The breeze at dawn has secrets to tell you.
Don't go back to sleep.
You must ask for what you really want.
Don't go back to sleep.
People are going back and forth across the doorsill
where the two worlds touch.
The door is round and open.
Don't go back to sleep.
Johnny should know what to expect by now when Ten texts him in the middle of the night.
He’s still working on a research paper for a history class that’s not due until next week, but he’s fairly sure his brain’s fried because he’s written the words regional hegemony three times in a row without noticing.
It’s just shy of two o’clock when Ten simply sends him, I need you.
It takes seconds for the blood to start flowing to Johnny’s brain again (and maybe some other body parts) and another minute for him to save the paper and close his laptop, pushing it onto his coffee table. Jaehyun’s long asleep, and the apartment’s too silent.
Ten texts him like this fairly often. They’re best friends after all, and Ten has rules, the most important of which is never date anyone. Instead, he has an endless cycle of boy toys he filters through one by one, dropping them and replacing them like they’re nothing. Ten picks up casual hook ups like they’re as abundant as grass in a field.
The thing he never anticipates is getting attached. Johnny knows Ten like the back of his hand, knows that he’s soft at heart. Of course, he doesn’t let his hook ups know that, but ultimately, when one of them decides to leave Ten for an actual relationship, Ten winds up back at Johnny’s apartment again, seeking validation between his sheets.
And Johnny falls for it. Again and again, he puts Ten back together when he’s vulnerable and broken, lets Ten crawl between his legs and find the affection he craves so badly. Not once does he say anything about the feelings that threaten to spill over at any given moment, the ones that go beyond platonic, that have been manifesting since their first year of university, when Ten had waltzed into Johnny’s life just to the left of drunk to the point of incoherency, movements fluid even in his inebriated state.
It had been some frat party. Johnny can barely remember anymore, but he remembers Ten winding up in his lap and stealing the snapback pulling his hair back, grinning crookedly, dark eyes shining. “You look like the kind of guy who needs more beer and a blowjob,” he’d said, and Johnny had snorted, pushed him off his lap, and he’d landed in a disgruntled pouty heap on the sticky frat house floor.
Ten bangs on the door loud enough to jerk Johnny out of his thoughts. He gets up hastily, tries to comb his hair with his fingers into some semblance of neatness. He pulls the door open and Ten’s standing in the hallway, shivering a little. No jacket, Johnny notes immediately.
He opens his mouth to speak, but Ten brushes past him, already midsentence. “-Can’t believe he’d say I’m the one with commitment issues when he’s the one who can’t bear to kiss me unless we’re in the middle of fucking. Just because I don’t want to go on stupid dates and hold hands around campus it doesn’t mean I don’t care.”
Johnny shuts the door behind him silently, crosses his arms over his chest and waits until Ten’s done. He knows from experience that it can take a while.
“Besides, it’s not like I don’t know what his problem was. He’s definitely in love with his roommate, which is just a bad idea. Now he breaks up with me because I told him the truth? I told him the first time that I wanted it no strings attached. Why are the hot ones always so dumb?”
Ten crosses the tiny apartment to Johnny’s door, lets himself in, waits for Johnny to walk in behind him and closes the door. “Anyways,” he continues, already shedding his shoes and socks, throwing them in the direction of the door. “He’s totally projecting his feelings onto me. There’s no way he actually likes me.”
His shirt comes off then, and he sighs, kicking off his jeans. “At least I have you,” Ten finishes with a tiny smile. Johnny forces himself to smile back, but it feels too tight on his face. Ten tips his head to the side curiously, says, “Why aren’t you naked yet?”
Johnny clears his throat, pulls his sweatshirt over his head. “What an idiot,” he adds, and Ten’s face relaxes.
Ten walks to Johnny’s bed, drops down on the mattress and kicks the messy sheets aside. “Everything is awful,” Ten mumbles, rubbing at his eyes. “Just come here and make it better for a little while.”
Because that’s all Johnny is to Ten. A temporary solution.
Johnny swallows down the thought before it can take hold fully. He strips down to his underwear, joins Ten on the bed.
It’s hard to hold back when Ten’s so open, so willing to let him do anything. Sometimes he wants to lay the younger boy out and kiss him all over, whisper “I love you” into every insecure, unsure curve and crease of his body.
Ten likes to pretend he’s all sharp edges and inability to catch emotions, but Johnny knows the truth of the matter. Ten’s too scared of falling because he thinks it will end in inevitable heartbreak, and so he avoids romance like the plague.
He figures Johnny’s safe territory because they’ve been friends for so long, but Johnny knows better. He’s been hopelessly in love with Ten for the past three years, and there’s not a thing he can do about it.
Ten reaches out for him as soon as he’s near enough, thin cold fingers wrapping around Johnny’s wrist to pull him down onto the bed. They’ve done this a hundred times; Johnny catching Ten’s cheek in his hand and tilting his face into long heady kisses, Ten pressing a palm between Johnny’s legs to tease him to full hardness.
They know each other’s bodies by now, and Ten knows exactly how to curl his other hand through Johnny’s hair and pull to make his cock twitch in his briefs, how to lick into his mouth to make Johnny moan against his lips. Ten’s too good at this. He’s practiced to perfection, lithe hips grinding down slow and dirty in Johnny’s lap, and Johnny catches his hips, flips him down onto the bed.
Ten blinks in surprise, but then Johnny’s kissing a slow path down his chest and his lips quirk into a grin, cupping Johnny’s cheek and smoothing a thumb over the smooth skin. “You’re a much better lay anyways,” he mumbles, the words ending in an uneven breath as Johnny bites one of his hip bones gently.
Ten sits up halfway, and Johnny’s eyes catch on a glint of metal. “New rings?” he asks, giving one of them a pull. The normal barbells through Ten’s nipples are gone, replaced with tiny hoops. Johnny remembers Ten getting them pierced a couple years ago, whining for weeks afterwards about how tender they’d felt, how much it had hurt whenever they’d brushed against his shirt.
Ten hisses, slaps his hand away. “Hurt putting them in,” he rasps, “I think I should have taken better care of them when they were healing.”
Ten’s full of metal, from the numerous hoops and studs and bars in his ears to his nipples to the little silver stud in his tongue that he likes to flash right before he sucks Johnny’s cock into his mouth.
There’s no doubt in his mind that Ten had taken meticulous care of them, even if he’s whining about doing it wrong now. Johnny presses a kiss over one, the metal cold over his lip, and he says, “There, now it’ll be okay.”
Ten stares at him with big dark eyes for a second before promptly bursting into giggles. “You’re a fucking nerd,” he says, eyes full of mirth. “But a nerd with soft lips. Do it again.”
Johnny narrows his eyes at him. “Just say you like it when I play with your nipples.”
“Never,” Ten’s smiling genuinely now, fondness shining in his expression, and Johnny hates how much he covets that look, how much he wants it just for himself.
“Then I’m not going to do it.”
Ten groans, hands falling to Johnny’s hair again to tangle into the strands, and he says, “At least keep going.”
“Ah,” Johnny says, “But you didn’t ask nicely.”
Ten doesn’t exactly do nice. He does demanding tugs of Johnny’s hair and pouty lips and whining when things don’t go his way.
But Ten’s upset right now, even if he’s not showing it. Breaking things off with the guy must have affected him more than he lets on, because he ducks his head down rather shyly and says in a soft voice, “Please play with my nipples, John, they’re so sore.”
Johnny bites back the strangled noise that rises up his throat and takes a deep steadying breath.
When he’s fairly sure he won’t combust at any given moment, he opens his eyes again, finds Ten staring at him with wide unfathomable eyes, mouth twisted with uncertainty. “Please,” he adds again for good measure.
Johnny uses his palm to push Ten back down flat against the bed, runs his fingers down the line of his chest, and Ten shivers at the feeling, back arching up off the sheets. His cock is already hard, straining against his underwear, and Johnny pushes the waistband down, takes a hold of it, and jerks him off dry a couple times.
Ten positively writhes under the feeling, fingers wrapping around Johnny’s forearm tight, nails digging stinging crescents into his skin, then splaying out like he doesn’t know where to put them. Johnny likes this part the most; working Ten up until he’s oversensitive and begging, Johnny’s name spilling from his mouth.
Johnny licks a broad stripe over his nipple, the ring catching cold and metallic on his tongue, and he takes it between his lips, tugging gently. Ten makes a noise like a sob, jerking under him, and he gasps, “Please, please, it hurts so fucking much,”
Johnny pulls away, his voice rough when he says, “Less or more?”
Ten cries, “I don’t know, it just feels-feels too much,”
More, then. Johnny’s well versed in Ten’s incoherency by now. He licks across his palm, wraps it back around Ten’s cock, and Ten arches up into the slick warmth of his hand, his own fingers tightening their grip on Johnny’s arm.
Ten’s nipples are peaked against the hoops, hard when Johnny wraps his lips around one and flicks his tongue over it, and Ten’s breath comes shallow and uneven. They’re so much more sensitive after he’d gotten them pierced, and Johnny finds it unfairly hot, how much he writhes and moans whenever Johnny rubs his fingers over them.
Ten reaches over to the table beside the bed, pushes aside all of Johnny’s things and grabs the little squeeze tube of lubricant he has stashed there. His eyes fly over the label, and he grins, “Self-warming?”
“Shut up,” Johnny says, giving his dick an unnecessarily hard jerk, relishing in the way Ten gasps and slaps his wrist. “You haven’t even tried it yet.”
Ten rolls his eyes and crawls into Johnny’s lap, pressing the lube into his hand. “Do your worst,” he challenges.
Johnny rubs a slick finger over Ten’s entrance, and it clenches around the digit, velvety warmth twitching against the pad of his finger. Ten shudders against him, trying his best to grind his cock against Johnny’s stomach and simultaneously rock back against his fingers.
The angle’s going to make Johnny’s hand cramp up quickly, and Ten must realize it at the same time as him because he pushes Johnny flat against the bed.
Ten twists around, maneuvers his legs over Johnny’s hips and straddles him backwards, and Johnny strokes a hand down the long line of his back, feeling the ridges of bone and sinewy muscle under his palm. “Better?” Ten says, pulling his underwear down.
Johnny hums in response, but it turns into a groan midway when Ten blows cool air over the head of his dick. Ten’s head dips down, and then there’s a warm mouth wrapped around Johnny’s cock, and Johnny’s trying his best not to rolls his hips up into the languid slide of Ten’s tongue.
One of these days Johnny’s really going to rip Ten’s tongue out. The slow wet drag of it across the head of his cock, the slide of the smooth metal stud in it has Johnny’s legs shaking in no time, and he’s so focused on the way Ten’s mouth feels that he nearly forgets about the lube dripping off his fingers.
Ten pulls off his dick with a wet pop, twists his neck around to shoot a glare at him. “Are you going to finger me or not?”
“Chill,” Johnny mumbles, and pushes two rigid fingers into him at once. “I’m getting there.”
The muscles in Ten’s back go tense as Johnny crooks his fingers, the slick velvety warmth of his walls clamping down on Johnny’s fingers. Johnny’s done this enough times to know what angles drive Ten crazy, and he presses his fingers up into him just right, and it makes Ten moan, the sound muffled around Johnny’s cock.
Ten bobs his head down all the way, takes Johnny’s cock into his throat, his tongue pressed flat against the base of Johnny’s dick, the piercing putting pressure against the sensitive flesh, and Johnny’s breath catches in his throat, uneven and shuddery.
Johnny slides another finger inside, and Ten’s rim twitches around his knuckles, tight and flushed, and he pulls off Johnny’s dick again to cry, “Fuck, fuck fuck fuck, slow down.”
“You can cum if you need to, baby.” Johnny reminds him gently and gives him a series of short hard thrusts that make his breath hitch over a sob.
“No, no no, not yet,” Ten gasps, hands scrabbling for purchase against the sheets. “Not until you’re inside me.”
Johnny’s dick twitches at the words. He takes a deep breath, slides his fingers out. Ten likes the burn of the stretch, and Johnny knows he can handle it. He grabs a condom from the bedside table and tries ripping it open, only for it to slip from his slick fingers.
Ten shakes his head in amusement, taking it from him and opening it himself. Johnny feels Ten’s slender hands around his cock as he rolls it on then strokes down the length of his dick when he’s done.
“Ride me,” Johnny says, hands finding their way to the flare of Ten’s hips.
Ten turns again, straddles his waist and braces his palms on Johnny’s chest. “Help me,” he says, “I’m all sore from dance today, I don’t think I can do all the work.”
Johnny guides his hips down slowly, and Ten whines, a long high-pitched noise as he sinks down on Johnny’s dick, his thighs shaking, lips bitten and swollen. Johnny bites the inside of his cheek hard to keep in the embarrassing noise threatening to spill from his own lips, arching up off the bed when Ten swivels his hips, rolls down against him slowly.
Ten’s lower lip is caught between his teeth, and he rolls his hips with perfect practiced precision, and all Johnny feels is heat and the squeeze of Ten’s body around his cock. Ten’s got a dancer’s body, all thick hips and thin waist, plush thighs that squeeze around Johnny’s hips as he builds up a careful rhythm, bouncing up and down on Johnny’s dick.
Johnny slides his feet up the bed until his knees press to Ten’s back, holding him up, and fucks up into him, meeting every roll of his hips. Ten cries out at the feeling, eyes falling shut, pink lips parting around the noise, and Johnny’s taken aback by how pretty Ten always is.
Ten lets his head fall back, hands finding their way to Johnny’s bent knees, then to his thighs, and he whimpers, “Why are you always so fucking good to me? God, you feel so good, I’m- I’m gonna go crazy.”
Johnny asks himself the same thing sometimes. Why does he let Ten do this again and again when he knows it’s going to make him feel used and lonely afterwards? Why does he always let Ten in at the end of the day, knowing he’s never going to feel the same way?
He knows the answer, though. The moments he has Ten like this, perched on his lap like it’s his throne, dark eyes gleaming, his lovely voice lilting higher into cries of his name, Johnny finds himself falling even deeper into Ten’s thrall. He can’t get enough.
Ten grabs his wrists, pulls his hands off his hips and up to his chest again, and Johnny takes the hint, rubs his sore achy nipples between his fingers, and Ten makes a noise like a sob, arching into the touch. “So good, John,” he whimpers, “You’re so good to me, fuck, you’re so-“
Johnny lets out a shuddery moan, manages to say the words he’s been trying to find, “S’okay baby, touch yourself, come for me.”
Ten reaches down, jerks himself off messily into his hand, his thumb rubbing the slit in the head of his cock, and that mixed with the feeling of Johnny’s cock inside him has him coming, clenching down hard around Johnny’s dick, his thighs flexing and trembling.
Ten’s chest heaves unevenly, aftershocks sending little shivers running through him as he comes down from his high, and the sight of him so wrecked sends Johnny over the edge, his own orgasm making him arch under Ten’s body as the younger boy pushes down all the way, his ass pressing to Johnny’s hips, and he croons, “God, wish we hadn’t used a condom, I wanna feel you come inside me.”
Johnny’s breathless, and the words only make his spent cock twitch painfully, but he manages to say, “So I can get Yukhei’s herpes? No thanks.”
Ten slaps his chest pouting down at him. He slides off Johnny’s hips, and Johnny’s cock goes sliding out of him too quickly, making him wince delicately. “You’re just jealous I had a boytoy that hot,” Ten grumbles, pulling the condom off Johnny’s dick carefully.
“It’s okay, though,” Ten continues, tying it off and tossing it in the trash can, “No one fucks me as good as you.” He stops to grab the box of tissues on Johnny’s desk, wiping his hands of his own come, and then tosses it at Johnny so he can wipe the tiny bit that got on his stomach. Then he comes back to bed and curls up into Johnny’s side. They’re both sticky with sweat and Johnny knows it probably smells pretty strongly of sex in his room now, but Ten holds fast to his bicep, murmuring something in a little sweet voice and he can’t bring himself to move.
Ten presses a kiss to his cheek and murmurs, “Thank you for being there for me when I need you.”
By the time Johnny leans over and turns the light off, Ten’s asleep.
There are certain things Johnny wishes were his alone. The way Ten trembles under his palms when he runs them up his sides, the tiny quaking breaths he takes when Johnny fits his mouth over a dusky nipple and sucks, the way he arches up into Johnny’s body when he cums, fingers tangled in the sheets, pink mouth falling open into a helpless moan.
Johnny’s greedy for these sensations. He knows Ten’s not his to have, will never be his to have, but he can’t stop hoping.
The knowledge that so many others have had Ten vulnerable like this, have felt the way Ten’s body feels around his, it makes something unsettled in the bottom of his stomach. He pushes away the feeling, but it always comes back full force.
The blank ceiling is quickly becoming Johnny’s only companion. He feels used up and discarded, even if Ten’s halfway wrapped around him, his breath smooth and guileless. Johnny wishes he had that kind of conscience.
No- it’s not Ten’s fault. He’s made the rules very clear the first time they’d done this. It’s Johnny’s fault for falling, for pining for so long, for being helplessly in love with someone who is never going to return the feeling.
More than anything, Johnny wishes for simplicity. The feelings that tangle around his chest and choke him up are too complicated, the lines between platonic and romantic blurred whenever he thinks of Ten. It’s hard to think objectively when he’s head over heels, breathlessly in love. If only he could find a way out of this rabbit hole he’s been falling down for the past three years.
It takes a long time, but the darkness and the calming sound of Ten’s steady breathing lulls him to sleep.
Johnny wakes up to sunshine warming his body and the sound of birdsong in the air.
That strikes him as wrong immediately. His apartment with Jaehyun doesn’t get a lot of light in the morning and it’s in the middle of the city, where the only birds he’s seen are fat pigeons that couldn’t fly up to their fifth-floor apartment if they tried.
And then there’s the soft spikiness of grass brushing against his bare arms. Johnny’s eyes fly open and he sits up with a start.
It’s bright against his sleep-ridden eyes, and he squints, presses the edge of his hand against his forehead to shield them from the sun. He’s definitely outside, on a bed of soft green grass. On all sides of him is a forest.
At first, he can’t put his finger on it. There’s something off about it. Like if he blinks it’ll be gone. It’s massive, the trees so thick that he probably wouldn’t be able to fit his arms all the way around the trunks, dark and leafy, dappled light filtering through to spray across the forest floor in puddles of gold.
“Ten?” He calls tentatively, because that’s the last person he remembers being with. When he gets no response, he tries, “Jaehyun?”
If this is some kind of messed up prank, Jaehyun’s never going to hear the end of it.
“Jae!” he calls again, cupping his hands over his mouth to make the sound travel farther.
“My king,” a quiet voice chimes behind him.
Johnny blinks, recognizing the voice but not the words. He turns around, finds Jaehyun half cloaked in shadows, awkwardly leaning against a tree at the edge of the clearing. His head dips into a shallow bow and he says, “You called?”
Johnny frowns, sitting up straighter. “Dude,” he says “Why are we out here?”
Jaehyun slides forward into the light, and Johnny has to physically bite back his gasp.
Jaehyun looks the same as always; dark hair falling over a pale handsome face, broad shoulders, soft jaw. Only, from the crown of his head, two long, wickedly sharp horns curve straight out of his skin, bone white. They taper into perfect points towards the sky. When he blinks at Johnny, his dark eyes are silvery and strange, like molten metal. Finally, just when Johnny thought thinks couldn’t get any weirder, Jaehyun takes another step and behind him are a pair of wings.
They’re so big that Johnny doesn’t know how he hadn’t spotted them earlier. They look miraculously real, dark and glossy with a sheen like a crow’s, and with every step Jaehyun takes forward, they twitch and rustle like they’re part of his body. Which, Johnny supposes, they somehow are.
This is too weird, even for him.
Slowly, he rubs a hand over his eyes, like if he tries hard enough, he’ll be back home in his bed with Ten. Instead, the strange crow-Jaehyun stays standing in front of him, head tilted to the side in curiosity.
“Why are we outside?” Johnny tries instead of any of the obvious questions ricocheting around in his head.
“You insisted, my king.” Jaehyun reaches him at last, dropping down to one knee. He looks like one of those weird kids who cosplay in the park when Johnny’s out jogging, dressed in leather pants and a silky charcoal grey shirt that’s open in the back. For his wings, Johnny realizes with a start.
The absurdity of the situation is beginning to set in. The amusement and confusion is beginning to melt into panic, and Johnny hauls himself up, groans when there’s too much weight on his body.
He takes a very deep breath, tries to calm his rapid pulse.
Unfurling slowly from his back, with the same precision as any other limb on his body, are two massive black wings that stretch out from his shoulder blades and arrange themselves as neutrally as putting his arms down. They’re even bigger than Jaehyun’s, easily as wide as he is tall, ending right above his head, and when he walks, the very bottom feathers drag on the ground unless he uses his shoulder muscles to push them up just a little.
It’s surreal, and at the same time, it’s as if they’d been there all along. They feel as natural as his arms, the control just as exact as his other limbs.
Johnny’s in over his head, but even in the chaotic panic of his mind, he knows that freaking out in the middle of a forest is not going to help matters. It has to be a dream, or a really fucked up acid trip. There’s no way he just grew wings.
“My king,” Jaehyun says, his head still inclined. Johnny pushes a hand through his hair, half trying to brush it off his forehead and half afraid that he has horns as well. Fortunately, the wings seem to be the extent of his physical changes, and his hands tangle through silky hair without a hitch.
“Why are you calling me that?” He asks next, stepping towards the younger boy. Jaehyun begins to walk into the forest, and Johnny hesitates for a minute, then follows, unable to see any alternative option.
“Would you prefer ‘my lord’ today?”
All he’s been able to gauge from his experiences so far are that he and Jaehyun are part bird now, and that he’s some sort of king in this dream. He wonders if it’s better to play along with everything, or to let Jaehyun know he has no idea what is happening. Then, deciding on the former, he keeps his mouth shut and lets Jaehyun lead him through the underbrush.
“I have to say,” Jaehyun says with a half-smile, “You chose the worst night for a midnight excursion into the woods.”
“And why’s that?”
“We’re going to miss their arrival if we do not hurry.”
Whose arrival, Johnny has no idea, but he nods as if he does anyway, because Jaehyun’s looking at him like he expects Johnny to know what he’s talking about.
“How foolish of me,” he says, if only to appease the younger boy, “We can’t miss such an important occasion.”
Jaehyun’s jaw twitches, and it’s a familiar quirk. His own Jaehyun back home does it whenever Johnny steals the last slice of pizza from the fridge or forgets to make coffee in the morning. Even if Jaehyun’s a crow now, Johnny’s glad he can recognize at least this little habit. That not everything’s been flipped on its head.
“Hurry up,” Jaehyun snaps, stepping faster through the trees now. Finally, a tone Johnny recognizes instead of the rigid formality he’d been shown so far. Johnny stumbles after him and tries his best to keep up. Finally, after what seems like ages, they break through the last of the trees and into a field.
Johnny’s breath catches in his throat. Across the field lies a palace.
He remembers when he’d been very young, his parents had taken him to China on vacation. They’d stopped by the Forbidden City one afternoon, and even though it had been crowded with tourists, Johnny had taken in all the building had to offer with wide, awestruck eyes. Later, when he’d been a bit older and they’d visited relatives in Korea, he remembers visiting Gyeongbok Palace with his cousins, stirring up a ruckus in the museum portion of the palace, much to the disapproval of his aunts.
This palace is much like that; a sprawling, colorful compound of buildings beyond a gate.
“At least try to look enthusiastic,” Jaehyun reminds him, taking the sleeve of his silky shirt and pulling him along. At the gate, there are guards with similar silver eyes and horns, their wings tucked tight into their backs. Jaehyun nods towards them, and they bow low, prostrating almost all the way to the ground.
“Raven King,” they murmur as he passes.
Johnny tries to fold his wings in as uniformly as the guards, and to his surprise, they obey easily, folding up neatly into his back.
“Are you going to keep those out the entire time?” Jaehyun asks, coolly amused. “I know you like to strut, but if I were the Dragon Prince, I’d be intimidated by my betrothed walking around with his wings out all the time.”
Several words flash in his head. Dragon Prince. Betrothed. Wings.
The panic he’d shoved to the side rises up inside him again, closing up his throat and scratching at his larynx.
He can’t be betrothed. He’s barely 22, not even out of college for another semester. He can’t handle marriage when he can’t even take care of his cat without Jaehyun’s help.
“Wait,” he says hastily, holding his hands up in front of him, “I’m not ready to see the-the Dragon Prince.”
Jaehyun arches a slender brow and gives him a very unimpressed look. “Why’s that?”
Johnny’s mind is racing trying to come up with excuses, but the first thing that comes out of his mouth is, “I look like I slept in the forest all night.”
The flat line of Jaehyun’s mouth presses even thinner with impatience. “You think I’m going to let you walk out in front of them looking like this?”
Johnny looks down at himself, suddenly self-conscious. He looks much the same as Jaehyun, dressed in similar leather pants and a silky shirt just a shade darker.
Jaehyun yanks him into a building then, past more guards, who he nods sharply to. They quickly assemble themselves at the doors, bowing when Johnny passes. Everyone’s been bowing when he passes. At the front of the building, there’s a large statue of a raven, its wings outstretched, beak to the sky. The eyes are glimmering dark red, set with rubies.
Inside, the halls of the building are wide and imposing, set with gold and painted dark. The floors are some kind of hard mosaic tile set with colored stones in the shape of more ravens midflight. Johnny takes a second to appreciate the care with which it’s been made. It’s only when Jaehyun leads him through a door and he finds himself in a room with a strange low platform that must be a bed that he realizes this is his residence.
“Undress,” Jaehyun says, already tugging at the loose laces holding the back of his shirt together around his wings. “And put your fucking wings away before you hit someone in the face.”
“So forward,” Johnny teases, but then frowns. “I can’t.”
“Put my wings away.” Johnny shifts awkwardly from foot to foot as Jaehyun tugs the shirt off all the way and tosses it in the direction of a servant who stands against the wall, ready to retrieve it.
Jaehyun takes a slow deep breath, eyes shutting briefly, and Johnny almost feels bad for him.
The younger boy crosses his arms tightly to his chest and suddenly, his own wings are disappearing, retreating into him. “There. Are you happy? Can you please make my life easier for one day and put them away?”
Johnny bites his lip, glancing at the servants by the door. They’re all silent, heads tilted to the floor, but he doesn’t know how much he can say in front of them. Jaehyun, as unfamiliar as this version of him is, is still someone he knows, at the very least.
Jaehyun bites his lip, eyes scanning Johnny’s face. Finally, he nods, says in a cool voice, “Dismissed,” and waves a hand. The servants file out one by one, letting the heavy carved wood door shut behind them. Jaehyun’s face softens, and he reaches a hand out, curls his fingers slowly around Johnny’s wrist. “What’s wrong?”
“Even if I told you, you wouldn’t believe me.” Johnny takes a deep shuddery breath and rubs a hand over his face and through his hair. “It’s been a weird morning. Will you please just explain to me how to put my wings away?”
Jaehyun hesitates for a second, then says, “Just tell them to disappear. Imagine them gone, and they’ll obey. John, you know how to do this. What’s going on?”
The first thing Johnny does his shut his eyes, willing with all his might for the heavy, huge wings to disappear within him, to retreat until he needs them. There’s a tiny whoosh, and a sense of weightlessness.
“Last night,” Johnny begins, sitting down carefully at the edge of the bed, “When I went to sleep, I didn’t have wings, I wasn’t a king, and you definitely weren’t my babysitter. I know it sounds crazy,” he adds when Jaehyun shoots him a confused look, “But I think… I’m either dreaming right now, or something is very wrong and I ended up here when I shouldn’t have.”
“You can choose not to believe me, Jae,” he continues, “But I’m still in school. I haven’t even thought about getting married, much less being betrothed. There are no raven people where I come from, or princes or kings. You’re my lazy ass roommate who forgets to feed the cat and gets off his ass drunk every weekend with his dumb boyfriend. I don’t know why I’m here or what’s going on anymore.”
Jaehyun doesn’t burst out into laughter or spear him dead where he stands as soon as he finishes, so he’d take that as a good sign. In fact, he looks deep in thought.
“But why now?” Jaehyun asks, eyes distant. “Why the day before your wedding?”
Johnny lets out a relieved breath. No matter what reality, what universe, at least Jaehyun, calm, rational Jaehyun remains his best friend.
“I have no idea,” he admits honestly, “There’s nothing in my world that’s capable of this.”
“No,” Jaehyun shakes his head quickly, “There’s no magic here strong enough for that either.”
“I can’t stay here,” Johnny says, fear rushing into him for the first time all day. “I have a home, a family, I have my own life. I can’t get married to someone I don’t know. I have to get home.”
“Don’t panic,” Jaehyun says, his voice unfairly even, “you’re here now, and until we find a way to get you back, you can’t just go around telling everyone. People depend on you here, you know. You’re our king. You can’t start falling apart all of a sudden.”
“Take a deep breath,” Jaehyun says. He’s using his Taeyong is drunk and we have to convince him to come home voice. Johnny hates being on the receiving end of it.
But he has a point. Johnny inhales slowly, lets it out in a long exhale and tries his best to shut his mind up. “What now?” He asks once he’s deemed himself calm enough.
“Now,” Jaehyun says grimly, “We dress you up and go greet your husband-to-be.”
Johnny’s pretty comfortable being naked around other people. He’s had enough significant others and been in a fraternity, and both of those involved a lot of nudity. He’s confident enough in his body that he doesn’t mind walking around without a shirt.
But this. This is a little much, even for him.
Jaehyun takes him to a chamber with a steaming bathing pool in the center of it, wide enough that he could swim if he wanted. The air’s thick with steam and it makes the ends of his hair curl, condensation leaving him clammy all over. The water smells like roses when Jaehyun makes him strip off his pants and sink into it.
He feels oddly shy letting a bunch of strangers wash his hair and scrub his body until his skin’s flushed and gleaming, massaging strange fragrant oils into his back and arms. He tries thanking them whenever he gets the chance, but none of them meet his eye, bowing their heads low as they work.
Jaehyun sits on the edge of the bathing pool, hands in his lap, and tries to crash course him on everything he needs to know.
“You’re the sixteenth Raven King,” he begins, swishing his fingers around the rosewater, “You were first in line for the throne, though your mother was not the first wife of the previous King. You’ve lived at the palace all your life, and you’ve been betrothed to the Dragon Prince of the Sky Kingdom since you were very young.”
“And the Dragon Prince,” Johnny says as a girl with a shock of white hair and matching little wings rubs oil into his nail beds, “Do I love him?”
Jaehyun cocks his head to the side, and the gesture makes him seem distinctly birdlike. It unnerves Johnny somehow, being something less than human. “You’ve never met.”
“But we’ve been betrothed for years?”
“Over two decades.”
“Huh,” Johnny muses, sinking back into the water. “Jae, I should warn you. I’m not going to fall in love with him. I already…have someone.”
“Oh?” Jaehyun sits up straighter, eyebrows shooting up in curiosity. “In your other world?”
Johnny thinks back to Ten, feels a shred of longing in his chest. He thinks about Ten’s loud laughter, the brightness of his smile, the way he uses any excuse to crawl into Johnny’s lap when he’s sitting on the couch, how he loves going out for bubble tea in the middle of the night. Before his yearning can get a firmer hold of him, he says quickly, “It’s not fair to this Dragon Prince, but I can’t. I’ve been in love with him for years.”
Quietly, Jaehyun says, “I understand.”
“In my world,” Johnny ponders, “You have someone too.”
“And judging from your expression,” Johnny narrows his eyes at the blush rising in Jaehyun’s cheeks, all the way up to his ears, “I’d posit you have someone here, as well.”
Jaehyun ducks his head down, says sullenly, “Not really.” He sounds like a child being caught doing something he shouldn’t have.
Johnny’s been thinking about this for some time. If there is an alternate version of Jaehyun and of him, he’d wager there would be alternate versions of Jaehyun’s boyfriend, as well.
“Tell me his name,” Johnny says softly.
Jaehyun frowns at him. “I don’t want to.”
“Does it stay the same?” Johnny wonders out loud. He stands up, the water running rivulets down his chest. The servant rubbing perfumed oil across the broad span of his shoulders startles at the movement, knocking the oil dish off the edge and onto the floor, where it shatters with a sharp noise.
“Oh shit,” Johnny mumbles, “Fuck, I’m sorry,” he says, but the servant is already spilling apologies like hymns, fingers shaking as he picks up the broken pieces of the plate.
Johnny instinctively goes to help pick up the fragments, but Jaehyun knocks his hand away with a glare. Johnny knows exactly what that means. You’ll just make it worse. The servant looks close to tears, and Johnny recoils, sinking back into the water. “It’s fine,” he says as calmly as he can, trying not to be bothered by how frightened the boy looks of him. “It was an accident.”
The boy bows low, finishes picking up the pieces, and runs from the room, lower lip trembling. He can’t be any older than Mark, Jaehyun’s younger brother. Johnny looks up at Jaehyun, but he just shrugs helplessly.
Johnny frowns at him, then turns to another servant. “Make sure he doesn’t get in trouble for that.”
“Of course, my king,” she says, then slips out of the chamber after the younger boy.
“What’s your job, then? My babysitter?” Johnny asks, standing once again, and two more servants approach him immediately, their hands filled with towels to dry him off. They’re not fluffy like he’s used to back home, and he has to try very hard to keep still as they pat him dry.
Jaehyun squints at him. “Head of the royal guard, actually.” Then, after a minute, “I suppose the two are mutually inclusive.”
“You’re my bodyguard? You? I’ve seen you cry because you accidentally almost sat on the cat once.”
“There is no better swordsman than me,” Jaehyun grits out. “If you need a demonstration to prove that I can do my job, I can provide you with one.”
The servants drape a silky robe over Johnny’s body. One of them steps forward to tie it, but Johnny waves him off, quickly knotting it together.
He follows after Jaehyun to yet another room and finds himself in a dressing room.
“What, am I a damsel in distress? I must not be, or everyone wouldn’t be so scared of me.”
“You do alright,” Jaehyun says cheekily, sitting down on an embroidered chaise lounge. The threads of the cushions gleam dark gold, and Johnny takes another second to appreciate the aesthetic beauty of this alien world. Jaehyun crosses his long legs over each other and says, “You’re adequate with any weapon because you had tutors growing up. In fact, we spar sometimes. But you prefer to use your magic to physical weapons.”
Johnny’s mouth falls open. “I have magic?”
“You don’t have magic in your world?” Jaehyun’s frown deepens. “What kind of mundane life do you live?”
“A simple one?” Johnny tries to keep the excitement from showing on his face. “Show me how my magic works.”
“I… I can’t. It’s solely yours. I don’t have magic of my own.”
“Well, what kind of stuff can I do?”
The servants undo the knot holding his robe on and let it drop to the floor. Johnny doesn’t even care that he’s ass naked in the middle of the room. The prospect of having magic is much more important than his flaccid dick being in full view for everyone.
Jaehyun shrugs, makes a show of rolling his shoulders slowly. “You can manipulate shadows, mostly. It’s a power only the Raven King holds, and it’s passed down from the high priests at the time of a new coronation. You got it years ago, when you came into power.”
“Could they-the priests, I mean- have anything to do with this?” Johnny huffs out an exhale as the servants drape him in more robes. These are finer, dark red thread on black silk, embroidered to portray more ravens in flight.
Jaehyun makes a contemplative noise in the back of his throat. “I wouldn’t bet on it. They pass the power on, but they can’t wield it themselves. Not worthy, according to legend.”
“So, I’m the only one with magic?” Johnny stares down at his hands. They look the same as they always do, palms broad, fingers long, tendons standing stark against skin when he flexes them. Could they really be capable of something as extraordinary as magic?
“You have specific abilities no one else has,” Jaehyun corrects, “But tons of people have the gift. It’s just at a smaller scale than your bloodline. Your family’s power is what makes your dynasty so strong.”
“You really have no idea how to make it happen?”
“You usually just wave your hands a little and it happens by itself. I don’t think it’s ever been something you needed to control rigidly because it obeys you on its own.”
Someone ties a belt (a sash? A colorful band?) around his waist, cinching the loose material of the robes at the taper of his waist. Then, a weight on his head as they place a crown on it. He feels like a dress up doll.
“Finally,” Jaehyun sighs, standing from the lounge, “You look presentable.”
“Wait,” Johnny says slowly, “Let me see myself.”
Immediately, a servant brings over what Johnny first mistakes as a mirror. When she holds it up, though, he realizes what it truly is. Water, stretched impossibly over a frame. A vertical reflecting pool, showing every one of his features clearly. When she tilts it forward to let him see himself, none of the water falls out.
Jaehyun sees the dumbstruck expression on his face and laughs out loud. “You’ve never seen a reflector before?”
“We use glass where I’m from…” Johnny whispers, slightly breathless. He reaches a hand forward cautiously, afraid of disrupting the surface of the water. The pads of his fingers skim across the surface, making water ripple lightly through the mirror.
Then he gets a good look at himself.
The clothing they’d dressed him in is unlike any historical attire he’s seen before. It’s not quite East Asian like he’d expected from the architecture, and it’s certainly not the Western fairytales he’d grown up watching. It’s strange, like both and completely different. The crown on his head is more of a headpiece than anything, a twisted gold circlet that disappears into the hair parted over it.
When his gaze rises from his clothing to his face, he blinks.
It’s him. It’s the same face he’s stared at in the mirror for the past twenty-two years, except for one tiny detail. His eyes are the same unnerving silver as Jaehyun’s. It’s weird, seeing these foreign eyes on his own face. He screws his eyes shut, half convinced they’ll be dark again when he opens them.
No such luck.
“Are you done?” Jaehyun asks. “We’re running late.”
Finally turning away from the mirror, Johnny runs his hands through his hair one last time, thankful that it’s kept short, at least, unlike the styles they show on the historical dramas Taeyong likes to binge watch when he thinks no one else is on their Netflix. In fact, besides his eyes, he looks pretty much the same.
He follows Jaehyun through the halls of his residence until they reach the same gate they’d entered through, and the guards kneel once again as they pass.
This time, he spends a lot more time examining the different buildings in the palace. His residence is fairly simple save for the large statue. The paths through the buildings are laid in stone, most of them painted with more avian imagery.
As they walk, Johnny brushes his arm against Jaehyun’s. “You know,” he reminds, a smile tugging on the corner of his mouth, “You never told me who you’re in love with. If it’s the same as my world, I want to say in advance that I hate when you guys act repulsive in public.”
Jaehyun hesitates. His face is much more stoic as soon as they’re out of the king’s residence, Johnny notices. He must have a reputation to uphold.
“We are not…” Jaehyun swallows and looks down at his feet. “We are not allowed. I am not allowed. As the head of the guard, my duty is to you first. I am forbidden from being with him.”
Johnny stops short. “Did I say that?” he demands, catching Jaehyun’s wrist when he keeps walking. “Jaehyun.”
The younger boy shakes his head tersely. “It was a rule long before you came to power. I can’t afford to get…distracted when I’m supposed to be protecting you.”
“But you said it yourself; my magic is the most potent. I should be able to protect myself, right?”
Jaehyun is giving him a peculiar smile. “You said that before, too.” He whispers, “You may think yourself different now, but you’re still quite the same at heart, I think.”
“Jae,” Johnny lets his wrist fall, and they resume their walk to wherever they’re going. “the Jaehyun I know, the one I’ve known for years, loves Taeyong with all his heart.”
At the mention of Taeyong’s name, Jaehyun’s cheeks flush a shade darker. “Please,” he pleads softly, “Don’t. Not right now.”
Taeyong is Ten’s roommate, and Johnny realizes with a start that if he’s here, Ten may as well be, too. That thought sends a strange shiver up his spine. Ten with dark velvety raven wings, looking up at him with silver eyes and whispering in his sweet voice, “my king.”
Johnny suppresses the thought as soon as it comes to him. He doesn’t need to think about his unrequited love for Ten on the way to meet his mysterious new fiancé.
“So, this Dragon Prince,” Johnny says conversationally. “Why haven’t we ever met before, if we’ve been engaged for so long?”
“The Dragons reside in the Sky Kingdom,” Jaehyun explains, pressing a hand to the small of his back and pushing in slightly to guide him along a smaller path, “They don’t come down here very often. As the Raven King, your domain is both sky and land. Where your kingdom ends, the Dragon King’s begins. The reason for this engagement is to foster good faith and peace between the two kingdoms. It was all set up by your fathers ages ago.”
“But the Dragons don’t come down from the sky very often. They’re a very old, secretive people. Or at least, that’s what they say. The fact that you’re betrothed to their prince fostered a lot of gossip. It’s not that they’re bad,” he adds hastily when he sees Johnny’s expression, “They’re just... a lot of ancient power. Power that’s been lost to the terrestrial kingdoms. Power enough to rival yours, in fact.”
“Can he manipulate shadows as well?”
Jaehyun shoots him an unimpressed look. “Wow,” he deadpans, “You really are Johnny. Only he would say something so dumb.”
“Shut up,” Johnny says, grunts as he’s shoved into another room. “Just tell me what he can do so I know what to expect.”
“Fire manipulation,” Jaehyun whispers. “An ancient art. The elements are lost to many of us, but they retained it somehow.”
Something about the low tone of Jaehyun’s voice makes Johnny shiver. Just his luck, for his betrothed to burn him to death by accident.
“Though,” Jaehyun adds contemplatively, “I’ve heard he’s quite beautiful. Of course, I heard it from Taeyong, whose view is skewed by his allegiance to his people and King. But he has an eye for such things.”
“Taeyong is a Dragon too?” Johnny feels his nerves burn as they approach a wide set of golden and black doors, set with the same rubies he’s been seeing all over the place. The guards dip their heads respectfully, and Johnny nods at them.
“He is part of your court. The son of the ambassador the Dragons sent at the time of your betrothal. His mother died, but he stayed.”
There’s one more question on the tip of his tongue. He’s not sure if he can ask or not. In the real world, the only reason he’d become friends with Jaehyun is them being the only queer kids in their fraternity. In this world, his betrothed is a prince. Johnny wonders how that works, but he keeps his curiosity at bay for another time.
“No more questions,” Jaehyun whispers then, “Bow when you think it’s respectful, but keep your head held high. Remember, they’re in your court. The Dragon Prince is known for his beauty, but also his sharp tongue.”
The guards at the doors heave them open then, and Johnny’s panic flares again. They step through the door together, into the hall. It must be the throne room. There’s a throne on the end of the room opposite them, framed by two wrought iron wings the same shape as Johnny’s, the feathers made by curling metal in remarkable detail and grace.
And by the foot of the throne, kneeling in front of it, is a boy clothed in brilliant scarlet, his elaborate golden headpiece obscuring his face. Johnny stops in front of him, and finds his face covered completely by fine gold chains that drop from the front of his headpiece down to his chin.
Johnny’s breath catches in his throat, heart lurching up. He knows that posture. He knows the easy grace of that body when it rises. The boy opens his mouth and begins to speak, and Johnny knows that voice like it’s his own, has known it crying for more and laughing deeply and broken with tears. It’s a voice he keeps close to his heart.
Johnny’s fingers shake as he brushes the layer of golden chains away. They chime as they’re pushed aside, the sound as soft and melodious as the voice of the boy under them. Johnny’s knees feel like liquid. He forces the tangled words onto his tongue and out.