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Within The Endless Maze, I Miss You, I Miss You

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DATE: April 23rd, 2047

 

At age 21, Wonho time travelled for the first time. He didn’t have a particular time or place in mind and all he’d wanted to do was to get away from his life in 2047. It wasn't like his life was miserable or that he was doing poorly or struggling in any way. In fact, his life was just extremely average. His parents had planned out everything from what school he would attend, to what clothes he would wear, and where he would go to university. Since he was almost done with his studies, his parents expected him to join them in their automobile repairing business. Everything was fine and dandy but Wonho always felt like something was amiss. He felt like there was more to life than just falling into this boring routine. He hadn't done anything risky, felt like he hadn't lived at all.

 

That is why, on one fine crisp winter morning, when he entered the gym and found what was undoubtedly a time watch, he pocketed it without hesitation. After hurrying through his gym routine, he sprinted back to his apartment and locked himself in his bedroom.

 

He gingerly took out the watch and examined it. 

 

"CHW," he muttered as he examined the initials carved onto the back of the watch. He instantly recognized the name. CHW was the infamous time traveller who had figured out how to make time warp possible in the first place. He had meddled with the timeline one too many times until The Agency started hunting him down but every single time, he had managed to slip through their grasp. 

 

"Why would he leave his watch lying around so carelessly?" muttered Wonho. 

 

But he didn't leave it there because he forgot about it. He meant for someone to find it. He meant for me to find it. 

 

A small voice in the back of Wonho's mind warned him to report the watch to the authorities but he hesitated. It would be extremely unwise to use this watch as time warp was highly illegal and anyone found doing unauthorised time travel could even be charged with the death penalty but Wonho refused to listen to the voice of reason and kept the watch tucked in one small corner of his cupboard, telling himself that he would never use it but just wanted to keep it on him in case something happened. 

 

And two months later, something did happen when he was at an infuriating family dinner where everyone just came to brag about their awesome, well-paying job or where they were going for a vacation and his father would constantly compare him to his overachieving cousin who was the star of the family and was doing so well in college. After sitting through two hours of his father calling him mediocre in comparison to his cousin, Wonho trudged back to his college dorms with tears stinging his eyes and something just broke inside of him.

 

"Why the hell is such a small incident affecting me so much?! It isn't like I haven't been used to this for the past two decades of my life!" he screamed, the words coming out a little choked. Like a possessed man, he went to his cupboard as soon as he entered the dorm  and pulled out the watch. He was feeling reckless and his heart was thumping loudly in his chest. He spun the dials of the watch, unable to see clearly as his tears were now flowing freely down his face, and pressed the button. 

 

And for a moment, he felt at peace. 

 

Then it felt like the whole world was spinning all of a sudden and he felt hot and cold all at once. He could feel himself being pulled apart and put together again and his head felt like it was going to split. It felt like he was receiving tiny pinpricks all over his body and the nausea was even worse and oh god, nobody had told him that time warp would feel so horrible. 

 

He felt himself black out for a second and when he came to, he was standing in the middle of a busy street with the sun shining in his eyes. Dizzy and confounded, he stepped onto the sidewalk and leaned against the nearest building.

 

It worked. It worked!

 

He had successfully time travelled but he didn't know where he was. He'd spun the dials on the watch in a haze and not paid attention to the year he was going to. He looked down at the watch on his wrist and saw the date. 

 

2000.

 

He had travelled back 47 years. Gulping down the lump in his throat, he wondered what he was supposed to do now in this unfamiliar time that he’d warped to on a whim.

 

"Are you alright?" asked a soft voice but it still made Wonho jump. He hadn't expected anyone to attempt talking to him. The voice in question belonged to a man who was wearing dark blue robes and looked about the same age as him. His hair was stuck to his forehead due to the sheen of sweat covering his tan skin. 

 

Wonho just nodded in return, not trusting his voice right now as he was still feeling nauseous. "You look pale. You should come inside. Let me give you some water," said the man, gently touching Wonho's elbow and gesturing at the building behind him. Wonho hesitated for a second. He really shouldn't be doing this - shouldn't be following a stranger into a building - much less a stranger from 47 fucking years ago. Hadn't he studied something about this in school? There were many lessons in school about how one shouldn't meddle with time or interact with people from the past as it could change the entire course of history. Something about the butterfly effect?

 

Wonho was about to refuse the kind man's offer when he spotted movement out of the corner of his eye. A man in a black suit and sunglasses was walking right towards him and he felt his heart stop. 

 

It couldn't be! Shit, have the people in The Agency found me already?!

 

Grabbing the tan-skinned man's bicep, he looked at him with wild eyes and said, "Yes. Yes, I'd like some water- yes. Please." If the man appeared freaked out by Wonho's sudden desperation, he didn't show it, nor did he shrug off the hand around his bicep as he led him inside the building.

 

Upon entering the building, Wonho realized that it was a Kumdo studio. Suddenly the blue robes and the sweat made sense. 

 

Ah, he was practicing. 

 

Wonho had also learned Kumdo for a while when he was in high school but his father made him quit it to make time for cram school. Once he started college, the dojang had been too far from his dorms for him to continue regular practice so he had dropped it completely. 

 

"Here. Drink," said the man in the blue robes, handing him a glass of water. Feeling relieved at having lost the man in the black suit following him, Wonho accepted it with a small smile and realized that he was quite parched. 

 

"I'm Shownu by the way. My family owns this Dojang."

 

"I'm Wonho."

 

Shownu tilts his head, looking quizzically at him, the corners of his eyes crinkling with a half-smile on his lips. "I know most people in this neighbourhood but I haven't seen you around here before. Do you live here? "

 

"I'm not- I- " Wonho stumbled over his words, panicking all of a sudden because he wasn't good at lying, and then said, "I'm not from around here." That wasn't technically a lie. 

 

"Okay," said Shownu with an easy smile, not pushing him further or asking him any more questions about where he was from or why he was standing on the sidewalk earlier, looking as if he'd seen a ghost. 

 

Shownu looks really handsome when he smiles. 

 

Before he could process that thought, he noticed that the man in the black suit was entering the building and walking right at him. He let out an undignified squeak which caused Shownu to turn and look at the source of Wonho's fear. The taller man raised an eyebrow and looked over his shoulder at Wonho who was trying to hide behind him. Wonho had heard of too many people simply disappearing without a trace after they'd been caught doing illegal time travel. Wonho didn't know if that was true but he didn't want to risk unleashing the wrath of The Agency and suffer the consequences. He didn't really mean to time travel. He didn't mean to do something illegal. He was just scared and angry and had used the watch in the spur of the moment but he wouldn't do it again. 

 

Please, please, please don't let them take me away.

 

He shut his eyes tightly and clutched the fabric on the back of Shownu's robes, trying to make himself smaller and-

 

"Hey, it's okay. That guy is just here to sign up his daughter for the Kumdo classes," said Shownu softly, glancing down over his shoulder. Wonho opened his eyes with a gasp and looked towards the man in the black suit who was indeed talking to the receptionist and filling out what looked like a membership form. Now that Wonho paid closer attention to the man, he didn't exactly look unnatural like the people working at the agency did, His black hair was a little messy, he had taken off his sunglasses and his suit has slight creases on them. He didn't look perfect - he looked human. Now Wonho was embarrassed about letting his nerves get the better of him and acting crazy in front of a person he just met.

 

"...Are you okay? If there's someone following you or trying to trouble you, maybe we should call the authorities?" suggested Shownu, not even slightly perturbed by Wonho's odd behaviour. If anything, he looked genuinely concerned about Wonho's well-being. It made an ache rise in Wonho's chest. The people he knew didn't look at him with concern; they only looked on with disdain.

 

"No. No cops," replied Wonho, shaking his head. Shownu seemed to hesitate for a second before his face became blank and unreadable again. Thankfully, he switched gears and started talking about something completely different.

 

"Have you ever tried out Kumdo before?"

 

Wonho nodded. "Would you like to spar, then?" asked Shownu, motioning towards the swords which lay on the side and Wonho thought why the heck not since he'd travelled all the way back to 2000 and he might as well do something fun if this was going to be the first and last time he time travelled. 

 

By the time the match was over and Wonho lay panting on the polished wooden floor next to Shownu, he knew he was fucked. There was no way in hell he was going to be able to stop himself from coming back again.

 

...

DATE: August 5th, 2047 (and 2000)

 

Wonho couldn't get Shownu's face out of his mind. Even now as he sat in his class and watched the professor talk about something, he couldn't stop his mind from wandering. Ever since that one time he used the watch in his frustration, he hadn’t been able to stop going back. There was just something magnetic about Shownu; the way he always greeted Wonho with a kind smile, helped him through kumdo practice and no matter how many times Wonho repeated the same mistake, he would just simply smile and show him the move again. 

 

And Wonho knew that Shownu was just treating him normally like one should treat another with common human decency but after years of being belittled by his family and just existing quietly through school and college without having friends, it was refreshing to see someone who genuinely looked forward to seeing him.

 

That is why it hurt, even more, to keep secrets from Shownu. To always enter through the front door and pretend like he was just coming in normally like he was someone who lived in 2000 as well and wasn't a criminal doing illegal time travel because he was too lonely in his own timeline. 

 

After getting home from class, Wonho decided that today was the day he had to tell Shownu. He had been going back in time every day for the last three months and it was a surprise that The Agency had still not caught a whiff of his activities. 

 

But how long will this last? What if one day I'm never able to go back?

 

Turning the dials on the watch, he steeled himself for the nauseating sensation that was about to hit him. It had gotten a lot better than the first time he attempted time warp but doing this still left him dizzy and confused for a few minutes. 

 

After taking a few minutes to gather himself outside the dojang, Wonho pushed open the door and was greeted by the sight of Shownu sitting there and cleaning his helmet. He looked up and greeted Wonho with one of his warm smiles. And Wonho couldn't help but think of how lucky he was to have a beautiful man like Shownu looking forward to his visits. He drank in the sight of Shownu sitting on the floor in his robes as sunlight ticked his caramel skin and made his hair appear golden at the ends. 

 

"Hi," said Wonho, feeling shy all of a sudden as he plopped down onto the floor next to Shownu. He watched Shownu diligently clean the helmet and waited for him to be done so they could start their spar. The older male had his eyebrows furrowed in concentration and Wonho couldn't help but crack a small smile. Then he suddenly remembered that he had decided to tell Shownu the truth today and that he wouldn't back out, no matter what. 

 

He felt an anxious pit at the bottom of his stomach as he contemplated how to go about this. How would Shownu react? Would he even believe him or would he think Wonho was crazy? In 2000, when time travel didn't even exist, how was Wonho supposed to tell Shownu that he was from the future without sounding absolutely insane?

 

"Hey, are you alright?"

 

Wonho's neck snapped upright as he looked at Shownu who had now scooted closer to him, helmet abandoned and a concerned expression on his face, mirroring how he looked the first time they met. 

 

"Hello? Earth to Wonho," he said as he smiled and patted Wonho's cheek lightly.

 

And Wonho felt this incredible warmth in his heart. He didn't know why but every time Shownu looked at him, he just felt like he wanted to burst into flames. He felt every emotion so strongly when he came back to 2000. 

 

Maybe it's a time travel thing to feel your emotions dialled up a thousand.

 

Or maybe it's just a Shownu thing.

 

This man, this beautiful, gorgeous, amazing man was always incredibly kind to him so the least Wonho could do was to be truthful towards him. 

 

"I'm not from around here. I'm- I'm not from here. I should have told you sooner but I didn't know how to and I was scared that you wouldn't believe me. And it's highly illegal to do this but I cannot stop coming back here and oh god, please don't be freaked out, and please don't tell me to go back," he said, the words tumbling right out of his mouth with a sudden urgency.

 

"Hey, hey, just breathe, okay? You're not making any sense. Just take a deep breath and start from the top," said Shownu as he was suddenly more alert. 

 

Wonho let out a sigh and nodded. "I'm from 2047. The year 2047. I know it sounds absolutely crazy but, in the future, time travel is possible. It's possible but not legal," he finished. Shownu looked slightly sceptical at this and Wonho continued, "I'm not lying. I promise. Please believe me. I'll show you. Well, I can't take you back to my timeline because I don't know if two people can time travel using one watch but I'll use the time watch in front of you when I return."

 

"Okay. Okay, I believe you," said Shownu, looking solemn as he thought over everything Wonho had said. Wonho told him more about 2047 and how time travel was invented by CHW in 2042 but since CHW's disappearance, it had become illegal to use his watches. Wonho told him about how he came to find the watch and what happened on the day he first used it. 

 

And Shownu just listened. He quietly nodded along, rubbing soothing circles on Wonho's back even though everything Wonho was telling him should have sounded like absolute nonsense to any sane person. Before he knew it, two hours had already passed and it was getting pretty late. 

 

"I didn't notice the time. Sorry. We didn't even get to spar," said Wonho, feeling a little embarrassed at having talked so much and wasted so much time. He would still be able to go back to the exact second in his timeline that he left but Shownu's day was already wasted.

 

"What are you apologizing for? I don't mind just sitting and talking sometimes. We don't have to always spar, you know?" he said, grinning widely. "Now are you going to show me how you use the watch or no?"

 

Wonho nodded as he got up and turned the dials on the watch back to 3:01 pm in 2047. "Here I go. I'll see you tomorrow?" he asked, fidgeting around and wondering if Shownu really believed him. He looked up at him to see the older one watching him with a small smile.

 

"Yeah."

 

And with that, he pressed the buttons and completely erased any signs of him from the year 2000.

 

...

 

DATE: August 6th, 2000

 

The first thing Wonho noticed when he came back the next day was that Shownu wasn't dressed in his usual robes or the white and red tracksuit he usually wore after showering once practice was over. Instead, he was dressed in simple bleached jeans and a plain white tee. 

 

"Are you busy?" Wonho asked, wondering if Shownu was getting ready to head out but the man simply smiled at him and said, "No, I was thinking of taking you somewhere." He didn't seem frazzled at the fact that Wonho was a literal time traveller and didn't treat him particularly differently from how he used to treat him earlier.

 

Wonho looked surprised that the diligent kumdo student didn't want to practice today but opted to follow him anyway. "Lead the way then," he said as he fell into step beside Shownu. He wished he could read Shownu easily but the man always exuded this neutral and calm aura. His face never gave away his true feelings about anything and it left Wonho feeling dizzy with anticipation. The two walked for about 10 minutes until they came to a bus stand. Once they got onto the bus, Shownu let Wonho take the window seat. 

 

"Want to listen to some music?" he asked, pulling a clunky little device out of his pocket that Wonho had never seen before.

 

"What is that?" asked Wonho, looking confused. 

 

"It's a Walkman. You don't have those in the future? They're so popular now!"

 

"No... But I think I've seen one in a vintage tech store. We just listen to music on our phones nowadays."

 

"Phones have that much storage?!"

 

Wonho nodded as he told Shownu a little about how technology had changed in the future, after making him promise not to tell anyone else anything about all this. He didn't want anything he said to somehow have an impact on the future timeline.

 

They got off the bus and arrived at their destination. It was a very tiny cafe that barely had room for about ten people to sit inside at a time. The board outside read 'Traveler'. A small bell jingled as Shownu pushed in the door and the smell of coffee instantly assaulted their noses. The place was warm and cozy, and Shownu explained that it was run by the middle-aged couple that stood behind the counter. They had kind smiles and welcomed the two boys in. 

 

"This place has the best coffee I have ever tasted in my entire life. I come here pretty often," he explained, "And also I wanted to bring you here because the cafe is called Traveler and you're, you know..." he trailed off smirking and Wonho just stuck out his tongue at him. 

 

He noticed two kids sitting and drawing something in their notebooks on one of the tables in the small cafe and smiled. "Ah, those are my children," said the lady behind the counter, as she noticed Wonho looking at the children. "Minhyuk, Changkyun, say hi. Big brother Shownu is here with his friend."

 

The older kid, who looked to be about seven smiled widely and waved at Shownu while the younger kid, who was about four, just maintained his poker face and continued drawing. Wonho and Shownu waved back at them and then went and sat at one of the tables to wait for their orders. 

 

Shownu sat with his palms resting on the table and before Wonho even realized what he was doing he grabbed the older man’s fingers and started playing with them. His hands were just so nice. They were calloused from years of training but they were still firm and warm to touch. And they were beautiful. Everything about you is beautiful. 

 

Noticing Shownu shooting him an amused glance, Wonho shyly began to draw his hands back when Shownu suddenly grabbed them and laced their fingers together. And they just kind of sat there like that until their coffee arrived, all the while Wonho's heart beating erratically for some unknown reason and pulse going haywire under Shownu's warm grip and he was sure the other could tell. And though the other had to untangle their fingers when the coffee arrived, his hands would occasionally graze his and by the end of their little outing, Wonho's cheeks hurt from the smile that had been plastered on his face all day.

 

But his heart hurt even more from the realization that he was in love with someone that might not even be alive in his timeline.

 

...

DATE: September 4th, 2000

 

As usual, Shownu had won their spar. Although they had been practicing together for months, Wonho had yet to win even once. It made sense that the other would win considering that he literally spent every breathing second in the dojang but that didn't stop Wonho from trying his best to decrease the gap between them. 

 

"You did pretty good, Wonho," said the kumdo prodigy, offering a sincere smile, and Wonho couldn't help but reciprocate with one of his own. He loved it when anyone praised him but he especially loved it when it came from Shownu. 

 

"Let me help you with your armour," he said and all of a sudden, he was in Wonho's space, warmth radiating off his body, strong hands gripping Wonho's shoulders and turning him around. Hands began fiddling with the knots behind his armour and he tightened his hold around his bamboo sword to maintain his composure. He could feel Shownu's warm breath tickling the back of his neck and he leaned back into the sensation. They were standing so close that he could feel the heat radiating from the body behind him; swore he could hear his heart hammering so loudly in his chest that Shownu probably heard it too. He was so close, so close that nothing else mattered at that moment except for the bruising grip the other man had on his waist, the feel of the warm forehead falling against the back of his neck, and the flutter of eyelashes against his neck. 

 

"Are you going back right now?" 

 

Shownu's voice was a deep rumble against the back of his neck and he breathed in sharply. 

 

"Yes."

 

"Can't you stay? For a while longer?"

 

"I- I don't know." And Wonho truly didn't know. He didn't know how long he could stay in another timeline safely without The Agency finding him. He was completely unaware of the parameters of the watch or how exactly he was supposed to use it, seeing as it was just left there for him to find one day. It wasn't like CHW had personally approached him and told him how he was supposed to use it but just to be safe, Wonho only used it occasionally and never stayed for more than a few hours. Something in the back of his mind warned him that it was too risky to stay more than a few hours.

 

"Please stay," Shownu pleaded, arms snaking around his waist and pulling his body flush against his firm chest. His head was still buried in the crook of Wonho’s neck and his voice was muffled against Wonho’s robes.

 

"What are we going to do if I stay?" Wonho asked softly.

 

"I don't know. I just want you here,” he said, raising his head slightly. “Maybe you could come home and have dinner with my family, stay the night and or we could go watch a movie or we could go out for ice cream or even stay here if you prefer that. We could do anything you want- just stay. Please stay." Wonho had never heard such desperation in Shownu's voice and he gulped down the lump in his throat. Maybe the feelings he had weren't totally one-sided. 

 

"Yeah- yeah okay. I'll stay. Just one night."

 

Shownu's head dropped against Wonho's shoulder again and his body relaxed against his back. He let out a small breathy laugh. "Good." He released the hold he had on Wonho and stepped away. Missing the sensation instantly, Wonho turned around and looked at Shownu's face. Something had shifted between them and they both knew it. But Wonho wasn't willing to act on it, even though every fibre in his body was screaming at him to just take the leap and close the small distance between them and kiss Shownu senseless - to keep kissing him on every surface in the room, against the wall, on the floor, behind the lockers.

 

But Shownu was the only good thing in Wonho's life and he wasn't willing to lose this by making a wrong move. Wasn't willing to risk this in case he was reading this all wrong because he couldn't couldn't bear the thought of going back to his life in 2047 in case he fucked all this up massively. He was a coward.

 

"Umm, I guess we should shower before we go," said Shownu, looking down at their sweaty robes and scrunching up his nose. "And I should probably lend you some clothes too. Wouldn't want you walking around in your weird future boy getup and risk people finding out that you're not from around here," he laughed, effectively breaking the tension of the moment. 

 

"Hey! My clothes are cool, okay?" exclaimed Wonho, defending his fashion choices.

 

"Not yet, they're not," laughed Shownu. "Why don't you hop into the shower and I'll head up to my room and grab some clothes." He motioned that he was going to the small apartment he stayed in most of the time while he practiced in the dojang. His parents' house was actually about an hour away from the dojang but since he helped out at his uncle's dojang regularly, his uncle had let him use the apartment on the floor above. He'd told Wonho that his family wasn't all that well off and he hadn't wanted to waste their hard-earned money on a college education that he ultimately didn't care much for.

 

Wonho headed to the shower and thought about how Shownu had told him his dream was to become a kumdo champion, make it to the nationals and maybe inherit this dojang in the future. Wonho could certainly picture Shownu being a kumdo champion, standing tall and proud in his armour, his picture mounted up on the wall alongside other kumdo legends.

 

When he came out of the shower, he saw that Shownu had left for him what could only be described as the most early-2000s outfit comprising of cargo pants, a brimmed beanie, and an oversized, green, ribbed sweater. Sighing at the fashion disaster in front of him, he pulled on the clothes quickly, completely forgetting his complaints about the fit as Shownu's woody and earthy scent from the sweater surrounded his senses. He blushed a little at how he was acting like a horny teenager. Damn, he hadn't dated in a while and it showed. He wondered what Shownu thought of him and if he was even gay, to begin with. This was the 2000s after all. He didn't know anything about the atmosphere around queer relationships at this time.

 

I really should have paid more attention in history class. 

 

When he stepped out of the locker room, he spotted Shownu who was already dressed in bleached denim jeans and a red plaid shirt thrown over his black tee. God, he takes back what he said about his outfit; this was the most 2000s outfit there was. 

 

"Ready to go?" he asked, pocketing his flip phone and flashing a small smile. Suddenly, feeling a little shy, Wonho hid behind his fringe that was still damp from his shower and nodded his head. Chuckling at Wonho's demeanour, Shownu grabbed his hand and pulled him to his side. They walked to the bus stop, still holding hands, and got on. Shownu let him take the window seat again despite Wonho saying, "You should sit there. I sat on the window seat last time!"

 

"But I want you to look at the view," replied Shownu solemnly. Gosh, could he fall any more in love with this gentle giant? How can I look at the view outside, he wanted to say when I can't take my eyes off of you? He rested his head on the older man's shoulder and looked up at him to see if this was okay. When the other man didn't budge, he took it as permission that it was alright for him to do so. Like last time, Shownu pulled out his Walkman and gave one earphone to Wonho, playing music while they silently sat huddled together. Before Wonho knew it, he'd fallen asleep.

 

He awoke to the feeling of a butterfly kiss being pressed against his forehead - just a slight brush of lips against his hair. Confused and wondering if he’d dreamt that up, he fluttered his eyes open and looked up at Shownu who beamed happily at him.

 

"We're here."

 

Though he was a little nervous at the prospect of meeting parents, he followed Shownu off the bus and through the five-minute walk it took to get to his house. 

 

It's going to be okay. I'm only meeting his parents as his friend. It's nothing to be worried about.

 

His nervousness vanished as soon as he saw Shownu's mother - a beautiful lithe woman with a bob cut, paler skin than Shownu but a striking resemblance and a very youthful face. He definitely knew where Shownu got his good looks from and vocalized these thoughts making the woman break into a smile. 

 

"Now come on! Settle down and make yourself at home. Shownu told me he'd be bringing a friend along," she said, as she called her husband to come greet the boys. They all sat down at the dining table and chatted a lot, making Wonho feel content and happy after a very long time. He thought that this is what family was supposed to feel like; not condescending and stuffy and unbearably fake like his own family dinners, where everyone was trying to one-up each other.

 

After dinner was over, they went upstairs into Shownu's childhood bedroom and flopped down on the queen-sized bed that was a little too small for the two of them. They talked about all sorts of things from the band posters that adorned the room to what schools they went to and their childhood experiences. When sleep slowly overtook them and the realization dawned on Wonho that tomorrow, he'd have to go back to his timeline he couldn't help the intense sadness that bloomed in his chest. 

 

If there was one moment in time that he could be stuck in forever, he thought that it would be this moment - with a warm hand on his thigh and Shownu's dark and intense gaze boring into his eyes, looking right into his soul.

 

 

DATE: October 7th, 2000

 

"What's the matter? Where were you?!" asked Shownu, cupping the sides of Wonho's face as soon as he walked into the dojang, voice frantic with emotion. Wonho doesn't think he's ever seen Shownu this rattled. Gone was the calm aura that he usually exuded as he furrowed his eyebrows and waited for Wonho to answer. They usually met up each week.

 

Wonho hadn't come back for a month.

 

Not since that time that he stayed over for a night.

 

"Not here," mumbled Wonho lightly, looking around at a few others that were practicing in the dojang. "I'll tell you after we spar, okay? Somewhere private," he whispered, willing Shownu to understand that they couldn't just discuss things like time travel when people were around. Seeming to understand what was being conveyed silently, Shownu nodded and stepped back, reluctantly releasing the grip that he had on Wonho's face.

 

"Okay. Okay, go put on your equipment."

 

Nodding, Wonho left and changed into his kumdo outfit. Practice that day felt tense and way more intense than usual. It was as if something was bubbling right beneath the surface when Wonho looked at Shownu from behind the bars of his helmet. The conversation in the locker room was stilted and as soon as they were changed, Shownu pulled him by the arm and led him upstairs to his apartment. He locked the door behind him and turned to face the younger man.

 

"Why didn't you return? You didn't come back! Shit, I was so worried! I was fucking terrified. I didn't know if something had happened to you or-"

 

He stopped; eyes wide as he bit back whatever he was going to say.

 

"...Or? What were you going to say, Shownu?"

 

Letting his shoulders sag in defeat, Shownu said, "Or if you'd just left. If you didn't want to come back anymore."

 

Wonho felt a lump form in his throat when he heard the admission. "You think I would just go away? You think I would just never come back?! I want to come back! If I could stay here forever and never leave, I’d do that! I want to be here every single moment but it's not safe! When I went back last time, I saw people from The Agency hanging around my street. Something tipped them off."

 

Wonho felt himself colour at his accidental admission that he’d rather stay with Shownu than in his own timeline but the other man was more concerned about Wonho’s safety right now. Wonho had told him once about people disappearing in the future when they were rumoured to have been time travelling illegally.

 

Letting in a watery breath, Wonho continued.

 

"I thought that I would wait a month and then simply return to the next day in your timeline but when I came, they were here as well. They knew I came here! They knew! I can't risk them finding out about this. I can't risk them knowing that I have been talking to you! What if they did something to you- took you?! So, I went back immediately and waited for it for a few more days and came back a month later in this timeline as well. I don't know how they knew which timeline I had been visiting and how they were here on the next day but I couldn't risk them taking you away! I had to stay away." Wonho let out a choked sob from his throat, "I'd never just leave you Shownu. I never want to leave you."

 

Shownu stared at Wonho wide-eyed, while the latter sniffled silently and rubbed his eyes on the sleeve of his jacket. Then suddenly, he was on him, his lips catching Wonho's in a hard kiss. There was nothing gentle about it as he gripped the back of Wonho's neck tightly, just a flurry of lips and teeth and desperation. Wonho was pushed into the door and everything in his brain blanked out; the only thing that mattered being the lips moving against his as he clutched the front of Shownu's sweatshirt. This was nothing like the sweet and gentle moment he'd shared with Shownu when he'd slept in the bed next to him.

 

Feeling hands sliding down to his waist and gripping them so hard he was sure they'd be bruised later, Wonho let out a small gasp. Taking this opportunity, Shownu slid his tongue inside to explore while Wonho let out a small moan. They separated for air for a few seconds until Shownu pulled him right back into the kiss, one hand slipping under Wonho's shirt and making contact with the warm skin there. Wonho felt a pit of desire curl inside his belly, rutting his hips against Shownu to feel the slightest bit of friction.

 

"I'd never leave you," he gasped between kisses. "If I leave, it's because I had no choice. You know that, right?"

 

Shownu nodded and kissed him right back, slowly moving to pepper kisses along his jaw and down his neck. How many nights had Wonho spent thinking about this exact moment? He couldn't believe that this was actually happening now. He'd wanted Shownu to do this to him since the first time they sparred and had spent many long showers and restless nights in bed, jerking off to the thought of Shownu touching him, being inside of him, and then feeling guilty for thinking about his friend in this way because he didn't know if Shownu wanted him like that. 

 

Well, now he knew.

 

Shownu's mouth was on his again, and the hand that was under his shirt climbed higher and higher. Please don't stop, Wonho wanted to say. His knees felt shaky with every kiss and every touch and he wanted, no he needed more. They parted and Wonho chased the other's lips, never wanting to let go of this feeling. God, his lips were so soft and plump and Wonho had fantasized about all sorts of things that he'd like those lips to do to him, to have those lips wrapped around his-

 

FUCK!

 

His brain slammed right back into reality as he noted the time on the clock hanging on the wall behind Shownu's head. Too much time had passed. He'd spent too much time in the past again, right after he'd talked about having to be careful.

 

Not noticing his internal dilemma, Shownu snaked a hand around his waist and pulled him in for another kiss. Wonho put some light pressure on his chest and broke the kiss.

 

"Not yet- No. Please don't stop," said Shownu desperately, dropping small butterfly kisses on Wonho's face. 

 

"I have to go," said Wonho, his voice coming out a little raspy. "It's been too long. I have to go."

 

Shownu's face crumpled and he stepped away, running a hand through his hair and taking in a shaky breath. He didn’t want to stop and didn’t want Wonho to leave but Wonho’s safety mattered to him the most. So he just nodded in understanding, his expression tight and defeated.

 

He looks sad because of me. I put that expression on his face. 

 

Wonho never wanted to see that emotion on Shownu's face again. He never wanted to hurt him like that but he had no choice. He had to return to his own time...or did he?

 

Shit, I cant start thinking of this? It’s impossible. I can't just stay here.

 

But he wanted to. He so badly wanted to live here forever but his life was in 2047, wasn't it? He couldn't possibly stay here... He began turning the dials of his watch before he had second thoughts and ended up staying too long. He had to go now. If Shownu pleaded with him to stay another night, he doesn't think he'd be able to say no. He'd never be able to deny Shownu anything.

 

"I'll be waiting," mumbled Shownu, jaw clenched and shoulders tense, watching Wonho getting ready to leave. 

 

Wonho almost wanted to laugh at the irony of his situation. For a time traveller, he sure seemed to be running out of time at every opportunity. Nodding at him, Wonho pressed the buttons and the nauseating time warp dropped him back into his apartment in 2047.

 

He was immediately cornered by three men in black suits who ripped the watch from his hands and took away any chance he had at meeting his love again.

 

...

DATE: November 13th, 2000

 

Another day of waiting for Wonho until his legs went numb from kneeling too long. He'd wait. He'd wait for as long as it took. That was the last thing he told Wonho, wasn't it? He damn well would keep his promise.

 

...

DATE: December 23rd, 2048

 

The trial was long and harsh and lasted a whole year which was a lot in the future where courts were quick, and ruthless in their judgement - intolerant of any behaviour that went against their established rules. He didn't disappear like he thought he would because it turns out that his influential cousin’s parents – the one that his father was always comparing him to – had some pull at The Agency. That didn't stop his behaviour from causing him to be ostracized by the rest of his family. They didn't want to have anything to do with the boy that tried to do illegal time travel and got caught like an idiot.

 

In the last year, Wonho spent a lot of time staring at the walls of a prison cell, reflecting on a lot of things he did since he got the watch. He hoped that Shownu was alright. He hoped that CHW wasn't angry at him for messing up and causing the watch to land in the hands of the government. He hoped that his fuck up with the watch didn't hamper someone else if they used another watch of CHW’s, since The Agency had learned how to track these watches and it was all his fault because he'd landed one right into their lap. He hoped that The Agency didn't manage to track down CHW somehow with that watch. He hoped that his parents didn't hate him completely after this whole dilemma, because as much as he disliked hanging around them, he didn't want to bring shame or sadness to them. 

 

But most of all, he hoped that Shownu would forgive him for being so selfish and leaving him hanging because even if he could go back in time to the moment where he first found the watch, he'd still make all the same mistakes just to see Shownu's smile and feel the press of his lips on his own or feel the warmth of his breath against his neck.

 

He'd give anything to go back to that timeline. He regretted hesitating back then and not destroying that watch so he could stay with Shownu for the rest of his life. 

 

He shouldn't have come back that day.

 

He should have stayed.

 

He was a coward.

 

It was precisely because he came back that they were able to track him. Government authorised time watches can be tracked all the time but it turns out that CHW's watches can be tracked only if someone re-enters the timeline after spending more than four hours in a different timeline. Only then is The Agency able to track them and find out where they went. The only way to prevent them from tracking CHW's watches now is to break them.

 

When the trial was over, Wonho had to restart his entire life. His family left him and he didn't have money so he couldn't continue his education. He started working at a garage where an old lady needed a spare hand and started earning money by helping out. The old lady taught him how to fix up all sorts of cars and though she wasn’t the most affectionate person and certainly wasn’t family, he was glad that he had at least this one person in his corner.

 

He continued trying to call up his parents and fix things with them or at least apologise but they never picked up. After a while, he stopped trying altogether.

 

One thing he never gave up on was looking for CHW or one of his watches. Nobody had seen CHW in many years but there were whispers of his presence and rumours about how he was present in all the timelines. He wouldn't be found unless he wanted to be found but Wonho never gave up trying to find him. He had to get back.

 

...

DATE: June 8th, 2003

 

Time had passed with Shownu still holding on to the hope that Wonho would return someday. His uncle who has previously been very proud of him had been disappointed when he'd been slacking off from practice and had given an ultimatum - either do well and focus on kumdo again or give up on the hope of inheriting the dojang altogether.

 

Shownu loved the dojang and couldn't dream of letting go of kumdo so he threw himself into the sport completely. He won many championships and made a name for himself within the sport. His 25th birthday was approaching and his uncle proudly told him that he would soon be the owner of the dojang. From an outsider's perspective, his life was playing out exactly like he had intended it to but there was an ache in his heart that refused to subside. He missed Wonho so much every single day and it hurt.

 

Though he loved kumdo, no number of prizes and medals could cure the gaping hole the other man left in his wake. The green sweater that the other man had worn had long since lost his peachy fragrance and Shownu owned absolutely nothing that belonged to his lover; nothing that could prove that he was ever here at all.

 

His entire presence was erased as if he hadn't existed in the first place.

 

Still, Shownu kept up the hope that he would one day meet the other man again, his eyes searching for the pale skin and doe-eyes in every room, his mind unconsciously drawing up the image of the little curl at the edge of Wonho's lips and how the woman that his mom was trying to set him up with didn't have lips like that at all. 

 

He spent a lot of time in the 'Traveler' cafe. The cafe had moved locations to a bigger place as business had boomed but the couple that owned the cafe still smiled at him and their coffee was still as wonderful as ever and it eased his hurt a little. Today, after another unsuccessful attempt by his mother at playing the matchmaker, he came to the cafe to clear his head. While entering, he bumped into a thin man who was slightly taller than him and was wearing a well-tailored, beige, three-piece suit. Something about that man struck him as odd. He looked too prim and proper, too out of place in his surroundings. His hair was just a little too perfect, his suit a little too well pressed and crisp.

 

Shaking these thoughts out of his head, Shownu went to take a seat at a table and ordered his usual. He had a match soon and had to get his head in the game. He could worry about random businessmen he saw in the street later.

 

...

DATE: July 1st, 2004

 

He didn't bump into the man in the suit again until a lot later. It had been a year since he'd seen that man and though something about that man had struck him as really odd back then, those thoughts had completely been swept out of his mind because of all the matches and his busy training schedule and the thoughts of his lover whom he hadn't seen in more than three years.

 

Shownu carefully parked his car and stepped out. He was still very busy and had the national championship finals in a few days but there was something important that needed his attention. 

 

He was at the Traveler cafe again but this time, it wasn't because he wanted to have coffee. He had heard the terrible news that the couple's youngest child, Changkyun, had disappeared. The child had been missing for a week now and nobody knew where he was. Shownu wondered if there was some messed up person in the neighbourhood, going around kidnapping children but no such news had been heard and the couple never received a ransom note. It was as if the child had vanished into thin air.

 

Shownu had expressed his condolences to the couple, inquired with them how the police investigation was coming along, and squeezed little Minhyuk's shoulder while promising to keep an eye out for his brother. When he stepped out of the cafe, he'd spotted the tall man from a year ago, wearing a deep blue suit this time, reading a paper on the bus stop outside. But there was something about him that felt like a punch to Shownu's gut. The man was wearing a watch identical to the one Wonho always wore and used to travel through time. It was a time watch. 

 

Stepping closer to the man, almost as if in a trance, Shownu could now clearly make out the little detail on the man's suit. The pinstripes that ran along his suit read Chae Hyungwon.

 

CHW.

 

This man was the person who invented time travel in the future. This was the person who made all the watches that Wonho had told him about.

 

"Chae Hyungwon," said Shownu breathlessly, grabbing onto the shoulder of the other man almost desperately as if he would disappear if he didn't do so. Shownu prided himself on being calm and composed through any match, any situation that was thrown at him, but when it came to Wonho, that composure flew right out of the window. He begged CHW to help him, to return his Wonho to him.

 

You don't understand - I love him. I love him so fucking much that I want to crawl inside his heart and live there just so that we'll never be apart. Every day, that I wake up and he's not there, I feel like I'm dying inside. Every time I look into the mirror, I hate myself for letting him go. He's my soulmate, my reason so please, please just bring him back.

 

Wonho had told him that CHW had once been benevolent but after being let down by people again and again over the course of history, he'd grown more resentful and disagreeable. Apparently, he existed all through time and space but the further down the timeline you met him, the more standoffish he became. Shownu just prayed that this one agreed to help him. All he wanted was a chance - a small opportunity. He wanted Wonho to be able to choose, to have the option to come back to him and choose if he wanted to be here or not.

 

“Everything comes at a price.” 

 

That's what CHW told him. The Law of Equivalent Exchange – To gain something, you must lose something.

 

"Anything," said Shownu firmly. "You can take anything." And he meant it. He’d give up anything if that meant that he would have a even a miniscule chance to see Wonho. Chae nodded at him before fiddling with his watch and disappearing. Slightly distracted and still reeling from pouring his heart out to CHW, Shownu got into his car and started driving.

 

If he had been paying a little more attention, he would have noticed the huge truck cutting the red light at the intersection or maybe he wouldn't have and this was meant to happen all along. He really didn't have much time to process anything before his head slammed into the window next to him and everything went black.

 

When he woke up to white sheets, the beeps of various machines, the sterile smell of the hospital, and the doctor telling him it's a miracle that he survived but he'd never be able to pick up his sword again; Shownu recognized it for what it was.

 

The price.

 

...

DATE: July 1st, 2050

 

He was 24, living out the 'best years of his life' like the protagonist of a boring novel that was going nowhere. It had been almost two and half years since he last saw Shownu. He'd almost lost hope of ever seeing the man again until today. He felt like the fire in his chest was rekindled when he stepped into the tiny apartment behind the garage that he called home and noticed the blueprints lying there. Who put them there or how someone got into his apartment didn't matter to him anymore. It didn’t even matter if this was a trap of some sort. All that mattered was the fact that in his hands, he had the blueprints for one of the very first models of the time watch that CHW built. 

 

It was a small opportunity and its success depended entirely on Wonho's ability to collect these parts and build the watch but it was something. If this could in any way help him to get back to Shownu, it was a chance he was willing to take. Hyolyn, the 68-year-old woman that owned the garage, was one of the few people in this world who cared about him in this world and it felt disingenuous to just disappear on her one day so Wonho told her everything. He told her about Shownu, about the watch, the trial, and the blueprints left in his room and expected her to chastise him on his naivety but she simply encouraged him and told him that if this was what he wanted, he'd have her full support. And though Hyolyn had never showed him too much affection, always going for the ‘tough love’ approach, she did still care about him. Wonho had never had his own family support any of his decisions unconditionally and broke down into tears in front of her.

 

"None of that now," she scolded him playfully. "These parts are going to be difficult to come by and building this is going to take precision and technique but I'm sure that you can do it. I'll help you find any parts you need."

 

After that, it had taken a good two months to get everything together and build a watch. It wasn't perfect and since it was still one of the earlier prototypes, it couldn't perfectly pinpoint the exact time he was supposed to go to. But it was a chance to see Shownu again and if he ended up in a completely wrong timeline, he'd make a life for himself all over again and keep trying until he found his beloved.

 

Wonho programmed the watch to send him to approximately the same time as he last met Shownu but he didn't know how well it would work. If he timed it right and went back to November 2000, he'd be two years older than Shownu but that would be okay. He'd explain everything to Shownu and though more than two years would have passed for him, for Shownu, it would have just been a month and he wouldn't have had to go through all the endless waiting and suffering. Fixing his backpack and flashing a smile at Hyolyn, Wonho adjusted the dials of the watch and let the familiar, dizzying feel of time warp engulf him.

 

...

DATE: August 9th, 2005

 

In all the stories he'd heard since childhood, Shownu had been told that love was something happy and auspicious. He didn't think so anymore. He never knew how much love hurt, really truly hurt, until he wanted Wonho so badly that it physically pained him but he couldn't have him – his beautiful sparring partner, who wasn't even his to lose, but he still lost him nonetheless. 

 

He had given up his passion and his life for a simple opportunity to present itself to Wonho but it had been a year since then and Wonho hadn't appeared. Perhaps Wonho hadn't taken the opportunity. 

 

Shownu had to go through intense therapy after the accident just to be able to walk again; to fix his broken body that now matched his broken mind.

 

It didn't matter. He was nothing if not unshakable in his beliefs and he'd plant himself like a tree, no matter what the world threw at him. If he had to wait till he was old and grey, so be it. If Wonho ever returned, Shownu would welcome him with open arms and unconditional love because that's what he deserved.

 

If Wonho ever came back, he'd never tell him about his little deal with CHW.

 

He knew what Wonho was like and knew how Wonho would think he was responsible for the accident somehow. He wasn't. It was Shownu's choice to give up what he loved most to get to who he loved most. 

 

And if that came at the price of never being able to participate in a kumdo competition again because his balance was slightly off and his reflexes not as fast as before, or because his hands shook a little every time he picked up his bamboo sword, so be it. If it came at the price of his bones aching a little when it got just a tad bit too cold, so be it. If it came at the price of re-living the accident and the pain all over again, so be it.

 

He knew he was a self-sacrificing idiot but if he had to give up everything for Wonho, he'd do it in a heartbeat because from the way Wonho talked, it was clear that nobody had ever loved him like that and Shownu couldn't understand how someone who radiated sunshine had been overlooked all his life. 

 

Wonho was an unforgettable, beautiful shock that had quite literally stumbled into his life on an ordinary day and taken his breath away.

 

It made sense that he'd come back the same way.

 

Shownu thought he had finally lost his mind and had started hallucinating because a second ago, the air in front of him was empty but after he blinked and opened his eyes, there Wonho was, falling into his arms.

 

"If this is a daydream, I hope I never wake up. I hope this illusion never ends," whispered Shownu, squeezing his arms tightly and willing whatever entity was out there to trap him here timelessly, even if this was a moment of madness or a figment of his imagination.

 

"It's not a daydream," whispered Wonho breathily, stumbling around a little bit and putting his hands on Shownu's shoulders to steady himself. That's when Shownu realized that the weight in his arms was very much there, the flesh of Wonho's waist warm under his palms and the peachy scent of his shampoo very real.

 

"What year is it? This isn't 2000, is it?" Wonho asked, taking in the changes to Shownu's face, a hand raised to trace the scar near his hairline. Wonho's hand slowly trailed down the side of Shownu's neck - where he had accumulated a few more scars from the accident - and down to his collarbone which was visible under his plain white shirt with its buttons popped. "How did you get these?"

 

Shownu's brain finally came online and he said, "It's not 2000. It's 2005. August 9th, 2005. And I got these from a car accident."

 

Wonho gasped sharply, eyes swimming with so many unasked questions. Shownu watched as he bit his lip lightly and jumped to a million different conclusions.

 

"Hey. It's okay, Wonho. Just take a deep breath. It's okay. Nothing else matters. The only thing that matters is that you're here."

 

"You waited for me?"

 

"I waited. I told you I'd be waiting."

 

"I'm sorry it took so damn long. I'm sorry it's been more than four years for you. I never meant to take so long. They took my w-watch and I couldn't c-come back and I- I-" his voice gave out and he shuddered slightly. "I meant to return to 2000 so that it'd be like I never left."

 

Wonho was openly crying now, his vision completely blurry as the floodgates opened. "I clearly fucked it up. I don't know how it went so wrong. I'm sorry, Shownu. I'm so fucking sorry." Through choked breaths, Wonho filled him in on how the people from The Agency had been waiting at his doorstep that day when he’d returned and how he regretted not staying with Shownu that day. His biggest regret was not destroying that watch and staying with Shownu forever because it would have spared him all the pain that he’d been through all alone in his timeline and all the pain that Shownu had been through as well.

 

"Hey, it's okay. Wonho, you’re so brave. You’re the bravest person I have ever met. I know it’s difficult to talk about what has happened in these past few years but it’s okay. I told you, the only thing that matters is that you're here and I love you," said Shownu in the most comforting voice he could, pulling Wonho into a firm hug and kissing away his tears.

 

"Say it again."

 

"I love you. I love you so fucking much and I'll tell you this every day for the rest of my life. If you're willing to have me, I want you to spend the rest of your life with me."

 

"Yeah. Yes, I'd love that. I love you," said Wonho, pressing his lips to Shownu's with a heart-piercing desperation and though it had taken years of hurt to get here, he’d done it. He was finally in the arms of the one he loved despite every attempt by the universe to separate them.

 

He was finally home.

 

And he was never ever going to leave.