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There were legends about the forest. He’s heard them since he was a kid, something like ghost stories.

Jongdae doesn’t believe in ghost stories.

“I’m not kidding,” Baekhyun says, throwing back yet another shot of El Jimador before grimacing. Wimp. “There’s a reason no one goes there. Jinnie got lost in there.”

“Jinnie got kidnapped,” Jongdae scoffs. “Don’t tell me you actually believe that shit.”

“Of course, I believe it,” Baekhyun says, and he wobbles in his seat slightly as he moves to grab Jongdae’s sleeve. “Something lives in there. I swear to God, it’s like, malevolent.”

Malevolent?” Jongdae says.

“Yeah, like, evil or whatever. It makes people go crazy.”

Jongdae clicks the bottom of his shot glass against the table before he tosses it back, matching Baekhyun. He doesn’t know why, but he feels a draw to the forest. He feels like he needs to go. Needs to see it for himself.

“Don’t,” Baekhyun whines. “Please, I’m telling you. Like, when we were in high school, don’t you remember? All those kids…”

“It’ll be fine,” Jongdae says.

Baekhyun drunkenly clings to Jongdae’s sleeve.

“Don’t go,” he cries.

Jongdae pours himself another shot, avoids pouring another for Baekhyun. He’s already had too much. Fuckin’ lightweight.

I have to go, he wants to say. But for some reason, the words just won’t come out.

🜄



He leaves when the mid-morning sun is hot on his skin, and the sweat beads on his forehead. His hands sweat, too, so he wipes his palms against his shorts, mentally checking off items on his list. Food? Check. Phone? Check. Rudimentary first aid kit? Check.

Jongdae chastises himself for being so overprepared. What’s the worst that could happen in a small neighborhood forest? He gets bit by a raccoon? He smirks as he walks through the clearing, the tall grasses brushing against his bare calves and tickling mightily.

Jongdae’s only seen pictures of the forest before, never having ventured out to see it. He considers himself to be something of a skeptic, but surely, something that looks so incredibly normal from the outside houses more normalcy inside it. Occam’s razor. Or something.

He adjusts his backpack on his shoulders before he approaches, hesitant even though logic is telling him not to be.

The outer foliage of the forest is thick, dense and with a sweet smell that Jongdae can’t put his finger on. It’s like spun sugar, balmy and overwhelming all around him. He takes a step back, breathing in clean air, before going any further.

He parts the layers of shrubbery before stepping into the forest proper, and when he does, he thinks he must be dreaming.

Jongdae has stepped into a different world.

There is no sun filtering through the tops of the trees with the canopy being so heavy, but still, the forest interior is alight with blues and greens. All along the ground are mushrooms of various size, the caps bioluminescent and glowing blue and green. They move, almost as if they are inhaling and exhaling, and every time they push out, they expel a fine smoke, glittering up into the air. Jongdae looks around, sees the knots and spirals in the tree trunks smolder, pulsing with cold blue light, almost like blue flames rest in the hearts of them.

The air is hazy with the smoke, and as he begins to walk through the forest, he sees the insects, colorful with their iridescent wings, large, big enough to fit just one in his palm, buzzing and clicking as they float from tree to tree. Butterflies flutter by him, but they move in a cloud of a hundred or so, each about the size of his fingernail. Their wings are golden, shimmering. He is astonished, enraptured, and the sounds of the forest are musical, a dozen birds singing to each other, branches snapping and breaking, water running, laughing. The air is just as sweet as it was when he entered, but now he’s gotten accustomed to it a bit, and it is delicious, beckoning him in. Cotton candy and sugar cookies. Vanilla, caramel, and coconut. There are flowers that creep along the forest floor, white and almost metallic yellow, the way the petals reflect light, and there are flowers that stretch and bend around the trunks of the trees, magenta and turquoise and orange, like snakes twisting.

Jongdae is no scientist, but he knows well enough that none of this is normal.

He crouches down next to a patch of the mushrooms, and he listens in awe to the hushed little noises they make as they expand and then retract, expelling their fine shimmer into the air.

Jongdae smiles, and he wants to touch one, pet along the cap to see if it feels as fuzzy as it looks, but he doesn’t. Just holds back and watches them for a while.

Maybe something in the air is hallucinogenic, maybe he just can’t see straight, but the forest breathes with magic. And something about it, though he doesn’t know what, pulls him deeper inside.

Truth be told, he doesn’t care what it is. He finds he likes it.

There is a beaten path, the ground well-worn from the footsteps of travelers. Jongdae wonders how many have been where he stands. And he wonders if there isn’t maybe some truth to the dangers he’s heard about this place.

He can’t lie to himself, though. The calm settles in him as he walks, settles in his stomach and his throat, and he looks around in wonder at all of the majesty to behold. He has never seen something so beautiful, so otherworldly and still beautiful, and Jongdae feels it strip away much of his pessimism, much of his worldly doubt.

A hare emerges along the path, glowing an icy blue, feet tinged white, and Jongdae gasps. He clamps a hand over his mouth, not wanting to scare the small animal away. But the hare doesn’t seem to react much, just twitches an ear towards the sound before it faces Jongdae and stares back at him. Maybe it’s used to the people who come to explore these woods? Jongdae isn’t sure. Either way, he is enamored with the creature, with the ghostly lapis air that surrounds it as it moves, with its easy tranquility.

Jongdae kneels down on the ground, smiling. The hare doesn’t move, and Jongdae’s smile widens.

“Hi there,” he says quietly. “What exactly are you, hm?”

The hare hops forward once, and Jongdae is heartened by the movement.

“You’re not a regular bunny, are you?” Jongdae say. “You’re something special.”

Another tentative hop. Jongdae hops forward on his knees, and it’s stupid, but the hare hops towards him again.

“You’re so pretty,” Jongdae says, and he walks forwards, bare knees along the softened dirt, reaching out a hand.

He half expects the hare to finally flit away, slow to realize the danger of a human, but instead, it arches into the touch, and Jongdae’s palm rests against its head.

That’s when he feels it.

He doesn’t have the vocabulary to describe the trembling rapture that starts to sink through his pores. It’s...he can’t compare it to much, because he’s never felt such an unabashed joy. It feels like all his neurons are firing, like serotonin and endorphins are pouring into his bloodstream triple, quadruple overtime. Like oxytocin is sitting on his skin, shivering into him. Like all he can feel is good. Like all he’s ever felt is good. All the joyful moments in his life, multiplied, spreading, expanding with each draw of breath, with every millisecond, with every breeze that moves through his hair.

Then, he hears a whisper in his ear.

He can make you feel like this for the rest of your days. Until the sun stops shining, until the rivers run dry, until time itself stops under your feet.

Shocked, he pulls back. The hare’s amber eyes stare up at him curiously. He isn’t sure what just happened, but—

“T-thank you,” he says.

Finally, the hare hops away, and Jongdae watches it go. The light of it cuts through the smoke, but eventually, Jongdae can’t see the animal any longer, just the endless glittering haze emanating from the toadstools.

Jongdae gets his feet beneath him once more, and as he stands, he realizes that it’s as though he’s just had the best night’s sleep of his entire life. He feels rejuvenated. Fresh. He touches his cheek, and it feels softer, more supple. Like he’s done a month’s worth of sheet masks in a single moment. He shakes his head, attempting to clear the fog of pleasure that’s filled him. He pulls his phone out of his pocket, clicks the display on, and—

What the fuck, he thinks, toggling the display off and back on.

Nothing changes. The time still reads 1:32. Is it possible? H-how could he have lost so much time? It felt like he had just stepped foot into the forest, and yet several hours had passed? It...none of it makes any sense, no sense at all.

He—maybe he’s made a mistake. Maybe he shouldn’t have come here.

When he turns around to head back out of the woods, to go home and forget he ever came, he spins in a circle. He is in the center of the forest somehow, and there are eight separate paths spiraling out from where he stands.

Jongdae has no idea which one he came in through.

Panic starts to displace all the pleasure, so he picks a path at random and travels down it. Surely, he reasons to himself, if he just walks this way and doesn’t turn much, he’ll find the edge of the forest. He’ll find his way home.

He walks slowly, conserves his energy. There would be nothing worse than getting stuck, so tired that he couldn’t get out, so he takes his time. The forest is pleasantly cool even in the heat of the summer, and with that, Jongdae finds it hard to be nervous about making it out before the night settles. Would it be so bad, he wonders, to spend the evening beneath the trees?

He could shelter you.

Jongdae shakes his head, shakes the voice from his head. He needs to get home. The song of the wood is getting to him.

Eventually, he needs to stop to eat, so when he hears the water nearby, he takes a short detour to see it.

The river is wide and deep, crystal clear and bright blue, and the mouth must reside within the forest as he knows it doesn’t source or end outside. Flower petals, pink and purple and white, float gently downstream as the water takes them. He sits on the bank, the forest detritus a cushion beneath him. He takes off his shoes, places them carefully next to him, and dips his toes into the water. It’s cold, refreshing, and he wiggles his toes happily as he listens to the forest’s song. Beautiful. Airy. He closes his eyes. Hums along.

Do you like the water? The air whispers it to him, and Jongdae closes his eyes. Pleased.

“Yes,” he says aloud. “I do.”

Sweet boy, the air speaks to him. He is the water.

“Well, then maybe I like him,” Jongdae smiles, and he sighs out as the water starts to bubble around his ankles. “Ha, stop, it tickles.”

Stay, boy, the air whisper says to him. Stay with him.

“I can’t,” Jongdae whispers back. “I have to go home soon.”

The whispers on the breeze stop, and Jongdae fears he might have said the wrong thing. He’s unable to dwell on it for long, though, as he turns his head and sees something: a miracle, maybe.

Four stags wander through the river, the moss and foliage strung through their antlers hanging like dripping emeralds. Jongdae tries to count the points on the bucks, but there are too many. The horns look like crowns, regal, breathtaking, and Jongdae watches in amazement as they wade through the water, completely unimpressed by his existence. Are all the animals that reside in the forest desensitized to humanity? And if so, how? Jongdae knows the rumors. Not many people come here anymore.

Jongdae does not approach, just sits and watches as they make their way through before dipping out of sight. What is this place?, he wonders. How is it real?

He drags his bag onto his lap, grabs out his sandwich, and starts to eat quickly. When he’s finished, he wraps up the garbage and sticks it back in his bag. Shoving his feet back into his shoes, he makes his way back to the path.

But his eyes go wide. Everything’s changed. The paths. They’re all different now.

He turns. Turns around. Around and around. He is lost. He...he—

Breathe, boy.

Jongdae obeys, sucking in air rapidly.

Won’t you stay? the air whispers to him. It’s so lonely here.

Was this what pulled him here?

“I can’t,” Jongdae says. “I really have to go.”

Must you? the wind asks.

Jongdae continues to trudge forward, and then, he happens upon the berries. They’re bright red, their skin shining. The plant is small, but it has a thrall to it. A thrall that pulls Jongdae forward.

Eat.

“I’m full,” Jongdae says even as something pulls him closer to the berries.

You know you must eat, the wind whispers.

Jongdae is hesitant. Hesitant as he reaches out, steals a handful of berries. Hesitant as he pops them in his mouth, one by one. The juice is as red as blood as it drips down his chin.

Precious boy, the wind says.

He falls into sleep, the darkness taking him in its palm.

🜄🜄🜄



The world is black, blue. And green.

He rested well, a thick dreamless sleep in his head. He smiles to himself, hugs his arms around his body.

Jongdae rubs at his eyes, brushes the sleep away carefully.

And then he realizes. Realizes where he is. Realizes what he’s done.

No, he thinks. Please, no.

Logic won’t help you in the forest. Skepticism won’t help you here. No, each thing you happen upon is more dangerous than the last, and when you let your guard down once, it’s taken from you for good.

He scrambles to his feet, doesn’t even remember to grab his bag, the contents tumbled behind him. He runs. Runs as fast as his legs will take him. He cuts through as much foliage as he can without stopping. He tramples over mushrooms, over flowers, over shrubs of all sizes. He runs, runs, and runs faster still. Jongdae runs for what feels like an hour, and when he stops to catch his breath, he looks around.

He hasn’t moved an inch.

“Please,” he cries out. “Stop playing with me.”

The voice that speaks into his ear is the same as it’s always been, baritone and soft.

No, it says. You keep trying to run.

“Yes,” Jongdae says. “You can’t keep me here.”

I can do as I like, it breathes. And Jongdae can’t argue. It can.

“Please,” Jongdae says. “Let me go.”

It’s dangerous, it says. He can only protect you so much, boy. You may get hurt.

“I don’t care,” Jongdae whines. “I have to go.”

What he feels next is quite strange. He can actually feel the earth shifting under his feet, almost like he can draw along the axis of the world with his fingertip, and when it snaps into place underneath his wobbling feet, he snaps his head up. And the path out of the forest is clear.

“Thank you,” Jongdae says. “Thank you, thank you.

He takes off, sprinting down the path.

He should have known, of course, that it would never be so simple.

The bear that happens across the path is as black as night, so black that it seems to swallow the blue light of the wood. It has no pupils, or if it does, they are all white too, milky in color. It doesn’t seem to notice him, simply trampling along the path, each movement enough to shake the earth.

Perhaps if he stays still, it’ll leave him alone. But Jongdae takes a sharp breath, because it is beautiful, too beautiful. And terrifying. His body doesn’t listen to him. Never does.

The bear flicks its head towards the sound, and it stands to its full height. It is massive. It towers over everything, head scraping along the trees. And it stares at Jongdae.

The pounding of its paws against the floor of the forest sounds like war drums, and Jongdae turns, runs, but there is no way. He’s too small. He’s too powerless. He screams, yells. And the bear runs, closes the gap between them.

Jongdae tries to think of all he’s learned about avoiding bears, but would anything work with a bear so large? Is it even worth fighting?

Don’t run, he tells himself. Run, his brain tells him.

He turns. He sticks his feet in the earth.

The bear slows as it approaches him, and Jongdae lies down flat against the ground, closing his eyes.

The bear sniffs around him. And Jongdae tries to hold his breath.

He could die. He might die. He holds his breath. He’ll probably die.

The bear’s breath smells of spearmint as it scans him. Jongdae holds his breath.

Without ceremony, the bear closes its massive jaws on his leg, crushing bone and tearing muscle. Jongdae sucks in breath, staggered through wails, eyes wide in terror as he screams, blood rushing through his ears so loud that he can barely hear himself. The cries of pain are ripped from his chest. He whines like a wounded animal, and the bear lets go, wanders back through the wood as though his job is done. The shoots of agony quiver through him as he watches.

He screams. Screams. Screams.

🜄🜄🜄



When he has finally run out of wind, when the screams will no longer come, he resigns himself to this. He should have never come. He should have listened to Baekhyun. Was this how everyone died in this place? Were there different ways to go?

Jongdae chides himself as tears start to slip down his cheeks. He closes his eyes, grimaces as he tries to move his leg. He can’t. He’ll die here. God, he thinks. He would do anything to leave.

He hears rustling from afar, and he groans. Not again. Not something else.

Oh well, he thinks. Better to get it over with.

Jongdae shuts his eyes, squeezes them tight, as the sound gets closer and closer. Closer. Closer. He shakes with fear, with the pain that courses through him. What could it be? He wonders. What horrible fate awaits him? He braces as the sound hits its apex. And the rustling stops.

Jongdae opens his eyes to see...

“Look at you,” the boy says. “You’re pretty.”

He’s one to talk: the boy that stands over Jongdae is tall and slender with broad shoulders and a slim waist. His hair is rose-colored, light pink like cotton candy. His face is quite severe in structure, but he wears a smile. His face glittered, pink and silver on his skin, and white flowers are laced through his hair. He...is Jongdae hallucinating? The boy almost looks like an angel, wearing a simple set of white linen shirt and pants, like he’s Amish or something.

“Um,” Jongdae says. “Thank you.”

“When did you come here?” the boy asks.

Jongdae doesn’t know, has no idea how much time has passed.

“N-not too long ago, I don’t think? I’m not sure,” Jongdae stutters, wiping at his face. “I was only passing through.”

The boy smiles, impish and beautiful.

“Are you hurt?” the boy asks.

Jongdae looks down at his leg, mangled and covered in blood.

“Y-yeah,” he bites. “Just a bit.”

“That’s really too bad,” the boy says, and then, horrifically, he turns his back on Jongdae, makes to walk away. To leave Jongdae.

“Wait!” Jongdae screams. “Wait, wait.”

The boy turns. Smiles.

“Yes?”

“W-what are you doing?” Jongdae asks. “Aren’t you going to help me?”

“What would you like me to do?” the boy asks.

“I don’t know,” Jongdae screeches. “Anything?”

“Hm,” the boy says. He kneels down beside Jongdae, petting a hand along Jongdae’s face. “You really are very pretty.”

“Please,” Jongdae says, panicking, chest heaving. “Please, I’m, like, not really ready to die. You know? Like, I’ve got shit to do. I have class tomorrow. Or maybe yesterday? I don’t know. I’m supposed to graduate in the spring. I’m gonna be a doctor. I have to, like, fall in love and stuff. Raise a family. Propagate the species. Fuck, I mean I’m gay, but I think I’ll probably adopt, you know? There’s so many babies out there. They deserve to be loved.”

“It seems as if you have plenty to live for,” the boy says, and there is a frigid, scary undertone to the way he speaks. He lets his fingers play along Jongdae’s neck, down to his chest.

“What are yo—yes, yes, I do,” he stammers. “Please help. You don’t even have to do anything really. Just like, take my phone and call an ambulance or something.”

The boy smiles. It shoots into Jongdae’s heart, the terror. This is not someone who will help him. This is someone who will only hurt him. The most poisonous flowers are often most beautiful.

“You know I can’t call anyone, don’t you?” the boy says. “And you know that you’ll die if I don’t do something, don’t you?”

“Y-yeah,” Jongdae says, and he tries to hold back his tears. “Yeah, I know.”

The boy gets to the ground, huddles Jongdae in his arms. It feels nice to be held by someone, in strong sure arms, and though he wants to avoid falling into the embrace, he does. He shivers, cold settling in his extremities.

“Shh,” the boy says, and he brushes the sweat away from Jongdae’s forehead. “You’re in sepsis.”

“Fuck,” Jongdae says, shock in his chest cavity. “I’m in sepsis.”

“You said you were going to be a doctor, right?” the boy says. “How fast does sepsis take to kill someone?”

Not this fast, Jongdae thinks. This is too fast.

“I-I,” Jongdae stammers.

The boy shushes him again, stares down at Jongdae’s body. “This is such a waste,” he says. “You’re so beautiful.”

“P-please,” Jongdae says. “Please, I’m going to die without you.”

“I know,” the boy says, and when Jongdae looks up, the boy looks genuinely upset. “It’s sad.”

“Please,” Jongdae whines. “Please, I’ll do anything.”

And just like that, Jongdae sees white. All the pain is gone, vanished, and when he looks down at his leg, the wounds are gone, wiped clean from him. He kicks his leg up in shock, and it moves perfectly. There is nothing wrong with him. D-did he dream it? Did the forest convince him of something that wasn’t real?

“This,” the boy says, and he holds Jongdae by the shoulders, massaging them gently, “I could do this for you.”

Jongdae sees dark red, and he howls in pain. In the blink of an eye, the gashes split through his leg again, the bones breaking and splitting like threads of wood.

“P-please,” Jongdae begs again. “Please, please. Stop, stop.”

“I’m not doing anything,” the boy says, and he pets over Jongdae’s hair. “I’m just letting the forest work. It hurt you badly, didn’t it? We must have upset it quite a bit.”

“Yes, yes,” Jongdae hurries to agree. “But you can—”

“Yes, I can help you,” the boy smiles. “But you must promise me something.”

“Anything,” Jongdae says. “Anything.

The boy grins, delighted. He is pretty, God, he is. But Jongdae thinks he might hate him.

“Would you like to hear my deal?” the boy says.

“Okay,” Jongdae agrees, and he swallows his spit.

“I’ll heal you,” the boy says. “Give you your leg back. Give you life.”

“Yes,” Jongdae says.

“And in exchange,” the boy says, and he moves a fingertip against Jongdae’s lip, scratching with his fingernail at the end of the stroke, “you pledge your soul to my Master.”

“M-my soul?” Jongdae laughs.

“Yes,” the boy says. “Your soul.”

“Okay,” Jongdae says. “Okay, done.”

The boy smiles again, venom dripping from his mouth.

“If you agree to the terms, then we seal the covenant with a kiss,” he says, and he leans down, lips plush and red, and he kisses Jongdae softly.

With it, his pain vanishes, dust in the air. The feeling is exquisite, bioluminescent as though the forest itself invades him, effervescent pleasure in his bloodstream. It’s delicious, pulsing through him like a slow, slowing heartbeat. He closes his eyes, and he finds himself struggling to open them again. He’s so, so tired.

“Rest now,” the boy says, and he lies Jongdae down onto the soft earth of the forest floor. “You’ve had a long day, hm?”

“Yes,” Jongdae says, eyelids growing heavier and heavier as he breathes.

“Before I go,” the boy says, “if you require my aid, you must simply utter my name. I hear all on the wind.”

“Okay,” Jongdae says sleepily before the words really register. When they do, he opens his eyes sharply. “But wait. I don’t know your name.”

The boy walks off, and when he whispers into the air, it circles back to Jongdae as if he’s still holding him in his arms.

“You may call me Sehun.”

🜄



No sun breaks through the trees, so Jongdae does not know when he wakes until he grabs his phone from nearby, covering in mud and leaves.

He wipes it clean, but when he tries to power it on, the battery is dead.

“Fuck,” he whispers.

He looks down at his legs, holds them straight out and inspects them. There’s no trace of injury, not even a bruise or speck of dried blood. His shorts aren’t torn. It’s as though the bear never attacked.

Jongdae looks around, sees nothing to hinder his progress, so he grabs his bag and his dead phone, and he heads off out the clear path out of the forest.

When he gets to the edge of the forest, he tries to stick his hand through the dense foliage there. But he can’t. He can’t even brush along the leaves. He withdraws his hands, pushes against the invisible wall that holds him where he stands.

No.

“Yes.”

Jongdae turns to meet the sound. Standing before him is a boy, much different from Sehun.

He wears a similar outfit of white linen, the tie around his waist pulled tight, showing the gentle curves of his body. He is much shorter, smaller in stature. He has a kind face, with soft, shining pink cheeks and warm, dark eyes. A handsome smile. Atop his dark brown head of hair, he wears a crown of flowers, ribbons dropped down the back and tied in knots. He is...he is stunning, and Jongdae resists the sudden urge to step forward into his embrace.

“Wh-who are you?” Jongdae asks, even though he already knows.

“I am the witch of the forest,” the boy says, and for a moment, he looks proud of himself as he holds his hands on his hips. Then, he shrinks back into himself, looking apologetic. “And, well, for now, you belong to me.”

“W-what?” Jongdae says. “Belong to you?”

“Yes,” the boy says slowly. “Sehun told me he explained it to you well. I couldn’t hear much. Once you get too far from the water, listening is hard.”

“My soul?” Jongdae says. “Are you fucking kidding?”

“No, I am not,” the boy says, furrowing his brow. “Do you speak to everyone so impertinently?”

“Shut up,” Jongdae says. “Let me go.”

“I’m afraid I can’t,” the boy says. “Those aren’t the terms of your deal, after all.”

“What are you talking about?” Jongdae says. “This is all...none of this makes any sense!”

“Well, if you’d care for a cup of tea,” the boy says, and he smiles charmingly, “I could explain everything to you. And I’ll try to figure out a way to get you out of here.”

The thrall pulls him forward. The thrall makes Jongdae want to say yes, yes, yes.

“No,” Jongdae says, and he folds his arms across his chest. “Let me go.”

The boy grimaces, looks to his feet. Jongdae looks down too, and he sees the boy barefoot, the bottoms of his feet painted green.

“You cannot leave the forest,” the boy says slowly.

“Why not?” Jongdae says.

“Because, for the moment,” the boy says, and he takes Jongdae’s hands in his, “you belong to me.”

🜄



“It won’t work,” the boy says boredly.

Jongdae ignores him, continues pounding his fists bloody on the invisible wall.

“I’m telling you,” the boy says, and Jongdae looks over to see him holding a finger in the air, spinning a ribbon of water above him in curves and swirls, “no amount of strength will be able to break the wall. Because it is a charm. For now, the deal is unbreakable.”

“S-shut up,” Jongdae says, and he focuses his attention in front of him, back to beating his knuckles against the wall. “Jesus Christ.”

“Why ruin all the good work Sehun did by ruining your hands?” the boy says, flooding the ground around him with a tributary.

“Don’t talk to me,” Jongdae warns.

“Here,” the boy says, standing up and snapping his fingers. He goes bone-dry, stepping forward. “Let me at least heal you quickly.”

“Don’t touch me,” Jongdae says, and he grimaces as he licks at his knuckles.

Here,” the boy says, and he grabs Jongdae’s hand. “I insist.”

“F-fine,” Jongdae says, angry as he turns to face him. “Whatever.”

The boy takes one hand between both of his, and he closes his eyes. Jongdae finds him extremely beautiful in that moment, the thread of want pulling through him from head to toe, as the light blooms around them, and all the residual, throbbing pain in his hand dissipates.

“How does it feel?” the boy asks.

“Fine,” Jongdae says, and he puts his other hand in the boy’s grasp.

He smirks, blooms light and heals the second hand just the same.

“Thanks,” Jongdae says flatly, and he makes to pull back, start swinging wildly at the wall again, but the boy holds his hand in his.

“Please,” the boy says, and when Jongdae looks to his face, he looks so lonely. “Just...can’t we be friends? It would—”

No, Jongdae thinks. We can’t.

“Whatever,” he says. “Where do you live?”

The smile that spreads on the boy’s face is terribly pretty, and Jongdae tries his level best to ignore it as he walks off, leading Jongdae home.

🜄



The hut in the middle of nowhere in the forest is much less a hut and much more a lush cabin, built from the glowing trunks of the saphwoods. The flora that shrouds the area is even more attractive than the rest of the forest, signature greens and blues and golds but even more vibrant, almost as though the plants want to creep into this place, like it is the source of life.

The sweet smell is intense, pervasive, and Jongdae sniffs to clear his nose.

The boy leads him into the home, the wooden door swinging closed behind them. Jongdae looks around, smiles in spite of himself. It’s quite homey. Moss sweeps along the floor and the ceiling, built up in the corners, and a few of the blue mushrooms sit there too. There are little shelves built into the walls, and knick knacks and the like sit upon them. Near the rustic stove and pool for washing sits a cabinet of different colored bottles and jars, varying in size mightily, filled with tons of things that Jongdae doesn’t recognize.

There’s a large bed, a comfortable looking mattress and blanket and a throw of pillows rest atop it. At the end of the bed, there’s a wooden chest, locked with a shiny golden pad. There’s a dining set, wooden and worn, and at the dipped center of the table, there are a mess of candles, the pools of wax sticking them straight. There’s a stone fireplace, a pretty hearth. There’s a rug spread across the floor, hand-woven and with a honeycomb design. It’s beautiful, it’s—

“My name is Junmyeon.”

Jongdae turns, and Junmyeon stands there, pulling nervously at his shirt.

“Okay,” Jongdae says.

“Why are you intent on hating me?” Junmyeon says. Jongdae rolls his eyes, makes to leave, but Junmyeon sticks his hands out to push him back. “No. Answer me.”

“Why wouldn’t I hate you?” Jongdae says. “You’re keeping me hostage. You made me enter a dark covenant with...I don’t know, what is Sehun, is he your slave?”

“No,” Junmyeon says, squinting his eyes. “He is my friend.”

“So he just...reaps souls for you because he likes you?”

“No. I mean, I don’t know,” Junmyeon says, frowning. “I don’t know why he made you...why he bound you to me.”

“Yeah, right,” Jongdae says.

“I would not lie,” Junmyeon says. “I do not intend to harm you.”

“So all those people who went missing…”

“Some died,” Junmyeon says sadly. “The rest...I don’t know. They escaped before I could find them. If I can, I try to make to them quickly.”

“You mean you kill them before they can tell everyone what’s in here,” Jongdae says.

“No,” Junmyeon says. “I do not kill. The forest does.”

“You are the forest,” Jongdae says.

 

“No,” Junmyeon says. “I am the water.”

“So I keep hearing,” Jongdae says, rolling his eyes.

“I am sorry for what the sprite has done to you,” Junmyeon apologizes, “but I played no part in it.”

“You just control most of the forest,” Jongdae says.

“I can control the plants,” Junmyeon smiles smally. “But that’s because I taught myself with time. The animals...I don’t control the animals. I can only try my best to use shields and charms.”

“You sicced that bear on me,” Jongdae says, and he jabs a finger into Junmyeon’s chest.

“I didn’t set the bambear loose,” Junmyeon says pettily. “I was keeping you safe from it. Besides, you would have been fine if you just kept quiet. They’re blind, you know.”

“Shut up,” Jongdae grimaces. “You’re evil.”

“If I’m so evil, then why did I have a very good charm set around you, hm?” Junmyeon says, and he tilts his nose in the air. “You met the Tokkichan, which is great luck, you ungrateful brat.”

Jongdae thinks back, thinks to the feeling that flooded through his veins. Ecstasy. No, better.

“And I lured the nogstags too,” Junmyeon says. “All tourists loves the nogstags.”

“You could have protected me until I got out,” Jongdae says, feeling petty.

“Why should I have?” Junmyeon says. “All you did was come here and trample my lightshrooms.”

“Because you were trying to keep me captive,” Jongdae says. “What are you not getting about this?”

“I’m...listen, you have it all wrong, but that’s besides the point. You could learn to like it here! Plenty of people have!” Junmyeon says.

“I would like it a whole lot more if I could go home,” Jongdae says snottily. “This place is fucking awful, a death trap, and it should be bulldozed.”

Immediately, Jongdae knows he has said the wrong thing, struck a sensitive nerve within Junmyeon. He shrinks back a bit, still too proud to apologize.

“Shut your mouth,” Junmyeon says. “You’re alive because of me.”

“No,” Jongdae says. “I’m alive because of Sehun.”

“Who sent Sehun?” Junmyeon says.

“And why’d you send him?” Jongdae questions. “Because you wanted to keep my soul?”

“No,” Junmyeon says, shaking his head angrily. “I told him to heal you. That’s all I—”

“You’re pathetic, lying to cover your own ass,” Jongdae says. “I’m leaving. And don’t try to stop me.”

Jongdae turns, makes his way back out of the cabin without looking back.

“You’ll get hurt,” Junmyeon calls worriedly.

“I don’t care,” Jongdae says. “So don’t bother with your charms and your shields. I’d rather die than stay with you.”

🜄



Even with the warning, Jongdae stays safe in the forest for the night and happens upon no bambears or...or anything else as ridiculous. It’s warm, pleasant, even with no covers to speak of, and when he wakes in the morning, he walks to the river before he thinks twice about it. He needs to bathe, but...

He won’t watch you.

Jongdae looks angrily into the air before stripping himself of his clothes and walking into the crystal clear waters. It’s hot, and Jongdae wonders if Junmyeon made it so that it was more comfortable for him.

That doesn’t matter, Jongdae thinks. Small kindnesses mean nothing.

He looks at himself in the mirrored surface of the water, and God, he looks a year, two years younger. His skin is totally unblemished, unscarred. There are no dark circles under his eyes. His hair is shiny, soft.

He rinses his hair quickly, washes himself perfunctorily. He sees no reason to dawdle, even though the water feels wonderful on his sore muscles. He hurriedly dresses, soaking through his t-shirt and his shorts, but he figures they’ll dry quick enough.

Jongdae decides to find something for breakfast, so he goes foraging. He finds several berry bushes, but thinking back, he passes by the cherry red ones in favor of some darker blue ones.

Those will kill you.

“And?” Jongdae wonders aloud.

Oh, don’t be that way, the wind whispers to him.

“Fine,” Jongdae says, and he drops the branch in favor of another, these berries a rich berry wine color. “What about these?”

They’ll set you to a slumber for one thousand years.

“Fuck,” Jongdae curses.

He looks around, trying to find just about anything else.

Go to the cabin, the wind bids him. He will provide for you.

Jongdae opens his mouth to argue, but as soon as he does, his stomach growls loudly. He can hear the peal of laughter on the air.

“Fine,” Jongdae says, and he trudges back in the direction of the hut.

🜄



The smell that welcomes him is mouth-watering.

Jongdae knocks hesitantly at the door, and the door opens on its own.

“Come in, come in,” Junmyeon says, and he places a dish on the table proudly. “I’ve made breakfast.”

“Great,” Jongdae says drily.

“Do you like eggs?” Junmyeon asks excitedly.

“A-are they chicken eggs?” Jongdae asks.

“Yes, of course, they’re chicken eggs,” Junmyeon asks, head tilted to the side cutely. “What else would they be?”

“I don’t know,” Jongdae says, shaking his head and sitting down. “I don’t know what kind of animals lay eggs here.”

“Hush now,” Junmyeon says. “Eat. You must be hungry.”

Jongdae stares down at his bowl, filled with rice, eggs with bright yellow yolks, charred tomatoes, and sauteed blue mushrooms.

“W-why are they blue?” Jongdae asks, poking at them.

“They are the lightshrooms. They are very good for you,” Junmyeon says. “They make humans quite strong, in fact.”

“Awesome,” Jongdae says.

“You don’t need to be so mean,” Junmyeon says, frowning.

Jongdae doesn’t respond, just breaks the yolks of the eggs and tastes the meal. Junmyeon watches him, hands folded, awaiting Jongdae’s response like a dog awaiting praise.

“I-it’s good,” Jongdae says quietly.

Junmyeon smiles brightly, and the pull from Jongdae’s body to Junmyeon’s...it worsens.

🜄



“I have to go check on some crops,” Junmyeon says, pulling a hat onto his head, his basket in his hands. “Don’t get into trouble. Be good while I’m gone.”

“I’m not a dog,” Jongdae mutters.

“Still, don’t try to run away,” Junmyeon says. “Those charms are a pain when you travel far.”

“Fine,” Jongdae says boredly. “Get out of here.”

Junmyeon gives him a timid smile before he leaves. Jongdae follows him with his eyes through the window, gives him a solid minute before he whispers.

“Sehun.”

Sehun appears from a cloud of pink smoke, coughing.

“Hello,” Sehun says, smiling when he realizes where he is. “How may I be of service to you, Master?”

“Uh, I’m not your master,” Jongdae says.

“You share a home with Master Junmyeon,” Sehun says. “Thus, you are my master.”

“Don’t call me that,” Jongdae says. “It’s fuckin’ weird.”

“Whatever you command,” Sehun smiles.

“Sure,” Jongdae says. “Okay, how do I get out of here?”

Sehun frowns.

“You can’t leave, Master,” Sehun says. “You belong to the water now.”

“Okay, how do I not belong to the water, then?”

He looks confused by the question.

“There is no way,” Sehun says.

“There has to be some way,” Jongdae says. “There have to have been others besides me.”

“Master Junmyeon had only one before you,” Sehun says wistfully. “A very pretty boy. Tall. Big ears.”

“And?” Jongdae prompts. “How’d he get out?”

“Oh, he never wanted to escape,” Sehun says. “He stayed here for hundreds of years. Master Junmyeon extended his life because he was in love with him. And Master Chanyeol loved him back. The forest was in harmony.”

“Jesus Christ,” Jongdae says, and he rubs his forehead. “I’m not...I’m not in love with him. And Junmyeon’s not in love with me.”

“No,” Sehun says, a dangerous little smile on his face. “But maybe, with time…”

He disappears into a fine pink smoke, leaving Jongdae swiping at the air, trying to grab onto any semblance of flesh.

“Y-you fucker,” Jongdae says, punching wildly before shouting up to the heavens. “Get back here.”

🜄



Junmyeon comes back within the hour, basket full of fresh vegetables, looking pleased to see Jongdae still inside the cabin.

“Hello,” he says happily. “Did you do anything nice while I was away?”

“Talked to your lackey,” Jongdae says, chin in his hands.

“L-lackey?” Junmyeon says.

“Sehun,” Jongdae says.

“Oh,” Junmyeon says, frowning. “He is not my lackey. I thought I explained. He is my friend.”

“Your friend who calls you Master?” Jongdae scoffs. “Pass.”

“Ah, he...he feels indebted to me. I take care of him sometimes. I have known him since he was born,” Junmyeon says, and he stares down at his hands, smiling. “He hatched from the anemone bloom in my hands. He was...he was always so beautiful. So good.”

“Yeah, right,” Jongdae says. “You made him trap me. Neither one of you is good.”

“I...I didn’t make him do anything besides heal you,” Junmyeon says exasperatedly. “Please do not misunderstand me.”

“Then why would he trap me?” Jongdae says. “Oh, I get it. Because he wants to give you a new Chanyeol?”

Junmyeon recoils so mightily that Jongdae feels the air move around him. Water rushes in through the bath, the sink of water near the stove.

“Jesus,” Jongdae says, his shoes soaking through.

“How do you know about...how do you know about him?” Junmyeon asks.

“Sehun told me?” Jongdae says.

Junmyeon pulses with anger, the type that boils oceans and rivers and streams and all that lives within them.

“I’ll be back,” Junmyeon says tersely before softening just a bit. “Take care of yourself.”

The door slams behind him, shaking the foundations of the cabin.

“O-okay,” Jongdae says, adding a belated and quiet, “sorry.”

🜄



The lightshrooms go darker blue at night, and Jongdae sits by the window and waits for Junmyeon’s return. Enough time passes that he gets hungry in the interim, so he takes Junmyeon’s order to care for himself. He scavenges through the cupboard, pulls some jars of pickled vegetables, radishes and carrots and the lightshrooms, and he makes some seasoned rice to go along with it. It fills him up nicely, and maybe there was some truth to Junmyeon’s words: he feels stronger since he’s started eating here.

And how long has it been? He’s not sure.

He sets a fire, the orange welcome amidst all the blue, and he warms himself by it. He grabs a book from the bookcase, massive and full of leathered covers, but when he cracks the spine, he finds it written in a language he can’t understand, the shapes so alien he has no way to even begin to translate it.

After a while, maybe a couple hours, maybe a couple days, he wraps himself in the comforter on the bed, falls to sleep.

🜄



The door closes, and he sleeps so fitfully that even the gentle shutting is enough to stir him.

Jongdae sits up, pats down his ruffled hair as he stares at a brow-beaten Sehun and an angry Junmyeon.

“What’s goin’ on?” Jongdae says sleepily.

“He is here to apologize,” Junmyeon says, and he nudges Sehun forward. “Go on, then.”

Sehun bows deeply to him.

“I’m sorry, Master,” Sehun says.

“What did I say?” Jongdae says, getting out of bed and shuffling over. “I told you not to call me that.”

“I’m sorry, M—,” Sehun says, cutting himself off. “I’m sorry.”

“It’s...it’s whatever, it’s fine,” Jongdae says. “Can we get me home? Somehow?”

“I spent the day trying to find a loophole,” Junmyeon says. “But his...his magic is bound tightly to you, Jongdae.”

“That doesn’t sound good,” Jongdae says.

“There are...there are two ways,” Junmyeon says.

“Oh,” Jongdae says, perking up. “Great. What are they?”

“If you bring balance to the forest,” Junmyeon says, looking to his feet, “you would repay your debt.”

“How do I bring balance to the forest?” Jongdae asks.

Junmyeon blushes, the red of his cheeks pretty. Sehun smirks at him.

Junmyeon clears his throat, twists his hands nervously in front of him. “True love,” he mutters.

“Nope,” Jongdae says. “Second option?”

Junmyeon immediately seems more comfortable at Jongdae’s flat refusal, smiling smally before it falls from his face.

“The second option, I’m afraid, is water of the night,” Junmyeon says.

“And I’m guessing that’s not like, me drinking from the river under the moonlight, is it?” Jongdae says frowning.

“It is an elixir,” Junmyeon says. “It strips the binds from a man’s heart.”

“Is it easy to make?” Jongdae asks, but Junmyeon’s face says enough. “No, I thought not.”

“It must be brewed on the full moon,” Junmyeon says.

“W-when’s the next full moon?” he asks.

“The full moon was yesterday,” Junmyeon says. “I’m sorry. You’ll have to stay for the month.”

“C-can’t you fix this?” Jongdae asks, eyes welling with tears. “Can’t you make time go faster?”

Junmyeon frowns.

“I am just the water. Even waters are moved by the moon,” he says, bowing his head. “I’m sorry.”

When Junmyeon walks Sehun to the door, Sehun waves Jongdae over. There is little Jongdae wants to do right now, little he wants to do less than talk to Sehun. He frowns, but he goes.

“I’m sorry,” Sehun says again, but he takes Jongdae’s shoulders in his hands, drags him into an embrace. “I’m sorry, but he needed you.”

🜄



Junmyeon leaves him be for a couple days. Jongdae would thank him, but he doesn’t much feel like talking with anyone.

He stays in Junmyeon’s bed, and Junmyeon sleeps outside. Jongdae feels sort of bad after a while but not bad enough to invite him inside. In the mornings, Junmyeon always attempts to feed him, trying to tempt him out of bed with the most delicious smelling meals. But Jongdae is steadfast. He won’t budge.

“Y-you should eat,” Junmyeon says sadly. “Keep your strength.”

“I’m fine,” Jongdae says, head buried under the cover.

“Jongdae,” Junmyeon says, and it breaks Jongdae’s heart a little to hear his name said that way. “I’m sorry.”

“It’s fine,” Jongdae says. “It’s only a month of my life. And then the rest of my life ruined. It’s totally fine.”

The room goes quiet, so quiet that Jongdae thinks Junmyeon might have left for the morning as he’s taken to doing, letting Jongdae roam and do as he pleases for the better part of the day before Junmyeon’s inevitable return in the evenings.

Jongdae pokes his head out only to see Junmyeon watching him with a horribly sorrowful look on his face.

“It’s fine,” Jongdae says. “I’m fine.”

“I will try my best to make it comfortable for you, Jongdae,” Junmyeon says, and he lays a flower, purple petals full of life, onto the bed. “I promise you this.”

“O-okay,” Jongdae says, and he sits up. He takes the flower in his hands. Hope runs through him, maybe a charm from the flower itself. It’s silly, but Jongdae lets it work. “Thank you.”

Junmyeon smiles, small, and after patting the bed, he leaves for the morning.

🜄



He starts to eat again because honestly, he’s not a child. And it’s only a month, he figures. Within a month, Baekhyun’s loudass self will have alerted every major news outlet within the city of his disappearance. If his teachers don’t excuse him for that, well, then fuck them. He’s always wanted to be a doctor, and that dream won’t die easily.

After those first couple days, reluctant and stubborn, Jongdae lets Junmyeon in in the evenings. Junmyeon fashions himself a bed on the floor next to the fireplace, and sometimes, Jongdae rolls over when he can’t sleep. He watches the peaceful look on Junmyeon’s face until he falls back into slumber.

Junmyeon takes the foothold that Jongdae gives him, and he runs with it. He is caring, overly so, as if he’s been looking for someone to look over for quite a while. He thinks about Chanyeol. Thinks about asking. He doesn’t, though. He keeps his mouth shut. And he tries like hell not to be charmed by Junmyeon’s attentiveness.

He asks about Jongdae’s life back home. He asks about Jongdae’s friends, his family. His past. He even takes the time to find out what kind of food Jongdae likes most.

“What is Lucky Charms?” Junmyeon asks, confused. “Maybe I could make it for you. Is there a book where I could find the instructions for such a charm?”

It shocks a laugh out of him, one he bites at.

“Uh, no,” Jongdae says. “I think I’ve only seen one person try to make Lucky Charms, and that was Claire from the Bon Appetit test kitchen.”

“Who is this Claire?” Junmyeon asks excitedly, poking at the oatmeal. “Is she your friend?”

“Not really,” Jongdae says. “Well, I don’t know. Sort of. I consider her a friend.”

“One day,” Junmyeon says, stirring in the sweet syrup from the saphwoods into the pot. “One day, I will make you and your friend Claire these Lucky Charms you desire.”

“Okay,” Jongdae says, and he resists the distinct urge to pat Junmyeon on the head.

🜄



Against Jongdae’s wishes, they get closer. He soon realizes he’s being standoffish towards someone who had little to do with his current predicament, but he can only call Sehun to berate him so many times before it gets upsetting. Sehun cries easily, and there’s not much fun in watching a fairy drip tears of liquid gold down his handsome, perfect face.

Jongdae walks to the bookshelf, lets his fingers dance along the spines.

“Any of these in English?” Jongdae asks. “Or, I don’t know, I guess I could limp my way through a book in Korean.”

“I’m sorry, no,” Junmyeon says, frowning. “Is it—are you bored?”

“Only a bit,” Jongdae smiles. “It’s fine. I can, uh, I can find something to do. I mean, there’s plenty to do around here, I’m sure. I just haven’t, uh, found it yet.”

“I could teach you!” Junmyeon offers quickly.

“Teach me?”

“Teach you to read,” Junmyeon smiles. “It’s called Aimina.”

“Aimina,” Jongdae says. “Um. Okay, fine. I gotta warn you though, I’m kind of a quick study, so you might be extremely impressed. So don’t bother falling in love with me.”

“Okay,” Junmyeon says, smiling. “Sit by the fire. I’ll give you your first lesson.”

🜄



“Aiya yan ioya ain yao,” Jongdae tries, the tip of his index finger tracing along the lines as he reads. “What’s that mean?”

“It is the beginning to a life-giving spell,” Junmyeon smiles. “It means I give from the water.”

“What the fuck. It’s just a bunch of vowels,” Jongdae says.

“Vowels,” Junmyeon says, confused before it registers. “Oh, yes. In Aimina, we call them the kind sounds.”

“Kind sounds,” Jongdae laughs. “How is a sound kind?”

Junmyeon smiles to himself, hugs his knees to his chest.

“Isn’t there something nice in those sounds?” Junmyeon says. “In ohs and ehs and ahs.”

Jongdae has never really thought of it like that. There is, undoubtedly, something softer about vowels, in the way they round edges of consonants, curves against hard lines.

“Yes,” Jongdae says. “I guess there is.”

Junmyeon smiles. “Try it again,” he pushes.

“Aiya yan ioya ain yao,” Jongdae says, studying the page in his hands, really rounding out the vowels, the kind sounds, in his mouth.

“Beautiful,” Junmyeon says. “You were right. What a quick study, you are.”

The praise sinks to settle in his stomach pleasantly, and Jongdae wants to ignore it, but he can’t.

🜄



In the sleepy evenings, Jongdae watches as Junmyeon practices his charms. He brings in potted plants, little sproutlings, and he shoots water magic into them, into the roots, until they bloom tall enough to hit the ceiling of the little cabin.

“Jeez,” Jongdae says. “You’re pretty good at that.”

“Oh,” Junmyeon says, blushing. “Do you think?”

“Yeah, dude,” Jongdae says casually. “I mean, you seem good at being, like, a wizard or whatever.”

“I’m a witch,” Junmyeon corrects.

“I thought witches were girls,” Jongdae says, and Junmyeon rolls his eyes. “What? Did I say something stupid?”

“You said something very human,” Junmyeon smiles.

“Don’t say that like human is a synonym for stupid,” Jongdae says.

Junmyeon says nothing, just hums a little song as the flower in the pot starts to bloom, turning towards Junmyeon like he is the sun itself.

🜄



Jongdae practices his weird witch language on scrolls that Junmyeon pulls for him from the pad-locked chest resting at the foot of the bed.

“Why do you need a lock on it?” Jongdae teases. “Can’t you just, like, point at it? Boom, locked, baby.”

“Do you practice?” Junmyeon asks snottily.

“Medicine,” Jongdae says. “Well, not yet, but eventually.”

Magic,” Junmyeon sneers.

“Oh,” Jongdae says. “Right. No. I don’t.”

“Then do be quiet,” Junmyeon orders. Jongdae exaggeratedly mimes turning the key to lock his mouth before throwing it away. “Thank you.”

Jongdae smiles, about to open his mouth to say something smart before remembering. Quiet. It’s a change for him, but maybe he’ll find he likes it. In time.

“Here,” Junmyeon says, handing him the scraps of weathered paper, the well of shimmering black ink, the pen. “Treat them gently, please.”

“Okay,” Jongdae says, and he turns his back to start practicing only to feel Junmyeon’s eyes still watching him. “Shoo, shoo. I’ll be fine, okay?”

“Okay,” Junmyeon says. “I’ll look over your work when I get back later in the evening.”

Jongdae looks back, Junmyeon fiddling with his hat in his hands.

“What are you nervous for?” Jongdae asks.

“I don’t quite know,” Junmyeon says. “Are you sure you’re alright?”

“Of course I am,” Jongdae laughs.

“I did not...I did not think much of how bored you must be here all by yourself,” Junmyeon says. “I did not want to disturb you. I know you must still be upset.”

“Hey,” Jongdae says. “Stop. We’re cool. We’re making the best of things, aren’t we?”

Junmyeon’s eyes go a bit wide, a bit green, a bit blue, for a moment before they settle back to their normal earthy brown.

“Yes,” Junmyeon says. “I hope so.”

🜄



He gets pretty good at Aimina. It’s a fairly basic language, not too many words to it, but the concepts are large, sprawling like grass across a plain. Junmyeon and Jongdae read to each other in the evening before retiring to bed, before Junmyeon curls up on the floor, Jongdae staring down at him.

He gets good enough that he can effectively hold a conversation in Aimina with Junmyeon, and his eyes always go greenish-blue when Jongdae starts their day with a simple aiyo.

Jongdae likes when his eyes do that. Something always feels right about it.

Often, though, he finds the mornings and the better part of the afternoons lonely. Jongdae finds that, actually, he sort of likes Junmyeon. He has a soothing presence. He’s not very funny, but there’s something funny about that somehow. He’s too kind, kind enough that it makes Jongdae feel a bit bad. Truth be told, this is like a vacation for him. He gets up when he likes, goes to bed when he likes. Does whatever he likes. And he can go and do whatever he wishes. Junmyeon is...he treats him well.

So Jongdae gets a bit curious. A bit needy.

“Where do you go in the mornings?” Jongdae asks from his seat at the table.

Junmyeon turns from the door, quirking an eyebrow.

“It depends on the day,” he smiles softly.

“Well, what about today?” Jongdae asks, a hand cupping his chin, elbow resting on the table.

“There is a blight running through the western saphwoods,” Junmyeon says, and Jongdae can feel the pain coming off him in waves. “Every couple days, I must go deal with it to ensure that it doesn’t spread more.”

“It comes back?” Jongdae asks.

“Yes, I’m afraid so,” Junmyeon says. “I can’t seem to...I can’t seem to rid it completely, though I try.”

“Huh,” Jongdae says, and he picks his teeth with a fingernail. “Ever thought of like, wiping that shit out?”

Junmyeon’s brow furrows.

“What did you say?” Junmyeon asks.

“Like, cut out the infected parts,” Jongdae says, waving a hand. “I mean, that’s what people do with necrotic tissue.”

“Necrotic tissue,” Junmyeon says, testing out the syllables in his mouth. “Explain this to me, Jongdae.”

Jongdae smiles, walks over, grabs Junmyeon by the hand.

“So, say you have an infection,” Jongdae says, and he runs his hand along Junmyeon’s arm. “It starts here, in your forearm. But before you can stop the spread, it moves to your hand.”

“I would heal it,” Junmyeon says proudly. “I have never had an injury so bad that I cannot heal myself.”

“Well, people aren’t like that,” Jongdae says. “If dead tissue spreads, there’s no getting it back. Once it’s gone, it’s gone.”

Junmyeon’s face turns hard. Jongdae wonders if he’s said something wrong.

“It’s irreversible?” Junmyeon asks sullenly.

“Yep,” Jongdae says. “So what would you do? To stop the spread?”

Junmyeon thinks it over.

“I suppose you would have to destroy what cannot be healed,” Junmyeon says.

“Yep,” Jongdae says. “Nothing wrong with that.”

“B-but,” Junmyeon stutters, “isn’t it better to live? To extend life where we can?”

Jongdae turns Junmyeon’s hand over, tracing along the waving veins in his forearm. They move gently, like the tides. There is something scary about it, something so strange and new, but Jongdae sets two fingertips along one of the thicker veins as though he’s taking Junmyeon’s pulse, and he lets his fingers surf along the rolling waves.

“I don’t know,” Jongdae says. “I think we should cut our losses where we have to. I think we have to face reality sometimes. And reality isn’t always pretty. It’s not always fun. But nothing we do stops it from being real.”

Jongdae continues to stroke along Junmyeon’s soft, soft skin, mesmerized by the way his blood moves through him. Or maybe it truly is the water? Jongdae can’t be sure. Doesn’t even know how any of this is possible.

“W-would you like to come with me?”

Jongdae looks up, sees tears sitting in Junmyeon’s eyes.

“Come with you?”

“To see the blight,” Junmyeon says, blinking the tears away quickly. “And maybe help. Only if you want to, of course, you can sta—”

“No, uh, sure. Sure, I’ll come,” Jongdae says. “Let me just go get my shoes.”

“There is no need,” Junmyeon says, wiping at his eyes as he smiles. “I’ve had my strongest protection spell set around you since your second day here. Nothing will harm you. Not even a thorn.”

🜄



They walk for what feels like only a couple minutes, but time is funny here. Jongdae can never be positive how much time has passed. Even worse, he feels more resilient than he ever has before. He feels much stronger. More energetic. So they could have walked forever, and Jongdae doubts he would have tired.

When they come upon the blight, the stench is overwhelming.

The burls on the trunks of the trees bleed the darkest blue Jongdae’s ever seen, so navy it’s almost black. The sludge drips to the earth slowly, burning wet, stinking holes in the mossy soil surrounding the roots. The ground is muddy with the stuff, and the whole area looks like it could sink into the core of the Earth, a marsh of rotting vegetation.

“H-holy shit,” Jongdae says, pulling his shirt over his face.

“I know,” Junmyeon says. “It’s bad. I think….I think it’s only getting worse as time goes on. The m-magic isn’t strong enough to hold it back.”

Jongdae crouches to ground next to one of the saplings on the edge, one of the trees that was supposed to grow old. Now, though, it withers, browned and dry, the leaves thin and crinkled like tissue paper. The ground is bone-dry around it, around the edge, ashy like a desert.

“Do what you can,” Jongdae says. “And we’ll see what happens.”

“Okay,” Junmyeon says. “But, um, may I ask you to step back a bit?”

“Oh,” Jongdae says, brushing his hands against his shorts. “Yeah, of course.”

Jongdae immediately gets out of the way, and he watches as Junmyeon moves to the eastern edge of the blighted trees. He sits on the ground, legs crossed and hands planted in the dirt around him. There is no ball of light, but the ground quivers as Junmyeon closes his eyes peacefully and begins to work.

Jongdae bites his lip to keep his jaw from dropping as he watches the sapling nearest to him slowly fill back with blues and grey-browns, the leaves dark green and healthy. The ground saturates, soaks and then settles, like a plant desperate in need of watering. And the rest of the trees start to do the same, the color filtering through them, the trees arching up straight, the blue-black bleeding sap running dry as it drips off the branches.

Soon, Junmyeon shakes with effort, the tremors through his body belying his effort. He finishes, and Jongdae is mesmerized as he stands, the western saphwoods looking fresh. Healthful. No blight remains, only the evaporating evidence of it, and the trees look just as beautiful as the rest of the wood.

“You did it,” Jongdae says. “Look, it’s—you did it!”

Junmyeon looks around, feet brushing soft against the moss. He reaches up to stroke along the bark of the saphwood. Still wet, but—

“She’s healed,” Junmyeon says, eyes shut and voice growing with hope. “They are all healed.”

“Good job,” Jongdae says, looking around for a bit. “I wonder why it didn’t work until now.”

“I…,” Junmyeon starts, turning to him, “I am not sure. But I owe you my thanks.”

“I didn’t do anything,” Jongdae says.

“I think you may have,” Junmyeon smiles. “I think I needed someone else here. To watch. Bear witness to the magic.”

“Oh,” Jongdae says, shrugging his shoulders and shoving his hands into his pockets. “No big deal, then.”

Junmyeon furrows his brow and launches himself across the distance between them, pulling Jongdae into the tightest hug he can ever remember receiving.

“You have shown me and the forest great kindness,” Junmyeon whispers. “And the forest never forgets a kindness.”

“Okay,” Jongdae says, wriggling his arms out to pat Junmyeon on the back. “Sounds good, buddy.”

🜄



There are other problems in the forest, Jongdae discovers. Numerous, countless problems. Jongdae didn’t even know so many things could go wrong in a forest.

Fire ants set blazes. Nogstags overgraze. Bark beetles infest. Iceflies thin some of the crops that are already in danger of extinction. Junmyeon tries his best to hold it all together, but there are too many moving parts for one witch to hold. It seems like every day, something new goes wrong.

Jongdae always goes to help, though he’s mostly moral support, watching in awe as Junmyeon works.

“Hm,” Junmyeon says, upset as he peels back the bark to reveal the holes. “It’s the itas again, just as I thought.”

“Have you thought of like, I don’t know, killing two birds with one stone?” Jongdae asks.

Junmyeon whips around angrily.

“I would never harm, nor kill any creature residing in this mighty forest,” Junmyeon says. “How dar—”

“It’s just a turn of phrase,” Jongdae says, holding up his hands in apology. “It means, like, solve two problems at once.”

Junmyeon frowns. “Hm.”

“Didn’t you say that you’re trying to get rid of the Creeping Curse in the southern part?” Jongdae says, nudging his shoulder into Junmyeon’s.

“Yes, I suppose I did say that,” Junmyeon says.

“Well, I dunno,” Jongdae says. “Maybe try to displace the itas.”

“What good would displa—” Junmyeon starts, freezing as though it hits him all at once. “Ah, two birds with one stone.”

“Yep,” Jongdae says. “Give it a go, we’ll check back tomorrow and see how it worked.”

“Alright,” Junmyeon says.

With that, he rests his palm on the middle of the tree, closing his eyes. Then, columns of the wood-boring insects shoot from their drilled holes in the bark, and Jongdae falls to the ground as Junmyeon laughs. The itas, wings thinner than paper and shimmering gold, fly into the sky, moving in a cloud towards the south, the swarm chirping as they go.

“Wow,” Jongdae says, pushing up off the ground and dusting himself off. “Can’t, uh, can’t say I expected that.”

“I apologize,” Junmyeon says, staring into the sky as he clasps his hands together. “I do hope they find their new home pleasant.”

“Yeah, I bet they will,” Jongdae says. “It’s not so bad here.”

🜄



The next morning, Jongdae awakens to the smell of freshly baked spice-bread, and when he sits up in bed, he sees Junmyeon smiling at him from the stove, the loaf proudly hovering next to him.

“Good morning,” Junmyeon says. “Did you sleep well?”

Jongdae has had nothing but restful nights, and he’s unsure of whether he’s ever slept so well. It might have something to do with the soft feather bed, the calmness that has settled over his mornings, the firelight that lulls him to sleep in the evenings.

“I did,” Jongdae says, ruffling his hair in a futile attempt to fix it.

“Good,” Junmyeon smiles, and a little shock of joy runs through Jongdae.

Maybe it’s something different. Jongdae pinches himself on the leg at the thought. Junmyeon is just some dumb witch. A funny and cute dumb witch, but a dumb witch all the same.

“Would you like to come along today?” Junmyeon asks.

He always makes sure to ask Jongdae now, even though Jongdae always agrees. Studying Aimina is fun, but you can only stare at lines and letters for so long. Plus, adventuring with Junmyeon...it’s not so bad. The forest is much bigger on the inside than it appears on the outside, and Jongdae still feels like he hasn’t managed to see it all yet.

“Yeah,” Jongdae says, “as long as you’re cool with that.”

“I would love the company,” Junmyeon says. “We will check the Creeping Curse in the south, and then, I thought that maybe…”

“Maybe,” Jongdae says, leading.

“Maybe you might like to eat outside today,” Junmyeon says. “There is a very pretty place I would like to show you.”

“Okay,” Jongdae says. “Sounds good to me.”

“Good,” Junmyeon says. “Let me just…”

He waves in the air, bids the spice-bread forward with him until they rest over the tabletop, a small checkered linen spread across it. Junmyeon makes thick slices with his hand through the air before he snaps his fingers. The slices of the bread fall flat to the table into the linen, and Junmyeon then quickly wraps it up and stuffs it into his basket.

He hooks the basket over his arm, turning back to Jongdae.

“Whenever you’re ready, then.”

🜄



The south is hotter than the rest of the forest, almost like a separate ecosystem within the wood. The water that they happen across is filled with orchids, rosemallows, and jasmine of different colors. The flowered heads of the birds of paradise seem to act as guide markers for Junmyeon, who expertly navigates them through the brush around them. Sweat continues to spring to Jongdae’s brow, and he wipes it away, staring at Junmyeon, who just seems to glow.

“It should be just around this corner,” Junmyeon says.

Creeping Curse looks a lot like bamboo to Jongdae’s untrained eye, but the stalks reach high into the sky, towering over he and Junmyeon, and the area is thick with them.

“They just spread,” Junmyeon says. “And it’s...it only kills the rest of the forest. It dries up the river, stops it from flowing.”

“Oh shit,” Jongdae says. “That’s no good for you, right?”

Junmyeon looks at him, a small smile on his face.

“Right,” Junmyeon says. “No good.”

“Let’s see if they’re here,” Jongdae says, and he steps forward, grabs one of the thick stalks, and starts to look for signs of destruction.

“No,” Junmyeon says, grabbing Jongdae’s hand and the stalk in it. “They like to burrow. They will find the roots. Come. Let’s look.”

Junmyeon kneels, and Jongdae kneels alongside him on the soft, wet soil. Junmyeon digs, his nails dirty, and he gently uncovers the sprawling roots of the Creeping Curse which the itas have begun to feast upon.

“Ah,” Junmyeon says, shocked. “It’s worked.”

“Wow,” Jongdae says, and he lets himself grin. It’s only been a week and a half, and already, he’s growing attached to the way the forest makes him feel. The way Junmyeon makes him feel.

“Don’t you see?” Junmyeon says. “You do much more than watching.”

They are very close, Jongdae realizes belatedly, elbows brushing against each other.

“Yeah,” Jongdae says, shuffling over a bit as he gets to his feet. “Guess I did something today.”

Junmyeon stares at him from his crouch, and small white flowers start to bloom in his hair, around his ears. Blue and green in his eyes, water and leaves.

“You were gonna show me something?” Jongdae needles. “Something pretty?”

Junmyeon shakes himself out of reverie, stands up straight before grabbing Jongdae by the hand and dragging him off.

“Yes, come with me,” Junmyeon says.

🜄



The well resides in the heart of the forest, or so Junmyeon tells him. Jongdae seems to lose all sense of direction here, so he doesn’t know up from down. Still, he’s—he trusts Junmyeon. There isn’t any reason not to.

“Just a bit further,” Junmyeon says, the green bottoms of his feet padding along the path.

It’s silly even to think it, so Jongdae would never say it aloud, but he can feel the magic strengthen as they approach.

Instead of the saphwoods and the lightshrooms, the omnipresent blue glow that accompanies them, this...the area is surrounded by cherry blossoms. Nothing magic about them, except for the magic of their natural beauty. They weep a petal storm as Junmyeon and Jongdae approach, stirred by the wind. Jongdae catches one in his hand, smiles at it before letting it go.

The well is made from shiny, frosty-looking white stone that has swirls of light blue and grey within it. Jongdae immediately crosses to it, taking care not to step on any of the flowers that bloom around it.

He puts his hands on the edge, looks down. It is deep, but the smell….it smells like the ocean. Salty. Calm. It’s a sense memory that hits him squarely, one of going to the beach with his parents when he was a child. Stamping a foot into the wet sand. The waves lapping at his toes. His laughter that rang out over the empty shore when he ran, clapping his hands.

“Whoa,” Jongdae says, reeling back.

“Did you see something nice?” Junmyeon asks.

“Yeah,” he says. “A...a memory.”

Junmyeon sits, a clearing within the flowers as if made for specifically him.

“That water is special,” Junmyeon says. “I cannot control it. I do not know for sure, but I have my suspicions...I believe it to be the blood of the forest.”

“Whoa,” Jongdae repeats. “Trippy.”

Trippy,” Junmyeon says, testing another of Jongdae’s words. “Is this good or bad, Jongdae?”

“Bit of both?” Jongdae tries.

“Hm,” Junmyeon laughs. “I suppose it is.”

Junmyeon pulls his basket in front of him, settles it between his legs. He lays down the spice-bread, finger sandwiches of dayberry jam and dandelion-honey, slices of soft cheese with holes that looks a lot like Swiss, but tastes sweeter, nuttier. He pours Jongdae a cup of elderflower wine, smiles at him kindly.

Jongdae regrets the way he leans into the displays of affection. But Junmyeon is charming, carries the same bewitching quality of the water itself, and Jongdae finds it hard not to like him.

“This is where travelers come for good fortune,” Junmyeon says pleasantly, munching through a sandwich and talking with his mouth full. It’s endearing, like he’s never heard of manners before. “The people, they leave offerings. They think I will grant them wishes.”

“Oh, cool,” Jongdae says. “Like the genie.”

“What is a genie?” Junmyeon asks, smiling. “Is Genie one of your friends?”

Jongdae stifles a laugh. “No, I’m sorry. I gotta stop doing that.”

“No,” Junmyeon says, and he takes Jongdae’s hand in his. “I enjoy hearing of your world. Of outside.”

“Can you...can you not leave?” Jongdae asks.

“Ah,” Junmyeon says, looking shamefully to the side. “It is very complicated, Jongdae.”

“What’s complicated about it?” Jongdae asks, and he pours himself another little cup of the wine. It’s sweet, a bit dry on the finish. It suits his tastes well.

“It is a long story, a long story for another day,” Junmyeon says, and God, Jongdae wish he could stop Junmyeon from smiling so sadly all the time. “I will not bore you with the details.”

“It wouldn’t bore me,” Jongdae says.

Jongdae scooches closer, hand just near where Junmyeon’s rests on the ground.

“It wouldn’t?” Junmyeon says.

“No,” Jongdae says. “You’re, like, weird and kinda cool. I dunno. I’m interested in you. In your story, or whatever.”

“Oh,” Junmyeon says, and he attempts to hide a tiny grin. “Well. If you insist.”

“I do,” Jongdae smiles, nudging him in the shoulder.

“It started a very long time ago.”

“D-does this have anything to do with...with that guy?” Jongdae asks.

Junmyeon looks at the trees, sorrowful the way he sometimes looks, and a strong breeze shakes through the trees. Pink rain. Sehun, Jongdae thinks, grinning like a fool.

“Yes,” Junmyeon confirms. “Yes, it had quite a lot to do with Chanyeol.”

🜄



The boy stumbled into the forest, running from the law of his land. Junmyeon heard the commotion, heard the ones chasing him be chased off by some creature or other. Junmyeon couldn’t be sure which. They were too far for him to hear.

Junmyeon hid in the river, eyes peeking out just above the water line, the lilies floating in his hair.

The boy approached him, approached the river, whimpering.

When he sat at the bank of the river, Junmyeon spied upon him. He was injured, gravely injured, and the blood poured from his stomach as if the boy was the source to a river of red.

Junmyeon whispered his healing words along the water, made the water bubble with magic before pushing a wave with a hand towards the boy, soaking him through while staying out of sight.

He sat there, shocked and soaked, and the red water flowed into Junmyeon. When it all settled, the blood was gone. And no pain remained.

“H-how—” the boy stuttered, touching his stomach with a careful hand.

Junmyeon said nothing, just smiled as he dipped his head back under the water, the lilies floating off behind him. Undetected.

🜄



“You had a crush on him,” Jongdae grins.

“Quiet,” Junmyeon says.

“You did!” Jongdae says, delighted. “And you healed him because you wanted him to kiss you.”

“I have charms, you know,” Junmyeon threatens him. “Very effective silencing charms.”

“How have you managed to avoid using them so far?” Jongdae smiles.

“I am not sure,” Junmyeon says, closing his eyes.

“Anyway,” Jongdae prompts. “You healed him.”

“I healed him,” Junmyeon says. “And I thought that would be the last I saw of him…”

🜄



The boy did not leave the forest as Junmyeon expected he would.

The boy stayed. Junmyeon watched him quietly from the river, waterweeds strung through his hair like ornaments. He used to spend most of his days in the water then, floating and casting from that which he considered his home.

But the boy wandered. And Junmyeon’s spells of protection around him could only go so far if he wandered too far.

Junmyeon made a decision very quickly. So quickly that it wasn’t much of a decision at all.

Junmyeon wandered from the water, the movements of his feet silenced with a charm.

The boy foraged carefully, but Junmyeon helped him along where he could, gently dropping fruits from bushes and trees where he could. The boy tried to start fires with damp wood, shivering and teeth clattering, and Junmyeon realized he would need warmth. He set another charm, and the boy rubbed his arms, smiling.

Sometimes, the boy would turn, eyebrows furrowed as if he knew he was being watched, followed. Junmyeon hid quickly, keeping an eye out from behind the tree.

🜄



“You stalked him,” Jongdae interjects.

“What is stalking?” Junmyeon asks.

“It’s when—you know what, never mind, you freakshow,” Jongdae says. “You followed him around, and you were being bizarre.”

Junmyeon rubs at his neck, hiding a blush.

“I did not know many humans,” Junmyeon says. “I was—”

“Oh my god,” Jongdae says, shoving him. “You were shy.”

“I did not want to frighten him!” Junmyeon says. “There was much danger, and I felt some need to protect him.”

“That’s cute,” Jongdae says, and he nibbles at his spice-bread. “What happened when he finally saw you?”

🜄



When the boy laid eyes on him, Junmyeon instinctively ran.

“Wait,” the boy called. The sound was strange to Junmyeon’s ears. Different. But Junmyeon could understand him all the same.

Still, he did not wait, did not hesitate. He ran as fast as his legs could take him, weaving through trees and brush until he got to the nearest branch of the river. He jumped from the bank, cannonballing in and waving his hand through the water to quiet the wave.

Junmyeon swam away slowly as the boy approached, looking every which way to see where Junmyeon had gone.

“Please,” the boy called hopelessly. “I don’t know how to get out.”

Junmyeon’s heart ached at the sound of his voice. He moved back. Stood from the water.

“Oh,” the boy said. “You’re wearing...you’re naked.”

Junmyeon looked down at himself, the waterweeds hanging from one shoulder. He picked it off him, tossed it back to the river. “Naked?” he repeated.

“You’re not wearing any clothes,” the boy said. “Do you live here?”

“Yes,” Junmyeon whispered.

“Are you cold?” the boy asked.

“No,” Junmyeon said. “Are you cold?”

“No,” the boy said, and he smiled. “What are you doing in the water?”

“I live here,” Junmyeon told him. “I am the water.”

“Oh,” the boy said, furrowing his brow. “What does that mean, exactly?”

Junmyeon smiled, a lotus blooming in his hands. He stepped forward, placed it into the boy’s palm. He turned his back to the boy, waved his hand and raised a wall of water. He turned back, smiled.

“Oh,” the boy said. “Oh, you—”

Junmyeon let the water fall. Let it crash back to the bed.

The boy jumped back, out of the rains that poured down over Junmyeon.

“M-my name is Chanyeol,” he said. “I...I can’t seem to get out.”

Junmyeon didn’t understand. Couldn’t.

🜄



“Oh no,” Jongdae says, resting his head on Junmyeon’s shoulder. “That’s sad. Did he have a family?”

“He did,” Junmyeon says. “A mother. A father. An older sister.”

“Why couldn’t he leave?” Jongdae asks.

“I do not know,” Junmyeon says. “It was not my magic. I couldn’t...I still don’t know.”

“God,” Jongdae says. “That’s so sad.”

“It was,” Junmyeon says. “It is.”

“Did you become friends?” Jongdae wonders.

Junmyeon smiles.

🜄



There seemed to be no transition period for Chanyeol. He did not mind the terrors of the night. He faced them happily, with a great white grin on his face.

Junmyeon did not know how to care for humans, but luckily, Chanyeol knew how to care for himself. He built the bones of the cabin, wood raised expressly for the purpose of the home. He taught Junmyeon how to fashion clothes as he made his own. Chanyeol taught him how to write. How to read. How to cook. How to farm.

Junmyeon needed none of it. Needed nothing to live, nothing but the water.

Junmyeon always listened intently, always followed Chanyeol’s instructions until he perfected the new skill. He liked it. Didn’t need it, of course. Just liked it.

“That’s it,” Chanyeol said, checking Junmyeon’s weaving. “You’re very good at this, aren’t you?”

Junmyeon bowed his head shyly.

“You’re allowed to admit it,” Chanyeol said, and he brushed his fingers along Junmyeon’s.

Junmyeon bit at his lip, at the feeling that jumped into his stomach whenever Chanyeol touched him. Rolling waves. Tides turning. The delicious feeling under the full moon.

“You’re so quiet these days,” Chanyeol said. “Do you tire of me?”

“No,” Junmyeon said quickly, and then, softer, “no.”

Chanyeol studied him, and Junmyeon wanted to look away, wanted to look anywhere else but those soft, warm eyes as they crinkled with a smile. But he didn’t. Just watched Chanyeol watching him.

Chanyeol reached forward, brushed a hand along Junmyeon’s ear before pulling away baby’s breath, smiling to himself.

“This always happens, you know,” Chanyeol says, staring at the spray of flowers in his hand before flicking his eyes up to meet Junmyeon’s, “when I touch you.”

Junmyeon’s mouth opened in shock, and he wiggled away from Chanyeol. Or he tried.

“No,” Chanyeol needled, “see…”

He stroked along Junmyeon’s cheek, and for the first time, Junmyeon could feel the bloom as he closed his eyes, the crown of flowers sprouting along his forehead.

“It’s so pretty,” Chanyeol said. “You’re very pretty.”

Junmyeon looked down, unable to meet Chanyeol’s eyes again for the rest of the day.

🜄



“He was so totally into you,” Jongdae says. “You think guys just go around telling other guys they’re pretty unless they wanna bang?”

“Bang…”

“Never mind,” Jongdae says. “What happened next? Did you try to get him out?”

🜄



Junmyeon tried. He studied the force. Tried to understand it. He laid his hands on the magic and felt, tried to feel all. The binds: they were strong. Seemingly unbreakable. Junmyeon choked back a tear at the thought. Was Chanyeol truly trapped?

“It’s okay,” Chanyeol said. “Don’t trouble yourself. We’ve got a nice home, right here.”

Junmyeon frowned. How could a human so beautiful, so full of life and wonder, be content to live in a forest meant to destroy? To kill? The beauty of the forest was lethal. Dangerous. Didn’t Chanyeol understand? Didn’t he care?

Junmyeon kept trying. Tried everyday. New spells. New charms. Things he could barely remember from when he was a child. He focused on it, poured all he had into it. Exhausted himself. Wore himself ragged.

“You must stop this,” Chanyeol said, carrying Junmyeon back to the water to rest. “Hurting yourself does me no good.”

He lowered Junmyeon into the water, let his body float flat along the glassy surface.

“I must return you,” Junmyeon said, lips wet with the river. “You have much to do.”

“I have you,” Chanyeol smiled, and he brushed a hand against Junmyeon’s forehead, brushing the hair away. “I am content with that.”

“Why?” Junmyeon wondered aloud, feeling the strength sinking back into his skin. He stood, feet digging into the silt of the river, staring at Chanyeol carefully.

“What do you mean why?” Chanyeol asked.

“Why are you content with that?” Junmyeon asked.

“Because I love you,” Chanyeol said simply. “And I think love brings contentment with it the way rain bring rainbows.”

Junmyeon stared at him in awe for a moment as the words gradually melted into him.

From the sky, rains poured down over them, and Chanyeol’s deep, joyful laugh echoed in the forest. Maybe some part of him belonged here, Junmyeon thought. Maybe the forest wouldn’t let him leave because it needed him too greatly. Maybe Junmyeon needed him too greatly.

He watched as the rain and river met to soak Chanyeol from head to toe. He was so beautiful, smiling, his cheeks blushed. He took Junmyeon into his arms, pressed their bodies together in a familiar way. It felt very different to Junmyeon though, as if he might burst from all of it welling inside him.

“Does that mean you love me too?” Chanyeol whispered.

Junmyeon drew back from the embrace, and he looked into Chanyeol’s eyes. He felt strong whenever he looked at Chanyeol. He felt as though he could flood the Earth if he wanted.

“Yes,” Junmyeon whispered back. “I love you.”

They stood there in the waist-deep river, and they held each other by the back of the neck.

And as Chanyeol kissed Junmyeon sweetly for the very first time, lotuses floated from the bottom of the river to the top, blooming, the petals falling open under the shower of love.

🜄



“God,” Jongdae says, and he brushes a stupid tear away from his eye. “It sounds kinda, I mean, it sounds perfect. Like you guys were meant for each other.”

“Yes,” Junmyeon says sadly. “I think we must have been created so as to belong to the other.”

Jongdae feels a strange bit of jealousy rise into his throat, in his blood vessels, but he takes another sip of elderflower wine and swallows it.

“I feel like the sad part is coming,” Jongdae says, and he cuddles into Junmyeon’s space. “I should tell you. I don’t do well with sad endings, so if this is sad, you better rewrite it.”

Junmyeon laughs, a twinkling little song. He wraps an arm around Jongdae, and the warmth in his embrace is lovely.

“I wish I could,” he says. “I really do.”

🜄



Something about Junmyeon and Chanyeol’s bodies together, the magic that flowed between them...it was infectious.

They made love to each other under starlight, in lightning storms. Chanyeol’s hair shivered on his body before Junmyeon threw the charm around him, protecting him. They kissed, sweet and soft. They kissed, hard and fast. They moaned each other’s names, and it felt like Junmyeon could finally understand what it meant to be alive. Truly alive.

They walked, hand in hand, through the forest, and Junmyeon’s spells kept them safe. Chanyeol walked barefoot and shirtless, and he weaved them flower crowns. He made Junmyeon laugh, made him smile.

And the forest took note.

“What is this?” Chanyeol asked.

“Hm?” Junmyeon asked.

He turned, saw Chanyeol crouching next to a patch of mushrooms. They were blue and green, gasping with a glittering smoke.

“You’ve never shown me these,” Chanyeol said as he turned back to Junmyeon with a coy smile. “What else are you hiding from me, love?”

“N-nothing,” Junmyeon stuttered, crossing back to crouch next to Chanyeol. “I have never seen these before.”

“Really?” Chanyeol asked.

“Really,” Junmyeon said.

“They’re quite beautiful,” Chanyeol said, and he pet across the fuzzy top with a curious finger. “I like them.”

“I like them too,” Junmyeon confessed.

🜄



Jongdae lies back, folds his hands behind his head.

“There was a time when you didn’t have lightshrooms?” Jongdae asks. “They’re everywhere now.”

Junmyeon lies down next to Jongdae, smiles.

“It is hard to believe,” Junmyeon says, “but once upon a time, this place looked much different.”

“He changed it?” Jongdae asks.

“Yes,” Junmyeon says. “I believe he did.”

🜄



Each and every day, new flowers emerged from the ground. New plants grew. Things Junmyeon could only dream of emerged when Chanyeol kissed him, hugged him, whispered words of love to him. The waters rose so high that Junmyeon had to go and calm them every sunrise.

“It’s amazing,” Chanyeol said, picking some of the lightshrooms, as he took to calling them, and putting them in his basket. “It seems as if the forest has been growing well lately.”

Junmyeon watched quietly, chin in his hands. Chanyeol must know that it was entirely because of him, because of his presence here. Junmyeon, the forest….it thrived with Chanyeol’s love.

Chanyeol tossed a final shroom in his basket, and he strolled back over casually, a silly grin on his face.

“What’s that?” Junmyeon asked.

“What’s what?” Chanyeol asked, leaning down to kiss Junmyeon on the nose.

Junmyeon blushed mightily, turned to the side. “You wear a look of mischief, lover,” he says.

“Mm,” Chanyeol hummed, kissing a line down Junmyeon’s face. “Whenever I kiss you, more flowers bloom around us.”

“I’m sorry,” Junmyeon said, gasping.

“Why apologize for beauty?” Chanyeol asked, and he turned Junmyeon front to face him, kissed him. “You have nothing to apologize for. You have given this place new life.”

“No,” Junmyeon said. “You have.”

“I hold no power here,” Chanyeol said. “But you...you have done all this and more. And you don’t even realize.”

“Be quiet,” Junmyeon said. “If I was so powerful, you would be allowed to leave.”

Chanyeol stared down at him for a quiet, tense moment before pulling him by the hand, dragging him away.

“What are you doing?” Junmyeon asked, laughing.

He dragged Junmyeon to the edge of the wood, and Junmyeon’s eyes widened.

“Watch,” Chanyeol said, and he let Junmyeon go, left his hand empty, and he walked out of the forest.

He walked away. Without another word, without a final kiss, without so much as a goodbye. And Junmyeon watched in horror as he realized just how much Chanyeol meant to him, how much he’d come to depend on him. Treasure his laughter. His excitement. His thoughts. His words.

He chastised himself, falling so deeply for something so ephemeral.

He was happy, though, in some secret, tucked-away part of him: Chanyeol was too beautiful for the forest. Nothing so pure could ever stay. And it was better this way. Chanyeol deserved family, deserved the love of many over the love of one. He should explore. Should find—

Then, Chanyeol poked his head back through, a bright white smile on his face.

“Don’t you see?” Chanyeol said.

“W-wha—”

“I’ve been able to leave for a while now,” Chanyeol said.

“Then...then why are you still here?” Junmyeon asked.

Chanyeol rolled his eyes, crossed through to the interior of the forest. He took Junmyeon in an embrace, held him closely.

“Because I want to be here,” Chanyeol said. “Is that so hard to understand, you dense witch?”

Yes, Junmyeon wanted to say. But he didn’t say anything, just hugged Chanyeol close to him.


🜄



They were happy for years. Years and years. Too many to count, though Chanyeol kept diaries of their days, so many books full of words that it filled the chest that rested at the end of their bed.

Sometimes, Chanyeol left. Returned home to placate his family and check on the way it sprawled with new life. He brought Junmyeon treats from the outside, Junmyeon too afraid to leave. Chanyeol never questioned him, never pushed him, just always came back with a knapsack of sweets just for Junmyeon. He always picked the flower blooms from Junmyeon’s hair when he returned, kissed the sugar away from his lips.

They learned everything there was to know about the other. Junmyeon started to teach Chanyeol magic, and he found Chanyeol skilled at the fire magic he could never master. Fire and water, Junmyeon thought. Of course.

They saw the wind sprite born from the anemone bloom, just a small thing that flit through the air on a breeze. Chanyeol spoke to him with kind words, they both did, and they saw him blossom into a pink-haired rail of a boy who called himself Sehun. He was a troublemaker, even in his earliest days, a wry smile giving way to his devilry. They loved him, though, so they found it hard to discipline him much or deny him anything.

Chanyeol would carve silly faces in the saphwoods just to make Junmyeon smile. They touched each other gently. Kissed like they had forever. And they did, for a great while. They realized over time that the forest slowed Chanyeol’s aging, stopped time around them. They made each other so happy. For so long. So, so long.

But nothing pure could last. Junmyeon knew it from the start.

It started slowly, but it didn’t feel that way to Junmyeon. Chanyeol was good at hiding things. And Junmyeon didn’t notice until it was too late.

Chanyeol coughed into his hands, wiping it away onto his pants when he could, but Junmyeon saw. Saw the streak of red.

“What?” Chanyeol asked, licking his lips and smiling. “Do not fear for me.”

“Are you ill?” Junmyeon asked. “W-what happened, love?”

“I don’t know,” Chanyeol said, smiling sadly. “But I believe whatever it is is stronger than your magic.”

“No,” Junmyeon said, furrowing his brow. “No, I will heal you. I can heal you of anything.”

“Okay,” Chanyeol said.

Junmyeon took Chanyeol’s hands in his, closed his eyes. Said the spell.I give from the water. I shelter and hold in my hands. I give of the earth and the sky. I ask for light within the dark. I ask for hope within despair. Heal.

“You’re so pretty when you speak, lover,” Chanyeol gasped out.

The light bloomed around him, around them both.

When the spell finally shivered through him into Chanyeol, he held hope in his heart, wished desperately for it. He couldn’t...he couldn’t picture his world without this boy. The boy who took the forest in his arms and breathed new life to it, kissed it back from the brink of death, the clutches of evil. The magical boy who could barely cast a water spell, but held flames in his fingertips whenever he touched Junmyeon’s skin, the steam rising up from them. The boy of clouds who stood so firmly on the ground.

“I think...I think it worked,” Chanyeol choked out, brushing blood away from his lips. “You did it.”

“Are you sure?” Junmyeon asked. “Should I try again?”

“No,” Chanyeol said. “I will be okay. As long as I have you by my side, love, I will be okay.”

🜄



Tears. Jongdae’s never seen Junmyeon cry before, but tears slip down all the same. They aren’t golden, like Sehun’s. They’re just tears. And he’s never looked more human than he does then, lying on the mossy ground, barely holding back a sob.

“Hey,” Jongdae says, and he rubs across Junmyeon’s shoulder. “I-if it’s too much, we can stop. I don’t wanna make you talk about it if you don’t want. I don’t—”

“No,” Junmyeon says, and he steels himself, swipes the tears away from his face. “I have not yet spoken of him. I think it is time.”

“Okay,” Jongdae says. “If you’re sure.”

“I am,” Junmyeon says. “Quite sure. I believe he would want his story told.”

“Well, look at it this way,” Jongdae says, and he kicks his foot against Junmyeon’s before leaving it so they rest against each other. “You have a captive audience.”

“He would appreciate that,” Junmyeon laughs. “He would appreciate that very much, I think.”

🜄



The coughing did not stop. Fevers joined them. He shook in the evenings, sweating and cursing. Junmyeon held him close. He did not eat much, in those days. He shrank to nothing every turn of the moon. And every month or so, Junmyeon would place his hands on Chanyeol’s, and he would speak the same words. They would bloom their way through Chanyeol, and they would hold the illness back for a month. Sometimes less, sometimes more. But it always returned. And each time worse than the last.

“It’s time. I am ready,” Chanyeol said, lying back in their bed, a wet cloth on his forehead. He was so warm. So beautiful, but so sick.

“Do not leave me,” Junmyeon said earnestly, tears dripping onto the sheets. “Do not. You can’t. I forbid it.”

“Yes,” Chanyeol said. “Forbid me. I will never die, not if you forbid it.”

Junmyeon crushed himself to Chanyeol’s body.

“If I could have one more day with you,” Junmyeon cried, “I would spend all my days here, I would not move. I will wither away until I’m ash.”

A zip of light beamed through the cabin, one that looked like a bolt of lightning. Healing magic coursed through Chanyeol, and his cheeks went red with life. Where once he looked gaunt, he then looked alive, full of energy and spirit.

“What’s happened?” he asked, dazed, taking the cloth away from his forehead.

Junmyeon understood it fine: he pledged himself to the forest in exchange for just one more day under the bright, full sun with Chanyeol.

🜄



Junmyeon shuts his eyes, smiling as if he’s remembering.

“Was it worth it?” Jongdae asks.

“So far, I would be inclined to say yes,” Junmyeon says. “I will not bore you with the details of that day.”

“You haven’t bored me yet,” Jongdae says, and he nudges into Junmyeon again. “Tell me about it.”

Junmyeon smiles smally.

🜄🜄🜄



Junmyeon was used to waking first. He didn’t really need to sleep, after all. It was more of a comfort for Chanyeol, so at night, when the sun set, he would close his eyes and drift, almost as if he was back in the water, floating along the surface.

But Chanyeol woke him that morning, sweetly, with a kiss to the lips.

“Good morning,” Chanyeol said. And Junmyeon felt tears spring to his eyes. “Oh, none of that. Not today.”

“Y-you,” Junmyeon stuttered, wiping at his eyes. “I—”

“I will always be with you,” Chanyeol said. “I will die in the forest same as you. Nothing separates us. Nothing but time.”

They held each other until it became too much for Junmyeon to bear, the thought of losing Chanyeol for good. But they only had so long. They would have to make the most of it.

Junmyeon stood at the stove, Chanyeol’s arms wrapped around his waist as he cooked. He made Chanyeol’s favorite meals: egg and mushroom tarts, caramelized summer onions and brown sugar crusting the top, almond oats mixed through with the sweet saphwood syrup, apple mousse from the strangely sweet brown apples of the Aepines, and candied rose petals that they ate from each other’s hands.

They sat at the table they always sat at, and they linked their legs as if they didn’t want to let go of the other for even a second.

They bathed in the river, warmed with Chanyeol’s magic instead of Junmyeon’s, and their embrace in the water seemed to stretch on for a year, maybe more. They washed each other softly, and Chanyeol brushed his fingers along Junmyeon’s lips just to watch the flowers grow in his hair, his eyes shifting blue, green.

“I think I will miss that most,” Chanyeol confessed.

For the first time in Junmyeon’s life, he left the forest. Chanyeol led him with a gentle smile through the foliage, the beautiful verdant wall, and brought him to the clearing, the sun shining wholly on his skin. He had—he had felt the sun before, barely, through the tops of the trees. Never like this. Never.

The feeling brought tears to him, and he closed his eyes so they wouldn’t drip down his face. If Chanyeol noticed, he didn’t say: he only laid them down onto the grass, the warm sunlight drenching them like water, and he kissed Junmyeon on the cheek.

There was no one around, not as far as the eye could see, but Junmyeon put the wall of protection, the wall of blindness up anyway. They could be invisible to everyone but each other. And that’s how Junmyeon wanted it for the rest of his days.

Junmyeon stripped himself bare before Chanyeol, the sun on his skin sparkling as water dripped from his pores. Chanyeol went stock-still and tense beneath Junmyeon, and he started a quiet blaze around them as they began to move together. They shivered, they danced. It was beautiful. It was elemental, essential. The red flames of the grass turned to smoke when Junmyeon threw his head back and moaned, a wall of sound and a wave of water putting the fire out.

He laid his head on Chanyeol’s chest, kissed the hot skin of his pectoral as they shared breath.

When the sun started to set, they walked back into the forest, and Junmyeon could feel the chains clamped around his ankles as they returned to the cabin.

“Don’t fuss,” Chanyeol whispered with a smile as Junmyeon tucked him into bed, leaning over Chanyeol to press a kiss to his lips. “You’ll just upset yourself, love.”

“You cannot fell a tree twice,” Junmyeon said.

“Hush now,” Chanyeol said, and he patted the spot on the bed next to him. “Lie with me for a while.”

“I’ll do no such thing,” Junmyeon said. “I will look upon you for as long as I can.”

“As you wish,” Chanyeol said, and he closed his eyes peacefully as he sank further into the blankets, humming happily.

There was beauty in every little bit of him. And Junmyeon would desperately hate to be without it.

Chanyeol opened one eye, peeked at Junmyeon.

“Do not cry, my love,” Chanyeol said, and he brushed the hair out of Junmyeon’s eyes. “You look so ugly when you cry.”

Junmyeon gasped a wet laugh, punched Chanyeol on the shoulder softly before he collapsed into a kiss.

“I will not miss life half as much as I’ll miss spending it with you,” Chanyeol whispered against his lips.

And he faded, the light from his eyes dying like the light of day, and when he finally passed, he wore a smile.

In the dead of night, Junmyeon carried him to the edge of the forest, but when he tried to bury him, return him from whence he came, Junmyeon cried so mightily that he flooded the ground.

Sehun came to him then, his voice on the wind.

Burn him, he said, and Junmyeon could hear Sehun’s cries on the air.

Junmyeon built the bed from the saphwoods, and he laid Chanyeol upon it. He picked flowers, golds and oranges and reds, and surrounded him with them, a garden at Chanyeol’s cold fingertips. When he snapped his fingers, the little fire charm Chanyeol had managed to instill in him lit his thumb, and Junmyeon knelt at the pyre to set it ablaze.

Immediately, he started to cry, the river rising as he wept, so Junmyeon was forced to turn his back on the inferno as it raged for fear of extinguishing it.

🜄🜄🜄



“I’m so sorry,” Jongdae says. “I’m...I didn’t realize.”

Junmyeon smiles. “I have had a long time to think. To remember and cherish memory.”

“But?” Jongdae prompts.

“But if I am to stay here,” Junmyeon says, “I will not see it turned to marsh. I will not cry until the rivers flood. I will not destroy in my anger, in my sadness. I will not see tempestuous clouds roll in to tear me free from this place. I will care for the forest. And I will care for myself in turn.”

Jongdae turns onto his side, faces Junmyeon, and it’s as if he’s really seeing him for the first time. There is resilience in him. And Jongdae admires that. For a strange second, he finds himself wanting to bridge the gap between them and kiss Junmyeon, but he turns onto his back once again, and he stares up at the trees.

“Have you ever wanted to leave?” Jongdae asks.

“Yes,” Junmyeon admits. “Especially when—-especially early on. It’s hard being so close to something that holds so much.”

Jongdae’s been in love, he thinks. But never—never something so paramount. For the second time that day, jealous turns him green, feet first.

“Maybe there’s a loophole for you too,” Jongdae says. “Maybe when I get out, you can come too.”

Junmyeon laughs lightly, and he turns to face Jongdae.

“You have become quite hopeful in your days here,” Junmyeon says. “I fear you’ve become something of a dreamer, Jongdae.”

Jongdae finds he likes the way Junmyeon’s eyes feel on his skin. He doesn’t know what that means, still trapped within the forest himself. But Junmyeon…he belongs to someone long gone, and he probably won’t ever belong to someone again.

“I don’t know,” Jongdae says. “I think I’m still pretty realistic about things.”

“You say that, but I can feel the magic within you,” Junmyeon says, and he takes Jongdae by the hand, their fingers laced together. His eyes go blue, green as he looks at Jongdae. “Right here. Right within the palm of your hand.”

“Can you?” Jongdae asks.

“Yes, Junmyeon says, and he shuts his eyes, the barest hint of flowers blooming at his ears. “It shakes through you. It feels like electricity. Coursing.”

Jongdae shuts his eyes as Junmyeon holds his hand, and he tries to feel it. He might not know what he’s talking about, but all he can feel within him is an overwhelming realization that maybe he has a crush on Junmyeon. That maybe, just maybe, he could fall in love with this beautiful, strange person. With the fairytale of him.

“There,” Junmyeon whispers, and Jongdae opens his eyes to stare at Junmyeon. A smile spreads on his face. Light breaks across the water. “You have a spark in your heart, wanderer.”

He shuts his eyes once more, squeezes them tight against the emotions inside him: Junmyeon leafs through his pages so easily now, and in so little time. Jongdae used to pride himself on the emotional walls he’s able to put around himself, barring himself and all his sincerity. But Junmyeon...he can slip right through like nothing. Like Jongdae pushed through the wall himself just to make room for Junmyeon inside.

🜄



You mark turning points in retrospect, and that’s exactly what Jongdae does: their day in the heart of the forest marks the change within him, and much as he’d like to find snide remarks to make, he can’t. He finds himself appreciating the world around him more, appreciating the people. Most of the time.

“You look like you’re having an easy time adjusting,” Sehun comments, an evil little curve at the corner of his mouth.

“Well, that’s what happens when you spend two weeks in the middle of nowhere,” Jongdae says. “And I’m halfway through now.”

“Are you?” Sehun asks, and he floats in the air, chin in his hands.

“What do you mean?” Jongdae says. “Yes, two weeks until the full moon. Junmyeon said so.”

“But you know that’s not what I meant,” Sehun says, and he sweeps down, sits himself right above the crops where Jongdae has been harvesting.

“I don’t have time for riddles, sprite,” Jongdae says.

“No, neither do I,” Sehun says, and he picks a sprout off one of the plants and pops it into his mouth. “You seem close with Master Junmyeon.”

“I guess I am,” Jongdae mutters, and he picks a handful of sprouts, tossing them into his basket without looking. The sooner he finishes, the better.

“Do you think it will be easy for you to leave?” Sehun asks. “Once you drink the elixir?”

“What’s that supposed to mean?” Jongdae asks.

“Exactly as I said.”

“If I’m able to leave,” Jongdae says, and he throws an overripe sprout for the birds, “then it will be the easiest thing I’ve ever done.”

“You’re so guarded, Master,” Sehun comments.

“What did I tell you about that?” Jongdae says, and he chucks a handful of sprouts at where Sehun’s visage was just a moment ago. “You motherfucker.”

He hears the sprite’s voice on the air, laughing obnoxiously, but he doesn’t return, just leaves Jongdae with his work and his thoughts. And for a moment, Jongdae is glad: less Sehun means less talking.

But less Sehun means more thinking.

Will it really be so easy to leave? Jongdae isn’t sure. The scariest part of Chanyeol’s story was feeling how easily he could fall to the same fate. Content with the forest. With the water. With Junmyeon.

“No,” he says aloud. “Uh uh. No. When that full moon hits, I am walking out of this forest, and I am going home. I’m gonna sit at my counter and eat Shin Ramyun because all the shit in my fridge has gone bad. Hopefully Baekhyun cleaned it out. Oh, and Baekhyun will come over. And we’ll drink. A shit ton of beer. And I’ll give myself enough alcohol poisoning to forget it ever happened. I won’t remember a Junmyeon. Or a Sehun.”

Another bell of laughter all around him. Jongdae throws a final handful of bean sprouts into his basket, trudging all the way home. He hopes it’s enough.

🜄



Junmyeon flicks his hand, and the candles on the table go out.

“Goodnight, Jongdae,” he says pleasantly, and he curls up in his bed at the foot of the fire.

“Goodnight,” Jongdae says. And he stares at Junmyeon. Lying on the floor. For the past two weeks. “You know, I wouldn’t mind if we—”

“Hm?” Junmyeon asks, eyes glimmering amber and red in the firelight.

This was a bed he shared with Chanyeol. This is where they spent their nights together. This was—

No, Jongdae tells himself. Don’t talk yourself out of this. You deserve to be happy.

“We could share the bed,” Jongdae says timidly. “There’s plenty of room for the two of us.”

“I wouldn’t want to make a guest feel uncomfortable,” Junmyeon says, and he pulls the sheets tighter around his body. “After all, I—”

Don’t really need to sleep, Jongdae’s brain fills in. Holy shit.

“Oh,” Jongdae squeaks, and he ducks his head underneath the blanket. “Yep. Message received, loud and clear. Night, buddy.”

“Jongdae,” Junmyeon says.

“Goodnight,” Jongdae says.

Curious fingers peel back the covers.

“Would you like me to sleep with you?” Junmyeon asks.

Heat swells in Jongdae’s stomach, rising into his throat like floodwaters. Did Junmyeon mean to sound so seductive when he said it? Did he know the effect it would have on Jongdae, and the immediacy of that effect?

Jongdae stares at Junmyeon’s lips before redirecting his gaze to his eyes.

“If you want,” Jongdae says, and he tries his level best to sound a lot more unaffected than he is.

Junmyeon smiles, and the flowers bloom around his head. His eyes. Blue. Green. Jongdae—he likes him. He honest to God likes him. Likes him a lot.

“Let me in,” Junmyeon says softly, so Jongdae scoots across to the other side of the bed and holds up the blankets so Junmyeon can climb underneath. “Thank you.”

“Y-yeah,” Jongdae says, and he turns onto his back, looking up to the ceiling of the cabin. There is a tightness through his body that he can’t control. He barely breathes as he lies there, so fucking aware of the heat radiating off Junmyeon in the same bed as him. He could so—he could so easily reach over and touch him. Kiss him if he was brave enough. But he isn’t. “Goodnight.”

Warmth brushes against Jongdae’s arm, and he turns to look at Junmyeon lacing his fingers with Jongdae’s, their hands between their bodies.

“Chanyeol taught me human phrases,” Junmyeon says softly, and Jongdae’s stomach sinks.

“Yeah?”

“Yes,” Junmyeon says. “You don’t know what you have until it’s gone.”

Jongdae shuts his eyes. The hurt, the jealousy. Unlearn it, he tells himself. Get rid of it.

“Yeah,” he says. “That’s true.”

Junmyeon slips further into Jongdae’s space, cuddling against Jongdae’s arm.

“I missed this,” Junmyeon sighs. “I truly did.”

Jongdae closes his eyes. Smiles. And he tries not to feel like runner-up.

🜄



It’s hot. Too hot. Jongdae grumbles, throws back the covers a bit. Licks his lips. Better. Much better. He cuddles into the embrace, nuzzling into the warm skin, tightens his arm around—

He opens his eyes. He is wrapped around Junmyeon, his body curving around Junmyeon’s, knees tucked into his, holding him. An arm around his waist, under his neck.

Of course they ended up like this. There wasn’t any universe, any timeline where they didn’t. It was an inevitability, it seems, something he wanted to avoid but couldn’t. He feels a draw to Junmyeon, or maybe that’s just something he tells himself so he can avoid denying himself this simple pleasure, this thing that he really, really wants.

He feels when Junmyeon wakes, and Jongdae shuts his eyes, pretends to sleep.

Junmyeon puts his hand over Jongdae’s on his stomach, squeezes it tight as he works himself back into Jongdae’s touch for a moment.

Eventually, Junmyeon very carefully extracts himself, climbs out of bed, and starts to putter around with his pans for breakfast.

“You can stop pretending to sleep now,” he whispers before lighting the pilot with a flick of his wrist.

Jongdae feels the heat rush into his face, and he covers himself up with a blanket, only to hear Junmyeon giggle happily.

🜄



Over the next two days, Jongdae finds himself looking at Junmyeon differently. He finds himself wanting to reach over to brush the sweet, sticky mark of apple butter away from his lip. He finds himself wanting to take Junmyeon’s hand in his when they walk. He finds himself wanting to kiss Junmyeon when he gets into bed next to him, no longer waiting for an invitation from Jongdae. Jongdae’s thankful for that: he doesn’t think he’d have the courage to ask again.

Junmyeon treats him no different, still smiles the same and laughs the same and offers Jongdae flowers all the same. But Jongdae watches him differently. And he can’t help it.

Every morning, they wake up tangled with the other, some configuration of their limbs so beautiful, so tantalizing that it makes Jongdae want to scream. He’s frustrated, obviously: it’s been so long, and his drive has always been high. When he stirs, and he’s hard at Junmyeon’s back, he doesn’t quite know what to do with himself besides pinch himself on the thin skin of his thigh until it goes away.

He debates running out to the river some late night, early morning to get off a quick one just so he can get this stupid crush out of his system, but Junmyeon would feel it. And isn’t that a thought...he gets a little lost thinking about what it might feel like for him. Would Jongdae’s arousal bleed into him? Would it infect him the way it infects Jongdae, spreads through him like the Creeping Curse? He imagines it, Junmyeon confronting him when he returned, wet and finally relieved. Would his cheeks go red? Would he ask Jongdae to take care of him? Would he—would he want Jongdae for his own?

Jongdae is forced to pinch himself to the point of bruising just to get himself down, and when Junmyeon turns over to face him, he looks like somehow, against all logic, he knows what Jongdae was thinking of.

“Aiyo,” Junmyeon whispers sleepily to him.

“Aiyo,” Jongdae whispers back.

There are quiet moments passed between them like breaths, and Jongdae stares at Junmyeon openly, wondering if his want registers as plainly on his face as he feels it might. Junmyeon’s eyes are startlingly blue for those quiet moments, and Jongdae studies him. Wonders—wonders if this means what he think it must.

“What would you like to do today?” Junmyeon asks.

“Is there much to do?” Jongdae asks.

“No,” Junmyeon says. “The forest is very healthy, since we’ve begun working.”

A knotted ball, twisted threads of pride all pulling on each other….they tighten in his stomach, and he smiles.

“So we’re free?” Jongdae asks.

“As free as we can be,” Junmyeon says.

“We should go for a walk,” Jongdae says. “Bring food. Go swim.”

“Swim?” Junmyeon says happily. “Do you swim, Jongdae?”

“I don’t have, like, a healthplex membership or anything, but if there’s a pool, I swim,” Jongdae says, and he shouldn’t, but he reaches forward, brushes the hair away from Junmyeon’s eyes to find flower buds between his fingertips. He picks them away. Puts them in Junmyeon’s hands.

They bloom there, and Jongdae stares down at them.

“Then we will swim,” Junmyeon says softly.

“Okay,” Jongdae says, just as softly. He’d hate to break the quiet.

🜄



They prepare for the morning, standing in the small kitchen, side by side. Jongdae was never much of a cook. If he’s being totally honest, he mostly ordered UberEats and Insomnia Cookies for himself. Occasionally, if he was feeling like being a real human for the week, he’d stock up at Whole Foods, meal prep on Sunday, and do that for a couple days. It wasn’t really cooking, though.

Now, he knows how to cook. Junmyeon has taught him, and he feels like he’s actually pretty good at it. But for some reason, when he thinks about bringing his newfound skills back to his real life, it’s a bit bittersweet to think about.

“Why do you frown?” Junmyeon asks.

“I’m not frowning,” Jongdae says.

Junmyeon doesn’t say anything, just knocks his hip into Jongdae’s hip and smiles when Jongdae shoots him a look of displeasure.

“I’m just thinking about—about going home, I guess,” Jongdae says.

“Oh.”

Junmyeon’s face falls, and he looks down, carefully watching his hands as he slices. The flowers in his hair wilt, and they fall to the floor around them. He kicks them away with a foot.

“N-not like that,” Jongdae says. “I, uh, I kinda really like it here. So it’s like, when I leave I guess, it’s gonna be bittersweet.”

“Bittersweet,” Junmyeon repeats. “Does this mean what I believe it means?”

“Good and bad,” Jongdae says.

Junmyeon looks up at Jongdae shyly, knife stilled.

“You will be sad to leave?” Junmyeon asks.

“A little, yeah,” Jongdae says. “I—well, it doesn’t matter. Yeah, it’ll suck a little.”

“Oh,” Junmyeon says, and he can’t hide his smile, his emotions much too transparent for all that.

🜄



They walk through the woods, and all is calm. The serenity is untouched, kept pure, and even the dangerous creatures, which Junmyeon points out when they pass, seem to have quieted in recent days. Is it because of him? Surely, it can’t be. That would be...that would be just stupid. He’s not that important to the forest. He’s not like Chanyeol, burned and buried into the makeup. He...he’s not Junmyeon’s soulmate. He wasn’t meant to be here. He just came on his own. Just because he wanted to.

“Do you tire?” Junmyeon asks, and he pushes his elbow into Jongdae’s stomach. “I told you to eat more of the lightshrooms, didn’t I?”

“Where are we even going?” Jongdae grimaces. “It feels like we’ve been walking forever.”

“I’ve yet to show you the crystals,” Junmyeon says happily. “Another beautiful place. I think you will like it, Jongdae.”

Jongdae has come to love when Junmyeon says his name, and God, he says it so much, like he wants to say something else. Would he call Jongdae love the same way he called Chanyeol? Jongdae swallows, simultaneously pleased and jealous. He should smack himself, being envious over some dead boy, some long lost lover.

But Jongdae can’t shake the feeling that no matter what, he’ll never be as good as Chanyeol. Their love story could never be as perfect, so what would be the point? Junmyeon would never think of him the same way he thinks of Chanyeol, even the thought enough to bring him to tears, so what, exactly, would the point be in any of it?

“Do not think too much, Jongdae,” Junmyeon says, and he reaches down to hold Jongdae’s hand in his as they walk.

“I’m not thinking too much,” he argues.

“You are,” Junmyeon says with a smile, before narrowing his face in a look of concentration. “The forest senses the disturbance within you.”

“Half the time, I think you just make that shit up,” Jongdae smiles back.

“Sometimes it is good to make-believe,” Junmyeon says, and his hand squeezes Jongdae’s, the feeling shooting electricity up and down Jongdae.

So what if he’s coming in second place? At least he’ll have finished the race at all.

The crystal pool is inside a massive cave, one Jongdae’s never happened across.

“Every day, I see new things here,” Jongdae says in awe, staring up at the jagged agate ceiling, lavender and royal blue and emerald green. “I feel like I might never run out.”

“I felt that way too,” Junmyeon says.

“Does it stop being beautiful once you’ve seen it so many times?” Jongdae asks, free hand skimming against the wall as they move further and further into the cavern.

“Never,” Junmyeon whispers, but his voice, it carries.

The cave looks raw, as if been touched by nothing but nature itself. The shards of quartz glimmer with the residual light of the forest, but as they move deeper inside, the light starts to die around them.

“Oh,” Jongdae says, and he tightens his hold on Junmyeon’s hand, pulling him closer.

“Are you afraid of the dark?” Junmyeon asks.

No,” Jongdae sneers.

“I can—”

And he snaps his fingers, a row of lanterns along the ground lighting the path as they walk down a gentle slope. Erosion? Jongdae thinks it might have been. Was this what Junmyeon meant when he talked of floods?

“Thank you,” Jongdae says quietly, because any small sound travels.

Maybe that’s why Jongdae hears the pool before he sees it.

Water drips from the pink, purple-tinged stalactites, and it gathers in the pool, shards of white crystal covering the bottom in masses. The water is bright blue, stunning, the blue of Junmyeon’s eyes whenever Jongdae says something right, and Jongdae is nearly overwhelmed by the sight, the beauty of it.

“Do you see what I mean?” Junmyeon whispers.

Jongdae looks at him, and Junmyeon...he has never been more beautiful than he is in that moment. He shines, so many colors. Iridescent and glowing.

“What?” Jongdae asks.

Junmyeon pulls him close, takes Jongdae’s other hand too as they stand by the edge of the crystal pool. The light dances all around them. It is red, blue, green, gold.

“Do you think something like this could ever stop being beautiful?” Junmyeon asks.

He is...he is so beautiful. And Jongdae likes him. Couldn’t deny it for a second when he looks so perfect.

“No,” Jongdae says. “I don’t think it could.”

Jongdae isn’t sure who begins it, nor is he sure who ends it, but they move together, and Jongdae puts his hands on Junmyeon’s waist as they close space between them until none remains. Finally, finally their lips touch, and Jongdae realizes what he has been missing. This feeling—he never wants to be without it.

It is chaste when they start, and Junmyeon pulls him impossibly closer by the shirt collar, kissing him harder, licking along Jongdae’s lips. He moans, allows Junmyeon to deepen it, and he holds Junmyeon tight, like if he lets go for even a second, Junmyeon get away, might jump into the pool and stay there, among the crystalline waters.

Junmyeon is breathless when he breaks the kiss, and Jongdae kisses his cheek, his jaw, the soft part of his neck where the rolls of the water crash wildly.

“A-ah,” Junmyeon moans, and he clings to Jongdae, arms wrapped around his neck and holding on for support.

Jongdae walks Junmyeon backwards, gently puts him up against the wall of the cave, and the rocks are slick under his fingertips. Junmyeon arches his back, curves like the cresting of an ocean wave, and Junmyeon takes the opportunity to lick lines along his throat, kiss him soft and wet.

“Jongdae,” Junmyeon says, and his name only sounds that much sweeter echoing in the crystal cave. “Jongdae-yah.”

“Mm,” Jongdae hums, lips parted along Junmyeon’s skin, and he feels Junmyeon tremble as he does it. “Does that feel good?”

“Yes,” he hisses, the sibilant like steam in the air. “Will you please give me more?”

Jongdae can’t deny a request asked so sweetly, so he continues to kiss and lick his way down Junmyeon’s body, pulling Junmyeon’s soft linen shirt up and off his body to reveal—

“Holy fuck,” Jongdae says, hands moving on their own accord. “You…”

“Do you like it?” Junmyeon asks, and he lays his hand over Jongdae’s, moves it along the cut muscles of his pectorals, his stomach. Lower.

“Yes,” Jongdae says, inclined to tell the truth when the creature standing before him is more beautiful than any person he’s ever seen in his whole life. He sinks to his knees, pulling the tie of Junmyeon’s pants and pulling them down slow. “I really like it.”

Junmyeon sucks in a breath, fracturing, as Jongdae takes his hard cock in a gentle hand.

“Is this okay?” Jongdae asks before he starts. “Should we stop?”

“No,” Junmyeon says. “Don’t stop.”

Jongdae thanks as many gods as he knows, and he slowly moves his hand from the tip to the base, drawing a moan from Junmyeon’s lips as he tilts his hips up and into the touch. Jongdae answers the unvoiced question, and he leans forward, places a soft, dry kiss to the head.

“Oh,” Junmyeon groans. “Please—”

But Jongdae doesn’t let him beg much more than that. He licks coyly at it once, twice, before he closes his lips around it, teasing a bit with his tongue before swallowing down as much as he can.

Junmyeon keeps his hands very still on Jongdae’s shoulders, but his face twists in pleasure as his body tenses, and Jongdae hears splashing behind him before he realizes that Junmyeon is making the water rise.

Jongdae pulls off, uses the saliva to slick down Junmyeon’s cock slowly with a fist, and he lays kisses to Junmyeon’s lower abdomen. Slowly, slowly, the splashing stops, and Junmyeon begins to breathe again. Jongdae watches in fascination as his body moves on its own, as though it knows exactly what it wants.

He sucks Junmyeon down once more, shocked to hear the crashing of the water from the crystal pool start again almost immediately.

Jongdae smiles, or he does some approximation of a smile with his mouth full, and he swirls his tongue as he starts to suck in earnest, putting some effort into it instead of dallying with the warm up.

Junmyeon’s fingers tighten on Jongdae’s shoulders as Jongdae works, and the dripping, from stalactite to pool beneath them, builds. The sound is strangely arousing. Junmyeon is dripping everywhere, everything is water, into his mouth and down the walls.

“Jongdae,” Junmyeon whispers, and the harsh breath makes the hair on Jongdae’s forearms stand on end. “Jongdae, please.”

Jongdae sinks a little further onto his knees, but a little thrill of pain cuts through his knee.

“Ah,” Jongdae says, pulling off and reaching down to touch. The firelight reveals a streak of blood across his fingertips. “Oh, shit.”

“Jongdae,” Junmyeon whispers, but instead of awe, instead of arousal, there is worry in his voice. “I’m sorry. I must have—the charm, I—”

“It’s okay,” Jongdae whispers back with a smile. “Hazards of fucking in nature.”

“Lie back, Jongdae-yah,” Junmyeon says, and he guides Jongdae onto his back, and instead of lying back onto the rocky surface of the cave’s floor, it feels as if he’s resting on a cloud. Or at the very least, an extremely forgiving mattress. He looks down, sees his body resting an inch off the ground. Junmyeon shoots him a coy smile. “Let me heal you.”

It will not be the first time Junmyeon has healed him, and there’s no reason for Junmyeon to strip him of his clothes, but he does so anyway. The cave radiates with heat, fire and warm waters, and Jongdae shivers when he’s finally naked before Junmyeon, kneeling between his legs.

“Aiya,” Junmyeon starts, and the light blooms the way it always does. Jongdae feels the electricity, the lightning boiling his blood.

They could be so dangerous together, Jongdae thinks as the skin of his knees knits itself back together under Junmyeon’s ministrations, under his words. If he truly does have the lightning within him, then he and Junmyeon, they are electricity and water: they weren’t ever meant to be together. Maybe they should stop. Maybe they weren’t supposed to start.

“There,” Junmyeon says, satisfied.

And Jongdae can’t stop. He knows he can’t, not when he’s so deeply invested in the way this magical creature smiles at him.

“Thank you.” Jongdae tries to sit up, tries to pull Junmyeon to him to prove his appreciation, but Junmyeon holds him there with some invisible ties. “Hey,” he laughs. “Let me go.”

“No,” Junmyeon says coyly. “Let me look upon you, Jongdae.”

Jongdae’s never been the shyest person in the world: he works hard to fit exercise into his busy schedule, but most of it is just so he can literally flex on Instagram. This, though, having someone appreciate his body the way Junmyeon does...this is why it was all worth it.

“You are as beautiful as they come,” Junmyeon says, and he glides his hands over Jongdae’s skin, dancing his fingertips over him.

“Shut up,” Jongdae says, and when he covers his face with a shy hand, Junmyeon’s magic doesn’t seize him. His hand does.

“Do I make you nervous?” Junmyeon asks, pulling at Jongdae’s wrist.

“No. No, you don’t.”

“Do you wish to stop?” Junmyeon asks.

“No. I don’t.”

“Then let me look my fill,” Junmyeon says, and he stares down at Jongdae’s body wantonly, making Jongdae groan. “But I may not ever get my fill.”

He skims clever hands all over Jongdae, and his hips can’t help but pump into the air, pushing up into nothing as Junmyeon winds him up, takes him to the edge so quickly and with so little that Jongdae can’t hardly believe it. Maybe it is the magic within him, maybe that’s what flitters through him so hot and fast that Jongdae bites his lip to hold back a scream of pleasure.

“Do you like it when I touch you like this?” Junmyeon asks.

“Y-yes.”

“Look at you,” Junmyeon says, and he sounds as wonderstruck as Jongdae feels. “There is nothing in this world like you.”

Jongdae shuts his eyes, lets himself believe it.

Junmyeon starts to touch him where he wants it most, and the feeling is like nothing he’s ever experienced before. The slickness of it immediately makes him jolt, his hips kicking as he moans loudly.

“I love the way you sound, Jongdae,” Junmyeon says, like it’s a secret just meant for him.

“Please,” Jongdae whines. “Please, anything.”

“Anything?” Junmyeon wonders. “Anything I’d like?”

Yes, Jongdae thinks. Yes, anything.

When Junmyeon gets on top of him, the graceful movements of his limbs mesmerizing, Jongdae almost thinks he’s dreaming. Don’t wake me up, he thinks. I want to see this through.

He is wet when he sinks onto Jongdae, throwing his head back and moaning at the feeling of being filled, and Jongdae tries not to thrust up prematurely, just holds Junmyeon’s hands and squeezes them tight.

“I—”

Junmyeon doesn’t let him speak, lowers himself to kiss Jongdae sweetly, licking, kittenish, at Jongdae’s lips. Jongdae folds his arms around Junmyeon, holds his body as close to him as he possibly can. He never wants it to end, this small forever in the crystal cave, and he puts as much as he can into Junmyeon, lets it drip between them. Stalactite to pool.

When Junmyeon sits back up, Jongdae stares at him, stares at the way he moves his body. Jongdae has imagined it, what he would look like and what he would sound like, but nothing compares to the reality. He is stunning, and he is enthralling. Jongdae runs his hands over Junmyeon’s body, feels the sea moving within him as he rolls himself over Jongdae, eliciting a groan whenever he hits his peak.

“God, you’re fucking—” Jongdae stutters, moving to hold Junmyeon by the hips, planting his feet on air to thrust up into the tight wet heat of Junmyeon.

“Jongdae,” Junmyeon moans. “Jongdae, please, love.”

Jongdae’s heart seizes in his chest, something voltaic and shocking. He almost forgets to breathe, his thrusts going chaotic and distinctly unrhythmic as his body acts on its own.

“Jun,” Jongdae whispers. “Jun.”

“Yes,” Junmyeon says, and he shows Jongdae the long line of his neck for a moment, begging for a kiss, before he looks down, hair thick with white flowers, eyes bright green.

“G-god,” Jongdae stutters, and he fucks up into Junmyeon, Junmyeon’s skin going pale, pale white where Jongdae presses his fingertips into him. “I—”

“Come,” Junmyeon says, and he meets the thrusts of Jongdae’s hips, working himself down like a swirling hurricane crashing on Jongdae’s shore.

The water from the pool floods, and Jongdae fulminates, yellow-white and like a flash behind his eyes.

Jongdae feels the warm water all around him, swallowing him up, and as they come together, uttering the other’s names like spells and charms and prayers, all the kind sounds there are in the world, there is an electric moment of fear when he thinks that maybe he will drown beneath Junmyeon.

But as soon as they fall, Junmyeon falls to him, kisses him, breathes into him. And Jongdae realizes he could never drown. Junmyeon would never let it happen.

“Thank you,” Junmyeon whispers against his lips.

Jongdae shuts his eyes, smiles. “Do you thank everyone who fucks you?” he laughs.

Junmyeon says nothing, so, curious, Jongdae peeks an eye open to look at him. He appears—angry.

“Must you always ruin the moment?” Junmyeon asks petulantly.

Jongdae grins, pulls Junmyeon back into a kiss by the back of his neck. He licks into Junmyeon’s mouth, and he tastes the depths of the ocean, the mysteries. The secrets.

They lie in each other’s arms, an inch above the ground, and Jongdae shuts his eyes once more. Breathes in the silence, the stillness that sounds overwhelming when contrasted with the prior noise. He exhales, feels Junmyeon settle further into his embrace. It doesn’t have to be earth-shattering. It can just be this.

Still, it doesn’t stop him from wanting it to be something more.

If he is a crystal, maybe some rare, raw gemstone, let his jagged edges, all his facets be cut and shaped to perfection by the gentle love of this, the water. If he is lightning, he will let himself strike Junmyeon wholly, the light and sound erupting around them as they connect for the brief time that life lets them.

🜄



They walk home quietly, hands tangled with each other’s, and Jongdae wonders if anything has changed at all. Maybe it was blowing off steam. Maybe it was a mistake. It wasn’t for him. But maybe it was for Junmyeon.

He angsts over it for the walk, and Junmyeon occasionally kneads his thumb into Jongdae’s hand, studying him carefully.

“Do you regret what we did?” Junmyeon asks faintly.

“No.”

“I am glad to hear it,” Junmyeon says, voice still barely audibly amidst the sounds of the forest around them. “I do not regret it either, Jongdae.”

Jongdae frowns. Chanyeol. He can’t—he can’t get his mind off of it. “Are you sure?”

“I have rarely been so sure of anything,” Junmyeon says.

Jongdae keeps his eyes on the ground as they walk, and the rest of the journey home is hushed. Up until they reach the door of the cabin. Jongdae is about to push inside, but Junmyeon pulls him by the hand, pulls him to a stop

“Jongdae,” he says, and he reaches up to hold Jongdae’s face in a gentle hand. “What is wrong?”

“Nothing,” Jongdae says. “I’m sorry.”

“Do not apologize,” he smiles. “I only wish to quiet the noises within you.”

Maybe I am the noise, Jongdae thinks. Maybe I have always been the raucous, strident noise. And maybe nothing can quiet me.

“Jongdae-yah,” Junmyeon says. And he kisses Jongdae softly. “Love.”

Jongdae looks down. Doesn’t feel like he deserves that affection as much as Junmyeon’s soulmate did.

“I will ask you again,” Junmyeon says. “Do you regret what we did?”

“No.” Jongdae will repeat it until forever. If he’s sure of one thing, he’s sure that he made the right decision in letting himself have this. And he tells Junmyeon so.

“If you made the right decision in letting yourself have me,” Junmyeon smiles, “then why not let us have each other? For as long as it will last?”

Jongdae smiles, finds it hard not to smile when Junmyeon is smiling.

“Okay then,” he says. “For as long as it will last.”

Junmyeon seals their covenant with a kiss, and Jongdae feels like, somehow, he’s pledged much more than just his soul.

🜄



Jongdae likes watching Junmyeon swim in the river. It’s like watching dolphins in the water, the way they seem to look like a part of the ocean. Junmyeon has told him he was born from the muddy, sandy bottom of a river, and when Jongdae sees him swim, he believes it. Junmyeon is fluid, the way he moves instinctual. Sometimes he is a bit clumsy on land, and Jongdae finds it endearing, but this...he’s never seen anything quite like Junmyeon swimming. He dips in and out of a corporeal form, and it is a joy to behold.

There are little creatures in the water, mollusks and fish of shockingly bright colors and even a little family of river otters, though they look much smaller than the otters Jongdae knows. Junmyeon’s named them all, and he spends an awful lot of time reciting their titles to Jongdae who treads close by, amused.

Junmyeon talks excitedly about everything, and it makes Jongdae care. He splashes as he waves his hands around in, and sometimes he freezes the water in the air above him before he lets it crash down for comedic effect. He’s—he’s compelling. Every little bit of him.

“I apologize,” Junmyeon says, bowing his head a bit. “I must be dreadfully boring.”

“No,” Jongdae says. “I think you could talk about anything you were passionate about, and I’d find it interesting.”

Junmyeon grins mischievously before he slips under the surface of the water. Jongdae rolls his eyes, but by the time he looks back to the water, Junmyeon has disappeared. Become the water itself.

“Hey,” Jongdae grouses. “Not funny.”

There is laughter bubbling along the top of the water before Junmyeon slips up and into Jongdae’s arms, smiling wetly.

“Hello,” Jongdae says. “Asshole.”

“Hello,” Junmyeon says, and he smiles, dipping in for a quick kiss. “What if I were to talk about you? Would you find it interesting?”

Jongdae looks off to the edge of the forest, tries and fails to keep his smile to himself.

🜄



“Keep your voice down, Jongdae-yah,” Junmyeon says.

Jongdae bites his lips as Junmyeon tortures him, the water gliding over his skin. It’s been like this, a game between them, how much he can take before he throws Junmyeon over onto his back and fucks him silly. Jongdae wants to win, though, always been competitive but even more so with Junmyeon.

“Why?” Jongdae asks. “There’s no one here.”

“Sehunnie might hear you,” Junmyeon says mischievously, and God, now he understands where Sehun got all that devilish energy from.

“Shut up,” Jongdae says, but instinctively, he keeps it low.

“Do you want me to let him know?” Junmyeon asks. “Do you want him to hear your pleasure on the wind? I could make it so.”

He drenches the bed beneath him, and Jongdae gasps at the wet heat as Junmyeon touches him, touches him everywhere, soft and clever hands making him moan. Making him yell.

🜄



Junmyeon’s back is turned to him as he gathers fruit from his basket, placing them in a bowl for a light lunch. Jongdae knows they won’t be sitting at the table, though. They’ve been too fucking horny for that.

“What are you doing?” Junmyeon asks.

“Watching you,” Jongdae says.

Junmyeon turns, a wild grin on his face. He is much more beautiful than any person has the right to be. Jongdae hates him almost as much as he loves him.

“Don’t tell me you want me again,” Junmyeon says, cocking his hip to the side, as if fucking Jongdae is a chore instead of their main pastime for the last several days.

“Truth be told,” Jongdae says, leaning onto his elbow and for a moment, feeling uncharacteristically honest with himself and with Junmyeon, “I always want you.”

Junmyeon blushes head to toe, and he brings the fruit back to bed.

“You should eat,” Junmyeon says.

“I’ll eat if you feed me,” Jongdae tells him.

“So difficult,” Junmyeon chastises.

He lifts a ripe red berry to Jongdae’s mouth, presses it against Jongdae’s lips. He bites into the flesh, and the juice gathers on his lip for a moment before he licks it away.

“Heavens help me,” Junmyeon says, and he climbs into Jongdae’s lap.

Jongdae wants to say that he’s never felt like this before, because he hasn’t, never so insatiable and eager, but he knows that Junmyeon would never be able to agree. So he keeps his mouth shut, just winds his arms around Junmyeon, and takes him. Takes him. Because he’s got him. For now.

🜄



They cuddle close before bed, and they always wake wrapped in each other. They cook for each other, feed each other from their hands when they feel romantic. There is still work to be done in the forest, but it is the simple work, the easy work, gardening and repairing bits of the cabin. Junmyeon’s magic does most of the heavy lifting, but Jongdae is there to help whenever the real physical labor is needed. Their life together is simple, but there is an inherent charm in it. Jongdae doesn’t know if that’s because of the idyllic setting, the breath of fresh air this place has given him, or if it’s simply because of the fact that they are together.

Time is a finicky thing in the forest, because he’s only known Junmyeon for a couple weeks now, going on three, but he’s starting to feel like they’re on a honeymoon together.

“What is the honey moon, my love?” Junmyeon wonders, kissing Jongdae’s chest, licking some of the sweat away. “Is it like the blood moon? Or the corn moon?”

“Uh, no,” Jongdae says. “Have you, uh, have you ever heard of marriage?”

Junmyeon’s eyes go blue. “I have,” he says. “When the humans pledge themselves to the other before their God.”

“Yeah,” Jongdae says, “or like, just to each other, for each other.”

“Ah,” Junmyeon sighs, and he lays his head on Jongdae’s chest. “Yes. Marriage.”

“So,” Jongdae says, brushing his fingers like a comb through Junmyeon’s hair, pulling away a few flower buds, “after people get married, they go on a honeymoon. It’s like a trip someplace, and they just...well, I don’t know exactly, I’ve never been married before, but they like, go on adventures together, and they have sex a lot, and they just relax together.”

Junmyeon presses a kiss to Jongdae’s nipple as he turns, turning to look Jongdae in the eye. He’s gotten so flirtatious, willing to tease Jongdae whenever he can. “You wish to honeymoon with me, Jongdae-yah?”

Junmyeon’s affections are as sweet as honey itself, as the sap of the saphwoods, and he stretches up to kiss Junmyeon softly.

“That’s not what I said,” Jongdae whispers with a grin.

“No, but it is what you meant,” Junmyeon whispers back. He sits up, pushes Jongdae down onto his back. “You want to take me someplace. And you want to take me on adventures. And you want to have sex with me. You want to relax in my arms.”

“Definitely at least one of those things,” Jongdae says, hushed.

“You’re so mean to me, lover,” Junmyeon says, kissing at Jongdae’s neck. “How will I repay your cruelty?”

“I’m sure you’ll figure something out,” Jongdae says, and he groans when Junmyeon begins to kiss down him, tongue circling Jongdae’s belly button. “Oh, please. I didn’t mean it.”

“You purposefully invoke my ire,” Junmyeon says against Jongdae’s skin. “Because you wish me to take you like this. You like when I take what I desire from you.”

“Yes.” It’s little more than a whimper when it escapes him, and the whimper only shakes through him more when Junmyeon licks a long line up Jongdae’s cock, as messy and wanton as he likes. “Jun.”

“You love it when I tease you,” Junmyeon says, and then he strokes Jongdae’s cock once. Twice. Three light strokes. It’s not enough. It’s not even close to enough. “Don’t you?”

“Y-yes,” Jongdae groans. “But I like it even more when you ride me.”

“Your mouth,” Junmyeon says, “and your filthy words.” He kisses back up Jongdae’s body, takes too much time grinding himself into Jongdae before he does what they both want him to do.

It’s lazy, the way he rides him, and Jongdae resists the urge to flip him onto his back so he can fuck into him with wild abandon. But the lack of urgency, the languidness, the way he moves, the way Junmyeon fucks himself so unhurriedly…there is beauty in the waiting, and Jongdae waits, waits, waits.

“Please,” Junmyeon says, collapsing onto Jongdae so that their chests touch. “Will you?”

Junmyeon takes the lead until he gives it up, and Jongdae always takes it, holds it in his hands until Junmyeon silently asks for it back. He rolls them over, the sheets of the bed sliding over them, and Junmyeon smiles brightly, the flowers blooming in his hair as he lies back against the pillow.

“Lover,” he whispers.

Having this every day….he never understood marriage much before. Now, though, he’s starting to see the appeal.

🜄



Jongdae watches from bed as Junmyeon warms the water for them, before he slips into it.

“Are you joining me?” Junmyeon asks, head resting against the edge of the basin. “Or will you just watch me from afar this morning?”

“Both very tempting offers,” Jongdae says, smiling before he pushes out of bed to join Junmyeon in the bath. He sighs as he sinks in. “Mm. Feels good.”

He relaxes into Junmyeon’s embrace, and it’s only been a few days of their amorphous relationship, but he is already so comfortable with Junmyeon. He lets Junmyeon pick the water up and cover him with it, washing him as he pleases.

“Have you ever wanted me to teach you?” Junmyeon asks.

Jongdae turns to answer. “Teach me what?” he asks. “Magic?”

“I think you could be good at it,” Junmyeon says. Jongdae sinks deeper into the water. “What?”

“I don’t know,” Jongdae says. “I hate not being good at stuff.”

“Is that a reason not to try?”

Yes, his brain supplies.

“No,” he says pitifully.

Junmyeon wiggles around him, obviously pleased, and Jongdae finds it hard to be anything but pleased when Junmyeon is pleased.

“We’ll wash quickly, then,” Junmyeon says. “And then we’ll have a lesson.”

Jongdae groans until he slips under the water, only to be hoisted back out by the armpits, grabbed and kissed by an excitable witch he is crazy enough to like.

🜄



They sit in front of the fire, and Junmyeon holds his hands. Jongdae feels a little weird, a bit put on the spot, but Junmyeon is excited, and what can he do? Say no?

“Feel,” he says.

Jongdae closes his eyes. Tries his best.

“Do you feel it?” Junmyeon asks. “Go to that feeling. The feeling of light.”

Jongdae feels nothing. “Okay,” he says anyway.

“Take it,” Junmyeon says. “And push against it.”

Jongdae has never felt anything less, but still, he attempts to find whatever light Junmyeon speaks of. But there isn’t anything. There isn’t anything in him.

“Have you found it?” Junmyeon asks.

“No,” Jongdae says. “I—”

“It’s okay,” Junmyeon says. “Keep trying.”

They sit in silence, Jongdae trying desperately to find whatever light resides within him, but the afternoon is wasted. He finds nothing.

“Do not be discouraged, my love,” Junmyeon says, a hand on Jongdae’s cheek. “Chanyeol had to use words too.”

It’s horrible to feel jealousy over someone long gone, but Jongdae does. Wishes he could have found his light immediately, if only so that he would have been set apart, some bright and incomparable part of Junmyeon’s life. Some highlight of his story.

🜄



He pulls at the little green top, and he smiles when he pulls out a carrot. It’s strange, the way these things have become comforting to him. He enjoys the gardening, the sewing. The writing. The magic, though….he really doesn’t care for the magic.

“Come on,” Junmyeon waves from the cabin door. “Come practice with me.”

Jongdae groans under his breath. “Coming.”

Junmyeon has become focused on waking the dormant magic in Jongdae, but each session leaves Jongdae angry and jealous. The words don’t seem to work for him. Taking Junmyeon’s hand, trying to transfer it from one to the other, doesn’t work either. Nothing they try seems to work. So they always go back to their meditation. Sitting on the floor in front of the fire. Trying to find the light.

“It’s not gonna work,” Jongdae says.

“Negative energy hinders the magic,” Junmyeon says peacefully, and Jongdae peeks an eye open, sees him smiling. “Close your eyes.”

“I don’t—you know what, whatever,” Jongdae says, and he slips his eyes shut again. “Have you ever thought that maybe I can’t do this?”

“Of course, you can,” Junmyeon says. “Everyone can.”

“Well, maybe I can’t,” Jongdae argues.

“I do not believe it,” Junmyeon says. “I felt the heat within you. White heat from the sky.”

“Maybe you felt someone else,” Jongdae says, and he opens his eyes. Pulls away. “Sorry, I, uh, I don’t really feel like it today.”

Junmyeon pulls his knees to his chest. “Okay,” he says. “I’m sorry.”

“No, it’s fine,” Jongdae says. And the atmosphere is fucking atrocious, so awful that it makes Jongdae want to fix it. Do literally anything but sit and stare at Junmyeon looking so hurt. “Uh, do you wanna maybe, like, go swim or something?”

He perks up immediately, and Jongdae smiles.

“Yes,” Junmyeon says. “Yes, that sounds nice.”

🜄



Junmyeon lights the fire the way he always does, and Jongdae lies in bed wondering if he thinks about it the way Jongdae thinks about it. Chanyeol is the fire. And he feels twisted up at the thought of the constancy of him, especially when they sleep together.

Junmyeon crawls across the bed coquettishly, and he kisses Jongdae softly.

“Would you like to make love to me?” he asks, because he always asks.

“Yeah,” Jongdae moans, and it moves against Junmyeon’s lips as he speaks.

They tangle up in a kiss, in an embrace, and when Junmyeon starts to kiss and lick down Jongdae’s body, he watches. Junmyeon is amber and gold, gorgeously lit by the firelight, but it makes Jongdae’s stomach roll with envy.

“C-could you—”

Junmyeon pops his head up cutely, a hand wrapped around Jongdae’s dick.

“Yes?”

“Could you maybe put the fire out?” Jongdae asks.

“Oh,” Junmyeon says, furrowing his brow. “Yes. Yes, of course.”

He waves his hand, and a flush of water sets the flaming wood to smoke, the embers dying slowly. It’s petty, Jongdae realizes, but he likes it better this way. They feel well and truly alone.

“Jongdae-yah,” Junmyeon whispers, head pillowed against Jongdae’s thigh. “Are you alright, love?”

“Yeah,” Jongdae says. “I’m fine.”

🜄



From then on, whenever they have sex, Junmyeon puts the fire out. Jongdae likes that he doesn’t have to ask, but he hates that he needs it.

🜄



Their final week together passes slowly, but quickly too. It’s little moments that stick out to Jongdae.

They picnic in the crystal cave often, and they lie in the grass for hours. Junmyeon points out all the plants that Jongdae’s missed. It’s all so dense. A month wasn’t long enough to see it all. Jongdae writes Junmyeon a letter for once he leaves. He keeps the contents a secret, but it’s written in Aimina. He hopes he got the tenses right. He imagines the way Junmyeon will look when he reads it.

It’s the way they kiss and hold each other. The way Junmyeon laughs whenever Jongdae calls him a name. The way Junmyeon goes to gather the ingredients for the elixir.

“Shouldn’t you get Sehun to help you?” Jongdae asks. “Since he was the loser who got us into this mess?”

Junmyeon sighs. “If he hadn’t, I doubt I would have met you,” he says. “So for that, I must be thankful.”

Jongdae rolls his eyes, but it’s true. So instead of bitching, he just helps grab stems of the sage, chucking them into Junmyeon’s basket. Junmyeon nudges his shoulder into Jongdae’s, and Jongdae nudges him back.

🜄



Junmyeon makes soup, and they sit at the table to eat, the candles spraying pretty light all over the cabin. Junmyeon hooks his ankle around Jongdae’s, and it is a comfort. It’s all comfort, he realizes. He’s come to love this feeling, being cared for.

“Jongdae-yah,” Junmyeon says, setting his spoon down. “The full moon is tomorrow.”

“Right,” Jongdae says. “Okay.”

“I suppose I wanted to tell you that I greatly cherished our time together,” Junmyeon says, and he stares down at his bowl. “Even if you never return—”

“I’ll come back,” Jongdae says immediately.

Junmyeon looks up. Looks as though he can’t quite believe what he just heard.

“You will?” Junmyeon asks.

“Yeah,” Jongdae says. “I, uh, I don’t know. It’s gonna take some time to get my shit back in order, but as soon as I can, I’ll be back. And it’s like, I don’t know, it’s almost summer. So I’ll be more free then. And I can—”

Junmyeon pushes his bowl to the side, tears in his eyes, and he throws his arms around Jongdae’s neck.

“Jongdae-yah,” Junmyeon says as he hugs Jongdae awkwardly. “Thank you.”

“Y-yeah,” Jongdae says, astounded by how much he wants to stay. “Yeah, of course.”

Dinner falls by the wayside, and they fall into bed. Jongdae will take as much of Junmyeon’s love as he can fit into his pockets, a little souvenir to tide him over until his inevitable return.

🜄



When the night settles, the azure forest pulsing with soft light, Jongdae’s heart is in his throat, and he doesn’t know why. Sehun sits on the branch of a saphwood smiling down at them as they stand near the edge of the wood, and Junmyeon pours a cup of the elixir for Jongdae before holding a hand over it and saying an Aimina prayer: flow free.

“Now,” Junmyeon says, and he passes the cup to Jongdae. “Drink.”

Jongdae looks down at it, a swirling galaxy of blues and greens. He drinks it, and it tastes like saltwater, but he chokes it down anyway.

“Good,” Junmyeon praises him.

Jongdae smiles. Passes the cup back. And now—

He steps forward and lays his hand against the great invisible wall.

Or he tries to.

Jongdae feels nothing, and he steps forward, crossing through easily before coming right back with a timid smile.

“The covenant has been dissolved,” Sehun says, and he flits away onto the wind, a cloud of pink smoke left behind him.

“Y-yeah,” Jongdae says. “I guess it has.”

Junmyeon steps forward, as close as he can get.

“I will miss you, Jongdae-yah,” Junmyeon says fondly. “Lover of mine.”

“Ah, don’t get emotional,” Jongdae says, and he holds Junmyeon by the cheek, delighted when Junmyeon shuts his eyes and leans into it. “I’ll be back soon.”

“Okay,” Junmyeon agrees. “I will wait for you.”

Jongdae—he doesn’t know what he’s feeling, so he pulls Junmyeon into a hungry kiss, full of passion and hope, before he turns his back on the forest, exiting for the first time in a moon.

The air smells so much less sweet, so much dirtier, but he can’t lie: there is something he missed.

🜄



The first thing he does is go to Baekhyun’s apartment. He buzzes at the door, and it takes Baekhyun a couple minutes to answer, so Jongdae frantically rings him. God, he’s gonna have to get a new phone, he lost it so long ago. It would come in handy now, though.

Eventually, thankfully, Baekhyun answers sleepily.

“What?”

“Hey,” Jongdae says. “I’m home.”

There is a fraught silence that stretches on for so long that Jongdae thinks maybe the connection is bad, that Baekhyun didn’t hear him clearly. Jongdae stands there, shifting his weight from foot to foot before clicking the button again.

“Baekhyun?” he calls.

But Baekhyun bursts through the door, no shoes, no shirt, just a pair of pajama pants with puppies on them, hair a mess.

“J-Jongdae?” he asks, like he’s seeing a ghost. His eyes well up with tears, and he reaches over to touch Jongdae’s cheek.

“Yeah,” Jongdae says, shrugging. “That’s me.”

Baekhyun smiles tearfully, a bright white grin, and then he pulls Jongdae into his arms, hand on the back of Jongdae’s neck. He squeezes him tight to his body, nearly chokes the life out of him, and he laughs through his cries.

“Baby,” Baekhyun whines. “You’re fucking home. You’re alive.”

“Yeah,” Jongdae says, and he buries his face in Baekhyun’s neck, the familiar smell comforting to him.

Baekhyun withdraws after a while, smiling at Jongdae brightly, before the smile turns to a pout. And he slaps Jongdae wildly.

“I fucking told you not to go,” Baekhyun screams. “I told you!”

“Ow, please,” Jongdae says. “Stop, it’s been a long month.”

“Oh my god,” Baekhyun says, grabbing Jongdae by the shoulder, pulling his collar to the side, looking down it at Jongdae’s body. “Are you hurt?”

“No,” Jongdae laughs. “I’m good.”

“You’re good?” Baekhyun asks. “Shut up. Shut up. You’re going to the hospital. Let me go get a fucking pair of shoes. God, you couldn’t have come back at like, noon on a Sunday when I’m in my running around clothes? You’re fucking evil.”

He kisses Jongdae noisily on the lips.

“God, I missed you so much,” he says.

“Yeah,” Jongdae says. “Me too.”

🜄



His first week back in society is a confusing one.

He never really considered how difficult it might be for him to reintegrate, but with the overwhelming family attention, the hospital visit, and the discussions with the police, it takes a minute for him to get going on his own again.

He lies back in the uncomfortable hospital bed as they poke and prod him, drawing blood and running tests as they see fit. They only tell him what he already knows.

“Jongdae, you’re in perfect health,” his attending says, finger scanning down the chart. “Heart, liver, kidneys...glands, bones, muscles. I mean, you’re the absolute picture of health. You’ve got absolutely nothing wrong with you.”

“Thank you,” Jongdae says, because he feels like it’s something he should say.

“God,” Baekhyun says, brushing Jongdae’s hair back. “You even look prettier. How do you get lost in a forest for a month and come back better than before?”

Jongdae keeps his mouth shut, only smiles and waves happily when they discharge him.

The interactions with the police are similarly easy, and they ask him questions he can’t answer, so he lies.

“And you’re sure you weren’t held by anyone,” the detective says. “No one was threatening you. No one was keeping you captive.”

“No,” Jongdae says. “Nothing of the sort.”

The detective frowns, closes his folder.

“Well, you gave your friends and family quite a scare,” he says, gesturing to Baekhyun. “This one was in and out of here every day.”

“I apologize on his behalf,” Jongdae says. “He’s excitable.”

“And he’s not deaf,” Baekhyun says.

“Just promise to be more careful,” the detective says. “And stay away from that forest, okay?”

Jongdae figures he’s lied enough in the past couple of days. What’s one more?

🜄



Next, he has to deal with his professors, and as he expected, they’re all pretty happy to see him unharmed and healthy. The school gives him the option of retaking his classes over the summer, extensions for the finals. But Jongdae just goes in for final week as though nothing happened. He studies like mad after losing so many classes, but he doesn’t want to fall behind. And honestly, he’s always been smart. He passed the MCAT already. He’s got med schools lined up. He can do it.

“You have been like, weirdly chill,” Baekhyun says after all is said and done, eating takeout Chinese from the boxes. “Like, weirdly chill.”

“Yeah,” Jongdae says. “A month in the forest will do that to you.”

“Are you sure you’re okay?” Baekhyun asks, and he kicks Jongdae gently. “You get this look in your eye sometimes.”

“I do?”

“Yeah,” Baekhyun says. “Like you miss it or something.”

Jongdae hides a smile. “Yeah, I dunno. It was cool.”

“You’ve officially gone nuts,” Baekhyun says. “Whatever, I just hope you didn’t totally bone your future by taking those finals.”

“They said if I do shitty, I can try again next semester,” Jongdae says. “And honestly, if I graduate a half year late, even a full year late, it’s whatever.”

“It’s whatever?” Baekhyun says. He chucks his General Tso’s to the table in favor of shaking Jongdae by the shoulders. “Who are you, and what have you done to Jongdae? My best friend? Ye high? Beautiful? Anal retentive?”

Jongdae laughs, thinking about the weekend. He’ll get to see Junmyeon again. He finally has the time.

🜄



He packs a bag of snacks, and he brings his new phone. He journeys out on his own, and it feels right. Feels like he remembers. The grass tickles his calves all the same, and the sun is high, just around noon when he finally hits the edge of the forest again. Baekhyun would probably kill him if he knew he was back here again, and since his month-long disappearance, more signs around the edge of the forest have been placed: CAUTION, they read. But Jongdae does not caution. Just steps to the sweet-smelling edge and pushes through the foliage.

It is as though nothing has changed. The same beautiful saphwoods. The same lightshrooms lighting the way. He’s not an emotional guy, but the emotions well in him all the same.

“Jun,” he calls. “Junie.”

The wind laughs loud, and the pink smoke appears before him, even more decadent and beautiful than he remembers. The sprite gathers him in a hug, and Jongdae goes with it, even though he’s a bit concerned that he even missed Sehun in his time away from the forest.

“Master Junmyeon has missed you,” Sehun whispers. “I will take you to him.”

“I think I know the way by now,” Jongdae says.

🜄



Jongdae goes to the river, and he keeps quiet as he moves. When he happens upon Junmyeon, he is naked, water falling over his back in sheets as he washes himself. It has only been a couple weeks since he left, but even that was too long. He doesn’t want to go so long without Junmyeon again. Not if he can help it.

Jongdae sets his bag down, and then he walks to the bank of the river. He stands there, silently observing as Junmyeon blooms water flowers all around him, the fish swimming and singing.

“Jun,” he says.

Junmyeon turns, a delighted look on his face.

“My love,” he says, and the waters rise, rise, rise. They carry the river to Jongdae, soaking him through, until Junmyeon is in his arms once more. “You came back to me.”

“I told you I would,” Jongdae says.

Junmyeon smiles, and he pulls Jongdae into a kiss. It’s been too long since they had this, and Jongdae relaxes into Junmyeon’s hands, warm water melting him.

“I am so glad to see you again,” Junmyeon says. “I want to hear all about your home. How it fared without you. How it welcomed your return.”

“Yeah,” Jongdae says, and he kisses Junmyeon’s cheek. “But first, let’s just do this for a while.”

Junmyeon’s grin is as handsome as it always was, but Jongdae has found a home in it now.

“Yes,” Junmyeon says. “Kiss me, Jongdae-yah.”

🜄



Jongdae unpacks his bag on the familiar table top, showing Junmyeon all the treats he has to spare: candy, chocolate, junk food of all types. Modern wonders. He wants to share it all with Junmyeon, wants to show him his world the way Junmyeon got to show Jongdae his.

“Doritos,” Junmyeon says, testing the word in his mouth. “What are these, lover?”

“Tortilla chips covered in cheese dust,” Jongdae explains, but Junmyeon cocks his head to the side like a puppy, and Jongdae shoves them into his hands. “Just try one.”

Junmyeon opens the bag cautiously, takes one small orange triangle between his fingers. He studies it before he takes a small nibble off one of the corners. His eyes go wide, and he shoves the rest in his mouth.

“You like that?” Jongdae laughs.

“It is delicious, Jongdae,” Junmyeon says. “May I have them?”

“All this is yours,” Jongdae says, gesturing to the table. “So you can try everything.”

Junmyeon smiles fondly, puts the bag of Doritos down before taking Jongdae in his arms and kisses him squarely. He tastes like fake cheese, and Jongdae grins through the kiss.

“Thank you, Jongdae-yah,” Junmyeon says.

🜄



Jongdae fucks him slow, soft, and they come close enough together that Jongdae will take it as a win. Junmyeon snuggles back into bed, pleased, his hair full of flowers, and they cuddle for a while as their breath comes back to them.

They eat themselves silly, the snacks spread across the bed. Junmyeon is easy, not very picky at all, but he likes the chewy Chips Ahoy and Snickers the best. He’s got a sweet tooth, but Jongdae already knew that well enough.

“So tell me,” Junmyeon says, and he lies back in Jongdae’s arms. “Tell me of home.”

“School,” Jongdae says. “I took my finals.”

“Finals are tests of your competency in various subjects that you study, correct?” Junmyeon asks, and he draws a little heart in water on Jongdae’s stomach.

“Yeah,” Jongdae says. “So I did those.”

“Did you fare well?” Junmyeon asks.

“Won’t find out for a while,” Jongdae says. “I don’t know. Might have bombed them. I can always take ‘em again though.”

“You have become one with the water,” Junmyeon says peacefully. “You let it move you.”

“Fighting against it is too hard,” Jongdae says. “I figured out I like letting it take me where it wants to.”

Junmyeon hums happily, climbs on top of Jongdae.

“Again?” Jongdae smiles.

“Always,” Junmyeon says, and he dips in, takes a kiss and then several more.

🜄



Jongdae doesn’t do as well as he would have on his finals, but his grades are respectable . It’s as though he lost no time at all. It all worked out, after all. He feels like, finally, all is well.

He’s not super busy throughout the summer, thankfully, so he has lots of time to go visit Junmyeon in the forest. They do all the same shit they used to do, lazing in the river and taking walks to observe the flora and fauna and teaching each other about their respective worlds. But now, he can go home. He doesn’t always: sometimes he spends the weekend with Junmyeon. It’s almost like Junmyeon is his boyfriend which is ridiculous to think. He’s a witch. Stuck in the middle of a forest.

It would be nice, Jongdae dreams, to be able to bring Junmyeon home with him. To be able to show him some things the way Junmyeon was able to show him.

“Have you ever thought about leaving?” Jongdae asks as they walk along the edge.

“Yes, I have,” Junmyeon says, and he squeezes Jongdae’s hand in his. “I think you could show me great beauty in your world, Jongdae-yah.”

Jongdae smiles, thinking about it. Someday.

🜄



“Did you bring them?”

Junmyeon waits for Jongdae’s returns like a puppy waiting for the return of his owner, and Jongdae rolls his eyes. He puts his bag in Junmyeon’s hands, unzips it, and then upturns the contents into Junmyeon’s arms: Rolos. Maybe a million Rolos.

“Jongdae-yah, you spoil me,” Junmyeon says happily.

“You would have thrown me to the dogyags in the south if I hadn’t brought them for you,” Jongdae says.

“I doubt I would have gone that far,” Junmyeon says. He whips the candies back into Jongdae’s bag, zips it for him. “I made egg and lightshroom pancakes for you.”

“Mm,” Jongdae says, and he laces his fingers with Junmyeon’s. “Now who’s getting spoiled?”

Junmyeon tosses his head back and laughs, and the walk back to the cabin is familiar. He wonders if this is what love is: feeling that contentment. He thinks back to Chanyeol, and it gives him pause.

“I’d like to take you on a date sometime,” Jongdae says.

“A date?” Junmyeon says. “Jongdae-yah, aren’t we always on a date?”

Jongdae rolls his eyes, but Junmyeon is so fucking endearing that he drops it entirely.

🜄



He can’t stop thinking about it. About Junmyeon and Chanyeol, everything they meant to each other. Chanyeol is in everything in the forest. His magic is everywhere. Junmyeon said as much.

It’s stupid, and he knows it’s stupid, which just makes him feel stupider.

Feelings aren’t rational, though, and that’s why he’s always tried to stay away from them.

🜄



Junmyeon always walks him to the edge of the forest, their hands clasped.

At the end, Junmyeon kisses him sweetly.

“I’ll see you soon, love,” Junmyeon says, and he rubs his nose against Jongdae’s. “Be careful traveling home.”

“I will,” Jongdae says. “Bye.”

“Goodbye,” Junmyeon says.

And Jongdae goes. But something, something in his chest, rattling around in his ribcage, makes him turn back around. He shoots Junmyeon his most charming smile. “Hey,” he says. “Come with me.”

“Jongdae,” Junmyeon laughs, shocked. “What?”

“Come with me,” Jongdae says. “I’ll take you to my apartment.”

Junmyeon stares at the ground, smiling sadly.

“You know as well as I that I must stay,” Junmyeon says. “I pledged myself to the forest.”

“So?” Jongdae says. “So did I. And you got me out.”

“It’s much different,” Junmyeon says. “I made a promise.”

“I don’t care,” Jongdae says. “Fuck the promise. Fuck the oath. Come with me.”

“I cannot,” Junmyeon says. “Please, Jongdae.”

“Don’t.” He moves backwards. “Don’t treat me like a kid.”

“I’m not,” Junmyeon says, and he lays his hands on Jongdae’s chest. “I only wish to quiet the noise within you.”

“Stop saying that shit,” Jongdae says. “You know why I want you to leave, don’t you? I don’t wanna make you move. I just—you’re fucking stuck! You’re living in your past!”

“I am not. I have made peace with my life, Jongdae-yah,” Junmyeon says.

“It’s because of Chanyeol,” Jongdae accuses. “It’s because it’s him. You don’t wanna leave him.”

“Jongdae-yah. Love of mine.”

“Don’t call me that, okay?” Jongdae says.

“Jongdae,” Junmyeon says, and he closes the distance between them. “It isn’t about Chanyeol. I owe this forest my life.”

“And leaving for an afternoon is gonna change that?” Jongdae asks.

“Please understand,” Junmyeon says, “I desire to keep my word.”

He needs to stop fucking around. He needs to cut to the heart of it. Am I less than him? Is he always going to be better than me, no matter what I do? No matter how free you make me feel?

“Do you still—would you rather be with him?” Jongdae asks.

“Jongdae, he is gone,” Junmyeon says.

“Answer the question,” Jongdae says.

“There is no point in answering the question, for there is no answer,” Junmyeon says. “You are here. And I love you.”

“You love him,” Jongdae says. “And I get that. He was your soulmate. And I’ll—whatever. It doesn’t matter.”

“Do not leave when you’re still so upset,” Junmyeon says. “Please. Let’s talk.”

“It’s fine,” Jongdae says. “I’m fine.”

And when he walks out of the forest, he leaves for good.

🜄



He goes back to normal. Normal is always there waiting for you, he’s found. You don’t need much to keep normal going. He does what he’s always done. He hangs out with friends. He goes home, visits with his family. Everything looks grey to him now, no longer drenched in vibrant blues and greens, but grey suits him just fine. He was used to it before. He’ll get used to it again.

Sometimes, he just lies in bed and doesn’t do much, memories from the forest running through his head. Everything was so impossibly tied to Junmyeon, all of him now. He didn’t think he could fall in love so quickly, and maybe it wasn’t love, maybe it was just infatuation, but he knew that with time, it could be love. It could be so, so much more.

Realistically, he thought that with a week or two, it would be behind him. He would have moved past it, like a kid falling to sleep after throwing a tantrum. But it doesn’t go away. It sticks with him through the rest of his summer, this impenetrable fog of sadness. The thought that maybe he did something wrong.

He goes through the motions of his life. He never realized he missed the color. The sound. The sweet smell of the water.

🜄



A month goes by. And then a couple weeks more. Each day, he wants with more and more of himself to go back. It eats at him, but he never acts on his emotion. That’s not him. That’s never been him. He got lost in the riptide. He let it sweep him up.

🜄



The summer dies around him.

“You’ve looked so miserable,” Baekhyun says, and he gets behind Jongdae on the sand, kneads into his shoulders. “I thought the beach would help. Did you and the boy break up?”

Jongdae shakes him off. “What boy?”

“The boy you were seeing,” Baekhyun says. “Duh.”

“I-I wasn’t seeing a boy,” Jongdae says.

“Yes, you were,” Baekhyun says. “Ever since you got back, you’ve been going every so often. Well, I assumed you were going to meet a guy. Is that not it?”

Baekhyun is more attuned than Jongdae gives him credit for, he guesses.

“Yeah, I guess that’s sort of it,” Jongdae says.

“That sucks,” Baekhyun says. “Are you okay?”

“I dunno,” Jongdae says, and he digs his feet into the sand. They shouldn’t have come here, where the water is everywhere. Jongdae can feel him in everything. “I liked him.”

“Then why’d you break up?” Baekhyun asks. “He get sick of eating your ass?”

Jongdae turns and smacks Baekhyun on the arm.

“Ow,” he mutters. “Rude.”

“I, uh, I’m the one who broke up with him,” Jongdae says. “Well, I guess. I don’t know. I didn’t really break up with him.”

“You ghosted?” Baekhyun gasps. “That’s so fuckin’ weak.”

“Yeah, I’m awful,” Jongdae says. And he turns back around, stares out at the horizon.

“Shut up,” Baekhyun says, and he squeezes his arms around Jongdae’s middle. “What happened?”

Jongdae breathes in the salted air. Breathes out. “You ever dated someone who was like, still in love with someone else?” he asks.

“Yeah,” Baekhyun says. “Once. Barely got off the ground. It feels like garbage, being with someone who wants to be somewhere else.”

“Yeah,” Jongdae says. “I don’t know. There’s no way around it. No matter how much they say they’re moved on—”

“He said he’s moved on?” Baekhyun asks.

“Well, yeah, but what else is he gonna say?” Jongdae laughs.

“Do you have a reason not to believe him?” Baekhyun asks. “Like, how long has it been since they broke up?”

Only a hundred years, Jongdae thinks.

“A while,” Jongdae says.

“So you don’t trust him,” Baekhyun concludes.

“No, I...I trust him,” Jongdae says.

Baekhyun laughs loudly in Jongdae’s ear. “If you did, we wouldn’t be having this conversation,” he says.

“I do trust him,” Jongdae says. “I trust that he thinks he’s over it, but I just...how do you move on from someone who’s perfect for you?”

“There’s not only one person for everyone,” Baekhyun says, and Jongdae can hear the smirk. “I never thought you were someone who believed in soulmates.”

“I wasn’t,” Jongdae says.

“Listen,” Baekhyun says, “just because you’re not destined to be together by some intelligent designer or whatever doesn’t mean he can’t love you. It doesn’t mean it can’t be real.”

“But it’d never be as good,” Jongdae says, and he blinks back tears.

“Hey,” Baekhyun says, and he pulls Jongdae to the ground, rolling him over in the sand until Baekhyun stares down at him. “You’ll always be good. Just as good. Perfect.”

“You think?”

“I know,” Baekhyun says. “Is that all that’s stopping you from being with him? Your insecurity?”

Jongdae shuts his eyes.

“I know that face,” Baekhyun says. “You should go get him. At the very least, you can make sure you did the right thing.”

Baekhyun drives them home, the windows down, and Jongdae leans into the wind as the roads slip beneath them. Baekhyun’s words sink into his bloodstream, and they start to eat at him. He was so confident when he left that final time. So sure. And now, he isn’t. He really, really isn’t.

🜄



Jongdae needs to know. He needs to know for sure that he did the right thing, that he made the right choice in staying away.

He goes to the forest some late night, early morning, when the streets are as silent as they’ll ever be. He brings nothing, needs nothing for this. He lays a hand against his pulse point in a weak attempt to quiet it.

Once he steps inside, Junmyeon knows that he is there. Jongdae is sure of it. The mists…the mists move. They sense his presence. But the forest…he has never seen it so ugly, so gnarled and twisting with evil. The misery has grown thick, digging its claws into the soft, wet earth, and it has ripped life from the dirt by the root. There are smoldering piles of ash where plants used to be. There are trees left half eaten from beetles, the bark shredded and torn. He—he didn’t know it would break so badly.

When Jongdae moves further inside, Junmyeon is standing there, eyes red. Clothing torn. He looks weary. He looks like the forest, in desperate need of love.

“Hi,” Jongdae says softly.

“You came back,” Junmyeon says, and his voice cracks with emotion. “I thought you might never again.”

“I came,” Jongdae says.

“Why did you leave for so long?” Junmyeon asks.

“It hurt,” Jongdae says. “Coming back here. Remembering everything.”

Junmyeon closes the gap between them suddenly as if he’s walking on water, and he takes Jongdae’s hands in his.

“What hurt you?” Junmyeon asks. “Tell me quickly, Jongdae, so that I might stop it from hurting you again.”

“It’s not like that,” Jongdae says, and he shuts his eyes. “It’s stupid.”

“It isn’t,” Junmyeon says softly. “Tell me. Please, Jongdae. You are so dear to me. Seeing you hurt...it hurts me.”

I didn’t make the right choice, he thinks. Not at all.

He blinks back tears. “What happened?” he asks, gesturing to the forest. “It looks like shit.”

Junmyeon laughs, bites at his smile.

“I missed you,” Junmyeon says. “And it...it seems as though you were right all along. I am the forest. The forest is me.”

“Y-you,” Jongdae says. “You really missed me?”

“Jongdae,” Junmyeon says, and he steps forward. “Jongdae, I love you.”

Jongdae doesn’t know what to say. Doesn’t know how to make things right.

“You know,” Jongdae says, sniffing quickly, words coming quicker than his brain can form them, “I’ll never be him. I won’t. And that’s why I stayed away for so long. I got...I didn’t want to feel like I was coming in second place.”

“Jongdae-yah,” Junmyeon says, and he touches Jongdae’s cheek so tenderly that it draws a tear from Jongdae’s eye. “You do not have to be him. I love you as you. Not as anyone or anything else.”

“We weren’t meant to be together,” Jongdae says. “We weren’t. We weren’t destined by fate. We weren’t star-crossed lovers. Our love wasn’t viciously unrequited. We weren’t the subject to a great tragedy. We’re just...we’re just us.”

Junmyeon takes Jongdae’s hands in his, brings them to rest on Junmyeon’s face before he kisses Jongdae for the first time since Jongdae left.

“We do not need to be subject to great tragedy to be a good story,” Junmyeon says. “We do not need to be destined by fate to be in love with each other. Sometimes, love is just love. And that alone is enough. Isn’t it? There is magic in that, isn’t there?”

Jongdae squeezes his eyes shut, and he feels magic inside him. Feels the light. He opens his eyes, sees Junmyeon staring at him with pure shock, awe on his face.

Jongdae kisses him deeply, puts all he can into it.

He feels the light. He feels it.

Jongdae remembers their lessons as Junmyeon kisses him, opens himself up to the immensity of it.

Jongdae goes to it. Pushes against it. One great shove, like he’s shouldering into it.

The magic courses through them both, their bodies conduits, and it shoots out the bottom of their feet into the ground. It ripples out from where they stand, and the healing puts color, sound, light, life back into the forest. Back where it belongs.

🜄



When they fall back into their bed, the bed that belongs to them, it is with reckless abandon. Clothes fall to the floor of the cabin, and they don’t stop to fold them or brush them aside. They kiss each new patch of skin, wet with sweat from each other as the need builds between them, a wave meant to crash over each other.

“I love you,” Junmyeon says, kissing Jongdae at the clavicle. “I love you. And I’ll never stop.”

“I love you,” Jongdae says.

They hold each other like treasures of the world, like they themselves are the only priceless things that exist. They plant seeds of hope within the other. They reap what they sow. They kiss until morning comes. And until the next morning comes too.

🜄



When the sun breaks, shining orange and red through all the blue and green, Jongdae leads him to the edge of the forest. Junmyeon pulls back, looks unsure of himself.

“It might not work,” Junmyeon says. “Please be prepared for that.”

“I am,” Jongdae says. “And I’ll drop it after we try.”

Junmyeon kisses him, and there are years and years in it.

When Jongdae parts the foliage, stepping through, Junmyeon follows easily. Out and into the world.

Sometimes love, no tortured past, no red strings of fate, is just love. And it is enough, Jongdae decides. It always has been and always will be enough. There has always been magic within.