, side-eyeing each other before complying to Hyungwon’s previous order of closing their eyes.

That time, the task appeared to have been faster to Changkyun due his irresistible overthinking, so when he forced himself to pay attention to Hyungwon’s work, it was already done for Jooheon and Kihyun. Kihyun and Jooheon’s reaction, after that, were pretty much the same as the ones he had seen in Wonho and Shownu.

Changkyun wanted to be selfish. He wanted to grab his friend’s hand and run away, even though there was virtually nowhere else to go. He wanted to call for Jooheon as soon as the man came back from that action, but… he wasn’t the same person anymore. It was indeed, Jooheon, his friend, the one with whom he shared good and bad moments (the bad ones were mostly Changkyun’s fault but)… somehow, it was perceptible that Changkyun would never get the person that Jooheon was back.

Perhaps that’s the person his best friend was meant to be; meant to go back to his first life.

So exactly what that denoted for the two of them?

As soon as Kihyun’s eyes met with Jooheon’s, the silver-haired man bursted into tears.

“I’m so sorry…” Kihyun’s hands lingered on his friend’s face, as if he was afraid it was going to break under his touch. “If I hadn’t insisted for you to take that route, you wouldn’t… I—”

“It’s not your fault.” Jooheon proclaimed, landing a hand on Kihyun’s shoulder. “It’s okay. I’m okay. It’s okay.”

A little jealousy stealthily slid inside Changkyun’s chest and the youngest man couldn’t help but to want to be a whiny brat, but Hyungwon at last called for him and Minhyuk, the only ones still staring at that scene with only a hint of what was happening.

His legs trembled as if his legs had turned to jelly, strolling in the same direction Minhyuk went to sit down, on the bench beside Shownu and Wonho’s.

Changkyun felt Jooheon’s stare on him as he passed by his friend, purposely avoiding eye contacting with him; in his defense, it was the only way the youngest man could handle that situation and not have a mental breakdown in the middle of it.

Gaze shifting all the way up towards Hyungwon, the time traveler let out a weary sigh, looking as pallid as a corpse. It didn’t take him too long to stand up again from his squat, though.

From that point of view, Hyungwon looked like the ethereal vision of a God described by people in the old days; pure energy emerged from his insides and breached through his skin, so Changkyun wouldn’t blame anyone that saw that and claimed to have had a close encounter with something unhuman.

Shutting down his eyes, it became more palpably to Changkyun that he was running out of breath, that his lungs weren’t working well, that—

The time traveler was right about it feeling like impulse, but strong was not the right adjective to coin it. “Potent” did the job better, for Changkyun felt he was being dragged down by the force of a gravity that only existed inside his body. At first, everything he could perceive was the darkness consuming him, but then… he landed. Changkyun glided effortlessly before he gradually lied down, allowing him to take a small hold of himself and of what was happening. Regardless of the intense dread, Changkyun knew why that was happening; he remembered Hyungwon and everything that happened, but as soon as the light covered every centimeter of where he stood, he just wanted to stick to his previous plan of running away, but it was too late, though. Way too late to run from himself.

His body was led to a million of different places without a single movement. His surroundings, at first, were nothing but a plain and achromatic site, slowly evolving into an actual room and then, finally, every single place he had ever stepped a foot on during his previous timeline. That inner gravity, or whatever that was, pulled him down again and suddenly, Changkyun was drowning.

It couldn’t be pinpointed how long he stayed like that; to him it felt like hours, but Changkyun was sure it was merely seconds on the actual reality. One by one, firefly-shaped molecules showed up before him and Changkyun grasped oxygen again — but once again, he bleakly drowned into oblivion.

The universe was his witness to the fact that he was doing his best to not freak out for real, because there was not a single nerve of his that was cool with that situation.

Maybe something went wrong with him and Hyungwon couldn’t fix it. Maybe shit happened and—

Changkyun felt a wave of warmth emerge beneath his feet, taking over the entire place he was currently in.

At first, he had no idea where the hell he was. Taking a quick look around, Changkyun noticed he sat in the red couch of a living room. Not an unknown one, but the living room of the orphanage he grew up in. A four-walls storyteller of a huge part of his previous life, not really of pleasant tales, but important ones. However, at that moment, that room stored not only its past, but Changkyun’s entire narrative; the only choice was to absorb who he was, even still knowing who he is.

Minhyuk was there in most of the memories he was being blasted by. Changkyun met him in his first year of elementary school, at the same grade as him — which wasn’t a well-received news to the kids older than him, his classmates could help but to feel intimidated by a kid three years younger in the same grade as them. It wasn’t beneficial at all that Changkyun didn’t utter a single word to no one at any given time; not because he couldn’t, just because he was scared of everything and everyone all the damn time.

It was no surprise that such feature made him an easy target for bullies. Changkyun never had the intention of physically defend himself — mainly because he pretended he wasn’t there most of the time — but Minhyuk… was Minhyuk.

Minhyuk, who stood up for Changkyun even though he was outnumbered, which made the younger boy feel like shit for certainly dooming the other boy into a violent mess. Minhyuk, who looked like the human embodiment of a sunshine, but scared his bullies away with just a few threatening sentences. Minhyuk, who had a spirited smile on his face when he squatted next to Changkyun, on the bathroom’s floor, and asked if the younger boy was hungry since they were in the middle of lunch break and, clearly, Changkyun wasn’t having his best moment. Minhyuk, the guy he always looked up to since the day the man took him under his wing, warning the entire school that if anyone laid a finger on him, it’d be the last time said finger would be intact.

No one bothered Changkyun after that.

Changkyun lived like this — always trailing behind Minhyuk, and he was glad to have had someone like him around while growing up, even though the younger boy never understood why the older boy chose to stick around. People always respected his hyung, no matter what period of his life they were in. The man was the nicest and warmest person one could ever met, but he strangely had a type of switch inside of him that extremely changed his persona when there was the need to; the only time Changkyun saw this rough nuance of him was the day Minhyuk helped him for the first time in the school's bathroom, and he made sure the younger boy didn’t see him like that ever again. But rumors always fly, even though it didn’t waver his trust on his hyung.

Their coming of age was incredibly different. Growing up, Minhyuk became most interested in hanging out around the city with his more outgoing friends, while Changkyun was drawn more and more to his studies. Their age gap put them on different levels regardless of their insouciance about it, and it all became evident when, at the age of 15, Changkyun was accepted into 8 universities, some of which were out of the country. Choosing their bond over everything else — and despite Minhyuk’s claims of not wanting to jeopardize the younger’s future — Changkyun settled for studying in Seoul, to where Minhyuk was moving out to soon.

Everything else was nothing but flashes, all in some way collected inside his brain. The memories that swept back into his mind were hungry to reach its destination, had no pity or intention of letting him keeping up with the progress.

Unexpectedly, it stopped.

 

It was 2015. Changkyun had just graduated from college and he vividly remembered running with Minhyuk across the latter’s neighborhood in Seoul. His heart raced at full speed for people were after them and he didn’t know why; it didn’t feel like it was a simple robbery or murder attempt, as if there was something about it Changkyun was missing. One split of second later, and Minhyuk vanished. There was no hand holding onto his.

The naked truth that he was going to die wasn’t what bothered him the most. The days that preceded that fateful one gradually rose to unimaginable levels of weirdness in Changkyun’s scale of oddness, but still couldn’t fathom an explanation for that. It wasn’t logical. Changkyun was a fan of math and the stability it gave him with the truthful results, and a bunch of guys wearing black while pointing a strange gun at him, in broad day light in an alley, didn’t make sense.

There was nothing he could do but to hastily shut his eyes in the end of all things. The warmth of Minhyuk’s hand was still on his, so he embraced the last fragment of his best friend’s presence.

Changkyun’s heart almost flew through his mouth when he heard a cry of pain and opened his eyes out of instinct; out of three, one was down.

Hyungwon was there. He wore a midnight blue suit that seemed almost outdated, with the detail of having his hair slightly slick back.

And he was sort of electrocuting those dudes.

In his memory of that moment, Changkyun was way too scared to react to what he thought was a normal person knocking two men down by throwing them around like they were plastic dolls, hands and eyes immersed in a bright light.

The first thing on Changkyun’s mind was that Hyungwon was going to kill him too.

“Are you hurt?” The strange man asked, tidying up his suit and ambling in his direction. “Are you in pain?”

He had no idea how he managed to spill a word.

“No…”

“I’m not going to harm you.” As Hyungwon got closer to him, Changkyun felt his anxiety losing strength. It was an effect of... him. “But these people will. Come with me and I can save you and your friend.”

He stammered like an idiot.

“Min… Minhyuk?”

“Yes. I know where he is.”

Changkyun was sold.

 

Not a single drop of water was around and yet Changkyun felt himself drowning again. However, he wasn’t being pulled down that time. Changkyun stormed towards of what he knew to be the reality his body was in, and embraced every single remembrance to keep in the journey of getting himself back.

Now he understood the others’ reaction once Hyungwon’s job was done, because oxygen was the only thing his body craved and forced him to seek; his gasps were so hasty that made his lungs hurt.

“Kkukkung.”

Minhyuk hyung.

Changkyun quickly craned his neck to attest the presence of his childhood friend there, the friend he knew, that he remembered.

“Hi.”

“You disappeared.” The man’s tone was nearly accusatory, but Minhyuk had tears rolling down his cheeks. “You left me alone. You promised you wouldn’t. I tried…”

“I know, hyung.” Never before he felt so light, body and soul. “I’m sorry. Thank you for coming back for me.”

“Of course I did.” Minhyuk stared at him with disbelief. “Are you stupid? You’re my baby brother. I’d do anything for you.”

Changkyun hoped he was conveying the same conviction by wrapping his arms around the man that protected him his entire life.

“I’m glad we found each other, hyung.”

 


 

It could’ve been sooner or later than Kihyun’s perception allowed him to notice, but Hyungwon disappeared out of their sight once he finished returning the memories that he promised; his gut told him the man was possibly giving them some time alone to… handle, if it could possibly be done so fast.

To Kihyun, that experience was beyond anything he could have ever imagined, even in his wildest musings. There were two lives inside only one of him, in only one brain of his. To say that he was overwhelmed was quite an understatement, and only more than one hour later things became to settle inside his brain, which he definitely would run some tests to see the effects of Hyungwon’s abilities on it. For the moment, he was just glad to have Jooheon back after seeing him die more than a dozen times, and genuinely not having to be scared of his dongsaeng’s fate. They laughed over and over again about how they bickered when they didn’t remember each other, but they always had been like that in one way or another, always full of affection for each other since their teenage years.

The weird thing is that Kihyun still felt more like himself than he ever did since… ever. An inexplicable emptiness that found home inside him as long as he could remember was nowhere to be felt anymore; every single thing that Kihyun did led to that point of reconnecting with the lost part of his character.

Sure, not all the memories were kind of nice, but Kihyun was satisfied to have them; they were also an important part of him. Those experiences helped mold the person he became in both of his timelines, and he didn't want to be away from it.

After sorting his thoughts out, Kihyun understood what Hyungwon meant when he told him he wouldn’t want to see the traveler again after he got his memories back.

 

His legs were worn out from all the running back and forth in that useless attempt to save his best friend, but Kihyun couldn’t simply give up. On the side of the road, he spotted black shoes sauntering in the opposite direction and immediately knew whom it belonged to. Not that he personally knew the guy or what he was interested in doing, but at that point Kihyun had no other option. As Jooheon’s car collapsed again in the background, he took a deviation and sprinted in Hyungwon’s direction to ask for help. At first, the time traveler seemed to refuse by walking away from him, but Kihyun begged to the point of getting on his knees for it.

“You’re wiser than that, Kihyun.” Hyungwon assured, beckoning for him to stand up. “I ask for no such humiliation. I’m not declining.”

“Can you save him?” Kihyun had no other interest. “Can you save Jooheon? Please…”

“That’s not my duty. Nor yours.”

“BUT YOU—YOU GAVE ME THIS!” Kihyun’s cry filled the ominous road, showing the wristwatch on his right hand. “WHY—”

“You can’t save him.” His tone was so nonchalant that Kihyun would’ve punched him if he didn’t need the guy’s help. “You can to make a choice. Him, or you.”

Oh.

Part of him was taken back by himself for how Kihyun didn’t hesitate for a moment.

“Him. I’ll stay in his place. But save him.”

The time traveler nodded, accepting his request. A single button pressed on Hyungwon’s wristwatch and suddenly the air was punched out of him as Kihyun joggled back and forth inside a car, seconds before the numbness of the impact.

 

“Is everything alright?”

Hyungwon’s low voice brought Kihyun back from the memory lane, turning around to fully face him. For the direction he came from, Kihyun assumed he was once again in the driver’s compartment of his time machine.

“Yeah.” He answered for everybody, because no one seeming to be dying, so it was already pretty fucking great. “You?”

Once again, Hyungwon smiled while lying to his face. Even if his intentions were good, Kihyun wished he didn’t.

“I’m fine.” The time traveler buried his hands on the pockets of his trousers. “Your past remembrances will be coming back slowly. Your brain is working hard to support it all. We’ll be arriving in 2018 in 70 seconds.”

The man didn’t look anyone in the eye after that, hinting a certain shame on his face.

“Hyungwon?” The traveler finally raised his head at Changkyun’s question. “Thank you. For doing what you promised me. For saving Minhyuk, and me.”

“You don’t…” Hyungwon stopped himself to argue midsentence. “You are welcome. Is there anything else you need? I’ve checked your body scans and all of you are perfectly fine, by the way.”

“How about start telling how you played with us?” Wonho cut in with a rejoinder out of nowhere. “That fucking watch could’ve taken us out of the parking lot in first place, right? But you let those people take us. You brought us along with you when you came back from the dead, or whatever the fuck you did. Then again, teleporting all of us. ALL OF US.”

An awkward silence fell in the place, with Wonho glaring straight at Hyungwon, whom chose to look away. Kihyun felt the urge to slap the shit out of his friend’s head.

“Hyung…” Kihyun appeased with his clenched jaw.

“He’s right.” All their heads turned towards the time traveler. Hyungwon didn’t seem too amused to admit that. “It was my first real chance to get into that universe. I made up that plan I told Kihyun and Wonho way before their ploy was revealed.”

“What?” Jooheon, who sat beside Kihyun, squinted at Hyungwon. “Sure, some crazy stuff happened back then but… how did you even know?”

“Monbebe was formal when talking to me in the fake med bay, and called me for my serial number, not my name. So I decided to… play along.”

“RISKING OUR LIVES?” Jooheon was not happy at all with that reveal. “DO WE MEAN NOTHING TO YOU?”

“Of course you do, Jooheon. But I don’t have the luxury of risking the lives of trillions over my personal likings. That’s why all I did so far, I did alone.”

“Guys…” Changkyun shyly raised a hand. “He saved us. That’s what matters. Like… he died. That’s kind of a big thing that happened.”

“And so would we if the shit he pulled hadn’t worked out.” Wonho was resolute and unfaltering. “You don’t get to decide whose lives matter. I don’t give a shit what happened to you, that doesn’t make you God.”

“Wonho.” Shownu’s solemn voice earned the attention of Wonho, whom sighed deeply. “Own your choices too. He didn’t force you to help him. As a matter of fact, he didn’t force any of us. What he did wasn’t a bad thing, despite his dubious methods. Because of what Hyungwon did, a lot of people like us get to live.”

“Not everything is black and white.” Minhyuk agreed with the tanned man. “Everything happened too fast, but we’re all together and well. That’s what matters.”

The female robotic voice of Monbebe interrupted that argument with an announcement.

“We’ve arrived in 2018, at 1:16 p.m., local Korean time.”

“Good.” Wonho roughly got up, pulling his black turtleneck up. “I’ve had enough. Come on.”

His hyung pat Shownu in the shoulder, indicating for the man to tag along as the train made its stop once and for all. Kihyun didn’t know why he was surprised when Wonho turned around to gaze at him.

“Come on, Ki.”

Kihyun didn’t want to go, no matter the shit that had went down that day. He wanted more answers, more experiences… More than anything, he yearned for things he didn’t even know he wanted. His scientific hunger screamed in his mind that he hit the jackpot, the only one Kihyun ever would while alive, but he and the others now dealt with more pressing matters; Hyungwon too, surely had something more important to do than to hang out with a guy from a random universe that he barely knew.

It was awfully frustrating for Kihyun to be so aware of that.

Letting the other men take the front, Kihyun strolled in front of Hyungwon, whom shyly kept a good distance from them while walking in silence, still willing to convey his farewell.

One by one, they stepped on the very same platform they ran on before, but something held Kihyun back.

“What are you going to do now?” He suddenly asked the time traveler, who seemed a bit surprised by it.

“Well…” Hyungwon looked legit at a loss for words. “I’ll be here for a few days. Rest a bit, then… maybe go where I can be of some help. Why?”

“Can I come over? Later, I mean. Do you like, have a phone? Or how can I…”

“Not really.” Hyungwon grinned, extending a hand. “Your phone.”

Kihyun quickly fumbled around to pull his phone out of his pocket, handing it to the time traveler. The man raised his hand towards the ceiling.

“Monbebe, transfer your code to this device. Whenever he calls, redirect the call to me.”

A couple of seconds later, a reply came.

“Done, Hyungwon.”

“Here.” The taller man handed Kihyun his phone, placing his hands behind his back. “It works in any universe in the observable multiverse, so wherever I am, I’ll get your message.”

Kihyun was really close to pass out due the awesomeness of that situation, but took a deep breath.

“YAH, YOO KIHYUN!”

Wonho’s shout broke through his cocoon of geek happiness and remembered Kihyun of the real world, the one which he had to go back to.

“Thank you, Kihyun.” Hyungwon’s farewell to him sounded nothing but sincere. “For your trust and ability to work well with the others. The six of you will do wonders to your world. You belong together.”

“What about you?”

“Me?” Hyungwon frowned, puzzled by that question.

“Where do you belong?”

Another one of Hyungwon’s deceiving smiles appeared on his face.

“I’m okay with not belonging anywhere. I’m just an asset, but it’s not that bad.” The man peeked over Kihyun’s shoulder and his grin faded away. “Your friends are waiting. Go.”

 


 

Hyungwon watched as the six Constants walked away from the subway station, feeling the relief of being alone for what he was about to do. Out of all the compartments in his machine, the only one Monbebe couldn’t reach without his permission was his tiny personal room, mostly occupied by piled books and pieces of unfinished gadgets.

The door automatically closed behind him and Hyungwon voiced the command “Lock” out loud, the code for permanently keeping his door shut down until further notice.

In the unshared intimacy of that cloistered room, Hyungwon slid down the wall next to the door tightly embracing his legs. The time traveler let out an ocean of tears that had been holding back for more time than he could keep track of, feeling his chest ache from the sudden sensation.

Who was he now? During those years, Hyungwon tried to convince himself that the things he had to do to ensure his survival and the continuity of the multiverse had nothing to do with his character. After more than three hundred years of working on the same mission, what did the aftermath reserved for him?

He remembered telling Kihyun that maybe, he’d go where he could be needed, but the truth is that Hyungwon wanted to discover what kind of person he was, in first place. Hyungwon wanted to be normal, to be able to feel free.

Then why did it still feel like an invisible hand tried to haul him back?

 

PART 5: Septem

“OPEN UP! IT’S ME, CHANGKYUN!”

Sure, he was being more dramatic than his usual self, but it was understandable if one was aware of the fact that he just had gained memories of an entire different life while still maintaining his current ones. Not a lot of people were aware of that, though, and Changkyun wasn’t about to sound insane to his parents when he already looked pretty fucking crazy, knocking aggressively on their hotel room door.

A muffled response came from the inside of the room; steps quickly approached the entrance and Changkyun’s nerves were about to explode.

“Changkyun-ah?”

His mother’s tender voice melted him to the core, and Changkyun broke into tears at just the sight of her.

“Mom…” He didn’t think twice before hugging the woman so tightly it surprised her. “Mom, I’m sorry…”

“Changkyun?” A male voice arose in the back of the room, and he lifted his head to face his father’s stunned gaze. “What are you—”

Two years had passed since Changkyun had seen his parents. His parents were being transferred to teach in Harvard and, after a nasty discussion, he chose not to follow them, which caused the disagreement kept them apart for those years. However, no pride could stand in the way of the feeling of abandonment he felt all those years as an orphan in his previous timeline, and Changkyun had no time to still make excuses to not seek the people who brought them into that world while they were in the city.

“Dad… I’m sorry…” The man rubbed his face with the back of his forearm, letting go of his mother to walk towards his father. “I didn’t mean when I said I didn’t care that you left. I missed you and mom so much. I’ll be a better son from now on, I swear. I’ll go back to college, you’ll be proud of me.”

His father was never a man of showing his emotions clearly, but Changkyun couldn’t be happier when he saw his dad holding his arms open to embrace him.

“Dad…” He continued to weep on his father’s suit while the man patted him on the back. “I’m sorry…”

“It’s okay, baby.” His mother’s hand petted his hair gently. “Did you… curled your hair?”

Of course that would be the first thing his mother would notice. Changkyun snorted, pulling away from his dad.

“I don’t have the best fashion sense.” Changkyun admitted, wiping the remaining tears off of his face. “I’m just a nerd.”

“That’s what moms are for, baby.” His mother kindly smiled and he could feel all his insides rejoicing. “Did you eat? Your dad and I were going out for lunch, but there was a power outage in the city…”

Uh oh…

“What a weird thing, right? Stuff like this happening, how odd...” Pulling his best poker face, Changkyun tried to sound cool about the fact that he was the one who caused that. “I’m not really hungry.” Lies. He was starving, but his parents were more important. “Let’s catch up downstairs until the power comes back on.”

 


 

“For Christ’s sake, can you get this cranky look off of your face?”

Beside him, Wonho slammed the elevator button for tenth time in the spam of a couple of seconds to try to get to his room in the 17th floor, not really in the mood to comply to absolute shit.

“How the hell can you be so freaking calm?” Wonho’s head snapped towards his friend, who stood beside him. “The amount of crap we’ve been through because of that guy is outrageous.”

For all it's worth, Shownu tried to comprehend how Wonho felt, regardless of their divergence when it came to seeing the bigger picture. However, what he didn’t understand was that acutely ingrained dislike for the time traveler that inhabited Wonho’s mind.

“What good will it do to hold grudges?” Shownu tried to explain his point. “He isn’t a bad person, Wonho. Can you imagine what he went through alone all those years, trying to stop those people? Can you imagine the kind of fucked up shit he saw? His entire world is gone.”

“It doesn’t give him the right to toy with us, Shownu. We could have died for real. I was—”

The light thud of the elevator arriving at the ground floor earned their attention, but what came out of it surprised them the most.

“Hyungs?” Changkyun, with a couple behind him, stepped out of the elevator.

“Are they your friends, Changkyun-ah?” The older man in a brown suit beside the younger boy asked.

“Yeah, dad.” The boy nodded, fixing his glasses on his face. “Shownu hyung and Wonho hyung, these are my parents.”

“Your dad is the Dr. Im?” Wonho sounded astonished. “Mathematical physics leading researcher and Harvard professor Dr. Im?”

“Both of us are researchers and professors.” Changkyun’s dad replied, wrapping an arm around his wife’s shoulders. “But my wife doesn’t like the spotlight. Nice to meet you.”

Shownu wanted to chuckle at the starstruck expression on Wonho’s face while his friend bowed and shook hands with the professors, but held it back for Changkyun’s sake.

“It’s my pleasure.” Wonho finally changed the look on his face to a more vivid one. “I’ve read all your papers on Thermodynamic Formalism. I’m a theoretical physics professor, at Seoul National University.”

“Really?” Changkyun’s mother seemed surprised. “You must’ve graduated very young. Your parents must be very proud.”

Wonho went silent for a moment.

“My father died when I was very young, and my mother is the owner of this hotel. Physics is not exactly how she envisioned my future. But I’m sorry for holding you two back, you must want to spend time with Changkyun. It was an honor, professors.”

Shownu’s chest became heavy after hearing that, mainly because he knew very little about that version of his friend. In their previous lifetime, none of them had a very easy life, especially due the difficult time they lived back then; the war on the streets seemed endless, and they lost more acquaintances than they could remember. After their reencounter, Shownu was relieved to see that Wonho was leading a better life, but he could feel there was still issues holding the man back to his full potential of happiness.

Perhaps, someday when he earned that trust they shared back, Shownu would be able to start helping him somehow.

There was so much to do, and fortunately, much time to unpack all of those memories.

 


 

The edifices covered by the thick fog were almost everything Kihyun could see from the small living room’s window, but his thoughts were in a complete different direction. Three days had passed since their last encounter with Hyungwon, and despite having the means to communicate with the time traveler, the silver-haired couldn’t bring himself to do it.

Wonho was sick and tired of that brooding in his living room.

“Yah, Yoo Kihyun.” Kihyun raised his head to face his friend standing behind the opposite couch. “Don’t you have a thesis to finish or you don’t plan to get your Master’s degree anymore?”

“I’m waiting for feedback from my professor.” Kihyun dispirited clarified.

“Is Kihyun hyung thinking about Hyungwon hyung?” Changkyun, whom sat on the floor next to the other couch, questioned.

The six of them finally were able to gather at Wonho’s room, in his family hotel, after trying to get their lives back together, or at least to start getting used to that duality inside of them.

“He’s not a hyung, Changkyun.” Wonho declared.

“Well…” Minhyuk shrugged on the other couch, running his fingers through Changkyun’s hair. “He is older than all of us. He just doesn’t look like it. Do you think he’d share his skincare?”

“He died and came back to life, Minhyukkie.” Shownu laughed at the blond’s question. “That’s his secret. Wanna try?”

“Do you think he’s okay?” Jooheon, sitting beside Kihyun, nudged him. “I think I was too rude to him.”

“Should we go check on him?” Kihyun’s suggestion was well accepted by everyone but his stupid ass friend.

“You really want to almost get killed again, don’t you?” Wonho’s scold had no effect on him anymore, so who cares. “He’s probably gone by now.”

“Nope, he’s not.” Kihyun practically jumped on Jooheon after his statement. “See?”

Jooheon showed Kihyun the CCTV camera inside the subway station, then proceeded to share video on his phone with the other men. Hyungwon’s time machine was still stationary in the same place they last saw it 72 hours before.

“I thought we agreed you wouldn’t do this hacking thing anymore, Jooheon.”

His friend stared at him baffled.

“You wanted to know if he’s there, right? Just a little thing.”

“Fine. But this is the last one, Lee Jooheon. So… should I call him?” His eyes wandering around the room for confirmation.

“Yes! Do it!” Minhyuk gave him full support, and so did everyone… but Wonho.

His friend did nothing but sighing, heading inside his bedroom.

The code Monbebe inserted in Kihyun’s phone was in the form of a very weird mobile app. When the silver-haired clicked on the small green cube, his phone was invaded by infinite binary numbers running athwart the screen for a couple of seconds, then it turned into a deep shade of the same green of the thumbnail.

“Yes? Kihyun?”

They were all taken aback by the sudden rise of Hyungwon’s voice, since there was not even a ring at all. But who knows how highly advanced tech worked. Not Kihyun, not yet.

“Hi. Hey, the others are also here.”

As he put his phone on speaker, a clutter of voices excitedly greeting the time traveler emerged in the room and Kihyun couldn’t not chuckle at that.

“Well, hello. Is there anything wrong?”

“Not really.” Kihyun answered for all of them. “We were just wondering how are you. Have you been eating well?”

“Oh, I forgot to do that. I’ve been doing some repairs in the train and updating Monbebe's software.”

“HOW THE HELL DO YOU FORGET TO EAT?” Minhyuk shouted.

“I don’t know…? I’ll do it later, thank you for the reminder.”

The infamous awkward silence when one does not know what to say in a phone call ensued. Luckily, Shownu got tired of it.

“Can we come over, or are you busy? We’ll bring food. What do you like?”

“Oh. Of course. I like seafood. Just ask Monbebe to open the doors when you get here and she’ll let you in.”

“SEE YOU SOON, HYUNG!” Changkyun shouted, leaning forward towards the phone.

 


 

“By the way…” Minhyuk gave up on trying to fit a manic amount of food inside his mouth and put his chopsticks on top of his bowl. “How old are you, Hyungwon? Like… you look young despite… you know. Do you age?”

“I age, but slowly than you due time dilation and what happened to me. I don’t know my age exactly. I’ve been traveling in this machine for 322 years, so you could say that’s about it.”

Minhyuk hummed in acknowledgment, letting Changkyun steal a bit of his kimchi jjigae. There was a brand new metallic dining table in the middle of Hyungwon’s kitchen, now with eight seats — two of them which were empty due the absence of Wonho. He liked to think that the time traveler had deep down wished for them to show up again for those little details.

Jooheon, whom sat in front of Minhyuk, questioned that statement.

“What do you mean you don’t know your age?” The golden-haired squinted at him, as if he thought Hyungwon was lying. “Don’t you know your birthday?”

“During my time, people didn’t give birth in the natural way anymore.” Hyungwon, sitting at the head of the table, tried to explain in the simplest form. “All human beings were genetically manufactured and raised inside industrial facilities. I wasn’t given the information regarding my day of birth because it wasn’t relevant to us.”

The baffled and despondent looks he saw in the eyes of the six men proved his clarification was of no help.

“What kind of sick fucks do something like this?” Kihyun seemed the most rattled by it. “Jesus…”

“It’s okay, hyung.” Changkyun smile widely at the time traveler. “You have us. We will be your family.”

“I don’t think that’s possible, Changkyun.”

“Why not?” Shownu, right beside Hyungwon, didn’t seem convinced. “Everybody needs a place to come back to, but home isn’t always a place. We all are someone’s older brother, younger brother, or friend.”

“It’s just…” Hyungwon took a deep breath. “There’s so much I don’t know if I’m allowed to experience. Or how to experience. It is still unreal to think that I stopped those people from killing more innocent worlds. All thanks to all of you.”

“By the way…” Pushing his bowl of food sideways, Kihyun put an elbow on the table. “You said they were banned from the multiverse. Then where are they now?”

“It’s a bit complicated to explain to someone that was never there. When you put the watch on me, I was taken to the fourth dimension, or the Time dimension as you may like to coin it. What to you felt like seconds, to me were slow-moving days where Time healed me, allowing me to come back to you. The Eye's world now reside in a specific corner of this same dimension. There is no passage of time or ability to communicate with the other universe, but they are alive.”

“So what happens when you die?” Jooheon asked. “Did you saw a long-bearded dude in white or what?”

Hyungwon snorted hard at the man’s antics. Minhyuk was a bit relieved by that.

“I saw all of you. You brought me back when I thought I wasn’t going to make it. I’ve been wanted to share that I’ve learned about this world’s culture in the past days and apparently, I’ve been speaking very informally to you. I’m sorry if I offended you somehow.”

“Hyungwon, you’re older.” Jooheon laughed at that. “If anything, it’s us who should’ve been politer. By the way, sorry for yelling at you that day, hyung. I was just really stressed.”

“It’s alright, Jooheon. I understand.”

“HYUNGWON!” Minhyuk howled out of nowhere, even scaring himself. He could never control when an impulse got the best of him. “Choose a line! You don’t know your age, so you can choose to be whatever you want from now on. Shownu hyung and Wonho hyung are ‘92 liners. Born in 1992. Kihyunnie and I are ‘93 liners. Jooheon is a ‘95 liner and our maknae, Kkukkung, is a ‘96 liner. You may feel more comfortable talking to us like that.”

It was beyond cute the way Hyungwon scrunched his nose while was diving deep into his thoughts on the matter.

“Can’t I choose 94? It’s a missing line.”

“NO!” Kihyun’s cry even startled Minhyuk. “If we’re same-age friends, we can speak freely!”

“Can I not speak freely with all of you?” Hyungwon looked mortified.

“I don’t mind, Hyungwon.” Shownu calmed the man with a smile. “You may speak as you always did to me. Except you.” Shownu pointed at his younger friends. “It’s hyung to you.”

“Hyungwooooooooooon…” Minhyuk was impatient. “Choose a line! Choose! Choose!”

“Fine.” The time traveler gave in. “I’ll take the ‘93 line since I’m closer with Kihyun and Minhyuk.”

“HIGH-FIVE BITCH!” Minhyuk stretched out his arm to the other side of the table to reach out for Kihyun.

Changkyun brought up a forgotten matter.

“What about day and month? You’re now a ‘93 baby, you need a full date.”

A brilliant idea came into Minhyuk’s mind and he mentally high-fived himself.

“Your code… serial… thing... I don't know, but it's CHW-000115, right? If we follow the Korean date format, 01 means the month of January, and 15 is the day of that month. That’s your birthday, January 15th. BOOM!”

“Gosh, I knew it.” Kihyun leaned even more on the table, nodding in agreement with the statement of his same-age friend. “You’re such a Capricorn.”

Everybody in the table was delighted about Hyungwon’s confused expression.

“Is there anything else I can do for you?” The time traveler changed the topic. “Is there a period in time you’d like to visit?”

“HELL YEAH!” Changkyun perked up, bouncing on his seat. “2015 Big Bang Concert in Seoul. It’s a boy band concert, not the theory about how the universe began.”

Hyungwon blinked a couple of times, letting that info sinking in.

“Okay." The time traveller agreed. "Anyone else?”

Minhyuk was never much of a science fiction fan while growing up, in both of his timelines. Regardless of the topic being widely famous in pop culture, it was never his cup of tea. Romantic comedies and other more realistic genres were his favorites, so he never gave much of a thought to where he’d like to go, in the past or in the future, if he had the chance.

“We should do what Kkukkung wants.” Minhyuk instinctively pat the boy’s hair. “We need some fun.”

“I’m always into seeing Taeyang shirtless.” Shownu declared, making the others laugh.

“I’m okay with that too.” Jooheon affirmed.

“Same.” The last agreement came from Kihyun.

“It is settled then.” The time traveler hummed, eating another spoon of rice. “Shall we go after this meal?”

A turmoil of excitement arose in the room about concert outfits and all Minhyuk could think was how good it felt to not drown in the sorrow of being alone in the world. Everything was going to be okay.

 


 

Jooheon remembered where he was during that time in 2015. April had been the toughest month for him in a long time, mostly due his endless disagreements with his older brother, whom he lived with at that time. The events that led to him leaving his home to pursue his gig as a hacker full time changed him forever, but now with the knowledge of his previous life, Jooheon simply didn’t know if there was a right way for him to act anymore.

It was strange to know that the Jooheon of 2015 would never guess that the Jooheon of 2018 would be at the same time period as him, but screaming “Fantastic Baby” at the top of his lungs, just a few meters away from the closest place to the stage.

Trying to comprehend the tsunami of events that had hit his life didn’t allow him to sleep the night before; Jooheon tossed around in bed until his defeat was announced by the rise of the sun invading his room. Now, all those worries seemed pointless.

Everything happened so fast that he didn’t have the time to actually process that, now, he was kind of two different people at the same time, and he’d be lying if it didn’t make things awkward with Changkyun, but the boy had been too busy making up for the lost time with his parents, so they didn’t have the right moment to have a proper conversation about what was different about them as individuals. Jooheon felt they were walking on eggshells around each other and he really disliked it, but it was inevitable.

He was glad he wasn’t alone in this massive changing of lifestyle, though. There was comfort in knowing that five other people knew how he felt, and he tried to clung to it until it felt safe to be on his own again.

The sun made its way out in the horizon as they made strolled out of the Olympic Gymnastics Arena, and the sky now was completely engulfed by a dark tone of grey.

“That was interesting.” Jooheon snorted at Hyungwon’s baffled comment about Big Bang's concert as they distanced themselves from the huge crowd leaving the show.

Changkyun, a loser, didn’t stop crying since the moment he saw G-Dragon enter the stage. He was still at it.

“I can die in peace now.” The youngest boy whimpered, with the Big Bang light stick glued to his chest as if it was his own newborn child. “THANK YOU, HYUNGWON HYUNG!”

Jooheon turned around to see Changkyun holding onto Hyungwon as hard as he could, getting a laugh out of Kihyun and Shownu who walked behind the time traveler. Not knowing how to react, Hyungwon just pat the boy on his shoulder a couple of times.

“You’re welcome, Changkyun.”

“I’m starving.” Jooheon declared, and everyone agreed. That made Changkyun finally let go of the poor time traveler. “I’m craving meat.”

“Should we go back?” Kihyun took a step forward to stand beside him, looking up at the man. The latter showed no reaction. “Hyungwon?”

Hyungwon scrambled the inside of his coat for something when a low grunt escaped his mouth, making him bring his hands to his chest, undoubtedly in pain.

“Hyungwon?” Shownu, tromping from behind the traveler, wrapped a hand on the latter’s forearm. “Talk to us.”

A sharp intake of breath broke through any response Hyungwon could offer, obliging him to bend down to take in the agony.

In the middle of everybody’s worries, the traveler found strength to grab Jooheon, the first in front of him, by the arm and mumble a message with massive struggle.

“Go back. Now.”

His body began to glitch like a malfunctioning TV channel, making those his last words before Hyungwon dematerialized right in front of everybody's eyes.

 


 

A small part of him considered it improbable, but Hyungwon was living proof that whatever anomaly that was possible to happen, could happen if the circumstances were serious enough for the multiverse to have to meddle in. It didn’t felt like it was the case, though; the shiver the went down his spine engrossed the feeling of trying to run away as soon as possible, in any way obtainable.

Hyungwon found himself back to the rooftop he had previously been when he died, but there was no doubt he was still alive, so that was already pretty fishy. The unclouded skies above his head, despite being in its most beautiful tone of blue, gave him an ominous feeling of being watched.

The hardest part was admitting that he knew why.

He had been called.

However, only a few people had the power to do such thing, so it narrowed the options down.

The Eye was gone, and Time itself wouldn’t use such intrusive methods. In his journey through the multiverse, Hyungwon met a few extremely capable time travelers, but if it were one of them, why was he standing alone on top of a building? Where were they, whom possibly seek for help?

The missing mist emerged from the immeasurable vastness down the exterior of the skyscraper, producing an enormous wave of thick fog that arose and submerged even the ground underneath Hyungwon’s feet. His surroundings turned into a gaseous cage.

He wasn’t lost, though. That place was a neutral location where death, life and Time had the same weight; there, decisions were made in order to keep the balance of spacetime and, hence, the fabric of reality.

Hyungwon reached out for his pocket watch, inside his trench coat, and saw the unexpected. Out of instinct, he held his breath.

5:14:10.

This is impossible.

A divergence in the cloud-dominated space made it easy to catch Hyungwon’s attention, and succeeded in its task. Pairing in the sky, in giant black letters, the time traveler could clearly read a straightforward message aimed at him.

COME HOME

 

It could’ve been an entire day for all he knew, because Hyungwon’s emotional state wouldn’t allow him to tell the distinguish real from fake. His body crashed hard against the metallic floor of his train in another bad landing, stealing the last bit of stable breath that survived his turbulent teleportation; the desperateness for control and desire to run away to the end of the multiverse was more attractive than an appropriate arrival.

This isn’t happening. No, no.

What kind of sick joke someone was trying to pull on him? And most important, why? Who would remember a civilization shattered so long ago?

Hyungwon felt himself being pulled up by too many hands for him to keep track of, or to even begin to care.

“Fuck, where the hell did you go?” Kihyun’s voice sounded distant amidst the buzzing taking over his ears.

As Hyungwon raised his head, he could observe Kihyun, Shownu and Minhyuk helping him to sit down on one of the benches, but he still didn’t know what to say.

What was there to say when he wasn’t sure of anything?

There was no blessing in that ignorance, only dread. Hyungwon wasn’t used to it. To not know scared the living crap out of him.

“Are you okay?” Kihyun leaned over him a bit to stay at the same eye level, possibly checking his face for bruises. “Are you hurt?” His silence scared the man more than anything, Hyungwon could tell. “Hyungwon?”

“I’m fine.” His voice came out much hoarse than he expected.

“You disappeared in the middle of the street.” Jooheon pointed out, frowning. “That was an hour ago. Now you materialized in air and fell on the floor. You’re not fine, dude.”

If he was alone in that train, Hyungwon would’ve been letting out his frustration by screaming until his voice was long gone, but the time traveler was responsible for those men’s safety, especially after all he made them go through. In the end, there was simply no time for sorrow.

Craning his neck up, Hyungwon took a good look on each one of their faces.

It’d be the last time.

 


 

Shownu wasn’t counting, but it didn’t take more than 15 minutes for them to go back to their time since Hyungwon locked himself up in the control room. As the time machine made its stop, the A.I.’s voice broke the silence that no one in the main wagon dared to.

“We arrived in the year of 2018, at 4:15 p.m., local Korean time.”

Nobody moved or spoke until they heard the sound of Hyungwon unlocking his door to meet them again.

It hurt Shownu’s heart to see him so desolated.

“You’re home.” The dullness in his deep voice made the atmosphere even sadder. “Once again, thank you for everything. But it’s for the best that we don’t see each other again.”

“Why?” Minhyuk jumped off his seat to sprint in Hyungwon’s direction. “What happened? Hyungwon, tell us!”

“You don’t have to worry about it.” Hyungwon didn't even look like he convinced himself of that. “Go home. I need to leave for you to be safe.”

“Bullshit.” Kihyun tried to approach him, but that only made the traveler take a step backward. “You were happy earlier, I know. Now you look like shit. Why is it so hard to accept help?”

“BECAUSE I NEVER HAD IT! MY ENTIRE LIFE I FOUGHT ALONE TO KEEP EVERYONE ALIVE! NO ONE—”

The man covered his face with both hands to choke back a sob, inhaling sharply multiple times.

“Forgive me. I didn’t mean to yell at you. Please, do as I say. The faster I leave—”

God, Shownu wanted to slap some sense into that kid.

“And running away will do any good?” Shownu said. “You’re letting the fear get the best of you. Whatever it is, you can handle. We can handle.”

“I…” With a heavy sigh, Hyungwon shook his head in disagreement. “Everything I did was for nothing. My people… They called for me. They’re alive. And they know I am too.”

No one knew how to reply to that, the room became noiseless. Kihyun and Minhyuk moved closer to comfort the time traveler.

“We are family now, Hyungwon.” Minhyuk pushed locks of Hyungwon’s burgundy hair behind his ear. “You’re not alone anymore. Together, no one can bring us down. We will deal with those pricks. They will not hurt you.”

“Yeah.” Changkyun sat down in the nearest bench. “So what? Are they gonna try control the multiverse again?”

Hyungwon made a sudden move to take a seat next to the maknae, and Minhyuk and Kihyun followed him.

“I don’t know, to be honest.” Hyungwon sighed again, rubbing his face with his hands. “They already made very clear they’re coming for me, and I don’t know how they survived or what do I have to do to defend myself and the other worlds. I don’t have a plan, and this scares me. I think I need to visit Time to try to make sense of it, ask around in a few universes. I don’t think they can move freely, though. Their message was delivered through the liminal space. It’s an intermediary plane, like a tunnel that crosses every single universe.”

“Before they come for you, we’ll come for them.” Minhyuk affirmed, earning a frown from the time traveler. “You do your research, and we’ll be ready to help you when time comes. They had their asses kicked once, we can do it again.”

Hyungwon nodded, reaching out to grab Minhyuk’s hand.

“For now, I’m going to put this universe in a lockdown. While I’m gone, no one will be able to leave or get in. No one will hurt you. I do believe it was because of you that I managed to win over The Eye. I’ll come back, I promise.”

 


 

1 MONTH LATER

Wednesdays were the worst.

If anything in Kihyun’s life had the remote possibility of going wrong, it was almost sure it’d happen in this very cursed weekday.

At that point, he just wanted to sit on the floor and cry.

His independent research took the entire year and most of his social life — which he would’ve finished sooner if Wonho decided to not be a prick and solve Hyungwon’s equation with him — and now, the flash drive that contained his entire work was nowhere to be found.

Kihyun tried not to make much noise while searching like crazy through his apartment for the damned thing to not disturb his roommate, even though he was pretty sure Sewoon wouldn’t have minded. In fact, the boy would abandon his treasured grad student sleep to help him if he knew about it, but Kihyun wasn’t a monster.

He was close to truly collapse on the floor out of rage and frustration when he heard gentle knocks on his front door.

Whoever it was, Kihyun wasn’t in the mood to be judged for his clumsiness, so he decided to get rid fast of the visit.

“Hello, Kihyun.”

Being the dumbass he is, Kihyun had to cover his mouth to contain a squeal, because he definitely did not expect to see Hyungwon again that morning, after a whole month since he went away to gather information from corner to corner of the multiverse, or whatever that even meant.

“Oh my God.” He was still staring at the taller man with wide eyes, not noticing he should’ve reacted faster. “You came back.”

After everything that happened and the time traveler informed he’d be away — alone — to think about what he should do about his brand new menace, Hyungwon assured him, with a genuine smile, that he’d be back, but with each passing day, his paranoia just yelled in his head that he’d never see the man again.

“Of course. I try to keep my promises.” Clothed in a coal black chesterfield coat, Hyungwon had a distinct olive scarf drowned in floral patterns around his neck. And his hair was fucking bubblegum pink. “May I come in?”

His grip on the handle stung his hand a bit when Kihyun pulled too fast.

“Yeah, yeah, of course, sorry. I’m… I have to hand in my thesis for my Masters today and I can’t find my flash drive. Sorry the place is a mess.”

It looked like someone had invaded his home and messed up the entire apartment; the damages were bigger in his living room, where he tried his luck countless times before giving up on that spot.

Hyungwon took a good look around then calmly made a request.

“May I help you?”

“Uhh…” Hyungwon was quite capable, but Kihyun didn’t want to waste his time. “I’ve already searched everywhere. It was in my hand last night… Don’t worry, I’ll see if—”

The time traveler took a huge step towards him — mainly because he had huge ass legs and God, he looked good under the sunlight — and stretched out his hand to Kihyun.

“I can go through your memories if you want.” The way Hyungwon spoke these words were so casual that it was kind of silly. “Just from yesterday. You have my word.”

“Gosh…” Kihyun chuckled out of nervousness. “I forgot how weird it is to be around you. I can’t afford to refuse it now. And I trust you.”

Those were the moments in which Kihyun rose his expectations until the maximum, as much as his imagination allowed him to travel to. It was always a new adventure and yet of such a common feeling, but as he closed his eyes and held Hyungwon’s hand, the only thing he saw was the darkness of the back of his eyelids for brief seconds.

Hyungwon pulled away gently, strolling towards somewhere in his apartment.

His shorter legs took a bit longer to get where the man stood — his fucking giant friends with no compassion — ambling calmly in his kitchen. A moment later, Hyungwon confidently opened the middle cabinet beside the stove.

And there he was, the motherfucking flash drive, the most precious object in his life.

“You received a call from your professor while you were trying to cook something.” Hyungwon explained, walking towards Kihyun to hand it to him. The feeling of having that little fucker in his hands again was beyond words. “Out of distraction, you placed there while gathered some seasonings.”

Kihyun looked up at the man again, now without the weight of certain failure on his back.

“You’re always saving my life, one way or another. By the way… What’s the occasion?” The shorter man gestured towards his hair. “You look well.”

“I saw one of your doubles in one universe and he had pink hair. I thought it was pretty.”

Only God knows how hard it was for Kihyun to hold back the question whether or not his doppelganger looked hot.

“It suits you well.” He preferred to say.

“Go take a shower.” Hyungwon requested, crossing his arms. “I’ll fix your mess. It’s a big day.”

Since Hyungwon was indeed a life saver as he always was, Kihyun didn’t have the heart to argue with the man. With a nod, he clasped the flash drive against his chest, sighing with relief.

 


 

Wonho’s day began with a heavy rain pouring outside his hotel window, and it followed him all the way to the university, even though he didn’t have any classes to teach that day. It was Kihyun’s most expected day, where he’d see his hard work being worthy of all the nights he spent awake.

Part of him warned he should’ve spent the night with his friend, just in case the headass needed some academic help or just someone to knock him out to have a normal night of sleep, but Wonho also felt it he should leave the man alone to enjoy the beginning of that accomplishment, the very first moment he looked at the paper in his hands and think “it’s done”. It’s a deep, very personal joy.

Now, at almost noon, the sun decided to make an appearance and it appears that it was its very only task of the day to make Wonho regret leaving his room with the thickest coat he found on his wardrobe.

Would he give in and take it off, so he wouldn’t feel like he was being roasted? Absolutely not. Out of spite, and for the aesthetic.

As far away from the sunlight as possible, Wonho decided to sit on one of the benches in front of Kihyun’s department moments before he spotted his friend coming in its direction. Accompanied.

By Hyungwon.

Oh, no.

Wonho was caught off guard for the second time that day when he noticed the unusual in the time traveler’s appearance. His goddamn pink hair.

Oh, fuck.

Wonho wouldn’t deny the man looked quite nice in that hair color, especially when he ran a hand through his hair and pushed it back, smiling about something in his conversation with Kihyun.

When he heard the news that Hyungwon left, Wonho wished their lives could come back to the way it was, but Kihyun was right about something. It was an impossible task; they lived two different lives that now could be accessed in their memories, and to deal with that was a process that would take time. A long time.

He met with Shownu a lot during that month to try to pick up where they had left; talk after talk and Wonho acknowledged the bitter truth that his friend was, fundamentally, a person that he barely knew, despite all the time they spent together in their original universe. And so was Wonho.

The duality inside him was based on wanting to never have had those memories back and desiring to find a balance between his timelines inside that one mind of his. Wonho didn’t want to lose any more people that were important to him.

In the core of that contrast, there was the wish of never having met Hyungwon in first place. The man was a goddamn hurricane that swirled through his life and made him doubt everything he knew, or wanted to believe to be right.

But truth is that Wonho had never met someone so evidently smarter than him, and was a bit intimidated by it. Mainly because the time traveler made things seem so easy with his time powers — not really a very scientific term, but fuck it — which Wonho determined it was an unfair advantage and he shouldn’t be comparing himself to the guy, but the feeling of wanting to know more than Hyungwon was stronger than him.

“HEY!”

Kihyun’s shout cut through his musings; his friend stood just a few meters away, in the stone stairway of the entrance.

The end of the first semester brought almost no one near the academic buildings.

“Sorry for keeping you here for so long.” Kihyun, wearing jeans and a green tee under a blazer, sounded really repentant. “My morning was a mess, but Hyungwon helped me.”

“It’s fine.”

Without directing eye contact with both men, Wonho nodded and made his way upstairs.

Kihyun quickly trailed behind him with the time traveler, certainly feeling his discomfort around the pink-haired man.

“Are we still going out tonight to celebrate Shownu hyung’s birthday?” His friend’s voice was a higher than it needed to be, but that was Kihyun’s intention.

“Apparently.” Still with his back turned to both men, Wonho made a pause once he reached the first hallway. Then shifted his gaze towards Hyungwon, looking as fed up as he indeed was. “Are you coming too?”

The man seemed taken aback by his question. Kihyun, on other hand, was shooting lasers at Wonho with his eyes.

“No.” Hyungwon replied, categorically.

Wonho’s response escaped of his mouth before he could hold it back.

“Good.”

Wonho.” His friend’s voice struggled to come out with his clenched jaw.

“It’s alright, Kihyun.” The taller man smiled at Kihyun, placing a hand on the latter’s shoulder. It was almost as if he was apologizing in Wonho’s behalf. As if. “I’m a bit tired from the trip. Tell the others I’ll be at the same place. You’re always welcome.”

“Fine. Rest well. And eat something. I bet your kitchen it’s still mess. Have a proper meal.”

While Wonho rolled his eyes at that classic nagging, Hyungwon let out a chuckle.

After a nod of agreement, Wonho watched the time traveler making his way down the stairway when he felt a strong slap hit his arm.

“Are you a fucking child? You could at least try to be polite with him. Sometimes it’s hard to believe you’re older than me.”

“I was absolutely fucking polite.” Wonho didn’t defend himself very well, but he wasn’t interested in doing it anyway. “I asked a question, he answered, I answered him too. Isn’t that civil?” The glare he received was clearly a negative response. “Just because you’re his fanboy doesn’t mean everybody has to be too.”

Pulling the folder he carried close to his chest, his younger friend scoffed at him before tromping towards his professor’s office.

 

Shownu’s birthday celebration could’ve gone smoother if Kihyun hadn’t texted the other boys about Hyungwon’s return and they hadn’t whined most of the night about how they wanted to see the time traveler again, but were stopped by the birthday man himself that argued that Hyungwon must've been resting, therefore they shouldn’t bother him at least for that night. 

There was no way how Wonho could comprehend his friends’ veneration for that man, but he was already tired of being the buzzkill that ruined their fanboying over Hyungwon, so he chose to stay quiet during those moments and drink more to forget that entire bullshit.

Simpler times were when Kihyun was the only person that managed to put up with him.

Don’t get him wrong. Wonho was already rather fond of the other boys whose lives had been entangled with his; it didn’t feel awkward to be around them, which was already something incredible. As he got to hang out more with them, Wonho was getting used to have them included in his plans with Kihyun or Shownu.

“Shit, close this fucking curtain.” Kihyun groaned from the couch he shared with Jooheon in Wonho’s living room. “Fucking sun.”

“Go answer you damn phone. It has been ringing all morning.”

“Where is it?” His friend, still with some difficulty in opening his eyes, fumbled the floor for the device.

“In my bathroom. You left there when you and Jooheon got here last night.”

“Who is it?”

“I don’t know.” Wonho shrugged, ready to ask for some room service since he woke up starving. “It’s just a green screen.”

For someone undeniably hangover as hell, Kihyun bolted pretty fucking fast towards Wonho’s bathroom; he even managed to woke up Jooheon, poor boy.

“The hell?” Not bothering to open his eyes, Jooheon just frowned.

“What do you want to eat?” Wonho asked the boy, already with the room’s landline in hand.

“LET’S GO!” Kihyun’s shout coming from the inside of his room scared them both. “Hyungwon has some info to share. Maybe he’ll finally take us with him.”

Wonho didn’t expect for Jooheon to also seem pretty thrilled about that too.

“Hyung, find my shoes and phone for me!” Jooheon passed by Kihyun in the bathroom’s direction.

“I’m calling the others!” He turned his head in Jooheon’s direction, then shifted to gaze at Wonho. “Are you coming?”

“No.” He sounded as categorical was possible. “Ki, please. Don’t go. It’s dangerous. You know that.”

“I’m not having this conversation with you again, hyung.” His friend crouched down to tie his shoes and fetch Jooheon’s. “I don’t know what you have against him, but he’s a good person. He’s our friend, and he needs our help. Give him a chance, will you? For me.”

With a rueful sigh, Wonho recognized that his days of peace were over.

 


 

“Kyun, slow down!”

Minhyuk’s request did nothing to keep Changkyun from briskly running down the stairs of the subway station, leaving the older men behind.

“COME ON!” From the bottom of the staircase, he eagerly waved at his hyungs.

“I’m old.” Minhyuk, resting his arm on Shownu’s shoulder, panted badly. “Respect my seniority.”

“If you jogged with me when I asked, you wouldn’t be like this.” Shownu nudged his friend, which made Changkyun laugh.

“If you ever see me running, you better run too.” The blond man informed. “Because there will be definitely something chasing me.”

“Come on!” The maknae secured a hold on both of his hyungs’ wrists, pulling them forward with him.

As they arrived in front of the train’s first door, they called for the A.I.’s attention.

“Yo, Monbebe!” Changkyun tried to keep it cool, but he was bound to fail. “It’s us, open up!”

“I'm sorry, Changkyun. I'm afraid I can't do that."

The blood in maknae's veins froze so badly he could’ve passed out if the A.I. didn’t voice a second sentence.

“I’m kidding. Hyungwon is in the driver’s compartment with the others.”

“I don’t get it…?” Minhyuk didn’t seem affected at all. God bless him.

After making a run towards the control room as soon as the doors opened for them, Changkyun rapidly spotted Hyungwon standing next to one of the panels in the room and basically jumped on the man.

“HYUNG…” His voice sounded as whiner as he intended as he hugged the time traveler. “Monbebe just made a 2001: A Space Odyssey joke and scared me. Tell her she’s a bad A.I.”

Hyungwon laughed at his discontentment, of course, but raised his head to direct his voice to his A.I.

“Monbebe, stop startling them with quotes from movies about evil machines. They probably already think you’re going to try to kill me one day.”

“The fault is all yours for creating me with a sense of humor.”

Pulling away from the youngest man, Hyungwon laughed again at Monbebe and led them back to the main passenger car.

Now that his commotion passed, Changkyun noticed that all his hyungs were present in that time machine, including Wonho himself, which was a true surprise for him.

“So, what’s the news?” Kihyun, who walked in front of them, inquired first.

The time traveler leisurely turned around, so he was facing everyone in the room. It was the first moment Hyungwon seemed slightly lost to Changkyun.

“I didn’t found much information about my world in the most cutting-edge universes.” The man buried his hands in the pocket of his brown trousers, same color of his blazer. “Which might mean they’re moving only next to newly formed domains, and for now corroborates my theory that they’re not strong enough to move freely through the multiverse yet.”

“That means they’re weak?” Minhyuk questioned, taking a seat next to Shownu in one of the benches.

“Probably. They would’ve made a bolder move if what I know about them is right. I went to visit the Time dimension and reflected a lot, about… everything. It’s a complicated notion, to have companions. Prolonged solitude made me forget a lot about what it means to be human. It might sound selfish, but I never felt more normal than when you, all of you, were around. I wasn’t taught the concept of friendship while I was growing up, or any emotional-related subject. After the accident, it took me a lot of time to break out of my conditioning, so forgive me if I lack a lot. It has been a long time since someone cared about me.”

Hyungwon’s pause wasn’t calculated, flowing naturally through the atmosphere of that interaction.

“What I mean by this is that you’re welcome here, whenever you want. I can teach you what I know, so you can defend yourselves if the time for that comes and I can learn from you too. I do believe… I believe there is a great valiancy in being together. I believe you make me a better person, and I wish to believe that I could be a good influence. Don’t feel obligated to anything. I… I’ve met many versions of the six of you, but you were the ones that saw me as a person, rather than a monster or an asset. You've put your trust on me. You can’t replace friends. Yes. That’s what I’d like to call you.”

People like Hyungwon, in Changkyun’s book, belonged to a utopia. No one could possibly be so selfless and friendly after everything he went through. It was human nature to be scarred by traumatic events that shaped you as a person, so… what was about that man that conveyed so much kindness? So much perseverance? Changkyun didn’t have an answer to it, but he was glad that someone like him was out there in the world.

“I told you, dumbass.” Kihyun was the first to break the silence. “The seven of us are meant to be.”

“True.” Changkyun smiled at the man, shifting closer to the time traveler again and wrapping an arm around one of Hyungwon’s. “We can make this the best universe out of all the universes. Because we have each other’s back.”

“I’ve made another decision I’d like to share.” The youngest felt Hyungwon’s body stiffening, and began to draw circles on the man’s forearm with his thumb. “I’m going to use the Multiverse Frequency for first time in a very long time. It’s a way the Council created for the multiverse-aware worlds to communicate with each other, but they hadn’t been supporters of my actions throughout the years. I’d like to send a warning about my universe’s return, so they can protect themselves if the necessity for it arises.”

“And what are you going to do when you find your people?” Wonho, arms crossed over his chest, spoke for the first time.

“Save those who want to be saved.” Hyungwon affirmed without hesitation. “Put an end to those whom wish to harm others.”

“Can we show up on it?” Kihyun raised his hand. “In the message. Is it a video?”

“Yes.” The traveler nodded. “Move closer to me.”

All the other five men walked towards Hyungwon, standing behind him.

“Monbebe. Connect with the Multiverse Frequency.”

Projecting directly from the hourglass that stood in the wall that divided the main wagon and the driver’s compartment, a rectangular hologram appeared in front of them, a bit above their heads, as if it came from an CCTV. Changkyun could see their faces being recorded on the thin red laser light.

Hyungwon’s expression shifted to a very solemn one.

“My name is Hyungwon, or CHW-000115 as many of you know me. I’m native of a genocidal world well-known in the more advanced universes and until recently, I thought of myself as its only remnant. But that is not true. Somehow, they survived and made it clear that they are coming back, wherever they are right now. They are a dangerous civilization. Do not hesitate in protect yourselves if you ever come in contact with them, or to reach out for help. From now on, my frequency will be open for anyone whom wishes to be aided. If this messages manages to reach my world of origin, think about this as a warning. Do not consider me a helper of any plan of slaughter, as you’ve been used to practice in the past. I sincerely hope you have changed after all those years, and the almost extinction. Anyone that tries to touch this universe, or any of the Constants, will perish. This is a promise. I seek no war, but I won’t waver if any danger is presented to my friends. The peace in the multiverse must be everybody’s prime concern, as it is mine. May we thrive as humans and lead our worlds to an age of eternal prosperity.”

The channel was cut and Changkyun was kind of afraid of even move a centimeter; the tone of Hyungwon’s speech sounded so serious that it hit the maknae for the first time that what they were going to deal from now on was some serious shit.

“Is it done?” Shownu asked, stepping beside Hyungwon.

Monbebe answered this question for the time traveler.

“Message sent.”

“Well, that was intense.” Minhyuk snorted. “Should we go out to eat? I’m still hangover, you know.”

“Bitch, me too.” Kihyun agreed. “I got so excited with Hyungwon’s call that I even forgot about it.”

“We should.” It was good to see Hyungwon smile. “You can pick a place.”

Well, that wasn’t the best move to make since it created an apparently never-ending discussion about what type of food they wanted to eat at 9 in the goddamn morning, as if any breakfast food wasn’t the answer for their hungover asses.

Changkyun chose to let the older men bickering behind and followed Hyungwon to the door of the main wagon, where they waited for the others to make a decision.

“We’re gonna be okay, right hyung?” The sudden question escaped Changkyun’s mouth before he could realize, but that's what he felt.

“Of course.” The time traveler displayed a lovely smile. “I’ll protect you until the end.”

It wasn’t the best reassurance to step out in to the platform of the subway station and found it sieged by the military, armed to the teeth while pointing rifles at them, as if they were some sort of powerful terrorist organization and not a bunch of hungry millennials.

Wonho, who appeared right behind Changkyun, was the first to voice his feelings.

“Oh, you’ve got to be kidding me.”

Hyungwon slowly started to raise his arms above his head to show he was inoffensive. The man apologetically looked down at the maknae.

“This is going to be a long day, kid.”