Summary: Zitao's presence is a present. Not to Chanyeol, though.
Author's notes: Vaguely based on Le Visiteur du Futur. I hope this is anything like you wanted!! Please enjoy, and I apologize if it isn't. Either way, I owe you~ ❤
“I can’t feel my feet,” Chanyeol says, stamping his feet to keep warm. He can hear the whine in his own voice, but it feels like it’s fucking negative thirty out, at least, and all Baekhyun had given him time to grab before he’d hustled him out was a windbreaker. There’s definitely ice collecting in his hair, still slightly damp from the shower and tightening against his scalp. “Also my ears, and my fingers, and maybe my di—”
“Okay,” Baekhyun cuts him off, voice emerging from the dark cavern beneath his hood where his face used to be in a puff of warm-breathed exasperation. “Abort mission right there, Park Chanyeol.” The tips of his fingers are pink where they peek out of his gloves as he fumbles with the Ziploc bag he takes out of his pocket.
Chanyeol watches Baekhyun’s fingers slide against the plastic, searching for a grip, and his own grow jittery with the need to grab it out of Baekhyun’s hands and do it himself. But he’d also forgotten to grab gloves and his hands scrunched in the fabric of his pockets is all that’s keeping him from shivering apart. He leans in a little closer to Baekhyun when a particularly brittle wind breezes by. They’re in the alleyway between their apartment building and the convenience store next door, their building side door propped open with a brick. The dumpster they're behind is blocking the worst of the wind, but the cold in the middle of January is nothing to joke about.
“Could you take any longer?” Chanyeol says impatiently, pulling the strings of his hood tighter around his face. “My balls are literally going to shrivel up.”
“Didn’t know you had any to begin with,” Baekhyun mutters under his breath, but Chanyeol’s saved from having to answer because Baekhyun’s got the baggie open, and he gets a whiff of the pungent weed inside just before the cold ices it away.
“Damn,” Chanyeol says appreciatively, eyeing the two well-rolled joints and lighter inside. “I don’t get it. Why is Kyungsoo’s shit always so much better than everyone else’s?”
Baekhyun shrugs, a quick jerk that takes his well-padded shoulders a few seconds to register. “Heard his brother has a hookup. Must be legit, this cost me almost twice what it would from Henry-hyung.”
Chanyeol snorts, almost putting out the flame of Baekhyun’s lighter. “Henry-hyung’s might as well be ditchweed.”
Baekhyun gives a noncommittal hum, his face scrunched in concentration. He finally lights the end of one of the joints and takes a big hit before passing it on to Chanyeol along with one of his gloves.
Chanyeol slips it on, grateful even though it’s still slightly damp with Baekhyun’s hand sweat, and takes the joint. He takes a long, luxurious hit, letting his lungs fill before passing it back to Baekhyun. He lets the smoke out with a contented sigh. He’s grateful to the cold now for curbing the usually immediate heady rush of the high. He doesn’t smoke often—can’t really afford the habit within the confines of his starving student lifestyle, and it’s been a while. And when he’d heard from Jongdae that Kyungsoo had just gotten a new shipment in, well, Chanyeol's always made exceptions for Kyungsoo. It only made sense to text Baekhyun before his 2:00PM music history class with Kyungsoo to see if he could score some. He’s been looking forward to this all day, ever since Baekhyun texted him back two minutes after his class period ended with nothing but a string of thumbs up emojis.
They pass the joint back and forth a few times and Baekhyun’s just passed it on to him, burnt almost all the way down to the filter, when there’s a loud clatter from the mouth of the alleyway like somebody stumbling into the plastic chairs outside of the 7-11.
“Shit,” Chanyeol curses, dropping what’s left of the joint to bury it in the snow at his feet. Next to him, Baekhyun already has the baggie stuffed down the front of his shirt, shaking his scarf to get out the smell and any ashes before re-tying it around his neck.
His head is spinning and his mouth already dry—fuck, Kyungsoo’s shit is potent—when a boy, presumably the one making all the noise earlier, edges his way cautiously towards where he and Baekhyun are, partially hidden by the dumpster. He’s well-dressed in a dark gray peacoat, short green scarf snug around his neck. His face is partially hidden by the black hat he’s wearing, but when he passes under the light of their apartment building’s alley door, Chanyeol makes out tanned skin, almost too warm for the season, and a defiant nose and chin offset in between by a cat-like, pursed mouth.
Chanyeol can feel Baekhyun move a little closer to him. The guy doesn’t look like either a mugger or the police, but you never know.
When the boy reaches them, they’re leaning against the wall of the 7-11 and trying to look like they’re just having a chat in below freezing weather at eleven at night. Chanyeol gives him a nod, and pushes away from the wall, heading towards the door. Baekhyun, even more jittery when he’s high, shoots out a hand to clutch at the back of Chanyeol’s jacket. “Night,” Chanyeol says, in what he hopes is a firm tone.
“Ah, wait! Stop!” The boy suddenly says, hand shooting out to block their way but stopping short of actually touching Chanyeol. There’s a stilted hint of an accent in his speech, and he seems to lose his bearings for a second when Chanyeol drops his eyes to the arm, then back up to his face, contemplating wildly if they should just make a break for it, panic cutting sharp through the haze of his high. “Um, hi. My name is Zitao. I’m from the future.”
Chanyeol raises his eyes to Zitao’s face. Next to him, Baekhyun lets out a high-pitched, uncontrollable giggle. “The…future?” he asks slowly. Maybe this guy’s not the police, just some next-level druggie.
Emboldened, Zitao barrels ahead. “Yes! I’m here to tell you not to go through that door. The person in 1B has the apartment next to the stairs and is really mad at whoever keeps going out and leaving the door open, and he’ll call the police on you if you go back inside! They’ll do a drug test and find out you’re high and it’ll go on your permanent record and then you’ll get suspended from school! Your parents will be so mad they’ll cut you off financially and you’ll have to pick up a part-time job to make ends meet and eventually drop out of school and become a full-time alcoholic and drug addict. Yura will be the only one who tries to help you out but you shun her assistance and your entire family will fall into dishonor and depression!”
Zitao, who’d said all this in one breath, breaks off with a heave. Chanyeol can feel his mouth falling open. Next to him, Baekhyun, who’d been giggling when Zitao started, has gone completely silent. Another piercing wind breezes past, and Zitao jumps, as if shocked.
“I have to go!” he says, backing away. “But listen, please, just go through the front door!” Then he turns and sprints back the way he came. There’s another clatter, and then it’s still.
Chanyeol chances a glance at Baekhyun. Baekhyun looks back, eyes round. He’s biting his lip. “That guy must be on something really crazy,” Baekhyun says hesitantly. He takes a step towards the door. “You don’t believe him, do you?”
Chanyeol grunts, high all but ruined. He leans forward to tug the brick out, letting the door shut gently. “How’d he know Yura’s name then?” he says. “Come on, let’s just go through the front.”
Baekhyun seems inclined to put the late-night meeting with Zitao out of his head as an unfortunate side effect of the weed. Chanyeol alternates between wanting to forget about it and worrying that one of his sister’s admirers has gone too far. But Yura responds to his half-crazed text within the hour, swearing that she’s never heard of anyone named Zitao or even seen anyone who matches his description, so Chanyeol begrudgingly gives it up. For whatever it's worth, he will hand it to Zitao—Jongdae, who lives the floor below him and Baekhyun, got completely chewed out by the guy in 1B the next morning when he propped the alley door open to throw out his trash, and now it was locked by management until spring.
“It was so scary,” Jongdae says when he recounts the story to Chanyeol as they walk to campus the next day. It’s Friday and their only class is an 11:00AM introduction to studio art course, the best four credits Chanyeol is taking this year. “Mr. Choi seriously needs to chill. He threatened to call the police on me for leaving the side door open. I was just taking out my trash!”
Chanyeol has a flashback to Zitao’s words—your entire family will fall into dishonor and depression, said, in retrospect, a little melodramatically—and shakes his head. “At least he didn’t actually call the police on you,” he says, holding open the classroom door for Jongdae behind him.
Their professor announces they have an independent perspective study sketch for the day, and the class disperses when she’s done outlining the assignment. Jongdae takes off to watch anime with Jongin, swinging his arm in a wide goodbye in Chanyeol’s direction. It’d be easy to skive off for the day too, but Chanyeol’s kind of in the mood to draw, so he wanders the hallways of the arts building, searching for something he can sketch. He settles for a stacked cube sculpture in the graduate arts student wing on his second loop of the third floor, and drops onto a conveniently located bench just a few feet away.
He’s just begun sketching when he feels his right leg, folded beneath him, start to cramp. He gets up, hopping a little and trying to massage his calf. Suddenly, there is an eerily familiar crash in the hallway just beyond where he is and, before Chanyeol has time to properly register the sound, Zitao stumbles into view. He is wearing the same peacoat, scarf, and hat he was wearing the night before during their first meeting. When he raises his eyes to meet Chanyeol's, Chanyeol is struck by the simultaneous charm and irritation of the purse of Zitao’s mouth.
“Park Chanyeol,” Zitao cries out—definitely a little melodramatically, Chanyeol thinks—just as Chanyeol groans and says, “Not you again.”
Zitao’s mouth shuts into a pout. They stare at each other for a few seconds, Chanyeol’s cramped leg forgotten, before the corner of Zitao’s mouth curves up. “Why not me? I was right about last night, wasn’t I?” he says smugly.
Chanyeol doesn’t answer, and Zitao’s ensuing smirk swings right into irritation. Chanyeol, despite having been trained to tolerate the highest levels of annoyance after years of beings friends with Baekhyun, is overcome with the urge to shove him. “What do you want now?” he grumbles, collapsing back onto his bench. He’s still not 100% positive Zitao isn’t just some random kid Baekhyun or Jongdae hired to annoy him in an elaborate prank, but Zitao’s warning last night combined with his high and news of Jongdae’s run-in this morning has left him admittedly spooked.
To his surprise, Zitao just slides onto the bench next to him, leaning his head back and stretching his legs out in front of him. “Nothing,” he says, shrugging. “The moment’s already passed. I was going to tell you to stop stomping around and sit down, because that sculpture’s a little unsteady on its base. Anyway, it’s a long story, but if you’d kept it up, there would’ve been an accident, then you would’ve sued, and the world would’ve fallen into an apocalyptic wasteland.” He punctuates this with a nod and a hiccupping laugh.
Chanyeol looks at him in alarm, but Zitao has picked up his sketchbook and is sniggering at Chanyeol’s past assignments. His ears burn and he snatches the sketchbook back. “Don’t look at that,” he snaps. “Listen, you can't just—you can't just do that. I don't understand. What are you?”
“I’m Chinese!” Zitao says, giving him a thumbs up. “From Qingdao. My blood type is AB and I like doing kungfu!”
Chanyeol feels the overwhelming need to shove him again. He’s not a man who believes in denying self-satisfaction, so he does. Zitao looks at him, wounded, then shoves back. “I don’t mean that,” Chanyeol says, though that does explain the accent coloring Zitao's doomsday monologues. “I mean, like, are you really from the future? Or are you some weird manifestation of my conscience or something?”
Zitao tugs his black hat off, and Chanyeol spares a second to blink at the shock of blonde hair against tan skin. “Um, something like that,” Zitao says, and steals a look at Chanyeol. “It’s more like—a version of your future.”
“The version where an oversized art project falls on me and my lawsuit plunges the world into destitution?” Chanyeol asks, only a little incredulously. “And why does my future keep sending you? Are we—I don't know, friends or something?” He knows the disbelief in his voice is rude. After all, if Zitao is for real, then he's just saved Chanyeol’s ass twice.
“Yes, that version,” Zitao says defensively, and crams the hat back on his head. “Actions have consequences, Chanyeol. And maybe we are friends. Even if we aren’t, what’s wrong with me?”
There’s a note of genuine hurt in his voice. Chanyeol is irritated to feel guilt well up inside of him. “Hey,” he starts gruffly, half-thinking about apologizing.
“Gotta go,” Zitao says abruptly, standing up. He’s backing away when he stumbles into the garbage can. Chanyeol winces for him, eyes blinking shut for less than a second. When he looks again, Zitao is gone.
Chanyeol makes it through the weekend without Zitao showing up to warn him that not tying his shoes because he’s running late will lead to the end of the world, or something. When Baekhyun starts looking at him weird after he stands in front of their open freezer door for ten minutes trying to remember if he usually keeps his ice cream on the second or third level, Chanyeol knows it’s time to snap out of it.
“Oh, hey,” Baekhyun says on Sunday night. They’re in their living room studying, or pretending to, anyway—Chanyeol has a check-in with his advisor about his communications thesis on Tuesday but he’s slouched on the couch and embroiled in an intense League of Legends battle with his archnemesis, some girl in Gyeonggi-do. Baekhyun, curled up in a chair across from him, has a composition due tomorrow, but his headphones have slipped down around his neck and his finger has taken on the rhythmic, regular clicking of someone going through a random person’s entire tagged photos album on Facebook. “I think I found that weird guy from Thursday on Facebook. Zitao from the future?”
Chanyeol bolts upright, almost upending the bowl of cereal on the sofa arm (dry, he’s not stupid) onto his laptop. “Sorry, Bomi,” he says into his microphone, slamming his laptop shut and cutting off her indignant squawk. “What? No way. Let me see.”
Baekhyun obliges, sliding his laptop across the top of their coffee table. “I think he’s tight with Oh Sehun, that first year in our intro psych class last semester,” he offers. “Looks like a Chinese international student.”
Baekhyun has three mutual friends with Huang Zitao—Sehun, and then two Chinese students, a senior Lu Han and a junior Zhang Yixing, whom they met through Jongdae after he took a classical Chinese music course last year. Thankfully, his Facebook isn’t private. Chanyeol clicks on his profile picture, an unhelpful and vague photo of a tiny Zitao standing with his arms raised on a rock, sand and sea bright behind him. But the third picture is a shameless mirror selca, replete with lip bite and wink. It’s definitely Chanyeol’s futuristic visitor, even if Zitao’s hair in these photos is a shiny, natural black.
“What the fuck,” Chanyeol says, feeling betrayed. All the residual guilt he’d had about being callous to Zitao in their last meeting evaporates.
“Yeah,” Baekhyun says, leaning over to pull his laptop back. “I mean, he looks like a nice kid. Wonder if he really was on something that night or if he was just messing with us.”
“Probably just messing with us,” Chanyeol says, falling back into the cushions. “You sure you don't know him?”
Baekhyun groans, rolling his eyes. “Please. Like I don't have better things to do.”
Chanyeol thinks about the time Baekhyun spent three days moving every piece of furniture in Chanyeol's room seven centimeters closer to the center of the room, which Chanyeol didn't notice until he opened his wardrobe door, whacking himself in the shin and trapping himself in between his bed and the open door. The bruise had taken a week to heal and even longer than that before Chanyeol got everything back in their rightful places, but he hates giving anything that Baekhyun does credit.
Their official school database tells him Huang Zitao is a first year student, undeclared major, indeed from Qingdao, China. It’s nothing Chanyeol didn’t already know. Their unofficial school database tells him Huang Zitao is on the college martial arts and dance teams, thinking about declaring sports psychology, and roommates with Oh Sehun. He’s also kind of Chinese Internet famous, thanks to the healthy mix of selcas and long, sentimental blog entries he posts on Weibo.
“How do you know that?” Chanyeol asks Jongdae suspiciously. “How do you know anything?” They are at an early lunch in the cafeteria, somewhere Chanyeol barely goes anymore, but it was the only time Jongdae had to meet up. He’d texted him immediately last night after Baekhyun had sleuthed out Zitao’s identity, and Jongdae’s gossip network had come through.
“How does anyone know anything?” Jongdae responds cryptically, leaning back in his chair. He’s cradling his mug of green tea and looking distinctly pleased with himself.
Chanyeol just looks at him, stealing a piece of pork off Jongdae’s plate and cramming it into his mouth. He chews it open-mouthed with a spoonful of rice, until Jongdae breaks eye contact.
“You are disgusting,” Jongdae says primly, patting at his own mouth with a napkin. As if he can talk. They’ve been friends since first year; Chanyeol’s seen Jongdae greasy-mouthed and passed out drunk, cheek pressed to the sticky floor of a karaoke room. “And he’s friends with Jongin. We’ve met once, I think. Please, Chanyeol. It wasn’t even hard.”
“Huh,” Chanyeol says, swallowing the rice in his mouth. He taps his chin with the end of his chopstick. “Is he like, you know, kind of weird? I think I had a run-in with him the other day.”
Jongdae eyes him with interest. “Weird how? What kind of run-in?”
He accosted me and told me he’s from the future and that my smallest action could cause worldwide destruction. Do you think he’s on drugs? Even in his own head, Chanyeol is the one who sounds like he’s on drugs.
“Oh, hey,” Jongdae says, looking beyond him. “Speak of the devil. Here he comes now. Jongin!” Before Chanyeol can shush him, Jongdae raises his arm, flagging down Jongin.
“What’s up, hyung?” Jongin says from behind Chanyeol.
Chanyeol turns to look at him. Jongin is balancing two trays, dressed in the white shirt and gray sweatpants he wears regardless of season. In tow are Sehun, familiar look of faint irritation on his face, and Huang Zitao, leopard print bomber jacket thrown over his shoulders. His hair is a soft black, styled deliberately haphazardly. Chanyeol squints at him as he gets closer. For whatever reason, this Zitao looks—off. Or rather, he looks like the eager freshman kid Baekhyun found Facebook, not Chanyeol’s prickly, oversensitive visitor from the future.
“Just wanted to introduce you to my friend. This is Park Chanyeol. Chanyeol, these are the kids. Jongin, Sehun, and Zitao,” Jongdae sings out, pointing at each in turn.
Jongin rolls his eyes, but bobs his head at Chanyeol. “We’ve met already,” Sehun says, sounding bored. He barely even inclines his head, the brat.
Zitao steps forward and thrusts out a hand that almost grazes Chanyeol’s nose. “I’m Zitao,” he says with swagger, tone stopped just short of arrogance by the friendliness in his voice.
Chanyeol half-rises out of his seat, taking Zitao’s hand. The silver of Zitao’s rings are hard but warm against his fingers and Zitao’s handshake is firm if slightly moist. “Chanyeol. Nice to meet you.”
Chanyeol sits back down. He doesn’t really have anything more to say to Zitao. He knows already that if he brought up either of their encounters, he’d just get looked at like he was crazy, which he’s beginning to suspect he is. Jongin, Sehun, and Zitao move on, Jongin making sure to kick at the leg of Jongdae’s chair as he passes.
“So?” Jongdae asks, leaning his chin on his hand. “That your guy?”
Chanyeol runs his tongue over the back of his teeth. It is, but mostly it isn’t. He feels strangely disappointed. He wants the Zitao who sat down next to him on the bench and picked up his sketchbook like he’d been invited to do so, not this overconfident, clueless kid tagging along with Jongin and Sehun. “Nah,” he finally says. “Probably a different Zitao.”
For whatever reason, after Chanyeol formally meets first year, real life Zitao, he starts seeing him everywhere. He’s rounding a corner, almost late for class, and there’s Zitao, taking his time strolling down the hall even though surely he’s almost late too. He’s sitting down with Baekhyun and Kyungsoo to eat at their favorite late-night snack place, and there’s Zitao with Sehun at a corner table, matching dark circles beneath their eyes. He’s at Yixing’s housewarming party in February, a month and a half too late for it to really be considered a ‘housewarming’, and there’s Zitao in the kitchen, head tipped back as he swallows the tepid beer in his cup.
Given the context of how Chanyeol first came to know of Zitao, it feels like the universe is just trading in one version of Zitao for another, and Chanyeol’s not sure how he feels about it. There’s something about Zitao that sends a flare of irritation through Chanyeol, warranted or not. It’s weird, because Baekhyun and Jongdae and even prickly Kyungsoo seem to get along with him just fine; they encourage him, even. One day Baekhyun is looking at Zitao’s Facebook and wondering what kind of drugs he’s on and the next Chanyeol comes home to their legs tangled together on his couch, the two of them kicking at each other and trading creative insults, homework long forgotten beside them. That is the day Chanyeol knows he’s stuck with Zitao, for better or for worse. He resigns himself to his fate, and tries harder to temper the kneejerk annoyance that Zitao brings out in him. It’s not his fault his future/alternate universe self is a fucking weirdo. After all, present-day Zitao is weird enough.
It’s April when Baekhyun brings up his and Chanyeol’s first encounter with future Zitao in the alleyway. He’s a few cups of soju deep, face suffused with a thin blush. “How’d your project go? Gotta say, you scared the shit out of us that night,” Baekhyun says. “Right, Chanyeol?” He nudges Chanyeol’s arm with his. They are sitting on the floor, Zitao, Jongdae, Yixing, Sehun, and Joonmyun from next door behind them on the couch, a Hong Kong gangster movie long-forgotten on Chanyeol’s laptop in front of them. Yixing reaches around Chanyeol for the soju bottle, almost upending a greasy takeout box into Chanyeol’s lap.
“Yeah,” Chanyeol says shortly, taking a long swig from his water bottle. He hasn’t told Baekhyun, or anyone else, about the second time with the statue. He’s not sure why—with the first time, at least he has Baekhyun’s corroboration and the excuse of the weed. At 11:15 in the morning, the idea of a visitor from the future seemed even more absurd.
Zitao pulls his right leg to tuck under his left, catching the crown of Chanyeol’s head on his way up. “Sorry,” he says. And then he leans forward to look at Baekhyun. “What are you talking about, hyung?” Chanyeol doesn’t need to look at him to see the cocked head, the furrowed brow.
“You know,” Baekhyun says. “Your weird speech about being from the future. Was it for a theater class?”
“Uh,” Zitao says, and Chanyeol chances a look back at him. He’s frowning, chin tucked. “What are you talking about? I’m not taking a theater class.”
“Oh.” Baekhyun pauses, then continues, undeterred, “Were you like high or something?”
Zitao’s frown deepens. “I don’t smoke. My kungfu teacher always told me my body is a temple.” It is a testament to how used they’ve all gotten to how seriously Zitao takes himself that no one laughs out loud at this statement.
“Really? That’s weird, I could’ve sworn—”
“I’m gonna go buy some snacks next door,” Chanyeol says, cutting in. He grabs his jacket from underneath Baekhyun’s butt, almost upending him. “You guys want anything? On me,” he adds, hoping it’ll be enough to throw Baekhyun off.
Baekhyun’s eyes light up, earlier line of questioning forgotten at the prospect of expensed snacks.
Ten minutes later, Chanyeol makes his way down the stairs, finally having escaped. He groans as he scrolls through the list on his phone. Baekhyun’s many and detailed requests alone take up two-thirds of it. Chanyeol is pretty sure Baekhyun was still soliloquizing on the difference between matcha and green tea cake when he shut the door behind him.
He takes a minute in the foyer of their apartment building to zip up his jacket—the worst of winter has passed, but it’s still nippy out—then pushes the door open and steps out.
Almost immediately, a hand clamps down on his arm, dragging him with surprising strength into the alleyway next to the front door. Chanyeol lets out a yelp, mind racing, and is just about to start kicking, when a familiar voice shushes him.
“Park Chanyeol,” Zitao hisses at him once they’re safely in the alley, hidden in the shadow of the dumpster.
“What the fuck,” Chanyeol bites back. His pulse feels like it’s about to jump out of his skin, and he takes a few deep breaths to steady himself. He yanks his arm out of Zitao’s iron grip, pretending it hurt less than it did. “What is wrong with you?”
Zitao doesn’t answer, his head swiveling as he looks to make sure no one’s around or heard Chanyeol’s shout. Chanyeol rolls his eyes, wanting to smack him upside the head. It’s nine at night and they’re in a fucking alleyway next to the 7-11 in a student residential area. Zitao is probably the most dangerous thing around for blocks.
“Where have you been?” The question slips out of him without thinking, less a demand than the beginning of a whine. Chanyeol curses himself inwardly, knowing exactly how it sounds.
By the curl of Zitao’s smile when he turns back, Chanyeol knows Zitao knows how it sounds too. “Why? Missed me?”
“In your dreams.”
Zitao shrugs, still smiling. He leans against the side of the dumpster. “It’s been hard catching you alone. Plus, you’re not as reckless as you used to be. Like, maybe some broken bones or public humiliation, but probably no more apocalyptic futures.”
“Then, so? To what do I owe this visit?” Chanyeol is still angry, but at least his heart rate is finally settling down again. He leans against the convenience store wall behind him, watching Zitao’s face beneath his black hat, blonde hair peeking out.
Zitao’s got a thoughtful look on his face as he studies him. “Thanks,” he finally says. “For throwing Baekhyun off. I didn’t know if you would. I was getting ready to make a scene. I can’t let me know about me, if that makes any sense.”
“What—oh, yeah.” Chanyeol shrugs. “I mean, it would’ve made me sound crazy too, you know?” Then he processes what Zitao said. “But, wait, don’t you know about you? I mean, we’re having this conversation right now about the you on my couch.”
“It’s different.” Zitao grimaces, waving his hands around. “Where I’m from, this is normal. It’s normal for me to know. But not here.”
“Then how come I’m allowed to know?” Chanyeol asks, confused. His head feels like it’s about to explode, trying to keep Zitao’s explanation straight. Then something occurs to him. “Wait—does that mean there’s a me running around out there somewhere warning people about their impending demise?”
Zitao laughs a little. “Not that I know of. But it’s possible.”
“Damn.” Chanyeol stops to think about the possibilities. “Does that mean there are multiple mes out there? Is there a Park Chanyeol where you’re from? What’s the one you know like? Not as good-looking, I bet.”
Zitao full belly-laughs at that, looking fond. “That’s exactly what he said. Look, thanks again. Just—I don’t think you’re going to need me much anymore, but try to keep it from me, well, him, okay?”
“Or else I’ll plunge the time-space continuum into chaos? No worries. Anyway, Baekhyun’s the one you have to worry about.”
“Big mouth, little guy,” Zitao grins, and the nickname sends a jolt of nostalgia through Chanyeol. It’s what he used to call Baekhyun back in high school. “Listen, I have to go. Try to be nicer to me, okay? Just remember—we’re friends somewhere.”
He backs away as he speaks, and Chanyeol is surprised to find that, along the way, he’d gotten attached, that he’ll miss this Zitao. He sticks a hand out, something he should’ve done the first time. “It was a pleasure meeting you.”
Zitao looks surprised, then so pleased, entire face lighting up. “Pleasure meeting you, too.” He reaches out for Chanyeol’s hand, light glinting off the ring on his second finger. Chanyeol can almost feel the heat of Zitao’s palm in his when, suddenly, it’s gone.
He looks up. There’s nothing in front of him where Zitao was, and no sign that he’d ever been there. Ah. Chanyeol’s fingers curl into his palm, letting his arm drop.
“Where have you been?” Baekhyun shouts from the couch when Zitao opens to door to let Chanyeol in. “It’s been, like, an hour. I was about to send Zitao out after you.”
Chanyeol holds up the two plastic shopping bags in hand. “Getting all your stupid snacks, your majesty.”
The look on Baekhyun’s face transforms into haughty benevolence. “Oh, well. You better have gotten everything then.”
Tough luck. Chanyeol had wandered the snack aisle of 7-11 after Zitao had disappeared, pulling things off the shelf at random and wrestling with the monster in his throat. It wasn’t disappointment, exactly, nor was it regret. And it was difficult to feel nostalgia for someone he had a scant three run-ins with, someone who, in any iteration, he didn’t really know.
A hand closes around the bag in his left hand, and Chanyeol jumps, startled, tripping over the sneakers he just kicked off.
“Sorry,” Zitao says quickly, pulling his hand back. Then he reaches it out again. “Let me help you with that.”
Chanyeol looks at the Zitao he’s left with, remembering the other Zitao’s request. Be nice to me, okay? We’re friends somewhere.
“Yeah, of course,” Chanyeol says, handing a bag to him. “Thanks, Zitao.”