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My Sunflower

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No one can predict when love goes cold, when it will wither, when it will die. For him, love went cold in his lover’s arms, where warm touches began to burn away his senses, until he was thrown to the thrashing water to drown.

He remembered that moment clearly. Not because he wanted to, of course, but because it remained engraved in his head, burnt into his brain without a second thought. There was a rush of wings, soaring higher and higher, mute warnings falling on deaf ears. He remembers the adrenaline rush, as if every beat of his heart was a shout to keep going, the liquid in his veins like unquenchable fire. He remembers the suns rays on his skin, that oh so familiar warmth that enraptured him within its grasp, longing tugging at his stomach as ambition burned brighter. His father had warned him not to fly too close to the sun, the wax would melt, and he would fall down below the blue. The young boy chose to ignore him, because what was falling when you know you could be caught. What was falling when you already know you’re in love.

It wasn’t long until his love came into view. Curly blonde hair laid upon tanned skin, body swathed in cloth and materials the boy couldn’t imagine to afford. He wasn’t looking towards the boy, rather something across the sea, that beautiful perceiving look on full display. A look he knew well, one that always watched him from above, that cradled his heart in its entirety with one gaze. The boy called over to his love and the god turned to face him. At first, he looked happy. At first, they were happy

Until the winged boy was clinging to his arm as if it were a lifeline. Maybe it was, the boy felt gusts of wind breathing past his feet and gravity beginning to grasp mercilessly at him. He pleaded, and the god looked on straight. That warmth they once shared was burning him, dark patches and exposed flesh starting to hiss on his very bones. He begged the god to not let go, willing to suffer through whatever pain it could cause him, heart sinking with every passing second of his love’s silence. Slowly, he slipped out of their grasp. He began to fall.

Wind whipped at his sides, he could hear the eager waves below him, ready to swallow him whole. It all moved so quickly yet he felt every thought come slow, till his epiphany reached a little over an unforgiving sea. He who had loved him had let him go. Silly, really, tears flew up alongside waxy feathers, how he expected a mortal like him to want to be equals with a god. Stupid, stupid, stupid…Perhaps, at that moment, he could’ve saved himself, attempted to regain flight with whatever he had left, but he didn’t. There was no point to now. The sea broke him further, no purple would tell you that but where his skin was destroyed did, bearing the scars of a past love.

Icarus died with his eyes open, forever cursed to look at the sun.


 

Jeongguk awoke with a start, immediately dragging himself upright, cold sweat dotting his brow. Breath came fast, hasty, and staggered, a million thoughts (mostly questions) running through his head. All got lost in his sleepy haze, yet the image of falling and the sun were burned into the front of his mind. It was just there, dormant yet vivid in its haunting contents. He wanted to shake it off. It was just a bad dream, something he could tackle another time, something he could easily forget later. Tired began to pull him down, inviting him to bed, but he knew he couldn’t. Yet chills still ran down his back. That dream had felt too real to let him go back to sleep.

He looked around his room. It was night, 3am probably, he gave himself a couple seconds to adjust to the dark. A beam of moonlight peeked from between his curtains, casting pale light through the darkness. Shakily, he go out of bed to open them, revealing a quiet night outside, a foreign yet somehow familiar weight hauling on his back as he got up. He chose to ignore it, blaming his dragging fatigue. Everything seemed normal, but he knew something was off, somewhere.

An idea sparked in his head, he was home alone that night. No one else was there, no one to call that number again, it was safe. Jeongguk was free to call out to that friend. He looked towards the empty window and called out. “Icarus.”

It was only a minute or two before a boy, seemingly a couple years older than Jeongguk, appeared at the window, balancing on the window-sill. The boy practically glowed in the moonlight, their skin radiant, save for the usual couple of irregular patches. The boy, Icarus, smiled at Jeongguk, obviously pleased to see him. It had been a while.“What are you doing up so late, Jeonggukie?”

Jeongguk let out a huff, he had let go of that nickname a long time ago. “I told you not to call me that.”

“Considering I’m part of your imagination, you clearly still want me to.”

Jeongguk paused for a moment, mind flashing back to a long time ago. The doctors had told him long ago that Icarus wasn’t real, that the boy standing in front of him now was just imaginary, most likely a coping mechanism for his lack friends. As a kid, it really hurt him, especially because, when he was being told all this, Icarus was sitting across from him, smiling with some pre-prepared pity. Icarus was meant to have gone away after that. But he didn’t. He was still there, even after 10 years. His imagination had never left him, and everyone called him insane for it. Icarus wasn’t his favourite person, Jeongguk didn’t actually like Icarus that much, but he didn’t have a choice. For the past couple of years, Icarus was all he had.

“So, why’d you wanna talk at 2:56 in the morning Jeonggukie? Having girl troubles, boy troubles?” Icarus asked, a smirk crawling on his face.

“You’re in my brain, wouldn’t you know?”

“Only if you accept it.”

Jeongguk shook his head, whatever headache he had gotten earlier seemingly  worse with his imaginary friend’s arrival. “No-Its just I…I had a really weird dream.”

The other boy made his way over, choosing to sit on the opposite side of the bed. That stupid undying expression never faltering. “Sounds stupid, but okay.”

Jeongguk glared at him, but continued. “In this dream, I…I was falling,” He noticed Icarus had stiffened, that smirk falling from his face almost immediately. “I was in the sky…flying. You know, regular dream stuff. And then there was someone else up there, a blond guy, and I went over to him. Then, all of a sudden, I was holding onto him. He looked like he was going throw me down,” He looked down, searching his mind for scraps of the dream. Usually, dreams would run away the second you open your eyes, but something still stayed there.“And, I think he did. I fell into the sea, I think? I was looking at the sun, then I woke up.”

Icarus was staring at him when he looked up, whatever childishness or half-hearted teasing he held earlier long gone. There was something odd to him, as if he had become a new person right before his eyes. Maybe it was fear. Icarus spoke, almost carefully. “Jeongguk, I’m pretty sure its just a dream, nothing to worry abo-“

“But it felt real.”

Icarus paused, caught in thought, before speaking again. “Elaborate.”

“I don’t know, it's just-I could practically feel everything happening. Like when I hit the water or, or when the guy…” His eyes wandered to the burns littering Icarus’ skin. “…burned me.”

‘Maybe it wasn’t me, but you.’ Jeongguk thought, scanning the boy in front of him.

Icarus caught his gaze. The burns were horrible, patchy, with blacks and purples alongside fleshy pink. They took up Icarus’ right arm almost in its entirety, running around his shoulder and tracing down his back.

“Jeongguk, I’ll tell you enough soon, but we kinda have something bigger than that to worry about.” At that point, Icarus wasn’t looking at him, rather something behind him.

He gestured Jeongguk to get up. Icarus guided him towards the narrow beams of light coming through the window. Confused, Jeongguk followed suit, that odd weight still there, only to turn around and see his own shadow. Or at least what he thought was his own shadow. On the floor, framed by moonlight, was him. Except with two hulking things attaches to his sides, looking like someone had stuck half a heart on each of his shoulders. He turned to Icarus, hoping for answers, only to feel them spread, his shadow presenting every individual feather.

Wings. He had wings.

“Jeongguk, you okay?”

Jeongguk was definitely not okay. His breath quickened alongside his heartbeat, countless questions making the room swirl. Through his hyperventilation, Icarus had carefully led him away from the window, back to the bed, quickly zipping back to the window to open it for fresh air. “Shit, I should’ve told you sooner.”

“Tell me wha-?” Is the last thing Jeongguk could say before passing out.


 

Jeongguk woke up the next morning in cold sweat, wishing every part of whatever the hell happened last night was a nightmare. Fresh summer air blew in through his open window, his curtain flying around as oxygen tried to dry away his anxiety. Stray rays of sunlight illuminating his now pale skin, he didn’t remember opening the window. Perhaps what happened last night was real.

He slid a hand behind his back, past his apparently ruined shirt and felt a growth that was never there before. Venturing upwards, he felt something soft hit his fingertips, he plucked it out, wincing slightly at the pricking pain, then brought it in front of him. A single dirty-gold feather.

“How you feeling?” Jeongguk jumped at his supposed imaginary friend’s voice.

“Peachy.” Jeongguk fell back onto his pillow, dropping the feather somewhere between the covers.

Icarus was perched on the far corner of the bed, a sentimental look on his face. This what not the Icarus he’d come to know recently. “Would this be a good time to explain? Or should I wait until you’re ready?”

He took a moment to look at Icarus, examining him for the first time in so long. Once upon a time, he had praised his young self for his imagination keeping so constant for so long, and for somehow creating a person that knew a lot more than he did at the time, and possibly still does now.

But never had he spared the thought about how he did it. The doctor had told him that he probably based off a painting that he saw when he was young; The Lament for Icarus. That Icarus looked exactly like his Icarus, curly brown hair, same strong yet limp arms, everything, save for his Icarus being covered in burns and waxy feathers. Jeongguk didn’t remember ever seeing that painting before he met Icarus. He remembers looking at it with his friend. “It’s you!” A young Jeongguk said to a forever young Icarus. “It’s me.” Is what Icarus replied, a blurry melancholic smile on his face.

Jeongguk thought for a second, then nodded. With that Icarus left the room, motioning Jeongguk to follow, into the bathroom. The elder boy sat in the bathtub and pointed towards a full-length mirror hidden in the corner of the room. Jeongguk turned towards it.

He was still him, mostly. His shirt laid loose and torn on his shoulders and hips, making way for his wings. They were big, probably longer than Jeongguk’s arms were when he stretched them out, but were currently tickling the back of his thighs. Like the feather he pulled out earlier, they were a sort of tarnished gold colour, the type you saw on old jewellery or statues. It was an odd thing to say, but they kind of suited him.

 He turned to Icarus, confusion written into his expression. “Explanation, now.”

The boy in the bathtub sighed, then spoke. “This’ll take a while for you to understand and let sink in…You’re what people call a Monitum, a reborn version of someone from long ago. Monitums are cursed to live out the same life and story of their first incarnation as a..” The doorbell rung, Icarus immediately changing his focus. “You should get the door.”

“But you haven’t finished yet.”

“Trust me, the person at the door can explain this better than I can.”

Jeongguk shot him a weird look, then quickly left for downstairs, Icarus following behind him and taking refuge on an old couch. Through a window in the door, Jeongguk could see the man waiting outside. The man was blond, with almost gold tan skin hiding underneath a flower-patterned suit. He seemed to notice Jeongguk, smiling at him with faux glee. There seemed to be nothing trustworthy about him. With that, Jeongguk opened the door. The man had a voice like music. “Jeon Jeongguk, can I come in to talk?”

Jeongguk didn’t want to, him and people wasn’t his favourite combination. But he chose to stomach that fear, he wanted, no, needed answers. He let the man in, mostly ignoring the nausea that consumed him. A man who immediately moved past him into the living room. “Thanks, kid.” Is what he uttered as he sat on couch directly opposite to Icarus.

“Uh, who are you?” Jeongguk said, confused and still shaky as he sat down next to his imaginary friend.

“Names Apollo.” Icarus kept a steely gaze to the ground.

Apollo continued. “I’m here to invite you to a school for people just like you,” He recognised the confusion on the Jeongguk’s face. “People who aren’t normal, per se.”

He definitely was right about the not normal thing. Jeongguk had heard his conversation a million times before, he had already trained himself to listen, even though all he wanted to do was scream. Almost immediately, Jeongguk’s answer was no. His parents wouldn’t let him for one thing, even after all this time, they still seeked normality for him. For another, he didn’t want more grief that he already received.

“After all, it’s to everyday that you get a kid with wings, or-“ He looked directly at Icarus, the boy squirming sightly at his gaze. “Could see the dead.”

“You’re dead?” Jeongguk was too distracted to give mind as to how exactly Apollo knew the events of last night. He almost jumped from his seat. As if the other revelations he had this morning were enough, the world had decided to throw him the fact that his supposed imaginary friend was a ghost.

Icarus only shrugged, as one does once they get revealed as a dead person. “I was gonna tell you before sunshine over here came over.”

Apollo noticeably cringed. Icarus turned to him, a cold gaze striking through the blond. This was another new Icarus. “How’d we know you aren’t just going to scam him, try to use him for something he doesn’t wanna get involved in. Hell, how do we know you’re even telling the truth?”

Apollo shot him questioning look, fire just barely hidden in his eyes. “I don’t know why you’re asking for Jeongguk, Icarus,” Oh, so they knew each other. “After all, this offer is for him-“

“Look, I’ve been watching over Jeongguk since he was young, if you’re trying to rope him into bad shit, then I’m not having it.” Icarus spoke with a cold bite. Jeongguk felt extremely to be there to uncomfortable to say the least.

Apollo sighed, turning to Jeongguk. “Jeongguk, this school is there to help you with your current situation,” He gestured towards the wings. “We’ll help you learn how to control them alongside any other powers you may hold. We’ll teach you who you are in this new world you’ve entered, everything about it and how to keep you alive in it,” He said the next part for Icarus. “I’m offering this entirely for your benefit, your introduction to this world had only been recent, I can imagine how sudden this must all be for you. So, we’re going to give you a sort of ‘catch-up’ year, where we’ll teach you all the things everyone else grew up knowing. You’ll start a year early so you’re ready for your first year.”

“That’s...a lot to progress.” Jeongguk felt a little stunned, first the weird dream, then the wings and now a school probably filled with people he only thought existed with stories.

Apollo stood up from the couch, moving to pat Jeongguk on the shoulder, who flinched in response. He clicked his fingers, a scroll popping out of thin air to land in his hand. “You’ll have some time to think about it. If you want to join just sign this scroll, no need to mail it or anything. It’s entirely your choice Jeongguk, the scroll only accepts the choice you truly want. The deadline for it is when the sun hits the horizon on summer's last day. The school hopes to see you there in September.”

He placed the scroll in Jeongguk’s hands before making his way to the door. “W-wait,” He turned. “What if I have more questions?” Jeongguk was bubbling with them.

“Ask Icarus, I would love to answer them but a god has his duties.” With a flash, he was gone.

Jeongguk turned to Icarus, pale in the face. “A god?”

Icarus chuckled. “I’ve never seen anyone speak so casually to one.”

“Says you, you looked like you were going to strangle him on the spot.”

The elder boy looked towards where the god once stood. “Yeah, well, that’s for...personal reasons.” He pauses for a bit before snapping round to face Jeongguk. “Right, let’s get things straight before you pull your hair out.”


 

“Apollo.” The blond turned around, slightly shocked that the dead boy had caught up with him. They were on the pavement of a some far away street, at sunset, the sun peeking over the hills, the old god watching its descent as always. Cars whizzed pass, mortals blind to whatever supernatural events took place right beside them. Icarus hadn’t changed much since he last saw him. The burns were still there, and he didn’t seem to have cleaned off all the wax and feathers that had bonded to him so long ago. Perhaps it was the boy’s way to rebel, or harbour guilt.

The god knew this conversation, they had it every generation, and with every generation Icarus only grew angrier, sometimes showing it, sometimes not. They stood a couple meters apart, once upon a time, they were closer. Too many things happened since them, tearing them apart further with every passing word. Icarus stared the sun deity down. Apollo really didn’t need this right now.

“We always have this conversation and you always get the same answer, just give it up already.”

“This kid doesn’t deserv-“

“According to you, no kid deserves it.” Apollo scoffed.

Icarus was practically shouting at this rate. “This kid has done nothing,” He stalked up to the god, rage encircling his being, spitting in Apollo's face. “He’s only 17, he’s barely learned anything about life, let alone done anything bad enough to gain him this.”

Apollo didn’t show whatever guilt was currently eroding him internally. “I can’t choose the kid.”

“But you can choose whether it happens.”

“Mortals need to be taught their lessons.” The god’s aggression began to rival that of this former love.

“But mortals don’t need to be hand-picked for suffering, especially when they’re innocent.”

“Icarus, you’re taking this too personally.”

“How can I not?” Tears began to form the young boy’s eyes, emotion wracking his body in waves. “He has to relive my life, and I can’t do anything but watch. I don’t wanna go through that again.” Apollo held his arm out for stability, Icarus didn’t want to touch him, for fear of history repeating itself for the millionth time. “I-promise me this one thing.”

He looked Apollo directly in the eye, tears and all. “Watch what happens. Watch what this curse does to him. Watch how you’ve doomed him."

With that, Apollo was alone on the street.