Eleven

Small Universes Around Us
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Seoul University —— 2020

“Here it all is, your skating trophies, his hockey team wins, the lease to his vet clinic, his bar, the companies you both worked for, and every other life you lived. We have proof of it all.” Mark whispered in disbelief. 

They were at the archival library, piecing together the proof of their past lives and it was a lot more fruitful than she thought. It had taken a lot of searching but somehow they managed to create a whole picture.

“I can’t believe this.” She said, stunned. "We have evidence that multiple universes exist simultaneously. We have a bunch of different lives all taking place in the same year. How has this just been sitting in the public archives and no one noticed?" 

Mark stared at the expanse of papers in front of him, "Because no one's looking into the life of a regular girl. Or maybe, like Taeyong, when people who don't remember their past lives look at all these documents, they don't see the same girl and guy somehow living nearly 100 different lives all at the same time. Maybe, just like how Taeyong doesn't see Jaehyun's face in that textbook, they see different faces when they look at these archives."

". This entire thing is so messed up." She muttered, "It's like we discovered the secrets of the universe."

Mark snorted before raising a brow,"Do we show this to him? He might actually believe us.”

“And say what? You’re reincarnated, here are your past lives, everyone remembers except you and your friends, oh and also we’re in love.” Haeun said bitterly, “It’s too soon to say anything.”

“And your parents still aren’t picking up the phone?” He asked. 

She nodded, “I think they’re still at work.”

Mark sagged and stared at all the documents in front of him, “I can’t believe we could never find this before. Why were we able to find it now when Taeyong can’t remember anything?”

“I have no idea.” She muttered. 

He looked over at her, “Any luck on your end?”

“Not really. I’m looking into the Jung Regime. There’s mention of the rebel attacks and political uprisings that were occurring at the time. I remember being scared whenever Taeyong had to accompany the Royal Family out of the Kingdom’s borders. There were rumors of a coup after the Nobleman’s jailing. And lastly, the King and Queen had limited trade with a neighboring kingdom. Other than that, nothing really stands out.” She sighed, tiredly.

She rubbed her eyes before closing the book, “Okay think. This has to do with our past lives, why else would we have proof of them for the first time? So, is there anything you can remember from our past lives that connect them to each other? You know, other than me and Taeyong recognizing each other.”

Mark squeezed his eyes shut and raked his brain before letting out a loud breath, “No, all of our lives were different and there were a lot of inconsistencies. The core aspects of us were the same like his dad dying, Jaehyun being single, my parents not being present, and stuff like that. But the rest of our lives played out a little differently based on our circumstances. You were rich when you worked at that big company, you were middle-class when you had that bakery, you were a famous athlete in another.”

“Yeah, and the same went for you and the rest of our friends. We had different problems and different successes in each life. Like a normal person.” She muttered.

“Wait.” Mark said, “There’s one reoccurrence, none of us would remember anything until you and Taeyong did. You two were always the catalyst.”

She made a sound, “That doesn’t help us, though. All that tells us is that Taeyong and I are at the heart of this glitch and we still don’t know why.”

"Excuse me?"

Haeun and Mark looked over at an older woman, looking in her 50s, standing by their table. She had a name stage pinned to her shirt and Haeun recognized her as the Archive Manager. "You dropped this book."

"I don't think that's ours." 

The woman peered at her from over her glasses, "You two are the only ones here and this book wasn't on the ground before you got here, so I'm guessing that yes, it is."

Haeun was taken aback by the curt tone and just decided to take the book from her. Mark scratched the back of his head, "Maybe that's one of the ones we took out from the library. We brought a bunch, we probably just didn't recognize it."

The woman grumbled and walked away while Haeun surveyed the cover. Mark peered over her shoulder, “What is it?”

"Looks like something about old folklore." She mumbled. Mark nodded and busied himself with the timeline he was drawing. Haeun had given up after Mark started color coding and making Venn diagrams. Her life was complicated enough without trying to make sense of how everything lined up and co-existed. 

She hummed and continued to skim through the book until something stood out. “The Lover’s Curse.”

“Huh?”

“There’s a story here called The Lover’s Curse. It’s about soulmates who are born every century who live the most romantic love story but are then torn apart due to a great sacrifice or devastating incident.” She read out loud, her breathing catching short. 

Mark gulped nervously, “How does it end?”

Her hands shook, “With them accepting their fate of eternal heartbreak."

Joseon Dynasty —— 1889

Over the last few days, Haeun had spent in the healer’s work quarters, resting and recovering. Her bandages were often replaced as her wound was cleaned. After a while, the pain evaporated and was replaced with simple discomfort. 

Eventually, she was able to sit up. She stared at the mirror placed across the room and slowly unwound the bandages before turning her back and looking over her shoulder at the scar down the length of her spine. She winced, it was a harsh line, lighter than the rest of her skin, puckered and rubbery. It made her feel sick and look imperfect. At least she could hide it under her robes, but if anyone was ever to see her bare…

A knock on the door had her quickly pulling her robes back over her shoulders and knotting the belt. “Come in.”

Taeyong stepped through with a gentle smile and bouquet of sunflowers in a vase. “You’re sitting up. That’s so good to see.”

He walked over and handed the flowers to her outstretched hands, “And how are you feeling?”

“Much better. Thank you for these. They are beautiful. Do you think the Queen will start to notice the missing patches?” She asked, touching the silken petals.

He pulled a little stool next to her bed and chuckled, “She’s started to notice, but she’s more than happy as long as they are going to you.”

She gaped, “I can’t believe the Queen is making me an exception.”

Taeyong found out shortly afterward that Haeun didn’t remember anything from the medicine induced haze. She hadn’t remembered the words she had gently cooed at him or the uninhibited touch that she graced upon his face. 

“Are you excited to go back home?” He asked. At the rate she was healing, it’d only be another day or two until she would be healthy enough for the ride home.

Her smile faltered before nodding, “Yup!”

“Wait, what’s wrong?”

She tried shaking her head, “Nothing.”

“Sunflower.” He murmured while reaching up to cup her cheek tenderly. “Tell me what’s on your mind.”

Her eyes dropped to the flowers in her lap and chewed nervously on her lip, “Going home means my mother will ask to see the scar on my back. It will upset her and although she’ll never tell me directly, I know she will feel like everyone in my town will see me as less than perfect, less than whole now they all witnessed what the Nobleman did to me."

“Can I see?” He blurted. 

Her eyes widened and her face flushed with a red blush, “I would have to take my robe and underdress completely off…isn’t that a bit…intimate.”

“Of course!” He said hurriedly. He stood and backed up, nearly knocking the stool over, “Of course it is! I apologize, that was incredibly inappropriate and vulgar of me. Please don’t take offense, I don’t know what I was thinking when I as—“

“Okay.” She whispered. 

His eyes were almost comically large, “N-No, Haeun. Please, I’ve pressured you and made you uncomfortable, you don—“

“I want to.” She said, her eyes on her lap, “My future husband will see me bare one day, I guess I should be used to someone seeing me. You can give me a man’s opinion.”

“Haeun.” He said pleaded.

She smiled calmly and turned her back to him before sliding her robes down her shoulders. His breath was trapped in his lungs when smooth skin came into view. His throat dried when she pulled the straps of her underdress off and let the fabric pool around her waist. The soft curve of her hip, the slope of her shoulders and expanse of her back had him spiralling. She hugged her chest and peered at him over her shoulder. 

“May I?” He asked, his hand reaching towards her. 

Gulping, she nodded and gasped when his cool fingers traced down the curve of her spine, over her scar. A shiver trembled through her as he reached her lower back.

“You are so beautiful.”

He almost sounded pained, like the sight of her skin anguished him as he followed the path of her scar again. “Taeyong.”

“No.” He mumbled, his breath near her the nape of her neck, “You have always been beautiful. And you always will be. I dream of you, I miss you constantly and you will make a worthy man so incredibly happy.”

She sighed, her eyes slipping shut when his lips pressed against the base of her neck. “You are not less than perfect.” His hand curled around her waist, “You are the personification of it.”

Heat curled through her body, starting at the pit of her stomach before she let herself be brought back down from the sky and to earth, “Taeyong now that I am better able to walk, can you come somewhere with me?”

“Of course, sunflower.” He mumbled lowly. 

He pulled his hands off of her and stepped away so that she could pull her clothes back on. Her heat still lingering on her palms. When she was ready, he was by her side, letting her hook her arm through his and she led them through the palace. Many of the staff were staring and a few greeted the two of them with knowing smiles but she had become used to it. The sun had set and little lanterns were lit to illuminate the palace grounds. There was a light breeze that caused the plum trees to shed of its petals, floating through the air and caressing passerbys. 

Haeun led them back to the Queen’s garden, the space that had unofficially become their not-so-secret meeting spot and looked up at the starry sky. 

“I’ve been doing some thinking even before the Nobleman attacked me. Ever since that night you took me to the hill, I’ve been distracted with what you had said to me then.” She said while reaching for his hand. 

He relished her grip, firm and steady, “I didn’t mean to burden you with my fe—“

“No, Taeyong. Let me finish.” She said with a coaxing smile. 

He nodded and leaned against him, “I realized that I felt conflicted between you and my dreams. I wanted both but felt like I had to choose. Maybe I’m being greedy, but I don’t want one or the other. I don’t want to wait until I’ve lived my dreams before being able to be with you. I want to live my dreams with you next to me. I want to do both at the same time.”

Taeyong felt his heart tumble and he moved closed to her, drawn to each other, “I want to love you and see the world and meet interesting people and read fascinating books. I want to do it all with you. Together.”

“Oh, sunflower.” He said with a dazed smile, “are you sure?”

She smiled up at him, tears filling her eyes, “I am sure. B-But marriage…”

“We can wait.” He said, releasing her hand and looping his arms around her waist, bringing her to him, “I will wait until you’re ready. I’ll spend the time until then just loving you, it will be time well spent.”

“But what does this make us? We are not engaged or married.” She said unsurely. 

He leaned his forehead against hers, his eyes spilling love, utterly captivated by her, “Let’s tell people I’m officially wooing you.”

“But you’ve already wooed me.” She mused with a playful smile. 

His laugh was raspy as he tightened his grip around her. She gently rested her hands on his shoulders and he never wanted to let go, “Then, tell your parents you’ve found a prospect and that they need not search for any more suitors."

“Hmm, that sounds nice.” She whispered as she tilted her head up at him. "They don't need to look for a suitor because I've found one."

He swayed her lightly, “I want to spend my life next to you and I want to wake up be

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