he could recall few things from his childhood. his first game console, his toy laptop that only knew how to spell things in english and had always been a problem, the walkie talkies he had no one to play with, because his dad was pretty busy during daytime and tired at nights. he could remember some of his neighbors, the ones he liked to play football with. he had been several months older than them, so he was the one in charge of making sure they went home before their curfew.
jongin was younger than him, but the boy never showed it. he acted all mature and cool and lu han was glad he could at least feel at ease with someone. minseok was his age, but he liked to hang out with jongdae and other kids from three blocks away better, so lu han never felt attached to the boy.
yixing moved in into the house a block away from his when they were 10. lu han had scratched his knee rather badly, it was bloody and it stung every time he took a step ahead, so he decided to walk back home early and clean the wound. he had told jongin to stay and keep playing without him, assuring him it his bleeding knee was nothing to be worried about.
he saw a short boy with funny hair sitting on the sidewalk, legs close to his chest. lu han was a really friendly kid so he decided he'd say hi first.
"hey!" he had said, smiling at the other boy.
"hey– oh– you're bleeding!" the boy's eyeballs nearly popped out of his skull as he pointed at lu han's knee.
"yeah– it's nothing, just a scratch." lu han said, scratching at the back of his head with a sheepish smile creeping its way onto his face.
"will it stop bleeding?" the boy asked, sincere worry clear in his eyes. lu han didn't know how to answer for a couple of seconds. he locked his confused gaze with the boy's nervous one.
"i– i guess, yeah. i just need to clean it. what kind of question is that, though." lu han said, a soft laugh escaping his lips. the boy blushed, shrugging before standing up.
"i''d help you clean it but i haven't unpacked anything yet." yixing said, pouting unconsciously while glancing at what lu han supposed what his new house.
"don't worry about it. i'm lu han, by the way. you should come play with us tomorrow!"
"i'm yixing. and yeah, i'll see you tomorrow!" yixing said, heading back into his new home.
yixing came out to play the next day, and walked to the nearby soccer field next to lu han. yixing wasn't older than him, and unlike jongin, he didn't pretend to be older or anything, he just acted his age. lu han felt oddly comfortable around him, though.
when lu han asked yixing which team he'd like to join, yixing bit his lip and let his eyes fall to his feet, saying he wasn't allowed to play like that, so he'd just watch them.
lu han flipped yet another page of his history book, trailing his eyes beyond the words neatly printed although he couldn't manage to grasp the meaning of any of them. he sighed, feeling bad at his poor attempt of studying for once.
it was friday, and he'd decided that he'd give his almost forgotten textbook a quick read before gluing his eyes to the screen of his computer because after that, he'd never get anything done, much less studying. his plan had failed though. he was not surprised.
lu han hopped into his bed and slid his phone unlocked, and checked his calendar for no real reason.
he still felt queasy whenever his mind drifted to that saturday morning. it was a sickening feeling, like he had somehow altered things as he knew them, yet nothing had really changed changed. what made him feel more uneasy is the fact that he knew it had been his fault, that yixing had gotten injured and lu han had no idea of how that had happened, yet he had been there, as far as he knew.
something had gone wrong with his world. lu han knew he might have been the cause of it, even though such event was far out of his reach.
he called wu fan, because yixing's name on his phone screen looked like something his state of mind couldn't handle so well.
"what're you up to?" he asked, rolling onto his back.
"i'm going to a party with some other friends. wanna come?"
"yeah," he said, as he scrambled off his bed and looked for his wallet and keys, shoving them into his front pocket. "i'll meet you at the train station in twenty."
his father was still at work and wouldn't be back home until three a.m. so he guessed it would be alright if he just wrote a post-it note and left it on the kitchen counter. his father wouldn't need to read it, he supposed, because he was determined to get home before two. it was just in case.
they arrived at kyungsoo's, who was one of wu fan's many friends from school. lu han liked kyungsoo, too, but he had never really made any effort to get to know him better. what lu han knew for sure, was that kyungsoo's parties were quite awesome.
he got himself some vodka mixed with juice, and that's how the party went. he talked to a lot of people, or to be precise, a lot of people talked to him. lu han was unintentionally popular at school, as much as he hated to admit, and although it had its perks, most of the times he just wished he could go unnoticed for at least one day.
few people were dancing, the rest of them leaning on walls or sitting on the sofas, talking comfortably with each other. the atmosphere was cool and relaxed, and lu han guessed it was because the night had just begun.
he started feeling sort of dizzy with his third cup of vodka. it was hard to keep track of baekhyun's words because his lips were moving too fast and they were a tiny bit distracting. he laughed when he heard chanyeol started to, and that's how he kept up with most of his conversations.
the house had gotten darker and the music louder when he made his way to the kitchen to get something else to drink.
"lu han!" he heard someone say, yet he kept walking towards the counter to get some cheap whiskey and coke. "hey, lu han." someone panted behind him. he turned around only to see jongin's awkward smile.
"what's up." he said with no attempt to sound nice or even interested.
"didn't know you were invited." jongin said, and lu han detected a mocking sense of humor in his words. "i'm glad to see you around."
"that's nice. i'm glad too." lu han was a bad liar, and he knew that, although he was kind of drunk. his thoughts drifted back to jongin and his stupid smirks and knowing smiles and then he remembered he hated jongin's guts.
jongin laughed, that cool laugh he had when he was a kid. "how's yixing doing?"
"you don't– " he turned around, holding his mixed drink in hand, and raised a menacing finger at jongin with his free hand. "he– what do you care, jongin!" he snapped.
"you still haven't forgiven me, have you?" jongin asked. lu han frowned at his lame excuse of a question, because it certainly didn't sound like one. it was more like a fact that jongin knew, both of them knew. jongin's voice sounded soft, though, like he had been expecting lu han to snap and curse at him.
he sounded sorry.
"nope." lu han said, then shakily walked out of the kitchen.
he went to look for wu fan, because the clock was nearing two a.m. and he had to leave soon. he wasn't sure what he needed wu fan for, but it was either that he needed someone to carry his ass back home or he didn't want wu fan to feel bad for leaving him. something along those lines, he thought.
"minseok!" he yelled at the boy, who he hadn't seen in about six months. his voice sounded a few octaves higher, thanks to the alcohol in his bloodstream, but said boy still recognized his high pitched shriek and bounced over to him. he tried not to think of minseok at the sweet age of then, with his round cheeks and expressive eyes, mostly because they were drunk as hell and he didn't want to get his precious – and few – childhood memories dirtied.
"oh my god, lu han! is that really you?" what a dumb question to ask, lu han though, but he only stretched his smile wider and nodded in response.
"how are things going for you?" minseok asked, sneaking his arm around lu han's waist. it was easy, lu han noticed, to fall back in their old routine of lack of personal space. it was one of the few things lu han liked about minseok. he had always been a bit too clingy.
"great, i suppose. i mean– i'm still in school. that's something." he was trying his best to put out his words properly, though each syllable was a challenge for him. "what 'bout ya?"
minseok started talking about his life in this other high school, and how it was difficult to keep his grades at a decent rate, but he never really worried much about them, he didn't actually care. minseok was like that, lu han vaguely thought, easy going with an incredible amount of luck. he was the kind of idiot that did miraculously well in school without even trying, and everyone adored him.
he gave minseok one last hug before sinking back into a mass of sweaty bodies. wu fan wouldn't be hard to spot, he mused, because he was a good head taller than the rest of them. however, after bumping into every bouncing body he could find, he realized wu fan wasn't that easy to spot after all. not when he was drunk and sleep was starting to work its way into his eyes.
he did what he had told himself, very strictly, not to do at any party. he climbed up the stairs, nodding at some of his schoolmates who thought he was cool enough to be friends with. he didn't dislike them, for that matter, he just thought they were stupid. (not his or yixing's kind of stupid. not even chanyeol's kind of stupid, honestly. just plain, boring stupid.)
he walked to the end of the hallway, and peeked through a couple of doors in his quest to find wu fan. he was lucky, he told himself, because he hadn't seen anyone fucking that night. it was always very awkward and irritating to see someone else having sex in someone else's room.
he twisted yet another doorknob and peeked in, and was startled by one loud, ear-splitting shriek.
kyungsoo stood up like a bedspring, throwing himself at the door to close it as fast as possible. lu han gasped but didn't step back, pushing the door back. he caught a glimpse of wu fan's confused face, he was sitting at the foot of the bed, bumping knees with chanyeol, who had baekhyun resting his head on his thigh. it was very obvious what they were doing, judging from the scent of the room and the stream of smoke floating above their heads.
"shit, lu han, i thought you were my mom or something." kyungsoo said, opening the door with one hand and dragging lu han in with the other. "man, don't do that again." it seemed like he was the only one who was worried about getting caught or not. baekhyun hadn't even opened his eyes.
"sorry. i was looking for wu fan." he said.
"you found him." chanyeol chirped, his face splitting into a lazy grin.
"you found me." wu fan echoed, lips quirking up. lu han snorted, and tried to blink the drunken heaviness off his eyelids. he scooted closer to the bed and sat on the edge of it, slowly dragging his eyes across the room. baekhyun was humming a song he had never heard, but it sounded nice. chanyeol was staring at the ceiling, propping himself up on his hands. kyungsoo was spread out on the carpeted floor, using his arms as a pillow.
"i have to get going." lu han announced. wu fan, who was resting his back against the bed, turned his head to nod at him.
"i'd walk you home but– i don't think i'd be able to walk down the stairs right now." he said, and then started laughing, that deep, raspy laugh of his. it made lu han laugh, too, because it reminded him of his grandfather when he was watching old, black and white movies in his living room.
"don't worry about it. i just wanted you to know." he was trying to stop himself from sucking in too much air, but it seemed useless. the more he paid attention to his breathing, the harder it was to regulate it. he briefly forgot how to breathe in through his nostrils.
"take a cab or something." kyungsoo suggested, placing one of his arms over his eyes, to cover himself from the increasingly harsh light.
"sure, i'll see you later, guys."
the smoke seemed to linger around him as he made his way out of the house. he could still smell it everywhere, though he was conscious it was him who smelled like it. he heard his own footsteps, even over the loud music, and they sounded strangely melodic, soft and relaxing.
someone tapped him on the shoulder and he tried to snap his head real quick to see who it was, but he ended up blurring out everything in front of him.
"are you feeling alright?"
it was jongin. everything was alright, all warm and soft and melodic footsteps until jongin's face became visible in front of him.
"i'm leaving. alright. yes." he blurted out, and determinedly – and not so steadily – kept walking towards the door.
"you're drunk, i'll call a cab for you."
"no, no– let go. i'll walk."
he ignored jongin's words, and closed the door behind him. once he set foot on the sidewalk, he realized it was a very bad idea, walking home alone. he was drunk and probably stoned, and it had just hit him that it was hard to find a cab at two a.m. in a neighborhood like kyungsoo's, with houses neatly painted, pretty gardens and small fountains of kids peeing and stuff.
he thought to hell with it, though, and willed himself to sober up while walking.
he recognized the street as one of the main avenues, though it was remotely empty. not a single breeze walked past him, not a single bat made its way through the city. lu han found the sidewalk a bit too wide for him, and it made him sort of uneasy.
before he could look up and keep walking straight, he noticed there was something a bit off with the sidewalk. there was a hole a few steps ahead of him. it was no common hole, though, like those that are caused by heavy trucks, when the asphalt breaks in and it sinks and rips pipes in the way, causing trouble for the whole community.
the asphalt was being sucked in, stretching and moving as if it were elastic, or some sort of clay. lu han thought of those books he was forced to read in elementary school, about endless deserts and deathly quicksands.
he knew quicksands were dangerous; if he stepped in he'd get sucked in, too, and the asphalt would start swallowing his body just like it seemed to be swallowing itself. it was odd, but lu han didn't feel scared. he was intrigued, perhaps a bit curious, but there was no way in hell he'd find out what that city quicksand was about.
it was when he decided to cross the street and walk on the safe, moving-holes free sidewalk that something started pulling him towards the hole on the floor. it wasn't visible, but he could feel it gripping his clothes and tugging at his heavy limps, drawing him closer towards the threatening hole. he tried to resist, attempting to run in the other direction, flailing his arms and yelping in the process, when his movements were answered with more strength by the invisible energy hugging him.
lu han cried out for help, but the avenue was terrifyingly empty. panic started to rise in his chest, leaving no room for his lungs to move and take some air in. he heard a splash under his feet, and his sneakers felt soaked, as well as the denim fabric clinging to his legs.
the hole was, in fact, a puddle of cold water. lu han felt the liquid start seeping into his clothes, as he uselessly tried to step out of the deepening puddle, and then, he realized there was no point in escaping. he was going to drown in a quicksand he found on the sidewalk at twenty past two a.m..
he thought of yixing. it was strange, because he could've thought of much more relevant things like his father, who had already lost his wife, and was now going to lose his only son. he could've thought of his mother, and how he didn't say good bye or i love you to her before she died when he was much younger.
he thought of yixing and it was calming. he thought of yixing and his mischievous grin, his unintentional jokes, his endless pranks, his sudden moments of quietness and stillness. he thought of hardworking, fragile yixing; sixteen years old and still wincing whenever a needle pierced through his skin.
he heard the water surround him completely, and he gasped; allowing small bubbles escape through his lips. he never closed his eyes, because he could see the buildings and the sky disappearing through the surface.
he let the water take him deeper into its darkness.
an alarm goes off and it echoes in the back of his head. it must be an ambulance. someone's dead, he reasons, and tells himself he can sleep some more. it's just one of the neighbors who passed away. the alarm doesn't stop, though, and it gains strength and starts beeping very very close to his head. he opens one eye and recognizes the alarm as his own; his phone is vibrating on his night stand, restarting the beeping sound over and over again.
"damn it," he mutters, and drags his numb body closer to it until he is able to grab his phone and turn the alarm off. WED, 05, 30, 7:35 A.M., the clock read. a slow train of thought crossed through his mind and announced he was late for school.
the door of his room creaked open and he saw his father's head through his half-open eyes.
"you're late for school."
he heard the door click closed and sighed, stretching the muscles of his back. it was only then that he noticed how strangely familiar everything felt. an overwhelming feeling of deja vù washed him all over. he propped himself up on his elbows, gasping a little at his realization.
it happened again; he thought, and then he remembered the hole on the avenue and the way it sucked him in and how the buildings and the sky seemed to dissipate through the water on the surface.
he quickly got dressed, brushed his teeth, splashed some water onto his hair and dashed out of his house, running all the way to school. he ran through the gates of the school and curses under his breath when he almost bumps into the same teacher he bumped in last week.
the day was hot and humid and just plain disgusting. a layer of sweat had started forming on the back of his neck, like a constant reminder of the heat, slick on his skin. he ran all the way to the train station and then to school, and felt himself grow sick as he heard the same songs playing on the convenience stores and the same cars in the same traffic jams from last week.
he dashed through hallways until his classroom came into his view. he stopped in front of the door and ran his hand through his messy hair and tucked his shirt into his pants. he cursed himself for doing the same over again, too.
"this will be the last time you're late, lu han." his teacher said, fixing her glasses up the bridge of her slightly crooked nose. lu han wanted to scream at her and tell her to stop, stop doing everything the same way. it was breaking his nerves apart.
"sorry. may i come in?" he forced himself to say.
"come in." as he walked to his seat, the kids sitting in the front quietly laughed at him and damn it, everything looked like a movie he had seen a thousand times. he could remember every detail, even their seat order. he began feeling queasy.
"you forgot to detach your pillow off your head again." said yixing, lazily going through the pages of one of his novels. lu han tries not to freak out and quietly shuffles to his seat.
“hey, are you alright?” yixing asked him, closing his book and turning his head a little.
“Yeah, just tired, i guess.” lu han replied, glad to have found a difference in their conversation. his breath caught in his throat once he noticed wu fan wasn’t there yet. he recalled him being asleep on his desk the first time.
"what time did you go to bed? if you slept at all, that is." yixing questioned, turning his head back to face the teacher. lu han had almost forgot about her.
“where’s wu fan?” lu han asked instead, nervously biting his lips. he rummaged through his bag and found his notebook and pen.
“who?” at this, lu han froze. yixing hadn’t turned to look at him, but he could hear the confusion in his voice, the cluelessness he had grown accustomed to.
“wu fan, is he coming?”
“i don’t know what you’re talking about. you should sleep more,you are hopeless.”
lu han hummed in response. it was getting hard to focus his eyes on something, so instead he looked down at his poor notebook. the edges of it turned blurry, the colors a little lighter. he heard the teacher stop babbling suddenly, and the class started whispering and the girls a few rows behind him started giggling.
“...a visit to the principal’s office.” he managed to hear the teacher finishing her sentence. he looked at the boy standing under the door frame and felt his jaw fall to his lap. things were getting really weird, and slightly inconvenient.
first, yixing didn’t remember one of his best friends. second, kim jongin was walking towards the vacant seat next to his own, a.k.a. wu fan’s seat. jongin slumped on the chair, and sighed as the teacher resumed on ranting about the importance of something lu han didn’t care about at all.
lu han spent the whole morning thinking about that night at the street, and could almost feel a cold breath run over his skin, like water swallowing him whole. the day passed by disguised as a blur, soundless, eerily shady.
during their lab class, lu han didn’t complain at all. just like last wednesday, they had to work with blood cells. he only glanced sideways to read yixing’s notes briefly. he felt something land on his lap, which jarred him out of his thoughts, and turned his head to see a giggling zitao next to a shorter, black haired kid. “stop spacing out.” zitao had told him.
the last bell had finally rung, and much to yixing’s surprise, lu han hadn’t been the first one to run out of the classroom and head to the lockers hall. he, of course, blamed it on the perpetual lack of sleep that had finally hit lu han.
lu han opened his locker and saw a blue note laying over a couple of books. yixing was on the other side of the hall, rummaging through his stuff.
“it’s called time leaping.”
lu han held his breath.
he hadn’t heard anything about wu fan since that wednesday. it had been an awful long week, mostly because lu han couldn’t stop blaming himself. it was pointless, and he knew that, but the guilt crept on him vigorously, crushing his every fiber anyway.
it hadn’t been his fault, because things like these were out of his control.
he had been the one to alter things, though, and that was enough to make him crumble down.
jongin was the new student of his class. he heard about it on his way to his locker, where a group of girls were talking about him. they called him a troublemaker, and that hadn’t surprised lu han one bit.
maybe in this... reality, or whatever it was, they had never been friends before. that brought a certain comfort to him, though he still felt guilty about wu fan. maybe in this third dimension lu han had entered, he and jongin had never spoken before, and jongin had never met yixing, and yixing had always been safe.
lu han remembers it as the worst day of his life.
lu han was 12, yixing was a few months away from turning 12 and jongin had already turned 11. it had been raining all day long, but once the clouds stepped aside and allowed a few rays of sunlight to spread all over the streets, lu han ran to yixing’s house and jongin appeared shortly after that.
they walked through the neighborhood and decided to play around in an alley next to a house still in construction. it was mostly empty, except for a mountain of blocks of cement and metal bars next to one of its walls. it seemed like the perfect place to play soccer.
when it was yixing’s turn to be the goalkeeper, both jongin and lu han fought for the ball in the small alley. lu han was more skilled than jongin, but the younger had his own tricks when it came to playing. in the end, the one who scored the most goals was lu han. they got into an argument after that, since jongin claimed that yixing had helped lu han win.
if only he had knew what he could’ve avoided by stopping that small fight, lu han would’ve quit the game immediately. he didn’t though, so he stayed firm on his victory. jongin, always short tempered, got mad and shoved yixing against the wall.
lu han had never seen so much blood in his whole life. there was a piece of old, rusty metal encrusted into yixing’s thin body. the color was rushing out of his face and his eyes were turning glassy.
jongin was frozen on his spot.
lu han never forgot the way all the blood gushed out of yixing’s chest and became darker as the seconds passed in front of them. he also never spoke to jongin again, no matter how much the boy tried to apologize.
eventually, yixing forgave jongin. he hadn’t been mad at him for long, but lu han made sure to keep him away from him. until now.
during their lunch break, lu han and yixing went to the cafeteria. it was strangely quiet, and the only reason for this was some sort of football tournament. he didn’t feel like watching the game, though, so he dragged yixing to buy some snacks.
“i feel like you’re hiding something from me.” yixing said, munching on a cereal bar.
“am not.” lu han said, feigning nonchalance. this, however, only made yixing’s suspicions grow stronger.
“you so are. look at me,” yixing was grinning, holding his chin with one of his hands, craning his neck so lu han would face him. “say you’re not.” he demanded, defiantly.
lu han kept quiet for several seconds, holding yixing’s gaze with his own. he ended up stiffling giggles and softly shoving yixing away. “hey, do you believe in those time travel theories?” he asked, slurping off his soda.
“what?” at this, lu han only nodded in response, “i don’t know. i remain skeptical. do you?” yixing answered, shrugging.
“same here, i guess.”