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Ruin Me, I Dare You.

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“When the world discovered the existence of soul mates it was by accident.

The Existent Experiment. An experiment that was meant to find proof of the existence of the human soul. An experiment that blew up in it's researchers faces, releasing particles into the atmosphere. A plague that spread across the world in a matter of months.  It took the survivors a year to work out what had gone wrong, but when they did it was too late. The Existent Phenomenon had begun.

The Tether they called it. A  membrane invisible to the human eye, exiting on a parallel plane which inextricably connects one soul to another. Soul Mates; the title of every newspaper revealed the greatest discovery known to man…”

Jane grumbled angrily at her laptop screen as her finger repeatedly stabbed the full stop on her keyboard.

This was the fourth draft of the movie blurb she had written this evening. It was also the 5th this month where the brief centered around the EXP. Two starcrossed lovers. An assassin and a cop discover they are soul mates but bound to be enemies. Her favourite was the mob boss and FBI agent finding out they are soul mates. Because that’s original. What she wouldn’t give to write a sappy blurb about two coppers on the job, partners before soulmates. Performing their duties like it didn't make a difference that they were tethered. 

It's been ten years since her parents discovered they were Soulmates. Washing the dishes of all things when they experienced the Switch. They saw each other through the others eyes, standing over the kitchen sink, dishtowel in hand and smiled when they saw themself through the others eyes. The moment they went back to normal, they kissed each other and finished washing the dishes. Though perhaps they were the lucky ones.

Plenty of marriages had ended up in divorce since the metaphorical Second Big Bang. It was hard discovering the one who you had put a ring on wasn't your destined partner.

Liz, Jane's best friend from high school was a child of divorce. The new cruelty kids came up with these days. Unsubstantiated rumours that insinuated children born to non Soulmates were not meant to be born. That they weren't connected to a Tether and would die Old and Alone. She had the last laugh there.

But why does the world have to make a big deal out of The EXP. Why can’t they treat it like the invention of the bicycle or the telephone. It’s a benefit to society, but that does not give them the right to allow It to invade every crevice of society. Every commission Jane had taken in the last three years have been about the damn EXP.

If it wasn't because she needed the money. 

Five years the trend has lasted, unheard of in publishing. Five years and every book, movie and tv show had been about the damned Existent Phenomenon. What happened to Game of Thrones? What happened to Supernatural for peats sake!!!!

Jane finished the draft reluctantly and emails it to the company. A distant hope that she was not going to get another blurb commission this week. She was all for aiding fellow writers with their publishing aspirations. It was the least she could do if she ever expected the same treatment.

A double-edged sword.

Slipping her phone into the pocket of her pjs , ear phones in her ears, Jane closed down production in her crammed, little office of organisational chaos.

She pushed the buds further into her ears as she sashayed past her parents room. She needed new ones like yesterday.  

A solitary figure, dancing through a silent house to the voices in her ears. Certainly not an unfamiliar site if one had watched that haunted house show on Netflix. Or so Jane had heard. She still hadn't watched it. Horror should be enjoyed in groups. With the lights on. In the middle of the day.

The clock as she passed it read 12.01pm.

If she went to bed now, she would get in at least 6 hours of sleep. That was enough time to get in 5 hours of writing in the morning before Jane's agent, Fiona sent her notes on the latest draft. 

Months powering over chapter rewrites, highlighted paragraphs, emails back and forth to explain why something could not be removed from the book because it would fall apart otherwise had made Jane a Realist.  If not with pessimistic tendencies. 

It would be the last draft. If Fate was kind to Jane. 

Jane’s standing in front of the mirror, making a mental list in her head of tomorrows schedule, toothbrush in hand, paste threatening to drip down her chin when it happened.

 

She’s standing before a mirror.  A studio, mirror from wall to wall, music blaring through speakers behind her. Her chest is heaving, her muscles sore. Silver hair sweeps across her vision as sweat drips down her neck. A male reflection stares back.

A moment passes. A blink. An inhale and she’s no longer staring out of those eyes. The reflection shows black hair. A figure to the left, silver hanging from an ear. 

Same mirror, same studio. She feels herself stumble. Her intake of air sharp. Shocked. 

Another breath. An exhale. She’s paused in motion. Her body hesitant to move. Arms outstretched. Another face staring back through different eyes. Another reflection.

A blink. A different foot steps forward. A new body jolts.  Excitement fills her.
Another breath. She turns. A different face. Focused on her fallen brother. Concern turns to trepidation. 

A sharp intake. Different Eyes. Different Hands. Realization strikes. A new reflection.

Another release. Body loose. Eyes Alert. A smile. Another Reflection.

 

Like surfacing from beneath an ocean wave.  Icy. Breathless. Vision blurred from the salt water. Jane was frozen.  Her toothbrush hovered over the sink, a white abyss.

BREATHE JANE!

The exhale came out fast. A peppermint cascade of foam across the sink.

This couldn’t be happening.

The toothbrush left her hand. 

It had to be because of what she was listening to. A paranoid delusion because she listened too much kpop when she was stressed and prone to whinge.

There were stories about this kind of thing, about people matching across the world. Strangers who wouldn't normally have crossed paths. The Tether wasn’t a physical thing. It wasn’t constrained to the laws of the natural word, so a single tether was common. But more then one?

How could it be them?

Her breathing became ragged as she dragged her legs out into the hall. The cry to her parents escaped her lips, drowned out by the music in her ears. She clung to furniture for support, her feet barely finding ground.

Were the walls closing in?

She could feel pressure building in her chest. A panic attack?

Another cry escaped her before the puppeteer cut her strings. Her knees collided with the floor sending shock waves up her hips. 

She recognized the struggle to breath, the feeling of not being able to get enough air even when her lungs filled. The sensation of her chest not expanding or her lungs being too small to take in the air she required to breath. The air felt thin. She grasped for something to ground her, the floor, her pants, the door frame.

Vibrations in the timber floor beneath her caused her to look up.  The terrified faces of her parents cut across her vision as it began to darken. The corners of her sight blackened until all she could focus on is Their voices. But even They faded to nothingness when the darkness took hold.

 


 

Jane woke to a beeping. A monotonous high pitched beep that still needed a lesson in rhythm. She rolled away from the familiar sound, burying her head deeper into the pillow. 

They still don’t have volume control on those things?

She turned and winced as a tug at her arm, a sharp pain, halted her. A familiar sensation. As were the cords across her chest. A heart monitor.

A moan escaped her as she peeked through her lids. A ceiling that would make the weakest claimant of trypophobia squirm greeted her.

Shit!

She looked to her arm were she found her shackle. An IV.

Double Shit!

A hospital. Not her favourite place in the world.

She looked around. At least it wasn’t a private room. Those drove her to boredom. 

The curtains around her had been drawn closed and her father, his face grave, stared as her from across the vast distance of the cotton cream expanse that was her hospital blanket.

"Since when do you have panic attacks?” He looked like he hadn't slept.

"Since last night apparently."  She shuffled into a sitting position, adjusting her IV and began to search for any liquid that would lubricate her sandpaper throat. There was a jug on the bed side table. She filled a glass and chugged it, then filled another because IV be damned. It did shit all to relieve actual throat parching thirst.

She drank enough water to fill a bath, which would be awesome right about now. She felt sweaty, and dirty and not fit to be seen in public let alone taking up a bed in a public hospital.

She did not need to be here.

The amount of damage caused by Switches in the last ten years was extensive, sure. Car accidents. Pedestrians stopping in the middle of the street during peak traffic. Collage football players who missed the winning pass because they switched with their soulmate at the wrong moment. Though that was more emotional damage then physical.

Even a skydiver with two broken legs and a shattered pelvis as a result of switching in freefall had more right to be in a bed then she did.
The UN’s Switch Related Incident Legislation was implemented for those very things. Not for a 24 year old writer after having a switch induced panic attack

Surely it didn’t compare to a fractured pelvis.

A doctor appeared at the end of her bed, her father rising to meet him. A mind reader. Just at the moment she was deciding to make a run for it too.

He was young, mid 20’s maybe and married going by the ring on his finger. He'd probably had a normal switch. He was probably in medical school when it happened. Not brushing his teeth.

"Miss Seville, how are you feeling?" 

Embarrassed. “I had a panic attack right?" She scratched at an itch on her other arm only for her fingers to catch on something. Another bandage covered the inside of her elbow. 

They took blood!

Crap!

"It would seem so. Your test results confirm that the Existent Particles in your system are now active." Double Crap! Not the way she wanted her father to find out about this part of her life.

"How long ago was your First Switch?" the doctor asked, face glued to his tablet, stylus tapping away waiting for Jane’s answer.
She glanced at her father, his face alert and hyper focused. He too was awaiting her answer. She searched for her phone finding it by the jug.

Taping the screen on, Jane had to hold back a squeal.

She cursed fate for having a sense of humour, if she could call it that, and banishes her phone to depths of her pocket.
"Twelve hours ago. Why did I sleep so long if it was just a panic attack?"  She was unable to look at her father as the Doctor answered.

"Switches can effect people differently. Though mild, it appears your Asthma reacted to the particles causing you to black out. But it is rare. Was there anything unusual about your Switch?" 

YES.

His tapping continued. He hadn’t even looked at her yet.

“It was long distance." Jane tried not to notice her father fidgeting as he retook his seat. They hadn’t talked about this possibility, about what this sort of thing would mean for her.

The doctor brushed it off. Long distance Soulmates were not uncommon now that the world was international. "God only knows what it would have been like in middle ages - Fire and Brimstone." He laughed. At himself.

Jane forced a smile. She didn't feel compelled to explain to someone who should be more intelligent, that it wouldn't have happened in the middle ages. What with humans highly suspicious stance on science. 
He proceeded down his checklist. Tapping away as Jane answered his questions. He ordered her to drink another liter of fluid today, and to get in contact with her Soulmate as soon as possible. It wouldn’t do her any good to get sick.

No she wouldn't want that. 

Soulsickness.

A bane to the world.

To have an invisible rope tide to her very essence, to tug at her. To feel lethargic. To sap all her energy. To take away her desire to eat one too many pieces of red liquorice or remove her capacity to drink erroneous amounts of tea. 

All because her Tether had a distance complex. 

Because she wasn’t in the same vicinity as her Soulmate.

Who would willingly want that.

Stupid Existent Particles. Why do they have to be drawn to each other without consulting their host?  It's not her fault she lives 7000km away from her Soulmate.

…Soulmates.

Plural.

Was it even right to call them that?

"Considering your history and your reaction," the man continued. " I would recommend sending a blood sample to Prometheus Labs for testing. Just in case."

No.

"NO."

He didn't seem to understand her reasoning. He knew her history he said. The paperwork was right there. She was drug free. The test confirmed it. He’d said it with such a straight face too. He even assured her it was perfectly safe. That it was just a precaution. 

She knew that too. But it was still a no. The man really didn’t seem to comprehend the English Language, but at least he had looked up from his damn tablet.

With a sardonic expression on his face, the told Jane to be mindful of further Switches. Now that she’d shared her first with her Soulmate, she should expect more throughout her life time. 

“Always be vigilant Miss Seville."

When Dr. likely-not-as-intelligent-as-he-appeared finally left, relieving Jane of her shackles, she still couldn’t relax. Her focus shifted to signing herself out, desperate to put her mind to other things. But her father sequestered her to her bed. She was to stay put whilst he went to the Surgical floor where her mother worked so he could update her on Jane's now conscious state. 
At least Jane didn’t have to feel guilty about causing her Mum to take a sick day because of her. Her list of oh-shit-what-now was already high.
It took her a moment to settle. If it wasn’t the white coats, or the mottled blue curtains, it was the fluorescent lighting mixed with the scent of antiseptic and chocolates. 
Giant red and pink balloons in varying forms of hearts littered the room like confetti. Someone even thought they were being ironic and had found a balloon shaped like a real heart. It floated from the chair of the nurse behind the desk with a ribbon that said ‘Will you be my Soulmate?’

Unoriginal. 

Jane blew her unruly hair from her eyes. She'd hate to see the state it was in. 24 hours since the last time she'd had a brush through it, and that was before she'd piled it into a messy bun atop her head.

She collapsed back into the hospital bed, her body falling into the mattress. An old friend. They really needed to overhaul of their hospitality department. The blankets still smelt stale and musty.

Jane just lay there, unmoving. A corpse for lack of a better word.

With nothing but the beeping of distant heart monitors for company, Jane couldn’t help the images from floating into her head.

Images of silver hair and plump lips. Of  broad shoulders and boxy smiles. Of sweat soaked singlets clinging to muscled bodies. Of exhaustion and excitement running through her body. The sensation of emotions not her own.

Stupid Tether!

Why couldn’t it have been their manager instead, or a choreographer. The clerk at their corner shop near their dorm. Hell, even that hot security guard would have suited Jane fine.

This was beyond comprehension.

Jane found herself searching for her pocket, releasing the device from it’s exile. Her other hand crawled out from beneath the covers like a thief. A pursuit for the earphones on the bedside table.

From within the shelter of the covers, the light of her phone illuminating the shake of her hands, Jane typed in the three letters she never expected to fill her with dread.

B.
T.
S.

Video after video filed a line down her phone screen. Each video 100 million+ views. Most popular first. The music videos first.

She slid her finger up the screen. Searching.  She hesitated when the thumbnail appeared, her finger hovering over the screen.

| BTS (방탄소년단) 기다릴게 (I Will Wait) Music Core Performance|

A song she knew by heart. A song she’d played on repeat for two days before she had memorized the lyrics. A song whose meaning had been changed in a single moment. 12 hours ago.

Her finger hit the glass.

Her ears filled with the roaring of the crowd. The fan chant ripped through the entry music like a sword through tapestry, a united Army.

The camera panned over seven silhouettes, the coloured lights over head bouncing off their black jackets. Glossy and gleaming as their shoulders bounced and rolled. A warning. That it was too late to turn back now.

The chant ended. The spotlights lit up the stage.

The beat hit and Jung Hoseok popped.

A STRANGER SMILES. IS IT ME THAT YOU SEE OR THE FACADE MADE OF PORCELAIN AND GLASS.

A god of rhythm. His body moved without constraint. A solar eclipse in motion that Jane would have gladly stared at and gone blind if it meant she could feel his rays. Sunshine incarnate. An exterior that lit up the world, with a burning heat hidden inside.

WILL THE GROUND RUPTURE IF I TAKE A WRONG TURN, THE HEDGE GROW UP BEHIND ME IF I GO LEFT INSTEAD OF RIGHT

Now all she felt like was a trespasser along the Sun’s path. 

She was a thief stealing glances that once upon a time, she thought were meant for her. A song made for an 18 year overweight girl to strive for something better. To meet her truer self. 

BEAT DOWN THE WALLS, DEMAND THE BANNER IN YOU NAME...

A letter to a future Jane. To love herself. To let others love her in return.

THE CHOICE IS YOURS, A BATTLE CRY, AN HONOUR GUARD AWAITS.

Kook’s voice converted airwaves to magic. Lyrics into a spell. Cast years ago on a broken girl, her heart in tatters. Willing to be stitched back together by the boy who didn’t even know her name.

A name she was now expected to tell him. Her breathing faltered.

EMBROIDER YOUR NAME ON MY HEART. BLEED INTO ME MY DECALCOMANIA. 

Fate had it wrong. The machinery of the universe was broken. There was a cog missing, a screw loose. The threads had been weaved wrong. 

Her Tether couldn’t be connected to them. They were too big. 

The music slowed. The lights dimmed. And Park Jimin dared her to look away.

COME TO ME. I WILL WAIT.

Silver hair turned to starlight under the studio's gleam. A hand caressed his face.

Would you like to be that hand his stare asked her. What answer is the right one. What answer doesn't make her feel like the world is playing a huge cosmic joke on her.

ARMY say this song is about finding the inner your. About waiting until the you on the inside finally meets the you on the outside. But right now, her brain was telling her the song was made for her.

Jane couldn't watch the rest.

Her finger jabbed the back button, the search engine reappearing. She stared at the search bar until those three letters had been burnt into her retina.

An overwhelming fear suddenly took hold. It squeezed at her chest like a breath she had forgotten she'd taken.

She typed in a second word after the first. The word the universe was screaming at her.

A hundred-thousand hits emerged. One after the other, and for a moment she feared she would arrive home to a house surround by paparazzi. Instead she found herself looking at thousands of fan fictions, each one dedicated to the idea of being Tethered to the band.

“Jungkook’s my Soulmate”

"I keep Switching with Suga"

"Soulmates and Cheesecakes"

"Don’t cut the Tether Hobi!"

The butterflies in her stomach dissipated like smoke. Jane had always had the habit of jumping to conclusions when she read news articles. She once even panicked when a headline she'd caught sight of stated Jimin and V had been kicked out of BTS. She'd gone on a wild search for the official statement by BigHit before returning to the original article and discovered it was satire.

Perhaps that was what this was, Fates attempt at Satire.

Sure, lets tie a red string of fate around Jane Seville’s pinky and let her try and comprehend our reasoning for pairing her with seven men, instead of one. It’ll be hilarious. 

Stupid Red String. Beneath the covers her thumbs moved across the screen of their own volition. She'd hit enter before she realized what she had typed in the search engine.

Official Red String Theory Forum. Established 2010.

It wouldn't hurt to check. The worst that could happen is she finds nothing.

Jane taped the link. 

The page opened to a black background. Two white hands extended towards each other rest in the top left hand corner. A red thread tied from one pinky to the other.

The official tag line read "Created by Soulmates for Soulmates". Find your other half. It wasn't meant to be romantic, but the connotation couldn't be helped.

There was a single thread under the same name. Jane clicked it.

1000 plus pages were listed. Impossible for anyone to find what they were looking for if it were any other forum.

Jane was familiar with the set up. She'd perused it as a teenager. Finding the most romantic Switch Stories and imagining the moment when the two Soulmates would finally meet was the past time of every girl in the country under the age of 16. And like most girls at that age, they were prone to romantic fantasies. And blind to reality.

Before the site was started, Soulsickness had the highest rate of hospital admissions across the world. If it hadn't been for a group of tech savvy students, who were sick of the lack of support for soulmates searching for each other, including their own, it would still take years to make a connection.

Deductive reasoning works under normal circumstances, like police investigations and medical diagnoses. Not when verbal communication was impossible across a Switch.

Thus the The Red String Theory Forum was born. Completely free of charge and private. 

Unlike other forums, RST had two things that held it above and apart from it's brethren. Once a user found their Soulmate on the Forum they were given access to the Red String Theory App. Completely separate from all social media. Only accessed through the Forums Managers by application where an ID is provided for personal communication on the app.

Jane really had spent too much time on this site as a teenager.

Finding said Soulmate was the second thing. Rather then searching through hundreds of thousands of posts, the forum had an algorithm that enabled users, once their Switch accounts had been submitted, to search the posts for Soulmate Matches. The site had a nifty translator built in. It was accurate to the 90th percentile, provided the users account was accurate down to the minutest of details.

Sometimes a Soulmate noticed the things that the other would otherwise ignore. It helped to write down everything.

Jane set up an account under her old twitter handle, deleted since graduation and posted her account of her First Switch. Taking into consideration exactly what she saw, she was vague to a degree. But quite generous with her descriptions of 'the men in the room', as she put it.

She was in the passenger seat of the car driving home, stuck in afternoon traffic when her phone buzzed.

Leaning against the window, pretending not to hide her motivations from her father, instead feigning boredom, she clicked on the notification.

Her dashboard opened up and there they were. Their usernames. Their First Switch accounts. Each one hosting a green button at the bottom of their post which said CONFIRM, as though it was an easy answer. As though it didn't have world changing consequences. The posts all said Translated from Korean.

Jane read through each one, her heart squeezing tighter and tighter with every word.

Maybe she really was hoping it was all a dream. Because a single detail, the same in each account had dissolved it into a puddle of muck. A detail that had completely slipped her notice.

One that hadn't slipped theirs.

Jane looked at her fingers, curled around her phone, clinging to it like a rescue light after jumping from a sinking ship.

bright blue nail polish.