Born in North America, far from the country he'd know as his only real home one day, Changkyun went by Daniel for the first nine years of his life. While both his parents had never adapted to English names or habits, they did raise their boy to fit right in with Boston much more than either of them could. The name to suit, the money poured into his clothing, his chances at education and it all came to naught: Im Daniel was given the wall of mind to mouth that meant he was more like the classroom joke than anything else. It was kind of funny in the oddest way, being the strange Korean kid in class and not being mocked for his eyes or an accent but his inability to get the words out. But kids were cruel, crueler than parents wrapped up in teaching at M.I.T. could hope to handle and Daniel wasn't exactly fitting in properly.

The world had its ways, though. Video games and comic books and collectibles; his parents were never the kind of parents who said no and it worked in favor for a boy who couldn't insist all too much. For every therapy session he sat through he was awarded something new: a new game, a new set of cards, a new collection of comic books, a new figuring. His bedroom filled with lush overflow and his head filled with the ways he should have been speaking but it never went anywhere.

Eventually, they blamed the school. Public school was traded in for private school, private school was traded in for catholic. The more change the worse it became, until his parents were offered jobs back home that they decided were for the best. That way, they could hire in a Chinese researcher to try and educate their son better: America hadn't done anything but give him more and more anxiety so why wouldn't some new kind of teacher do that much better?

As for the boy, he had no care or say. It wasn't like he had friends there. It wasn't like Massachusetts was anything more than a place he was raised in. He cried, of course he cried, because leaving home was like being stolen away from the sanctuary of his own walls. But a few days later it passed; Korea was so different and difficult and weird but Korean wasn't the worst. He'd been raised with it stuffed down his impossible throat, anyway, so he survived with it. Survived enough that it took a grand total of two months to meet the first friend that would lead him into the very thing that would define the rest of his life.

Meeting Junhoe was the start of the true life for Im Changkyun. No longer known as Daniel ( except for in severe circumstances and, on occasion, refered to as Dan ) he became the boy he had always been meant to be: a little rough around his robust edges, a little awkward with his occasional stutter and all the ready for adventure. A child, through and through, Changkyun was introduced to the friends that would become pillars for all his days to come. Together, with Junhoe, Lalice and Misung they were an unbreakable bond. Their parents grew accustomed to walking into their own homes either finding all four boys or none: their time apart was rare. Changkyun's own parents enjoyed the growth if only because it allowed them to let go of his Chinese tutor for his stutter.

Being fulfilled and less nervous with real friends made room for Changkyun to grow out of it all his own and these days, he hardly stutters outside of moments of fear.

Together they did everything. Classes, studying, games: if it was an activity that could be done in the presence of others those four found a way. The awkward ones, the outsiders, they were never completely accepted by anyone but each other and that was just fine by them. It made the world smaller, a thing they understood in tangibe ways, until their curiosity was enough that they were sure they could understand everything if you gave them enough time. It was a steady belief, curious kids doing their science studying and projects together, winning fairs together. The unbeatable, unbreakable crew together, even when kids tried to bully them and get them as close to broken or dead as they could manage.

The bullies were nothing in comparison to what came after, anyway. Looking back, they might have been happier with a few more streams to fall into and try to swim outside of.

The evening that Minsung went missing was just like any other. The kids figured that their friend wasn't answering his walkie talkie because he was eating dinner or had fallen asleep early — neither the most uncommon thing in the world. It wasn't until the next day at school that they began to worry, full blown panic hitting when they were called in for questioning about whether or not Minsung might have run away from home. Suddenly, the little world they knew was broken at the seams and no one seemed too sure what to do. Except Junhoe, of course, trusty old Junhoe who always knew exactly what to do and how and when. They snuck out that night, just young babes, trying to find the places they used to get to the most.

But their tree house was empty and every path they took lead to nothing. Still, they searched, almost every night coming up with no new tracks or leads or understanding. It wasn't until they came upon their tree house with a new stranger hiding in there that things took a change. A girl caught beneath their blankets eating at their little snacks who panicked and tried to fight through them. She almost did, if it hadn't been for Junhoe's raised voice getting her to stop and answer them. She was lost and alone and the kids on the search for their missing friend found themselves in a sticky situation. Too young to figure out easy ways to get more than one thing done at a time they snuck Yerin back to Junhoe's house — his parents were working late that night, as most of their parents did most nights — and tried to formulate a plan.

After a couple of weeks, people were giving up. The chances of finding Minsung were slim to none and no one knew what to do. Until Yerin spoke up when the kids came home heartbroken and crestfallen. She could find him, she knew how to get there. But it was dangerous, a dangerous, dangerous place and she warned them it would be very dangerous for them, too. Children on a mission hardly have room to care though and, well, it didn't take but five minutes for them to come to orders that they would pack and follow Yerin out to wherever it was Minsung was stuck at. And they'd break him out, fight off whatever psycho had taken him and kept Yerin in danger, too.

But Yerin didn't take them somewhere like that at all. With bags full of needless tools they wound up stepping forward in the night until they were walking in actual darkness. A look around left them sure they were — dead? Changkyun hardly remembers what he imagined, his voice a quiet stutter as he continued to try to find the stars, some map, some kind of lights around that lead to belief. And yet, even in all that fear, the children went onward; because Yerin had finally connected fully to Minsung's thoughts and all the kids could hear him then, hear that he was well and fine and alive. Only, when they foud him, alive was a generous term: ruined and hunted the boy laid a mess of himself before them. And their celebrations cut short when they heard it, heard what was coming.

It was loud and coming hard, and fast, and by the time they first noticed its clawed hands swiping out from the darkness all they could think was one thing: RUN. But that was difficult with the terror that overtook them and the way their bodies reacted. The nightwalker — the only thing they could think of, the only thing they could imagine even remotely like it — was too much for any of them to handle; and then they could, their bodies reacting before they could, light and sound bursting wherever it had to. Skin burning away, Changkyun barely remembers the rest. It wasn't until he was back on solid ground with blessed stars overhead that he realized what had come to pass.

And that his last look through the portal at Yerin and Junhoe was the best they would get at goodbye, for the time being. It took a long while to adjust, kind of forever when in the face of a child, but there were other issues to deal with then. Trying to explain why Minsung was back but Junhoe was gone made no sense to almost anyone, except the people who ended up coming to speak to the children individually and then altogether; because, as always, there wasn't a thing one of them would do without the others. Even with their numbers depleted they were together and they were not going to let that fall apart for anything. Not even these, these new gifts that were burdened onto them.

Gifts that Changkyun carefully skirted his ways around because, fuck, who would want to watch their skin turning away like cinders just to show the old empty space that'd killed two of his friends?

So, his years went normal, for a while: geeked out video games, part time jobs, even beating puberty enough to finish conquering stutter and body weight, Im Changkyun grew into a fine young man. Well enough that he and his friends won every science project they ever made ( no one talks about that one third place ringer, it never happened ) and eventually all found their own fields to flourish in. Changkyun even found some time to start splitting himself between Seoul and America when his parents were traveling; it wasn't ever for very long but time hardly mattered in the face of a young man and the trouble he could get in with a settled voice and his confident ways. Dating became a thing even if it never stuck: he even got himself in trouble by apparently having been dating a girl in America while he went on to post pictures with another back in Seoul.

Probaby, he should have paid more attention, but what's done is done and life rolls on.

High school came and went and then the real living began again. With an admittance to M.I.T. Changkyun almost accepted before Lalice came to them explaining something new. Junhoe and Yerin weren't there, in her dreams. Making sense of it became, well, obsolute. They knew it meant that somehow, somewhere, they had to get into the other place again: they had to get into the world where Nightwalkers ran it all and they would have to get their friends back. So, America could wait, chalked up to wanting to attend it for a doctorate later in life, after a masters somewhere else. Being worldly, he'd explained to everyone who asked, was important for those who would build an understanding of outer space. So, K.A.I.S.T. it became with his friends, their parents letting them all live together in a house too large for any one of them to appreciate properly alone, and their work toward breaking through to The Inverse began.

After losing too many loved ones Changkyun's body collapsed on itself. The star of his heart broke into a blackhole and turned the flesh of him into a draining source: every touch would absorb and drain living bodies of their essence. It took too long to get under control and the help of too many people, but eventually he got it down. Moving back home after living with Yoon Jeonghan and Nam Woohyun for a few months, Changkyun returned to school eventually, fingertips painted over with polish that controlled his gift for a while, at least until he could develop a proper device for it, a wrist piece that keeps him from absorbing from people as long as the contact is brief and fleeting. He graduated, top marks despite constant problems, and even managed to land a job working at Nam Woohyun Industries to develop new technologies.