Ten months after that day, Jaemin was still lost. The absence was fresh, painful, and almost tangible in its weight. The world smelled dry and smoky, the smell of Mark’s cigarettes making him nauseous and his throat ache. Everything was so sad; down to the rice he shoveled into his mouth to keep his hands from shaking. Bland and tasteless, even with the rice seasoning he loved so much.
The idol life lost its flare that bright, warm summer afternoon. His body ached, and his passion dulled until it was a fight to move his body every day. He didn’t understand how Jisung, Chenle, and Jeno could still perform with such power and energy, even with that gaping hole in their formation.
He’d been told a few times that it was time to move on. That day had been the first, only a few hours after Donghyuck had watched the man run that light as Renjun crossed the street. It was time to let go, his grandma had said. Let go, and allow the healing to begin.
Jaemin thinks he’d be doing better if he stopped putting up all the walls between his pain and the world around him. He spoke well of Renjun, participated in reminiscing, watched the videos and looked at the photos, and he comforted his friends as they broke in front of him. Then, once everyone was content, he excused himself to the bathroom and allowed himself to break down.
He cried ugly. His eyes swelled, red and bloodshot. His nose ran and his cheeks blotched with the heat that radiated through his whole face. The redness went down his sticky, tear-soaked neck making it look sunburned and painful. He looked pitiful, and he couldn’t walk outside that door until his lie about having to use the restroom looked believable.
Each time he took a deep breath and caught his own eyes in the mirror. His lips would tremble as the tears pushed relentlessly behind his eyes, but he refused to break down more than once. He shook his body, loosening his limbs and distracting himself from the sting in his eyes. He splashed cold water on his face three times, just enough to cool himself down.
Finally, he looked almost put together enough to return to his members. With a quick detour to his room to allow the flush to go down more, he went back to the living room. Jisung gave him that soft smile, the knowing one, and Jaemin did his best to bite back the agony that ripped through his heart. Renjun had always been the one to give him that smile.
Jaemin didn’t allow his emotions to show, but his members had always seemed to know. The extra push to eat, the new plushie on his bed, or even the surprise day off always given when Jaemin spent a little too long in the bathroom.
On one such day, where his manager texts him early to say he had the entire day free of schedules, Jaemin threw on a hoodie and jeans and bolted out the door. He had a destination in mind, but it would take a bus ride and a long walk to get there.
He bought the bus ticket with a mask covering his face, nodding politely at the driver despite the way she stared uncomfortably long. It was a thirty-minute ride, made to feel longer by the soft whispers and glances from the people around him. They couldn’t decide if he was Na Jaemin or a suspicious look alike, but he didn’t have anyone approach him. Either they decided not, or they knew that Na Jaemin was no longer the warm, welcoming person he once was.
Maybe they pitied him too much to get in his space. That wasn’t a soothing thought. His fans, the ones he should inspire, pitying him. He scoffed at himself as he pressed his back into the cushioned plastic behind him.
He hopped off the bus at his designated stop and started walking. He didn’t pause or lag, his feet carrying him quickly and with purpose. The shop opened at eleven, and it was ten-fifty-two. He wanted to get there just as they opened to avoid any unnecessary attention.
Ten minutes and only one loudly whispered “is that Jaemin?” later, and he was pushing open the door to the shop. The bell above the door tinkled brightly, and the wood under his feet creaked as he entered. He was the only one there besides the Middle Eastern owner of the shop. He gave him a nod and motioned for him to look around, and Jaemin bowed politely in thanks.
He’d spoken with a friend a few times about Renjun, and the man had pointed him toward a small little shop in the center of Seoul. It was metaphysical, one that had books, stones, and incense that the man listed off to help Jaemin heal. He opened his phone to check the screenshot he’d taken of their conversation.
Amethyst. It will bring you a sense of control. Jaemin looked around at all the stones that covered the table in front of him. There were so many, all with beautiful colors and soft, shining surfaces that begged Jaemin to run his fingers over them. He allowed the tip of his pointer finger to brush over a pile of Tiger’s Eye, tingles running from the tips of his fingers up through his shoulder.
He considered picking one up, but when his eyes caught the amethyst stones he decided against it. He picked one that he thought had a nice shape and held it in his hands. It didn’t make his arm tingle like the Tiger’s Eye had, but it was a nice weight in his hand and he could entertain the fact it would help in some way.
Try to find a book on spirits. Jaemin wasn’t sure how spiritual he was. He was raised in a family that believed in such things, but after Renjun’s death and the lack of signs from his friend, he’d lost faith in a realm that held the spirits. He pushed the invasive thought away and set off for the small bookshelf on the back wall.
“You lost someone.” The man said in heavily accented Korean. Jaemin looked up and twitched his head in a nod. “I have this.” He got up out of his chair and jogged to stand next to Jaemin, his chubby fingers grabbing a book and handing it over. Jaemin looked from the man to the book.
It was a book on Moon Cycles, nothing that he’d expected the man to give him. He wanted to say so, but the man looked at him with such intensity that it left him silent. He opened the book and sifted through it, wanting to see if there was anything related to someone’s passing and the moon cycles, but it was all about tuning your routine to the cycles to improve your life.
Just as Jaemin was about to return the book to its place on the shelf, something dropped and hit the wooden floor. The man looked at him from behind the counter, face blank. Jaemin could still feel his apprehension as his body tensed noticeably. The boy bent down slowly and picked up the tied, wax crested paper that had fallen.
He set the amethyst down on the shelf and used one hand to break the seal, looking up to check the man’s reaction before opening it fully.
How to Bring Someone Back from the Dead .
Jaemin schooled his expression into something leveled and blank, just like the man’s across the counter. The man pointed toward the door, telling him to go. The nineteen-year-old dropped the book back into its place, barely offering a thank you as he ran out the door.
The bell rang as the door burst open, and the man smiled ruefully as he watched Jaemin run.
1. Make sure that it wasn’t their time to die. If it was, do not try to bring them back.
Jaemin read as he stumbled into the dorm. He threw his bag down, ripped his shoes off, and darted to his room, knocking into Chenle on his way there. The younger had called after him but Jaemin didn’t care. His heart was pounding and his head hurt and he needed to calm down but he couldn’t.
His bed creaked loudly as he sat, eyes scanning over the page quickly. The first step hit him hard, and it didn’t take long to decide what the answer to the prompt was.
Renjun still had so much to do. The man driving that car stole Renjun’s whole future from him. There was no question that it had not been his time to go, even if the therapists and grief counselors all say that no one dies when it isn’t their time.
2. If you’re sure they weren’t meant to die, start preparing for your journey. It will be a long one.
Jaemin’s desperation served to overwhelm his apprehension. He soon was listing all the reasons why trying things on this list wouldn’t do anything more than waste a little time. If it didn’t work, as he knew it likely wouldn’t, then he would go home and continue on with his life. He’d avoid the shop and rip up the instructions.
If it did work, he wasn’t sure how he’d react. It would for sure change a lot of things. He’d heard of similar stories in lore and old history, but never recent. Most instruction papers like the one he held had been destroyed according to his grandfather, but there he was, holding one and considering using it.
Prepare for a long journey. He was used to that. Part of being an idol was going on long, seemingly never-ending trips to places he’d never been. Hopefully, it wouldn’t all be a waste. Crawling back to his members after such a stunt wouldn’t be pretty.
3. You will need two coats, a quarter, a white rose, a blanket, a flashlight, extra batteries, lots of food and water, and an object of importance to the deceased (a necklace, a beloved book, etc).
Jaemin grabbed a backpack large enough to hold all of the listed items and laid it out on his bed. He grabbed his large winter coat from the back of his closet along with a still heavy but smaller coat and shoved them both into the bag.
The next instruction had him scratching his head. A quarter. American currency. Would another coin work, or did it have to be a quarter? He didn’t want to take chances and opted to wait and sneak one from Mark when the man wasn’t home.
The rose, flashlight, and batteries were all added to his list of things to pick up the next day after practice. His soft, wool blanket was folded up and put into the bag, and a few non-perishable food items, some premade sandwiches, and several water bottles followed. Finally the last item on the list, an object of importance to the deceased.
Jaemin’s heart ached as he walked to his own desk. He opened the drawer he placed all of his important items in, the bracelet clinking on the wood as it shifted. Jaemin’s hands shook as he lifted it up. He twirled it around for a moment, thinking about how Renjun never wore the thing despite speaking of how much he cherished it to his family. It was upsetting that Jaemin had to wait until Renjun was gone to find out how much his gift had meant.
He wrapped it carefully in a cloth and placed it in the front pocket of his bag. That only left the items he didn’t have handy, and he didn’t think he could make it out of the dorm a second time without alerting Chenle that something was up.
With that in mind, he settled on the second item. The quarter.
He opened the door to his room slowly, peeking his head around to see if anyone was around to see him acting suspiciously. When Chenle and Jisung’s loud voices yelled from the living room he quickly tip-toed to Mark’s room. He paused and listened, even throwing caution to the wind and knocking once. When no one answered, he pushed the door open slowly and entered. Mark was gone.
He shut the door behind him and looked around. He knew where Mark kept all his spare change, but he wasn’t exactly sure how to tell the difference between a quarter and the other change yet. Afraid that someone would walk in, he pulled one of each coin type out of Mark’s stash and exited the room.
No one was around still, which made it easier for Jaemin to calm down enough that Chenle rounding the corner didn’t startle him.
“Hyung, I was just coming to see if you were okay,” Chenle whispered, picking at his cuticle with his thumbnail. Jaemin internally cringed.
“Yeah, I just downloaded a new app on my phone I wanted to play.” Jaemin smiled, pinching Chenle’s cheeks. “So cute, my lovely Chenle worrying for his hyung.” He played it up more than he’d done in the past few months.
“You’re gross.” Chenle chuckled fondly, shoving Jaemin’s hand away. The second youngest turned around and went back to bickering with Jisung, leaving the elder enough time to slip back into his room before anyone else came walking by. He placed the coins on his desk and grabbed his phone.
Quarter, US. He typed into the search bar. He found a photo of the coin and compared it to the ones settled in front of him. He grabbed the matching one and placed it in his bag. Three more things to go, and he’d be set.
He was keen to finish practice the next day, his body wired and unable to sit still for long. Even during breaks he was moving, pacing or practicing just to keep himself from having enough time to think. Donghyuck had already told him to sit three times, all of them ending with a varying form of annoyance at his relaxation being disturbed.
Once four pm hit Jaemin was gone. He left in a flurry, his coat zipper smacking the mirror and backpack straps flapping as he ran. He paused for only a moment to throw his coat on before he was off, out to get the last three things he needed separating him from his friend.
He entered the convenience store closest to their dorm, mask, and hat obscuring him from view as he grabbed the needed items. A flashlight and extra batteries were placed on the checkout counter and in a bag by his side quickly, and he was off to his next destination.
The flower shop was only a little walk from the store, and he found what he was looking for relatively quickly. Red and white roses were in abundance, and the woman seemed surprised when he’d asked for only a singular white rose. She smiled politely despite her confusion and handed him the flower with a red string tied around the stem. He thanked her and left, making his way back to the dorm.
Despite his stops, he still managed to return before anyone else. He slipped into his room and shut the door, placing the flashlight and batteries into his bag. He was unsure what to do with the flower, but he settled on wrapping it in tissue paper from Jisung’s birthday present and set it gently on top of the other items in the bag.
He was ready. He had everything he needed.
4. Wait until late spring. You’ll want it to be warm out when you return.
It was late March, not exactly what the paper suggested, but he couldn’t wait for May to finish what he’d already started. It was slowly creeping higher in temperature despite the early month, and with a quick glance at his weather app, he knew it should be abnormally warm the next week. He nodded to himself once and set his bag against the door to his room.
5. Put on some good hiking boots. You’ll be walking for a while.
Jaemin shuffled through his closet until he found a pair of rarely used hiking boots. They had served him well once, and he was glad to be using them again. Renjun had been the one to tell him to purchase them despite the steep price, and Jaemin treasured them more for it.
He took a moment to scan through the paper again before pulling the shoes on and tying the laces. He needed to leave before his members came home. If he didn’t make it out before they made it in, he would have to wait, and he didn’t know how much longer he could wait.
6. Enter any forest. The denser the better. Walk until the sun goes down.
Jaemin grabbed his bag and ran out the front door, avoiding the front entrance in the fear that he would run into his members as they returned from practice. He pushed open the back door and walked straight, eyes set on the bus stop only a few blocks from the dorm. He needed to get to Namsan.
The bus ride was short in comparison to the one he’d taken the day before. He hopped off and made his way toward the forest trail, avoiding the eyes of the other patrons visiting for a trip.
He broke off the path as he reached a spot no one shared the trail with him. It was hard at first to find his footing on the incline, but he found it easier as time went on. He walked without direction, doing his best to stay away from trails that he could be easily spotted on. He didn’t need anyone telling him to turn around.
Jaemin walked for three hours. His legs ached and his brain was fuzzy as he tried to figure out where he’d ended up in the confusion of not following a straight path. Despite the pain, the sun had finally gone down, and that allowed him the chance to pause and catch his breath.
7. Look to your left when it becomes too dark to see.
It took another half an hour before the trees blended in with the darkness around him. He swallowed his fear and waited like he was instructed, only looking left when it was too dark to see his own hand in front of his face.
8. You will see a white glow in the distance. Walk towards it.
Jaemin squinted at the glow in front of him. It was small and light, like a halo missing its angel. He took a tentative step forward, eyes unable to look away. The light was calling him, pulling him in.
9. Be careful where you step. Some woods like to trip you.
Jaemin stepped down, foot catching on a raised branch sticking out of the ground. He pulled his foot back up carefully and stepped a little farther forward. Once he found his footing again, he continued on. The light was getting closer and closer, and he could feel the energy tingling through his arms.
10. Remember your loved one’s name.
Huang Renjun. Huang Renjun. Huang Renjun. Jaemin shouted it in his head until it sounded strange, more like a jumble of sounds rather than the name of his friend.
11. Say aloud how much you missed them and why you want them back.
“Renjun, I miss you. It hurts so much that I can’t breathe.” Jaemin started, still taking careful steps toward the light. “I miss your smile, and your drawings, and how you would hold my hand when I was scared of thunderstorms in the summer.” Jaemin paused, sobbing as he remembered the many late nights he spent with Renjun during nights with awful weather.
“I miss you, and I need you back. I want you to come back because I can’t do this without you. We’re a team, we’re supposed to be a team forever. I feel so empty without you.”
12. The glow will disappear once you reach it. When it does, turn on your flashlight and sit down.
Jaemin sighed heavily as the light disappeared in front of him. He pulled the flashlight out of his bag and turned it on. It was scary how dark it was even with the light, and the looming trees creating shadows didn’t help the atmosphere. The fear crawled up his throat and settled there, a heavyweight like nausea he’d felt as he choked down another bowl of rice that morning.
13. Place the flashlight next to you and go to sleep. Do not be afraid. If you’ve made it this far, then the forest is on your side. It will not let you be harmed.
Jaemin placed the flashlight down next to him and laid down, arm pillowed underneath his head. He didn’t know how he was expected to sleep in such a scenario, but he tried his best. He closed his eyes and breathed deeply a few times, trying to queal the horrible sting of loss and fear in his chest. He hadn’t been able to sleep well since Renjun had left them.
It took more than an hour, but finally, his body gave in to the call of sleep. He didn’t dream, but he slept deep. He awoke comfortable and warm despite the chilly morning, frost covering the grass and barely formed leaves on the trees.
14. When you awake, the sun will be up.
The sun seemed to be just breaking over the horizon as Jaemin lifted himself up into a sitting position. He lifted his arms in a stretch, allowing the rays to bathe him in soothing warmth.
15. Turn off your flashlight and put it back in your bag.
Jaemin pulled the wet, dewy flashlight off the forest floor and turned it off. He was surprised the batteries hadn’t died, but he let his ignorance of the length of battery life settle in the back of his mind. He placed the item back in his bag, careful to avoid the wrapped flower. He didn’t want to crush it accidentally.
He stood and stretched fully, popping his back and knuckles to try and rid himself of the soreness in his muscles and stiffness in his bones.
16. You will be standing just outside of a fairy ring. Do not enter it.
Jaemin looked at the large ring of mushrooms he stood just outside of. He was sure that it hadn’t been there the night before, but if his grandfather were to be believed, it hadn’t. It appeared after the light vanished, created by the fae that guarded the forest.
17. Take out your food and water. Eat some, but leave the rest at your feet.
Jaemin pulled out a premade sandwich and took a bite. It tasted just as bland as he knew it would. He’d loved food, especially the process of making it. He loved the looks on his members’ faces as they enjoyed what he’d made; but, there was something about the thought that Renjun would never eat a meal again that made it hard to eat.
He finished it off quickly and worked through the process of laying out the remaining sandwiches, canned food, and water bottles at his feet. He felt underprepared but resolved to not dwell over it. It hadn’t said exactly how much, only to bring a lot, and he for sure brought enough that his members’ would be feeling its absence.
18. Step into the ring and place the quarter on the ground, tails up.
Once the food was settled, Jaemin turned back to his bag and shuffled through the main compartment. He found the quarter laying on the very bottom. He grabbed it and pulled his bag onto his back before stepping into the fairy circle.
He walked to the very center and placed the quarter down; tails up, just as instructed.
19. Tell your loved one you are coming for them. They will not hear you.
“I’m coming for you, Renjun-hyung,” Jaemin said with his eyes closed. He wanted to see his face as he spoke, and despite the affirmation that Renjun wouldn’t hear him, he still had hope that he did. He opened his eyes and took a deep breath. He missed him so much.
20. The quarter will sink into the ground. You may now enter the Underworld.
Jaemin watched as the quarter was slowly pulled down, the dirt of the forest floor covering it until it was no longer visible.
21. Put on one of the coats. It will be very cold.
Jaemin took another deep breath before dropping his bag again, pulling the heavier coat out and putting in on. It made it harder to wear his backpack, but the uncertainty of his next move was making it hard to focus on such menial discomforts.
He didn’t think he’d make it that far.
22. Close your eyes and imagine that you are sinking into the ground. Do not open them until you smell smoke.
Jaemin closed his eyes and breathed in, imagining the dirt swallowing him just as it had done to the quarter. He saw his feet sinking, destroying the hiking boots Renjun had so painstakingly chosen for him. He imagined his legs being covered in mud, the substance riding up into his pants and staining the blue a nasty brown. He saw his chest covered, and finally felt the way his breathing cut off as he saw his mouth and nose covered in brown.
He smelled smoke, so he opened his eyes.
23. When you open your eyes, you will be underground. A tunnel will stretch out before you.
Jaemin watched as his breath fogged in front of him, the chill shocking despite the warning. Icicles hung from the dark rock carved out to form the tunnel stretched out straight ahead. He pulled his coat tighter around himself as his teeth began to chatter.
24. Replace the batteries in your flashlight. It will get dark very soon.
Jaemin worked to unfold himself despite the chill. He pulled his backpack off and set it down, his shaky hands working open the zipper. He pulled the flashlight and extra batteries out, but struggled to open the battery packet. His fingers slipped off the plastic, the sound loud in the otherwise silent cavern. As he pulled it open a few batteries flew out of the package and onto the ground, and he used those to trade out the ones already in the light.
25. Follow the tunnel. You will feel cold. This is normal.
Jaemin pulled his bag back on and stared into the tunnel. He wasn’t normally scared of dark places, but there was something about the vast, never-ending darkness in front of him that made his chest clench. He took his first step, and then his second, and soon he found himself walking a normal pace through the tunnel.
It was eerily quiet. His footsteps echoed across the walls, but there were no other external sounds that could be heard. His heartbeat and breathing sounded much louder without the chirping of birds or buzzing of insects near his ear.
It was cold even for late March. It felt closer to the dead of January; after a snowstorm lasting long enough to suffocate the grass in white. His fingers were becoming stiff and the hiking boots did little to guard his feet from the chill. His ears were beginning to ache and his nose ran, the sticky substance aggravating the chapped layer of his lips.
“This is normal,” the list had said, so he kept moving. He needed to find Renjun, even if he froze trying to get there.
26. You will soon come across a small house. Knock on the door.
Jaemin stumbled over a rock sticking out of the ground. He wanted to cry. Everything ached with the cold and he had already been walking for twenty minutes with no sign of a house. It had said soon, but there was no sign of life, let alone something so big and obvious. Jaemin argued with himself that it meant soon in comparison to his earlier three-hour trek, but he still was anxious.
It was another long period before he began to hear more than his own footsteps. The sound of crackling fire lured him in, the promise of warmth clouding the thoughts that said the house must be straight ahead. He began to run, only stopping when he rounded the final corner before the promised small house.
It wasn’t as small as he’d expected, but the exterior was sure something to marvel at. The entire house was made with wood, all settled together without precision adding to the rustic feel. There was a rocking chair in front, still moving back and forward despite the lack of an occupant. The windows were missing, but there was a wooden door placed haphazardly in the middle of the house.
Jaemin knew he was supposed to knock, but he still stood a little longer. The house looked like something straight out of an old Celtic movie, and it left him feeling relaxed despite his previous fears. He moved forward once the rocking chair stilled, stopping just shy of the door.
He lifted his stiff hand and knocked.
27. A dark-haired woman will open it. There is something wrong with her eyes. Do not stare.
A woman opened the door slowly, leaving Jaemin just enough time to prepare for the stare that would greet him. Her eyes were clouded and milky, one lazy and pointed toward the ground while the other looked straight ahead. He could barely see her irises through the white that covered them, but he did as the paper told and did not stare.
28. She will ask you for something pretty. Give her the rose.
“Give me something pretty.” The woman said on script, and Jaemin pulled the wrapped flower from his bag. He unwrapped it carefully, happy to see that it was still as pristine as when he’d purchased it. The fae had been on his side after all.
He held the flower out for the woman, and she took it with pale white hands. She looked at the flower for a long moment, twirling it around and then going to sniff it. Her greasy black curls obscured her face from view for a moment, but soon she was looking back up at Jaemin.
29. She will smile at you and invite you in for something to eat. Enter the house, but politely refuse any food.
The woman smiled at him with dark grey teeth. He smiled back with clenched lips but she didn’t seem to mind his nervousness. She motioned him forward, pointing toward a living space cluttered with books and candles.
“Please come in. I have lunch on the stove.” The woman’s voice cracked as she spoke. Jaemin thanked her for the invitation and walked inside.
“I just ate, unfortunately, but thank you for the offer,” Jaemin said as she offered him a chair to sit in. She hummed but didn’t press. He was never hungry lately, so it was easy to refuse the offer. Even as she plated something resembling chicken and potatoes and set it in front of him.
30. Talk to her for a while. She likes the company.
“You look very thin.” The woman said. Jaemin smiled guiltily, thinking of all the times Chenle and Jisung said the same.
“I exercise a lot.” He said in response. The woman hummed and took a sip of the tea that appeared in front of her.
“What sort of exercise? You seem like you could be described as fit if you ate properly.” She asked.
“Dance, mostly. Sometimes I get up early to do some weight training.” He said, self consciously grabbing at his flopping muscles. He used to be fit, but once he stopped eating the muscles wasted away until his bones were easily visible. He avoided the comment about his lack of eating, the line from the list booming through his head. Don’t accept any food.
“I see. A dancer. I’ve met one of those recently.” The woman gazed deep into Jaemin’s eyes. He didn’t stare back, but he felt the intensity of her gaze on the side of his head as he turned away. “Small boy. Very sad.” She said, and Jaemin’s heart constricted despite his attempt at taking deep, calming breaths.
31. She’ll tell you a secret. Pretend that it doesn’t bother you.
“I must tell you something,” The woman began. Her black dress fell away to reveal her bony right leg crossing over the left, but Jaemin pulled his eyes away before he could focus on them. She looked ill for someone who was probably not even alive. “Your presence here is unwelcome. There is something following you, and if you make one mistake you will be joining your dancer friend.” She said.
Jaemin had to bite the inside of his cheek to not show his discomfort. The fear was back, gripping at his heart and taking up all the space in his chest.
“You will not be able to return home. The time you came from is unwelcoming of revived dead. You must go to a different time, one that will not lock you up and treat you as a specimen if you wish to survive.” The woman added. Jaemin didn’t know what to do.
Did that mean he was trading everyone else for Renjun? His entire life, everything he’d worked for. He’d never see his other friends or family again in exchange for living the rest of his life with Renjun.
“Okay,” Jaemin said finally, deciding that saving Renjun from his untimely death was worth the other losses. They would live on, build their own lives without him. Renjun couldn’t do that without his help. The woman smiled at him and shook her head.
“I am only pulling your leg. You may return home, but it will not be easy. You indeed live in a society where returned souls are unwelcome, but I am sure you have the heart and passion to protect what you’ve come to retrieve.” She said, motioning for Jaemin to life himself out of the chair. He stood a head taller than her, but that didn’t seem to faze her. She stood in front of him with her head high and shoulders back, something cradled in her hands.
32. Eventually, she will give you an item. I do not know what it will be. It’s different for everyone.
“Hold your hands out, please. Cup them.” She said, and Jaemin complied quickly. The woman settled the item in his hands, the cold surface making him shiver. He looked down as she pulled her bony hand away, and his breath was caught in his throat.
It was the amethyst from the shop. The one he’d left on that shelf in his rush to return home. She eyed him carefully, taking in each facial expression and twitch with rapt interest. He looked up at her with watery eyes. He blinked back the tears.
33. Thank her for being so kind. She wasn’t always like this.
“Thank you for your kindness,” Jaemin said, bowing politely to the woman. She motioned for him to stand up again.
“I do not come from the same place. It is an unnecessary gesture.” The woman said, coming forward and kissing him once on each cheek. “This would be appropriate where I’ve resided in physical form.”
“Thank you.” Jaemin smiled sadly. He felt sorry as he turned toward the door, the food he’d been offered laying cold on the table. She had shown him great concern and kindness, but he’d been warned.
34. Say goodbye and exit the house. Continue down the tunnel.
“Goodbye, Jaemin.” The woman said, and he forced the thought he had never told his name to the back of his mind.
“Goodbye,” Jaemin responded. He opened the door with a creak, taking one moment of hesitation to smell the fire and wood. The creaking of wood under his feet as he stepped down the stairs was oddly calming, and he held onto the feeling as his body chilled and the fear crept back up as he walked through the tunnel.
35. You will be walking for a long time. If you need to sleep, do so. When you wake up, continue walking.
Jaemin began to stumble again a few hours later. His back was beginning to ache with the long trek, and his fingers were almost completely numb with the cold. He read the list over, seeing that his walk would likely not end soon. He resolved to drop his bag near the wall of the tunnel.
He was so tired. The darkness did nothing to show what time of day it was or even how much time had actually passed, but he knew it had to have been long. It might be night on the surface for all he knew. A full day after he’d left home, long enough for his members to worry.
He settled down with a plop, groaning at the popping in his back. His mind settled on thoughts of his worried members. He should have left them a note. He could’ve pretended to go home for a few days, or said he had family or friends he wanted to visit. They’d have understood.
He hadn’t brought his phone in his rush to leave. It was still lying on his bed where he’d left it, likely dead and in the hands of Mark or Donghyuck. He doubted there would be much service where he was, but he wondered if he could have at least called and let them know he was fine.
He laid his backpack down to serve as a makeshift pillow and snuggled up against it. He pulled his legs up and into his coat, arms pulled back and crossed against his chest. He was freezing, but he needed to sleep. It didn’t take long for him to nod off, soothed to sleep by the lingering smell of fire and wood.
When he awoke again it was still dark but his flashlight had yet to go out. It offered him a little light to see by, just enough that the icicles on the ceiling twinkled. He groaned, exhaustion weighing him down but not enough to stop him from getting up and starting his walk again.
36. You will find food in your bag. Do not eat any of it.
He opened his bag to retrieve new batteries for his flashlight and was shocked to see packages of potatoes and chicken taking up the majority of the bag. He sifted through them to find his batteries and grabbed two, switching out the old ones.
He eyed the food for a moment too long, and it took all his strength to close the bag and continue on.
It took a few more hours of walking before he started hearing more than his own footsteps. It was oddly reminiscent of when he’d found the house. One moment it was dark and quiet, and the next there was low light to see by and the sound of water far in the distance. It was quiet but peaceful, a small trickle like a stream or calm river.
37. You will get to a river guarded by the woman you met before. Do not ask her how she got here so fast.
Jaemin left the tunnel with a sigh of relief, the sight of the calmly flowing river in front of him allowing the serenity from the house to settle over him again. He was no longer trapped in such small confines, and he was grateful for the vast amount of space and land in front of and around him.
He walked slowly toward the river, eyes catching on the woman from the house. He nodded to her politely, mimicking her upturned lip. Small smiles, but ones that spoke of the fact that they were both aware of Jaemin’s lingering questions. How had she gotten past him? Had she left the food?
38. Say hello and show her the item she gave to you. She will take it and give you your flower back.
“Hello,” Jaemin said, holding out the amethyst she’d given him. She grabbed the stone from him and ran it through her fingers. She nodded once and pocketed the stone before pulling his flower out from her dress, handing it back to him. He took it and rewrapped it in the tissue paper before placing it delicately back in his bag.
39. You are now allowed to cross the river. Get in the boat. Don’t think about how it wasn’t there before.
Jaemin shuffled his way onto the boat that materialized in front of him, the water sloshing and wood creaking as he settled into the single seat. The woman did not join him, but she watched as it began to move and carry Jaemin away.
40. Let the boat take you to the other shore. The fog will make it hard to see. Trust me that it’s better that way.
Jaemin used his time on the boat to reflect on the journey he’d come on so far. It hadn’t been long, but it had been tiring and surprisingly successful. He had expected the light to not appear in the forest. The fae had been hidden from humanity for so long that he had assumed they would not assist him, even if his own ancestors had treated them with such care and protection in the past.
The world had changed since the time of magic. The leaders of the world were afraid, struck dumb with it. They didn’t know if they’d be able to stay in power with magic users and mystical creatures surrounding the general populace, so they forced the world to fear it. To banish it.
Jaemin wondered if the world would be better with magic users in places of power. The beautiful people who could heal with their fingers, or create potions and brews that cured deadly diseases and hangovers. The ones who could create sparks or fire with their fingertips. The ones who could speak to and guide lost spirits.
His grandfather had been an amazing man, one who believed in the usefulness and beauty of magic. He treated the spirits with deep compassion, never forgetting a birthday or special celebration. He used Halloween as a day to speak to those he’d lost, and those who were still lingering behind because of wrongdoings and unfinished plans.
Jaemin would do anything to bring his grandfather back, but he knew that it was his time. His grandfather had told him as such only a few days before he was gone, taken by the fae and spirits he’d worked so hard to protect.
He hoped his grandfather had been there to guide Renjun. To help him through the horrible transition caused by sudden and traumatic death. As the fog became thicker, Jaemin began to doubt.
The boat began to slow as they neared the other shore, and Jaemin took a deep breath in preparation.
41. When you get off the boat, the fog will be too dense to see clearly.
Jaemin carefully pulled himself off the boat and onto the frostbitten grass. It crunched under his boots, signaling his arrival. He couldn’t see his hand in front of his face, but he knew he needed to move forward. Fear be damned, he had come too far to let anything stop him.
42. You will start to come across wandering souls. They will not care that you are here. They are too miserable.
Jaemin walked slowly, eyes catching on the pale, wispy figures of souls trapped in the underworld. If Renjun was here, trapped in this miserable purgatory, he had been wrong about his grandfather offering his guidance to Renjun. The figures were solemn, slumped and crying out with misery.
He was in the place people go when they died with unfinished goals. The ones who died before their time.
43. The silence will be unbearable. Hum a song to yourself.
As he walked farther and farther, the sound of the river faded until there was nothing but the sound of his own footsteps again. Even the spirits quieted, their cries no longer reaching his ears.
Starlight came to mind as he walked, the song coming easy and smooth as he hummed it. The silence was still overbearing and heavy, but his own voice and the lyrics in his mind helped to stave off the lingering panic.
44. You’ll be wandering around for a while. Don’t give up hope. You’ll find them soon.
At some point the endless task of walking became easy. His legs stopped hurting as much, his numb fingers were an afterthought, and the pain is back subsided to something more manageable. His only thought was on finding Renjun in the sea of spirits wandering aimlessly in front of him.
He hadn’t thought it would take long enough for him to begin to question whether Renjun would be there at all. He could feel his resolve dwindling and the tears biting angrily at the back of his eyes. Don’t lose hope, he told himself. If he lost hope he would never find him. His last chance was right then. There was no coming back.
Jaemin walked for a little while longer, the pain and doubt sitting heavily in his stomach. He looked up at one point, pausing to study the faces in front of him. He didn’t recognize them, but the agony portrayed on each individual made his heartache. He took a few more steps, just enough to reveal new faces in the fog, when he saw him.
He was standing still, face drawn down in the saddest frown Jaemin had ever seen on the boy. His shoulders were slumped, small body thinner than he remembered. He looked so small and pitiful. Jaemin wondered if he’d ever forgiven himself for leaving Renjun in such a state for so long.
45. When you do, softly say hello.
Jaemin took careful steps forward, coming to stand only a few feet away from his friend.
“Hello,” he said softly, voice cracking with emotion. He couldn’t cry, not yet. Not with Renjun standing so broken in front of him.
46. They will not remember you. Don’t take this personally. They don’t remember themselves either.
Jaemin’s response from him was a quick glance, but nothing more. Renjun looked back down at his feet.
He stared for a long moment, thinking about how the spirit in front of him was lost. He had no identity, no sense of belonging, no memories or recollection of the life he once lived. He didn’t know that Jaemin was here for him, or who Jaemin was at all.
The love Jaemin felt for Renjun was strong, but the spirit had no idea. No idea what being on the other end of that love felt like, or what it felt like to love someone just as much.
47. Don’t touch them, not yet.
Jaemin had to read that direction a few times before he’d come to terms with it. All he wanted to do with Renjun standing in front of him was pull him into a hug. He wanted to comfort him, wipe the frown off his face. He wanted to smooth the lines off his forehead and rub some life back into those small, emaciated limbs.
48. Their eyes will seem far away. It’s alright. They are listening.
Renjun looked up when Jaemin didn’t move. His eyes were staring somewhere in the distance, unfocused and far away. It hurt to think that his friend’s soul was right in front of him, but it felt as if they’d never been farther away from each other.
49. Talk to them for a while. Don’t give your name and do not tell them theirs. They don’t trust you yet.
“It’s pretty, your shirt,” Jaemin said awkwardly. Renjun looked down and stared at the translucent outline of his shirt but didn’t say anything in response. “I have one that is similar. It’s white. A little big on me though.” Renjun looked away from him.
“My legs are aching something crazy.” Jaemin chuckled, leaning down to rub at them. “I don’t think I’ve ever walked so long in my life.” He paused, not sure what else to say. It was hard to come up with conversation topics when the conversation was with his friend that had been long gone. His shirt color and leg pain seemed oddly insignificant when faced with the gravity of his situation.
When he pulled himself back up at eye level after rubbing his aching legs he saw Renjun looking at him curiously. He’d done something to pique his interest.
50. They’ll soon realize you are alive. When they do, answer their questions about the world above.
“You’re from up there,” Renjun said, wispy voice matching his body. Jaemin nodded. “Is it pretty? Some say there are more colors than this.” Renjun said, motioning around at the bleak gray and blue scenery.
“It’s very pretty. The grass is green, and the sky is light blue. Sometimes, in spring, our trees turn pink.” Jaemin explained, watching Renjun’s eyes focus more and more as the conversation progressed.
“What do you eat?” Renjun asked.
“I like meat. It’s very heavy, and I like chewy foods.” Jaemin said. “I’ve been eating a lot of rice lately.” Renjun nodded and looked ahead.
“I find the world above interesting,” Renjun said. “I wish I could learn more about it.” Jaemin smiled painfully. Of course, Renjun would want to learn, even after he passed.
51. Ask them if they are cold. The answer will be yes.
“Are you cold?” Jaemin asked when Renjun began to go silent. It hadn’t been many questions, and they hadn’t been as in-depth as he’d expected, but Renjun had never been one for endless questioning.
“Yes,” Renjun said.
52. Offer them the coat you are wearing. It will already be warm. You have body heat, they do not.
“Would you like my coat?” Jaemin asked, and Renjun seemed to consider for a moment. After a pause, he nodded. Jaemin pulled the warmed coat off and handed it to the smaller boy.
53. When they take it. Put on your other coat.
The chill seeped into his bones in the time it took for Renjun to grab the coat and himself to open his bag and retrieve the other one. He pulled it on hastily, sighing in relief as the heat from his body began to warm the inside of the coat.
Renjun pulled his on a bit slower, taking the time to feel the heat from Jaemin’s body covering the inside of the coat. Once it was on, he used his shaking fingers to zip it up, his arms crossing to keep the heat in longer. Jaemin felt so sorry for him, freezing for all of eternity. That had never been what he wished for his friend.
54. At this point, they will ask if you know them. Say yes and tell them their name.
“Do you know me?” Renjun asked, looking up from the coat to catch Jaemin’s gaze. His breath caught at the sight of his friend’s clear gaze, no longer cloudy or far away.
“Yes,” Jaemin began. “Your name is Huang Renjun.”
55. They will like having an identity again. Try not to cry when they smile.
“I like that,” Renjun smiled, and Jaemin fought the sting at the sight. It was the first time he’d seen that smile in ten long, endless months. It seemed fitting, more so than the misery that had seemed permanently etched on him before.
He allowed a single tear to fall but wiped it away quickly before Renjun could notice.
56. Hand them their item of importance. It will help them trust you.
“I have this for you,” Jaemin said, pulling the bracelet out of his bag. He unwrapped it and handed it gently over to Renjun, the boy staring at it with confusion and interest. “It’s yours,” Jaemin said, and Renjun looked up at him with another blinding smile.
Renjun was happy to have something that was his again, Jaemin knew. He had been nothing for so long, and there Jaemin was with a name and something that mattered to him.
“I liked this?” Renjun asked, taking the bracelet and putting it on his wrist. It contrasted with the blue hue of his spectral form. It stood out like a sore thumb, gold and solid while Renjun was so blurry and unfocused.
“Yes, you did. You loved it.” Jaemin wanted to cry again, but he blinked the tears away. Even when Renjun smiled lovingly down at the bracelet he didn’t cry.
57. Tell them your name and ask them if they want to leave.
“My name is Na Jaemin,” Jaemin said, feeling the abruptness of the confession. Renjun just looked up at him with something akin to euphoria in his eyes, and Jaemin knew it was time to go. “Do you want to leave? We can go learn about the surface together.”
“Yes,” Renjun said.
58. If they say yes, take their hand. They will feel like a corpse. Try not to let this faze you.
Jaemin grabbed Renjun’s hand in his own, the chill shooting up his arm and through his neck. He shivered but didn’t drop the hand. It was still Renjun no matter how cold and stiff the spirit in front of him felt.
59. Do not let go of their hand.
Jaemin looked at Renjun for a moment, making sure his friend was ready to go. He’d come all that way to find him, and they were finally about to start their journey back home. Renjun smiled encouragingly at him. That was all it took for him to tug lightly on the hand in his own, leading both of them back toward the river.
60. Walk back to the river. You will find it. The Keepers don’t like the Living in the Underworld.
It only took a few steps before they were upon the river. The wandering spirits glanced at he and Renjun that time, interested in seeing one of their own with one of the living. Neither of them spared a glance, and Jaemin never let the grip on Renjun’s hand slack.
61. The woman you met earlier will be there. Give her the rose again. She will give you back the item from her house.
Jaemin walked up confidently to the woman, using his left hand to trade the rose for the amethyst she’d taken from him. She didn’t say anything during their final meeting, but Jaemin still offered a nod by way of saying goodbye. He remembered the rest of the directions and none of which told of another meeting with the dark-haired woman.
She didn’t wave or kiss him on the cheeks when the boat reappeared, but she stared with her milky eyes. Deep and surprised. Renjun didn’t spare a glance at her, but she seemed oddly interested in the tiny dancer.
62. Get in the boat.
Jaemin pulled himself into the boat much easier than the first time, guiding Renjun with their connected hands. They settled down together on the single-seat, Jaemin wrapping his arm around Renjun’s shoulders to try and keep the other warm. It was still a long ride, and Renjun was starting to whine in discomfort next to him.
“I’m tired,” Renjun said. Jaemin shushed him and carded his fingers through the spirit’s hair.
He made it. He found Renjun and convinced him to return. All he had to do now was drag them both out of the tunnel and the whole thing would be over. They would go home.
63. When you reach the shore, exit the boat.
The boat stuttered to a stop at the other shore, and the woman was not there to greet him. He helped Renjun up and out of the boat, careful to keep his arm wrapped around the shivering spirit. They started walking as soon as they both stood upright, Jaemin dreading the hours of walking it would take to return.
He hoped that if the Keepers hated Living in the Underworld so much, they would find a way to shorten the path for them. He had a sinking suspicion that just because they hated Living in the Underworld, didn’t mean they wanted Dead leaving.
64. Your loved one will have some trouble keeping up. They are exhausted. The dead cannot eat or sleep, no matter how much they want to.
“Jaemin, I’m so tired.” Renjun cried only twenty minutes into the walk. It was dark and cold again, and the fear had returned, but Jaemin couldn’t stop.
“I know. You’re okay,” Jaemin said, desperate to soothe the spirit stumbling next to him.
“It hurts,” Renjun said and Jaemin wanted to stop. He wanted to rest so that his friend wouldn’t hurt and feel so exhausted, but if they stopped they’d never make it. They had to keep moving.
65. Keep walking. Try not to notice how hungry you are.
Renjun’s tired whines pulled at his heart, and the hunger gnawing at his stomach was only adding to his own distress. He hadn’t brought any of the food with him, and the instructions had been adamant about not accepting food from the dark-haired woman. He had to keep moving.
Renjun began to whine about being hungry at some point too. He held his stomach and cried out, stumbling over the uneven flooring of the tunnel.
66. Do not eat the food in your bag.
Jaemin had to remind himself over and over during the next hour. Renjun could not eat, and he could not eat the food in his bag.
67. While you walk, talk to your loved one. They don’t know it, but they’ve missed you.
“We haven’t changed your room,” Jaemin said against his better thoughts. Renjun likely didn’t trust him, and he might still have doubts about their relationship.
“I had a room?” Renjun asked in surprise, eyes wide and bright as if he’d never heard of such a luxury. “Only the Keepers have rooms. I heard they’re very nice. They can sleep and eat as much as they want, and they’re never cold. It’s cold here, Jaemin.” Renjun said, and Jaemin’s heart broke for him.
“You had a lovely room. Your bed still needs a foam topper to make it more comfortable, but we can always get one.” Jaemin said. Renjun smiled and nodded through his discomfort.
“Tell me more about me.” Renjun requested, and so Jaemin did. He told him about how he was an idol from China, with one of the best singing voices he’d ever heard. He talked about his dancing and how he’d studied contemporary and ballet before joining SM. Their friends and family, their members who were missing him.
“Are they missing you?” Renjun asked him.
“They’re missing both of us,” Jaemin responded, and Renjun didn’t say anything else. He used the silence as an excuse to continue, talking about Renjun’s art and music, both passions that Jaemin would like to see broadcast more.
They lapsed into silence, Jaemin’s hunger and Renjun’s exhaustion making it hard to continue.
68. They will trip and fall at some point. They are very tired.
Renjun tripped only halfway through their walk back to the house. Jaemin, despite holding onto him so tight, was unable to stop him from hitting the ground. Renjun let out a sound of surprise as he lay there, exhausted, unable to move even with Jaemin’s help.
69. They will start to cry. Don’t let this break your heart. Instead, tell them they will be able to rest soon.
The sound of Renjun’s sniffles dug deep into Jaemin’s soul. His friend was so exhausted he couldn’t move, the tears falling desperate and pitifully down his face. The idea of death being like this made Jaemin momentarily angry.
Renjun, his friend with such a beautiful soul, had been trapped in such a state for ten months. Ten long months. He had been suffering, unable to satisfy his hunger or desperation to sleep, but he’d been told endlessly about the wonderful surface and places the Keepers could go to refuel. The other spirits dangled hope in front of his face despite no promises of Renjun ever achieving it.
He wanted to curse the Gods that created this tame version of Hell. Renjun may not have been on the other end of a stake or burned in endless fire, but he was trapped exhausted and emaciated because he’d died before his time.
Jaemin couldn’t bring himself to be angry for long. The same Gods that created the Underworld had also given him the chance to bring Renjun home. Even if the fae had been the ones to open the passage, there still must have been a higher power at work, and it would be stupid to speak ill of them.
“You can rest soon, Injunnie. Hold on.”
70. For now, pick them up and carry them in your arms. Don’t worry, they will be very light.
Jaemin put his hands under Renjun’s back and legs and lifted him up. He floated up like a feather, the only weight coming from the heavy coat and the bracelet on his hand. Both insignificant, but easily felt through the lack of body weight.
71. Try not to notice that they aren’t breathing. It will only make you feel sick.
He’d prepared himself for the moment he lifted Renjun into his arms and felt that lack of life. His lightness had been surprising, but the way he was so still made his stomach churn. No rise and fall of his chest, no more shivering in the cold, not even a grumble from his achingly hungry stomach showed that the boy in his arms was still there.
He tried to focus on something else. The pain in his own stomach, or icicles hanging from the ceiling. Anything except the deadly stillness of his friend in his arms.
72. Keep talking. They will be too tired to respond, but they are listening.
“I’d like to learn to draw like you one day,” Jaemin said as he continued on. Renjun didn’t respond predictably, but his eyes looked up into his own to show he was listening. “You once drew a galaxy. It was gorgeous. You have a good eye for color.”
He walked for the longest time without interruption. He rambled about their members: Mark, Donghyuck, Jeno, Chenle, and Jisung. He’d brought up a few of the older members, but Dream is who he stuck with the most. Renjun seemed interested despite his fatigue, and it worked to fill the silence as they walked.
After long, the sound of his own footsteps was once again joined by the crackling fire. He wanted to cry out of relief, but he knew that they still had a long journey ahead before they were home-free. Half an hour, small in comparison, but long still.
They came upon the house with the rocking chair still moving and the smell of fresh bread wafting through the area.
73. When you see the woman’s house, tell your loved one that you’re almost there.
“We’re almost there, Injunnie. Only a little bit more.” Jaemin said, ignoring the way his stomach howled at the smell of food. Renjun didn’t respond.
74. Keep walking and don’t turn around.
Jaemin forged on, eyes set forward. He refused to stop or slow down, even as his legs started to shake and buckle beneath him.
75. You’ll feel something watching you.
The hair on the back of Jaemin’s neck stood but he didn’t turn around. He continued recalling memories of their time in Dream together to try and distract himself from the feeling. Renjun shifted once, feeling the eyes on them as Jaemin picked up the pace.
76. Don’t turn around. Please.
Jaemin’s breathing came in fast, rough pants as they continued. He was terrified. There was undoubtedly something trailing just behind them, and the overwhelming need to see was gripping at his conscious mind. He screamed at himself to look forward, walk forward. Don’t turn around, he begged the terrified part of his brain.
77. You’ll notice you’ve stopped talking. Start humming that song again. It will help stave off the fear.
Jaemin allowed Starlight to flow through his lips as they continued on. Renjun looked up at him curiously, his eyes fluttering at the relaxing melody. It helped to distract from the fear and presence behind them, but it didn’t help for long. Only halfway through the song, he could feel the stab of anxiety hit him.
He kept humming. Renjun was looking at him with such wonder, so much love and hope, that he knew he couldn’t back out. If he kept looking forward they would be fine. He just needed to keep going forward.
78. Stop walking and place your loved one on the ground. Pull out the blanket and wrap them in it. Pick them up again and keep going. You’re almost there.
Jaemin placed Renjun gently on the ground to the other’s horror. Renjun grabbed at his arms desperately, his nails digging into Jaemin’s coat.
“I’m here,” Jaemin soothed, pulling his backpack off and grabbing the wool blanket. He wrapped it around Renjun tightly and put his pack back on. Renjun was only a little heavier when he went to lift him up for the second time.
He started off again, a new wave of determination flowing through them. They were almost there. They were so close.
79. You’ll see a light up ahead. Feel the relief flooding through you and run towards it.
Jaemin saw the flash of light up ahead, the same one that he’d seen in the fairy circle in the forest. He allowed the relief to rush through him as he bolted, footsteps booming as he ran toward the light.
Almost there, he cried as his legs threatened to give out. It only took a minute before they were running into the light, the warmth gripping them as everything faded out.
80. When you step out of the fairy ring, immediately place your loved one on the ground.
Jaemin stumbled out of the fairy ring, Renjun heavy and solid as he fell to his knees. He laid his still friend on the ground, rubbing his hands over Renjun’s chest.
81. Encourage them to breathe. They will have forgotten how to.
“Breathe, Jun,” Jaemin begged, pressing harder and harder on his chest. “Come on, do it with me.” Jaemin breathed overdramatically, desperate for Renjun to pull air into his lungs. The elder looked at him with wide eyes but finally, finally , he opened his mouth and drew in a shaky breath. Jaemin laughed, tears falling uncontained down his face.
82. When they start to breathe again, retrieve the food that you left on the ground earlier.
Jaemin moved from his spot next to Renjun to grab the food and water, happy to see that the sandwiches had not gone off in the time it took to return.
The other was still breathing unsure and out of sync, but after a minute he was back to breathing as he should. Deep and solid and full of life.
83. They’ll want to fall asleep. Make sure they eat and drink before they do so.
“I’m tired, Nana,” Renjun spoke, and Jaemin was quick to shuffle his way back to Renjun. He lifted the boy up so he was resting in his arms, a sandwich and a bottle of water held in his other hand.
“Eat first, and then you can sleep,” Jaemin promised, and Renjun reluctantly took bites of the sandwich offered to him. Once the food hit his stomach the smaller inhaled the rest, begging for more until they and two bottles of water had all gone. “Good job, Injunnie. You can rest now.”
84. They will be very cold. Do whatever you can to keep them warm.
Renjun fell asleep shivering despite the warmth coming from the setting sun. Jaemin wrapped the blanket tighter around his body before laying down next to him, unzipping his jacket and wrapping both it and himself around Renjun. The warmth from his friend’s body and the rise and fall of his chest brought the sting of tears back, and he allowed them to fall again.
His face was sticky and bloodshot, just as it had been over the last ten months, but he could finally cry tears of relief. The boy he mourned was breathing and solid below him.
85. Thank whatever gods you believe in for letting you bring them back.
“Thank you,” Jaemin cried. “Thank you for letting me hold him again.” He held onto his friend tight, biting back the longing and grief that still seemed to be settled deep in his stomach. Renjun was right there, sleeping underneath him. The Fae would protect them as long as they were in the forest.
86. Go to sleep. Nothing will harm you here.
Jaemin pillowed his head on Renjun’s rising and falling chest, ear pressed where his heartbeat audibly. He let the sound soothe him to sleep for the third time since his journey began, the first since he’d succeeded despite the odds stacked against him.
87. When you wake, do not disturb your loved one. They haven’t slept in so long. Wait until they wake up on their own.
Jaemin awoke to the sun bright in the afternoon sky. Renjun was still asleep beneath him, but his body was no longer shivering and pale. The color had returned to his cheeks, and Jaemin could feel a faint heat radiating off the other boy. He was alive. Jaemin had done it.
He was overwhelmed with happiness for a moment. He would be able to bring Renjun home. He would be able to talk to him, eat with him, go to arcades and cafes with him. Jaemin laughed hysterically, his hands coming up to pull at his caramel-colored hair.
“Yes!” Jaemin shouted, flopping back onto the ground. He disturbed a few fallen leaves but Renjun stayed sleeping next to him.
It was a few hours later before Renjun groaned next to him. Jaemin jumped to his side, abandoning the can of lotus root in favor of watching the first moment Renjun opened his eyes. He had been awake in the living world already, but that would be the first lucid moment not clouded by exhaustion.
“Nana?” Renjun whispered, their eyes catching. Both of them smiled at each other.
88. Take them home. They will not remember you at first, but they will regain their memories soon.
“Let’s go home,” Jaemin said, packing up the leftover food and pulling on his backpack. He helped Renjun stand and held his hand as they worked to find a path that would lead back to the entrance of the forest trail.
“Will I ever remember who I was?” Renjun asked as they walked the busy afternoon streets of Seoul. Jaemin paused to put a mask over the elder’s face and a cap on his head to avoid the stares of the populace who should not know of Renjun being alive just yet.
“Of course you will,” Jaemin answered honestly, recalling what the instructions said. They walked side by side, hand in hand, up to the dorm’s front door. Renjun seemed far less nervous than Jaemin, but it likely had something to do with the way he’d glamorized the members in the Underworld. He was meeting people he knew loved him just like Jaemin. He had nothing to fear.
He opened the door quietly, pulling Renjun in behind him. He pulled his shoes off and motioned for Renjun to do the same, showing him where his shoes were stored. Nothing had changed, Jaemin thought. He was glad he had been so persistent.
“Jaemin?” Jisung yelled from the living room, the boy rounded the corner with tears streaming down his face. “Where were you!” He shouted, running forward and punching Jaemin lightly in the chest. He was so caught up in his anger at Jaemin leaving without telling them that he didn’t notice the small figure beside him.
Jisung’s face went through a few different shifts. Shock, disbelief, hope, and finally, acceptance. He sobbed loudly, knees buckling as he crashed to the floor. Renjun looked startled but still moved to stand in front of the crying boy. He used his bony fingers to card their way through Jisung’s hair, just as Jaemin had done for him.
“Oh my God!” Jisung cried, looking up at Renjun again. Several pairs of feet pounded toward the front entrance, all pausing stunned at the sight in front of them.
“Renjun?” Chenle paused, choked by the tears that had already begun to leak. “Is it you?” He asked in Chinese, collapsing next to his best friend and the one he’d thought gone forever.
“Yes.” He responded back, and Chenle was pulled into Renjun’s arms. The two youngest members cried as Donghyuck fell to his knees. He’d seen Renjun die. He watched him fly off that windshield and land, bloody and wide-eyed on the sidewalk.
“You took change out of my room,” Mark said to Jaemin. The younger looked into Mark’s eyes, daring him to say anything else. He fell silent and clapped Jaemin once on the shoulder. “Good job.” He choked, tears falling thick down his face.
“I’m not afraid of magic,” Jaemin admitted. Mark chuckled and nodded.
“Me either, kid.” He responded.
“If magic did this, I’ll join one of those rebellion groups. I mean, Renjun!” Jeno stuttered through, resigning himself to collapsing down next to the maknaes. Renjun smiled lovingly at the other man and laid his head down on Jeno’s broad shoulder.
“I want to remember you. I want to remember me.” Renjun whispered, catching the group’s attention.
“It’s okay, we’ll help you.” Chenle cooed, rubbing his hand over Renjun’s cheek. “We will. We’ll be here.”
“We love you. We’re so glad you’re here.” Jisung added, his fingers twisting into Renjun’s dark hair.
“I love you too. All of you.” Renjun said, eyes lingering just a bit longer on Jaemin.
89. Don’t tell them how they died. It’s best if they don’t know.
Renjun asked that night at dinner if any of them knew how he died. Donghyuck had frozen and set his chopsticks down, but Jaemin was insistent on not telling Renjun anything. He didn’t need to know.
90. Spend time with them. Most people don’t get a second chance.
Jaemin spent every minute of every day with Renjun for the first month. He slept in the same room, even the same bed, as his friend. They cuddled every night, trading the need to hear each other’s heartbeats to soothe themselves to sleep.
Renjun’s memories came back slowly. One day Jaemin awoke to Renjun practicing the moves for Boom, solid and without mistake. Renjun finished with the final kick and turned around excitedly, hopping up and down before bolting at Jaemin and tackling him in a hug.
“I remembered!” Renjun said, and Jaemin hugged him back with just as much excitement.
“I told you. You’re so amazing.” Jaemin whispered, pulling back enough to kiss Renjun once on the cheek.
“Were we just friends?” Renjun asked after a long pause. Jaemin swallowed and looked down at their now intertwined hands.
“Yes,” Jaemin answered honestly.
“Can we try something else?” Renjun asked, his eyes flickering down to Jaemin’s lips.
“I don’t know, Junnie. You still don’t have all your memories-” Jaemin was cut off by Renjun’s lips pressing gently on his own. He returned the kiss despite his reluctance but didn’t allow it to deepen.
“I remember enough,” Renjun said as they pulled apart. Jaemin pulled Renjun back to him, cradling the precious boy tightly to his chest.
He wouldn’t waste the second chance he’d been gifted.