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Let the Water Protect You

Chapter Text

Thunder crashed down, a light flickering in the sky for half a moment as the storm grew closer. Jack frowned as he looked out towards the dirt road, not able to see too far ahead of him as the land was shrouded in darkness from the clouds. He needed to get out of the storm, his clothes already soaked, bags starting to be, but the nearest town was still a few ways away. He’d have to find shelter somewhere else.

He looked around, head turning to see a gentle slope leading down to a small forest and he recognized the path, sighing in relief. He patted the side of Basil, the stag he was riding, and gestured for the animal to follow the path. The brunet had a careful hand on one of the stag’s antlers, keeping him steady, and they quickly made their way down the slope as they lowered into the new area speckled with trees and tall grass.

Jack squinted, hand over his eyes as he tried to keep the rain out of his face, and looked for the familiar covering of greenery as they went further through the trees. The ground rose around them as they continued onward, slowly turning into a hidden grotto, and as the two of them reached what appeared to be a dead end, Jack finally found the remnants of white stone hidden behind strands of vines and clusters of leaves like a curtain. He gave a quiet command for the stag to go forward, the sound of wet dirt mingling with the rain and thunder, and once they arrived at the front of the leafy curtain, the brunet quickly swung a leg over the stag to hop off. He stepped onto the start of the white stone, reaching a hand out to push the vines out of the way and moved to the side to let Basil walk through the opening.

It was a small tunnel, the old stone leading the way forward as they were protected from the rain with the dirt walls and ceiling. Vines and overgrown plants decorated the walls, weaving around one another and through the dirt, until the path ended at a small open area. There was still the dirt ceiling overhead, though certainly higher up than how the tunnel was designed, but a few gaps and spaces between dirt and leaves acted as windows to let in light during the day.

Jack continued walking until the stone path widened to a half circle design and ended at the entrance to the room, the rest of the floor under the surface of the small pond. There were small plants and flowers decorating the top of the water while a large white tree was rooted in the back of the room, old and starting to bend downwards in a curve with leaves a soft green and its own draping vines hanging between branches. The water was always clear, shining whenever the light touched its surface, and the greenery always seemed to thrive and stay healthy, but what stood out the most was a white statue of a woman standing carefully by the tree with branches arching over it like an umbrella.

This was a shrine for the goddess of the land.

The shrine was quite old, though, and it didn’t seem like many people visited it anymore, if any at all. Jack didn’t even know it existed until he stumbled across the entrance through the brush one day, and the shrine looked the same as it was then. He liked it like that, though. It didn’t have the man-made feel to it; it looked natural. Beautiful as nature was.

He remembered he liked to visit it before, though that had been quite some time ago, but it acted as a small get-away whenever he wanted to relax or ask for guidance from the goddess. He knew he would be able to rest here for the night and sighed as he walked over to Basil and made the motion for him to lay down. The stag tucked his legs in, resting a little against the wall, and the brunet gave his head a gentle pet before he returned to the edge of the water. He folded his hands in front of himself, looking upwards at the face of the goddess statue, and smiled softly.

“I don’t mean to intrude, I only seek refuge from the storm tonight.” He murmured quietly, bowing his head in respect. “I thank you for your protection.”

He put his hands down after that and walked back to Basil to look through one of his bags the animal carried. He found the blanket he brought with him along with a set of spare clothes, taking it all out as he quickly changed into the drier shirt and pants before he folded his scarf up to use as a pillow. He moved over back to the water’s edge, setting his scarf down and lying on his stomach with the blanket over him as he watched the water’s surface move ever so slowly. He sometimes wondered what it might look like if there were fish, though he knew there wasn’t any food for them and the water only went up to his thighs, so it wasn’t too deep either.

He listened to the sound of the thunder, frowning when it sounded like it was getting closer, and he wondered how much damage the storm could cause. Last time the weather was this bad, Jack found many trees blown over with broken branches scattering the ground below. Black stumps charred from flames and many gatherable items lost. That wouldn’t be good for his work. He makes a living by traveling around the land gathering various herbs, plants, sometimes rare stones or collectables, and selling them to the people of the towns he visits. Sometimes they ask him to find specific items and he goes on journeys to find them.

Once he was talking with a few of the merfolk who lived at a lake, listening to their stories about a large blossom tree that used to bloom by the shore. Every year, when the petals bloomed, the wind would carry them out of the tree, decorating the lake with scattered petals. However, there was only the one tree, and it wasn’t able to survive a storm as the area where the tree once stood was empty. The merfolk missed the petals, even though it was a simple thing, and asked if Jack would be able to find a blossoming tree to bring back some petals for them to see once more. Of course Jack said yes, knowing a forest where many of them grew, but decided to do something else as well.

The morning when he returned, he stood at the top of a small hill neighboring the lake, and once the wind picked up and blew towards the water, he released the petals into the air. The merfolk didn’t know he had returned, didn’t know how long it would’ve taken him either, and swam up to the surface to be greeted with the petals falling around them just like before. A few of them cried, some of the children watched in awe as they’ve never seen the petals before, and when Jack returned to the lake’s shore, he was hugged tightly by them all.

It was times like those, when he could see happiness in someone’s eyes for doing something so small, that made him love his work. The people from the towns and villages were all very kind as well, paying more than enough and offering him rooms to stay in and dinner to share when he visited. He also started keeping notes in a sketchbook, writing down information about the items he collects while sketching maps and scenes of the land, charting where he finds everything. Sometimes he likes to sit on the grass and draw the view ahead of him, and there were many sketches of Basil as well.

Another crash of thunder brought him back from his thoughts and he let out a breath, turning on his back as he looked up at the dirt ceiling. He tried to wrap the blanket around him snuggly, using half of it to cushion the ground so it wasn’t too uncomfortable, and closed his eyes as the sky continued to rumble. At least Basil didn’t seem to be bothered by the storm, so things should be alright for the night.

 

 

Light streaming in from the small window-like gaps woke the brunet up and he grumbled as he sat up. His back ached, the hard floor not the greatest place to sleep, and he yawned. He went to reach his hands up to stretch but felt something around his right wrist. He looked down, and sure enough, a vine from the pond was resting a little over the edge with the end wrapped around his wrist, a small blossom at the tip.

He carefully unwound the vine, placing it back into the pond, and wondered how that had happened. Maybe he moved around a bit in his sleep? Well, it didn’t matter, and he continued stretching a bit before he folded the blanket and wrapped the scarf back around his neck. Basil was already awake, lying by the wall still, and the brunet murmured a good morning as he walked over to him. He took out an apple for himself and some berries for the stag as he stuffed the blanket back away in the bag. Basil was happy to see the fruit, leaning his head down eagerly to eat up the berries the brunet placed in front of him, and Jack leaned back against the wall himself as he took a bite of the apple.

He didn’t hear the soft thudding of rain overhead, signaling the storm had ended, and the brunet was grateful for that. He’d have to go outside to see how much damage was caused, though, and he hoped nothing too bad had happened. It sounded rough last night. He also had a few items he still had to deliver that he was meaning to do last night before the weather hit.

The two of them didn’t take long to eat and Jack was ready to get back on the path to the next town. He stood up, gesturing for Basil to do the same, and fixed the bags properly on the stag’s back. He was about to leave when he caught movement in the corner of his eye. He turned towards the pond, everything looking the same, but the human noticed a ripple in the water.

It was strange, there wasn’t really any wind here, but he guessed a leaf might’ve fallen from the tree and didn’t give it any further thought.

He led Basil out through the tunnel to the exit, moving the vines out of the way for the stag to get past before following himself. He carefully hopped onto the back of the stag, checking once more to make sure the bags were steady since he didn’t have a saddle to keep them in place and were only held up by a small leather strap around the animal’s back, and gave the command for Basil to start moving.

At first it seemed everything was alright, the land already starting to dry from the storm, but as the two of them got closer to the next town, the brunet started to notice the fallen trees and burned ground. There were animal tracks scattered around, appearing chaotic and afraid, and many of the smaller plants were uprooted and destroyed.

Jack frowned, not liking how things were looking, but at least it didn’t look too devastated. There were still birds flying from tree to tree, a glimpse of smaller critters still around, and the brunet felt comforted knowing they were still there. The land would regrow.

He made it to the town by noon, leading Basil over to the stable where a caretaker was so he could have something to eat, and smiled when the caretaker saw the two of them and made a motion for the children who were playing with the other horses to come over. Many of the towns knew of Basil and the children were always ecstatic to see the stag in person, as most of the wild ones ran away from humans.

The brunet swung a leg over to get off, patting Basil’s neck before he took out a pouch from the baggage that held the items he was sent to collect. He stayed to watch the kids for a second, holding back a chuckle as a boy tried to stand on his toes to reach the stag’s antlers, then made his way to the small inn. A bell on the door chimed as he stepped inside and a woman perked her head up upon hearing it.

“Ah, Jack! You’re back!” She greeted, stepping out from behind the counter.

The brunet stopped at a table, setting the pouch down as he opened it to reveal its contents. Inside was a collection of stones, looking dull now, but when night came the stones would glow faintly.

“You got the luminous stones I asked for!” The woman beamed, picking one of them up and looking at it in awe. “I was telling my mother how these would make beautiful night lights for the rooms, but now we actually have them! Thank you so much!”

“It was no problem.” Jack replied, letting the woman give him a hug before she ran back to the counter to get the payment.

The two of them talked for a bit, Jack describing some of the more interesting parts of his travels, then he brought up the unexpected storm.

“Yeah, it was pretty rough, wasn’t it?” The woman sympathized, frowning a little. “Poor Mrs. Lee, her garden was ruined because of it and she lost all of her pumpkins. She was going to make pumpkin pie for her grandson’s birthday but without the pumpkin… well, it’s in the name of the recipe.”

“Oh?” Jack hummed, feeling bad about it.

Mrs. Lee was a nice old lady; Jack has done a few requests for her and she did indeed make a fantastic pumpkin pie. He thought about asking if anyone else had any spare pumpkins, but Mrs. Lee was the only one who grew them in this town. Even so, if her garden was ruined, then most of the others in this town probably weren’t doing well either.

“You know…” The brunet started. “I know someone in Dew Village who grows them. I don’t think the storm reached that far; I could go over there and pick one up to bring back.”

“What? You don’t have to do that.” The woman tried to protest. “You’ve done enough as it is.”

“It’s fine, really.” He smiled. “It’s only a pumpkin, and I have to deliver something to that village anyways, it would be no trouble.”

The woman told him how he was too nice for his own good, the two of them chuckling a bit afterwards, but she told him to still be careful. Even though the storm was over, there was still the mess it left. The brunet nodded, saying that he would, and the two of them said their goodbyes before parting ways.

Jack visited a few more people, handing them the items they had asked for as well, and decided to stay in town for the night and leave tomorrow morning to the village. He had three days before it was the grandson’s birthday, giving the brunet a day to get to the village, a day to return, and still leaving a day for the pie to be made in time.

He left the morning of the next day, picking up Basil from the stable and heading on his way. The innkeeper was right, just as Jack had seen yesterday when he was traveling to the town; the land was a mess. However, this time he noticed a few of the townspeople working together to clean up fallen debris and clear the road. He still had to maneuver Basil away from some of the obstructions blocking the path, going off the main road for a moment as well, but he was able to make it to Dew Village before nightfall.

They didn’t have a stable there, but since Jack was a familiar face, they happily let him keep Basil in the village for the night. The children there would follow him around, asking about the stag and the adventures he’s been on, and though the brunet playfully exaggerated his stories, the children were captivated by the tales and hurried home to tell their parents when it was time for bed.

The brunet stayed for breakfast, sitting by a small fire as he prepared a meal for himself and a treat for Basil. He was feeling relaxed, happy with the morning’s light warming him up, and finally stopped by the house of the man who grew pumpkins. He explained the situation and the man sold him one without a problem. The brunet then took some time to wrap a bit of rope loosely around the base of Basil’s antlers to help keep the pumpkin in place when they carried it back to town. He didn’t want to add any pressure to the stag’s antlers, not wanting to hurt the animal, but it would help to keep it steady. Jack would be riding on the animal’s back, pumpkin in front of him, and the rope would be tied around that while Jack had a hand on it as well. Basil didn’t seem to mind, so the brunet took that as an okay as he prepared to travel back.

They went slower on their way back, the brunet wanting to be careful not to accidentally cause the pumpkin to fall and break. He closed his eyes and let himself listen to the birds chirping along their path, the gentle swaying back and forth from the stag’s stride moving him slightly, and he felt calm once more. He peeked an eye open when he felt a shift in the animal’s movement and realized Basil was taking them through the forest again when the path was too cluttered with debris. He took in the view, appreciating the light streaming in through the branches of the trees creating small spotlights on the grass, then squinted when he saw something near the stump of a tree.

He patted the side of Basil’s neck, telling him to stop, and carefully got down from the animal’s back to inspect it. He made sure to move the pumpkin onto the grass, not wanting to risk it falling off since he wasn’t holding it, and stepped closer to the tree before kneeling down. There, at the base of the tree, was a truffle.

The brunet smiled. Sometimes truffles were hard to find; other people were constantly looking for them and taking what they could find, leaving very few for others to get. He knew of a few people who would always ask about truffles, unable to search in the forest for these themselves, and some would offer quite a bit for them. If there was one truffle here, then there might be others too.

Jack knew this was a good opportunity to find them, knowing how some people valued the treat greatly, and he wouldn’t know if they would still be here if he left. He looked up at the trees, eyeing the light streaming in again, and guessed what time it’d be about now. He probably still had a bit before it got dark; he’d have time to look before he had to be on his way again. So he grabbed an empty pouch from his bags, placing the truffle inside, and started his search. Basil appreciated the break, taking some time to graze on the grass, and the brunet kept him in sight as he poked around the trees. He found a few more truffles, making him more determined to keep looking, and outwardly cheered when he found a small group of them. He was proud of the find, adding them to his pouch, but as his head perked up to look around, he saw something glowing faintly in the distance. He frowned, stepping over to it slowly, and as he got closer he realized it was a flower. A rare one named “silent princess”. It was a small white flower, like a lily, with a soft blue coloration in the middle, and at night, the strange plant glowed a soft light blue. It was mesmerizing, a beautiful sight to see, and Jack caught himself staring at it for a few moments. He finally shook his head when he realized the flower was glowing because it was dark out and he still had to travel back to town.

He grumbled to himself, upset that he didn’t realize how much time he spent looking for truffles, and took one more look at the silent princess before he decided to dig up the soil around its roots. He wanted to be careful not to hurt it, not wanting to bend any of the leaves or petals either, and quickly carried it back to Basil and his bags. He put the truffles in the bag with his other deliveries, not worrying about stuffing them together, but he put the silent princess in the bag on the other side. It wasn’t as full, giving the flower room so it wouldn’t be squashed, and he kept the bag open so the flower could stick out from the top. He then picked up the pumpkin and set it back up with him on Basil, wrapping the loose rope around it, and ordered for them to continue their travel.

It wasn’t too dark out yet, the faint light of sunset still giving them some way to see, but the brunet was getting anxious. They weren’t close to any town and he couldn’t go too fast without risking him accidentally dropping the pumpkin. It should be fine, though, as long as he’s careful. He was thankful that Basil knew where to go once they were back onto the path, as once it did start getting dark, he was having trouble seeing himself.

He heard rustling nearby, part of him paranoid, and he did encourage Basil to go faster, but he tried to calm himself down saying he was imagining this stuff. Either that or it was a wild animal. They were in the wild. It’s where animals live.

He looked around more, eyes expecting to see someone looking back at him, watching behind trees, and he knew there were dangerous people lurking at night. Thieves and members of bad clans. He’s seen them before, it’s why he keeps a pair of daggers on him, but he wasn’t exactly in the best position to defend himself right now. Looking back at the bags on Basil, the silent princess stood out in the darkness, glowing in the night, and it made the brunet question bringing it with him. They are rare, though, and he didn’t know if he’d ever see another one again. He didn’t know what he was going to do with it yet, but he didn’t want to leave it and regret it later.

Or maybe he’d regret it now.

The paranoia got the best of him and he carefully tried to tuck the flower into the bag, resting the flap over the top, but it did make him feel a little better. He’s just getting too far into his own head; it’s going to be alright.

Then he heard a rush of air. It was rather sudden, hearing it for only a moment, mind not registering what that meant, before his neck suddenly stung badly. He jerked to the side, almost falling off Basil, and held back a yelp as he clenched his teeth. He stared ahead, a wave of panic hitting him as he feared what just happened, and he barely caught the blur in front of his face as another arrow whizzed past. He reached a shaky hand up, fingers barely tapping the arrowhead piercing the side of his neck, and there was a ringing in his ears. He almost fell off once more when Basil jerked and whined, bringing him back to focus, and he tried to cover the wound on his neck with his hand. Was Basil hit? Damn, they need to get out of here; it’s too dark to see and he has a disadvantage with all his baggage and only a short ranged weapon to defend himself.

He could feel the heartbeat in his ears, pain in his neck getting worse from the initial hit, and he sucked in a breath before shutting his eyes and ordering for Basil to run. He was leaning forward, one arm holding the pumpkin loosely, and the stag started sprinting forwards. He saw a few arrows fly past him, one hitting a tree, and Basil seemed to be panicking as well.

How many people were after him? Was it only one? Were there others following behind? He needs to find somewhere to hide, somewhere to get away from the attackers before things get worse. The arrow was still piercing him, the brunet unsure whether or not he should take it out now or leave it in before he’s safe. Touching it only made his hand bloody, though, so it probably wasn’t too good. His vision started getting blurry as well, wondering if he’d lost enough blood to cause him to get lightheaded, and he felt sick.

He heard yelling, though it seemed to be getting more distant each second, but yelling might mean more than one person. Shit, this wasn’t good. Basil was running as fast as he could, but if he was hurt too, then there was only so much the stag could do. The brunet felt something at his lip and he hesitated before moving the hand over to touch the corner of his mouth. Something was dripping from his lips, too dark for him to see if it was blood or what, but he felt himself start to tear up. He turned to the side quickly, head leaning over as he spit out whatever it was, and winced as his neck felt worse. He tried to say something to Basil, wanting the animal not to panic too much but to hurry as well, but he wasn’t too sure what to do at this point. His mind was getting foggy, sight blurring, and his neck buzzed.

He felt Basil change directions, running faster as they turned somewhere, and the sounds of the attackers got distant and vanished. The brunet could tell Basil was taking them down a slope somewhere, but wherever it was got them out of sight of the others. At this point he didn’t care where he was, as long as he could safely figure out how to tend to his wound. They needed to rest and they were too far from any town.

The brunet felt leaves brushing against his face, the stag slowing down considerably, and he weakly lifted himself up to open an eye to see where Basil had gone. It took him a moment to recognize where they were, but once the goddess statue came into view, he realized Basil had taken them to the shrine. This is where they had found shelter during the storm, so he guessed Basil saw this as a safe spot, and as long as the attackers weren’t around it would be okay.

He hoped.

Basil walked them over to the water’s edge, kneeling down once they reached it, and the brunet fumbled as he got off the stag. Thankfully the pumpkin rolled off without getting hurt, though that was far from the brunet’s mind as a shaky hand reached for his bags. He kept a few medical supplies with him; there has to be something that can help. He turned his head to spit up again, trying hard to see what it was, then a thought came to mind that made him go cold. What if the arrow was poisoned? He doesn’t have any antidotes for that nor does he even know what type of poison the arrow could’ve had.

Hell, this is bad, this is so so bad.

Maybe he could wash the wound? Would that do anything? He crawled over to the water’s edge, everything shaking as he grabbed the arrow and broke off the wood sticking out while leaving the arrow head. He remembers hearing about leaving objects in the body because they stop the blood from pouring out, but should he leave it in if it’s poisoning him? He has no clue what to do, no clue at all, and his eyes stung as tears fell into the water below. He felt his mind go numb, thoughts slowing to a stop as it got harder to see, and he barely had the strength to hold himself up on his arms. He looked up with bleary eyes, seeing the statue under a small stream of moonlight, and he choked back a sob.

“Please…” He said, voice quiet as he tried to speak a prayer. “Help…”

His arms gave out after that, body falling to the side, and everything went dark.

Chapter Text

Jack felt groggy, blinking his eyes open but everything was blurry. There was a voice, sounding distant and slurred in his mind, but he was able to see some type of figure above him in the darkness. Was he laying down? It felt like there was water around him, like he was lying in a tub, but that couldn’t be right. There was something on his neck, like a hand, and it felt cold.

His mind felt sick still, that fuzzy feeling wrapping around his vision, and he passed out again.

The next time he opened his eyes, everything was a bit brighter, like there was faint sunlight, and the figure above him was clearer. It kind of looked like him.

“Who…?” The brunet tried to speak, but his voice felt dry.

The being tilted his head to the side for a moment before bringing it back up. Jack wasn’t quite sure what that was supposed to mean.

The stranger was looking down at him, small frown and a cool expression, and he seemed to be looking over the brunet. He was murmuring something, though Jack wasn’t able to hear it clearly. He was able to catch a few words the being had said, something about him getting into more trouble than the being himself does, but the brunet’s mind was still foggy, thoughts going too slowly for him to understand what was happening. He only stared back with his lips parted to say something, though nothing came out.

Jack’s thoughts did remind him of the arrow, a dull worry seeping into his mind, and he groaned quietly to himself. He reached a hand up slowly to feel his neck, expecting an arrow, a wound, or blood, but none of that was there. Wasn’t there an arrow? He was hit there, right? He’s not imagining that?

There was then a hand on his cheek, feeling the coldness again, and Jack blinked slowly as he looked up to see the being leaning a little closer to him. The other’s eyes were unmoving, a calm gaze standing out in the hazy image of his face, and the being spoke up in a softer voice.

“You’re alright now… your friend too.”

Friend? Was he talking about Basil? Jack closed his eyes, still feeling tired, and a finger brushed over his closed eyelids. He was too tired to open his eyes again, letting sleep take over as the being’s voice faded into nothing.

 

 

Jack woke up, not opening his eyes yet, but he realized that he felt cold. Not shivering cold, but a calm cold. There was something around him, swaying gently with each movement of his breathing, and he recognized it as water. He was laying in water.

Like the dream he had.

He opened his eyes slowly, frowning as he tried to adjust to the morning’s light. His head was resting on the stone surface at the water’s edge, sloping down softly so his back wasn’t too stiff, but it was still rough. He sat up, rubbing his face with a hand, then touched his neck lightly. He was in the shallow end of the shrine’s pond, the end of his shirt only floating a bit on the surface, and he looked down at his reflection in the water.

It looked like him. Like the dream he had.

He lifted his head up at the rest of the shrine, frowning as he remembered a hazy image of a man who mirrored him. There was no one else here, though; no one else sitting in the pond next to him or brushing a cold hand on his cheek. Everything was quiet except for the faint chirping of birds from outside.

That dream… when had he fallen asleep? If the arrow and the echo of himself was part of a dream, then when had he made it to the shrine? It made sense that he would’ve stopped here last night when it had gotten too late, not wanting to stay out past midnight, but why doesn’t he remember doing that? And how’d he end up in the water? He didn’t think he moved too much in his sleep. It felt strange, like a distant memory that he couldn’t picture clearly, and he frowned.

He remembered why he was out that night in the first place and he quickly looked behind him to see the pumpkin resting next to Basil. The stag was sitting against the wall like before as he shuffled a bit, lifting his head into the air as he scented something. He seemed to be okay, though. No wounds from arrows or scratches either.

The brunet put a hand on his face, rubbing his eyes and he grumbled to himself about being late to deliver the pumpkin. What time was it? He still had a while to go before he made it to town. He took a slow breath, wanting to calm himself down, and eventually moved his hand away to gaze back out over the pond.

With a sigh, he stood carefully, clothes wet and dripping as he stumbled over to the stag, and looked around to see if he could find some sense of what time it was. Although there was light streaming into the room, it wasn’t enough for the brunet to tell where the sun was in the sky and he sighed. He ushered for Basil to get back on his feet, double checking the bags and making sure the rope wasn’t too tight around his antlers still, then picked up the pumpkin in his arms to carry outside. He started leading Basil back through the small tunnel, worried he might not make it to the town until the evening or even nightfall, but he stopped to turn around one more time.

The dream… it felt too real.

But the water was silent.

 

 

Jack had made it to town before the sun had set, though it was still a lot later than he was hoping for. He delivered the pumpkin to Mrs. Lee and she was very grateful for it, hugging the brunet tightly as she thanked him profusely. She wouldn’t let him go without paying him back for it, but she noticed the state that his clothes were in, dried oddly from the sun, and she pointed out that he seemed lost in thought.

The brunet frowned lightly as he explained the strange dream he had about the shrine he had stayed at for the night. An arrow that should’ve killed him, a reflection of himself, and a cold hand on his cheek. His fingers brushed his neck once more, still thinking a trace of the wound would be there, but still nothing.

Mrs. Lee offered to make him a cup of tea, inviting him to sit in the garden that was her backyard, and the brunet thanked her as he sat down. She had moved a chair over to sit down herself, giving the brunet a moment to get comfortable, then she spoke up.

“I’ve heard a few stories about the shrines.” She said, watching as the garden’s greenery swayed with the wind. “Myths.”

Jack looked over at her, a soft “oh” escaping his lips, and the woman continued.

“They say each shrine has a spirit who watches over it, protecting those who visit and caring for the life that grows there. The goddess can’t be expected to watch over everything herself.” The woman said, chuckling softly. “They don’t reveal themselves, staying hidden, but once in a while someone will tell a story about how they saw a glimpse of one.”

“But… the one I saw looked like me.” Jack mumbled, still confused about that.

“Because they weren’t born here; they don’t have a mortal form. The tales say that spirits are originally from the light realm, but they can travel between here and there.”

Jack hummed in thought, never having heard of stories like that before, and he wondered if that could’ve been what he saw.

“But those are just tales passed down from an old lady like me.” She said, looking up as a butterfly fluttered through the air in front of them. “Many people don’t believe the stories either, but it’s up to you whether or not you chose to believe it for yourself.”

“Alright.” Jack nodded, following the butterfly’s trail with his eyes. “Thank you.”

He was about to stand up to excuse himself; he still needs to check into the inn for a room for tonight and make dinner, but Mrs. Lee added one more thing.

“You should think about leaving a gift.”

“A gift?”

“Many people leave gifts at the shrine as thanks when they visit. Some like to leave gifts even if nothing special had happened, just as a way to show they are appreciative.”

“I see.” The brunet nodded.

“Maybe what you saw was a dream, maybe you had actually met a spirit who helped you, but I’m sure a gift would be appreciated either way.”

“Yeah…” Jack said, mind turning to ideas for what he might be able to leave for the shrine. “I’ll keep that in mind.”

He left after that, undoing the rope from Basil’s antlers as he led the stag over to the stable and grabbed the bags off of him. He didn’t like to leave them out overnight, so he carried them up to his room after he checked in and prepared a simple dinner.

He was sitting on the bed, leaning against the headboard with his sketchbook in hand as he flipped through the pages hoping an idea would come to mind for a gift. He had notes and drawings of a lot of things he could collect, some asked for frequently, and he thought about getting something like that. Maybe something like a precious stone would be nice, or maybe he could craft something together.

He flipped through a few pages of flowers he drew, thinking about the different shades of colors there are, and maybe he could put together a nice bouquet. Would that be okay? Would that be a good gift? Those were nice to offer to a friend, but… they didn’t feel special.

He grumbled, flipping to another page, then paused as he saw the sketch of a flower taking up the entire page. The silent princess. He had one of those.

He lifted his head up, looking over at his bags sitting against the wall of the room, and the faint bluish glow could be seen from space the bag didn’t cover completely. That was a special flower, rare and beautiful, and part of him didn’t want to let it go. It might be the only silent princess that he ever sees, but that’s why it’s special, that’s what makes it meaningful.

That’s the gift he should give.

He looked to the side, one of the luminous stones that he gave to the innkeeper resting on the side table providing light, and he moved a bit closer to it on the bed as he flipped to an empty page in his sketch book. He tried to remember the hazy image of the being at the shrine, sketching a loose shape on the paper, but it wasn’t clear. He drew a circlet around the being’s forehead, remembering that, and hair a bit longer that was swept to the side. He wanted to say the being’s hair was a mixture of brown and green, but the clearest image in his mind were the green eyes that looked back at him.

Was it real? Were the stories about spirits watching over the shrines true? They could very well be myths created for people who visit the shrines; giving them something to believe in and nothing more. Even the idea that the spirits didn’t have a real form felt like an excuse someone came up with when asked what the spirits looked like.

Even so, Jack couldn’t deny that it fit what he saw. Even if it was only a dream, it did strangely match up with what Mrs. Lee told him.

With a sigh, the brunet set his sketchbook on the side table, laying down on the bed completely as he turned his back to the luminous stone. He could bring the silent princess to the shrine tomorrow and maybe he would find an answer there. For now, he’d just get some sleep in and wait for tomorrow.

Chapter Text

Jack returned to the hidden shrine the next day, walking up quietly to the water’s edge as the last streaks of sunlight started to fade from sight. He had taken the silent princess out of his bag, carefully removing the stem until only the flower’s blossom remained, and held it in cupped hands as he gazed at the pond.

It was just as quiet as before, water still and silent as the brunet watched it for a moment, then he kneeled down to reach the water. It wasn’t completely dark yet, the flower still dull in the last light of the day, and the brunet placed it gently into the pond to float. He sent it forward, using his hands to make a small current to push the flower further away towards the center, and he sat back as he watched the blossom slowly drift away.

It eventually slowed to a stop, the water going still once more, and the room went dark. The first hints of moonlight then began to filter into the room, a dull silver glow reflecting off the surface of the water, and the silent princess began to light up as well. Its soft blue glow echoed across the water, mixing with the silvers, and Jack smiled warmly at the sight.

He waited, eyes scanning the water for any sense of movement, any sign that someone else was there, but nothing happened.

He had hoped to see the being again, wanting to know if the being was real or only a dream, but his smile started to fade when everything stayed silent. He tried to tell himself not to feel bad; he had expected this to happen, but he was still a little saddened. He didn’t want it to be a dream.

That was alright though, and he was still happy to have gifted the flower to the shrine. It was a beautiful sight, something that was unique and special itself, and he stood up to return to town. This time he didn’t have to carry a pumpkin and he could get Basil to run back, the weather clear as well.

He nodded to the goddess statue, silently giving his thanks, then turned around to leave. He put a hand on Basil’s side, the animal already facing towards the exit and ready to leave as well, and he gave the animal a pet as they started walking away.

“I haven’t seen one of these before.”

The brunet stopped, going still as he heard the voice echo in the room, and he turned around slowly. There, in the middle of the pond, was a figure looking down at the silent princess casting a blue light over them. Jack blinked, stepping forwards hesitantly to the water’s edge once more, and as his eyes focused, he realized the person was sitting cross-legged on top of the water’s surface.

The stranger looked up, green eyes meeting Jack’s, and the brunet saw the familiar features of his face once more. This was the being he saw before. He blinked slowly, the two of them staring back at one another in silence, and Jack took notice of the differences in the being’s appearance. The other had an ombre style of brown to green hair, like Jack had thought before, and there was a subtle white line across his neck along with something silver around his left ear. He wore a sleeveless outfit, whites and silvers decorating the top, and a blue scarf-like cloth started at one shoulder and wrapped around his chest once before ending like a belt around his hips. The most notable part of the stranger’s outfit, however, were the two long ribbons of cloth flowing from behind the back of the being, floating on top of the water and circling around the being as it swayed with each small ripple. They were a mixture of soft blues and silvers, almost matching the clear water’s reflection, and the brunet found it beautiful.

The being tilted his head to the side, hair brushing against the thin silver circlet around his forehead with eyes still trained on the brunet, then he spoke.

“Is this for me?”

Jack stood in silence, voice caught in his throat, and he decided to nod his head instead. The being looked back down at the flower, blue light glowing across his face, and it was quiet for another moment before the being stood up. Jack found himself surprised once more, watching as the other stood perfectly atop the surface of the water with bare feet even though there was nothing there to hold him up, and the brunet looked down at the water in front of him. He lifted a foot up, hovering it slightly over the water, then tried to step onto the surface.

There was a plunking sound as his foot dropped into the water.

The brunet frowned, lifting his foot up as water dripped from his shoe, but he heard short laughter that made him look up. The being had an eyebrow raised, a half smile on his face as his shoulders moved slightly from the laughter, and he shook his head.

“What? Did you think the water was frozen?” The being asked and Jack pointed at him.

“I- you’re doin’ it!” He said defensively, shaking his foot as the water created a puddle beside him.

The being laughed more, stepping around the flower as the two ribbons of cloth followed behind him.

“I’m a water spirit.” He said, walking over to stand in front of the brunet. “It’s in the name.”

Jack perked up after hearing that, the being using the word “spirit” just as Mrs. Lee had, and he wanted to ask about the dream.

“That night…” He started, watching as the being tilted his head. “Was that real?”

The other nodded, pursing his lips as he looked up at one of the streams of moonlight finding its way into the room.

“It… surprised me.” The being said, pausing as though he wasn’t sure how to word it. “You walked in, I saw blood… then you passed out.”

“Ah…” The human said, instinctually reaching a hand up to touch his neck. “But… you helped me.”

The being nodded again, turning around to walk back to the silent princess, and the brunet was about to follow before he caught himself about to step into the water again.

“So you can heal?”

“Physical injuries.” The other answered, standing over the flower once he reached it. “And with water.” As he said that, he made an upward motion with his hand as the water under the flower pushed up, carrying the flower up to him as he cupped it in his hands.

The water dropped back down after that, surprising the brunet with the water’s movements, and the being continued.

“Pure water.” The other said as he touched a petal of the flower. “It’s… harder to use water not maintained from a shrine. Ocean water is full of salt and pollution. Rivers are better… but still not the same.”

The brunet watched as the being held the flower and walked around on the water’s surface, almost like dancing in a slow walk, as he put it under the different streams of light. The cloth trailed behind him, making the brunet think of a dress, and his curiosity about the being grew.

“So… you’re a water spirit.” Jack said, eyes following the being walking from one side to the other.

The being glanced at him, green eyes staring back, and the image of fireflies crossed the brunet’s mind briefly.

“Yes.”

Jack waited, hoping he would’ve elaborated a bit, but the spirit just continued walking around while holding the flower up. Was he looking for something?

“And you look after the shrine?” Jack continued and the being paused once more after he stopped at the tree in the back.

“This one, yes.” He said, then reached up to position the flower against the tree.

He seemed to think for a moment, humming before the water below him pushed him upwards and he placed the flower within one of the branches. He tilted his head, something the brunet was beginning to notice he did a lot of, then moved a few branches on the other side of the tree until the moon’s light could filter through the tree and mix with the flower’s blue glow. Was that what he was trying to do?

“I thought spirits don’t show themselves to others, though.” The brunet asked, watching as the water set the being down and he turned to face the brunet again.

“Yes…” He murmured, walking back to the center of the pond as he turned to the goddess statue. “If there were others.”

He sounded a bit sad and it confused the brunet. The being looked over his shoulder, body staying faced towards the statue, and there was a hint of something in his eyes.

“You’ve seen this place…”

Jack turned around, looking back at the broken stone path, then turned back to see the statue itself with its own cracks. He remembered how he thought the place looked to be forgotten through time, outdated and old. He liked how the shrine looked, how it was hidden away and had nature flourishing where stone ended, but he realized what that had meant for the being. There were a few shrines Jack had been to, all in different settings with the same goddess statue, and he remembered listening to others talk about the shrines. New ones would be built when people moved away and old ones would be forgotten.

“It’s alright.” The being said, causing the brunet to turn back to him to see his eyes reflecting a reassuring gaze. “Thank you for the flower.”

Jack looked up at the faint glimpse of blue in the tree, the flower reminding him once more that it only glowed when it was late, and he glanced back at Basil who was still waiting by the exit.

“I should probably head back to town.” The brunet murmured, not wanting to leave with more questions he wanted to ask, but he knew he should go.

The being turned around fully, tilting his head again, and he frowned.

“Are you not worried about what happened before?”

It took a moment for Jack to realize what the being was asking, but he shook his head.

“No, that was a mistake on my part. I was carrying too much stuff, made myself a target.” The silent princess also made him stand out in the dark, but he didn’t mention that part. “Besides, they always run after an attack so they won’t get caught in the same area.”

The spirit frowned more, not appearing to like the brunet’s answer, and Jack hummed as he thought for a second. He’s slept at the shrine before. It’s not the most comfortable place, hard stones nothing like a bed and he didn’t have more blankets to use to cushion the ground, but it was safe.

“Do… you want me to stay here?” He asked hesitantly, watching as the being stood still, frown still present, but he nodded once.

Jack hummed and murmured a soft “okay”, calling Basil back over to the wider space of the shrine as he motioned for the stag to lie down. He pulled his blanket out from one of the bags, unwrapping his scarf to use as a pillow once again, and moved them over near the water’s edge just as he had done during the storm. He took his shoes off, sitting down as he set them to the side, and stretched a bit before lying down on his stomach. He hugged the scarf lightly, resting his head down on the cloth as he was turned a little to see the being sitting on the water next to him.

Neither of them said anything, and though the brunet still had a lot of questions, a small part of him still wondering if this was all a dream too, but he didn’t want to break the silence.

 

 

Jack yawned as a foggy dream cleared from his mind. He opened an eye, cheek pressed against the scarf, and light in the room showed it was morning. He sat up, moving to rub his face, but he felt something on his right wrist and looked down to see a vine wrapped around it with a blooming pink flower. He lifted his hand up, remembering when this happened before, but this time the vine didn’t lead back to the pond. It wrapped around his wrist like a bracelet, no strands hanging off, and the brunet brought it closer to look at the petal’s gentle details.

Had the being done that?

The water was still and the brunet frowned when he looked over at the pond and didn’t see the being. Where had he gone? The idea of a dream crossed his mind again and he shook his head. It confused him when he woke up without seeing any proof that what he had seen was real, something other than memories. He remembered the silent princess and quickly looked to the tree, squinting as he tried to find the flower, and a sigh of relief escaped his lips when he saw the flower resting on one of the branches. It was real. Last night was real.

He moved the blanket off of himself, walking on bare feet over to Basil to get something to eat out of the bag with the vine bracelet staying around his wrist, and the motioned seemed very familiar. He set out a few berries for Basil, grabbing an apple for himself, then he stared at the apple for a moment before he put it back and took out an orange instead. He smiled to himself, returning to his spot to sit while taking one of his daggers to use to cut the orange open, and looked back over to the pond once he had his first slice only to stop mid-bite as he saw the being sitting on the water’s surface by the edge next to him. He blinked, continuing to peel the orange as he went back to eating it, and offered a slice to the being who shook his head in response and murmured that he didn’t need to eat.

“Oh.” The brunet hummed, looking down at the orange slice in his hand and frowning a bit.

He ate in silence, occasionally glancing up at the being, but the spirit didn’t say anything as he watched the brunet eat. It was a calm quiet, something the brunet appreciated he could have in the morning since he didn’t have any immediate deliveries to get to. He ate slowly, getting down to the last slice of fruit, then almost dropped it when the being suddenly stood up.

His eyes followed the being as he walked around the pond, stepping carefully over the plants floating on the surface and brushing his fingers against the bark of the tree as he circled it. He had walked behind the goddess statue for a moment, the human unsure as to what he was doing, but he stepped out from the other side and continued checking the rest of the shrine.

Jack’s eyes went down to the cloth trailing behind the being, finding the outfit different than what he was used to seeing, or rather it was something he’s never seen before.

“You’re a water spirit…” Jack said, looking up at the being who stopped in front of the statue and looked back at him. “So does the dress come with the job?”

The being’s eyes widened briefly before the brunet heard him chuckle softly.

“How’d you know?” The being said, small smile on his face, but he quirked an eyebrow up afterwards. “But it’s not a dress.” As he said that, his hand moved the scarf-like wrapping around his hips and he pulled up a bit of his shirt, revealing a bit of his stomach. “See. Two-part outfit.”

The brunet nodded, still sitting on the stone flooring, and he put his elbow on his knee with his hand on his chin to mimic a thinking position playfully. The being tucked his shirt back in and the brunet hummed.

“Then what about that very dress-like trail behind you?”

The being looked down at the water’s surface, seeing the cloth swerve around him from where he walked, and he crossed his arms.

“It’s supposed to flow in the water.” The being responded, then there was a splash that surprised the brunet as the being suddenly dropped into the pond, no longer standing on its surface.

The spirit spun in the water a bit, showing off the outfit as he made little waves with his movements, and the cloth following behind did look to float gracefully on the water’s surface rather than dragging on the ground when the being had treated the water as flooring.

“It’s to make us resembled our element more, I suppose. You should see the wind spirits, though; it looks like someone cut their outfit with a knife… repetitively.”

The brunet covered his mouth as he chuckled at that, thinking of how defensive the wind beings probably would have gotten if they heard that.

“So there are others? Other types of spirits?” He asked, intrigued with the types of beings he hadn’t known about.

“Yeah, did you think water was the only special element?” The being said, laying back on top of the water now, though he seemed to float effortlessly as he faced the human. “Well, that’s a flattering thought.” The being smiled. “But there’s lots of us.”

“So, water, wind, fire, and earth?”

“Yeah… but there’s more than just four elements.” The being said, giving the brunet a funny look, still smiling. “Like the lightning spirits, though they want to be called the ‘storm spirits’ even though a real storm has rain and wind which isn’t part of their element.” The being turned to lay on his back, hands behind his head as he drifted on the water. “They’re drama queens.”

Jack chuckled more at that, hearing the light tone in the being’s voice, and he realized the being probably had a lot to talk about. He must’ve been lonely here.

“Are you like the fairies?” The brunet asked, more familiar with the fairies rather than these mystical spirits he’s only recently learned about.

He’s seen a few fairies in person before, the small winged creatures often found in forests near springs, then there were the more… outgoing ones who lived within the springs. The being had turned around back on his stomach at that, staring at him with wide eyes.

“A fairy? Do I look like a fairy?”

The brunet opened his mouth, a useless sound coming out, and the being held himself up on his elbows.

“If I didn’t know any better, I would’ve thought that was an insult.”

Jack blinked, faint confused laughter the only sound he made and he put his hands up.

“I’m sorry?”

“Thank you.” The being said, nodding once as he made a playfully smug face, and the brunet could tell he was enjoying the conversation.

“So what do spirits, who are not like fairies at all-“ Jack said, smiling when the being nodded his head in approval. “-do exactly?”

“Well, it depends on why we’re here. There are animal spirits who watch over the wildlife not cared for by others, nature spirits who care for the land, some elemental ones mess with the weather.”

“So why are you here?”

The being went silent for a moment, looking down at his own reflection in the water, and his smile faded as he thought.

“I watch over the shrine. It’s not the most exciting job, and some people quite like the calmness of it, enjoying time to themselves, but… it’s not too bad, I guess.”

The brunet noticed the being touching his neck, fingers tracing the scar across it, and he seemed to zone out for a moment.

“Have you always been a water spirit?” Jack decided to ask, changing the subject as the being looked up at him, moving his hand away as he shook off whatever thoughts were in his mind.

“Well… yeah. Have you always been a human?”

The brunet shrugged, stating that he was just asking, and the being moved to sit crossed-legged on the water, mirroring Jack. He looked into the being’s green eyes, one of the few differences in the being’s features that set him apart from the brunet, and he finally asked about it.

“Why do you look like me?”

“Oh…” The being said, tapping his fingers on the water. “Spirits can change their appearance, imitating the forms of others. When you had collapsed here that day, I had to act quickly, and it was easiest for me to take on this form.”

The human nodded, still finding it odd to see a being who looked like him, but he was also intrigued. It was fascinating to be face to face with the being, a spirit only heard about in stories, and it felt special. The being didn’t have to show himself to Jack, he could’ve kept himself hidden and have the brunet believe it was all a dream, but he didn’t.

“Then… what’s your real form look like?” Jack continued.

The being pursed his lips, hand starting to make small swirls in the water, and he made a low sound.

“I don’t know if there is a human word for it…” He said, thinking about it. “You know how light reflects off of the water’s surface, and sometimes it hurts your eyes if you’re standing where the glare is? I think it’s like that.”

“So your form would hurt my eyes?” The brunet quirked an eyebrow up, chuckling at the strange description.

“Why do you think I took this form instead?” The being huffed back. “You know, a lot of beings from the light realm are like that; their real forms are too difficult for humans and other mortals to comprehend.”

“Too difficult for mortals to comprehend?” Jack restated, putting a hand over his chest. “If I didn’t know any better, I would’ve thought that was an insult.” He repeated the being’s earlier comment as well.

The being frowned at him, glaring lightly, and the brunet just smiled back. He was about to make another comment, but Basil whining behind him made him stop and look back at the stag. Basil probably wanted to leave, no liking being confined in the shrine’s covered area like this for too long, and Jack did need to leave soon as well. He only kept a few fruits in his bag for food, needing to go to a town or village to prepare other meals, and Basil needed his exercise as well. He also didn’t bring a change of clothes with him and there seemed to be a reoccurring theme of his clothes or shoes getting wet and uncomfortable when he visited the shrine.

He reluctantly stood up, patting Basil’s side softly, and the other realized what that meant. The being went quiet again, floating back towards the center of the pond, and Jack announced that he was going to go. The other nodded, the two of them watching each other in silence, then the being murmured for him not to get into trouble again.

“I won’t.” Jack said, smiling softly, albeit a little sadly, then waved goodbye as he walked through the tunnel back to the outside.

He pushed himself up onto the stag’s back, the two of them starting their traveling for the day, and he glanced at the flower around his wrist. He still had things he wanted to ask, confusion and curiosity blurring together in his mind, but he sighed and gave the order for Basil to run, letting the wind push the thoughts away.

Chapter Text

The wind brushed the leaves covering the entrance to the shrine, the brunet’s hair swaying as well, and he stood next to Basil as he looked forwards. A few days passed since he was last here, having traveled farther out to visit other towns for other deliveries, but he had returned to this area last night.

He had talked to a few people from town to town, asking about spirits and if there were any stories about them. There wasn’t too much information about them that Mrs. Lee hadn’t mention when she explained it, but Jack was able to get a sense of what the spirits who watched over the shrines did. It was just that; they took care of the life that grew around the shrine, doing what they could to keep it nice, and listened to those who visited seeking help. It was like what Mrs. Lee had said, but now Jack realized the being probably didn’t leave.

How long had the being been there? Had he ever been outside before? Has he ever seen what the rest of the world looks like?

Jack had traveled pretty far out to the west, near windier terrain and warmer climates, and he had picked up a few items that were unique to those areas to bring back. Most were for his delivers; retrieving items from far off places like that is why people needed travelers like him in the first place, but he kept a few flowers for himself. He had crafted them into a small bundle, three yellow-orange blossoms resting together, and he had removed the stems like he had done for the silent princess so they would float lightly.

He held the flowers in his hands, letting out a small breath as he pushed the brush from the entrance away and stepped inside the tunnel leading to the shrine. Basil wanted to stay out in the open air, so the brunet let him as he walked alone down the path and stepped up to the water’s edge. The shrine was quiet as usual, sunlight lighting the water as it was around noon, and the brunet kneeled down as he placed the flowers in the water and pushed them towards the statue. He smiled softly, watching the flowers sway with the ripples, and the air felt warm in the room. He sat back, hands resting behind him, and he was starting to relax until the water behind the flowers swirled upwards. The water was clear, creating a vague form as it rose from the surface, but it quickly seemed to solidify as the spirit’s figure was created. Jack blinked, surprised from the being appearing like that, and made a sound of awe.

The being was looking down at the flowers, sitting on top of the surface of the water, but he looked up and smiled.

“I know these ones, though they aren’t from around here.”

“Yeah, I was way out past the western plains, I picked them up on my way back, but…” The brunet said, leaning forward as he gestured towards the water. “How’d you do that?”

“What? This?” The being asked, form turning to water as it dropped back down into the pond, everything going still for a moment before the water in front of the brunet splashed upwards as the being reformed. “I’m a water spirit.” He said, chuckling. “Water” He then emphasized, drawling it out.

“I didn’t know you could do that.” Jack said, mouth open as he smiled more.

“Wouldn’t be much of an elemental spirit if I couldn’t turn into my element.” The being responded, crossing his arms but he seemed pleased with himself.

“What else can you do?” The brunet asked, wonder in his eyes.

The being tilted his head, thinking for a bit.

“I think you’ve seen most of it.” He hummed, then moved a hand to hover of the water.

He made a gentle motion with his hand, a small string of water rising from the surface, and he maneuvered it around to swirl in the air and make simple shapes. The human reached a hand out, finger carefully tapping the stream of water, and though the water changed shape slightly, his hand stayed dry. He looked up at the being, seeing his expression soft with a calm smile as he was watching the water flow around the spaces between the brunet’s fingers.

The being then changed the water into the shape of a flower, spinning it in a slow circle, and it floated like the others on the surface. He moved a hand under the flower, picking it up, but he motioned for the brunet with his other hand. Jack was confused at first, not sure what to do, but the being took one of his hands and turned it palm up. Jack copied the motion with his other hand, putting them together, and the being carefully placed the water flower down onto the human’s palms. He had his own hands holding Jack’s, keeping the flower’s shape, but it rested in the brunet’s hands.

The human was quiet, lips still parted as he held the flower, and he felt the being’s thumbs brush the sides of his hands. He heard the other chuckle softly, seeing green eyes blinking back at him, and the being seemed peaceful.

The spirit then put a hand over the flower, covering it for a second, then as he lifted his hand, the flower slowly turned to mist and disappeared in the air.

“Things like that.” The being murmured, letting go of the other as he floated back on the water a bit.

Jack would then ask the being questions as the other showed off, water swirling around and sometimes resembling other objects like a small star that would orbit around the being’s hand. He had asked if the water could be used offensively, if there were ever a need for that, and the being hummed before a flow of water rose next to the brunet, still, then it hit his face like a wave had crashed into him. The being started laughing, smirk on his face as the brunet stared back at him with an unamused expression, hair wet and sticking to his forehead as drops fell from his chin. It didn’t hurt, it just felt like he dunked his head in water, but it was still cold.

The being seemed smug, leaning forward to lay on his stomach as he tilted his head at the human, and Jack blinked slowly before he quickly reached a hand into the water and tried to splash the other. The being easily avoided the attack, moving his hand up to make the water fall in front of him, and he quirked an eyebrow at the brunet.

“Did you really think that would work?” He asked and the brunet just huffed.

Jack’s visits continued on like that; he would stop by the shrine when he was in the area, usually around the mornings, and leave before it got too late for him to make it to the next town. He would often bring different flowers he found during his travels, floating them in the pond when he returned as the being appeared on the water’s surface to comment on them. He would ask Jack about his traveling, listening to his stories as the brunet described the people he met and the views he had seen. The being would take care of the flowers he brought, the silent princess still resting in the tree, but the other flowers would decorate the pond, a mixture of colors from across the land.

The brunet was also getting to know the being more, learning that he had a more lighthearted nature and liked to mess around. Jack started wearing more water resistant clothing, the trend of him getting splashed becoming common and one day he was pulled into the pond, but the being seemed to enjoy his visits, becoming more lively each day he returned.

Jack finally thought to ask for the being’s name, wanting to call him something other than a water spirit, but the other paused at the question. The brunet was confused, thinking it was a simple question, but the being seemed to zone out in thought like he had done before, hand touching his neck lightly.

“You can call me Anti.” He finally answered, humming lightly, and the brunet nodded softly.

Jack would continue to tell his stories, sometimes passing along other tales he’s heard, and Anti would always be fascinated when he described a few of the sunsets he’s seen. The soft colors looking different on the waters that weren’t covered like the shrine was, the sunrises bright and golden. Anti would sometimes mention something himself, a few of his own small stories, but the being also told them as though they were distant memories; tales from long ago.

“Tomorrow I’m going to the lake nearby; it has shallow waters where plants are always growing. There are these flowers that only bloom at night, the nymphaea red flares, and they’re very beautiful.” Jack said one day as the two of them were sitting in the shallow end of the pond. “You should come with me.”

Anti looked at him with wide eyes, unbelieving at first, and he frowned.

“Jack…” He said slowly. “I’m supposed to stay at the shrine. It’s… why I’m here.”

The human hummed quietly, looking down as he nodded in understanding, but was caught off guard when the being started smiling.

“So of course I want to go!” Anti continued, stating it like it was obvious. “I’ve been here for so long; I’ve never left, never had a reason to.”

The brunet perked up at that, a new sense of hope in his eyes, but he knit his eyebrows together.

“Wait… aren’t you supposed to stay here, though?” He asked. “Will you get in trouble if you leave?”

“Nah.” Anti smirked, waving his hand in the air dismissively. “One day wouldn’t hurt; nothing happens here anyways.”

“So you want to come with me tomorrow?” Jack asked, smiling more, and though the being chuckled softly, his own expression lowered and he looked unsure.

“I do…” The being started, voice quieter. “But… I’ve never been human before.”

“What?” The brunet’s frown returned, confused.

“Without water, I mean.” Anti clarified. “Other spirits would be more comfortable, like those who are connected to the earth or wind. Wind follows you everywhere; the earth is always under your feet. But for me… if I leave here… I’ll be defenseless… I’ll be just like a human.”

“Oh…”

“As soon as I step foot outside…”

Jack nodded once more, murmuring that it was alright, but the being still seemed saddened. He wanted to do something to cheer up Anti, something to get his mind off of it, and he quickly stood up as an idea came to mind. He grabbed his map of the land from Basil’s bag, having put a waterproof cover over it from countless rainy days a long time ago, and he brought it over to the edge of the stone floor. Anti looked down at the map, not having seen it before, and the brunet pointed to a spot on the right.

“This is where we are.” Jack said, placing his finger on the map as he traced a path. “And over here is where I found the silent princess.”

The being leaned down, turning his head to get a better look, and the brunet smiled as he started pointing to the different towns he’s been to. He mentioned some of the stories he told the being, remembering them as he pointed to where they took place, and Anti made soft sounds of understanding. He was more careful when he took out his sketchbook, not wanting to get that wet, and he showed off some of the more detailed sketches of the areas he’s been to. There were his drawings of the flowers, open fields and tall trees, mountains in the distance and pools of water. It wasn’t the same as seeing them in person, but the being smiled as he looked at each of the pages, appreciating it none the less.

The stone Jack was sitting on was still damp, puddles formed from his dripping clothes, but he set his map and book to the side and tried to smooth out the stone as he brought over a few pieces of chalk. He gave one to the being, holding one in his own hand as well, and he started drawing on the stone between the two of them. They were simple drawings, silly little flowers and animals, and the being only watched for a while, but he eventually chuckled softly and started drawing as well.

“It’s funny…” Anti murmured, drawing strange symbols and shapes the human didn’t recognize. “I know about everything, I know how the world works, know of the other living beings on the land, know how time passes… but I’ve never seen any of it.”

Jack paused his drawings to look at the other, humming a question with a frown. The being had to have seen something, right? He couldn’t have lived at the shrine his whole life. What about the stories he had told Jack; where had those taken place?

The being explained how his memories were from a time before he was sent to watch over the shrine, not on the land here. He doesn’t remember much, though; it was quite some time ago.

“Your world is different.” He continued. “Livelier. There are adventures here, stories to tell, experiences to see.”

“I suppose things can get kind of hectic sometimes.” Jack shrugged. “The unexpected always seems to catch people off guard.”

“But that’s what makes it fun.”

The two of them looked up at one another, both smiling lightly as the brunet started chuckling, and they put the chalk to the side to view their mixture of doodles.

“So you’d say my life is fun?” Jack asked, brushing a thumb against the stone as the chalk smeared away.

“I like your stories.” Anti said in response.

They cleared away the chalk and the brunet put everything away in his bags. He knew he had spent more time with the being during this visit and prepared to head back to town, but as he pushed the brush of the exit away to look outside, stars were already lighting the darkened sky.

Anti didn’t like him going out at night and it was something the brunet would think about even if he wasn’t at the shrine. He still had the two small blades that were usually resting at his hip when he wore them, knowing how to defend himself and has done so before, but he knew he should do his best not to go out late alone anymore. He let out a puff of air as he turned around and walked back to the pond. Anti was still sitting on the surface, tilting his head as the human came back and gestured for Basil to lie down, and the brunet pointed at the tree where the silent princess was glowing faintly to show it was night.

Anti made a soft “oh”, not realizing how late it was either, and Jack pulled out his blanket and unwrapped his scarf once more as he found a dry place to lie down. He was resting his cheek on one of his arms, talking with Anti a bit as the being had moved to lie down to be eye level as well, and he eventually felt his mind start to relax. He stretched a bit and moved the scarf in a better position to go to sleep, but the being was frowning lightly.

“That doesn’t look comfortable.” Anti said quietly, causing the brunet to peek an eye open at him.

“Well… it’s not a cushioned bed.” Jack hummed. “But it’s alright.”

The being was quiet, thinking, then he floated back a bit and tapped the water’s surface as a gesture for the human to come over. Jack lifted his head up, eyeing the water, then glanced back at the being.

“…water is cold.” He said flatly and the being huffed.

“I am aware.” Anti said just as plainly, tapping the water’s surface once more.

“I don’t want to be cold.”

“I know.”

Jack continued to eye the water, the being still waiting for him to move, and he sighed as he gave in. He was silently thanking his past self for getting the more water resistant clothing, double checking to make sure he didn’t have anything he’d want to keep dry on him like his shoes resting off to the side, then he pushed the blanket off of him and moved over into the water. It wasn’t cold, but the night air certainly wasn’t helping and he was colder in the water than he was lying on the ground.

“I’m beginning to regret this.” Jack mumbled, giving Anti a look as he tried to get used to the water, but the being said nothing and grabbed his hand to pull him further into the pond.

The water reached up to his chest as he was sitting, water soaking into his clothes, when the being then wrapped an arm around his shoulder and pulled him to his own chest. Anti was lying on his back, pulling Jack with him as a rush of water pushed them towards the back of the pond and around the tree. There were roots circling the base of the tree, some woven around one another, but they provided a shallower space in the water as the being rested against them. Jack sat up a bit, looking back at the spot in the pond where they had just been, then turned when the being spoke.

“Head here.” He said, tapping his chest lightly as the brunet paused before slowly moving to lie back down and rest his head on the being’s chest.

Jack was quiet, not sure what he should say, and the being put an arm around his back to hold him as the water stilled around them. Most of his body was still under water, partly resting over the being, though the other was keeping his head above the surface. Then the being hovered a hand over his arm, moving it down and over his chest for a moment, then he felt the water shift around him. He was confused, tilting his head downwards a bit to try to see what was happening, but the water didn’t look any different. The brunet then started to feel himself warm up, though the water hadn’t changed temperature. It seemed like the water was acting more like a blanket now, still around him, but it was protecting the brunet’s body heat rather than taking it away. He also didn’t feel as stiff compared to when he was lying on the stone floor, the water shaping more comfortably around him, and he closed his eyes.

His mind started to drift faster than he had thought, sleep catching up to him, and he faintly felt fingers brush through his hair before he dozed off.

Chapter Text

Jack had gone to the lake alone, knowing Anti was still troubled with the idea of leaving and didn’t want him to worry over it, but the brunet was still a little lonely when the flowers had bloomed over the lake at the first signs of night and the being wasn’t there to see it. He continued to bring new flowers he found to the shrine, the small collection growing with each new addition, and the being liked seeing them all, but Jack still wanted some way for the spirit to see them out in the wild.

Anti told him it was alright, he appreciated seeing the flowers here, but the thought didn’t leave the brunet’s mind. There had to be some way for the being to be comfortable enough to leave, something Jack would be able to do. He’s tried to think of ideas, even asking others while phrasing it as a type of hypothetical question so he didn’t reveal Anti’s presence at the shrine. He wasn’t able to find an answer and only felt himself sadden more since he couldn’t help the being.

Jack was on his way back to the shrine today, no new flower in hand, and Basil was carrying him slowly along the path. The air was calm, no rushing of wind, and the brunet looked up at the clouds to see a cluster of grey. The sun was hiding behind them, the ground darker and cool under the shade, and the brunet sighed. He blinked when a droplet of water hit his cheek, reaching a hand up to brush the spot, and another droplet hit his nose. He looked down at Basil, petting the stag as he murmured about the upcoming rain, then paused. He felt his eyes widen, a small gasp leaving his lips, and he quickly called for Basil to run. He had to get back to the shrine quickly.

The rain started to pick up as they reached the slope leading down to the shrine and Jack felt himself sit up in anticipation. He quickly swung a leg over to hop off of Basil when the brush covering the entrance was in sight and his feet hit the ground with a thud as he started running. He slipped passed the brush and started running down the stone tunnel, calling for Anti as he ran to the stone’s edge. The spirit appeared out of the water in front of him, tilting his head as he asked if something was wrong, but the brunet shook his head as he smiled widely.

“Come on; we’re gonna go outside.” Jack said, turning sideways as he started stepping towards the exit with excitement.

“Wait, what?” Anti frowned, watched the brunet.

The being was standing on the water’s surface, bare feet slowly walking closer to the edge as he carefully stepped onto the stone, and the ribbon-like cloth trailed behind him. He was confused, following the brunet hesitantly, but as Jack turned around to see the being, he paused.

“Hold on, I gotta do something first.” Jack said, walking around the being and telling him to stay still as he looked at the cloth on the stone.

The brunet thought for a moment, knowing the cloth would get dirty if it dragged on the ground and Basil might step on it as well, then an idea came to mind and he smiled. He picked up the two ribbons, chuckling when Anti asked what he was doing, and he made the being look forwards as he started tying the ribbon. He hasn’t done something with this much fabric before, but he was able to fold them without too much trouble and tie them securely at the end to make sure it would stay in place. He stepped back once he was done and smiled at the large bow he created resting at the being’s lower back. He announced that he was done and the being tried to turn his head to look behind him, seeing the large bow now decorating his outfit.

“What’s this?” He asked as he touched one of the loops of the bow.

“A bow! Now your outfit doesn’t touch the ground anymore!” Jack smiled. “It looks nice.”

Anti seemed hesitant at first, unsure of the change, but looking up at the brunet’s smile made him huff and he let it be.

“Now, come on!” Jack exclaimed as he grabbed the being’s hand and started pulling him down the tunnel.

Basil was waiting for them before they reached the exit, the outside view hidden from the brush, and the being glanced at Jack with a small frown. Jack only smiled back, gesturing for the being to get onto the stag’s back, and he helped the other up before he set himself in front of the being.

“You should keep a hand on me so you don’t fall off.” Jack said as he looked back at the other.

Anti squinted at him, causing the human to chuckle, but the being did put a hand on Jack’s shoulder as Basil started to walk forward. Jack pushed the brush out of the way, the three of them making their way out of the shrine, and he felt the being’s hand tighten on his shoulder when they finally stood out in the open.

Then Basil stopped and Jack looked back at the other. Anti stared at him, eyes wide, then the first drops of rain hit his face. He slowly looked up, rain continuing to sprinkle over them, and he closed his eyes for a moment as he let the drops run down his cheeks. He opened them again when Jack put a hand over his own.

“So… what do you think?” The brunet asked and Anti part his lips to respond, but then only nodded with a small smile.

Jack nodded back, turning to face forwards once more, and he called for Basil to run. He laughed when Anti grabbed his other shoulder hastily, startled from the sudden movement, and the air brushed past their faces. It took a moment for the being to get used to the feeling, never having been on an animal before, but he eventually loosened his grip and he started looking around more. Jack took them to the forest where he found the silent princess, slowing Basil down to a calm walk as they maneuvered around the trees. Anti would reach a hand up whenever they got close enough to a low branch, brushing the leaves with his fingers as the water collected on them dripped onto his hand.

The brunet then led them back out to the path, keeping the pace light as they passed by a wide field and caught glimpses of animals running from the rain. He would point out the flowers along the way and the being would recognize them from the collection at the shrine. Jack guided Basil as they turned around a small mountain past another section of trees, rain starting to seep into their clothing, and the sound of rain pattering against water rose into the air. Anti had leaned to the side to look around the brunet as the sight came into view. Against the mountain, surrounded by trees, laid the lake Jack had mentioned before. It was larger than the pond Anti had at the shrine with lily pads and water flowers dotting the surface. The nymphaea red flares were resting above the surface as well, petals closed and waiting for the night. The human let Basil find a tree to hide from the rain under, then swung a leg off as his feet splashed onto the muddied dirt. Anti hopped off himself, passing the brunet as he stepped up to the lake, then looked back for a moment with a bright expression before he darted onto the lake’s surface. Rings of water rippled around each step as the being danced around the surface, occasionally kicking up small waves that spun around him.

Jack watched as he walked up to the start of the lake himself, already having taken off his shoes as the water swayed around his feet. The being glanced at him, a small smirk gracing his lips, then he dropped into the water and disappeared from sight. Jack took a few steps further into the lake as he leaned down a little, the water not as clear as the shrine and harder to see through. His eyes scanned over the lake, not seeing any motion as he wondered what Anti was doing, and it was oddly quiet.

Then a wave of water matching Jack’s size rose up quickly and drenched the brunet. There was laughter as the being reappeared by the brunet, swimming in the water normally now. Jack huffed, glaring jokingly, and tried to splash the being back although it didn’t work once again. Anti ducked back under the water, disappearing again, and Jack complained lightheartedly as he looked down at his now soaked outfit. With that, he dove into the lake after Anti. The being would show himself once in a while, sometimes the two of them would lock eyes under water as air bubbles escaped their lips when they chuckled, and the being looked like he was enjoying himself.

They met together in the middle of the lake when it started getting late as the rain continued to sprinkle around them. Jack was about to joke about Anti resembling a frog by the way half of his face was hiding under the surface, but he paused when he noticed the skies darkening. He quietly murmured for the being to come over as their shoulders touched and he pointed at one of the red flare flowers. The petals were slowly starting to unfold, blooming under the stars, and the two of them watched together. Only the rain acted as their soundtrack while the rest of the night was calm. The being’s green eyes shown in awe as he looked at the other red flares circling them; the blooming petals adding color to the lake. The moonlight was brighter here than what could get through to the shrine as the water reflected glimmers of silver. As the petals of the flowers came into full bloom, Anti finally turned to face the brunet.

“You didn’t bring one of these flowers to the shrine.” The being said quietly.

“Because I wanted you to see them here.” Jack responded with a small smile and the being nodded softly.

Jack looked up when he felt the rain start to lighten up and noticed there were fewer drops hitting the lake as well. He murmured that they should return to the shrine now, wanting to travel before the rain stopped, and the being ducked under the water to show off once more as he quickly reappeared at the lake’s edge and hopped onto the shore. The brunet rolled his eyes as he started to swim back to the shore himself and heard Anti teasing him for being slower. He did his best to shake off the dripping water from his clothes when he got out of the lake, twisting the ends of his shirt in his hands and patting down his pants. He decided to put his shoes away in his bag rather than putting them on and gave Basil a soft pat when he walked back to the animal.

They rode back to the shrine quickly as the land around them darkened from the passing of time. Basil slowed down when they reached the slope leading to the grotto and they carefully got off at the entrance to the shrine. Anti led the way as the three of them walked through the tunnel, their steps quiet against the stone. Basil stopped to lie down against the wall where he usually did, content to be out of the rain, while Anti stepped onto the pond’s water and turned around to face the brunet at the end of the stone. They sat down together, expressions soft, and the being carefully brought his hands up to brush the human’s cheeks. His thumbs were a light touch against the brunet’s skin, fingers holding his chin, and their eyes met for a moment before the being leaned their heads down to rest their foreheads together. They had both closed their eyes, noses touching lightly, and Jack could feel the cool silver of the being’s circlet. There was a comforting feeling about it, though, and it was peaceful.

Anti murmured a thank you and the two of them shared slow breaths before the being leaned back and they opened their eyes. The air was calm and they shared a small smile, then the being moved his hands away from the other as he hummed.

“For spirits…” He said quietly, resting his hands on his lap. “It’s a meaningful gesture.”

“Oh?” Jack said, glancing down at the being’s hands.

He then looked up at the other’s eyes once more, seeing a warm gaze, and he carefully brought his own hands up to cup Anti’s cheeks just as the being had done.

“Well… then let me do something too.” The brunet murmured.

He leaned forward slowly, watching the other’s curious look, then closed his eyes as he pressed his lips against the being. It was gentle, lips moving softly against one another, and the human lingered for a moment as their noses brushed before he moved back. The being blinked at him with owlish eyes, lips still parted slightly.

“Jack…” He said quietly, pausing, then his lips formed a half smile with a chuckle. “I know what a kiss is.”

“Then you know why it’s meaningful to me.” The brunet responded, mirroring the look.

“I do.”

Anti then leaned forward once more to kiss the other again, hands reaching up to rest over the brunet’s still holding him, and they tilted their heads as their lips pressed together once more. They moved slowly, eyes closed, and Jack couldn’t help a small smile as they stayed close. Ending one kiss led to another until the two of them were pecking each other’s lips lightly. Jack quietly mentioned how it was late as he leaned back a bit to open his eyes, seeing a glimmer in the green eyes looking back at him.

“I guess you’ll have to stay here.” The being said with a small smirk before he wrapped his arms around the human and pulled the two of them back into the pond.

Jack yelped as he was brought down into the water and rolled to the side to get away. He sat up in the pond, shaking his head quickly as water droplets flung from his hair and the being chuckled.

“You’re the reason I’ve gotten so used to the cold.” Jack said with a goofy squint towards the other.

Anti responded by splashing the brunet with water again, causing Jack to try to guard himself with his arms in front of him, but the being took the chance to wrap an arm around the brunet once more before the water carried them back around the tree. Jack was moved to lie against the being’s chest as they settled against the roots of the tree and he rested his forehead against the being’s neck. Anti held him close as the water around them shifted to act like a blanket just as it had done before when Jack spent the night in the pond.

Jack could feel the being pressing a kiss against his hair once in a while, sometimes resting his cheek against him, and he smiled as he wrapped an arm around the being as well. He then let the comforting hold of the other soothe him to sleep as the faint glow of the silent princess in the tree acted as their one star.

Chapter Text

“Is this a spirit thing…” Jack asked with a hint of a smile. “Or a you thing?”

Jack and Anti were sitting together on the stone path of the shrine while the brunet was leaning with his back against the wall. The being was cuddled up to him, arms slid underneath his shirt to feel skin with the hug, and the being’s head was tucked under his chin. It was kind of cute.

“A bit of both.” Anti replied, speaking as though he was dozing off.

Since their first kiss, Anti had become more huggy in simplest terms. When Jack would return to the shrine, the being would find a chance to wrap his arms around the human. Sometimes they would fall back into the pond, sometimes Anti would sit with him on the stone, sometimes they just laid together. One night, Jack had set up his blanket and scarf pillow for sleep and the being decided to join him, lying underneath the blanket with an arm over his chest. Anti’s temperature was cooler against him, though Jack didn’t mind, but when he woke up that morning he found that the being was almost warm. Anti had explained that he doesn’t have a normal temperature; his body matches whatever is around him and because he stays in the pond most of the time, he resembles the cooler temperature of the water. Since he was lying with Jack during the night, though, he had warmed up.

The being also kept the bow tied behind him that Jack made, and the first time the brunet saw the bow still there, he smiled brightly.

“I like the idea of human intimacy.” Anti continued as he lifted his head up to rest their foreheads together, noses touching lightly. “It’s not something spirits really have.”

“You must have something to show affection, though.” Jack said softly.

“We kind of do… but it’s more spiritual.”

“Ah… spirits do spiritual things. I see.” The brunet chuckled quietly, earning a huff from the being.

“This is different. I like being able to touch…” Anti murmured as his hands slid from the brunet’s back up to his chest, pressing against the skin with a gentle force. “To feel…” The being’s hands moved upwards as they rubbed the brunet’s shoulders for a moment before sliding them back down to his hips.

Fingers brushed against skin and a few slipped underneath the start of the brunet’s waistband, moving them slightly, but he didn’t go any further than that as the brunet took hold of his wrists lightly. Anti hummed quietly, leaning back to open his eyes as his hands moved back up. Jack glanced to the side, seeing the goddess statue in the pond, then turned back to the being and placed a light kiss against his cheek. It’s not that Jack didn’t want to be close with the being like that, he’s certainly thought about it these past few days, but it felt wrong to do so at the shrine. He didn’t want to be disrespectful; that and it was weird to have the goddess statue there as though it was watching them. He didn’t want to think about that.

Anti understood, though he was sad there wasn’t anything they could do about it. He moved his right hand carefully to rest over the brunet’s heart, feeling the steady pulse under his hand, and sighed. A thought lingered in both of their minds, worries about their future, but neither of them wanted to bring it up.

Anti can’t leave and Jack can’t stay.

For now Jack can return to the shrine, but they won’t know how long before something changes. Neither of them want Jack to have to do this forever either, though.

“C’mere.” The brunet said, hugging the being and pulling him close.

Anti returned to his earlier position, hiding his face against the brunet’s chest, and Jack pressed the bridge of his nose atop the being’s hair. Now was not the time to worry over such things; they should have a chance to enjoy their relationship first.

 

 

“So what do spirits do when they’re together?” Jack asked one day as the two of them were sitting by the pond’s edge. “You never explained anything about it.”

“Because we don’t really get together.” The being shrugged as he spun a sphere of water around in his hands mindlessly. “It’s not something I really thought about, I guess. Most of us have our own responsibilities to take care of, anyways. I stay here and watch over the place; I don’t see others.”

It saddened the brunet to hear that. But Anti had feelings, he had thoughts and the ability to love, so surely other spirits had feelings for each other as well. He told that to the being, but he just shrugged again as the sphere of water changed shape to a bird. Jack felt like there were still pieces of a story Anti wasn’t mentioning, like the scar across his neck. If the being could heal, then how did he get the scar? It still didn’t feel like the time to ask; Jack didn’t know what memories would resurface from it either.

“Can you show me something that spirits do, though?” Jack decided to say instead and the being hummed softly as he gestured for the water to return to the pond.

“I kind of did something before.” Anti said as he turned to face the brunet. “But… it’s not something you can do. I can do it to you but…”

“What did you do before?”

The being hummed once more as he thought about it, then quietly motioned for the two of them to sit facing one another as their knees touched. Anti reached his hands up to cup the brunet’s cheeks and Jack recognized the gesture as their foreheads were brought down to rest against each other. It was the same thing the being did when they returned from their night at the lake.

“It means I see you.” The being murmured quietly. “Not in the literal sense… but more like I see… you.”

Jack made a soft sound to show he had heard, then Anti lifted his right hand up and touched the side of the brunet’s forehead lightly. Two fingers trailed across his skin, a soft touch barely there, moving down to his temple, over his cheek, under his chin, then stilled on the side of his neck. There was a subtle tingling under his skin, spreading gently, but it wasn’t an uncomfortable tingle. It made the brunet think about the feeling of rain, if rain could tickle; a bit cold but at the same time not.

“You have a kind soul.” Anti said and Jack could hear the small smile in his voice. “It gives off a comforting aura.”

There was a pause, though Anti also seemed to like staying in this position.

“We can sense a being’s… in your case the word would be soul, but it’s our way to show we are close. There are no secrets, nothing can be hidden, but there’s trust.”

Jack was starting to understand, guessing this was what Anti meant when he said spirits could do it but not humans. He chuckled softly at the thought and leaned into the being’s left hand slightly.

“Anti…” He started gently. “I don’t need to be able to do any of this to know what type of person you are. I know there is trust without it.”

The being leaned back and the two of them shared another calm gaze. Jack could see a mixture in the being’s green eyes, reassurance laced with sadness, and he placed a kiss on the corner of the being’s mouth. Anti smiled, though it turned into a sigh and he moved his hands back. Jack felt the tickling rain feeling fade away and he reached out to grab the being’s hands, brushing their fingers together in hopes of making the other feel a little better.

“I know.” Anti said, eyes lowered to their hands. “But… I still want something for both of us.”

Jack nodded, knowing what he meant, and watched as their hands moved from side to side slowly. He murmured that it’ll be okay, they’ll figure something out, though part of it was to reassure himself as well.

 

 

“Jack.”

The brunet groaned as something was moving his shoulder to wake him up. He was sleeping at the shrine, on the stone with his blanket, and Anti had laid with him as well. He didn’t know what time it was, but he felt groggy and tired and not ready to wake up yet.

Jack.” Anti said once more as he shook the human’s shoulder with more enthusiasm.

Jack rolled over onto his stomach, trying to get away from the being’s movement, and he groaned again. Anti stopped, and for a moment the brunet thought he was safe until the blanket was pulled off of him. He complained, though the sound was incomprehensible, and he finally opened an eye to see what was going on. It was too dark for him to be able to make out much, but he saw Anti’s figure standing over him, and if he squinted, it looked like the being was smiling.

“Come on!” Anti said, stepping over towards the exit to the shrine as he looked back at the brunet expectantly.

Jack finally sat up, rubbing his eyes as he tried to clear his mind from his foggy dream-like state, and that’s when he noticed it. The sound of rain hitting the covering above them. It hadn’t rained since their first journey to the lake, and as tired as he was, Jack could hear the eagerness in the being’s voice and he knew he should get up. Who knew when it would rain again?

As soon as he was up on two feet, Anti had grabbed his wrist and started pulling him down the tunnel. He glanced back at Basil, seeing the shadowed figure of the animal sleeping by the wall, and he guessed the stag would be able to handle the night alone. Neither of them had shoes and the brunet thought about telling the being that, but before he could get a word out, they had ran past the curtain of leaves and stepped onto the muddied ground with a thunk.

Well… too late now.

Anti let go of his wrist to lead the way ahead, though he did look back to make sure the brunet was following. The grass was soft under their feet and Jack didn’t particularly feel too cold, used to the water by now. The moon illuminated their way once more and he smiled as he watched the being look around at the night view. He wasn’t worried about running into anyone else, as most people stay inside during a rainy night, and the being seemed at ease as well. The continuous soft patter of rain was calm; comfort found between them by being together.

Anti looked… happy. Starlight reflecting in his eyes showing wonder, droplets falling around him with glimmers of silver. Seeing him like this was worth waking up at whatever unearthly hour it was.

Jack followed him as they padded across the grass, straying from the dirt path, and at first he thought the being was just exploring. The same views looked different at night and Anti had so much to see. It’s been a while since he’s seen a starry night view himself and he took his time searching for constellations and patterns, feeling peaceful under the night’s calm breeze.

Soon the small mountain came into view, the one against the lake, and Jack finally realized that’s where the being was headed. Once the lake was within sight, Anti quickened his pace to reach the water and step onto its surface. Jack stopped at the water’s edge to watch, always finding it enchanting to see the delicate steps Anti took on the water’s surface, light but steady.

The being walked calmly to the center of the pond, standing still for a moment, then he slowly started to lift his hands. The movement was graceful, captivating the brunet as he watched the gentle motions. Water from the lake started to rise, forming small spheres like marbles, and they floated in the air. Light reflected off them, shades of silvers, some lighter than others, and the brunet felt his lips part slightly. He caught the being’s eyes as they shared a look, something within him fluttering, a glimmer for only a moment, and it felt like they were somewhere else. It was only the two of them and the drops of stars around them.

Anti’s hands started to move a little quicker, motions wider as the droplets started circling around him slowly. There were sidesteps of his feet, droplets following gestures carefully, and the being spun a soft tempo. Then the water started to rise a bit more, floating above their heads, and the being turned around once more, a soft smirk on his lips. Before Jack could think about it much, the being flicked his wrist quickly as the motion blurred and suddenly the water above them burst in the air.

The brunet was startled at first, but he found the water hadn’t burst as much as it turned to mist falling ever so gently while still reflecting the light. Like stardust; it looked like falling stardust. He was at a loss for words as he watched the mist, reaching a hand out to feel its light touch. Anti had walked over to him, meeting him at the water’s edge, and they shared a quiet kiss. The being took a hold of his hand, pulling him towards the lake, but the brunet stayed put.

“I know I’ve grown a better resistance to the cold, but it’s also night out.” Jack murmured. “I shouldn’t go swimming this time.”

Anti pursed his lips, staying silent for a moment, and he stepped around to the brunet’s side. Jack didn’t move, though he turned his head, and was caught off guard when the being suddenly brought an arm down to bump his legs, causing him to fall back. Anti caught him before he could hit the ground and soon he was being lifted up in the being’s arms. He instinctively put his hands on the being’s shoulders to hold onto something as he was carried out to the lake, looking below him to see them over the water, and a worry snuck into his mind thinking that Anti was going to drop him into the lake. He clung to the being more, not wanting to fall, though Anti could just as easily drop both of them into the water. Once they were in the middle of the lake, Jack closed his eyes, expecting the cold rush of water, but instead they kept moving. He opened an eye, peeking at the water below, then lifted his head to see where they were going instead. Anti walked over to the mountain’s edge where water brushed against stone and followed the side.

Jack hadn’t noticed it at first, but they soon came across a small cavern in the side of the mountain. Anti stepped inside where the lake formed a small pool and he set the human down on the shore made out of small smooth black pebbles. The cavern wasn’t big; it was about twice the height of Jack and stone walls surrounded them on three sides like a small room. Looking back out through the entrance of the cavern showed the lake; the only way a person would be able to reach them here would be if they crossed the water themselves. And though the brunet was sure it wouldn’t be hard to see them during the day, the night hid them in the darkness. This was a nice place to relax.

Jack sat down on the pebbled shore as he carded a hand through the smooth stones, liking how they felt. He closed his eyes and listened to the rain thudding against the mountain and tapping the lake, protected himself by the cavern. He heard as Anti sat down next to him, feeling a hand brush his neck and cup the side of his cheek to turn his head towards the other while the being kissed the side of his upper lip.

“We’re not at the shrine.” Anti said quietly above a whisper.

Jack hummed, leaning into the being’s touch, then he opened his eyes.

Oh.

Oh.

He realized what the being was trying to say and he looked over to see the traces of hope in the other’s eyes.

“I want to.” Anti added, leaning over to brush their noses and rest their foreheads together.

The gesture seemed to bring comfort to the other, so Jack let them stay like that as he carefully asked if the other knew what he was wanting to do. He wanted to make sure they were both thinking of the same thing since Anti wasn’t exactly human. The being didn’t seem to be upset over the question and started explaining how he understood sex.

It wasn’t something spirits did, as Anti had explained before. He knew its biological purpose, though he said that wasn’t something spirits could do either, but that wasn’t why they were here.

“It brings two people together.” The being murmured. “Forming a bond… a connection through the physical form.”

Jack listened, a little surprised by how Anti was describing it. He made it sound… special. More meaningful than how Jack thought of it himself. He’s been across the land, heard his fair share of rumors and gossip, and whenever he heard whispers of two people sneaking out together at night or others trying to guess who’s been with who, the brunet never gave it a second thought. That was normal. But the way Anti spoke of it made it seem… kind of… beautiful. It was odd for him to think of it like that, but it made him feel different. Butterflies in the stomach maybe, but not bad, it felt lighter, like the fuzzy feelings a person gets when they receive a compliment.

Anti saw his face lost in thought as he leaned back and nudged him, a motion asking the brunet what he thought of the explanation, and Jack hummed.

“You make it sound special.” Jack responded aloud and the being tilted his head.

“Is it not?”

The brunet smiled at that. It really doesn’t matter what other people think; if it holds value to the two of them, then that’s all that matters.

“For us…” Jack said as he reached a hand up to trace the being’s circlet under his fingers. “It will be.”

Anti’s face brightened up at that, the spark of hope returning to his eyes as he kissed the brunet properly, and Jack couldn’t help but giggle a little at him. The being slowly brought a leg over to straddle the brunet as they fell back onto the pebbles, not breaking the kiss and making soft sounds. He slipped his hands under the human’s shirt, rubbing his hands up smoothly as the garment was pushed upwards as well. Jack would mention a few things whenever he got the chance to when they paused the kiss for air, explaining a bit of the more physical aspects around what they’re going to do, then he asked about who was going to do what. It didn’t really matter, Jack was fine with either one, but when he brought up the question, the being leaned back slightly.

“Want to be inside of you.” Anti breathed, voice quiet, and the brunet felt his face flush.

Maybe it was the way the being had said it, maybe it was because it was dark out and the being’s features were hidden as he leaned over him with those soft green eyes, prominent in the night, but the brunet felt that flutter in his stomach again. He parted his lips to speak, though he ended up nodded slightly as he breathed out a puff of air.

“Yeah… okay.” He managed to say and the being leaned back down to capture his lips once more, tongues brushing with a contrast of warm and cool against each other.

Jack liked the feeling, liked how the being’s touch sent small tingles through his skin. He snuck a hand through Anti’s hair, holding his head as they deepened their kiss, and swallowed back a sound as the being rolled his hips down. The brunet moved his hands away when he felt his shirt being lifted over his head and helped to remove the cloth, not paying too much attention to it as he was quickly met with the being’s lips back on his. The next time they broke apart, Anti was removing his own shirt as he sat up, arms bent over his head as the cloth ruffled his hair, and the outline of Anti’s figure over Jack with those piercing green eyes was breathtaking.

The being was still settled over the brunet, a light pressure against their clothed cocks pressing together, and Anti rolled his hips down once more, eliciting a low sound from the brunet. Jack felt his head drop back against the pebbles, eyes closed as his hands grabbed fistfuls of the small rocks, and quiet pants escaped his lips. Anti continued grinding against him, the pressure sweet, and a thought came to mind as Jack began to wonder if Anti knew more about this than he was letting on. Jack wanted more, though, needed more, lifting his hips up to meet with the being’s movements, and he let go of the pebbles to bring his hands over to the clothes still covering them, hoping the being would understand.

Anti paused in his movements, half-lidded eyes looking down at the brunet, then he carefully moved off of the other and over to the side as he started removing the remaining garment. Jack pushed himself up on his elbows, right hand moving then to do the same, and he bent his knees up to kick off the clothes to join where their shirts were laying.

Once he was finally naked, he could feel his anticipation growing with each breath, watching as Anti slowly crawled back over to him, though this time he placed himself between the brunet’s legs. Anti placed his hands on Jack’s hips, the cool touch returning, then the being gently ran his hands down the brunet’s thighs.

“Beautiful…” The being murmured, left hand moving down under Jack’s knee to bend his leg, kissing the side of his knee softly. “My beautiful…”

Jack blinked, not expecting that, but he found he liked it; it was a nice feeling. Comforting. Anti did the same to his other leg, occasionally letting his fingers brush against his skin, backs of his nails tracing delicate patterns, until he finally leaned over to kiss the brunet’s lips. Jack let him leave a trail of kisses down to his neck, sighing softly, and the being’s hand moved to bend his left leg to the side. Jack felt as Anti’s hand slid down between his legs, suddenly remembering they didn’t have anything here for preparation, he didn’t even know if he owned something like that, but then noted that the hand felt cold. It was a different type of cold, not like Anti’s normal touch, and a finger pressed inside of him slowly, carefully. The brunet let out a breath, mind trying to figure out what the being was doing. It felt like water, something soothing, though the stretch was still there as the being moved his hand. Was he using some type of water? It certainly felt like there was something there to ease friction, and Anti was a water spirit.

He was brought out of his thoughts when he felt a second finger slip inside to join the first, a groan low in his throat, and the being had moved to settled down against his side, listening to the sounds the brunet made with each movement. The stretch was nice, more than nice, and the thought of what this was leading to made the brunet impatient, precome smearing against his lower stomach. A third finger slid alongside the others and Jack gasped while saying Anti’s name, trying to see his face, wanting to kiss him or do something, rocking back against the being’s hand.

“Please…” He said between breaths, getting the being to sit up a bit, both their eyes clouded with desire.

Anti slowly maneuvered to lean over the brunet, one hand holding himself up while the other hiked Jack’s leg up higher, and positioned himself against the brunet. Jack felt as the tip pressed inside, spreading his legs more to give the being more room, and a soft moan filled the air as the being thrusted in lightly. Anti would pull back, keeping the tip just inside, then push back to go in a little further each time, stretching the brunet, filling him deeper. Jack’s breath would accent each thrust, soft gasps and “ahs” falling into a rhythm, and soon he felt as their hips were flush against one another, the being’s cock buried inside of him.

They were still for a moment, Jack taking a second to steady himself, and Anti leaned down to kiss him once more, tongue sliding between lips. Jack returned the kiss, breaking apart only then to see a string of spit between them.

Then Anti’s hand slid up to his hip, lifting the brunet’s lower body off the ground, and one of his legs wrapped around the being’s waist while the other was bent, foot digging into the pebbles. Anti pulled back slowly, their eyes locked, and Jack could hear his heart beating in his chest. Lips parted, puffs of air escaping, and Jack nodded, wanting. Then Anti finally thrusted back into him, cock sliding all the way in in one smooth push, and the brunet’s head fell back against the ground with a moan. His back arched, already partly of the ground by the being holding his hips up, and the angle made the being reach deeper inside of him than before as their hips met. There was still that cold watery feeling, but the tight pleasure was still there, still making the brunet gasp and pant as the being fucked into him.

Jack felt his own cock throb with need, flushed and dripping against his stomach, smearing each time the being thrusted back into him as his body was pushed back with the force.

“Please- ah, fuck-“ Jack gasped, shutting his eyes for a moment as he tried to speak. “More… need you- ahn.”

And Jack felt his body seeking that longing, yearning for the being’s touch, sounds leaving his lips from each brush of skin. Anti was starting to breathe heavier as well, grip tightening against the brunet, and snapped his hips forward, making the brunet lose his words. Fuck, it was good, so good, and Jack lavished in the pleasure. He wanted it to last, toes curling in the pebbles, hands clutching the stones as well, but he could feel his arousal reaching its peak. He reached a hand up to grab his cock, stroking it in time with the being’s thrusts, and Anti seemed to be spurred on by it as he picked up the pace, moving continuously but still just as deep. Jack felt his hand slide easier as the precome smeared between his fingers and he groaned. He was close, heat building under his skin, thumb rubbing over the sensitive tip.

“C-close.” He murmured, peeking up to see the being’s face, looking lost in the feeling as well as he muttered something that Jack took as an agreement.

A few more thrusts, the heat growing, and Jack finally came with a drawn out moan, covering his stomach with a shudder. He felt as the being faltered in his movements, the brunet tight around him, and he pressed in fully before releasing inside the brunet, bending over him. Jack felt the cold rush of the being filling him, though not unpleasant, and closed his eyes to relax against the ground. There was a weight laying over him as the being shifted to rest against him, face pressing against his neck, but he smiled as he draped an arm over the being.

They both took slow breaths, calming down as they laid together, and the brunet ran his fingers against the being’s side lightly. Jack felt his heartbeat steadily slow down as they both took a moment to be at ease. There was a soft kiss against his neck, trailing down to his collarbone as the being pressed gentle touches there.

“What are you thinking?” Anti asked softly, hand reaching up to brush the brunet’s shoulder.

Jack hummed, closing his eyes as he let the being’s lips brush across his neck for a moment before replying.

“Thinking about next time.” He said in a quiet voice, teasing, and chuckled softly when the being paused against him. “Should take me from behind.”

Anti was quiet, making the brunet want to ask what he was thinking this time, but smiled when the being kissed his cheek before sitting up a bit to slip out of him. He hummed at the feeling, letting out a sigh as the being maneuvered the two of them to lay on their sides with Anti pressed up against his back. Jack guessed they were going to rest like this, knowing he was still tired from waking up in the middle of the night and now from what they just did, but the being didn’t stay still. He lifted one of the brunet’s legs, Jack feeling as it bent back a bit to rest over Anti’s, then a hand moved to his thigh as the being pressed himself back inside. Jack made a noise of surprise, turning his head to try to see Anti’s face, but closed his eyes as the being gave a slow thrust inside of him, filling him once more. He let out a quiet groan, expecting the being to pick up the pace, doing what they had just done, but… instead it stayed calm. There wasn’t any rush, the being moving slowly, and they shared soft moans. It was gentle, a subtly growing pleasure that made the brunet pant as he relaxed against the being and let him lead, bodies pressing together with each full thrust.

“Good?” Anti had asked, a soft whisper in his ear, and the brunet nodded.

“Yeah…” He said breathlessly.

The heat in his stomach spread slowly, the being’s gradual thrusts leading him closer towards a second release, and he arched against the being’s chest with a low moan. He could feel each shift, each sensation as the being moved inside of him, prolonged as the being drew out wordless sounds from him. The feeling was already heightened from their first time, body warm and wanting, and he gasped as Anti moved his hand to take his dripping cock.

“Anti… ah.”

The being kissed the back of his neck, hand stroking him in time with each careful thrust, slowly pulling out before pressing in deep followed with the warm feeling of being filled. Their bodies moved together, slide smooth, and the brunet mewled. They weren’t chasing their release like before, building up to it steadily this time, but the brunet felt as he was close… so close. Anti rolled his hips forward once more, nuzzling against his neck, and Jack came a second time with a breathy moan, mouth open and eyes loosing focus.

Jack went still against the other as he rode out the high, the being’s hand guiding him through it, and his mind was blissful. Blissful but getting drowsy as the need for sleep was catching up with him. He felt distantly as the being still moved behind him, soft puffs of air hitting the back of his neck, and he hazily rolled his hips back as the being made a noise, a higher pitched tone, and shuddered against him, the cold sensation filling him once more.

Fuck, that was… that was good. Jack’s mind really didn’t have the capacity to think of another word for it right now.

Fingers brushed against the brunet’s hip as Anti gently pulled out after a few moments, wrapping his arms around the human and holding him close. They calmed down once more, comfortable in each other’s presence, and Jack made a quiet hum. Anti murmured for them to rest, nosing lightly at the brunet’s neck, and Jack was able to turn around in the being’s arms enough to place a gentle kiss against his lips before exhaustion finally caught up with him.

Chapter Text

Jack woke up with a gentle breeze against his back. He took a deep breath, letting himself wake up, and smiled at the feeling of his cheek pressed against another. He opened his eyes to see that he was laying against Anti, head on the being’s chest, and Anti had an arm hanging loosely around him. He slowly sat up with a stretch, leaning back against the pebbles and hummed with a smile when he realized the being had let himself be used as a pillow rather than having the brunet lay on the ground. Looking down, he found he was wearing the bottom half of his clothing as well, though his shirt was lying to the side next to him. He scooted over to reach his shirt, taking his time as he found which way was up on the garment to put it on over his head, then felt a soft touch against his neck as the being kissed him there.

He tilted his head to the side to give the being more room and murmured a quiet good morning, chuckling warmly when Anti wrapped his arms around the brunet’s stomach and kissed under his ear. They swayed slightly, spending the time to clear their minds from sleep, though the being had explained before how what he does is closer to meditation rather than sleep. Another kiss against the brunet’s cheek and the human finally turned around to brush their lips together. The being made a content sound, noses bumping as their foreheads touched in the familiar gesture, and they sighed.

“I want to do that again.” Anti said softly, hands rubbing the skin above Jack’s hips under his shirt. “Every night.” He tilted his head to kiss Jack’s lips slowly. “I wish I could.”

Jack kissed back, though he could sense the sadness in the air and he slid his hands behind the being’s neck gently. They had to go back to the shrine.

“It’s okay.” Jack murmured. “It’s okay.”

The being placed one last kiss on the brunet’s lips, lingering slightly, and Jack gave the being a reassuring smile before the two of them finally stood up. They made sure they had all of their clothing and the brunet took a moment to retie the bow on Anti’s outfit since it had become undone, hiding his laughter when he thought about putting a bow in the being’s hair for the fun of it. They walked up to the water’s edge and Anti picked up the brunet like before with an arm under his knees and one around his back. They left the small cavern where they had stayed at for the night and stepped into the morning’s light with a calm breeze. Jack watched with wide eyes, unable to see much last night when the being had taken him across the lake, and was fascinated once more with the reflection of the water below him. He then rested his head against the being’s shoulder, a happy warmth under his skin as he watched a few birds hop from branch to branch between trees. It was a nice morning.

Anti stopped at the edge of the water, maneuvering to set the human down as his feet touched the cool dirt under his toes. Jack stepped forward onto the start of the grass, feeling a few dew drops, and turned around expecting the being to follow only to see Anti’s eyebrows knit together with a small frown on his face. It took Jack a moment to understand what was wrong, feeling bad for not realizing sooner, and quickly stepped back over to the being to link their hands together.

It was a nice sunny morning.

It wasn’t raining.

“Hey.” Jack said as he brought their hands up between the two of them, elbows bent. “Look at me.”

The being slowly brought his eyes up from staring down at the grass, frown still present, and the brunet gave their hands a gentle squeeze.

“You don’t have to worry.” Jack continued. “I’ll be right here. There’s nothing to worry about.”

He let go of one of the being’s hands, holding the other tightly as he stepped back to the side in a silent gesture for Anti to walk with him. The being kept their gaze for a few seconds, expression looking more like he was frustrated with himself than anything else, then his eyes darted to stretch of trees ahead. He took a steady breath, glancing back towards the brunet to see a patient smile, then slowly stepped a foot out from the lake onto the start of the grass. Another slow step and he was standing next to the brunet who gave him a small nod. They then looked forward together and walked hand in hand back to the shrine.

Anti’s expression remained unchanging for a while, occasionally watching an animal scurry past them or to look at the dots of flowers growing by their path. There were hints of yellow between trees, some pinks and whites in bunches out in the open that steadily swayed with the breeze. Leaves would fall, fluttering slowly to the ground while others swirled in circles. Looking up, they could see bluebirds and robins racing past in streaks of blue and orange. Eventually Anti tilted his head upwards, sunlight giving his face a soft glow as strands of his hair stirred from the air. His frown was gone, eyes showing a softer gleam, and he looked calm again. Jack liked seeing him like this, as though he was at peace with everything.

“This world is nice.” Anti said, still watching the sky. “The life here is… beautiful. I’ve known that it was but… some things you just need to see for yourself.” He sighed and Jack hummed in response.

“It is nice. Sometimes things can be scary but…” Jack swung their linked hands between the two of them and looked out in thought. “There will always be someone who will have your back. Someone who will be there to tell you it’s alright.”

Anti turned to him, a light in his eyes, and the corner of his lip curved upwards softly. They shared an unspoken nod, a safe sense of comfort between the two of them, and they walked back to the shrine feeling warm.

They eventually reached the slope leading down to the small forest hiding the familiar grotto, maneuvering around trees and stray branches as they approached the end of the path. Jack brought their hands together up to kiss the tips of the being’s fingers before they stepped up to the leafy curtain over the entrance to the shrine, smiling lightly with each peck. Anti huffed, though Jack could see the blush on his cheeks looking a light color. The being stepped forward, reaching a hand out to push the leaves out of the way, but his arm stilled in the air. Jack made a soft hum, leaning over to see the being’s face and ask what he was thinking, but he saw Anti’s previous expression now darkened, eyes narrowed with a dull frown. He felt a small trickle of unease starting to build up as he hesitantly said the being’s name as a question.

“Someone’s here.” Anti said lowly, a subtle growl in his throat, and the human’s eyes widened.

“Here? In the shrine?” He asked, his previous worry getting worse when he thought about Basil still in there.

Before he could voice his fear, Anti grabbed his wrist and pulled the brunet to stand behind him, glancing back before pushing the brush out of the way to step onto the stone leading to the shrine. Jack could feel his heartrate climbing as he instinctively walked closer to the being, seeking what sense of safety he could find, and his eyes immediately darted to where Basil was last sleeping. The stag was still there, laying against the wall, and for a moment Jack started to think of the worst until he saw the animal’s head lift at the sound of their footsteps and he sighed. It looked like Basil was okay. That left only the stranger to deal with as Jack looked to the pond, seeing someone standing in front of the statue while facing it. It was unnervingly quiet as the two of them approached the end of the stone path, stopping once they reached the edge, and that’s when Jack noticed the stranger standing on the water’s surface.

“What are you doing here?” Anti glared, voice low, and the stranger turned around.

Jack could gather that the stranger was another water spirit since she was standing on the pond’s surface, blue dress similar to Anti’s flowy style as well, though she didn’t seem upset as she looked at the two of them with a soft gaze and gentle eyes.

“I’m the new guardian of this shrine.” The other spirit answered, staying where she was.

Jack frowned in confusion, turning to Anti to see his face pale and eyes widen.

“W-what?” Anti stuttered, something in his voice making the brunet frown more. “Is it because I left? I wasn’t trying to neglect my job, I-“ Anti stepped forward, voice shaking more and Jack was finally starting to pick up on the traces of fear in the being. “I won’t do it again; ask her to reconsider, I’ll do better-“

“Anti?” Jack said aloud, worried about seeing the being like this.

Anti turned around quickly at that, facing the brunet as Jack saw something in the corner of his eyes like crystal tears. And fear… Anti was afraid.

“Jack…” The being said, walking up to the human as he cupped the brunet’s cheeks. “Being the guardian of this shrine is why I’m here… it’s my assignment for this land. If I’ve been dismissed then I have to return to the goddess; I… I have to leave.” As he said that, one of the tears slid down from his eye, a subtle glimmer on his cheek.

“What?” Jack gasped, a hand going up to hold onto the being’s wrist. “I- I don’t…” He felt his breathing pick up, tears threatening to fall from his own eyes, and his grip tightened on the other’s wrist.

“Hold on.” The new spirit called out with a hand up, causing the two of them to turn their heads to her, though they kept their grip. “You weren’t dismissed.” She said softly, lowering her shoulders. “The goddess has chosen to relieve you of your duties.”

“What?” Anti blinked, moving his hands away from the brunet’s cheeks as he glanced at the other before frowning.

“She left you a message.” The new spirit said as she gave a polite nod. “The goddess says you’ve done well taking care of the shrine for the many years you’ve been here and she is grateful. However…” She said slowly, pausing, though she had a warm smile. “She says the reason she sent you here has concluded. I’ve been sent here to take your place.”

The others were silent, minds both replaying what the new spirit had said, then Anti stepped forward hesitantly.

“So… I’m…?” The being paused, unsure as to what to ask though they all knew what it was supposed to mean.

“You are free to go.” The new spirit answered with a soft chuckle. “The two of you can stay together.”

Anti gasped lightly, head turning to the brunet once more, and Jack could see his eyes sparkling with unshed tears. A careful step forward, then another, until Anti almost stumbled into the brunet’s arms, crystal tears falling as their lips met for an uncoordinated but perfect kiss. They were smiling, small laughs escaping once in a while between kisses, and the brunet lifted a hand up to wipe at the being’s cheeks. Their eyes were glossy, though alight with relief, and they shared comforting breaths.

Basil nudged Jack’s arm to get his attention, antlers almost hitting the two of them, but they grinned as they pet his head. The brunet pecked the being’s lips once more before he quickly walked over to Basil’s previous spot to gather his bags waiting there, eagerness making him smile as the initial rush of emotions started to calm down from before. He sat down on the stone floor to slip on his shoes, heart fluttering, and he let out a quick puff of air. He pushed himself up to stand and fastened the bags on the stag’s back, putting a hand on the animal’s side to settle him down since he was ready to go outside. Looking over, Jack saw Anti and the other spirit standing on the water exchanging words, too quiet for him to hear, but the other spirit appeared to be happy for them. He decided to walk out to the exit of the shrine first, leading Basil out as they left stepped down through the tunnel. He moved the leafy brush out of the way for Basil as the animal bounded out to the grass, head tilted up to the sky as sun streamed down between branches of trees.

Jack closed his eyes as he stood on the grass himself, letting the morning’s warm air soothe his mind. A steady breath in, then a steady breath out.

He smiled when he felt a hand intertwine with his, opening his eyes to see Anti standing next to him, and they looked at one another with a gaze that let them speak without words. They were together now.

Anti then faced forwards, staring ahead, and Jack could see a mixture of emotions in his eyes, wonder and worry alike.

“If we ever fall…” Jack murmured, watching as the being looked back to him. “We’ll be there to pick each other back up.” He said, eyes watering a little though he chuckled warmly. “We’re going to be okay.”

Anti nodded, murmuring an agreement as he smiled back, then Jack saw something in the being’s other hand as he lifted it up. Anti had taken the silent princess from the tree, holding it in his hand now, and he carefully tucked it behind the brunet’s ear, fingers brushing against him to keep the flower in place. Jack reached a hand up himself, ghosting over the flower, not wanting to accidentally move it out of place. The flower held more meaning now than just being a flower; it holds their story.

Then they both looked out past the trees and took the step together on their first day of their new life.

They walked slowly, Basil following behind them at a leisurely pace, and the trees began to thin out as they walked further away from the hidden grotto. The leaves above them cast speckles of filtered light around their path, leading them to the slope onwards, but as Jack moved to continue forward, he felt the being stop. He looked back at the other, humming in question, and the being was looking off at the grass.

“So that’s what it was…” Anti murmured to himself, frowning lightly as a hand reached up to brush the scar across his neck.

“What?” Jack asked, stepping over to the being to face him.

Their eyes met once more, though Anti didn’t seem upset, and he let out a small sigh.

“Before I was sent here to watch over the shrine, I wasn’t exactly the most… proper spirit. You could say I got into more trouble than not.” Anti started to explain, then tapped his scar lightly. “And some weren’t fond of me. There was a fight.”

“Oh…”

“That was when I was sent to the shrine. I thought it was some type of punishment or something, but I was told one thing. ‘You need to find the part of you that is missing’.”

Jack hummed as he pursed his lips and thought about it, looking to the being to continue.

“I didn’t know what I was supposed to do; for a while I thought it was some really long lesson about patience or I had to find some way to prove I learned something…” Anti huffed, half rolling his eyes, then his voice softened. “But I understand what I was supposed to find now…”

“What was it…?”

Anti’s lips formed a small smile, gaze looking fondly, and the brunet couldn’t help but mirror the look. The being rested their foreheads together, making the human hum softly at the gesture, and he felt the being’s fingers trace the side of his face lightly.

“I was missing love.” The being said quietly.

Jack was still, eyes opening but not focused on anything as the sentence replayed in his mind, and a warm giggle finally escaped his lips as he leaned their heads back to see one another.

“Well, did you find it?” He asked, a light blush dusting his cheeks, and the being nodded.

“I did.”

Basil had walked ahead of them, already up the slope and looking back at them, wanting to continue moving forward. Jack chuckled, murmuring about the animal wanting them to hurry up, and stepped forward to pull the being along with their hands still together.

“We better get going.” Jack said, looking back at the being, and he saw Anti glance back at the shrine for a moment, thoughts lingering in his mind, before he turned back and stood next to the brunet with a smile.

“Lead the way.”

 

… Epilogue – Little snippets of what happened after - …

 

Jack decided to take them back to the simple wooden house he owned at a small village near a river. It wasn’t near any of the brunet’s usual routes when traveling, that’s why he didn’t visit very often, but it was the one place he could call home. The furniture and decorations were just as he left them, old books and sketches resting on a table in the corner, and he smiled fondly as he ran a hand over the cover of his first sketch book.

He let Anti look around, listening to the being comment about how cozy the house seemed and he liked being able to see the river outside the window. Jack thought it would be nice to stay here for a while to let Anti get used to living outside of the shrine, having the river right outside as a sense of comfort. He could see Basil outside the window as well, resting in a small fenced area Jack had built a long while ago that the stag thankfully didn’t try to escape from when he was there, and remembered something he hadn’t taken out of the bags yet.

He opened the backdoor out to Basil, petting the animal’s forehead while murmuring compliments before he unfastened the bags so the animal could rest without them. The brunet brought the bags inside, setting them against the wall as he looked through them until he pulled out a small dried out flower. It was the same pink flower Jack had found wrapped around his wrist when he had spent the night at the shrine after he first met the being. He had kept it, hiding it in the bag when it no longer stayed on his wrist, and waited until he returned to his home to finally take it out. He held it in his hands carefully, walking it over to the table, and set it down on top of his sketchbook. Anti had returned to the room to see it, standing next to the brunet as he remembered the small flower as well, then Jack took the silent princess out from behind his ear. They both gazed at the blue and white flower, still healthy after all this time, but Jack sighed lightly.

“I’m going to miss seeing this one at night.” He murmured, knowing that the reason it stayed alive this long was because Anti was taking care of it at the shrine with the water there.

Anti pursed his lips, frowning slightly in thought as he reached out to take the flower in his own hand, eyeing it carefully.

“Is there a shrine in the snow somewhere?” The being asked, still staring at the flower.

“I know of some.” Jack replied, taking a moment to think. “I don’t really visit the colder areas much, though, and I don’t take Basil to them either. I know there’s a forest not too far from here that usually has a blanket of snow, though.”

The being nodded and said they could go there tomorrow, not explaining why, but Jack agreed to it. They spent the rest of the day relaxing, sharing quiet moments and gentle touches. Jack had prepared a bath for the evening, not thinking much of it at first, but as soon as he sat down in the tub, Anti joined to sit behind him, holding him tightly. He chuckled as he leaned back against the being, feeling as Anti nuzzled his cheek, and rolled his eyes at himself for not realizing sooner that Anti would probably love baths. And that he did; he made Jack sit still, doing everything himself as he lifted a small sphere of water from the tub to use to wash the brunet’s hair. Jack could tell he was showing off a bit, though not that he minded, and closed his eyes as he let the being kiss the side of his cheek.

Once they got out and Jack changed into night clothes, they laid down together on the brunet’s bed, sharing the warmth under the covers. And Anti was warm now, not cold like the water of the shrine.

Jack couldn’t help but smile.

-

The next morning they woke up early to prepare for their travel to the snow. Jack had asked his neighbor to watch Basil while he was gone and he wore a satchel over his shoulder to carry his things in the animal’s stead. He wore warmer clothes, grabbing a jacket and boots while wrapping his scarf around his neck, and nodded to the being once they were ready to go. Jack was staring down at his old sketchbook most of the time, following a scribbled map he made last time he had visited the snowy forest from however long ago that was, but it didn’t take them long to find the fresh coat of snow that covered the ground once they reached the area. The snow crunched under the brunet's shoes, though Anti barely made a sound as he stepped across on bare feet. Jack glared at him with a playful expression, jealous that the being didn’t worry over the cold as a visible puff of air appeared in front of himself.

They finally spotted a goddess statue at the base of a small mountain, snow decorating the top of the goddess’ head and arms as a small pool of frozen water surrounded it. The ice seemed sturdy enough, but Jack stayed back as Anti stepped onto the frozen surface and walked up to the statue, the silent princess cupped in his hands. Jack heard him say something in a language he didn’t recognize and looked around as he tried to figure out what was supposed to happen, waiting in silence… until someone stepped out from behind the statue.

The new being was wearing all white, a bit hard to see as they matched the snowy surroundings, and they stood in front of the statue facing Anti as they spoke back in the same unfamiliar language. Jack guessed this was another spirit, watching as Anti held out the silent princess, murmuring something, and the new spirit took it in their own hands. The spirit held the flower in one hand, the other hovering over the flower slightly, and there was a small white glow as the hand in the air circled the petals. They handed the flower back afterwards, saying something as they looked over at the brunet for a moment, then turned around and disappeared before Jack could tell what happened.

He hummed in confusion, briefly wondering where the spirit had gone, but shook the thought from his mind once Anti stepped off of the ice and showed him the flower. It still looked the same, petals still full of life, but there was a thin layer of frost covering it now. It was cold to the touch and frozen in place, but beautiful all the same as the being said it should stay like this from now on. The being looked to the side a bit as he murmured that it might not glow as brightly like this, but Jack quickly pulled the being forward to capture his lips in a kiss.

“I love it.” He said with a smile, lips meeting once more to emphasize his point.

-

The first town Jack took Anti to as their first official journey together was the town where Mrs. Lee lived. Jack wanted to take him to all of the familiar areas he knew, wanting the being to know them as well, and they met Mrs. Lee when they passed by her house. Since Anti resembled Jack’s appearance and it would be best to keep Anti’s true nature a secret, they introduced the being as family. Mrs. Lee greeted him kindly, saying that he and Jack were welcome to stop by any time, but the brunet was able to catch a knowing glint in the older woman’s eyes. They left after that, and though Mrs. Lee didn’t say anything about the being, Jack had a feeling she knew who he was.

Then, as they traveled together through the land, Jack was starting to notice differences from when he traveled alone. The small fairies he had seen before had started appearing more, not hiding from him or keeping their distance like they usually did. Some of them were friendly and he held one in the palm of his hand before, but now they swirled around him and Anti when they walked through their part of the forest. A few of them also sat across Basil’s antlers, making the animal appear to have tiny ornaments as he walked behind the two of them.

They also met a few other spirits who would appear from time to time, some spending the time chatting while others only made themselves known for a few moments before disappearing once more. Once as the group was walking across an open clearing, a wind spirit had whizzed past them, making their hair almost smack their own faces as their clothes swooshed to the side. Anti shouted something in his language at the other, the spirit cackling back before he disappeared, and Jack chuckled at the scene.

The brunet asked about it later, wondering why he was suddenly seeing all these spirits and others now, and his guess was correct when Anti explained it was because he was there now. The others are able to recognize Anti as being a spirit himself, and since Anti was showing himself to the human, the others saw it as a sign that they didn’t need to hide either.

“We’re not supposed to reveal our presence to humans.” Anti explained. “But if a human already knows… well.” He shrugged playfully. “No reason to hide from them then.”

The brunet found himself enjoying each day more as well, meeting new beings and seeing the world in a new light. Though sometimes they would be by themselves and Jack loved it just as much, appreciating having someone else to share these memories with and no longer travel alone. He found that Anti carried a glass bottle with him as well, tucked and hidden at the cloth around his hips, and the being revealed that it held water from the shrine. Pure water. Something Anti could use to heal if Jack ever were to get hurt. It was something that made the brunet smile, just knowing that Anti had thought to get that.

Then later, as Jack was introducing Anti to a new land on their travels, they came across the hot rocky terrain leading up to the north. It’s too hot for both Jack and Basil, so he doesn’t know what’s over there, but Anti still seemed to enjoy seeing it. The being was staring at the path leading onwards for a bit, seemingly lost in thought, until a new voice startled them both.

“Anti? After all this time, is that you?”

They turned their heads upwards to see a man with raven hair laying in one of the lower branches of a nearby tree, leaning against the base with his arms crossed in front of him and a leg hanging down.

“Nate?” Anti replied, quirking an eyebrow up, and the stranger chuckled at that as he swung his other leg down from the branch and landed on the ground.

“Last I saw you, you were assigned to keep watch over that shrine way down by the lakes.” The new being, Nate, hummed.

He wore a black outfit with accents of deep red, a red feather hanging from his ear as well while a long black jacket that flared out at the bottom swayed behind him. Anti nodded to his earlier statement, saying he lost track of time while being there, and Nate mentioned something about it being at least a century.

Jack couldn’t tell if he was being serious or not.

“And who’s this?” The raven-haired man asked, looking over at brunet with a smile.

Anti replied with a word Jack didn’t recognize, guessing it was that other language again, but Nate perked up at that and seemed surprised.

“Are you a spirit?” Jack decided to ask, wanting to know who the being was and didn’t know what else to say anyway.

“Yes I am.” Nate replied, standing up straight as he snapped with his right hand, a small flame appearing at the tips of his fingers. “One of fire. Nice to meet you.” As he said that, he opened the palm of his hand as the flame moved to there instead, and he held his hand out to the brunet.

Jack stared at it for a moment, thinking he was supposed to know what to do here, although he really didn’t want to shake a hand with fire, but Anti batted the other spirit’s hand down as he told the other to knock it off. Nate seemed amused none the less and Anti finally introduced him as an old friend he knew before he was assigned to look after the shrine.

“What’s with the feather?” Anti asked, face looking rather unimpressed as the raven-haired man just smirked.

“What’s with the bow?”

Anti looked down to see the bow Jack always kept tied on his back, looked back up at Nate, then flipped him off.

Nate laughed at that and Jack couldn’t hold back a snort himself as he covered his mouth, not expecting Anti to do that but finding it hilarious. They talked a bit more afterwards, though Jack told them they had to get going soon as he looked at the sun’s position in the sky, but he was surprised when Nate asked to tag along. The brunet smiled, saying of course, and they walked together as Jack listened to the two spirits catching up after all this time.

Nate didn’t stay with them, but whenever the group would visit the lands up north, he would greet them once more and join their travels for a while.

 

 

The end of each journey often led Jack and Anti back to the brunet’s wooden home. It became their new safe spot, their new place of comfort since leaving the shrine. The town was calm, sounds of the river flowing by soft and relaxing, and they had time to just be.

The two of them were laying on top of the roof of Jack’s home, staring up at the starry sky as the brunet held up the frosted silent princess in the air above them. The night was quiet, air cool and almost still as they were at ease together. The flower glowed faintly above them and the brunet smiled, setting it down between the two of them as he turned his head to see the other. Anti was watching him with a calm expression, small smile gracing his lips as well. It was something Jack wished he could see forever.

But… it brought up something he had been worried about for quite some time, unsure as to how to bring it up and even more afraid about the answer. Anti was able to catch the slight fall in his smile and grabbed his hand, lacing their fingers together and silently asking what was wrong.

“What…” Jack said, voice soft as his eyes looked down at their hands. “What happens when I…”

What happens when his time here has ended. What happens when Jack is a human and Anti is not.

Anti gripped his hand tighter, his other hand going over to cup the side of the brunet’s face as the two of them faced one another, and green eyes stood out in the darkness.

“I will find you.”

Anti said it without a second thought, voice resolute, like it was the only answer, and Jack felt his eyes widen.

“When you go…” Anti said, voice softening as he leaned their foreheads together as their sign of comfort. “I will return there as well… and I will never stop looking until I find you.”

Jack was silent, feeling his eyes start to water, and he shut his eyes closed as the first tear fell. Anti leaned back, thumb rubbing under his eye to wipe away the tears, and Jack finally opened his eyes to reply as he held out his hand between the two of them.

“Promise.” He said, sniffling as he held his pinky up. “You have to promise me.”

Anti looked down at the hand, blinking for a moment before he realized what it was, and carefully curled their pinkies together.

“I will find you.” Anti said once more. “I promise.”

The brunet nodded, sniffling once more, and smiled. That was the best answer he could have received. He didn’t need to worry about that anymore. For now, all he had to do was share each day he had with the being, making new memories and growing together.

And he wouldn’t have wanted it any other way.