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dolls cannot choose; they can only be chosen

Chapter Text

Seungcheol was never one to wake up slowly, steadily. Then again, he was never one to do anything slowly or steady. But engulfed in darkness, atop an unfamiliar mattress and underneath an unfamiliar comforter, he felt more on edge than ever. Within seconds of realising he was on the edge of consciousness, he shot up straight as a pole, eyes wide and breath quickening. For a few moments, he didn’t know where he was. He didn’t know where he was or how he got there, and he was terrified.

Energy flooded his system, pumping and beating like it was trying to escape his petrified form. It felt like it was trying to escape back to where he came from, back to where he should be.

 

A hand wrapped around his wrist, delicately and gently, and Seungcheol flinched so hard it looked as though he’d been struck.

 

“Seungcheol, it’s me. You’re okay, it’s only me,” came a voice, piercing through the thick darkness. Seungcheol remembered that voice, remembered it belonged to Jisoo, remembered that Jisoo said he wouldn’t hurt him. And with that memory, came many, many more.

 

 

 

Seungcheol remembered what had happened that night. He remembered how he’d foolishly knocked over a jar of stormwater while searching for a spell for his maker. He remembered feeling sheer terror as he watched the water all but wash away the ink on every page it touched; washing away a whole fraction of the Moon Thicket’s records and resources. Try as he might, the pages were unsalvageable, the neat script rendered entirely illegible.

He remembered how it felt when the energy coursing through his body all but froze when the coven’s leader walked into the study, followed closely by his maker. There was silence, a toxic, thick silence. The calm as even the atoms in the air waited for the explosion to ensue.

While he couldn’t remember what exactly had been said, he remembered the anger, he remembered furious screaming, directed straight at him. He remembered cowering in a corner, trying to make himself look small as possible, whimpering as every thunderous consonant crashed against his ears.

 

“Go take your doll, Hangil. It would appear you still have a lot to teach it.”

“Seungcheol,” called his maker with a snarl. “In front of me. Now.”

 

Every step felt as though his legs were encased in lead as dread crept over him like an icy chill, pushing him back, trying to reverse his steps. His body wanted to run, wanted to be as far away as possible from the seething man walking behind him, but he remained where he was, putting one foot in front of the other. In the end, there was really only one thing he could do: pray to every deity he could think of that his maker wouldn’t deem him too big a bother, and simply choose to kill him.

 

Seungcheol remembered the sheer intensity of his maker’s eyes as he glared holes into him. His eyes were narrowed, turning rigid and cold, reminding Seungcheol of a viper’s slit-like pupils. He gulped nervously. If he didn’t yet realise that he’d fucked up, he definitely knew it as those eyes burned deep into his skin.

 

“What do you have to say for yourself, hmm?” asked his maker, his voice dangerously flat.

Seungcheol couldn’t think of anything, his throat closing up and mouth growing dry. Instead, he wrung his hands, twisting and turning them so hard his knuckles were turning white.

 

No other words were exchanged, at least not any Seungcheol could remember. It started with a slap so hard he stumbled back until his head and back smacked against the wall with a sickening thud. Blow after blow rained down upon him until he heard something in his leg crack, and he crashed to the ground in a heap.

And throughout it all, Seungcheol bit his tongue, barely letting more than a whimper past his grit teeth.

 

“You’re lucky I didn’t destroy you. Next time you fuck up, don’t expect that mercy.”

 

Those words rang throughout Seungcheol’s head for what seemed like hours. He didn’t move, not even when his maker left the small apartment, leaving him alone as night fell upon the city. His mind was blank; the only thing he could register was the throbbing pain coming from his leg.

 

The thought came to him two hours after sunset. What if he left? What if he put on a thick jacket, a cap, kept his head down, and walked away from his maker, from the coven? In the dark, no one would recognise him, no one would stop him. It was simple. So stupidly simple.

 

Seungcheol would laugh at himself later for really believing it would be that easy.

 

 

It hit him only after he’d been walking aimlessly for an hour. What the fuck was he doing? He was a doll; dolls didn’t do this. Dolls sat with their pretty mouths shut and obeyed their makers. That was how it worked, that was the only way he knew it to work. So, what the fuck was he doing?

 

He was confused; scared, confused, and completely alone. His breaths grew faster and more erratic by the second. A part of him wanted to go back where he came from. Maybe his maker hadn’t returned yet, maybe he’d be able to get away with the stunt he pulled. But would he even be able to retrace his steps? After all, he had no idea where he was. And did he even want to go back?

He knew he should want to return. That was where he belonged, the only place he should be. So why did he feel so apprehensive about simply turning around?

 

 

So caught up in his thoughts, in his questions, in his pure, concentrated fear, Seungcheol didn’t notice the figure rounding the corner he was approaching. Their shoulders collided painfully, and Seungcheol let out a yelp of surprise.

It was then that he felt the tears streaking his face.

 

“I’m really sorry,” said the man he’d bumped into. “I should’ve – Hey are you okay?”

 

Seungcheol panicked, his mind running at a million miles a second. He couldn’t say anything, not a thing about what he was doing, or trying to do. He’d fucked up enough for one day.

“Yeah, yeah, I’m…” he stammered. “I’m fine. It was my fault, I’m sorry.”

 

Seungcheol tried to push past the stranger, but the man grabbed his shoulders, making him stay. Gentle eyes explored his face, scanning everything from his tear-streaked cheeks to the faint bruise blossoming on his jaw.

“Are you sure you’re okay?” asked the stranger, his voice warm and gentle.

 

As Seungcheol struggled to reply, he felt ice run through him as he watched the man’s gaze drop to his collar bone. His jacket had slipped off of his shoulder, leaving the coven’s mark on full display for the stranger’s eyes.

When he felt a thumb glide over the mark, Seungcheol flinched, pushing himself back with a choked cry.

 

“Please, please, please don’t. Please don’t,” he jabbered, unable to string a coherent thought together, let alone a sentence.

“It’s okay, it’s okay! I’m not going to hurt you,” soothed the stranger, smiling softly at Seungcheol. He brought a hand to the collar of his shirt, and when he pulled it down, Seungcheol’s eyes widened at the sight of a mark just like his.

“I’m like you. I belonged to the Moon Thicket too. I ran away years ago. I’m like you.”

“You…” whispered Seungcheol. “You’re like me… H-how…”

“I was made in the States,” explained the stranger, taking tentative steps towards Seungcheol. “My name is Hong Jisoo. When they brought me here to join the rest of the Moon Thicket, I felt like something was wrong. No one expected a doll to stand up for themselves, so while they were recovering from their shock, I ran away.”

 

Seungcheol let the stranger, Jisoo, place a hand on his arm. He was in awe. He’d never heard this story from anyone in the coven, he’d never heard of a doll breaking every rule they knew. Never before had he even thought it possible.

 

“I…” started Seungcheol, struggling to keep his breath steady. “I’m Seungcheol. I ran away a few hours ago. I don’t know why I just… did.”

Jisoo nodded thoughtfully. “You trusted your gut. That’s smart. Especially when you’re dealing with people like them. So, Seungcheol, what do you want to do now?”

“I… I don’t know. I don’t know what I’m doing or where I’m going and I -”

“Shhh,” cooed Jisoo, holding onto both of Seungcheol’s shoulders. “Breathe for me, okay? If you don’t have anywhere to go, you could come home with me.”

 

Seungcheol didn’t know what to do, what to think. A part of him still wanted to run back, to make it back in time before his maker returned.

 

“Would you rather go back?” asked Jisoo, voice soft.

“I don’t know,” replied Seungcheol, his voice small and betraying every bit of fear he felt. “Please don’t let me make choices. I have no idea what I’m doing.”

“Okay, that’s okay. Is it okay if I pick for you then?”

 

Seungcheol nodded. He wanted direction. Whether or not it was wise to trust a complete stranger wasn’t something that even crossed his mind. All he was thinking of was that he hated being so clueless and wanted someone, anyone, to tell him what to do.

 

“Stay with me, at least for tonight. You can get some rest and then in the morning we can figure out what to do. Does that sound okay with you?”

Gulping heavily, Seungcheol nodded, biting his already dry and cracking lips.

 

“Thank you, Jisoo. I promise I won’t be too big a bother.”

Jisoo laughed a small, warm laugh. “Don’t worry about that Seungcheol. Shall we get going?”

“Okay,” agreed Seungcheol, sucking in a deep, shaky breath.

 

When he tried to take a step, Seungcheol suddenly was reminded of the throbbing ache in his leg. Without the mental fog clouding his senses, he felt the pain shooting up every time he tried to put weight on the injury. He hissed, instinctively holding onto Jisoo’s arm to steady himself.

 

“You’re hurt?” asked Jisoo, though it was more like a statement. His mouth was set in a hard line. “They hurt you, didn’t they?”

“It’s my leg,” Seungcheol replied, dancing around the question. “It hurts a little.”

“We’ll take a look when we get back home, okay? Here, hold on to me while we walk back. It’s not too far away but we wouldn’t want to risk it getting any worse, right?”

 

 

 

That had been hours ago, and as the memories flooded back, Seungcheol felt the need to leave. He needed to get back to his maker, regardless of the trouble he was likely in. Maybe, just maybe, if his maker found him in the morning, ready for orders, he’d get off easy.

 

“I need to go,” he whispered frantically in the night, pushing away from Jisoo’s comforting touch. “I need to go back. I need to, I have to-”

“Seungcheol,” started Jisoo, worry falling like a film over his features.

“I’m sorry Jisoo, I’m sorry but I have to leave. I’m already in trouble, I don’t want to cause any more problems.”

“Seungcheol, if they punished you so severely for a small mistake, do you really think you’ll be safe going back.”

“I just thought… maybe they’ll let me off if I go back before sunrise.”

“Don’t be so naïve Seungcheol. Nothing is ever that simple, but at least if you stay you won’t have to deal with it all alone. And you have to let your leg rest, it’s not gonna get better otherwise.”

“I… I don’t know. I really don’t know,” mumbled Seungcheol, tears of frustration pricking at his eyes.

“It’s okay Seungcheol, it’s okay. I know it’s scary. But remember what I told you: you only have to stay until morning. Then, if you still want to go back, you can. For now, all I’m asking is that you stay.”

 

 

Seungcheol drew his knees into his chest, curling in around himself. It hurt, having to suppress the urge to just bolt out the door. He regretted everything from the moment he clumsily that jar of stormwater over and ruined everything. Maybe if he’d just been a little more careful, his maker wouldn’t be so furious with him. Maybe, had he been a little more cautious, he wouldn’t feel so scared.

 

He let Jisoo carefully pull him back so his head was touching the pillow, any fight left in him completely depleted. There was static in his mind as exhaustion took its toll, so he simply allowed Jisoo’s gentle touch on his scalp lull him into a deep, dreamless, quiet sleep.

 

Whether he liked it or not, it appeared he would be waiting until morning.

Chapter Text

Seungcheol woke to the feeling of sunlight on his face, and the warmth of the soft sheets wrapped around him. It was surprising that he’d slept so long. How hadn’t he noticed the sun rising as he had for so many years?

 

He rubbed his eyes with his knuckles, soaking in the warmth of the covers, a feeling he wasn’t at all used to. Slowly and reluctantly, he blinked his eyes open and sat up. Bending and extending his knee, he smiled as he found his leg truly felt a lot better. Still stiff, but better.

 

Seungcheol looked around the room, and panic started brewing deep in his stomach.

 

 

Where was Jisoo?

 

 

The apartment was silent, but that didn’t stop him from calling out timidly. He got off the bed, needing to get out of the room. Being alone was never something he felt comfortable with. He needed guidance, someone to tell him what to do and if he was doing it right. And though that need wasn’t necessarily for his survival anymore, it wasn’t so easy to let it go.

Peeking out from the doorway, Seungcheol saw someone in the kitchen. He heaved a brief sigh of relief: he was okay, Jisoo didn’t leave him alone, he was okay.

 

“Jisoo?”

 

It wasn’t Jisoo. The man turned around and looked at him with wide eyes and a gentle smile. Seungcheol mentally berated himself. Of course it wasn’t Jisoo, he could see that now. This man’s build was slightly, but noticeably different. Not to mention they had different hair colours.

 

“Oh,” was all Seungcheol could utter, backing up against the wall looking small and scared, like a deer in the headlights.

 

“You must be Seungcheol,” smiled the man, leaning back against the counter. “Jisoo’s told me about you.”

“Uh, who are you?”

“My name’s Jeonghan. Don’t worry, I’m a friend of Jisoo’s. My boyfriend and I live across the hall.”

“Ah,” hummed Seungcheol, gnawing his lip nervously. “Where’s Jisoo?”

“He’s at my place. He wanted to borrow some herbs to make you some medicine but like an absolute fool, he forgot to bring a jar or something. So…” Jeonghan held up a wide jar, shaking it slightly.

“I swear I’m gonna start making him keep it with me if he’s gonna keep forgetting it every single time,” he grumbled

 

Seungcheol nodded, standing awkwardly. He supposed Jeonghan would go back to his own apartment, leaving him alone once more, a prospect he wasn’t comfortable with in the slightest.

 

“You could come over if you want,” offered Jeonghan, slowly approaching Seungcheol. “I mean, it’s your call. You could stay here and wait for Jisoo, or you could come over and I could help make the medicine. I’m better at it than Jisoo anyway.”

 

Seungcheol hesitated. He didn’t want to be alone, but he was still scared. He was barely comfortable with Jisoo yet, and he didn’t know if he could handle meeting more new people. Everything was still too much to take in, everything a blur of fear, anxiety, and pain.

 

“Don’t worry Seungcheol,” soothed Jeonghan, now standing a few feet away. “I’m not gonna hurt you. It’s my day off from evil anyway.”

Jeonghan saw the way the doll tensed up, the way his teeth stopped gnawing at his lower lip for a moment. He chuckled warmly, reaching out a hand towards Seungcheol.

“I’m kidding Cheol. So, you wanna come with me? You’re always welcome to come over if you want to.”

 

Seungcheol stared at Jeonghan’s outstretched hand, still biting hard at his lip as he wrung his own two hands together. He wanted to go, he really did, but something deep inside him tugged him back every time he tried to take a step, like an invisible string attached to the knobs of his spine.

“Are you sure? I don’t wanna be a bother,” he mumbled, lowering his gaze to the ground.

“Please,” scoffed Jeonghan. “From the little bit Jisoo’s told me I can tell you’re nothing but sweet and polite. And someone as sweet and polite as you shouldn’t worry about ever being a bother, okay?”

 

Seungcheol kept his eyes lowered, and didn’t say a word. He had no idea how to respond, his mind going entirely blank. No one had ever said anything like that to him before in all his life. The thought of Jisoo speaking so warmly about him crossed his mind uninvited, making him shrink even further against the wall.

 

“Okay Cheol?” repeated Jeonghan, voice softer this time.

 

Seungcheol lifted his gaze from the gaze, looking between Jeonghan’s face and his outstretched hand. Ruminating for a few minutes, he nodded, timidly taking Jeonghan’s hand.

“Alright,” started Jeonghan with a soft smile. “Let’s get going then.”

 

 

Seungcheol noted how Jeonghan slowly wrapped his arm around his shoulders, constantly checking for discomfort.

It made him feel nice. Nice and warm.

 

 

“Do you like cats Seungcheol?” asked Jeonghan when they were a few feet away from the door.

“I don’t know,” he replied. “I’ve never really… interacted with one.”

“Well today’s your lucky day then!” beamed Jeonghan, opening the apartment door and gently ushering Seungcheol through the frame. “We have a little kitten in our apartment. Her name is Pixie and I’m sure she’ll love you!”

“Pixie,” repeated Seungcheol with a small smile. “She sounds cute.”

 

“She is. That’s why I think you two will get along.”

 

 

Light. That was the first thing that Seungcheol noticed when he entered Jeonghan’s apartment. There was so much light flooding in through the windows. It made it seem like the apartment was built within a ray of sunlight. Seungcheol’s eyes widened as he looked around; it almost seemed unreal.

Jisoo was kneeling at a coffee table that sat surrounded by two small, soft-looking sofas and an armchair. Scattered on the table were various herbs – both dried and fresh. Beside Jisoo knelt a slightly smaller man with soft brown hair. Both looked up at him with small smiles.

 

“Seungcheol, this is Jihoon, my boyfriend,” said Jeonghan, walking over to the two kneeling men, placing the jar on the table, and gently kissing Jihoon on the crown of his before gently and playfully smacking the side of Jisoo’s head. “Stop forgetting stuff silly, it’s getting ridiculous.”

“Sorry,” chuckled Jisoo. “I’ll start leaving a jar here.”

“Good,” responded Jeonghan, getting up and walking to the kitchen, which was open to the living room. “Make yourself at home Cheol, okay?”

 

Seungcheol muttered a small “okay” in response, still staring around the apartment with wide eyes. Starting to feel awkward simply standing there near the door, he walked towards the coffee table, rubbing his arm timidly as he knelt down.

“Sorry for leaving you alone Seungheol,” said Jisoo, smiling apologetically at him for a moment before turning back to sorting through the various herbs.

“It’s okay,” mumbled Seungcheol, still feeling awkward and out of place. “Don’t worry about me.”

“Did you sleep well?”

Seungcheol nodded, making a quiet sound of affirmation.

“Do you feel better today?”

“A little bit,” shrugged Seungcheol, and it was the truth. He was tired, mentally and emotionally, but he felt a little less confused, a little less anxious, and was doing his best at distracting himself by observing the new world that was building itself around him.

 

Jisoo hummed at Seungcheol’s response, and the three fell into a comfortable silence. It was interesting to watch Jihoon and Jisoo at work: it felt calm and nice. It felt… like home, Seungcheol supposed.

 

Something lightly nudged at his thigh, and when Seungcheol looked down, he found a pair of pale green eyes staring back up at him.

‘Ah,’ he thought to himself. ‘You must be Pixie.’

 

Honestly, even Seungcheol found it a little funny, the way he had no idea what to do with the kitten gently nudging her head against and patting his thigh. He just stared at her, taking in her soft blue-grey fur, her occasionally twitching ears, and the way her paws would gently prod at him as she looked up at him.

 

Someone chuckled softly, and Seungcheol turned to see Jihoon smiling at him. He noted how pretty his eyes looked when he did that, how they turned into crescent moons.

“You can pet her if you want,” he offered, leaning in slightly behind Jisoo to scratch Pixie behind the whiskers. “She likes it if you rub your thumb on her forehead.”

 

As Seungcheol took Jihoon’s suggestion – and was ecstatic with the way Pixie closed her eyes happily and climbed into his lap – Jeonghan called Jisoo’s name from the kitchen.

“What,” called Jisoo back.

“Come here and help me with something!”

“I’ll be right back, okay?”

 

 

When Jisoo got up to leave, Jihoon shuffled over to take his place. He smiled watching how Seungcheol laughed softly every time Pixie twitched her ears.

“She likes you,” he said. “She’s usually really scared with strangers.”

“Is she your familiar?” breathed Seungcheol, completely focused on the Russian Blue sitting in his lap.

“No, she’s just my and Jeonghan’s baby,” replied Jihoon in a tone so serious it made Seungcheol chuckle. “Besides, Jeonghan’s the witch between us.”

 

Seungcheol hummed in acknowledgement, completely unaware of the way Jihoon’s eyes were scanning every inch of his skin, and how his brows were furrowed in confusion.

 

“You really can’t tell, can you?” breathed Jihoon. It was then that Seungcheol noticed the look on his face, the slight hint of incredulity. It made the remaining tendrils of anxiety grip at him again, filling him with fear.

“What do you mean?”

“You can’t tell I’m a doll too, can you?”

 

Seungcheol’s hands on Pixie’s fur stilled, his eyes growing wide as his throat closed up. The fact was, he truly had no idea. The thought that Jihoon was a doll – just like him, just like Jisoo – never even crossed his mind. For one, he didn’t have the mark, so he definitely wasn’t from the Moon Thicket. And more than that, he didn’t seem like any doll he had ever met. Jisoo hadn’t either at first, but Jihoon, he was entirely different. He seemed… peaceful. Completely at peace and comfortable with himself and the world around him. As far as Seungcheol knew, that sort of security was incredibly rare in dolls.

 

“Jeonghan made me,” said Jihoon softly, quickly continuing when he saw pure fear cross Seungcheol’s face. “He isn’t like anyone in the Moon Thicket though! He’s helped me a lot… Not just because we’re connected, but because he cares, for some reason… A lot…”

 

Seungcheol frowned. Out of everything Jihoon had said, one word stood out to him above everything else.

 

“Connected? What do you mean connected?” he asked, his hands stilling above Pixie’s fur.

“It’s something some witches do when making their dolls. They put some of their own energy into us, which gives us a sort of connection. Jeonghan only put a little though. He doesn’t want me to get hurt.”

 

Seungcheol tilted his head, still frowning. Luckily, Jihoon picked up on the unspoken question.

 

“If they put too much energy into us, the connection becomes so strong that if either one dies, so does the other. I guess it’s sort of poetic in a way, but I’m still grateful Jeonghan didn’t do that.”

“You don’t think…” murmured Seungcheol, trailing off as fear overtook him.

“No, Cheollie,” came Jeonghan’s voice from the kitchen, answering Seungcheol’s unanswered question. “The Moon Thicket don’t do that at all. They wouldn’t want to risk their own lives. You’re safe.”

 

 

Seungcheol breathed out, letting go of all the terror that had him so tense for those few moments. He was safe. Whether that would continue, he had no idea. But for now, he was safe, and with people who wanted to keep it that way. He could allow himself to let his guard slip just a little.

Pixie stretched out in his lap before curling back into herself, snoozing comfortably, and Seungcheol couldn’t help but grin.

 

Such a small demonstration of trust, of affection, but it made warmth wash over every inch of his body.

 

“Hey, Seungcheol?” started Jihoon, carefully putting a hand on the crook of his elbow.

“Yeah?” replied Seungcheol, knitting his brows in confusion.

“I can’t pretend to understand your struggle right now, but I know you can get through it. You can do it. I know that much for sure.”

 

Seungcheol registered nothing but the wave of gratitude that washed over him, making his chest feel like it was expanding to hold it all. He could do nothing but smile, his eyes lighting up for the first time in his life. Jihoon smiled back, and at that moment, Seungcheol truly believed he was home.

 

Jisoo came back into the living room, holding delicately in his hand a small sachet. Its pink hue reminded Seungcheol of cotton candy, of the clouds he’d watch longingly as the sun rose.

 

 “You’re still not done Hannie?” called Jihoon, craning his head to try and spot Jeonghan, who was ducked down by the lower cabinets. The pout in his voice elicited a small giggle from Jeonghan, the sound light and joyful.

“Maybe if you join me I’ll be finished sooner!” replied Jeonghan in a sing-song voice.

Jihoon rolled his eyes but got up anyway, despite his grumbling. Jisoo and Seungcheol met eyes, and they simply couldn’t hold in their laughter, much to Jihoon’s dismay.

 

“Why are you still sitting on the floor Seungcheol?” asked Jisoo, picking Pixie up as gently as he could. “C’mon, the couch is more comfortable.”

Seungcheol was elated when Jisoo placed Pixie back in his lap, fingers instantly coming to lightly stroke her ears. It was strange: Seungcheol had never been this close to any sort of animal before, but in a few short minutes, he’d become so attached to Pixie. And Jisoo was sure that if he could hear Pixie’s thoughts, he’d find she was feeling just as secure, just as content.

 

“What’s that?” asked Seungcheol, nodding at the sachet.

“It’s a spell sachet. Jeonghan’s really good at making them. It’s a bunch of herbs, some crystals, and a sigil. This one’s supposed to help you sleep better. Bonus: it smells really good.”

 

Seungcheol gingerly took the sachet from Jisoo’s hands, holding it to his nose, and taking a careful breath. Jisoo smiled at the way Seungcheol’s eyes fluttered shut at the sweet, subtle smell, at the way his lips curled up in a small smile.

 

“You sure you’re doing better?” Jisoo couldn’t help but ask in a whisper, the question coming out his mouth despite himself. After all, he knew all too well how sudden, shocking, and difficult a change everything was for Seungcheol.

 

Seungcheol hesitated a minute before nodding.

“It’s weird, a little scary,” he confessed. “But it’s nice too. This is nice.”

“It is, isn’t it?” sighed Jisoo contentedly, his lips curving up into a small, comfortable smile.

 

 

Progress. This was progress.

 

 

Dragging Jihoon by the hand, Jeonghan walked over and put a steaming mug in front of Seungcheol, giving Pixie a small pat on the head.

“Drink that up, okay? It’s full of herbs that’ll make sure your leg heals fully.”

Seungcheol reached over for the mug, thanking Jeonghan, who walked to sit on the armchair, still holding onto Jihoon’s hand.

 

“Hannie…” started Jihoon, looking down at his seated boyfriend.

“Yeah?”

“Where am I gonna sit?”

Jeonghan patted the small space beside him, smiling sweetly.

“I’m letting you hold my hand,” whined Jihoon. “What more do you want? A hug?”

“Yes,” replied Jeonghan confidently, still flashing Jihoon the sweetest, most loving smile.

 

Jihoon paused, blinking at Jeonghan for a few seconds before realizing he was serious. He rolled his eyes, refusing to show how endeared he felt as he climbed onto the armchair beside his boyfriend, wrapping his arms around his waist and resting his head on his shoulder.

 

“I hate you…” he grumbled weakly.

Jeonghan laughed, placing a quick kiss on the top of Jihoon’s head.

“I love you too Hoonie.”

 

Seungcheol smiled at the exchange. It even made him chuckle a little. The two seemed so… so comfortable with each other; so trusting of one another, knowing the other would never hurt them.

Seungcheol was so used to seeing others tolerating one another at best. This – this utter love and trust – it was new to him. But he found it beautiful, and he’d always been one to love beautiful things.

 

“Cheol,” said Jisoo softly, gently poking his arm before gesturing towards the few herbs that were still lying on the table. “We should probably finish this before we completely lose the will to do it.”

“What he means is that if he doesn’t get up now he’ll forget about it,” teased Jeonghan.

 

Jisoo made a face that suggested he was offended, but it quickly disappeared, and he nodded his head with a look of acceptance.

“Fair enough,” he admitted, making everyone burst into laughter.

 

Gingerly setting a very comfortable Pixie onto the sofa cushion beside him, Seungcheol slid down to sit by Jisoo’s side.

“Let me help you.”

 

Jisoo turned to Seungcheol with a grin, his eyes catching the light in a way that made it look like clusters of stars were trapped in them.

“I’ll teach you how to do it, okay? Then in the future, we can do it together!”

 

 

 

Seungcheol experienced a lot of new things that day.

 

The softness of a cat’s fur.

 

The sweet smell and taste of fresh herbal tea.

 

The beauty of love.

 

 

And now, as he sat beside Jisoo, listening to the conversations between the three and offering comments whenever prompted, he felt peace, perhaps even safety.

 

 

It was a new feeling.

But it was a new feeling he welcomed with open arms.

Chapter Text

“Cheollie?”

 

Jisoo’s voice broke the silence the two had been comfortably sitting in, Seungcheol sitting right in the corner of the sofa, lost in thought, and Jisoo curled up on the other side, book in hand.

 

“Hmm?” replied Seungcheol, looking up with wide eyes.

“Are you happy?”

 

 

Seungcheol didn’t know how to answer that, opening and closing his mouth as though the movement would set the turning of the gears in his mind into motion. But it didn’t work, he drew a complete blank.

 

He wasn’t unhappy, that was for sure, but that hadn’t been Jisoo’s question. Jisoo’s question was far more complicated than that. It was easy enough to identify unhappiness, the contrast between how he had felt with the Moon Thicket and how he felt with Jisoo, Jeonghan, and Jihoon was more than clear enough to make that distinction. But was he happy?

He was comfortable, perhaps satisfied, but was he happy?

 

Perhaps his hesitation at such a simple question was an answer in itself.

 

 

Jisoo sighed heavily, looking down at the sofa cushions. For a split second, his face betrayed how exhausted he felt, and it made Seungcheol’s stomach feel as though someone had tied it into one, giant, tight knot.

“Never mind, Cheollie,” said Jisoo, the small smile unable to mask the dejectedness from his voice. “Forget I asked.”

 

Seungcheol swallowed heavily, teeth gnawing at his bottom lip despite the small scabs that littered them. He felt his breath go shallow, the energy powering his body pounding in his temples. The previously cosy silence was gone, the new one replacing it tense, almost poisonous.

 

“I’m sorry,” whispered Seungcheol, refusing to look up at Jisoo.

“You don’t have to be Cheol,” replied Jisoo. “You didn’t do anything wrong.”

“I’m trying, I promise.”

“I know you are; we all do. It’s just… We really want you to be happy. After all you’ve been through, you deserve happiness… And the waiting-”

 

Jisoo stopped himself, shaking his head.

 

“Never mind Cheol.”

“It’s not easy,” said Seungcheol. He didn’t know where the words came from, nor where the courage to speak came from, but once they were out, Seungcheol found it difficult to keep the rest in. “If it were, I would have figured it out already.”

“I know Cheol-”

“But… I don’t think you do…” interrupted Seungcheol. “I’m not like you Jisoo. To me, the Moon Thicket was just… life and even though I didn’t like it I accepted it. I can’t just let that all go just like that like you did…”

 

Jisoo inhaled sharply, pursing his lips together. Somehow, Seungcheol was able to hold his gaze, despite the anxiety that was almost making him tremble from head to toe.

 

“Seungcheol… You can’t live your whole life feeling like you still belong to them. Because you don’t. You need to break free from them. Please Cheollie.”

“But I don’t know how!” exclaimed Seungcheol, bringing his hands to wrap around his arms to stop their trembling. “Everyone seems to think I know exactly how to deal with this and that it’s just a matter of time, but I don’t, and I just wish I did!”

 

 

Jisoo fell completely silent after that, staring down at the couch cushion between them. Panic filled Seungcheol: it was his first time raising his voice like that. Dolls weren’t supposed to talk if they could help it - let alone shout.

Had he really managed to screw it all up again?

 

But when Jisoo looked up again, he had a small, weary smile on his face, looking at Seungcheol as warmly as ever.

 

“I think I get it now Cheollie. You’re right, I shouldn’t have assumed you know how to deal with this change just because I did. I should have supported you better. I’m sorry.”

 

Taken aback, Seungcheol froze. Jisoo listened to him… Actually listened to him. Not once since he had been made had anyone done that before.

And despite the anxiety that still held his body in a tight grip, it felt nice.

 

“It’s… It’s okay…” said Seungcheol, stumbling over his words.

 

Jisoo smiled a little wider before getting up off the couch, stretching his hands above his head.

“Hey, I’m gonna go to the store to pick something up. And, I think we both need some space to think. Is that okay?”

Seungcheol nodded, his tongue still heavy in his mouth. He wasn’t completely comfortable with the notion of being left alone yet, but he pushed that aside.

 

‘I’ll be okay,’ he thought to himself. ‘It’s going to be fine.’

 

“If you need anything, anything at all, remember that Jihoon and Jeonghan are right across the hall, okay?”

“Okay,” replied Seungcheol with a nod. And before his brain could hold the words back, he added in a soft, careful tone, “Please don’t take too long.”

 

Jisoo laughed. He walked to stand directly in front of Seungcheol, gently moving his bangs out of his face. The smile on his face was fond, gentle, and it made Seungcheol’s cheeks heat up despite himself.

“I’ll be back soon, I promise.”

 

 

Just before Jisoo closed the door to the apartment behind him, he stuck his head back in, giving Seungcheol a small smile.

 

“I love you Cheol, please remember that.”

 

For the entire hour and a half that Jisoo was gone, Seungcheol could focus on nothing else but that one sentence, and the fondness with which Jisoo had said it.

 

 //

 

After two days, Jeonghan had enough.

 

 

During those two days, Jihoon practically did nothing but pace. Back and forth, back and forth, lost in his own thoughts.

 

“Hoonie?” Jeonghan had asked the first couple of times. “You okay?”

 

Jihoon had looked up at him, the smile he plastered on not fast enough to hide the anxiety from Jeonghan’s observant eyes.

 

“Yeah, I’m fine. Just thinking.”

“Are you sure? You don’t pace much unless something’s worrying you.”

“I’m sure Hannie,” he had replied, moving closer to Jeonghan and giving him a quick peck. “I’m okay.”

 

 

Though Jeonghan had let him go easily, he knew that his boyfriend wasn’t being completely honest with him. Even when he wasn’t pacing, Jihoon seemed far away. He wasn’t as happy as he would usually be when he helped Jeonghan with spells and potions, he didn’t smile the way he did when Pixie would crawl in his lap, and perhaps most worryingly, he started forgetting about meals and drinking water and even sleep.

 

Jeonghan knew something was wrong. He could feel it in every part of his body. But he couldn’t confront his boyfriend just like that - he would close up, bottle everything in even more than he was already.

No, he would have to be subtle about it.

 

 

 “Are you really going through all of our spell books right now?” asked Jeonghan, cocking an eyebrow.

 

He was in the living room, aimlessly scrolling through his phone when he looked over to find Jihoon sitting on the floor, surrounded by every single spell book they owned - both the ones they made and the ones they found.

It was no secret that Jihoon loved reading them, but that wasn’t what this was - he wasn’t focusing on them. This was Jihoon’s attempt to distract himself.

 

It didn’t seem like it was working.

 

Jihoon didn’t answer, intent at staring down at the page before him, that blank, faraway look still on his face.

 

 

Jeonghan sighed, putting his phone aside. He couldn’t stand to watch his boyfriend like this any longer.

 

 

“Jihoonie?” he called out sweetly, smiling when he found he got his attention. “Can you come here a second?”

 

Jihoon walked over with a confused pout on his face. Just as he was about to sit next to him, Jeonghan pulled him onto his lap without saying another word. Before Jihoon could make a sound, Jeonghan kissed him slowly and gently, running his hands up and down Jihoon’s arms and back.

 

Jihoon sighed into the kiss. This wasn’t Jeonghan being affectionate, at least not only that; this was Jeonghan making absolute sure Jihoon wouldn’t be able to hide anymore.

 

“You can always come to me if something’s bothering you, no matter what. So what’s wrong baby?” whispered Jeonghan after they broke apart, looking directly into Jihoon’s eyes.

 

Jihoon shrunk in his boyfriend’s arms, looking down at Jeonghan’s shoulder, adamantly avoiding his eyes.

 

“Nothing, really, I’m fine,” he tried to lie, but even he could hear how weak it sounded.

 

Jeonghan gently gripped his boyfriend’s chin, forcing Jihoon to look directly at him.

 

“Hannie...” whined Jihoon, feeling his cheeks heat up.

“You can’t fool me Jihoon, I know you too well,” said Jeonghan, voice stern before it softened again. “Please talk to me Hoonie. No matter what, I promise I won’t be mad or anything. Just tell Hannie what’s wrong so he can try and make it better.”

 

Jihoon dropped his head into the crook of Jeonghan’s neck, groaning internally. It wasn’t just that he didn’t want to talk about this, he didn’t know how to. Every time he tried, because he had tried, everything just mushed together in his mind, and he couldn’t get a single word out.

It was harder than he could ever express.

 

“It’s okay sweetheart,” whispered Jeonghan into Jihoon’s shoulder, still running his fingertips up and down his back. “Take your time. Hannie’s right here.”

 

It was a couple of moments before Jihoon pulled away, cheeks still a faint pink. He looked so scared, so Jeonghan gave him a quick peck, smiling at him encouragingly.

 

“You okay?” he asked, brushing an eyelash from Jihoon’s cheek.

“Yeah…” replied Jihoon, nodding. “It’s just… Really stupid though.”

“Nothing that worries you is stupid, okay Hoonie?” said Jeonghan, his fingers massaging small circles into Jihoon’s back. “I’m right here to help you.”

“I just…” started Jihoon, taking a deep breath. His voice was small, but the fact that it was at all audible was a miracle. “I’m scared…”

“Why are you scared baby?” asked Jeonghan, his brow furrowing in concern.

“I know you like them… Jisoo and Cheol...” whispered Jihoon, his cheeks burning with shame.

 

Jeonghan’s frown deepened. Jihoon knew he was polyamorous; it was something he’d been very honest about even before they started dating. And Jihoon also knew that he would never even try anything before talking to him first.

There was more to it, Jeonghan was sure of it.

 

“That’s what’s been worrying you?”

Jihoon nodded. “It’s part of it. I just… I’m scared of getting left behind…”

“Sweetheart… Yes, I like them. But you’re forgetting, I like you too cutie,” started Jeonghan, gently poking Jihoon’s nose, “And I would never, ever do anything to make you uncomfortable, I promise.”

“I know… I know that, it’s just…” started Jihoon, fighting to keep himself from trailing off, “I can’t help it…”

“I know Hoonie, I know. It’s okay to be scared, you don’t have to be ashamed. I’ll always be here to help you through it because, my sweetheart, I love you more than anything.”

 

Jeonghan cupped Jihoon’s cheeks and leaned up to kiss his forehead, stroking the soft skin with his thumbs as he did so. He placed, quick, feather-light kisses all the way down his face, relishing in the way Jihoon’s small smile grew with every peck until he reached his lips. There, he was slow and deliberate, feeling Jihoon melt against him as his tight muscles started to relax.

 

“I love you too Hannie,” whispered Jihoon, the two still connected by the forehead though the kiss had ended.

Jeonghan pecked his boyfriend’s lips once more before leaning back, moving his hands back down to the small of Jihoon’s back.

 

“What’s the other part Hoonie? You wanna talk about it?”

 

 

Jihoon froze. In actuality, it was this part, the part that he had struggled with the most when it came to talking to Jeonghan, that was causing him so much fear. On the brink of falling into the spiral of his own thoughts again, he stopped himself, letting out a long exhale.

 

Jeonghan was right: he would feel better once everything got out of his head.

 

 

“You know how you said you would never do anything to make me uncomfortable?” started Jihoon, playing with the fabric of Jeonghan’s shirt.

“Mhm,” replied Jeonghan with a nod.

“Well… I’m not so sure that it would make me uncomfortable.”

 

Jeonghan tilted his head to the side, looking at Jihoon questioningly.

“So, you would be totally okay if I did ask them out?”

 

Jihoon nodded, and Jeonghan’s eyes widened from the unexpected response.

“It’s like you said… they’re nice and they’re cute. But I just… I just don’t know how I feel about them…”

“What do you mean?”

“I mean,” started Jihoon after sucking in a deep breath, “I don’t think I like them as friends, or at least ‘friends’ isn’t the only way I think of them… There’s something else but I don’t know how to explain it because I don’t even understand it myself.”

“Do you want me to help you?” asked Jeonghan, sitting up straighter and linking his fingers behind Jihoon’s back. The tight grip was comfortable for Jihoon, it made him feel safe.

“Yeah I guess I finally realised I can’t figure it out alone,” replied Jihoon, a sheepish smile on his lips. 

 

Jeonghan laughed, pulling Jihoon down for another kiss. Jihoon giggled into the kiss, both from whatever nerves he had leftover and from the simple happiness bubbling in his chest.

 

“That’s okay sweetheart, that’s why I’m here. To help when it gets a little too much,” said Jeonghan, making Jihoon smile even wider, his cheeks turning a soft pink colour. “Let’s go through everything one bit at a time, okay?”

“Okay,” whispered Jihoon, reaching back to intertwine his fingers with Jeonghan’s.

“You definitely don’t dislike Jisoo and Cheol, do you?”

“Of course not,” laughed Jihoon.

“Good,” said Jeonghan, heaving a dramatic sigh of relief, eliciting a giggle from Jihoon. “But you like them in a way that’s more than just friendship?”

“Maybe… I don’t know I’m not good at this.”

“Hey, it’s okay,” soothed Jeonghan. He understood perfectly: at the end of the day, Jihoon was a doll, and it was inevitable that he would struggle with something, especially something that even most humans struggled with.

 

“Think about it like this: if you had the same relationship with Jisoo and Cheollie as you do with me, how would it make you feel?”

Jihoon sucked in a sharp inhale, his gaze falling back down to Jeonghan’s shoulder.

“I think… It’d be nice? Maybe? We’ve known Jisoo for a while and I like him a lot, and Cheol… he’s just… amazing.”

“Do you think you love them, Hoonie? Like how you love me?”

 

Jihoon hesitated, his fingers tensing against Jeonghan’s. He didn’t know how to answer that question: not in the slightest.

 

“Let’s try again, okay?” started Jeonghan, sensing every bit of Jihoon’s discomfort. “Forget the love part. Is the way you feel about them similar to the way you feel about me?”

 

To Jeonghan’s relief, Jihoon seemed to relax, no longer thinking about the question so anxiously. He tapped his finger against the back of Jeonghan’s hand for a few moments, taking some time to organise his thoughts.

 

“I think so…” replied Jihoon, looking up at Jeonghan with wide eyes and breathing out a small laugh. “Hannie… Does that mean I love them too?”

Jeonghan smiled, one of his hands coming to brush through Jihoon’s hair.

“Most likely baby. How do you feel about that?”

“I-” started Jihoon, biting the inside of his cheek to stop his grin from spreading across his whole face. “I’m happy. It feels really nice Hannie.”

 

Jeonghan giggled. Seeing Jihoon so giddy after days of nothing but anxiety was truly the most beautiful sight.

 

“That’s what falling in love feels like darling. It feels amazing, just like how it felt when I realised I fell in love with you.”

 

Jihoon blushed, his cheeks turning a deep red colour. The second he heard the chuckle come out from his lips, he lightly hit Jeonghan’s chest with a sound of indignation.

“Stop it, you’re so cheesy,” he whined. But despite everything, he couldn’t hide the smile brightening his features.

 

 

Jeonghan pulled Jihoon into a tight hug, gently and lightly kissing his shoulder. They spent a few minutes like that: Jihoon’s face against Jeonghan’s neck, and Jeonghan’s fingers tracing the knobs of Jihoon’s spine. It was blissful, simply blissful.

 

 

“What now?” asked Jihoon, still snuggled up against Jeonghan.

“Now’s the easier part. If you want to, we find a time to ask them if they’d like to go out with us.”

“What if they say no though?”

“Don’t Jihoon, don’t think about that. You’ll stress yourself out. We’ll never know unless we actually do it, okay?”

“Okay,” replied Jihoon, his fingers tracing random patterns into the back of Jeonghan’s neck.

“And we’ll do it together, I promise.”

“Thank you Hannie, I love you.”

 

Jeonghan pulled Jihoon away from his neck, only to pull him back down for a kiss, deep and languid. 

No matter how many times he did it, Jihoon would never, ever grow tired of the way Jeonghan kissed him.

 

 

“Should we do it tomorrow?”

“Do you want to?”

“Yeah.”

“Okay Hoonie, tomorrow.”

 

 //

 

“I’m home!” announced Jisoo as he walked through the door of his apartment, a plastic bag in hand.

But he received no response, and Seungcheol wasn’t in the living room as he had been when Jisoo had left.

 

“Cheol?” called Jisoo as he placed his keys down on the coffee table, hoping Seungcheol would reply from somewhere in the apartment.

Nothing, the apartment remained silent.

 

Jisoo started to panic.

 

“Seungcheol!” yelled Jisoo as he looked in the kitchen, his heart clenching when he found it empty.

 

‘Could he have left?’ thought Jisoo to himself. ‘God, I should’ve been better at understanding what he was going through. I shouldn’t have taken so long. What if he went back to the Moon Thicket? They’d kill him. What if they br-’

 

Jisoo’s stream of internal questions came to a halt when he opened the bedroom door. He heaved a heavy sigh of relief, laughing at himself. There Seungcheol lay, curled up on the bed like a cat, sleeping peacefully.

“Oh, thank god,” breathed Jisoo, placing a hand on his chest as he leaned against the doorframe to catch his breath.

 

 

He crossed the room quietly, placing the plastic bag at the foot of the bed before sitting down beside Seungcheol.

“Cheollie?” whispered Jisoo, gently shaking Seungcheol’s shoulder. “Wake up Cheollie.”

 

Jisoo smiled as he watched Seungcheol’s eyes slowly open. It took a few minutes for Seungcheol to fully wake up, but when he did, he smiled up at Jisoo.

“You’re back,” he said, voice slightly croaky, the remnants of sleep still clinging to it.

“I am,” replied Jisoo, still softly rubbing Seungcheol’s shoulder. “I’m sorry for taking a little bit longer than expected.”

“It’s okay.”

“Do you wanna go back to sleep?”

Seungcheol shook his head, sitting up and stretching his arms out in front of him.

“No, I wanna see what you bought.”

 

Jisoo laughed and grabbed the plastic bag. From it, he pulled out a small tin of what seemed like paint, and a small, soft-looking brush.

“Jeonghan told me about this place when we first met. They sell many witchcraft-related things, but they specialise in these paints. The paint looks white at first glance, but when it’s put on a doll’s skin, it blends in perfectly to the colour of the skin’s material. I thought that, with your permission, I could use it to cover up the Moon Thicket’s mark. It could be sort of like a new beginning.”

 

For a few seconds, Seungcheol only looked from Jisoo to the tin of paint, biting his lip in thought.

“You bought this for me?” he asked.

“Of course Cheollie. I thought it might help you a little bit. But if you don’t want me to use it that’s okay, it’s just a thought.”

“No, no!” exclaimed Seungcheol, his eyes widening. “I’m just… surprised. That you bought it for me.”

 

Jisoo giggled, his eyes crinkling, making his entire face emit the softest, warmest light.

“I hope it’s a good type of surprise!”

“It is,” laughed Seungcheol, “Thank you Jisoo.”

“It’s no problem. So, can I use the paint?”

“Yes, please.”

 

 

It took a couple of minutes for them to get started, Seungcheol laughing as Jisoo struggled to open the tin. If he was being honest, Seungcheol was a little anxious, though he couldn’t quite explain why.

 

Perhaps it was the permanence. Up until this point, his choice had been reversible. But the second Jisoo placed that paint on his collarbone, there was no going back.

It would be the beginning of his freedom.

 

“Stop that,” tsked Jisoo. Seungcheol had been nibbling at his bottom lip again without even realising it. “You’ll end up hurting yourself.”

“Sorry,” murmured Seungcheol. He hadn’t realised how bad a habit it was becoming.

 

Jisoo shook his head good-naturedly, smiling warmly at Seungcheol. He dipped the brush in the paint, wiping the excess on the inside of the tin.

“You ready Cheol?” he asked, gently pulling the neck of Seungcheol’s t-shirt to the side.

 

Seungcheol nodded, sucking in a deep, slightly shaky breath.

 

The sensation of the paint was odd, to say the least. It was cold, completely foreign on his skin for a few seconds, but when it dried, it was as though it was never even there. The brush felt nice though, it was soft and tickled his skin in the nicest possible way.

The cold paint, the soft brush, Jisoo’s warm hand: all the sensations mingled together to bring a relaxing sensation, instantly slowing Seungcheol’s breath to a deep, even pace.

 

 

“Jisoo?” started Seungcheol after a few minutes.

“Yes, Cheol?”

“How did Jeonghan make Jihoon?”

Jisoo smiled. It was a beautiful story; he remembered his heart being filled with warmth when Jeonghan told it. The witch’s eyes had never looked so bright, so full of love and adoration.

 

 

“Jeonghan hasn’t been practising witchcraft for too long, only for about five years. But compared to other witches, he’s incredibly powerful. No matter how strong they like to make themselves seem, the Moon Thicket is nothing compared to Jeonghan. And that’s just because Jeonghan genuinely loves it, he loves the way it makes him see beautiful things in the world around him.

“One day, Jeonghan was walking around the park. He wasn’t looking for anything, just enjoying a walk. He ended up finding something anyway. When he stopped to sit by a tree for a few moments, just to rest, he found three things: a rock that he described as more beautiful than any crystal, a dove’s feather, and a single waxflower bud. They were so simple, but Jeonghan felt drawn to them. He told me that they had the gentlest, softest, yet most powerful energy he’d ever felt. That energy was so potent that Jeonghan felt like he had to put it into something living and moving, something that could make a difference in this world. And that’s how he made Jihoon: those three things make up his core.

“You already know that Jeonghan put some of his own energy into Jihoon, but the reason wasn’t just that he doesn’t want him to get hurt. Jihoon was made because Jeonghan believes that the energy inside him could influence people, could bring something wonderful into their lives, even if it’s just a few people. If Jeonghan dies, he doesn’t want that to be lost, he doesn’t want Jihoon to be lost. To society, Jihoon may only be a doll, and they may think he’s made to serve, but to Jeonghan - and to me - Jihoon is so much more. Jihoon is his own person, capable of anything he wants to do. He’s an independent person and doesn’t deserve to die before his own time. So Jeonghan only put a little bit of his energy, enough to help Jihoon feel safe with him. And just like that, Jihoon was made, and though I don’t think Jeonghan has ever verbally told him this, he’s so much better than anything Jeonghan could have ever expected.”

 

 

Seungcheol was staring at Jisoo with wide eyes. It just seemed like he was learning more and more each day. He’d never heard of such a relationship between dolls and witches. Jisoo was right when he said that society viewed dolls as things that were made to serve, and it was all because there were too many witches who created their dolls for that sole purpose and made it clear in the way they treated them.

 

“That’s… That’s beautiful,” he breathed, his voice soft and quiet.

“It is, isn’t it?” smiled Jisoo. “I almost cried when Jeonghan told me. Don’t tell him that though!”

 

Seungcheol couldn’t help but chuckle, though he was trying hard to keep his collarbone as still as possible.

 

“They really really love each other,” mused Seungcheol, thinking out loud.

“They adore each other,” said Jisoo. “Jeonghan loved Jihoon from before he was even made, and it didn’t take long for Jihoon to return those feelings.”

 

The two fell into a comfortable silence, the story repeating over and over again in Seungcheol’s mind. It was so beautiful, so potently full of love, that Seungcheol couldn’t help but think about it.

 

“Jisoo? Can I ask you something?” he asked after a couple of minutes of silence. His voice was small and nervous, his eyes down at his crossed legs.

“What is it Cheollie?” replied Jisoo, stilling for a moment when he sensed the worry in Seungcheol’s voice.

“Do you think I’ll find someone who loves me like that?”

 

Out of all the responses Jisoo could’ve given him, Seungcheol would never have expected the one that actually happened. Feeling warmth on his face, Seungcheol looked up to find that it was Jisoo’s hand cupping his cheek as he smiled at him. Taking Seungcheol by surprise, Jisoo moved in closer, placing a soft kiss on Seungcheol’s forehead.

 

“Cheollie, you haven’t found one person who loves you like that, you’ve found three. Me, Jeonghan, Jihoon - we all love you so, so much. And you’re worthy of that love, every last bit of it.”

 

 

Seungcheol felt as though all breath had been sucked out of him, but in the best possible way. Something was blossoming in him, something that made his chest feel like it was constricting around his core. But it wasn’t uncomfortable, not like the fear and panic that had gripped him that night that now seemed so long ago.

It felt oddly warm, oddly comfortable.

 

 

When Seungcheol came back down from his own thoughts, he realised that Jisoo was humming. His voice was gorgeous; soft, sweet, and crystal clear. It was so beautiful, so calming, that Seungcheol couldn’t help but let his eyes close, and get lost in the notes and melodies.

It was the first time being lost had made him feel so at home.

 

 

“Cheollie, I’m done,” said Jisoo softly after a few more minutes.

 

Seungcheol’s eyes opened, and his hand instinctively flew to his collarbone. What Jisoo said turned out to be completely true: he couldn’t even tell any paint had been there in the first place. 

 

“Do you want to see?” asked Jisoo.

Seungcheol nodded, unconsciously rubbing at the spot the mark used to be.

 

Taking Seungcheol by the hand, Jisoo led him to the bathroom with a soft smile, standing him directly in front of the mirror.

 

 

Seungcheol couldn’t believe it. It was gone. The mark that had chained him to the Moon Thicket forever, it was gone. Like it was never even there.

The chain was gone, and unless someone found a way to scrape the paint from his skin, it was never coming back.

 

 

“You okay?” asked Jisoo, wrapping his arms around Seungcheol’s middle and placing his chin on his shoulder.

“Yeah,” said Seungcheol, a wide grin growing on his face. “I’m okay. Thank you Jisoo, thank you so, so much.”

 

Jisoo smiled, snuggling up closer against Seungcheol’s back.

 

“You’re welcome Cheollie, I’m just glad you’re okay and safe. Now let’s go back to bed, hm? It’s getting a little late.”

 

 

 

When the two were tucked in bed, Seungcheol nestled into Jisoo’s side, Seungcheol found the courage to ask Jisoo for something.

 

“Can you sing to me Jisoo?”

“Hmm?” questioned Jisoo, looking down at Seungcheol, who’s blush only grew wider.

“Your voice is really nice and soothing, I just thought it’d be nice to listen to you sing… To help me fall asleep better…”

 

Jisoo tightened his grip around Seungcheol’s waist, pulling him in even closer. He didn’t even reply, he just instantly started singing, and Seungcheol couldn’t help but smile.

 

 

He fell asleep easier and faster than he ever did before, the smile still on his lips never fading as he let Jisoo’s warmth and voice envelop and soothe every little inch of him.

Chapter Text

“So, are we gonna talk about this?” asked Jisoo.

 

 

They were curled up in the living room of Jeonghan and Jihoon’s apartment, watching as many Studio Ghibli movies as they could before they passed out. Seungcheol, though already half asleep and nodding off with his head on Jisoo’s shoulder, immediately perked up at those words.

 

 

“Talk about what?” asked Jeonghan, after a beat of stunned silence.

Jisoo rolled his eyes, and turned to face Jeonghan and Jihoon, turning Seungcheol around as well in the process.

“We all like each other. It’s stupidly obvious. Now are we gonna talk about it or what?”

 

Holding in their laughter as best as possible, Jeonghan and Jihoon exchanged a glance, a disbelieving, incredulous glance.

“Well…” started Jihoon. “This isn’t going as expected.”

“Not at all,” added Jeonghan, his voice laced in amusement.

 

Jisoo returned the amused, slightly mischievous look, and leaned in closer to Jeonghan, resting his chin on the couch cushions.

 

“What, how did you expect it to go?”

“Jisoo, these things need to be done sweetly and gently,” teased Jeonghan, poking Jisoo’s cheek. “You are clearly bad at romance.”

“I never said I was good. But at least I said something,” said Jisoo with a triumphant smirk.

“For the record, Jihoon and I were going to say something today and we’d already talked about it so ha.”

 

Feeling fingers gently play with a few locks of his hair, Seungcheol looked up to see Jihoon looking fondly down at him. He winked before turning to tap Jeonghan’s shoulder, trying to mask his flustered state, but the pink dusting his cheeks revealed too much.

 

“Hi, we’re still here, you know,” he said, tilting his head towards Seungcheol.

 

Jisoo and Jeonghan looked to each other, back to Jihoon and Seungcheol, and laughed.

 

 

Seungcheol couldn’t help but crack a smile, despite the tightening knot in his stomach.

 

 

“Wait,” started Jisoo, “You two talked about this?”

“Yesterday,” nodded Jihoon, the pink on his cheeks darkening. “We… We realized we both like the two of you. The plan was to find a window to ask you both out but, you kind of beat us to it.”

“Seriously?” asked Jisoo, his eyes opened so wide he looked like an awe-stricken kitten.

 

Jeonghan rolled his eyes, leaning in close to Jisoo’s face to gently poke his nose.

“Yes Jisoo, seriously.”

Jisoo smiled brightly, looking up fondly into Jeonghan’s eyes.

 

 

A part of him had wanted this for so, so long.

And that same part of him couldn’t believe it was actually happening.

 

 

“Hey lovebirds,” started Jihoon, a fond smile of his own brightening up his entire face.  Seungcheol felt his fingers dig their way deeper through his hair, nails gently scratching at his scalp. “We still have someone to ask, remember?”

 

Seungcheol looked up, his heart hammering in his throat. When Jihoon turned back to him, his gaze immediately shifted from teasing, to warm and fond.

“What?” asked Seungcheol, his voice small and mind racing faster than he could keep up with.

 

“Cheollie, look here please?” asked Jisoo, slowly moving closer to take Seungcheol’s hand in both of his. He frowned upon seeing the anxiety all over his face and gave his hand a gentle squeeze. “You okay?”

“Yeah,” whispered Seungcheol, the lump his heart formed in his throat making it difficult to get words out.

“Remember when I told you yesterday how you found three people who love you so, so much?”

 

Seungcheol nodded, paying close attention to every word.

 

“Well, it’s true. We love you so, so much. And we would love to have a relationship with you in it, but only if you’re comfortable with it. What do you think Cheollie?”

 

 

Seungcheol stared at Jisoo for a few, long seconds before his gaze flitted to Jeonghan and Jihoon. He didn’t understand – they were looking at him so fondly, more fondly than he thought he deserved.

 

But there was no hint of a lie in their eyes.

They weren’t trying to trick him; they were telling the truth. And perhaps that’s what confused Seungcheol most of all.

 

“You’re not allowed to fall in love with me,” he found himself saying. “I’m a mess.”

Jisoo just smiled, his eyes crinkling up into pretty half moons as he squeezed Seungcheol’s hand.

“Maybe, but you’re our mess.”

 

Seungcheol couldn’t stop the smile that spread across his face. He was sure he looked absolutely ridiculous, absolutely love-stricken, but he didn’t care.

 

 

After a lifetime of only knowing hate,

he found love.

 

And it felt amazing.

 

 

“Okay,” he whispered, his cheeks a burning red. “I- I wanna be with you. All of you.”

 

 

Jihoon smiled so wide he felt his cheeks were going to rip.

 

He’d anticipated how hard it would be for Seungcheol, how much of a shock it would be.

Yes, he spent his entire life with Jeonghan there to guide him, but that didn’t mean that things were always easy.

In fact, when it came to emotions, interpersonal relationships, anything that wasn’t crystal clear or logical, things were more often extremely difficult.

 

Seungcheol never had someone like Jeonghan in his life. He had always been told to follow orders, nothing more and definitely nothing less.

 

And so Jihoon was proud – so proud at the immense growth Seungcheol made since the very first time he timidly walked into their apartment.

 

 

He slid down off the couch and wrapped his arms around Seungcheol’s stomach, his cheek resting against his back.

“We love you Cheollie,” he said, his voice slightly muffled.

 

Before Seungcheol had time to react, the palm of Jeonghan’s hand was on his cheek as he placed a small, feather-light kiss on the corner of his lips.

“We really do sweetheart,” whispered Jeonghan, still only centimetres away from his skin.

 

 

It was almost overwhelming – the amount of attention he was getting.

Jihoon’s body resting against his own,

Jeonghan’s hand on his skin,

Jisoo’s warmth enveloping his hand,

it was almost too much.

 

‘But in a good way,’ thought Seungcheol. ‘In a really good way.’

 

 

“I love you too,” whispered Seungcheol so quietly he wondered if they could even hear him.

 

But judging by the way Jisoo was smiling at him, he supposed they heard him just fine.

 

 

They spent the rest of the evening cuddled together as best they could on the couch. Though they simply went back to their movie marathon, it felt warmer, the apartment cozier than it had ever been.

Even Pixie seemed to feel the energy shift as she jumped up to lounge across Seungcheol and Jihoon’s laps.

 

Eventually, Seungcheol drifted off, the warmth slowly but surely pulling his eyelids down until they were shut for the night.

Jeonghan was the first to notice, cooing fondly before leaning over Jihoon to kiss the crown of his head.

 

It was close to midnight when Jisoo decided to take Seungcheol back to his apartment so he could sleep in a proper bed. Jihoon and Jeonghan clearly expressed their dissatisfaction with that announcement, but Jisoo simply smiled and kissed the pouts straight off their lips.

 

 

It seemed – to the four of them – like a new start, a new chapter in their lives that they’d explore together.

 

It seemed – to the four of them – like nothing could tear them apart.

 

 

 

They were wrong.

 

 

 

When he woke up to an arm wrapped tight around his stomach, Seungcheol assumed it was Jisoo, he assumed that he was still on the couch with his head resting atop Jihoon’s.

 

 

But the world around him was moving, and that’s when Seungcheol figured out that he wasn’t safe anymore.

 

 

Four cloaked figures were carrying him out of the apartment. Four cloaked figures he couldn’t discern no matter how hard he tried.

 

He had never woken up so quickly.

 

When he started struggling, a hand clamped tightly over his mouth, arms clamping down every part of his body they could hold on to.

 

He couldn’t move.

He couldn’t scream.

But he didn’t stop trying.

 

They were mere centimetres from the door, and that’s when the lightbulb went off in Seungcheol’s mind.

Tensing every muscle in his body, Seungcheol bit down as hard as he could on the flesh of the hand covering his mouth and silencing his voice.

 

 

Jisoo!”

 

The scream hurt. He had never produced any sound as loud as that in his existence.

But he didn’t care. He kept screaming.

 

Help me, please!”

 

 

Jisoo sat up the second he heard the scream.

The space beside him was empty.

He ran.

 

When he saw Seungcheol struggling against four cloaked figures, he felt nothing but fire burning inside him.

“Let him go you fuckers!” roared Jisoo, anger radiating off him.

 

 

Seungcheol flinched – partly out of fear and partly out of surprise.

Jisoo had always spoken so softly, so gently.

It was the first time he’d never heard him scream.

 

 

Jihoon opened his door the second Jisoo yelled.

 

It took exactly three seconds for him to realise what was going on,

and he knew that the first thing he needed to do was get Seungcheol away from whoever it was trying to hurt him.

 

“If you really think you’re gonna take him away from us then forget it,” he growled. “Let him fucking go.”

 

 

That did it.

 

All four figures turned toward Jihoon, surprised at the new voice that appeared to come out of nowhere.

It was a split-second window, but it was all Jisoo needed to grab Seungcheol out of their grasp and hold him close to his body.

Seungcheol grabbed onto Jisoo as tightly as he could, using all his strength to push himself away from his captors.

 

He was shaking violently, and all Jisoo could do was run his hand up and down his back, and give him a small, quick kiss on the shoulder.

 

Jisoo wanted nothing more than to carry him inside and hold him for as long as he needed until Seungcheol felt safe again.

But the figures were still there,

and they didn’t show signs of leaving any time soon.

 

All Jisoo could do was push Seungcheol behind him, a tight grip still on his hand, and face the figures with blazing eyes and a hard expression.

 

 

Seungcheol wasn’t nearly as surprised as he figured he should have been when the figures took off their hoods. It didn’t feel like a shot to the stomach when he found his maker staring at him with pure rage and malice, the leader of the Moon Thicket right by his side.

 

A part of him had known this was coming.

A part of him that he had desperately wished was simply paranoia.

 

 

“You’re lucky we didn’t use more violent methods to reclaim our property,” said Seungcheol’s maker, not even trying to hide the disgust and hate in his voice. “Stay out of things you dolls have no business in.”

“He’s never been yours to fucking reclaim,” snarled Jisoo, holding onto Seungcheol’s hand even more tightly.

“It’s been a while Jisoo, hasn’t it?” started the coven’s leader, his eyes narrowing. “You may have removed the mark, but that doesn’t mean our ownership over it has disappeared. Considering your history with this coven, I’d recommend you cooperate.”

 

Jisoo chuckled, and it was the emptiest, eeriest sound Seungcheol had ever heard.

For the first time, Seungcheol was a little scared of him.

 

“You want me to be nice? No. I don’t think I will. Not when you’re trying to take someone I love away from me.”

“You brats don’t understand witchcraft,” sneered Seungcheol’s maker, “You don’t understand how it’s meant to be practiced, and so –”

 

Jihoon couldn’t help it, he laughed.

He let out a full, genuine laugh.

It wasn’t just at the ridiculousness the coven was spouting,

it was at the fact that Jeonghan had slowly made his way to the door frame and was standing right there the second the coven lied straight to their faces.

 

“I’m sorry,” started Jeonghan, his arms crossed, and eyebrows raised. His voice was quiet, but venom was laced between every syllable. “But do you really think that everything you do is in the name of practicing witchcraft the proper way?”

“Of course,” said the coven’s leader through grit teeth.

“If that’s true,” continued Jeonghan. “Then you will leave Seungcheol alone.”

 

The leader turned around to face Jeonghan fully, his eyes narrowed, and jaw tensed. As he took a step towards him, Jeonghan didn’t show any signs of intimidation.

He’d known his whole life that the coven’s philosophies were wrong, and as he lost his respect for them, he lost any fear he previously had of them.

And he wasn’t about to let a group of people built on greed pull apart his family.

 

He would die before he let that happen.

 

“Stupid boy,” spat the leader. “Dolls are made to serve witches. The history doesn’t lie.”

“No, the history doesn’t,” said Jeonghan calmly and evenly. “Which is why I know you’re perfectly aware of the fact that dolls are meant to help witches, just as familiars help witches. They’re pure energy brought to life. And the second they feel like it’s time for them to leave, they have every fucking right to do so and you know this.”

 

 

The leader’s lips were set in a hard line.

He was being embarrassed by an amateur witch and three dolls,

they were stripping him of any control he had over the situation.

 

And that’s what angered him the most – that they were challenging him in front of the people who were supposed to follow him without question.

 

 

“Don’t speak of things you don’t understand boy,” snapped the leader, though it came out weak, lacking the strong control he was meant to have.

“I do understand it. And that’s what bothers you. That someone’s finally seen through your veil of self-righteousness and has figured out that you’re just selfish bastards looking for ways to justify their cruelty and greed.”

 

None of the four coven members found any words to speak. They tried, opening and closing their mouths as though words were something they could fish from the air, but to no avail.

They couldn’t refute Jeonghan’s claims no matter how much they wanted to.

 

“Look, honestly,” started Jihoon, breaking the silence. “I don’t give a shit what you choose to do from now on. Just leave my family the fuck alone.”

 

Embarrassed and humiliated, the coven’s leader snapped his head towards Jihoon, murder in his eyes. When he started to take slow, unsteady steps towards him, Jeonghan put an arm across Jihoon’s chest, ready to shove him back into the apartment the second the coven’s leader took a step too close.

 

“Do you really think you can talk to us like that you –”

“He can,” came Seungcheol’s voice. Jisoo couldn’t stop the small, proud smile from crossing his lips as he pulled Seungcheol forward just a little bit. “He can speak to you however he likes. And besides, you’re asking for it.”

“And I’ll do it again,” said Jihoon. “Leave my family the fuck alone. I mean it.”

 

 

The leader finally retreated. His three followers had surrendered long before he chose to step down, and perhaps knowing that was the final blow. He walked towards the apartment building stairs, flicking his wrist to signal the others to follow him.

And they did what they were told.

They were cowards, comfortable in their own ignorance, and definitely weren’t about to open their mouths when their leader was fuming.

 

“Stay the fuck out of our way,” muttered the coven’s leader. The bite to his voice was weak, a futile attempt at seeming powerful. “Or we won’t be quite so merciful.”

“Leave us alone and we won’t have any problems,” said Jisoo. “Now go.”

 

 

Once the Moon Thicket members had left the building, the four simply stood in silence, frozen as they attempted to process the chaos they narrowly managed to get themselves out of.

 

“Is it,” started Seungcheol. His voice was so quiet, like he was trying to speak delicately around the heavy silence. “Is it too dramatic to say I owe you guys my life?”

God, Seungcheol,” sighed Jisoo, wrapping his arms as tightly as he possibly could around Seungcheol.

 

He almost lost him.

 

If he didn’t wake up the second he heard his scream,

if he didn’t grab him the moment their heads turned to Jihoon,

if he didn’t keep him close behind him, a vice-like grip on his hand so that no one, no one would be able to pull him away,

Seungcheol wouldn’t be here in his arms.

 

And that was a terrifying thought.

 

Two pairs of arms wrapped around the two, but Jisoo didn’t so much as lift his head from the crook of Seungcheol’s neck.

He just stayed there, letting the warmth of three bodies calm his trembling nerves and reassure his racing mind.

 

“Cheollie,” started Jeonghan, his voice muffled by Jisoo’s hair. “You’re okay, right?”

“Yeah,” nodded Seungcheol. “I’m okay.”

“Good. Now I just need you to let Jisoo know that. Because he won’t believe it unless he hears it from you.”

 

Seungcheol pulled back, detangling his arm from around Jisoo’s waist and the other from around Jihoon. He held onto Jisoo’s arms and when he caught his eye, he gave him a small smile.

“I’m okay Jisoo, okay? Nothing hurts and they went away now so I’m fine. Please stop looking so sad.”

 

Jisoo couldn’t help but grin, giggling slightly at Seungcheol’s absolutely adorable words. He pulled both Jeonghan and Jihoon closer as best he could, sandwiching Seungcheol between the three of them, revelling in the way Seungcheol laughed against his shoulder.

 

“Hey, guys,” whispered Jisoo, pressing his forehead to Seungcheol’s. “I think I know what my reason for everything is now.”

“What is it?” asked Jihoon.

Jisoo smiled blindingly, hugging the three even tighter.

“It’s you. All of you.”

 

 

And with that, Jisoo kissed Seungcheol first, gently, slowly, and sweetly. He smiled when Seungcheol sighed happily, breaking the kiss only to place another one right on the tip of his nose.

 

He kissed Jihoon next, cupping his cheek with his hand and running a thumb gently over his skin. Jihoon smiled into the kiss wrapping his arms around Jisoo’s neck.

All of his previous worries, his anxieties, his insecurities, they seemed to melt away right in that moment.

 

As he tended to do, Jeonghan surprised him, tangling his fingers in the hair at the back of his head and gently pulling Jisoo forward. Despite his attempts, he couldn’t keep himself from giggling into the kiss out of surprise, only laughing harder as Jeonghan peppered small kisses across his cheeks.

 

“You’re adorable, you know that right?” asked Jihoon, making Jisoo flush a deep red.

 

“Cheollie,” started Jeonghan, reaching out to hold onto his hand, “How about you and Jisoo stay with us, okay? At least for the night. How’s that sound?”

“At least for the night?” echoed Seungcheol, frowning and cocking his head.

“We’ll talk about that more in the morning. But you wanna stay with us tonight?”

 

Seungcheol smiled, nodding his head enthusiastically.

“Yeah, that’d be really nice.”

 

“Wait,” started Jisoo with an overexaggerated pout, “You’re not gonna ask me?”

“Jisoo…” started Jeonghan, “You literally invite yourself in every other day. You’re lucky I haven’t made you start paying part of the rent yet.”

“Yeah, sorry baby but asking you won’t really make a difference,” added Jihoon.

 

Jisoo turned to Seungcheol with a frown as he made a sound of indignation.

“Cheollie! They’re being mean to me!” he whined.

 

Seungcheol just threw his head back and laughed, which only made Jisoo huff in fake annoyance. To make amends, the three kissed Jisoo all over his face, making him squirm and giggle until he was gasping for air.

 

“C’mon Jisoo, let’s go sleep please,” said Seungcheol, accentuating his statement with a final peck straight onto Jisoo’s lips.

 

 

 

It didn’t take long for the four to fall asleep.

 

After all,

they were together, basking in each others’ warmth and comfort.

 

That was all they could really ask for.

 

 

And with a happily purring kitten at their feet, falling asleep had never been easier,

 

or cozier.