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Junmyeon is, so to say, a good kid. Good grades, very good and a handsome young man, very charming. Most of his friends are the same, well adjusted, polite, no talking back, little angels.

Lay is maybe the only exception to that. He's the dirty boy, he’s got the devil in his eyes, another angel’s wings sewn to his back. No one really knows the how or the why and where to this one. Only that he is a problem, a bad influence, no good.

Best friends, they lie under the scorching sun, the stabby blades of grass pressing into their backs, skin too tanned already to be burnt. Lay is talking, something about heat and blood and how their time here is so truly and well limited. Junmyeon throws a fleeting glance his way, but Lay stares up into the cloudless sky, uncaring of the burn that comes with looking at the sun directly. There are drops of sweat searching their way across his face, and if Junmyeon didn't know better he would think that he is crying.

After he lies back down, Lay holds a bottle with water to his lips. Hydration is important. As he is lying down, he coughs a bit as he drinks, but no complaint escapes his wetted lips. Lay does not take the bottle away, adamant, as more water makes its way past his protesting throat. Some spills over his lips, drips by his ears lost to the ground, some does not. Then, as it begins to pain him beyond measure, its over. The bottle is finished, empty. Lay calls him a “good boy, his mother would be so proud,” all with a little giggle.

Junmyeon knows this should be, must be sarcasm, but his heart flutters nonetheless.

“I like the way your silence sounds.”

Lay reaches beneath him, where the dry ground had eagerly sucked up the wasted fluid, turning into viscous mud. He gathers it up with his bony fingers, the muscles in his in his hand flexing in the corner of Junmyeons vision, and for a moment, he is sure Lay will feed this to him as well.

Instead, he starts to smear the substance along their faces, like a grassy, disgusting kind of paint. Himself first, then Junmyeon. Cheeks, forehead, nose, chin. If it weren't for Lay’s scorching touch, the mud might have cooled him down, just a little until it cracked under the unforgiving sun. Like this, he has to fight hot blood as it rushes to his cheeks.

“Do you remember when we did this as kids?”

Lays expression is perfectly serene, and Junmyeon wonders when they stopped being kids.

They're both 16 now, only months between them, and he does not quite believe they may call themselves adults yet. They will start sophomore year in high school in exactly one week, for that is all left of their summer break. They spent too much of their leisure together, resting their bodies from the heat and cooling down with milkshakes or in the water.

Junmyeon is gently brought out of his thoughts by the others intent stare, for Lay knows to wait until he is done, but still, his gaze is good at keeping Junmyeon afloat. He nods in answer to the question, thinks for just another moment and adds:

“I love the way your voice sounds.”

Its such a simple thing to say, yet it seems to shut Lay up very effectively, however contradictory that may seem. They do not say goodbye as they part for the day, for they know they will see each other after the sun has fully set, at night when their parents think they are safe in their beds, but really they explore the familiar corners of their little city and the mysteries of their forest.

Their forest is, to be accurate, not really theirs. Its a little patch of land, yet big enough to get lost in. Owned by the town, where trees grow freely and no one ever really visits, stories of lost kids and howling wolves enough to keep them all out, keeping Lays and Junmyeon secrets safe. Mostly though, they belong to Lay. The only people that do come, those are the kids that are like him. Lost, reckless, reckless and without perspective, but the secrets are safe with these people. They tend to mind their own business, using the trees as practice for their forbidden art and leaving nothing behind but beer cans and insults.

Secrets like their tree house up in the crown of one of the biggest trees, and the little river which they cool down in, in summer nights like this one. When Junmyeon had seen the house for the first time, it was already finished. Lay never mentioned who built it, and Junmyeon never asked, he would not be surprised if the other did it on his own, somehow.

At night, there is less stifling heat to keep Junmyeon mouth shut, and the exhaustion of the day makes Lay more reserved, less inclined to open his. Lay looks pretty under the stars, because they couldn't ever quite compare to him, their beauty in billions as Lays is unique.

They lie up in the house like that, staring up in the sky in the part of the home that isn't covered by metal roof. Lay gets up, shuts the last light in the forest, and everything is covered in absolute, inky blackness. Junmyeon is not scared of the darkness, but of what it means for him. Vulnerable, defenseless except for his ears, they pick up the quiet thump of a body laying beside him. Its prettier this way, Junmyeon says. You aren't, he thinks.

There is something in the air that night, the hum of the birds muted by the winds caressing the trees gently. Something else touches Junmyeons hand right as he begins to see it all in the dark. The monsters, demons, shapes disappear, he is grounded by the others hand. The caress feels healing. Above his own the body heat is almost unbearable, because it’s still humid and warm, and simply because Lay runs hot, always. The breeze does nothing to cool him.

The floorboards creek in warning as Lay comes closer, closer, closer with his body. Pressed against Junmyeons side, closer than he ever dared before, and Junmyeon is thankful for the feared darkness, as it blankets his horrors as much as it hides his own secrets. The shiver dancing across his back, the blush that spreads over at least all of his face, maybe his neck, collarbones, shoulders. He could not be sure, for he could only feel and not see.

Junmyeon was, so to say, in love with his best friend.

They had known each other since they were both 13 and prepubescent Lay promised a kind of freedom, an odd sense of safety unknown to little Myeonnie. It was in the middle of puberty, when they both were 15, when Junmyeon comprehended what he really felt for the dirty, gorgeous boy with these glinting eyes and the ever scheming smiles.

Lay had just completed his very last growth spurt (Lay disagrees with that), and was suddenly taller than Junmyeon himself. But with all the growing came feeling, and perceiving, something Junmyeon was never good at, always overwhelmed.

Lay now brings as much horror as comfort into Junmyeon life, and he is addicted to the way it makes him feel. Like falling, but knowing that there is a net there to catch him, Like a knife coated in honey, like caramel gelato mixed with glass shards.

“Lets dance!” The exclamation comes somewhat out of the black.

“We currently are in a tree house, Lay. Its dark. That's a bad idea waiting to go wrong. We don't even have music.” Sometimes, Junmyeon hates being a voice of reason.

“There are railings. Besides, you'd trust me to catch you, don't you, darling?” Its a challenge, spoken in rough whisper and a gentler chuckle. He should not stand up like he does, shouldn't jump at the challenge, his heart shouldn't pace like that at the use of a simple, mocking pet name.

Yet, he does.

The moon is at its peak now. Its shine is not nearly bright enough to call it light, but its comforting in its very presence, grounding Junmyeon down in the seamless night.

Lay hums a random tune, the one Junmyeon knows plays in his head almost all of the time. Junmyeon also knows there are lyrics to the melody, but he isn't allowed to hear these. It appears as if a long time passes, and Junmyeon feels dainty and delicate being spun around under the moonshine.

The many, many spins make him hazy, he loses sight of where the moon is, and all he can do, all he could ever really do, is hang on for the ride. Hang on and blindly, blindly, foolishly maybe, trust his best friend.

No time passes as they dance, push and pull and so, so many spins. Junmyeon only catches sight of the moon again as it paints Lays silhouette before him, with yet another water bottle in hand. Drink. He is allowed to do it by himself this time.

In reality, six hours pass before they do say goodbye to each other, using their flimsy phone flashlights to light up the forest floor. Junmyeon doubts they really need that, they know this piece of the forest as well as their rooms at home. He is not about to complain though, afraid of what Lay might do, the ideas in the others head endless, too reckless entirely to be challenged like that.

Goodbye means hugs in the middle of the forest, right where their paths split, and no words. The weak lights of their phones pressed against the clothes of the other, the others breath ghosting against his neck. Hot again, chilling again, but Junmyeons body is too tired to react, his feet ache.

Goodbye means until in a couple of hours, because they seem to be addicted to each other like that, and their time is, has always been, always limited.

Regret is all he feels. If you'd ask him right now, at 8 am in the morning, half asleep, eating his breakfast, no coffee. If you'd ask him, then and there, if he would rather be with Lay or alone for the rest of his life, he'd answer alone. That would be -so to say- a lie. He'd be lonely, and his blood doesn't pulse right when he’s lonely, afraid.

He sleeps another three hours, because he would be running on nothing but spite and stress otherwise. The moment the clock hits eleven, he is woken from his slumber by a hand familiar. Lay knows how to open the window from the outside. All you really need to do is knock that one corner just right, Jun. His room is on the second floor, under the roof, but Lay has never fallen down.

He shakes the fatigue out of his bones, they crack, Lay laughs and honestly that what really makes him feel alive. Lay is effulgent, insatiable, greedy for every reaction out of him. The pain he feels is glorious, as always when its about them.

Only now does he notice, Lays hair is wet, sticking to his forehead in inky black strands, and the distinct noise of rain falling from outside. When his eyes wander to the open window, he sees a lightning flash by. It had been coming these past days, the air humid and the sky too cerulean. Lay knows where the towels are. They can’t go out like this, not until the brunt of the summer storm is gone.

He doesn't really mind it, they'll play video games, cuddled up on the couch, and listen to the lullaby of the rain until it falls asleep, or they do. Sometimes Lay will try and braid Junmyeons hair, even though its never really been long enough for that. Lay is persistent, Jun trembles every time his hair is tugged by ambitious, although unsure hands. He feels despicable for being so greedy. Its a sword of two edges, like most things that deal with his best friend.

Sometimes he feels like he’s been here before, suffering in these very arms, in another universe, maybe. Still, his own suffering must be minuscule against the pain of his pasts, he knows that. Lays body is hard under his own, and his hipbones dig into his back. Over the summer he’s become even more handsome, loosing most of his baby fat and instead taking on an awkward, wiry form. Junmyeon is afraid this will be a lasting metamorphosis, one that will make him bloom.

He looks into the others eyes. Lays pupils are dilated. The day passes by in a haze. They go without another word for the rest of it.

Lay is, so to say, involved with some bad, bad people. Drinking, smoking, fucking, destroying. Junmyeon doesn't know much about it, and Lay makes very, very sure that he doesn't. He doesn't know much at all about the being he calls his soulmate. One of those things is his name, the one his parents gave him. He asked once, but all he got as an answer was “I go by Lay now, Myeon, you should know that.” He had felt very powerless in that moment, and so intrigued.

Sometimes, its as if Lay was composed of half a highschooler who gets high too much and half of a primordial, ancient being, maybe a god. He must have be sewn together with matte gold. Which side you meet, that's up to luck. Neither is good or bad. Junmyeon never minded either way, Lay is a benevolent god.

The next day is much cooler than the previous ones, the thunderstorm ripped the wet heat away, leaving only a pleasant warmth. The clouds still left over are soft and fluffy, much like cotton balls.

They go out, to the mall, because Lay needs a hat of wool. If Junmyeon asked what for, he'd get an answer unsatisfactory. He feels powerless again, intrigued again. Its enticing, its always been. They find little in the first three stores, then they see Chanyeols aggressive ears sticking out of the crowd, right along his head. They avoid him. He talks too much.

The mall is loud, chaotic, there are many families with children, all seem stressed. Its not easy for Junmyeon to breathe in an environment like that. Lay holds his hand, and he tries to concentrate on tracing the little lumps and bumps on it with his shaky thumb. There is a scar on the back of it. He doesn't know where its from.

The fourth store is second hand, and it does have wool hats in the middle of summer, and Lay buys one that is an almost offensive shade of red. Its really cheap too, maybe because it is 30 degrees outside still. The cashier does not give them an odd look. She has probably seen worse before.

They avoid Chanyeol again, and this time its easy because Baekhyun is with him. All they really see are his ears blushing red as they rush by. The only thing more talkative than Chanyeol is Chanbaek.

They thrive in the afternoon sun again, this time with less mud and less sun.
That is because they are in their treehouse today again, hidden in the shadows.
The forest smells trenchant.

No one will come visit it tomorrow, Tomorrow is Wednesday, Lay disappears on Wednesdays. Junmyeon will not go on his own, he never does because he doesn't want to know what the forest does to him once he is in it alone. He is afraid when he is alone. Fear has a lot of power over him.

Lay has won another round of Monopoly. He always wins that, and Poker. “Its because I am ruthless!” He exclaims, but his eyes look so kind, serene with a twinge of amusement in them. Junmyeon will always beat him in Mario Kart, though. Poker faces will not help you while playing Mario kart. Ruthlessness would.

“You think aliens exist?” Lay asks him as they set up yet another game. What an odd question. Junmyeon thinks about it briefly, answers.

“That's like, such a stupid question. Why would you even want to know that?”

Its not like he could say no to the dimpled smile that Lay throws his way. “I'm just a little curious, Jun.“

“I don't know if they exist or not, but if they do, you must be one. Weirdo.” He tries to laugh the awkward away, doesn't quite know if he manages to, but Lay joins him, and they hold hands again. They don't talk about it. Lay is really touchy today, even more affectionate than normal and Junmyeon feels, dreads, that something big will soon happen. Not today though. Tomorrow, maybe.

The first star glistens on the night sky, velvet bleeding into black and bruising blue. This is unusual. Lay always leaves on Tuesday evenings. Not today though. He doesn't dare question it. The end their last game, Lay is nibbling on a stick or a leaf or something like that, and Junmyeon is kind of disgusted with it, but he doesn't say anything, never does, never will.

Lay gets up, hand motioning to follow, baleful. Down, into the misty forest, half bathed into darkness. Junmyeon always follows, doesn't he?

The leaves crunch under Lays feet, the sticks crack under Junmyeons. He can barely see in the fading light, and then Lay is gone. Logically, Junmyeon knows he is not actually gone, he will appear back from the promising shadows in a mere moment. Still, foolishly, panic settles in his gut, fills the hole in his heart. It will not make being alone, deceptively alone, easier.

Lay gets closer and closer to his back, moving in from behind, feet silent, like a cat. Unnoticed. For a moment, his chin hovers by Junmyeons shoulder, mouth right by his right ear. The silence in the forest is pregnant with water, fog blanketing the last bits of light. Lay is a cruel god.

“Run.”

Junmyeons brain takes the fraction of a second to process, to react. By instinct, he jolts forward, fight or flight reaction pushing adrenaline into his veins, they were ready with anticipation and fear anyways. His body follows the directive whether he likes it or not, he stumbles, jumps, sprints through the dusky black forest. Behind him there is something, someone, maybe Lay, roaring, chasing, ruthless. There is a root which he barely misses, then there is a stone he doesn't.

The trees around him cast dreadful, grisly shadows, they spin around him as he falls. The ground greets him harsh, the leaves from last fall mush under his hands and knees with wet smacks, his palms get scratched by the tiny pebbles and sticks of the forest floor.

He scrambles up without taking a breath, regretfully so, as Lay catches up to him in the exact moment his knees find purchase on the ground still wet. Junmyeons back cracks eerily as Lay dares to almost jump him, covering every centimeter of his body from behind. Junmyeons body jolts before going completely pliant, he lets out a tiny scream before the last bits of adrenaline bleed from his body, leaving him without strength, exhausted.

“I got you!”

Lays chuckle is happy, amused, unafraid. Junmyeon should still be petrified, but he feels safe, his heart beats normally again as his knees give out under the others weight, his face gets mushed into the earthy mud. Lay is full on laughing now, and he flips Junmyeons docile body onto his back without even really standing up, now sitting up, right on Junmyeons hipbones. He feels no less trapped, in darkness, by Lay. But Lay was right. He’s got him.

The ground beneath him is still wet, and horribly, horribly cold, but the weight atop of him is warm. Lays face is very, very close to his own now, the breath fanning over him is thundering loud against the cold quiet of their surroundings. Lay always kind of smells like campfire, burning incense, danger, something sweet. Junmyeon drowns in the smell, barely registers Lays next words.

“Sometimes, the terror in your eyes makes me want to devour you. “

His voice is breathy, rough, intoxicating much like the rest of him. Then, like an afterthought, presses his lips on Junmyeons. All Junmyeon manages to think about in this exact moment is how his lips are chapped, abrasive, much like his voice. He tastes exhilarating, and all he manages to do is respond weakly, completely taken off guard.

Lay breaks the kiss. Removes himself from Junmyeon, vanishes into the darkness of the woods, leaving the other completely alone with his thoughts, his panic, his heart drumming as the wet, fertile earth beneath him soaks his clothes. And he lies there chest heaving, mind racing right along it, until the forest almost claims him, crawling along his body, sinking in the cold, mossy ground. He is encased in quiet nothingness.

 

It takes him a nondescript amount of time to stand up, but it feels like years. Standing up, his body aches from the chill and the uneven ground, his ankle hurts, his knees aching as his hands burn where they were chafed.

His darkest home seems unfamiliar, the progress to his house is stumbling, unsure, painful. He chooses to forget what happened minutes, hours, days ago. His knees buckle right where the trees edge into grassland, the bruises get worse still. He begins to crawl. The weak remains of his blackened vision go white as a high pitched noise takes over the eerie silence.

The last thing he hears, far in the distance, is the god howling.

When he wakes up he is in his bed, stripped almost naked, alone, still shivering from last night. His head pounds without mercy, he feels feverish, sick. “Its the price I must pay” is all he whispers, throat parched, before surrendering back into his burning hot slumber.

Whenever he wakes up, its a couple minutes, a couple hours later into the day. He barely has time to notice the difference in lighting, turning from gloomy to bright and blending back to gloomy and darker and darker and darker.

Its past five when he finally manages to drink something. He is not hungry.

Lay does not show up. It is Wednesday, after all.

On Thursday morning he can almost think clear again. His head still hurts, but the fever is gone. He does not remember what he dreamed, but trying to do so puts terror in his bones. Its really early, barely four AM, to be expected when one sleeps all day. He sneaks into the bathroom to wash out all the sweat and dirt. The terror doesn't wash away very well. He picks a little twig out of his already wet hair, disgusted.

Once he dry and clothed, he has nothing more to do than sit on the edge of his bed and think. His thoughts pick up the pace, trying to make sense of what had happened these past days. He comes up with nothing. Absolute, disassociating, nothing.

Its about six when there is a knock sounding from window. He considers not opening for a while until he remembers that Lay might jump back down if he does not open. He stands up, thinking that he could always kick the other out later.

Lay is, so to say, in a really fucking horrible state. His eyes are extremely droopy, he faintly smells like beer, and blood, and sex. The right side of his face is complete bruised. Pink, red, purple, black. It travels from his forehead, down over the cheekbones and his chin. There is blood crusted in the shorter sides of his black hair. The sensitive skin of his throat is still bleeding continuously, seeming as if it was ripped apart by blunt force. His collarbones look the worst, bruising black and blue, the seam of his shirt is ripped in multiple places. There is blood on his hands, too but Junmyeon doesn't look there long enough to determine if they are injured. He tries to hide his limp as he trudges over to the little sofa in the corner.

Junmyeon doesn't want to talk to him yet, just in case his explanation for all this is shit and he does need to kick him out. Instead, he sneaks into the bathroom again to get the first aid kit. Its not there. He goes back to his room, just to find his best friend staring at the open kit, sitting right there on the table. He stomps over, hands propped into his sides, huffing. Lay looks up to him like a child to an angered parent.

“Go shower. We need to clean your wounds.”

 

Lay stands up, head bowed down, but he is smiling. He shuffles out of the room. Junmyeon searches for some clothes for the other, then sits down exactly where Lay just was, hands on his face, trying to breathe, to calm down. He is only moderately successful, but he needs to be an adult for this, or at least act like one.

Lay comes back with his back and head just a bit straighter, wrapped into one of Junmyeons fluffy towels. He turns around as the other changes. No need to make all this worse with inappropriate boners.

They sit down and Junmyeon begins to clean the wounds on Lays face, one by one, applies soothing cream to all the bruises. Black, purple, red and pink. Lay does not show any signs of being in pain out loud, but his hands bunch up the towel under him and his breathing gets faster and faster. Junmyeons medical knowledge does not really reach far enough to do anything about the wounds on Lays throat, so he sticks to cleaning them and hopes for the best.

He takes his time, dreading the conversation coming after the procedure. He starts it without further interruption anyways. His voice comes out so much more angry and threatening then he actually feels. He just wants all of this to be over.

“Please just tell me what the fuck you were thinking.”

“I-“

Lays face crunches up as he tries to find reason. Looks horribly wrong with the way his broken skin travels across the planes of his face. It must hurt.
Rightfully so, Junmyeon thinks, and immediately hates himself for it.
Regardless, he blurts out the first thing that comes to his head, blinded by his own anger.

“You didn't do a whole lot of thinking, did you? When you left me alone Tuesday on the ground after fucking kissing me? When you got yourself beaten up by god knows who and fucked by god knows what just to turn up here? All while telling me nothing that goes on whenever were not together?”

Junmyeon is panting by the end of his little speech, anger putting a blush on his face. He kind of wants to cry a bit, but refuses to do so in front of this stranger. Lays brows are still bunched up, but his eyes speak of surprise.

And that is part of the problem. The way Junmyeons soul was always bare for him to see while Lay shuts himself off, finding comfort in whatever he does when he vanishes.

“I just-“

There is resignation in his voice, but that just makes Jun angrier. Pure, unending rage.

“Who the hell are you really? What do you do when were not out? You're probably not in school learning. What? Do you just run around to get fucked like a slut? Did you just kiss me to hurt me or to corrupt me to become like you?”

The way Lay jumps up at the insults should petrify Junmyeon, in any other situation it would have, without a doubt. But made brave, maybe stupid by his anger it just tells him he must have said something right, something that hurts. The satisfaction isn't even that sour.

Junmyeon stops trying to suppress the tears. They flow freely, dropping down his cheeks, they are rounded and bunched up by anger and pain.

Lays breaths come out shaky. Rugged. His attempt to collect himself fails miserably.

“Please- please hear me out.”

Junmyeon raises an eyebrow, judging despite the tears still rolling down his face. He is an ugly crier. With every word Lay speaks, he appears to get closer to crying, too.

“I was afraid, okay? Afraid to pull you in all this, afraid of loosing you ‘cause you'd be disgusted if you knew it all.”

Another shake breath, followed by a desperate kind of sigh.

“Tuesday was- I tried to not be afraid anymore.”

He must understand how ridiculous he sounds right now. Its apparent by the way he stares down on his feet, guilt weighs heavy. That does not pacify Junmyeons fury however. He sobs once more, makes up his mind, at least tries to, head still clouded with rage.

“And you thought that was the way to go about it?”

“No, I don’t know-“

Junmyeon laughs, but its humorless, and it stings as it leaves his mouth.

“Go. Just leave, Lay. I’ve seen enough of you.”

“Jun, wait-“

“I told you to leave!”

Lay complies. He clothes himself in the rest of the things laid out for him, stands up aching. Opens the window. Leaves as he came mere hours earlier.

 

The morning has just begun when Junmyeon dares to move, the light still muted and bleary. His tears have not stopped yet, Lay hasn’t been gone for long.

 

There is only one place he can escape to. He walks through the forest slowly, as not to fall. He is still shaky, unsure.

 

When he climbs the third step of the wooden ladder leading up to the treehouse, one of his feet slips off. The wood, the whole forest is damp from the dew. Junmyeon is almost disappointed that he didn’t fall, simply because Lay promised to catch him.

 

He is seated in the middle of the wooden platform, the only light in the forest shining bright, hugging a pillow from the nearby case. Its damp too, and cold. But it smells like the body he craves in spite of all that had happened.

No one is there to hear him. He is alone. Only then, only there does he really allow himself to break, screaming out the pain of his shattering heart into the Trees.