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Jongdae barely remembered that time when he was alive. All that was left were pieces of information, fragments of memories and a few random names that were stored in his head. Strangely enough he never felt sorry for not remembering more, choosing to believe that he remembered only what truly mattered.

After all when you are dead you don’t need much in general. Or at least so Jongdae believed. 

When you are dead you are trapped in an endless loop. Or at least so was Jongdae.

When you are dead your fate doesn’t depend on you. Or at least it didn’t to Jongdae.


 

From his memories Jongdae concluded that he once was a son of a general or someone equally important. The hushed whispers still echoed in his head the hesitant alliances left traces on his fingertips. In his worst moments he still smelt the stench of fear in the air. In reality Jongdae had never made it to the day when rebellion ended and - as a result - a new era began. Only later, centuries later, by accident really, he found the trace of his own name in old documents. He didn’t feel much when he read about his past. He couldn’t bring himself to care about the war, countless battles and the uprising.

One of the things that Jongdae remembered vividly was pain.

He remembered getting heavily injured. Someone pierced his thigh with a long sharp hwando and the next thing that he acknowledged was an overwhelming pain that wrecked his body. Then, there was only a fever so high that it felt like being set on fire over and over and over again. 

Technically he was still alive. On his better days he was walking, talking and laughing. Sometimes, when the fever seemed to drop, he still helped his father with his military duties. He had hope. Everybody had back then.


 

30th August 1387 (13th year of U of Goryeo) 

Gaegyeong, Korean Peninsula

 

“Are you sure you feel well today, darling?” asked his mother worryingly as Jongdae walked down the corridor. The shaking was barely visible. 

“Yes, mother. I feel well enough and it’s only right for me to greet father’s guests.” he snapped back, annoyed with people constantly tip-toeing around him. He felt better. He really did. The gash on his thigh was slowly healing and he felt better than a few days ago. It was a good opportunity to slowly reestablish his position. Not to mention that if he wanted to pursue his career, he had to start expanding his social backup.

Not greeting Byuns when they were visiting the household would basically erase everything Jongdae had accomplished so far. He prayed to his ancestors that the Byuns were understanding of his still quite poor physical condition, hoping that his hollow cheeks wouldn’t scare the guests too much. He needed to make a good impression.

The silk felt cold against his skin, a pleasant sensation after days filled with crazy fever eating him alive. It was refreshing. He straightened his back, waiting in front of the room. He couldn’t be more ready.

Someone announced him to the nobles gathered in the room and he slowly walked in, bowing politely. After few seconds his father gestured him to get up and Jongdae finally could face the guests. Everything ceased to a moment. It was like suddenly there was only Jongdae and him. That person. That man who was standing on the opposite side of the room.

He couldn’t be important in the eyes of the nobles but something pulled Jongdae towards him. He gulped. He felt as though his whole life depended on the second their eyes met. 

As if he had thick cotton in his ears, Jongdae could barely hear introductions. He replied almost automatically, uttering polite compliments and greetings, bowing as often as he took a breath.

“...and that’s my youngest son, Byun Baekhyun…” Jongdae's and the stranger’s eyes met his once again. Reflecting on these events years later, Jongdae liked to think that it was when he sealed his fate. He couldn’t know that this story was already written in the stars long before he was born.

Jongdae smiled to Baekhyun, bowing a bit deeper than the etiquette required. And he was rewarded with those beautiful brown eyes lighting up and with this pink lips widening in a smile. And Jongdae thought that Byun Baekhyun surely was the most beautiful person he had ever seen. Delicate but strong. Polite but with a pinch of mischievousness sparkling in chocolate eyes. Skin kissed by the sun but hair as black as ink and mystery.

To Jongdae, Byun Baekhyun was like a shining, bright diamond decorating the room. He was simply breath-taking and only his reputation stopped Jongdae from falling on his knees.

Back then he didn’t know the term “love at first sight” but it didn’t mean that the feelings stirring in his heart meant anything less.

“It’s a pleasure to meet you, Kim Jongdae.” Baekhyun said, voice nice and smooth, softer than the most expensive of silks. Jongdae had never thought that his name could sound so sweetly. 

“It’s a pleasure to meet you as well.” Jongdae answered politely, though inside he was shivering with excitement. He yearned to say something more, anything to deserve Baekhyun’s attention but before he got a chance, his father swiftly pulled him to the maps spread across the table, already engaging Jongdae into political discussions.

Desperately, he tried to stay focused on the conversation and his breath hitched every time Baekhyun’s eyes landed on him while he listened to what Jongdae was saying. And every time it happened, he had to bite down the smile forming on his lips. 

He could have sworn that the air smelt of melted caramel and lotus flowers that evening.

“I’m glad that we finally could meet each other.” said Baekhyun softly, as the meeting had come to an end. “Hopefully our paths will cross more often in the future.”

Jongdae’s heart clenched painfully as he watched the Byuns leaving the household. The soft ‘goodnight’ was still ringing in his ears as he was walking back to his chambers. Warmth that he felt was nice and cozy - for the first time in weeks. He didn’t recognize that feeling back then, thinking that it was simply admiration and respect. It didn’t even cross his mind that it might had been romantic attraction. But he already found himself missing Baekhyun’s company.

That night Kim Jongdae dreamt of kind smile and attentive, brown eyes.

Next morning fate laughed at him and his health worsened.

A mere week later he was screaming in pain, his cheeks were once again dry from tears and his eyes - hazy from fever. Two weeks later - in one of the moments of rare consciousness - he realized that the illness never left and that he wasn’t meant to recover. 

Last days of his life were full of darkness. Blissful minutes when his mind was clear, he spent on thinking about his life. His happy memories, his sad memories, his joys and disappointments. Regrets. And dreams that he was never meant to fulfill.

He wished he had more time to admire Byun Baekhyun

“Byun Baekhyun… Even if it would be from afar.” was Kim Jongdae’s last thought before he died.


 

19th September 1387 (13th year of U of Goryeo) 

Gaegyeong, Korean Peninsula

 

Realizing that he was dead was neither too hard nor too heart-breaking. He knew it was coming and he was prepared. As much as one could be ready for his death. First couple of minutes, or maybe hours, Jongdae spent trying to figure out what to do next. He looked around the room. No ancestors, no smiling spirits of the land. Only Kim Jongdae. It did not look thrilling if he was honest.

A little bit hesitantly he walked through the heavily decorated door. The house looked like a normal residence of a noble family. It didn’t take him long to see the first human - a woman carrying a basket full of vegetables. It took him even less time to realize that no matter how loud he was speaking - she couldn’t hear him. No matter what he did - she couldn't see him.

He belonged to the sphere of spirits now while she was still on the living side. Strangely, it made him feel safer and soon enough he started snooping around. The house was huge but almost empty and for a moment Jongdae wondered if maybe the family was away and that’s why he landed there after his death.

He skipped through the corridors, humming cheerful melodies but the sound died in his throat when he walked into a small room and his eyes landed on the person leaning over the table. Jongdae stopped almost immediately and quickly hid behind a wall - a silly habit of a once living person - letting his eyes drink the beautiful view in front of him.

Byun Baekhyun looked as perfect as Jongdae remembered. 

His brows were slightly knitted and he appeared to be deep in thought but what surprised Jongdae most was the traces of tears on his cheeks. He gathered the courage and moved a little bit closer - step by step - until he was so close that he could count the flowers embroidered on the expensive collar around Baekhyun’s neck.

Warily, Jongdae reached his hand out and - oh so carefully - let his fingers hover above Baekhyun’s shoulder. He gulped loudly and delicately lowered his hand, hoping - praying - for any kind of physical contact. But his hand met no resistance. It went through the shoulder as if Baekhyun was a ghost - not Jongdae. 

Paradoxically, it was the breaking point for Jongae - not his illness, not his death. He didn’t even realize when tears started rolling down his own cheeks. He dropped his hand and looked down, unable to keep his eyes on Baekhyun. 

His last words rang in his ears and roared in his heart:

“Byun Baekhyun… Even if it would be from afar.”

“I guess I got what I wanted…” he whispered to himself.

Swiftly, as if his life depended on that, he turned on his heel and ran out through the open door. Away, far away from Baekhyun - boy that he was to admire - far away from people who were still alive, far away from everything.

Jongdae ran and ran and ran, until something on the back of his mind started tugging him back. He stopped on the top of a hill. He wasn’t out of breath - despite running for so long and that thought was as terrifying as hopeful. He could still run, even further, until he would stop somewhere where nothing would remind him of his past. His hand raked through his once soft hair tied in a simple braid. He took a deep breath that he didn’t need and looked down the hill.

In the far distance he could still see the house he ran away from. It was shining like a red ruby, as if it was the centre of the world. The beating heart. Jongdae could almost see Baekhyun still sitting in his room, still leaning over the ancient Chinese texts. Something started beating faster in his chest. Everything in his soul begged him to come back.

“I shouldn’t stay here.” he told himself but there was no force behind his words. “There is no use in looking over the life of a man who I barely know.”

And then - the strangest thing had happened.

As soon as Jongdae tried taking first step into the woods some invisible force pushed him backwards. The man stumbled on his feet, blinking rapidly in surprise. 

“What the hell…” he mumbled and once again tried stepping forward. The result was the same.

He tried walking the invisible barrier away. He tried jumping through it, running through it and crawling under it. But he couldn’t walk past this point.

Ever since he hit the barrier for the first time, he suspected of what was happening, but he didn’t let this thought sink in until the sun started disappearing behind the horizon. 

He sighed and looked down the hill again. He could still see Baekhyun’s house. No matter what he did, no matter where he went, he could always see Byuns’ house. He couldn’t leave Baekhyun.

Defeated by his own feverish wishes, Jongdae directed his steps back to the residence. Warm lights were lighting up the whole building, along with the yard making it look more homey and Jongdae couldn’t help the calmness that started spreading across his body. His lips spread in a gentle smile as he walked into the room through the window, realizing that the other man apparently fell asleep. He crouched down next to Baekhyun, eyes never leaving his face.

Byun Baekhyun was truly exquisite. Now that Jongdae could stare without any fear, he started noticing more of his facial features: the little mole above his lip, the length of his eyelashes, the soft curve of his eyebrows and the roundness of his cheeks.

Unable to stop himself Jongdae delicately touched Baekhyun’s forehead, trying to sweep a soft of his hair away. He expected his fingers to once again go through the body but this time it didn’t happen. For a brief moment he could feel the warmth of Baekhyun’s skin under his fingertips. 

The contact was too much for him.

Surprised and terrified Jongdae stumbled away while Baekhyun groaned and lazily fluttered his eyelashes as if the gesture woke him up.

With eyes as big as saucers Jongdae observed Baekhyun who sleepily looked around the room. A shiver rolled through Jongdae’s body when Baekhyun’s gaze stopped exactly on him. But he couldn’t see him. Jongdae was dead. 

“What…” whispered Baekhyun, his eyes narrowed. He wasn’t looking into Jongdae’s eyes but the latter was somehow looking at him.

The smell of lotus flowers and sweat filled the room.

Jongdae’s throat was dry and his heart was violently hammering against the chest. Finally he parted his lips, a shy ‘sorry’ forming at the end of his tongue. He could almost feel its taste in his mouth.

“Byun Baekhyun are you done sulking over that poor boy?” the door opened loudly, letting a tall, young man inside - Byun Baekbeom, the eldest son of the family. “You didn’t even know him that well.”

“Am I not allowed to mourn?” Baekhyun looked at his brother, frowning angrily.

“You’re sulking, not mourning.” cut Baekbeom shortly.

“I’m mourning after an intelligent, young man who was clearly skilled in politics. We lack people like him, especially considering the upcoming change of dynasty.” replied Baekhyun as a faint blush covered his cheeks and the tips of his ears. His eyes were shining dangerously with unspilled tears.

Baekbeom arched his eyebrow, clearly doubting his brother’s honesty. Eventually he shrugged and changed the subject:

“Father’s been requiring your company, Baekhyun. I recommend not to keep him waiting.” he suggested quietly. “And remember that if you want to talk about something… You can always come to me.”

“Unless you’re away. Then I can sulk alone, right?” smiled Baekhyun bitterly and something about those words made Jongdae’s heart break in half.

Baekhyun elegantly got up and straightened his robes. He was about to leave the room, when something stopped him in mid-action and he looked in Jongdae’s direction again. This time it didn’t feel as if they were looking at each other. This time Jongdae felt as if he was nothing more than air.

Hyung …” said Baekhyun, gaze fixed in one place.

Baekbeom hummed in response.

“Before you came in, I saw something weird.” started Baekhyun. “It looked like a thick mist but it was… there was something odd about it. It almost felt…”

Jongdae gulped heavily, bracing himself for the next words. He opened his mouth and let the syllables roll down his tongue with perfect synchrony with Baekhyun’s voice.

“... like a ghost.”


 

6th May 1564 (19th year of Myeongjong of Joseon)

Gyeongju, Joseon

 

After Baekhyun’s third death - when he was shot with an arrow on a battlefield - Jongdae accepted that he was doomed to follow the latter’s soul forever. He didn’t dwell into the fact that everyone except himself were getting reincarnated over and over again. Jongdae’s undead life was already weird without it.

The general rules never changed - he couldn’t leave Baekhyun’s side for too long and he couldn’t walk away too far. Baekhyun was always named Baekhyun but people around him tended to change - for example sometimes he had a brother and sometimes he didn’t. Social status also varied depending on the incarnation. Same went to the cause of death. Every time Baekhyun’s body died in one place, a few seconds later he was being reborn in another place. No recollection of memories from the previous life. Jongdae’s spirit had to follow him, all of his memories - intact.

Sad but he got over it.

The baby in front of him started crying again.


 

16th December 1569 (2nd year of Seonjo of Joseon)

Gyeongju, Joseon

 

Jongdae smiled softly at the little boy playing in the corner of the room, cooing at the way his small hands were gripping the doll. Baekhyun was the only child that passed the magical line of five years old and he was a real treasure in the Byuns house. He was spoiled beyond any measurement - more than ever before - but Jongdae was sure that he would grow up to be a fine man either way.

Jongdae rested his back against the doorframe as he watched Baekhyun playing. Few months ago the boy went through very serious chicken pox and he was still a little bit weak. Jongdae still felt a little bit uneasy every time Baekhyun as much as coughed, therefore he never left his side. Not that he had much of a choice anyway. 

In some aspects Baekhyun’s traits never changed but also - changed every time at least a little bit. Every incarnation was unique but each of them was also undoubtedly ‘Baekhyun’. Jongdae still couldn’t pin-point what exactly did he find enchanting about him.

“Baekhyunnie, sweetheart, mum has to go take care of something. Play by yourself nicely, would you? Sunshine?” said Jaehye suddenly. Jongdae frowned. Baekhyun wasn’t allowed to stay alone. “Wait for mummy, I will be right back.” 

Baekhyun paid no attention to her as he played with his toys, carefully putting one wooden block over the other and soon enough the only souls present in the room was him and Jongdae. Baekhyun was a quiet child - in contrast to his previous incarnation when had been screaming almost non-stop. Jongdae smiled to the memories. He really liked watching Baekhyun grow up all over again and trying to figure out which events of his life would be the most significant ones. It was the most entertaining thing Jongdae could do in his afterlife. Even if he had to live with a pain in his chest, knowing that he would never be a part of Baekhyun’s life.

Jongdae shook his head. He shouldn’t think about this too much. It led to nowhere and always left him sad and devastated. He took a deep breath. A gust of wind brought the fresh scent of oakwood and Lotus flowers into the room. 

“Ah, Baekhyunnie if you only knew...” said Jongdae to himself and took two steps forward.

As soon as the words left his lips, Baekhyun’s head shot up and his lips formed a perfect “o”. His movements ceased and his pretty brown eyes widened. The child’s eyes were staring right at Jongdae.

“Who are you?” asked Baekhyun after a moment, tilting his head to the left. “Are you dad’s friend?”

Jongdae quickly turned around. But there was no one behind him. They were alone. Only him and Baekhyun.

“Excuse me?” he managed to say. “Are you talking to me?”

“Are you dad’s friend?” repeated Baekhyun.

“You can see me?” screeched Jongdae as the reality started sinking in.

This question seemed to confuse the boy a little bit as he bit his lower lip, nodding slightly. Hesitance and fear appeared in his bright eyes and in a matter of seconds Jongdae found himself crouching next to Baekhyun. 

“You can see me, Baekhyunnie!” Jongdae cried out as quietly as he was able to. He couldn’t believe this. For the first time in two centuries someone was speaking directly to him. And that someone was Byun Baekhyun himself!

“I can.” confirmed the child quietly, “So, are you dad’s friend? I’ve never seen you before...”

Jongdae bit the inside of his cheek. He wasn’t sure how would Baekhyun react to the fact that Jongdae was in fact very dead and very much of a ghost.

“I’m your old friend.” he said finally as it wasn’t a lie. Not exactly at least.

The answer apparently satisfied the boy as he proceeded with another question: “But I don’t remember you?” he seemed honestly sad now.

“We met a long time ago. I’m not surprised that you don’t remember me.” Jongdae reassured. 

“We should tell dad! He always complains that I don’t have enough friends!” suggested Baekhyun with a wide smile and, not waiting for Jongdae’s reply, rushed out of them room.

“Baekhyunnie! Wait for me!” shouted Jongdae after him and quickly followed child’s steps. 

He knew that it wasn’t a great idea to let Baekhyun tell his father about it but he couldn’t stop him. He wouldn’t even try being as drunk with happiness as he was now. His heart was singing the song of happiness and joy. Everything felt like a dream. He had no idea why Baekhyun could see him but maybe it meant that the curse he had put on himself was finally over. Maybe it meant that soon his own spirit would be able to finally leave. 

Jongdae stopped abruptly. 

The real question was if he actually wanted to leave.

The fate was playing games with his heart once again.

“I don’t want to leave him now that he can see me…” Jongdae whispered to himself firmly. The sound of bare small feet broke the silence of the hallway.

With difficulty, the ghost smiled at running Baekhyun. He wanted to spread his arms and allow the child to fall into his embrace but decided not to test his luck. As far as he was concerned he was still a ghost but he wasn’t sure how Baekhyun would react to running through him.

“I forgot to ask about your name…” said Baekhyun, blushing shyly and Jongdae’s heart melted a little bit.

“It’s...” Jongdae hesitated. He was dead for way too long for somebody to recognize his name but he wasn’t sure if he was ready to hear it falling from Baekhyun’s small lips just yet. He made the decision in a split of a second. “You can call me Dae.”

“Dae-ssi!” beamed Baekhyun, new name rolling cutely on his tongue. “Please follow me.” he bowed with respect and waved at Jongdae to follow.

With every step they took, the anxiety was raising up. Jongdae’s heart was beating so fast that he was certain he was going through a heart attack. He didn’t know if anyone aside of Baekhyun could see him and he wasn’t sure what he would prefer. Somehow he suspected that Baekhyun’s parents wouldn’t be thrilled to see a stranger inside their private chambers.

“Dad!” cheered Baekhyun happily, running into the room at the end of the hallway. Jongdae knew it was Baekhyul’s office. 

He had been there thousands of times and yet he froze in the doorway, watching as Baekhyul tightly hugged his son. The lump in Jongdae’s throat was growing bigger and bigger. 

“My little boy!” Baekhyul smiled widely, his whole attention focused at Baekhyun. “What are you doing here?”

The moment of truth.

“Look, look, dad! Look who came to visit us!” he said excitedly and pointed his finger at Jongdae.

In a slow motion, Baekhyul’s gaze travelled from his son to the doorway. Jongdae’s heart was beating so fast and hard that he was on the verge of fainting. 

And then - Jongdae saw it in his eyes, in the frown on his face, in the awkward quirk of his lips.

Baekhyul couldn’t see him.

“Who visited us, Baekhyunnie?” he asked glancing at his son.

Baekhyun frowned looking between his father and Jongdae. The latter shrugged, trying hard not to burst into tears in front of the kid. He wasn’t sure if those were tears of joy or sadness. It seemed that after all this time he was still Baekhyun-exclusive.

“Dae-ssi is here…” replied Baekhyun. “Can’t you see him, dad?” 

Baekhyul shook his head, a gentle smile slowly lightening up his face. Fate was treating Jongdae fair, just like it always did. He was still a ghost. Invisible and alone.

Apparently Jongdae’s face expression worried Baekhyun as he shifted on his father’s lap, his lips tugged down.

“Are you okay, Dae-ssi?” he asked naively. 

Jongdae forced a smile on his face even though the tears kept welling up in his eyes. He nodded, avoiding the boy’s eyes. 

“You can tell your dad that I’m a special friend and that he can’t see me just yet.” he said eventually. He shouldn’t lie to a child but he wasn’t ready to tell the truth either.

“Oh, I understand!” nodded Baekhyun immediately and repeated what he was told.

“Jongdae must be a very special friend then.” replied Baekhyul slightly rocking his son back and forwards. “You can thank him for taking care of my precious child.” he added after a moment of silence and just like that all the weight disappeared from Jongdae’s chest.

That was right. Now that Baekhyun could see him, he could be his actual guardian angel, whispering advice into his small ears and suggesting solutions if Baekhyun was lost. It changed everything! He could talk to Baekhyun! Even if he was only five now... he would grow up eventually and then Jongdae would finally tell him his worries and share his problems! The possibilities were endless. It was so much more than he was able to do during past centuries! Carefully he spoke up again, directing his words to Baekhyun.

“You can tell your father that I will do my best to watch over you. Forever” he said quietly as traces of affection started sticking to his throat.

Baekhyun nodded obediently and turned back to Baekhyul.

“Dae-ssi says that he will watch over me. He promised to be with me forever.”


 

15th September 1571 (4th year of Seonjo of Joseon)

Gyeongju, Joseon

 

It happened suddenly and there was no way for Jongdae to be prepared for the upcoming events.

Ever since he learnt that Baekhyun could see him, they spent every minute together. They grew to become friends - though Jongdae never told the boy that he was a ghost. He didn’t want to make things awkward. 

Thanks to Baekhyun’s talkativeness, Jongdae sometimes felt like an actual member of the family - even if only one person knew of his existence. After years and years that the ghost spent alone this cheap form of normality, of contact with other human beings, made Jongdae absolutely ecstatic. Maybe he should have expected that it couldn’t be this way forever. But maybe, just maybe, he chose to ignore those thoughts.

That morning, on the 15th September, Jongdae was watching as Baekhyun sleepily rub his eyes after a long night.

“Hey, Baekhyunnie.” greeted Jongdae, smiling widely. “Ready to get up and play? It’s warm, maybe we could convince your nanny to go outside, what do you think?” he asked curiously, sitting next to the child and awaiting his response.

What he heard however was nothing he was prepared for.

“Dae-ssi? Where are you?” frowned Baekhyun clearly confused.

Jongdae laughed a little bit nervously.

“What are you talking about, Baekhyunnie? I’m right here.” he pointed at himself. 

“Dae?” asked Baekhyun again, panic rising up in his voice and eyes slowly filling with tears. “Dae-ssi where are you? This is not funny!” he shouted out the last sentence and Jongdae winced. Baekhyun wasn’t the shouting type.

“Baekhyunnie…” he said carefully, waving his hand in front of the boy's face.

The action however wasn’t acknowledged by Baekhyun in any way. Instead the boy quickly got up and, after stumbling over his blankets, ran towards the door. Thick tears were rolling down his cheeks and Jongdae’s heart sank.

Baekhyun couldn’t see him anymore.

He froze in the stop, unable to answer child’s cries and pleads for him to come back. He wasn’t able to move from his spot and the only thing that he could focus on was the sound of his heart cracking in half.

“I’m still here, Baekhyunnie…”


 

15th September 1771 (47th year of Yeongjo of Joseon)

Pyongyang, Joseon

 

It was the 384th anniversary of Jongdae’s death and exactly 200 years since the last time he was able to talk to any of Byun Baekhyun’s incarnations.

Last two centuries that Kim Jongdae spent in complete and utter silence.


 

24th October 1771 (47th year of Yeongjo of Joseon)

Pyongyang, Joseon

 

The 9th incarnation of Byun Baekhyun had just recently turned 50 years old. His wife - Taeyeon - died 13 years ago. Both of his children were already married, living with their own families. Only two souls were left in the household - a man and ghost who haunted him.

Jongdae shivered. The residence had been so cold recently and he suspected that it had something to do with Baekhyun’s mood. Throughout all incarnations he was a cheerful person. Even in the moments of solemnity he always saw a ray of hope. But not this time. The energy that was once sparkling in Baekhyun’s eyes, was gone - a sight so sad that Jongdae could barely bring himself to watch. He wished that he could help but he didn’t know how.

Jongdae didn’t know the remedy to one of the most cruel illnesses known to humanity - loneliness. He was suffering from it for ages himself.

Sighing, Jongdae let his fingers hover above Baekhyun’s hair - pretending that he could touch and caress it, bringing comfort and warmth. The hair was still black but every year more and more grey streaks appeared among it. The time was ruthless even to the most beautiful of flowers.

“Oh, I swear I’m going mad!” groaned Baekhyun and shook his head. Jongdae moved a little bit closer, desperately trying to calm down the distressed man.

Baekhyun glanced to his right and suddenly his face was inches away from Jongdae. His warm breath was unknowingly fanning ghost’s icy cold cheeks. Jongdae shifted in his seat but didn’t move away. The closeness was still something he yearned after all these years because despite being cursed to haunt Baekhyun for centuries, he always tried to keep the distance between them. He never followed the man when he sensed that Baekhyun wanted to be alone or when he engaged in physical activities of a sexual nature. Being a ghost didn’t mean that he had to disrespect somebody’s privacy. Not to mention that he happened to be very well-mannered, thank you very much.

But now, that Baekhyun was so close, Jongdae simply couldn’t make himself lean away. He was absolutely and completely enchanted with Baekhyun’s brown eyes and his still handsome wrinkled face. Even after all those years, Jongdae was still mesmerized with Baekhyun’s beauty.

“You are a masterpiece, you know?” Jongdae asked shyly, knowing that the other wouldn’t hear him. 

There was a beat of silence and for a moment Jongdae was scared that his words somehow reached Baekhyun ears. But the latter only sighed again and hang his head low.

“I swear… One day…” said Baekhyun after few minutes and Jongdae frowned. Just as he was about to move away and leave the other man alone, Baekhyun started speaking again: “I know that I am not alone in this room, spirit. I’ve been seeing your shadow behind me ever since I can remember. One day… You will have to face me.” he declared but it didn’t sound like a threat. The phrasing were soft and delicate, almost welcoming.

For a moment Jongdae’s heart stopped beating before it started racing again. 

Not even once Baekhyun hinted that he knew of his presence. And yet he had just admitted that he could sense Jongdae. That he was aware of Jongdae’s company! Through all these years - maybe even through all these incarnations - Baekhyun knew that he was never alone. Jongdae bit his lower lip, trying to stop it from trembling. Salty tears were already running down his face. 

Baekhyun knew. 

Two centuries since the last time they talked and almost 4 centuries since they saw each other in flesh and yet Baekhyun still could feel Jongdae around him. And it seemed that he knew that the spirit would do no harm to him. Something warm exploded in ghost’s chest. He felt more alive than ever.

“I also hope that one day you will face me” he whispered quietly as Baekhyun’s eyes closed.


 

15th January 1772 (48th year of Yeongjo of Joseon)

Pyongyang, Joseon

 

In his wildest dreams Jongdae didn’t think of calling for a shaman and asking them to perform the ritual. Though generally shamanistic rituals were quite popular, it wasn’t common to call for a shaman if nothing significantly bad happened. At first even the mudang herself was really reluctant, explaining that her vision may not be clear as Baekhyun wasn’t sure of his own intentions but at the end - he managed to convince her. 

Because indeed Baekhyun didn’t explain to anyone what exactly was his problem, only mentioning that he sensed a spirit in his household. He neglected the fact that ever since he could remember, he knew that someone was watching him.

Jongdae wasn’t sure if he liked the whole idea. For a while he even considered running away. In theory he couldn’t go far but it was still possible for him to leave the household for a while. He could hide in a barn or somewhere close and hope that the mudang wouldn't find him. The temptation however was too big. Shaman was a bridge between two worlds, right? So she could possibly know the answer to all of Jongdae’s questions. 

At the end he decided that he could gain more than lose from taking part in the ritual.

That’s how he found himself sitting patiently on the floor behind Baekhyun as both of them watched mudang performing the ritual. There was plenty of music and dancing and shouting and Jongdae wondered if any spirits out there was truly entertained with this kind of celebration. Because he surely wasn’t. The colours were dancing in front of his eyes, mesmerizing theatre of flowers and rainbows. Layers of mudang ’s robes were twirling in the air as if they weighed nothing. Everything looked almost effortless but heavy tension was hanging under the ceiling.

Suddenly mudang and the music stopped. The shaman still had her eyes closed and several drops of sweat were covering her forehead as she started rocking back and forward. Jongdae gulped, the anxiety was crawling under his skin, the feeling almost physically uneasy. Then, slowly, mudang opened her eyes.

And once she did, she looked directly at Jongdae. She could see him. 

Everything was covered with a thick fog that smelt of lotus flowers and heavy incense. Jongdae got up from his seat, nervously looking around. His eyes immediately rested on Baekhyun’s tired silhouette and his heart sank. He wasn’t looking at Jongdae at all.

“They can’t see you, young soul.” said mudang quietly and her lips quirked up. 

Jongdae immediately looked back at her.

“Why?” he replied and it sounded much sharper than he intended too. “He can see me sometimes. He saw me once. Ages ago.” the words spilled from his mouth almost without his consent. 

Hearing that mudang laughed. “So you’ve been after this man for years now.” it wasn’t a question. It was a statement. Jongdae didn’t deny.

“Is the spirit really with us?” said Baekhyun suddenly, his eyes wandering around the room. His voice was nothing more than a shadow to Jongdae.

“He is.” confirmed mudang. “He can hear too.”

“Tell me how does he look like.” demanded Baekhyun looking at the shaman, which resulted in her chuckling.

“He is young. Very young man. Handsome too. You died too early, didn’t you, darling?” she asked glancing at Jongdae.

“I was 22.” provided helpfully Jongdae. “My name...”

“Shush. Don’t tell me your name.” cut quickly mudang. “Names have a great power and I see in your aura that I’m not the one in possession of your name nor should I be that person. Not me and not now. Do you understand, spirit?”

Jongdae could feel the blood in his veins growing hotter and hotter with every moment. He wanted to say his name out loud. He wanted to introduce himself, like a human being should. He wanted to hear his name fall from Baekhyun’s lips. And the shaman, mudang, this old woman in front of him, could see all of that in his eyes.

He gasped as something shook the floor under his feet.

And suddenly it was like being in fever again. Everything burned him from the inside and his vision was spotted with black dots. Jongdae stumbled on his legs, breathing heavily.

“I can’t talk to you for much longer. You shouldn’t talk to humans yet. You are not ready.” the shaman said quickly, “You talked to him before, didn’t you? To Byun Baekhyun.”

“Yes.” replied Jongdae but his voice was paper thin. He could barely focus on mudang’s words. The world around him was spinning. “I talked to him when I was alive and later… Two centuries ago.” his breath hitched. Every syllable, every sound brought more and more pain but he still had questions. 

Mudang started chanting another song and from the words hanging under the ceiling, Jongdae understood that she was breaking connection with him.

“Wait!” he cried out desperately, trying to force his legs to step closer to the woman. “Tell me!” he yelled hoarsely, “Will I ever be able to meet him again? Why am I stuck? I’m just…”

The words died in his throat. The fever was gone. There was no trace after the fog in the room. Mudang wasn’t looking at him anymore. She couldn’t see him anymore. Jongdae fell on his knees and hid his face in his hands. He lost his chance. The presence of unknowing Baekhyun sitting next to him became unbearable. He couldn’t stand the shaman standing in the middle of the room either. Jongdae was about to leave the room, when mudang called loudly.

“Spirit, I can’t see you anymore. But I know that you can see us. You can hear us.” her voice was much weaker than back when she was in her trance but it still made Jongdae freeze.

“Spirit.” she started again. “Your destiny is to wait. I saw that in the fog that was around you. You wait and be patient and one day, you will get what you yearn after. Your dream will come true but it takes time. You need time. More time.” the shaman finished and closed her eyes.

Jongdae didn’t look behind when he left the room. The rest of the day he spent in Baekhyun’s room, curled in the corner and crying himself to sleep.


 

3rd June 1856 (7th year of Cheoljong of Joseon)

Hanseong, Joseon

 

It was a sunny day and Baekhyun was smiling that very evening which meant that it was a good day for Jongdae too. The air smelt of summer and freedom and that’s exactly how both of them felt. It’s been a rough couple of years as the tension between Joseon and Japan was worsening. Being a son of one of the oldest yangban families Baekhyun was unwillingly tangled in the middle of the conflict between the fighting political fractions and Jongdae knew that it was stressful for him. It showed through the loud sighs and soundless sobbing in the middle of the night.

So really it was a blessing that Baekhyun could finally afford a free evening just for once. He needed that.

Jongdae smiled sweetly. Baekhyun was currently in his 20s and - despite the stress he was going through - he looked like a dream. Perhaps it was one of the best of his incarnations so far. His skin was glowing under the sun, his hair was thick and healthy, his eyes were shining like a freshly polished amber.

“But it’s so much more than just his looks” realized Jongdae as Baekhyun smiled at his reflection. Because truly he was a beauty but it was his personality that made him stand out in a room full of people, that made him sparkle with a light so pure that Jongdae thought he’d go blind sometimes. 

The ghost knew that his admiration for the human grew with every incarnation. He once tried to compare this feeling to something but he couldn’t. It was like taking a deep breath and drowning in the water at the same time. It was like soaking in the sun but knowing that it may burn you. It was like eating sticky rice but starving. The affection Jongdae felt for Baekhyun was sweet, passionate and addictive. 

Sometimes he still wished he could talk to him. Even if it was just for a minute. Even if it was only to greet him. But ever since the ritual centuries ago, Jongdae wasn’t able to connect with the human world at all. Let alone with Byun Baekhyun himself... 

At this point the only thing that kept him hopeful was mudang’s advice. Be patient and wait . So wait was what Jongdae did.

Baekhyun lightly pinched his cheeks and grinned at the silver mirror in front of him. 

Jongdae grinned back. Just like that his mood improved. 

The evening was warm and the last rays of sun were casting orange reflects on the streets.

But to Jongdae Baekhyun was much brighter.


 

23rd August 1856 (7th year of Cheoljong of Joseon)

Gates in front of Park’s residency, Hanseong, Joseon

 

Kim Jongdae loved Byun Baekhyun.

He knew that, he was aware of that, he accepted that.

After all he could either hate person he was bound to or love them. And Jongdae was never a hateful person. So yes, Jongdae didn’t have a problem with that. It was hard not to coo over adorable small Baekhyun covered with dirt and dust in 1570. It was hard not to be proud of Baekhyun who passed a civil service exam in 1640. It was hard not to cheer for Baekhyun at his 50th birthday in 1771. 

Kim Jongdae loved Byun Baekhyun like a friend loves a friend.

Or so he thought.


 

24th August 1856 (7th year of Cheoljong of Joseon)

Private chambers of Park Chanyeol, Hanseong, Joseon

 

Kim Jongdae found out that he was in love in the evening of August 24th 1856, when Park Chanyeol kissed Byun Baekhyun and the kiss was returned.


 

23rd August 1856 (7th year of Cheoljong of Joseon)

Yard of the Park’s residency, Hanseong, Joseon

 

Jongdae by no means was stupid or oblivious. It’s just that no one had ever bothered to offer him a choice or perspective. For years and years everything he saw was men kissing women and women declaring their undying love for men so naturally he assumed that there was no way for this to work between people of the same gender. And even if it did it surely didn't apply to him. 

Until 24th August 1856 Jongdae chose to believe that the stinging in his chest he felt when Baekhyun was kissing women wasn't jealousy but his own embarrassment and decency. 

But his heart didn’t sting when Chanyeol kissed Baekhyun. It was pierced with thousands of needles and it hurt so much that it took Jongdae’s breath away. 

Running away was his first instinct so that’s what he did. He knew that he wouldn’t be able to watch this happen again. He was scared that it could break his heart and ultimately destroy his soul. 

Jongdae was shaking. Every breath he took was almost suffocating, as if the air was too much for his lungs to handle. He didn’t need oxygen. He needed Baekhyun out of this place. He needed Park Chanyeol to drop dead on the spot.

For the first time in his life, Jongdae thought that it would be best if he didn’t die such an abnormal way. Because if he didn't then maybe he wouldn’t be able to get his heart broken.


 

2nd October 1931 (21st year of Japenese occupation of Korea)

Niigata, Japan

 

Apparently kissing Park Chanyeol in Baekhyun’s past incarnation was enough for him to start kissing men exclusively. Innocent pecks in the forest that promised much more in the future. Teasing brushes of lips behind the wall when there was a possibility someone could catch them. Sensual and passionate kisses shared in complete privacy. Baekhyun had experienced all of them. First with Park Chanyeol, then with Do Kyungsoo and after that with Oh Sehun. And that was only Baekhyun’s previous incarnation.

Jongdae lost his count on how many men had Baekhyun kissed since he was born in 1899. On his defence most of those guys were nothing more than a fling so there was a big possibility that even Baekhyun didn’t remember most of them.

“Oh, joy.” mumbled Jongdae as he slipped into the room Baekhyun that shared with Chinese man called Zhang Yixing. 

Clearly Zhang Yixing, who could barely speak Japanese and couldn’t utter a word in Korean, was nonetheless very skilled with his tongue which was deliciously shoveled into Baekhyun's mouth. 

“I literally left for like 10 minutes to see what was going on down the hall. I swear to god you two know no chill.” sighed Jongdae, leaning against the wall. Despite jealousy burning inside of him, the sight didn’t make him sick anymore. He got used to that over time. 

Baekhyun arched closer to Yixing, trying to get more friction between their bodies. The eyes that Jongdae loved so much fluttered when the Chinese man pulled him closer. Baekhyun sighed loudly, melting into the embrace and quickly capturing Yixing’s lower lip between his teeth. Their movements were sharp and frantic, stripped from any kind of deeper emotions but the way their bodies moved was still quite magical.

Jongdae bit his lower lip, trying to keep his own fantasies away. There was something attractive in watching Baekhyun when he was kissing other men. And yes, maybe Jongdae was jealous, sue him, but it’s not like he had a chance anyway.

A shiver rolled down his spine when Baekhyun moaned loudly, tugging on Yixing’s grey shirt.

“You are a very bad person, Kim Jongdae.” Jongdae whispered to himself. 

He slipped down the wall. It seemed that it would take a while and he could as well enjoy it while  sitting in the first row.


 

17th October 1931,

Niigata, Japan

 

Baekhyun’s eyes fluttered innocently when he curled next to the man on his bed. Yixing chuckled. He had a really nice laugh but Jongdae’s heart sank anyway. Because these were the moments that hurt him the most. Not making out. Not even sex. But these rare days when Baekhyun let himself be vulnerable in the arms of another human being. It was a completely new side of Baekhyun and Jongdae was as thrilled as scared of that. Most of all however - he was jealous that he wasn’t the one with whom Baekhyun could share that time. 

It wasn’t that Jongdae didn’t know what exactly Baekhyun saw in Yixing. No. His dimples were undeniably cute, his eyes were really beautiful, his lips looked soft and he certainly had everything that could satisfy a potential lover. 

But Kim Jongdae had been there for Baekhyun for almost 700 years now. So maybe he deserved to be with him a little bit more than Yixing who could barely hold a proper conversation, knowing only Chinese. Not that Jongdae could talk to any of them. But it was different, right? He was a ghost so at least he had a proper excuse. 

“Hey, Yixing…” whispered Baekhyun suddenly, startling everyone in the room. 

Yixing hummed absentmindedly, his fingers running through his sweaty hair. The faint scent of sex and rain was still hanging in the air. Sometimes when Baekhyun wasn’t tired after a day spent in the factory, he used to talk to Yixing about his life in Korea, about his dreams and about his worries. In exchange Yixing traded his own stories. They didn't understand a word from what the other was saying. To Jongdae, it was something heart-breaking to watch.

“You know what… Nevermind it’s dumb…” Baekhyun laughed quietly.

Yixing grounted. Over the past few weeks they developed a strange way of communicating through grounts, coughs, giggles and the basic Japanese. They could barely understand each other but at the same time they understood each other perfectly.

“Talk… I want to hear you...” encouraged Yixing in his broken Japanese. 

“Your pronunciation is improving.” noted Baekhyun whose linguistic skills were on a much higher level. 

“Talk,talk.” repeated Yixing stubbornly. 

Baekhyun sighed loudly, playing with Yixing’s long fingers. 

“Well,” started Baekhyun again switching to Korean. “I miss home a lot, you know? I bet you miss China too. Sometimes I see you going through all those small pedants you brought with yourself. I don’t even have to know what they are to know that they are important to you.” he tugged lightly on the pedant hanging on Yixing’s neck.

“And then I think about things I took from Korea and I think that none of them is as meaningful as your pedants.” continued Baekhyun in a hushed tone. If someone heard him speaking Korean here, he would be doomed. “Literally all I have are my clothes. I really thought that I was going here only for a while, you know? And look at me now! Over three years in Japan and still going strong!” he threw a fist in the air, laughing bitterly, “But sometimes… I don’t know how to explain it… Sometimes I feel like there’s a Korean spirit traveling with me. Something or someone familiar that makes me feel safe. I can almost feel the warmth on my skin, you know? There are days when I think I see someone with the corner of my eye, or in the window. But no matter how much I try, I can’t see them properly… I just want to thank them. They are the reason I'm not an empty shell by now" he finished quietly, staring into the ceiling. 

 

Jongdae waited with crying until he was sure that both Baekhyun and Yixing were asleep in their separate beds. They never actually slept in one bed. Mutual agreement. It was too intimate. Which actually worked for Jongdae pretty well. 

Once Jongdae started crying it was hard to stop. Tears were flowing down his cheeks, tracing violent streams and painting his face with colourless salt. For most of the time the loneliness was bearable for him but there were nights like this one, after Baekhyun’s surprising admission, that Jongdae didn’t know how to deal with his existence. He was lonely, cold and starved for any kind of contact. Above all, however, he was tired - the seed of hope that was given to him, instead of sprouting, was growing smaller and smaller.

“I miss you so much, Baekhyun. Even if you don’t miss me yet.” whispered Jongdae, leaving a breathy kiss on Baekhyun’s temple.

And maybe it was Jongdae’s imagination or maybe it happened for real, but he was ready to swear that on that exact moment Baekhyun smiled in his sleep.


 

13th July 1986

New York, USA

 

The stars were winking mockingly at Jongdae. They weren’t as bright as stars in Korea. He was almost sure of that. But Baekhyun’s carefree smile made it up for that.

When nineteen years ago, Jongdae found himself standing in the middle of the hospital, surrounded by people who used language he could barely recognize, he was on the verge of tears and panic attack. That was until he heard a loud cry of a newborn. He looked at the baby and smiled. Everything was alright. It was still Baekhyun. Everything was going to be okay. Eventually. 

Turned out that "eventually" takes time. 

America was a strange country and it didn't resemble Korea in the slightest. So it was safe to say that Jongdae was lost from the very beginning. 

To start with - the language. He was learning English as Baekhyun was learning English but soon enough it became clear that Jongdae could only dream of being this fluent. It took him over 10 years to try speaking to himself in English and he still thought that his pronunciation was horrible. From the other hand Baekhyun could barely form a single sentence in Korean. For most of the times he communicated in English which was alright even if Jongdae sometimes couldn't understand him well. 

If America was confusing then 70s and 80s were mind-blowing. 60s were weird in terms of fashion and lifestyle but it was still nothing compared to the punk revolution. Now that was absolutely out of Jongdae's comfort zone. 

He could get used to jeans, shirts and thick sweaters (it took him surprisingly long to realize that he was no longer wearing a hanbok), but leather jackets, heavy boots and pierced ears were something he thought he'd never be comfortable with. That was until Baekhyun started wearing those of course. 

Jongdae wasn't sure what was first: the clothes or the rebellious attitude but he had to admit that both somehow matched Baekhyun's personality. Maybe it was because of his experiences from past incarnation - the trauma, working at Japanese factories, then World War II and then Korean World - or maybe it was just a new side of Byun Baekhyun but he was rebelling against a lot nowadays.

Somehow it felt that only Jongdae saw what was under this shell - the loneliness, the chaos, the confusion. Baekhyun was all of that. And ever though for the time he was loud and eager to put a fight, he had days when he just wanted to be alone. Days like today when he hid on the small yard behind the old factory where only stars and hollow windows could judge him.

Loud howling pulled Jongdae back on earth. He didn't even have to turn around to know who was coming their way. He snorted loudly. Show-offs. Not exactly the type of people Jongdae would associate himself with but it wasn’t his life but Baekhyun’s. And he seemed to like Kris, Han and Junmyeon a lot so who was Jongdae to tell him otherwise. No one. He could even talk. 

"Baek, Baeks, Baexie!" Laughed Han, lying down next to Baekhyun who still seemingly didn't acknowledge their presence. "I knew that we would find you here! What a good friend I am by knowing where Byun Baex likes to hide from the world."

"I know someone who would buy that information for a good stash." Laughed Junmyeon. 

That seemed to get Baekhyun's attention as he turned around abruptly to face the group:

"Don't you dare tell that Mark. I swear to god, he doesn't take no as an answer." He hissed through clenched teeth. 

"You should just give him a chance Baek. He even went as far as learning how to say your full name. Granted. It didn't even up well but he tried!" giggled Junmyeon as he flopped next to Han. 

"Screw you, Jun." snapped Baekhyun. 

"Not into boys. Told you already."

"Okay, okay. Enough of those childish games." said Kris, sitting on the grass in front of the rest of the group. "Baex, I already said Jun and Han but listen man, today I have something really fun!"

Baekhyun melodramatically sighed and propped on his elbows. Jongdae knew that it was just a pose. Baekhyun was very dramatic. He had an image to live up too and he didn’t plan on failing or so it seemed.

The air smelt of cigarettes and lotus flowers. 

“What did you get this time, Kris? New cigs or something?” he asked instead and Kris grinned wickedly.

“Something much better!” clapped Junmyeon happily. “I think you’ve never tried smoking pot, have you? I’m almost sure you haven’t since you never visit Lucas. Neither do I, by the way”

“Yeah yeah! So imagine that Kris managed to finally get in touch with the real deal that sells Lucas that stuff!” interrupted Han giggling softly. Only then did Jongdae notice that his pupils were blown.

“Oh?” Baekhyun arched his eyebrow, “So you actually brought the stuff to me? How considerate of you.” he snorted but not even the nonchalant shrug did a poor job in hiding his excitement.

“Damn right, boys!” laughed Kris, carefully pulling a small package out of the inner pocket of his jacket. “We’re going down tonight!”

Jongdae knew that maybe he should have been concerned about what was going on but he couldn’t bring himself to care. It wasn’t that he was a guardian angel or something. Sure, it was terrifying that Baekhyun breathed next to something that was classified as a drug but he knew that it could be worse. Besides back during the Old Age, Chinese medics used to use those herbs as a way to soothe pain so really Jongdae wasn’t panicking at all. Instead he sat at the window sleeve and watched Baekhyun taking long deep drags. The smoke was drifting around the group, making them look like they were surrounded by clouds. 

Soon the atmosphere could be described as a relaxing weekend with a pinch of a rebellion. Junmyeon lied down on the grass and closed his eyes, gentle smile in the corners of his mouth. He looked peaceful which didn’t happen often. He was really active member of many local communities and there was yet to be a strike that wasn’t organized by him. Han and Kris on the other hand… they were preoccupied with each other. Their touches were gentle but too lingering to be random or platonic. Jongdae smiled to himself. Han and Kris looked cute together. They would make an amazing couple.

All in all, that left one person alone.

Jongdae jumped off the window sleeve and casually strolled closer to Baekhyun. He was sitting with his back turned away from the building but it was clear that his posture was much more relaxed than before.

Carefully, like a cat, Jongdae crouched behind Baekhyun and leaned his head a little bit forward, almost resting it at the latter’s shoulder.

“How are you feeling, Baekhyunnie?” he asked softly. His voice was quiet and he didn’t bother hiding the warmth spilling from his words. He wouldn’t be heard anyway - so he thought.

But when Baekhyun suddenly jerked away and turned around, everything that Jongdae thought stopped being the matter because clearly he was heard. He was seen. 

Baekhyun and Jongdae screamed in union.

And then Jongdae did what he was best at when situation was out of control - he ran away.


 

3rd November 1986

New York, USA

 

Kim Jongdae was a coward and he knew that. He kept Baekhyun on distance all the time now but especially when he was getting high. Jongdae would only watch him from far away. He wasn’t ready for Baekhyun to see him, to face him. It seemed… inappropriate. Especially since he knew that Jongdae’s presence wouldn’t disturb Baekhyun. His eyes were even more droopy, usually hazy with pleasant laziness. His attitude changed too. The laugh that Jongdae loved was more carefree, its sound much softer, as if it lacked all the sharp edges.

It wasn’t that Jongdae didn’t like this version of Baekhyun. No, it was in fact very endearing, slightly amusing and utterly adorable. It was that Jongdae was afraid how Baekhyun would reflect at talking to him once the high was over.

As a result those last few months had been the longest and most painful period of time in Jongdae’s life. He had been following Baekhyun around for centuries and now that the latter could apparently see him, under particular circumstances - Jongdae was too scared to come closer.

So he started living up to his nature. He became a ghost lurking in the shadows and hiding in dark corners. He became everything that could keep Baekhyun away, simply because he couldn’t stand those brown eyes looking at him, when he was vulnerable. When he was afraid of rejection.

“Next time I will come closer” he used to tell himself.


 

20th November 1986

New York, USA

 

It was only Baekhyun, Junmyeon and Tao this time. They were discussing something serious like the world’s peace or the communism while waiting until the effects would kick off. Tao was a sleepy high. He usually just started at nothing, smiling softly and caressing his pierced ear. Jun from the other hand was exceptionally cuddly. Not that anyone minded. 

Jongdae was standing at the top of the factory so he couldn’t hear them well anyway. He thought that he would be safe just being there - that his presence would be unnoticed like it usually did, so he threw his head to the back, sighing loudly. Old memories filled his head. The scent of petrol, sweat and something sweet and flowery hit his nose. It was a calm evening. 

So he really couldn’t be blamed for not hearing the creak of the fire stairs until it was too late. 

“I just call you ‘Chen’, did you know that?” 

Jongdae opened his eyes too quickly and even the deemed lights seemed to be too bright. And all the sounds around him ceased and all the movement was non-existencial. There was a high possibility that the whole world stopped or maybe it was never existed in the first place.

Baekhyun casually sitting down on the roof, soft smile gracing his features. He seemed to be completely oblivious to Jongdae’s shock.

“I call you Chen…” he started again, “And I know that I can see you only when I’m off my head. That’s pretty cool.” Baekhyun finished quietly and turned to face Jongdae. His eyes, beautiful brown eyes, were staring at the ghost. At Jongdae unmistakably and undoubtedly. 

They were the only two people on the rooftop afterall.

Baekhyun laughed quietly. His laughter was still bright like a north star shining in the middle of the night. No sharp edges. Only soft light. And now it was meant for Jongdae’s ears only. Like a secret. 

“What are you a mute or something?” Baekhyun asked, “Because I’m pretty sure that you talked to me once. Do you remember? You never came near me after that.” rambled Baekhyun without a break. “You’re Korean, right? Just like me. You do look Korean. I bet you’re better at speaking Korean too. I can barely hold a conversation. You could totally teach me, right?”

“I’m…” started Jongdae but the words got stuck in his throat. Unable to formulate a logical sentence he focused on the silver earring in Baekhyun’s ear. 

“Oh, right! I was meaning to ask.” laughed Baekhyun and maybe Jongdae felt like flying.  “What are you exactly? Like my hallucination or what? Because I’m pretty sure the others can’t see you.”

That question made Jongdae smile. So Baekhyun assumed that he was one of the side effects of smoking weed. It was much safer than the truth. Jongdae could roll with that version.

“Hallucination?” repeated Jongdae slowly, “Yeah… You could say so…” he agreed quietly. 

“Your accent is cute. I wish I had Korean accent too. It’s fun.” 

Jongdae laughed “It’s not all that fun. It really makes me feel insecure, you know?” he said because that was true and because Baekhyun always made him open up. Even if he didn’t know that he was listening.

“Well, I think it’s just badass! You’re a living example of a person who exists on this thin line between one world and another.” replied Baekhyun quickly. Jongdae tried really hard not to laugh. It hit home a little bit too much. “You speak English but you still feel Korean by heart since you don’t try to hide your accent! That’s beautiful! Don’t lose this kind of approach. Embrace yourself and don’t let anyone tell you that who you are is wrong!”

“You really live up to your rebel image, don’t you?” snorted Jongdae. 

“Well of course! Punk is a lifestyle!” Baekhyun smiled lazily.

Suddenly it turned out that the hardest thing wasn’t running away from Baekhyun. It was trying to not stay close to him.


 

29th May 1987

New York, USA

 

“Do you think that I made you handsome on purpose, Chen?” asked Baekhyun, trying hard to keep his eyes opened.

The air was filled with the smoke coming from the blunt that was hanging between Baekhyun’s long fingers. Jongdae felt like choking but it had nothing to do with the smoke.

“What? Why would you ask something like that?” he uttered finally, looking everywhere but at the person he was talking to.

“Well, you’re hot. I think it’s pretty logical question to ask.” shrugged Baekhyun, rolling his head from one shoulder to the other.  “Are you like my wet-dream’s protagonist bring-to-life or something?”

If there was one thing that Jongdae had trouble getting used to, it was the bluntlessness that Baekhyun displayed. Sure, maybe Jongdae was a 700 years old ghost but he knew that even for America-in-the-80s standards, Baekhyun had close to zero filter. And even less when he was off. It was hard to tell if it was endearing or annoying. 

“I’d prefer sticking to ‘or something’ in this scenario…” he mumbled finally.

“Does it imply that you exist only when I’m high?” Baekhyun scooted closer which made Jongdae almost instantly moved away. Distance was important.

“No, not really. No…” replied Jongdae thoughtfully. 

“Care to explain? Do you just follow me around? Or to you haunt whoever is currently on high in the neighbourhood?” grinned Baekhyun mischievously. “Because if that’s the case then I’d rather be stoned all day long than have you hanging out with other dudes.”

Jongdae blinked, slightly confused. If he didn’t know better he’d say that Baekhyun was flirting with him. But that couldn’t be that. People and punks didn’t just go around flirting with what they think was their hallucinations and in reality was a ghost that had been haunting them for centuries. 

“I don’t haunt other people… You’re the only one who can see me anyway…” Jongdae said softly. He wanted to add something more. Something like ‘it’s always been you only’ or something equally cheesy but he thought it was still too early for that. At least 100 years too early.

“So you’re basically a stalker, huh?” Baekhyun asked, shrugging his leather jacket off. 

“What?!?” screeched Jongdae, throwing his hands in the air “No, no, no, no, no! It’s nothing like that! It’s not how it looks like. And I swear to god, I-” he scrunched his nose when Baekhyun squeaked, clearly amused at his reaction.

“You’re a menace…” hissed Jongdae through clenched teeth but it was obvious that he wasn't angry.

He snorted only slightly annoyed and lied his back on the grass. It was getting dark and he knew that soon enough the effects of smoking would wear off and Baekhyun would be unable to see him again. But for now - Jongdae could still soak in the company.

“Look what you’re doing to me, making me fall into you even more.” he whispered to himself after few minutes filled with silence.

“Hey! Don’t mumble in Korean! You know that I’m not nearly as fluent as you are!” giggled Baekhyun, resting his head on the folded jacket. His eyes, though hazy, were glowing brightly and Jongdae found himself unable to look away.

“Maybe it’s not even Korean, you know.” smiled Jongdae lazily. He completely missed out the soft sparkles that appeared in Baekhyun’s eyes. “Do you think you just self-projected on me? Maybe some part of you would love to be really, really fluent.”

“Or I just find it really hot.” pointed Baekhyun.

“Or you just find it really hot.” admitted Jongdae.

Agreeing with Baekhyun was much easier than accepting their fate.


 

5th February 1988

New York, USA

 

Kris’ apartment was small, crowded and smelt of old pizza boxes and cigarettes. Apparently it was a definition of ‘punk’ therefore the group used to gather here on the windy and cold days. Just a couple of friends sipping beer and talking about girls, boys and AIDS crisis. Jongdae was happily dangling his legs off the window sleeve, listening to the conversation. It was stupid how quickly he grew used to contact with Baekhyun and how it only intensified Jongdae’s longing. He was drawn to him even if they couldn’t talk.

Jongdae thought that maybe it was what the shaman was talking about, years and years ago - he was able to communicate with Baekhyun, just like he always wanted. He couldn’t touch him but then - it was never part of the deal that Jongdae unwillingfully made with fate. He knew that he was in no position to make complaints about his life. He wanted to admire Byun Baekhyun and that’s exactly what he got in return.

“And that’s why Baekhyun fell for his own fantasy!” laughed Han suddenly, hitting his own knee. 

Jongdae’s eyebrows furrowed. Apparently he wasn’t following the conversation for the past couple of minutes because he had no recollection of talking about Baekhyun’s love interest. Hell. He had no idea that Baekhyun even had a love interest! And Jongdae was Baekhyun’s ghost, he should have known first!

“Don’t be ridiculous.” laughed Baekhyun but it sounded a little bit fake. Everyone could tell that. Baekhyun quickly looked around the room as if they were alone.

Jongdae shivered, realizing who Baekhyun was looking for. But he couldn’t see him. Baekhyun couldn’t see Jongdae if he wasn’t high.

“Oh, come on, Baek! It’s been months, you think we wouldn’t figure it out?” asked Junmyeon, scratching his eyebrow and smudging the black eyeshadow. “You rarely talk about how you feel when you smoke but when you do it’s always about Chen.”

“Well yeah, because he can only talk to me then…” mumbled Jongdae to himself. He never told Baekhyun his real name. He liked being “Chen”. Chen had no past, Chen was alive, Chen was cool with his strange accent and melodic voice. He prefered Chen over Jongdae.

“Shut up.” hissed Baekhyun, still looking around frantically, “You never know who’s listening.” he added and Jongdae couldn’t help but laugh. He knew who was listening - Jongdae himself. He was always listening. 

“Your ghostly boyfriend is here?” giggled Tao, spilling a little bit of the liquid from his can. 

“Not my boyfriend, gods in heaven!” groaned Baekhyun, hiding face in his hands. “We’re just talking a lot. When we can.”

“You and your smoking hot dream guy slash druggie’s hallucination named Chen?” enquired Han, wiggling his eyebrows. “How does it even work anyway? Like he is your fantasy so you know what he’s going to tell you anyway? What's the fun in that?”

That seemed to catch Baekhyun off guard. Jongdae leaned a little bit further, curious of the response. 

“He… He feels like a different person. Not a part of me at all.” started Baekhyun hesitantly. “I never know what he’s going to say or do. We are complete opposites in some ways but we are also very similar somehow. He is much softer than I could have ever been and really gentle. Very well-mannered too, I suppose. He still winces if I curse.” He laughed quietly and Jongdae’s heart clenched uncomfortably. “I doubt I could dream of somebody just as perfect as Chen. My mind is too much of a chaos.”

The last sentence made the whole company wheeze in laughter but not Jongdae. He couldn’t explain what he was feeling at the moment. He knew that he should be happy… The way Baekhyun spoke of him was beautiful but at the same time - terrifying. Everything in Jongdae screamed that it was wrong, that no matter what he wanted to believe he shouldn’t feel flattered. 

Nonetheless, the warmth had already began to spread throughout his body. He slipped from the window sleeve and sat next to Baekhyun. Hesitantly his hand made its way to the fashionable messy brown nest on Baekhyun’s head. A shiver rolled through Jongdae’s body, the softness was barely there but he could still feel it. 

But the sensation slipped away from his fingers just as quickly as it appeared. 

“Someone close the damned window! It’s windy!” Baekhyun groaned, scratching the same exact spot which Jongdae touched seconds ago. 

“The window’s closed, Baexie!” informed Kris, “Maybe it’s your invisible lover kissing your head goodnight!” he added, making an obnoxious smooching sound. 

Baekhyun threw his empty can at Kris. Jongdae showed him his middle finger.

Both of them ignored implications of Kris’ words.


 

17th March 1990

New York, USA

 

Baekhyun was alone when he lit up the blunt. It was the first sign that something was wrong. Jongdae wasn’t stupid, he knew that Baekhyun rarely smoked alone.

The next sign was that as soon as he closed his eyes and breathed in the smoke a single tear rolled down his cheek. It was soon followed by the second one and another and another. Jongdae has been following Baekhyun for ages. He knew that Baekhyun didn’t cry often. It was one of the never-changing parts of his personality. It was admirable truly, how strong Baekhyun was every when everything was crumbling down.

The third sign was the most subtle one and maybe if Jongdae’s whole life wasn’t focused on Byun Baekhyun he wouldn’t notice that. But it’s been two long months since the last time he talked to Baekhyun. He wasn’t given an opportunity. Time after time Baekhyun refused smoking pot and Jongdae had a sick feeling in his stomach that it had something to do with him.

So Jongdae couldn’t do much beside sitting down on the chair and waiting until the effects would kick in. He didn’t have to wait for too long.

“Hey, Chen…” whispered Baekhyun softly. He tilted his head to the right - he had that habit - and smiled slightly. “Long time no see, buddy… I mean. I don’t know, do you feel as time goes by?”

It was impossible not to smile around Byun Baekhyun.

“I do actually.” replied Jongdae with a smile.

“Oh… Well maybe it would be better for me not to know that…” sighed Baekhyun. “I was trying to… you know… keep the distance between us.” he explained carefully, no trace of a smile on his face. 

“Why?” Jongdae asked but he knew the answer already.

“Because I don’t think I should hang out with you that often.”

It still hurt.

“Why?”

The silence stretched between then and for a moment Jongdae thought that Baekhyun wasn’t going to reply. The result of this conversation was already hanging in the air, it was already crawling in the corners of Jongdae’s mind but he needed answers before he could let go.

“Because you’re not real.” mumbled Baekhyun quietly and quickly wiped the tears rolling down his cheek. “You are not real. I can’t touch you and I can’t talk to you whenever I want. You are not real while I’m so… When I need you in my life every day. I’m so sorry, Chen...”

On 17th March 1990 Kim Jongdae went through his first break-up.

In his opinion it fucking sucked.


 

6th May 1992

Bucheon, South Korea

 

Jongdae’s face was still wet with tears when he stood in the middle of the hospital. He knew that the echo of Baekhyun’s voice when he was dying would haunt him forever. It was too hard to push the images away. Everything was too fresh.

 

Just a few seconds ago Byun Baekhyun, that obnoxious punk who had courage to face Jongdae, was still alive. Until he was no more. 

Just a few seconds earlier the asphalt was still cold under Jongdae’s fingers and the blood coming out of Baekhyun’s wound was still sickly hot. Damaged lungs were still drawing the air and Jongdae watched the chest raise up and down, knowing that there’s nothing he could do. 

It was the first time Jongdae had been crying so hard. Maybe because he had to actually watch as Baehyun’s light was slowly going out. Or maybe because it was the first time they actually had a bond. Until 1992 Baekhyun’s deaths meant the beginning of something new. But this time it meant the end of something precious.

“Are you here?” breathed out Baekhyun. The air around him was reeking with blood and something sweet. Some flowers perhaps. 

Surrounded with the pieces of his motorcycle and drops of his own blood, Baekhyun was the last man alive on the road. The car that collided with him was a few meters away, face mask crushed against the big oak. Cries of pain coming from there stopped a few minutes ago but the front lights were still flickering. The other motorcycle was lying on the roadside. Along with what was left from Jthe driver himself.

Baekhyun blindly looked around.

“Chen…” he cried out. Jongdae hadn’t heard this name in two years. “Chen, ’m scared…” 

The stench of blood was slowly getting too overwhelming, too heavy and too real. Baekhyun coughed violently. The corner of his lips was tinted with fresh blood. It was enough to force Jongdae to move.

In a split of a second, he was kneeling next to Baekhyun, tenderly touching his wounds, trying to stop the bleeding with sleeves of his sweater, trying to do anything to sooth the pain.

But Kim Jongdae was a ghost, he couldn’t do anything.

“Chen, Chen, Chen…” repeated Baekhyun like a mantra. “Are you here… We didn’t talk in a while. I’m so sorry... “

It was a blubber of a dying man and Jongdae knew that. It didn’t have to mean anything but to him it meant the world. Angry tears appeared in the corners of his eyes. He couldn’t even comfort Baekhyun. He couldn’t do anything. It was the first time he was being called and he couldn’t do anything.

“I’m here. I’m right here.” he replied anyway, even if it was pointless.

His fingers were still clean. The blood doesn’t stick to ghosts. Jongdae hated how clean his hands were at this moment.

“I’m right here, Baek. There’s nothing to be afraid of…” he continued keeping his voice as soft and sweet as he could.

Suddenly Baekhyun cried loudly, his hands clenching at the fabric of the t-shirt. It was black but the stains of blood were visible anyway, making the fabric stick to his body.

“I don’t want to die…”

Jongdae’s throat clenched uncomfortably. His fingers were pointlessly combing through Baekhyun’s hair that was wet with his blood. It looked like he had just get out of the shower but his face instead of being relaxed - was twisted in fear and pain. Jongdae took a deep breath. 

“There’s nothing to worry about, Baekhyunnie…” he started quietly, unable to stop himself, letting the old nickname roll down his tongue. He didn’t care if no one could hear him. “You will be fine… I promise. You won’t remember any of this. No pain, no memories. You will live a good life…” he hesitated before saying the next words. “Again. Once again you will live a good, happy life.”

Baekhyun wasn’t crying anymore. His body was slowly going limp and cold. The only indication that he was still alive were shallow, heavy breaths and his soundlessly moving lips. Usually in moments like this Jongdae used to prepare himself for a change of scenery, for the cry of a newborn baby. Today, he couldn’t bring himself to let go.

“I bet that you’re going to have a fantastic new incarnation, you know?” at this point Jongdae was rambling but he really couldn’t stop. Not when Baekhyun was suddenly much calmer. He lost too much blood to keep fighting. Jongdae swallowed the lump growing in his throat. “And you know what? I’m still going to be with you. So you don’t have to worry about leaving me behind. Both of us don’t have much of a choice.” he laughed drunk with sadness. He leaned down, his lips almost brushing Baekhyun’s pale ear. “Never fear, Baekhyunnie. You’ll never be alone. Chen will always be there if you call for him.”

Baekhyun’s eyes lightened up a little bit and he made a gesture as if he wanted to touch something.

“Chen…” he whispered and the corners of his lips curled up slightly.

“Mhm… Chen. Kim Jongdae.”

Baekhyun sighed tiredly and his eyes closed.

 

Jongdae broke down completely in the middle of the hall. Tears that were welling in his eyes when he talked to dying Baekhyun, started streaming down his cheeks. He couldn’t bring himself to look at the newborn baby. It used to be one of his favourite experiences but now he just didn’t care. When he heard the nurse rushing down the corridor with something small and warm in her hands, he ran to the bathroom too scared of confrontation.

As soon as Jongdae saw himself in the mirror, he started screaming. When he looked at his own hands his legs gave up under his weight. His fingers were dirty with drying blood, his face was covered with dark, red spots and smeared crimson smudges. 

A couple of hours had to pass for Jongdae to collect himself. 

When he deemed himself to be ready, he went straight to the room when baby Baekhyun was sleeping peacefully.

Jongdae leaned down and looked at him.

“Cheap imitation.” he hissed and moved away.

He had a bad feeling about this incarnation and he wanted nothing more than the old Baekhyun back.