He was going to die today.
That was what flashed through the man’s mind as the masked figure to his right led him by the arm towards the open platform.
He could clearly hear the light chatter coming from the awaiting audience. He felt the heightened atmosphere of anticipation; he could even smell the distinct scent of the town’s delicacy. It was a luxury only cooked during celebratory events, and the idea that the town’s people were openly considering his death as a festive moment, made the man want to puke out the little food he was given during his short imprisonment.
He was only trying to help them, but that’s how humans were. He knew that well enough.
Appreciation is only awarded to those the ones in power believed to be equal.
His difference made him undeserving, and now he was being axed for stepping out of the precarious boundaries they had built for him.
He realized now that no matter what he was trying to do, whether it was for the greater good or not, his fate had been determined the second he was born. They had just been waiting for the perfect moment to enact it.
That’s why he had already resigned.
That’s why, with each step he took that brought him closer to the sharpened axe awaiting him, he felt calmer, relieved, less burdened.
Finally, he thought, I will be free.
The noisy crowd quieted down upon his entrance.
He didn’t look up.
He didn’t want to see their faces.
He closed his eyes and allowed the masked man to lead him to his position.
One step closer, the sound of his breath inhaling and exhaling at a quick pace was the only thing his ears picked up.
Kneeling down on his knees, the beat of his heart synced with the pulse of his head.
When his was neck grabbed and strongly pushed down, he swallowed his regret.
It was after the cold of the wood touched his heated body that all his senses seemed to finally come to a halt.
He released the breath he didn’t know he was holding and waited.
“I thank all that gathered here today, for the execution of this man, Kim Jaejoong. May, with death, his sins be forgiven.”
The last thing he felt before hearing the whoosh of the falling axe, was a strange, unfamiliar sense of peace.
Jaejoong scrunched his eyes at the sudden heat warming his eyelids. He moved his body around so that his back was facing whatever was the cause.
He didn’t want to wake up, yet. He was too comfortable. The most comfortable he has ever been. This must be what heaven feels like.
He swatted his hand in the air in an attempt to make the annoying sound go away.
Wait... He thought. ...sound?
“You. Ugh, this is the last time I volunteer for guide duty.”
Jaejoong’s head flew upwards, his eyes wide and frightened.
His eyes only widened more when the sight of another man who appeared to be around his age was in a crouched position not too far from his head.
Their eyes met, and Jaejoong could feel the peace from not too long ago settle within him again, consequently and unwillingly calming his nerves and helping clear his befuddled mind.
The guy smiled upon noticing the deer in headlights look on Jaejoong’s face and let out a small chuckle.
“Hey, don’t look so scared. I’m not going to hurt you.”
Jaejoong swallowed down the word vomit threatening to spill out, and instead inquired, “Who are you?”
The man’s smile only grew as he reached out his hand for a handshake.
“There we go! It’s nice to meet you. My name is Kim Junsu, and I will be your guide for the day.”
Jaejoong could only nod dumbly and shake the man’s hand in return.
They were in a town.
Jaejoong had no clue what was happening.
Junsu hadn’t even attempted an explanation. The man seemed to be his own little world as he led Jaejoong around the area pointing out random stuff and rambling nonsensically about things only he understood.
“And, those stairs over there is where Chun fell and busted his head open. He bled like crazy. It’s a good thing we’re in the Apex; otherwise, he probably would have died. And that over there is where Min likes to take his nap. According to him, out of the whole town, that place is the perfect location because you can get to any restaurant at moment’s notice... And there is where dolphins jump over the moon-”
Just as Jaejoong was about to tug on Junsu’s sleeve to catch his attention, another man materialized out of what appeared to nowhere and bulldozed the other to the ground.
“Yah! Su, here you are. I’ve been looking all over for you!”
Junsu grumbled a bit, but as soon as he recognized the new addition, his countenance changed back to its previous cheer.
The latter laughed.
Jaejoong could only stare as he watched the two companions repeat each other’s names back and forth with childish grins on their faces.
Feeling more and more lost, Jaejoong finally took a step forward and patted Junsu on the arm. Before he could even get a word out however, Junsu’s head whipped in his direction. His smile widened even more if possible.
“Ah! That’s right! Yoochun, this is my new friend. New friend this is Park Yoochun.”
Yoochun grinned at him and tilted his head in greeting.
“Nice to meet you, new friend.”
Junsu did a little hop in place and then abruptly threw an arm over Jaejoong’s shoulder and pulled him into a side hug.
“My new friend is such a great listener... not at all like Min, thank goodness.” He exclaimed happily.
Yoochun nodded noncommittally and sent Jaejoong a knowing smirk. “Was he listening, or were you just not giving him the chance to speak?” He teased, pulling Jaejoong out of Junsu’s hold.
Junsu was about to retaliate when, suddenly, he paused.
Glancing apologetically at Jaejoong, he scratched the back of his head and chuckled guiltily.
“Haha, I guess I did... Sorry.” Junsu paused in his scratching and titled his head with false cuteness.
“And, I just realized... I don’t even know your name.”
Without warning, Yoochun’s easy-going gaze changed and hardened.
“Junsu...” He started. “Jokes aside... have you let this man talk whatsoever? Answered his questions? Have you even provided him the necessary information, yet?”
Junsu’s head dropped.
They were now seated around a table.
Cups of teas were placed in front of each of them.
It was silent as Yoochun had his arms crossed, giving Junsu a reproachful look. The said man was pouting in reply and absentmindedly stirring his tea.
Yoochun sighed and offered the obviously antsy Jaejoong a slight smile.
“It’s usually not this bad. On a normal day, we would have you already settling in by now, not lost or confused in the least, but it seems that our volunteer guide for the day was slacking off... again.” Yoochun glared. “You must have a lot of questions. I apologize about what’s happened so far. Feel free to ask away.” He spoke.
Jaejoong nodded gratefully and thought of the one question that had been on his mind since the moment he woke up.
“Where am I?” He asked carefully. His wariness was apparent causing Yoochun to send Junsu another scolding look.
“You’re in the Apex.” He finally answered.
“The Apex...” Jaejoong repeated with a nod of his head. “Junsu did mention that earlier.”
At the sound of his name and the words that followed, Junsu’s ears twitched, and a broad smile stretched across his face.
“See? I did tell him where he was! I wasn’t completely slacking off.” He exclaimed.
Yoochun ignored the latter’s claim in favor of continuing his explanation.
“Yes, the Apex. There is three worlds altogether- the Underworld, the Medial, and the Apex. Before your death, you had resided in the Medial...”
“So, I am dead...” Jaejoong muttered. A grim look flashed across his face, and Junsu frowned.
Placing a hand on Jaejoong’s shoulder, he responded, his voice uncharacteristically serious. “Yes, Jaejoong. The reason you’re here now is because you’ve already passed. I should have explained this to you earlier. I apologize for my lack of consideration. It’s okay to feel down, but before you make any conclusions, let Yoochun finish first...”
Yoochun nodded and too placed a hand on Jaejoong’s shoulder.
“Humans that die in the Medial are usually not sent here... For most cases, they are reincarnated and allowed another chance in that world. But, you were sent here which means that death wasn’t the end to your life but a new beginning.” He continued.
Jaejoong sat still, processing these words.
“People that are sent here, Jaejoong... me and Junsu included, all have lived unfair, unfulfilled, and unhappy lives. This is our second chance, and now this is your second chance as well.”
Jaejoong thought about his previous life- all the disdain, hatred, loneliness...
A second chance...? That seems too good to be true.
He slowly looked up and met the other men’s eyes and the absolute sincerity in both of them. The same peaceful feeling he felt those two other times returned.
And, Jaejoong felt like crying.