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the butterfly effect

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1.

Life with Choi Beomgyu has taken a little getting used to, but Taehyun thinks he’s been getting on decently well.

“Hey, you’re a physics major, right? Do you think you’ve covered enough to talk about non-Newtonian fluids?”

Taehyun keeps his eyes on the piece of paper before him, pencil tapping rhythmically on his forehead as he tunes out Beomgyu’s rambling. It’s a pattern they’ve gotten comfortable with over the past few months: Beomgyu chattering his mouth away, often complete nonsense or obscure food for thought, while Taehyun just stays silent and listens passively and does whatever the hell he needs to do.

It works well enough. They don’t hate it.

“They’re supposed to be oddly satisfying, right?” Beomgyu thinks out loud, eating the pancakes that Taehyun prepared for him when he arrived at the younger’s dorm. Beomgyu uses his hands for the task, syrup and butter and all, licking his fingers at certain points along the way. “Like kinetic sand, or that black magnetic liquid thing people always post on science TikTok. You know, those ones? They’re fascinating. You must have seen at least one thing like that in person before. Your university has that fancy lab, right? Do you science-y people do experiments there?”

Taehyun just hums, a noncommittal acknowledgement of the questions Beomgyu throws out without the actual intention or need for an answer. He’s talkative; it doesn’t take much for anyone to figure that out, and Taehyun learns it more and more with each new instance he finds himself in Beomgyu’s company. Taehyun focuses on the equations in front of him, thermodynamics problems written in pencil by his own hand but now suddenly incomprehensible to his own brain, resisting the anxiety building up inside him that somehow still lingers to this day. Taehyun keeps having to remind himself that he has time. 

Taehyun always has time.

He doesn’t know if he’d call it a superpower, but since he was twelve, Taehyun has had the ability to stop time. It was an accident at first—enough for him to believe it was a fluke—but after about the eleventh instance of it within a month after the first, Taehyun was pretty sure that he had just gone insane. Whether it was hours or mere fractions of a second, the constant episodes became too salient for him to keep ignoring, and Taehyun settled himself into sheer acceptance when he realized it wasn’t going to go away any time soon. 

And, well, if there was a possibility he could do it at will instead of falling victim to the strange phenomenon every single time—he might as well try.

“Do you think you’d consider the pancake batter a non-Newtonian fluid? Like, that would be just cornstarch in water, right?” Beomgyu asks, breaking off another piece of said pancake with his hands, waving it in front of himself before putting in his mouth. His next words are muffled by the food in his cheeks. “Is that stuff even in pancakes?”

It took a while for Taehyun to master the ability back then, but he did. Eventually. It was always just like a simple pause button—no fast forward or rewind like in the elaborate sci-fi movies—but it was completely jarring nonetheless, especially to someone like him. Taehyun was never fond of things that just couldn’t be rationally explained, and being able to be present and in motion in a room where every other person and object wasn’t—because they were literally frozen it time—it was nearly too much for the built-in systems in Taehyun’s science-y brain, as Beomgyu had said. For Taehyun, himself being a contradiction to normal physics was a lot more to wrap his head around than he thought he ever bargained for in an earthly existence.

But so are non-Newtonian fluids, Taehyun thinks absently. A contradiction to normal physics. Perhaps there will always just be some things that don’t operate by the same set of rules as everything else. Taehyun’s glad that he realized that fact sooner rather than later.

“I don’t know why you’d put cornstarch in pancakes,” Taehyun deadpans, eyes still glued to his unfinished work. “But if you wanted to, yeah. You could make a non-Newtonian pancake batter. I’m just not sure it would taste very good.”

“What would cooking do to it, though?” 

“You could go to the kitchen and find out right now.”

“Like we have all the time in the world, huh?” Beomgyu muses, letting slip a not-so-subtle giggle.

“I’m not anywhere close to finishing this homework, actually, so, yeah. We kinda do.”

Beomgyu just laughs even more. He breaks off another piece of pancake, dipping it into the syrup pooled into the corner of his plate. Strange. If there was one word that could describe him best, it’s that Beomgyu is strange. But Taehyun doesn’t really mind that.

Choi Beomgyu was one of the anomalies of Taehyun’s so-called ‘powers’ that he had only discovered fairly recently, only a few months back towards the end of the first semester of his second year of university. Kang Taehyun could stop time, but apparently, the ability never extended to Choi Beomgyu—and after years of thinking that Taehyun had finally mastered it, subdued it, even—one chance encounter with Beomgyu was all it took to have it all crumble back down.

“What are you even working on right now?” Beomgyu asks, ignoring Taehyun’s previous deadpan statement. “Can I help? Honestly, I’m getting kinda bored. This is fun and all, but I can’t be living 26-hour days on the regular so you can catch up on homework.”

They’re both trying to build it back up eventually, little by little. Ever since Taehyun learned to stop time at will, he never really saw the ability as either a blessing or a curse. The way he sees Beomgyu—for all intents and purposes—is the same. It’s nice to have a friend, or at the very least someone who gets it; it’s nice for Taehyun not to be alone in the peculiarity anymore. On the other hand, it wasn’t so nice realizing that Taehyun had been unknowingly inconveniencing Beomgyu for the better part of 7 years now, stopping time for the both of them, apparently, at any or all of just his own whims.

“Thermochemistry, so, no. I don’t think so.” Taehyun sighs. “Look, just a little more. I’ve been stuck on this since last night and I’m already on the verge of failing this class, I can’t afford to get on my professor’s bad side.”

(Taehyun’s not sure yet where he stands on the fact that it’s Beomgyu, for some reason, whose immunity to Taehyun was as unexplainable as Taehyun’s ability itself. They’re entirely different people. Neither of them would disagree.)

Beomgyu huffs, taking a step closer to look over his shoulder. He’s careful not to brush Taehyun with his syrup-sticky fingers when he points, “You forgot to tranpose a negative sign. Also, that triangle notation turned into a 4 somewhere along the way, so maybe fix that, Taehyun-ah.”

Taehyun’s eyes grow impossibly bigger when he follows Beomgyu’s finger, not entirely sure whether to be amazed by the fact that Beomgyu caught that, or by the uncharacteristic patience he always has for how much Taehyun always underestimates him. Either way, he restarts the whole thing with Beomgyu’s corrections now in mind, breezing through the problem that took him the whole evening and another timestop to solve. 

He can almost hear the smirk that Beomgyu gives over his shoulder, subtle as he chews on the last piece of pancake. “Good job, Taehyun. Now we can adjourn.”

Taehyun rolls his eyes. “You know, you’re the one who insists on having to be with me every time I pause. You could kill some of the extra time somewhere else if you wanted to.”

Beomgyu shrugs. “I’m fine here.”

“You don’t really even like me, Beomgyu.” He pauses before adding, “...hyung.”

“I like how you make the pancakes,” Beomgyu replies. Smug, simple. “How did you know I liked them undercooked in the middle?”

Taehyun glares at him. (He knew that from the first time they met, of course, half-done pancakes soaked in syrup on Beomgyu’s diner plate.) Beomgyu sure knows how to push his buttons. (Taehyun knows how to push his back.) “You’re an ass. Make your own pancakes next time.”

“Lighten up, Einstein,” Beomgyu chuckles. “It’s time to get to class, isn’t it?”

“You’re insufferable.”

“And yet here I am, not even asking for a thank you.”

“Thank you,” Taehyun parrots teasingly. “Yeah, ‘cause you ask for pancakes. Can you at least wash the plate?”

“What do you mean? I always wash the pancake plate.”

Taehyun simply glares, again. Beomgyu—in classic Beomgyu fashion—doesn’t give him any of the reactions he expects or wants.

“Fine, hyung.” Taehyun rolls his eyes. Love him or hate him, ever since Taehyun met him—Beomgyu always wins.

Before Taehyun can walk out of his dorm room, bag already slung onto his shoulder to make the 5-minute sprint to his 10:30 AM lecture, Beomgyu cuts in with yet another casual remark.

“I do like you, Kang Taehyun. Just so you know.”

Taehyun stops in his tracks, flashing an exasperated smile to give in. Beomgyu always manages to make him give in. “Fine.”

“Will you keep making me pancakes, then?”

“I didn’t plan on stopping.”

And then Taehyun sprints out the door without another word, a satisfied grin on his lips, Beomgyu left to follow after while the world breaks back into motion all around them, all at once.

 

2.

The first time that they met, Beomgyu’s pancakes were undercooked, too.

“So it’s been you all along, huh?”

“You say that like you’re accusing me of something,” Taehyun says sheepishly. “For all you know, I could just be caught up in this like you are.”

“But you’re not, are you?” Beomgyu smirks.

Taehyun sighs. It’s not like he can hide it anymore.

Taehyun ended up sat across from Beomgyu at some cheap diner, his own continental breakfast abandoned on the other side of the restaurant. Taehyun was only here to get away from the tired streets of his college campus, searching for some novelty on the other side of Seoul. Little did he expect that—when the noise of it all started to overwhelm him enough to need just a quick pause—he’d find another boy on the other side of the establishment, unfazed by the abrupt stop of everyone and everything around him.

Choi Beomgyu just ate his pancakes, unbothered, until Taehyun had stared at him hard enough for him to look up, and their eyes finally met in an anticlimactic twist of fate.

“I’m Choi Beomgyu,” he says now, still eating his pancakes, still just as unbothered as Taehyun is in shock.

“Kang Taehyun,” he answers back, following Beomgyu’s fork with his eyes. “Could you stop doing that?”

Beomgyu remains unfazed as he drags the fork across his plate, scratching on the surface excruciantingly while he drags the pancake piece across a pool of syrup. “Hey, I’ve been dealing with your time stops for seven years now. So, no, I don’t think so.”

To make his point, Beomgyu puts the fork in his mouth slowly, chewing with gusto after the fork scrapes against his teeth. Taehyun closes his eyes, ready to unpause and pretend this was all just some weird dream, but Beomgyu quickly slams the fork down onto his plate.

“Uh-uh, no. Now that we’ve met, Kang Taehyun, we’re gonna need to have a talk.”

Taehyun reopens his eyes, shoulders stiff and frozen in place. Beomgyu isn’t even being malicious about it; he’s scarily nonchalant, as if he really had gotten used to time just stopping at random points without an explanation, and the determination in his voice matched the fact that he had now found the reason for his troubles. Taehyun gulps. “A talk about what, exactly?”

“Some ground rules, obviously,” Beomgyu says. “You know, I’ve had a lot of time to think about what I would say if I ever found out who was doing the whole time stopping thing. I mean, I didn’t try that hard anymore eventually, ‘cause what if it was some weird secret government experiment and I wasn’t supposed to find out? I mean, it’s not like I’m incapacitated for life or anything, I could live with it. But on the off chance that it was just some regular person who happened to have some kind of superpower, I’ve prepared entire speeches, Kang Taehyun. And you’re just a regular guy, right? Not some government spy? Can I just call you Taehyun, then? We’re gonna have to make some changes, now that you’re here.”

Taehyun just sits there, stunned, trying to process the consecutive questions that Beomgyu had just thrown in his face. “... What changes, exactly?”

“Well, I would appreciate it if you could give me a heads up before you activate your little power.”

Taehyun laughs. “That’s it?”

“I mean, yeah? Pretty much.” Beomgyu shrugs. “You’re gonna have to tell me where you live, too. You didn’t answer my other question, by the way.”

Taehyun rolls his eyes. “Which one?”

“About dropping formalities.”

“I’m a university sophomore. And why would you need to know where I live?”

“Oh, cool! You can call me hyung, then, if you want. Or call me whatever you want, honestly.” Beomgyu replies. “Anyway, here’s my pitch: you text me right before you need a time stop, then I’ll just go and hang around you while you do your thing, until you press play again.”

“And you need to hang around me, why?”

“Since our phones don’t work during a pause, and I’d like to know when you plan to unpause,” Beomgyu says, like it’s obvious. “You know how many weird situations I’ve been in because time suddenly started moving again after, like, 2 hours?”

Taehyun crosses his arms. “Come on, that’s hardly my fault!”

“Unfair!” Beomgyu pouts. “Personally, I think I’m being generous—this is generous, right? All I’m asking is for you to let me know when it’s gonna happen. I mean, what do you even do this for?” Beomgyu gestures vaguely around them—everything frozen in place except the two of them sitting across each other. “Do you need a moment to process the information that your actions have been affecting someone else besides you?”

Taehyun uncrosses his arms. Yeah, maybe he should take more time to grapple with that. Beomgyu was being very nice for someone who’s had to put up with time stopping at the randomest of moments, all because Taehyun had a deadline to catch, or needed a moment to calm down during some argument, or just wanted an extra hour of sleep. As resolved as Taehyun was in not using his ability for selfish things—no cheating on tests or shoplifting or whatever—this was never a possibility that he considered. He doesn’t know why or how anyone would be immune. He doesn’t know why it would be Beomgyu.

“Fine. But I live on the other side of the city, just so you know.”

“Then you’re gonna have to start planning your pauses 30 minutes in advance or something.”

“But how would I—” Taehyun starts to whine, cutting himself off when he realizes how petulant he sounds. “Don’t I get a say in this?”

“You’ve had all the say for the past seven years,” Beomgyu muses, laughing as he takes a drink of his vanilla milkshake. “And I am going to play that card whenever you’re tempted to complain, Taehyun-ah, ‘cause you seem like a reasonable enough guy, and you know I’m right.”

Taehyun glares. Beomgyu’s smug—the glint in his eye reads pure mischief—but yes, he is right. Taehyun can acknowledge that, even if it’s begrudgingly. They met literally minutes ago and Beomgyu suddenly knows how to play him like a violin.

“Sure. Fine.” Taehyun concedes, thankful that Beomgyu doesn’t do anything to rub it in further. “Is this the part where you say you want me to stop time whenever you want, too?”

Beomgyu’s on to his second pancake now, digging his fork into the chewy, uncooked center, only looking up at Taehyun through hooded eyes with a raised brow. He huffs a laugh, and brings the fork to his mouth. “No, not really.”

Taehyun tilts his head, confused. “No?”

“If you’re looking for a catch, there is none,” Beomgyu smiles pointedly. (He says almost everything like it’s obvious—and it’s catching Taehyun off-guard.) “I mean, I’d appreciate it if it was, like, an emergency, and you could help me out, but I’d rather not have you do favors for me as part of the deal. We literally just met, so maybe if you start liking me along the way, then, yeah. For now, it would really just be nice to have some company while the world’s on pause. I swear I’ll try not to bother you.”

Taehyun looks at him incredulously, intrigued by the sheepish way Beomgyu trails off towards the end. He doesn’t say anything as he contemplates it in his head—it’s true, Beomgyu was being very generous, doesn’t even seem to have an instinct to exploit Taehyun for his own benefit even after all he’s had to say about the inconvenience of the past seven years. Oddly, Taehyun trusts him, perhaps blinded by the subtle comfort in knowing that he wasn’t alone in this whole thing anymore—and that Beomgyu seems to feel the same. It feels a little too good to be true that they both seem willing to be patient with each other, despite having just met, going with the flow of whatever force brought them together even without a reason or explanation. The two of them are a mind-boggling combination; just that one conversation was enough to know.

Before Taehyun speaks again, he closes his eyes, focusing in the way he’s gotten used to over the past years as the outside world comes back into focus. Soon, bustling noise resumes around them, the diner’s patrons eating and talking with no knowledge of how long they had been stopped. Beomgyu looks at Taehyun questioningly, still slowly chewing the last piece of pancake in his mouth, silently awaiting an explanation.

“Phones don’t work,” Taehyun says simply, extending his hand out in between them, wiggling his fingers in Beomgyu’s face. “How else am I supposed to get your number or send you my address?”

Beomgyu smirks when he catches on, putting his fork down in favor of taking his phone out of his jacket pocket. He hands the device to Taehyun with the contacts app open, and Taehyun scrambles to do the same. The exchange is quick enough; Taehyun includes his address in Beomgyu’s contact notes, and Beomgyu saves himself on Taehyun’s phone as his full name with a pancake emoticon next to it. Taehyun laughs, but he doesn’t mention it. It seems like something for next time.

And there was definitely going to be a next time.

“Are you gonna pay for my pancakes, Taehyun-ah?”

“You wish.”

Beomgyu laughs. “Was worth a try.”

 

3.

For how much Beomgyu likes to talk, Taehyun still doesn’t know much about him at all.

“So, I have a question. I feel like I can ask you a question right now, right?”

Yes, he can. The only reason they’re in a time stop right now is because Taehyun is dyeing his hair, back to black from the now-brassy remnants of the old platinum blond. It’s one of the stupider reasons—but he finds that Beomgyu doesn’t really ever judge. He’s pretty lax with what he’ll let Taehyun do with his power, as long as he gets to bother him the whole time.

“Yeah, sure. I’m not gonna be done anytime soon.”

“What’s it like when you do… you know, this?” Beomgyu gestures vaguely at the small window of Taehyun’s dorm’s bathroom, a top-down view of open umbrellas and droplets of rain suspended in midair. “Do you just have to wish really hard, or is there some kind of hand motion or incantation or something like Harry Potter?”

Yeah. For how much Beomgyu likes to talk, he’s also expertly careful about how much he gives away. They’ve known each other a few months now, and Taehyun is slowly starting to pick up on his habits: the calculated way he makes every conversation either about Taehyun or absolutely nothing, as long as it isn’t about himself. He has a way of filling silences without supercharging the atmosphere—not unless he wants to, of course. It makes sense to Taehyun, though, because Beomgyu’s a philosophy major—which is the only thing he knows about the older boy besides his name and his love for barely-cooked pancakes—that he’s used to asking questions and not expecting answers. He appreciates when Taehyun indulges him, though it’s not what he’s after on most days.

“I don’t know. It just happens. Like…” Taehyun trails off, brushing another glob of black dye into his roots. “...I just focus really hard, and then I feel this wind, or something. And then that’s how I know when time’s stopped already. Or restarted. There’s really no Harry Potter spell.”

“Really? Damn.” Beomgyu says. “Would’ve been cool if there was, but whatever. You ever wonder why our phones don’t work, then?”

Taehyun hums. “I mean, yeah, but I try not to think too hard about all of this, anyway.”

“Sounds like your expertise, though, Mister Physics Major.” Beomgyu looks at him through the mirror, leaning against the archway of the open door. “The phones part, I mean. The thinking too hard part is probably more my area.”

“Sounds about right,” Taehyun smiles. “But stopping time is probably a step above rocket science, so I kind of just accepted my fate a long time ago.”

“Easy for you to say!” Beomgyu counters, pouting at him through the mirror. “There was this one time when I was 13—so you were probably, like, 12?—and you paused time for, like, 5 hours, at noon. I was so bored and I couldn’t even open YouTube. It was the middle of a 33 degree summer, Taehyun.”

“I’m sorry, okay?” Taehyun concedes, laughing quietly, giving in to Beomgyu the way he always does. He doesn’t even recall that instance, but it surprisingly comes much too naturally to Taehyun to just believe everything that Beomgyu says. After months of knowing each other already, Taehyun still hasn’t found a single bad bone in Beomgyu’s body. He’s mischievous, maybe—but his heart always seems so pure. “Well, maybe the universe just knows that devices working during a timestop could break the world, somehow. Mess up the balance of space and time.”

Beomgyu glances at the number displayed on his frozen phone screen. “As if you dyeing your hair from 4:57 PM to 4:57 PM doesn’t already?” 

“Hyung, the world’s surprisingly still intact, as you can see,” Taehyun defends, turning to look directly at Beomgyu, who’s still leaning against the archway of the bathroom door. “I’ve done my best not to use this for evil, or anything. I usually just want some extra sleep.”

“Really? So you’re telling me the worst thing you’ve done with your power is torture me?”

Taehyun rolls his eyes. “Dramatic. The worst thing I’ve done was compensate for bad time management in high school. I only got the sense to unlearn procrastination at university.”

“You’ve called me for a pause at least four times to catch a deadline,” Beomgyu chides, “but I’m not saying you should feel guilty about that. The worst thing I’ve done was steal McDonald’s fries.”

Taehyun’s eyes widen. “You stole McDonald’s fries?!”

“In my defense, McDonald’s has a lot of fries!” Beomgyu says, laughing more than speaking while he takes in Taehyun’s exaggerated, shocked expression. “I mean, you know how we both think about why I’m not affected by your powers? It’s like the universe knew you’d be responsible and made me immune so that there would still be consequences to your actions, since I’m a little shit and all. What do you think?”

Beomgyu’s joking—Taehyun can tell. His energy is contagious, and Taehyun, despite himself, can feel laughter bubbling up in his own chest the longer that Beomgyu smiles. But maybe there’s also a hint of truth to it, self-deprecating as it was—and Taehyun doesn’t know what he feels about that juxtaposition. It’s a valid theory, especially since their grounds for speculation were practically limitless anyway. He lets it sink in a little while he brushes in the last of the hair dye, starts to clean the bathroom sink.

“I think you sell yourself short,” Taehyun hears himself saying, before he can really even think it over in his mind. In any case, it isn’t false—and Beomgyu still seems unfazed as ever, despite the newfound softness in Taehyun’s usually matter-of-fact tone. “Whatever it is, there must be a real reason for it, right? Or do you not partake in that school of thought?”

“God, stoicism?” Beomgyu raises an eyebrow, and he looks a little bit like he’s resisting the urge to roll his eyes. “Maybe. Yeah, okay, let’s say I do. I can think as hard as I want—but still, literally nothing connects us besides the time stops themselves. We have nothing in common.”

“We’re the same age,” Taehyun mutters, gesturing for Beomgyu to walk back out into the hall.

“I’m older than you.” Beomgyu replies, fake-stern, following Taehyun down the hall back to his room to let the dye set in before he can go to wash it out. 

“We can dock that one year off since you don’t act like it anyway,” Taehyun counters, looking back at him with a teasing grin.

Beomgyu grins back at him—just a little softer, if not just as bright. 

“Fair,” he concedes simply, following after when Taehyun opens his bedroom door. “You’ve always been smart.”

“Thanks.” Taehyun looks down sheepishly, not having quite enough courage to find out how Beomgyu looks at him after he says it. “You were right about one thing, though.”

Taehyun and Beomgyu walk into the former’s sunlit dorm room, the view from the window a nice, bright yellow despite the light drizzle of afternoon rain, frozen like a snapshot in time. The air is comfortable, perpetually warm, and Taehyun is glad to have Beomgyu here—however much or little he really knows about the boy who, lately, is always by his side.

Beomgyu always comes running when Taehyun calls—whatever the reason may be—and he stays.

For now, that simple fact tells Taehyun all that he needs to know.

“And what would that be?” Beomgyu asks curiously, plopping down onto the entirety of Taehyun’s single bed.

“McDonald’s has lots of fries,” Taehyun smirks—back still turned, tone still soft. “I wouldn’t actually mind it if you went to go and steal us some more.”

The sun glows between them, and Taehyun leaves it at that. 

(He knows that Beomgyu’s clever enough to know what he means.)

 

4.

“The butterfly effect.”

Taehyun opens his eyes blearily, trying to blink away the sleepiness as he stirs. Beomgyu is right across from him on the swivel chair of Taehyun’s study table, eating pancakes with his hands again out of one of their dorm kitchen’s plates, and the time on the clock reads 5:45 PM—the same time as it was when Taehyun had fallen asleep.

It doesn’t surprise him that the very moment he started to stir awake, Beomgyu was already opening his mouth.

Taehyun digs the heels of his palms into his eyes. “What?”

“I thought of something we have in common. The butterfly effect.” Beomgyu pauses for a while to chew, lick some syrup off his fingers. “It has basis in both physics and philosophy. I just remembered it from a lecture in freshman year: what if the simple flap of a butterfly’s wings could cause a typhoon on the other side of the world? What if little actions could inadvertently, indirectly have great effects on greater things because everything’s connected in a complex, kind of web-like system or whatever? Don’t you think it fits?”

Taehyun sits up, his brain trying to keep up with the speed of Beomgyu’s mouth. He’s actually a lot smarter than he makes himself look, and Taehyun learns it more and more with every moment they spend together. “And this matters to you, why?”

It’s a genuine question, and Beomgyu knows it. Taehyun’s definitely still too sleepy to tease.

“I remember that one time you let me off the hook for stealing McDonald’s fries.” Beomgyu laughs, putting his unfinished plate down behind him on the table. “Just got me thinking when you were napping, about how this whole time-stopping thing seems a little too easy for us to keep doing, you know? You’d think there would be consequences, but everything sort of fixes itself. You know what I mean, right?”

Taehyun tilts his head. “Like when you’re one place when time stops and then in another when it starts again?”

“Yeah!” Beomgyu agrees enthusiastically. “I’ve tried testing it before. Picture this: I’m right in front of a friend, then time pauses. I leave from in front of them to go get pancakes, and then time suddenly starts moving again. Supposedly, I disappear into thin air, right?”

“Right.”

“But then my friend doesn’t act like anything’s out of the ordinary.” Beomgyu stares, wide-eyed, completely engrossed now in another one of his signature thought exercises. Taehyun watches fondly the way he always does, utterly fascinated by the elder’s whirling mind. “So, everything works itself out fine for us—but then what if the time stops have effects somewhere else? Somewhere farther? What if, because you want to take a nap, or because I stole McDonald’s fries, we tank the economy of a country somewhere? Or just clasically brew up a thunderstorm? I don’t know.”

Taehyun only blinks at him. Once, twice, three times. He’s a little more awake now, and they did do this time stop because he wanted to take a nap. It’s a Friday afternoon, Taehyun was exhausted from consecutive classes, but he didn’t want to just cancel his plans of going out with his friends. Beomgyu, like always, just agreed and then came over to his dorm, and Taehyun has no idea right now how long it’s been 5:45 but Beomgyu just goes with everyhing, so Taehyun tries to do the same. He listens to Beomgyu’s musings, remembers them for later even though Taehyun probably needs more time if he wants to offer some thoughts of his own. Beomgyu just seems very happy that Taehyun never asks him to shut up. Taehyun still doesn’t know where that little spark in his eyes comes from—he barely knows anything about Beomgyu outside of these moments—and even though he wants to, he just doesn’t know if he’s allowed to ask.

“You’re real, right?”

Taehyun asks it timidly as he blinks away the last of the sleepiness in his eyes. He’s been thinking about it lately—the way Beomgyu is cloaked in so much mystery, the dreamy, reckless way he goes along with whatever Taehyun wants. Taehyun’s meeting up with Yeonjun and Kai tonight, and every time over the past six months that he’s tried to tell them about Beomgyu, he comes up short. His friends ask why they never see him, and Taehyun just says it’s because he lives on the other side of the city. When he has to explain when they hang out and what they do, he has to come up with some other reason that doesn’t involve him literally stopping time, and Taehyun keeps getting too shy to ask Beomgyu to take a picture together when their phones work.

“You’re asking if I’m real?” Beomgyu raises an eyebrow, tone amused. “All of a sudden?”

Yeonjun and Kai had gone so far as to ask if Taehyun had an imaginary friend. It was all in good fun, and Taehyun knows they didn’t mean anything by it, but still. It’s hard when Taehyun knows that whatever this thing is that he and Beomgyu have between them—it holds so much more potential than what currently just feels like forced closeness. More and more as the days go by, Taehyun finds himself seeking out Beomgyu’s company whether the hands on the clocks are moving or not. He wants to know Beomgyu’s story and see him eating something other than pancakes for once. Sometimes Beomgyu is just so comical, animated, such a caricature—but Taehyun holds on to how real the warmth feels when their skin brushes together by accident, or when Beomgyu gets close enough to laugh right into his face.

“My friends don’t think you’re real,” Taehyun says, almost just a whisper. “Sometimes I feel like I made you up.”

Beomgyu looks down at the floor to laugh at him, trying to hide how wide he’s smiling. “You think that you, Kang Taehyun, made me up?”

“Yeah. I feel crazy sometimes.” Taehyun says. “Tell me I’m not crazy.”

Beomgyu’s expression softens a little at that, and even Taehyun is surprised by how imperative it sounds. How intense. Beomgyu shifts his posture, leaning forward.

“I think you’re the most rational person I know,” Beomgyu utters, looking straight into his eyes. “If it makes you feel any better, I’m not sure my best friend thinks you’re real, either.”

Now, that—that surprises Taehyun. It’s maybe the first time Beomgyu’s offered up any real information about himself, about his life outside of these stolen moments.

“Your best friend?”

Beomgyu chuckles, leaning back into the chair with a fond roll of his eyes. “Yeah. Soobin. He looks kind of skeptical when he sees me getting your texts, but he said he wouldn’t question it ‘cause I look happier these days. You know anything about that, hm?”

Taehyun doesn’t say anything back to the obvious teasing, simply sitting on his bed in shock of Beomgyu’s raw admission, indirect as it was. Beomgyu is still composed as ever, ogling the way that Taehyun seems to melt and then become new again at every implication of those words. He realizes it’s the first time he’s gotten any real indication that Beomgyu finds something good in these moments, too, just as much as Taehyun does—and it’s fascinating to Taehyun, as strange as it seems, to know that he is known by someone only through only Beomgyu’s eyes. He wonders what kind of beautiful picture Beomgyu paints of him, knowing how much better he is with words than Taehyun is. He wonders if maybe that would convince him that Beomgyu was real—he has an inkling that Beomgyu sees him in a way that Taehyun just cannot see himself.

“I’m messy and talkative and loud.” Beomgyu picks back up, after a few more seconds of no response. “Why would you make me up? Do you even like me, Taehyun-ah?”

Beomgyu’s tone is still teasing, but Taehyun doesn’t miss the edge of reluctance in his eyes, the glimmer of silent hope. It’s self-deprecating, Beomgyu trying to cheer Taehyun up with it like he always is. Taehyun just sighs.

“I… appreciate you, Beomgyu-hyung.” Taehyun exhales. They both know when they hear it that it’s not all that he means—and Taehyun has to wonder, frustrated, why he always freezes up when it comes time to say what he really wants to say. “You’re not— It’s just— Fuck. It’s nice having you around. It’s nice that you want to be. I don’t—I don’t know what I’m saying. You get it.”

“Hm,” he hums simply. “Don’t worry. I do.” 

Beomgyu gets out of the chair, amused expression back on his face after that strong language that he doesn’t often get to hear Taehyun using. Taehyun just watches as he moves to sit down on the side of the bed, above the covers just shy of where Taehyun’s legs are stretched out. 

Taehyun flinches away a little at first when Beomgyu—out of the blue—simply reaches for his hand, his non-syrupy fingers linking into the space between Taehyun’s. Beomgyu is resolved, though, tinkering with their hands’ positions until he finds a fit that falls perfectly into place, unaffected by the dumbfounded way that Taehyun watches him or the rapid beating of his heart echoing on all his pulse points. Beomgyu gazes at their linked hands, eyelashes fluttering clear in Taehyun’s view now that they’re this close. 

Beomgyu swipes his thumb over Taehyun’s, careful and experimental, and smiles for whatever reason at the feeling under his thumb.

“Does this feel real enough to you?”

Taehyun lets out a shaky exhale. More than the long monologues or the strings of their messages in his phone or the fact that there are always plates to wash when Beomgyu eats pancakes in Taehyun’s room—it does. This feels real.

Taehyun just nods.

Beomgyu smiles softly back.

“I’m flattered that you think you would have made me up inside your amazing mind.”

Taehyun squeezes their hands. He can feel Beomgyu’s heartbeat, too. 

“I guess I’m lucky I didn’t have to.”

 

5.

He doesn’t expect Beomgyu to show up at his dorm room at half past five in the morning, unannounced, with a teddy bear plushie stuffed in a plastic bag.

“What are you doing here?”

“The power in my building’s out.”

“So you came all the way here for what?”

“Sleep,” Beomgyu says, eyes sunken enough to drive the point home. He takes the teddy bear out of the bag, and tucks it under his arm. “Let me in.”

Taehyun isn’t really even able to let him in as much as Beomgyu just walks past him, waltzing right into his room and flopping onto the entire single bed like he owns the place. He lets the plastic bag drift down slowly, and it crinkles unceremoniously as it hits the floor, Taehyun now just standing in his own doorway with his jaw halfway dropped.

“How did you even get a taxi at 5 AM?” Taehyun shuts the door.

“I didn’t,” Beomgyu mumbles, cheek squished under the teddy bear now tucked under his chin. Taehyun doesn’t appreciate being roused from a rare good night’s sleep, but the sight does make his edges soften, his expression not so begrudged. “Turn off the light, Taehyun-ah.”

Taehyun narrows his eyes, turning around to relcutantly set up some assigned readings on his study table. “Well, I’m just gonna have to do some work now, since I can’t sleep in my own bed. So, no.”

Beomgyu doesn’t respond. Taehyun brings out some highlighters and continues.

“How did you even get here? Jesus, did you walk? You’re in your pajamas, Beomgyu, and don’t you have morning class later in the day? You could have at least warned me if you wanted a time stop or something, I wouldn’t mind a few hours, you didn’t have to come all the way—”

“I don’t.” Beomgyu mutters, eyes shut and face now half-buried under Taehyun’s comforter. “I don’t need a time stop. I just… don’t want to be alone.”

Taehyun turns back to look when Beomgyu says it, trailing off into a too-soft whisper towards the end. Beomgyu seems to have fallen asleep right after, not really even caring that much about Taehyun not turning the lights off. It takes just one closer look for Taehyun to really see him now—for Taehyun to see that he looks tired. Taehyun’s shoulders slump on their own, his expression adjusting as he moves to crouch down beside the bed, face inches away from Beomgyu’s closed eyes. He’s never had the opportunity to see him like this before—peaceful, silent, his breaths even and long, and he isn’t the one asking a bunch of questions and dynamically bouncing off the walls. Beomgyu’s long lashes fan out under his eyes when they’re closed, and Taehyun wishes he could make the furrow in his brow go away.

“You really fell asleep, huh?” Taehyun whispers, careful not to make any sudden movements. “What’s got you so tired these days, hyung?”

Beomgyu, as expected, doesn’t respond. And Taehyun just sits there, watching, knowing he’s at least awake enough to have heard a little bit of it. Beomgyu is just cryptic as always, careful not to give too much away—saying just enough for Taehyun to let him in, to let him stay. But Taehyun is not a stranger anymore to how weak he is for the other boy, and it seems that neither is Beomgyu. Taehyun just moves to fully just sit on the floor, textbooks and highlighters forgotten, and he picks up the plastic bag from beside the nightstand, shaking his head. Why Beomgyu needed it for his teddy bear, Taehyun doesn’t pretend to know.

But he folds it up anyway, trying to keep the crinkling to a minimum, slow and easy like he always is when he and Beomgyu are in the same room. The clock is still moving now, but Taehyun can’t help what he’s used to. Being with Beomgyu makes Taehyun feel like they have all the time in the world.

A few minutes pass, and the crinkles on Beomgyu’s forehead slowly fade. He looks perfectly tranquil, teddy bear still clutched to his chest, the clock reading 5:42 AM. Taehyun knows that the sun will come up soon, disrupt the peace and quiet that comes just before dawn, but Beomgyu remains unmoving. Timeless. Lovely, mysterious. Real.

It’s only when Taehyun opens his eyes that he even realizes that they’d been shut. When he looks at the bedside clock, the colon no longer blinks, and he finds himself reaching out timidly for the boy in front of him.

I don’t need a time stop. That was what Beomgyu had said. But for him—Taehyun doesn’t hesitate to preserve what’s left of the dark, early morning sky.

I just don’t want to be alone.

“I’m here,” Taehyun whispers, barely audible, brushing the hair out of Beomgyu’s face. It only ever falls back into place, so Taehyun repeats the motion over and over again. “I’m here. You’re never alone.”

Taehyun doesn’t know how long it takes before he finally turns off the light. He doesn’t know what Beomgyu’s deal is, or why his eyes seem so tired, or why he’d come to Taehyun like this now—but it doesn’t matter.

Taehyun leans back against the bed, shuts his eyes, and dreams of him.

(Beomgyu dreams, too.)

 

(+1)

They’re squeezed onto the single bed, cramped but bordering comfortable, Beomgyu’s right arm slung lazily around Taehyun’s shoulder while the clock is frozen at 7:23 PM.

Taehyun can barely recall the gradual process of how they got to be like this: unafraid of proximity, sharing spare warmth. It was a mess of touches and gentler words over summer and autumn months, and it’s a little easier to bear the winter lately with the unnamed promise of each other’s presence. But no matter how long the pockets of time are that they create for themselves, the tenderness and affection never make it into things they say; it’s only a shared knowing, the subtlest veil of devotion and care. They are the purpose and not the afterthought of having command over time. Taehyun calls him over, Beomgyu comes running. He lets Taehyun lean his head on his shoulder or softly onto his chest. They speak multitudes in silence, and it’s like this that Taehyun first feels that Beomgyu’s older, that he can be protective sometimes, that his hands—though calloused on some edges—are soft and filled with care.

It’s still difficult to learn much else, but Taehyun never stops trying.

“Can you tell me something?” Taehyun mutters softly, staring straight ahead while Beomgyu caresses the top of his head. 

“Hm?” Beomgyu hums, slow fingers not missing a beat. “What is it?”

Taehyun blinks once, breathes twice. Beomgyu’s low voice is soothing, always so warm. “Is there a reason you put up with my whole time stopping thing so much?”

“What do you mean?”

“Just—” Taehyun sighs, brows furrowing in another feeble attempt to voice it out. “You seem so tired sometimes, Beomgyu—but never for me. For this. You know we can spend time together in the real world, right? I don’t… I just don’t know how you’re so okay with all of this. You told me once that you might be the universe’s consequences to my actions, but I feel like it’s the complete opposite.”

Beomgyu laughs knowingly. “Taehyun-ah. Are you saying I make you feel invincible?”

“Scarily,” Taehyun scoffs, dead serious. “It doesn’t feel like this was supposed to happen.”

“Too good to be true?” Beomgyu teases, now threading nimble fingers into Taehyun’s hair. “You think that?”

Taehyun pouts—but it pales in comparison to the way he looks up, leaning a little bit more into the touch. “I’m serious, Beomgyu.”

“So am I.”

Beomgyu looks down at him in return, his face scarily close to the crown of Taehyun’s head. He brings his free hand up to poke Taehyun’s cheek—not uncommon, but still fairly new—and then he nuzzles his nose ever so slightly into Taehyun’s hair, pulling him in closer with the softest nudge on his shoulder. Taehyun’s face heats up, heart racing in his chest, but what wins out is the anticipation of Beomgyu’s every next action. Taehyun feels the rising of Beomgyu’s chest, the dips and curves shifting under him just before Beomgyu gets to speak. 

“You’ve made me feel invincible, too, Taehyun-ah.” Beomgyu says it with conviction, low voice resonating close to the shell of his ear. “I know I don’t say it much, but it’s the truth.”

“Really?” Taehyun asks, eyes wide in curiosity. “Like when?”

Beomgyu chuckles. “You’re really serious about this, aren’t you?”

Taehyun glares. He knows he doesn’t look at all threatening, but Beomgyu understands the sentiment either way.

“Okay, fine.” Beomgyu concedes, earning him a shift in Taehyun’s expression when he perks up. “There was this one time, when I was 13. You stopped time for a few minutes, and I was so grateful in that moment. To whoever it was.”

Taehyun sits up a little, intrigued. He tilts his head, “Why?”

Beomgyu just smiles, holds him tighter. Within seconds, thoughlike always—he’s back to his cryptic self, scratching the back of his head and speaking in riddles like their usual back-and-forth. Always when Taehyun thinks he’s finally getting somewhere, Beomgyu never lets him catch on so quick. At this point, he doesn’t know whether to laugh or cry. It’s not like Beomgyu really means to cause him any distress. 

“‘Cause I didn’t miss my bus,” Beomgyu shrugs, a soft, innocent smile to match.

Taehyun actually wants to burst into tears.

“That’s it?” Taehyun asks, his own voice sounding foreign to him in his ears. It’s breathy, frustrated, on the edge of just begging Beomgyu for an answer that didn’t have him running around in circles in his head for days on end. “God—there’s so much I don’t know about you, Choi Beomgyu.”

Taehyun’s voice cracks on the last word, and it startles them both out of their previous position. Taehyun sits up to hide his face, wiping away the single tear that had fallen from his eye and willing the rest that were pooling up to go away. Beomgyu sits up, too, looking at him with concern, but he brings comforting arms around Taehyun, gentle without fear. Beomgyu holds him softly, but still firm enough to keep him on the ground without floating away. Taehyun doesn’t know what’s come over him. 

Beomgyu doesn’t need to, to know exactly what to say.

“Would it change anything?”

No. It wouldn’t.

(You would still love me, Taehyun can hear in the back of his mind—though left unsaid—in Beomgyu’s sweetest voice.

I don’t think I’d know how else to be, Taehyun imagines himself saying back.)

Taehyun bites down tears of frustration with a laugh, leaning back into Beomgyu’s embrace. “You know I don’t just… appreciate you, right?”

“Enough to think you made me up, yes.” Beomgyu smirks, kissing the top of Taehyun’s head when he pulls him in with more conviction. “You’re a weird guy. Don’t cry. I know all these things, Taehyun. I hope you know, too.”

Taehyun sniffles. Beomgyu’s impossible, but in the sweetest possible way. He’s always been. He’s always just been him.

“And if I wake up tomorrow and can’t stop time anymore—” Taehyun starts, “—would we still be the same?”

Beomgyu scoffs. Of course he does. He says everything like it’s obvious—and Taehyun is starting to discover that that might be enough to make it true.

“You’re special, Kang Taehyun.” Beomgyu places a soft kiss on his forehead, and Taehyun melts into his warmth. Chilly air turns to nothing when it touches loved skin. “We wake up different every day. But that’s the way I see you—and that’s what will always be the same.”

Taehyun lets the time move, more than content to let hours simply pass them by. Time is meant to be spent, and Taehyun wants to spend it here, with Beomgyu—right until all of it is used up.

Taehyun smiles. It’s a good thing they have all of it in the world.