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The forest hasn’t settled in days. Wooyoung can feel it in his core, the anticipation in every living thing, how the trees tighten, the bushes pull in. The animals have been all too quiet, with the exception of the small family of deer that forage every morning, tucked away on the outskirts, by the quiet stream or burrowed in their nests. Something is coming.

 

It’s tense, but not without life to comfort him. As he gathers twigs and leaves for nest offerings, the grass whispers beneath his feet, secrets he doesn’t care to intrude on. Fruit still beckons to be plucked from branches, his old, withered willow tree thrums with warm, kind energy when he sits at its side, laying out his bits and pieces for passersby to take. He is still kind, no matter the ache of concern in his heart, the feeling that his home is in danger. It fuels him to be better natured, despite himself. 

 

The birds are some of the most appreciative, they’ve built up the nerve over the years he’s been watching over them to hop right up to him, chirping their thanks for his hard work on their behalf. He’s the first witch to live here in decades, and it had shown in the absence of rest, the same uneasy rustlings of worry that are holding the woods together now. Wooyoung has put his soul into this new home, things have been better, more optimistic. Even now, the stream still runs with a healthy flow, the wildlife has not yet fled. They know they are safe with him. 

 

“I’m worried,” he confesses to one of the morning blackbirds, pouring overnight rainwater from a handful of jars into an upturned cauldron lid, scattering more seeds when the bird cocks its head at him. “You don’t have to worry, I’m worrying for you. That’s the point of me being here.” The bird seems satisfied by that, pecking at the seeds on Wooyoung’s porch and hopping up to the lid full of water, bathing happily. “I don’t think any bad will come to you. You’ll be safe.”

 

He settles on the rocking chair once he’s finished with his morning chores, busying himself with tying herbs together, bearberry and catnip and eucalyptus. He’s been keeping marshmallow root and jasmine in a pouch at his hip as often as possible, content with the agrimony growing around his cabin to ward off most spirits from the heart of the forest, enough of it through the rest of the forest to ease his mind. 

 

All things considered, he’s young to be guarding a forest on his own. Prior to his residence in Melitri, he’d spent a few years aside Hongjoong in Orokey, learning from him and Seonghwa first hand. Most of his time was taken up by the animals, patient and sweet and happy to be given extra affection. 

 

He’d assumed he’d be one of the last to be called on from their coven, they all had. But with Yeosang so intently focused on his work at the beachside and Yunho and Mingi settled comfortably in the mountains, it only left him or San. And when San left without so much as a letter of explanation, Wooyoung was the only one left to answer. 

 

It’s been an uphill battle, but he loves his home, despite his occasional loneliness. He writes to the others in his coven, and Yeosang lives near enough that he stops by when the ocean is calm. Even Jongho has been able to take a break from his studies to stay with him for a few summers, his own calling closely matched with Wooyoung’s. It would have been nice to care for the forest alongside him, but Melitri needed just one witch, with just enough knowledge. Despite his lack of experience, he’s been deemed the best fit. 

 

He can’t help but let his thoughts wither, though. Hongjoong would know what to do in this situation, without having to write to other coven members to beg for advice, hands wringing anxiously, waiting for a reply that hasn’t come after over a full week. It would be second nature to Seonghwa, or to Yunho. Probably Jongho, too, with how patient he’s been in his research. 

 

The willow is quieter when he visits on the eve of fourteen days, as is most of the wood. Wooyoung feels sick with concern, carving runes into stray scraps of bark around his home and dispersing them among the most important areas of the wood, reserving those painted on cloth for other areas that might be targeted. He sends a boat of twigs downstream, full with birch bark he’d saved from his time visiting Yeonjun in Taiga, alongside astragalus and Juniper leaf.

 

“You’re going to be fine,” Wooyoung promises the willow, pressed close against the thick trunk, palms flowing with as much positivity as he can manage to part with. It’s close to dusk, yet none of the telltale signs of settling are apparent, instead just a steady decline of noise. He wishes Yeosang was here to calm him with quiet chatting and his never ending list of tasks to be completed, or Yunho and his steady heartbeat and big, strong arms. 

 

It’s just Wooyoung. Alone and waiting to be struck, prey in a hunt. 

 

“I’ll keep you safe. If I’m gone, Jongho will know how to care for you. And he knows how to lay me to rest,” he assures, more talking to himself than the willow, cheek pressed close to the rough bark as he settles. He dreads returning to his cabin. “We’ll be fine. No harm will come to Melitri, I promise.”

 

He falls into a restless sleep not long after, curled up in the moss and holding his pouch of herbs close, half resting over the strong roots of the willow. When he wakes, the woods are silent. 

 

Wooyoung panics, standing too quickly and resting against the willow tree when his head spins, willing energy to flow beneath his grasp. There isn’t anything. Something is in his forest, and has brought things to a terrifying standstill. 

 

His cabin. If it would be headed anywhere, it would be there. 

 

The walk back feels longer than ever, he takes his time to listen intently. There are birds beyond the woods, the stream is still flowing, but quiet. When he diverts to peek, the minnows are nowhere to be seen. If he turns, he can see his cabin in the distance, deep black logs and a fortress of flowers and herbs.

 

There’s smoke piling out of the little chimney. His breath catches in his throat, not nearly close enough to see through any of his windows, but no one is on the porch, or in the doorway. It’s strange, he thinks, for anything demonic or harmful to be using the fire. 

 

He hears whistling as he nears hesitantly, muffled but still apparent. Wooyoung swallows his nerves, taking the short route through the trees and stopping dead when he hears the door to his back porch open, the whistling now clear and sharp. He’s just close enough to the huge mossy stones his cabin sits on that he can’t be seen, rendering him similarly blind to the intruder on his porch. He wishes Hongjoong was here. With all his heart, he wishes. 

 

Wooyoung creeps up the wooden steps to his home on all fours, like a stray animal trying to slink up for food, just so his weight is more evenly distributed. He’s fairly sure this intruder can’t mean too much harm, if they’re whistling without a care in the world and lighting his log fire and, by the smell of it, brewing something, but he’s better safe than sorry. Wolves come in sheep’s clothing. 

 

The door is still open when he makes it to the front porch, the heavy creak of boots moving across his floor greeting him, whistling replaced by the busy clattering of pots and pans, the crisp snap of something being bitten and chewed. He crouches, if he’s going to be found he doesn’t want to be belly down on the hard wood beneath him. 

 

It hits him that he hasn’t really thought this through. He’s supposed to surprise an intruder in his own cabin, after a bad night of sleep and no breakfast as of yet. Maybe they’ll take pity on him. He faintly remembers his studies about dangerous beings posing threats, knows his runes and spells well enough that he’ll at least last long enough for Seonghwa to feel his upset, or for Mingi to hear his incantations. 

 

Wooyoung stands to full height when he hears footsteps leading back out to the porch, the slow rock of wood on wood. He slips inside without much noise, grabbing a handful of mandrake for no other reason beyond comfort. His cauldron is over an open flame, brewing mint and lavender with citrus water, he can definitely smell the bergamot. 

 

He can see deep chocolate hair through the window, coming in and out of view as his visitor makes the most of his rocking chair, another wet crunch of a bite. By the leftover core on his tabletop, it’s one of the apples from the orchard beyond the wood, left abandoned aside a half full basket of fruit. 

 

Whoever this is, they clearly planned on staying a while. 

 

He sets the mandrake down near the basket when he sees his wand by the basket, lifting the smooth red oak and stilling when he sees another beside it, spiralling yew that rings all too familiar. Wooyoung feels sick, gripping his wand in his hand and glancing back out through the window, waiting to be proved wrong. The rocking halts, the brunette stands and hums to themself, quiet and comfortable in Wooyoung’s home. He sees a flash of ice white hair when they turn, still unaware of his presence until they’re in the doorway, face to face with Wooyoung. 

 

“San?”

 

Wooyoung’s eyes feel like they roll out of his skull, he trembles under San’s gaze as he nods, watching Wooyoung like he’s dying. Maybe he is. It feels like he is. His legs agree with the sentiment, collapsing under him and granting the table edge free access to his temple. 



+

 

When he wakes he’s wrapped up in bed, a warm cloth pressing against his forehead and burning with pain, despite the gentleness of the hand applying it. A shudder rolls through him, the movements pause before continuing, the person at his side humming softly, soothing the ache in his brain before he notices it too badly. 

 

“Wooyoung,”San says quietly, his other hand rubbing Wooyoung’s shoulder in slow circles, over where a draxian bit him when they were still young in their coven. It’s him. San is in his woods, in his home , sat at the side of his bed and soothing the dull ache at his collarbone like always. “Wooyoung, you’re- oh, come here.”

 

San leans over and hugs him carefully, reaching up to wipe a few tears he hadn’t noticed were escaping his eyes. He sniffles, San’s hair tickles his nose when he’s close, longer than he’s ever seen it and pushed back to keep it from hindering his vision. He smells like fire; charcoal and flint and heat. Wooyoung chokes on a sob.

 

“Where have you been?” he whispers, squeezing his eyes shut and wrapping a hand around one of San’s wrists, holding it close. He’s real. San is here in flesh and bone and blood, different but still San . “You- I’ve missed you so much, Sannie, it’s been so long!”

 

Wooyoung cries softly against San’s warm throat, soothed by the hand in his hair, stroking slow circles into his scalp as he chokes on his own breath. “I know, Wooyoung, I know,” he murmurs, shifting to hold him properly, half laying on top of him. A sudden sob wracks through Wooyoung at how familiar it feels, the comforting weight of his best friend. “I’m sorry, I promise I’m sorry. I’ll explain, just not yet. I need to get you better first.”

 

They stay close for a while, until Wooyoung’s cries dissipate to sniffles, still pressed close to San’s collarbone and shuddering heavily when he feels a breeze roll through his open window. The forest beyond the window pane is hushed, but not silent, at least. It allows him a moment of relief. Melitri will live to see another day. 

 

His head aches, full of tight pressure that leaves him stuck to the pillow, limp yet heavy as a bundle of lead. San must think he’s asleep again when he closes his eyes, moving the cloth from his temple and pressing a soft kiss over where he’s undoubtedly bruising. 

 

All of this worry for nothing, he thinks. No matter how much work he’s carried out so far, Melitri is still growing from loss, still afraid of new visitors. It had been similar when Mingi had arrived unannounced for the first time with wine and bread from the nearby village, though nowhere near as severe. He digresses. It’s just past winter, the woods are fragile, sensitive and vulnerable. He’s much the same. The forest is just as protective over him. 

 

“Sweet boy, still, aren’t you?” San murmurs softly, still sitting at his side, smoothing damp fingers over his brow to smooth the thought burdened furrow. “Just grown into a sweet man. I’m sorry I missed so much.”

 

They stay quiet together for a while, San taking one of Wooyoung’s hands in both of his own, his energy soothing and familiar as ever. He’s still so calming, still able to focus on a task at hand, better than anyone would think. Wooyoung still thinks he was at his best when he was studying alongside San, replicating his switch in attention, intense when it was asked of him. He’s intense now, even with Wooyoung’s eyes closed he knows how hard he’s concentrating. 

 

“I know you’re awake,” San whispers, laughing when Wooyoung’s face flushes with heat, cracking an eye open. Energy is a two way thing. For someone who pioneered the ‘No Thoughts, Head Empty’ movement in their coven, Wooyoung’s mind is travelling a mile a minute. “Have I been gone so long that you won’t even talk to me?”

 

“Yes,” Wooyoung whispers back, snorting into a giggle when San narrows his eyes, squeezing his hand a little tighter and shaking it. “Where were you, San? Do the others know you’re home?”

 

“You’re the first one I’ve seen. How long have you been here?” San asks, glancing beyond the window and watching for a while. Wooyoung knows he’s done a good job, he doesn’t need affirmations now like he did when he arrived, but it’s nice to watch his work being admired. “I’m sorry I missed your first calling. You-... this forest loves you. You’re a natural. I told you.”

 

Only San could disappear for close to a decade and turn a compliment to an I told you so moment. “Hmn, I know. I’ve had a lot of guidance from Hongjoong, but I’m proud. Melitri has been good to me,” Wooyoung says softly, relaxing further beneath the blankets, calmed exponentially by how San’s rubbing slow circles into the palm of his hand. “Was it a calling for you, San?”

 

San shakes his head, glancing down and moving to drop Wooyoung’s hand, stopped by his grip. “No. I wish it was, and I wish it was easier to explain. Can I hold it for now?” he asks, looking at Wooyoung like he might start crying at the thought of keeping a secret from him. It must be huge if it can’t be shared. “Just until I find guidance. I need the words.”

 

“Take all the time you need, San. I have you back, that’s what matters,” he promises, stroking his thumb over San’s knuckles, pinked from cold. “Come on, you’re freezing. Do I need to take care of you, now?”

 

Wooyoung moves over, pressing close to the wall so San has room to sidle up next to him. “Youngie, I’m not-”

 

“You get into bed, or I’ll scream,” Wooyoung warns, raising a brow when San raises one of his own, challenging. “Choi San, get in bed and get warm.”

 

San caves to his demand, moving like Wooyoung is made of glass as he slips under the blankets, relaxing gingerly on the very edge. There’s somehow space between them in his little twin bed, Wooyoung takes initiative and closes it swiftly, wrapping his arms around San’s waist and tugging him close. 

 

“Come on, we used to do this at the coven house all the time. Remember your last birthday there?” Wooyoung murmurs, glad when San allows himself to relax, even if just a little. “And when Yunho found us in that fort in the living room, that night Hongjoong and Seonghwa left and it stormed?”

 

“It was a good fort,” San hums, resting his chin against Wooyoung’s hair, sounding just as tired as Wooyoung feels. He’s not wrong; they’d spent hours after their departure gathering blankets and pillows and cushions, propping them up with the backs of chairs, aided by the couch. 

 

None of them had ever seen rain so heavy, and Yeosang wasn’t nearly as experienced as Seonghwa had been with the elements. He hadn’t needed to be, not with their oldest brother taking careful measures to appease the skies. They missed him too, immediately, painfully. It rarely relented for months, only stilling when Yeosang spent a full day of studies dedicated to calming the storm, and never for long. 

 

After San disappeared, Wooyoung stopped noticing it so much. 

 

“We were good fort builders. I’m proud of us,” Wooyoung nods, hooking a leg idly over San’s for comfort, melting when strong arms wrap around his frame, holding him close. He’s missed this sense of security, especially with the rest of the coven only able to visit a few times a year, often never all of them. “I think you should get some sleep.”

 

“You sure you don’t need sleep, and you’re using me as a reason?” San asks, laughing when Wooyoung jabs his fingers under his ribs. “Fine, I’ll sleep. If your cauldron boils over, don’t blame me.”

 

“I will.”

 

“I know.”



+

 

A handful of letters arrive the next day, Wooyoung wakes to hear the blackbirds tapping at the window, determined to deliver. They’ve come to know that deliveries earn them treats, usually trinkets for their nests or worms with their usual breakfast. He’s never known a group of birds so eager to work for anything to get given food they could easily catch for themselves. 

 

“Thank you,” he whispers once the window is opened, even more thankful when they don’t sing at him like every other morning, instead hopping along the end of the bed, chirping curiously when he takes letter after letter. San is still fast asleep, arms gripping Wooyoung’s pillow now that he’s sitting up, both of his legs wrapped around one of Wooyoung’s. “This is San. He’s from my coven, he’s good. Big fat heart.”

 

He offers each bird a palmful of seeds from the jar on the windowsill, wishing them safety before they flap out of his room. Melitri is warming again, growing used to San’s presence, comfortable. 

 

There are six letters, two from Hongjoong, one from Yunho and Mingi (and their bluetail by the amount of little ink marks all over the paper), one from Yeosang, one from Jongho, and one from Seonghwa. He prickles about that last one; it isn’t like Seonghwa to send letters without Hongjoong’s input in some way, the only time it’s happened before was when Hongjoong was resting from illness, forced into bed rest. 

 

Two letters from their leader means Hongjoong certainly isn’t ill. Which means Seonghwa’s being weird.

 

Wooyoung makes his way through the other letters first, always one to make his own agony ten times worse through anticipation. He thinks maybe that’s why Melitri has been so tense in the anticipation of San’s arrival; he knows the signs of worries from his woods now, and they know his. They’ve fuelled each other. 

 

Hongjoong’s two letters are responses to his panic, assuring him that no harm will come to him or Melitri as long as he’s alive. There are little pouches of herbs enclosed in each; nettle and rosemary and peppermint in the first, an obscene amount of horehound in the second, along with a promise that he’ll travel from Orokey in the coming days to grant him some peace of mind. 

 

The next three are also responses (and he guesses the fifth will be, too), his heart swells with love at how his brothers know just how to calm him. Yunho and Mingi remind him of how far he’s come alone, how strong he is. They write about how healthy he’d looked when he made the journey up to see them in the spring before, how Melitri had sang his praises when they’d visited that autumn, how they know he’ll be just fine, but he’ll always have them to help, all of them. 

 

Yeosang rambles about his own work, something that always soothed Wooyoung when they were alone in the coven house, head in his lap and tuning in and out to his workings. He’s been busy with mermaids, dealt the unforgiving task of calming the waters each and every time they plan on visiting his little home hidden on the rocky shore of an unseen beach, which is frequently , meaning he has to appease them and the ever stormy seas. His letter is accompanied by seashells, insisting that it’s because Wooyoung ‘doesn’t need any herbs or spells, because things will be fine’. 

 

Jongho’s is the one to make him shed tears. He’s always been intense in his support, but his listing of things he’s learned from his time spent at Wooyoung’s side takes three pages, each detailed with exactly how much it’s taught him. The list is broken up by affirmations of Wooyoung’s skill, his harmony with his home, his unbreaking spirit no matter the things he’s faced. There are sprigs of lemon balm pressed between the pages, alongside sprinklings of hyssop that fall all over the blankets. He promises support, that he won’t need to care for Melitri as Wooyoung will know what to do, as he always has done. 

 

Wooyoung presses each letter carefully into the carved wooden box he stores all of their messages in, closing it before staring at Seonghwa’s neat writing. It’s wrapped tightly in blue ribbon, he pulls it open with bated breath. It’s short, but it’s enough.

 

Wooyoung, 

 

For you both. I hope you’ll be well. Write soon, 

 

Seonghwa

 

Enclosed are bags upon bags of perfume and herbs, Wooyoung can’t mistake the linking uses for promoting love and healing. He stills, glancing at San sleeping peacefully in his bed, finally home in some sense of the word.

 

If Seonghwa knows... 

 

He pushes the thought to the back of his mind, resting a few pouches of rose and rue against San’s hips, pressing Seonghwa’s letter into the box with the rest of them. He stretches slowly through returning the box to its place under his bed, waking his limbs after hours of sleep, more than necessary. He’ll write replies in the coming days, once Hongjoong has been and gone, once he’s had a few days to settle his heart. San is back. San is here .

 

Wooyoung leaves San to sleep in his bed, pulling the blankets over him when he’s dressed and leaving the window cracked open so he can breathe some fresh air, pottering around his home when he’s confident San won’t be woken any time soon. Wooyoung’s never seen him sleep so deeply. The fire under the cauldron has long since dimmed, lighting it again with a flick of his wand to fill the cabin with calming notes. 

 

The basket of fruit is still on the table, Wooyoung picks an apple out and takes a bite, watching for deer. They’re back, confidence a little shaken, but still reaching for his hand when he offers them raspberries over the porch, offering head scratches to them. He still has to tend to the birds, but he’s content for the moment to rest. 

 

He ends up dozing in the rocking chair, stirring to the sound of his blackbirds chirping noisily for attention, the low buzz of bees welcoming him when he hears the creak of footsteps, the smell of warmed bread and meat. “Umph,” he snuffs, the chair unsteady when he shifts to peer in through the window, where San is naked as the day of his initiation and spreading butter over slices of fluffy bread, cooking bacon on the little stove. “San?”

 

San glances up, smiling and nudging the door open with his hip, offering two slices to Wooyoung as he bites into a third. “You still eat meat? I can put more on, I wasn’t sure,” he says softly, resting against the wooden railings and gazing out beyond the stream, serenity in his features. “Since, y’know. Living here and stuff. It’s beautiful, Wooyoung. You’ve done a wonderful job.”

 

“Thank you,” Wooyoung smiles and takes a bite of bread, pleased to find it’s as rich in taste as it is in scent, warm and satisfying. Even more so with company. “Yes, I still eat meat when I can get into town. Where did you..?”

 

“I brought more than just fruit, Young-ah, I haven’t forgotten my manners,” San says quietly, fondness in his tone. Inside, the pan sizzles and pops, the smell wafting through the open door to greet their senses. “You still like it burnt to a crisp?”

 

“Of course,” Wooyoung nods, leaning back and resting his bare feet at the legs of the chair, letting it sway slowly as he eats. “This is good bread. This is all very nice, Sannie, you didn’t have to. You being here is more than enough of a gift.”

 

He’s hesitant to question it, but the words linger nonetheless, so Wooyoung piles the rest of his first slice of bread into his mouth. “I know I have some explaining to do. And I will. But breakfast first,” San says to fill the space, scratching at his thigh and bringing Wooyoung’s attention to healed over burns, by the look of it. “Have you been eating well?”

 

Wooyoung laughs softly, it’s a tactic of Seonghwa’s that’s never left any of them. “I have been, thank you. Have you?” he pushes back, standing slowly and arching his back to stretch. It pops, and loudly , enough that San turns him around to rub out the growing knot between his shoulders. “San.”

 

“I’ve been eating,” he offers, scoffing when Wooyoung snaps his head around and narrows his eyes, not taking that as an answer. “I could’ve been eating better. But it’s okay, I’m doing better.”

 

“Choi San,” Wooyoung warns, softening when San wraps his arms around his waist and squeezes lightly, his cheek resting on Wooyoung’s shoulder. “How much did you bring? I don’t want you going hungry.”

 

With great difficulty, Wooyoung leads the way forwards, tearing off another mouthful of bread and making their collective way to the stove, turning the heat down when he’s sure it’s plenty crisp enough. “I brought a lot, the bag’s under the table. Don’t feed me first, this is your home.”

 

“And you’re my guest, and you’re eating it. I’m fine, sit,” Wooyoung says firmly, finding one of the few little dishes from the cupboard and guiding the mostly charred meat to the dish. “You know you can wear anything I have, you know that?”

 

“Hmm,” San’s busy with the knife, easing a few slices away from the loaf of bread and glancing up when Wooyoung sets the plate of blackened bacon in front of him. “Oh, thank you. Do you want me to get dressed right now? You can eat first.”

 

Wooyoung presses a kiss to his hair, shaking his head and settling another few thick cuts of bacon in the pan. “Nice try, eat. I’ve seen you naked almost as much as I’ve seen myself, it’s not going to phase me at this point,” he scolds tenderly, smiling when San concedes with a bite of bacon, resting his hip against the counter and watching the clouds float by for a moment. “You’ve been safe at least, right?”

 

San doesn’t answer immediately, still one to finish chewing and swallowing. Wooyoung still doesn’t know where he picked that up from, especially with the rest of their household eating like food might be stolen at any second if not wolfed down. Even after the first bite, San takes another, waving a hand when Wooyoung gives a look of concern at his apparently ignored question. “Hungry,” he says quickly, stretching his legs out under the table and stuffing half a slice of bread in his mouth alongside the meat. 

 

Something about watching San eat makes Wooyoung feel embarrassingly cosy, a warm pool settling in his own stomach before he can truly fill it, reaching over to tend to the pan. San wraps an arm around his middle, playfully antagonistic and making him stretch. Neither of them say anything, leaving Wooyoung to strain pointlessly. 

 

“I’ve been safe,” San confirms once Wooyoung takes at least one bite, pressing a kiss to his forearm before he sits opposite. Their ankles rest against each others’, San finishing eating as Wooyoung begins but staying put for the company, comfortable and a welcome presence. “Had a bad few years to start out, but it was my own fault. I got angsty for a while.”

 

“Oh god, if you’d have seen me,” Wooyoung scoffs gently, reaching for the jug of water in the center of the table and smiling when San takes initiative and pours him a glass. “I don’t think I got anywhere near to recovering until I came here. And I’m not like- I don’t mean that against you, I just missed you a lot, Sannie.”

 

“I missed you too,” San says quietly as he pushes the glass across the table to land against Wooyoung’s palm, watching in silent fondness as Wooyoung takes a sip. He looks so natural, like he’s been sitting at Wooyoung’s kitchen table the whole time it’s been there, no awkward moving in period like he’d had to suffer alone. It never dawned on him that San might’ve suffered too. “I wanted to write to you every day. I wanted to come home to you, I promise I did. Please believe me.”

 

“Of course I believe you,” Wooyoung says gently, finishing his plateful and swatting San’s hands away when he moves to take his dish. “I have no reason to believe you’ve become a liar in the time you’ve been away. I know how you look when you lie.”

 

By the pinking of San’s cheeks, he still has the same telltale signs. They’ve never been able to hide things from each other; it’s a comfort to know things haven’t changed despite the distance of time. “I don’t know how to tell you what happened,” San admits, gazing over Wooyoung with watery eyes. His heart aches. “I don’t have the words.”

 

Wooyoung stands from his seat, patting San’s head and tugging his hair in encouragement for him to follow. “Come on, get dressed. I’ll take you to my favourite place to think about things I can’t articulate,” he says softly, heading into the bedroom and propping his wardrobe open with his hip. He’s eternally grateful for the handful of loose fitting garments he’s picked out over the years, holding them up to San’s silhouette when he steps through the door. “Your shoulders have filled out. I’ll have to wrap you in sheets, I think.”

 

He’s only half joking, but San snorts and sits at the edge of the bed, draping the quilt over himself. “I think it’ll look good on me. Melitri won’t mind if I’m a little dressed down, will it?” he smiles, dimples and all. Wooyoung hides his blush behind the tunic in his hands, glancing over it and deciding it’s long enough to warrant San not having to suffer underwear. “Ooh, that’s nice. We’ll be matching!”

 

“Amicus,” Wooyoung says triumphantly, looking down at the mossy green of his own tunic, then at the deep earthy brown of the one he’s holding. San takes it from him with an equally cheerful ‘Aras’ as he stands, allowing Wooyoung to help him into it, still a little too clumsy for his own good. “It looks good. God, you got big.”

 

Despite his newfound size, San is almost as nimble as he used to be, making following in Wooyoung’s footsteps almost second nature. Nonetheless, Wooyoung links their hands together, stopping each time San’s attention is drawn to a thick patch of flowers, or to branches holding homes made of sticks and twine. His heart glows as the forest warms, the final missing piece of his family settling near and close once again. 

 

After what might be hours, they finally make it to the willow tree, after a short spell of San finding the stream and watching the little fish. Wooyoung wonders how much nature he’s been able to experience while he’s been away. Not enough, most likely, not with how they all grew up with the garden and the copse of trees beyond it, climbing and tumbling and living blissfully. If he can stay, Wooyoung will make sure he gets sunlight. 

 

“Hello,” San says quietly to the willow before kneeling, resting his palms at the thick, gnarled bark and closing his eyes, calm and quiet as Wooyoung waits for him to finish his greeting. “I’m San, Wooyoung is my-” he breaks off to glance up, concerned. “What would you say we are to each other?”

 

Wooyoung lets out a huff, sitting heavily at the foot of the tree and resting his back against the trunk. “What would you say?” he asks, watching San carefully. San watches him back, hands still against the roots, half gripping. “I don’t mind, whatever. If you’ve changed, I mean. I mean, you were gone a long while, so.”

 

“I’d never change like that. You know I still care about you, Wooyoung,” he says sincerely, moving his fingers up to rest at Wooyoung’s bare ankle, light but there nonetheless, a reminder that he’s real . “Nothing changed. And I know we can’t just pick up from where things were left, but I want you to know that I still think the world of you.”

 

They sit for a moment in the quiet, just them and the willow, as San internally finishes his greeting and moves to sit beside Wooyoung, sides just barely touching. “I still think the same of you, idiot. Which I think says a lot, since you disappeared for almost a whole decade,” Wooyoung says softly, smiling when San snorts and jabs at his waist. “I’ve put a lot of thinking into this poor tree. She’s happy to finally meet you.”

 

“I hope I live up to her expectations,” San smiles, moving slowly to rest his head against Wooyoung’s shoulder and brushing their hands together. There isn’t a sudden change in the weather, reflecting well on San’s impression. Wooyoung links their fingers together. “You’ve been okay, haven’t you? The others took care of you?”

 

“I’ve been fine, really. It hurt, but I was still home for a few more years. And then I started thinking about how if you didn’t just leave, that you were somewhere alone and unfamiliar and alone, and it freaked me out. And I think that’s why I was called here,” Wooyoung keeps his eyes low as he speaks, ignoring the awful curl of angst as he remembers months of pining over San’s empty bed, the empty void in his own. “Coming here showed me that being alone in a new place isn’t so bad if it’s the right one.”

 

“I’m sorry I couldn’t come home sooner. Things were messy. They still are messy, and I resent that, and it’s just-” San breaks off with a huff, gripping a handful of grass and pulling lightly at it, not hard enough to pull it from the earth. “Everyone’s better with words than I am.”

 

Wooyoung rests a hand at San’s thigh, closing his eyes and allowing himself to relax in the hope it might influence San to do the same. The breeze is cool, serving to further Wooyoung’s patience, earthy and fresh. “Don’t think about phrasing it if it isn’t something you don’t fully understand. Just say what you know, and what you feel. I’ll know what you mean.”

 

Even now, Wooyoung still feels the deep set connection between them, like string bound tight around twine, gravity. Somehow it still feels natural and comfortable and close. He can practically hear Seonghwa’s voice, younger and far less patient, mid meal and telling everyone to shut up so he could read to them about soulmates and destiny. Of course he didn’t listen. Wooyoung glares at nothing, cursing his eleven year old self and that stupid little music box he’d spent two weeks trying to enchant. He’ll have to ask Seonghwa the next time he visits.

 

San’s energy flows beneath his palm, settling to something resembling calmness. “Seonghwa had to find my body,” he says softly, resting his hand over Wooyoung’s and squeezing as chills thrum through him. “I, um. I’ve tried my best to remember what exactly happened, but I only know I was on my way home from offering, and I woke up in the mud, and I don’t really have much magic left any more beyond basic tasks and animagus forms.”

 

As he speaks, San rests his hand over Wooyoung’s, and the younger feels the flood of relief when he turns his hand to link their fingers, squeezing gently and rubbing as the words settle into a lump at the base of Wooyoung’s throat. If he had to call on Seonghwa, it likely means his worst fears were true, despite what they’d all insisted in the first few months. He closes his eyes, biting at the inside of his cheek and resting fully against the tree, squeezing San’s hand again after a few moments of silence. 

 

“I’m…” Wooyoung tries, frowning softly when his words dissipate before he can try to find them, sugar in a warm pool. San doesn’t seem too upset about it, moving to rest his head carefully at Wooyoung’s shoulder and nuzzling gently. “That’s a… I’m really sorry, Sannie,” he says softly, resting his cheek against the top of San’s head and closing his eyes for a moment. The forest stills around them, allowing a moment of calm to themselves. Of all of them, San had been one of the most promising; eyes full of starlight, fingertips full of effortless precision. For all of that buildup to be cut short... “You didn’t deserve that. Not you.”

 

“Not you, either. None of us,” San says firmly, looking at Wooyoung with a steely gaze and shaking his head, not letting go of Wooyoung’s hand when he tries to pull away. “I’m not having you feel guilt for this. I came back to help, not to make you upset over what might have been, or what should have been. This is the way things are. It’s too late to change things, so please... Please don’t take it on yourself.”

 

“Is that why you were away for so long?” Wooyoung asks, frowning when San drops his gaze immediately, gripping his hand back and swallowing hard, willing himself to not pout and cry like he used to. “You stayed away for... for what? To keep us from helping? To stop me from trying to give you back what you deserve more than any of us?”

 

“Wooyoung-”

 

No , San, that isn’t fair! You left us without any word about where you were, without any letters, not a fucking trace of you beyond the things you left behind. I thought- I thought you were dead , Sannie, I thought you’d been killed and we’d never find your body, and- and-” Wooyoung’s words dissipate to choked sobs, not resisting when San wraps his arms around his shuddering frame, pulling him close and soothing him quietly. It’s been held for years, building up and bubbling under the surface, more than he’d realised. 

 

San doesn’t hurry him, or make him hush, or tell him to stop. He lets Wooyoung feel it, rubbing slowly over his back and kissing his hair as he cries, shifting him up to sit in San’s lap just as his body aches with how he’s positioned. He keeps holding Wooyoung, rocking him slowly and humming faintly when his cries begin to quieten to whimpers, his face aching, his head full of pressure. Some distant part of him recognises the tune, comforting and familiar to him through the whirring of his mind, lulling it to a dull flame. 

 

Despite his upset, Melitri stays hushed around them, even as the ochre glow of sunset envelopes the woods, beckoning barely there movement in the wildlife. Wooyoung sniffles as San continues to soothe him, trailing comforting murmurs into words wherever he remembers them, singing softly of stars, of gentle promises made in the night. Wooyoung calms slowly, resting his eyes as San strokes his fingers through his hair, trailing down over the apples of his cheeks to wipe his tears away, hushing him gently. 

 

He wakes to San’s warmth still beneath him, sturdy and kind, allowing him to take his time as he comes to. It’s pitch dark around them, the air cool and full of quiet noise, peaceful. Wooyoung stays still as San continues to rock him, unable to bring himself to open his eyes beyond a crack, resting to the sound of his heartbeat. 

 

“I’m sorry,” San says after a while, sincere and pained and breaking Wooyoung’s heart. “I know it was cruel, but I can’t see that there was any other way. Things would have been awful no matter what, but... staying would have prolonged your worrying about what to do. At least there’s nothing to do now but grow from it. You would have tried to gift me, and you know I would never allow that. That would kill me, Wooyoung, that over anything else.”

 

Wooyoung stays quietly tucked against San’s chest as he speaks, selfishly calmed by the rumble of his voice, the now deeper pitch, the smooth tone. He’s matured beyond what he used to be. Wooyoung guesses the same might be applicable to him. “You’re right,” he says after a long while, moving his head to rub slowly against San’s shoulder before moving to sit up, shifting to straddle his lap carefully and gazing over him. His eyes glow with flecks of gold, kind as ever even through the black of night, patient. His lips have filled out, making Wooyoung’s insides stir with the same terrified desire he’d pushed away at the house, at his cabin, under the stars that one night they’d gotten themselves lost looking for honeysuckle and bluebells on the cliffs. “You’re always right, Sannie.”

 

His voice sounds strange in his own ears, coming out barely there and choked despite his throat feeling fine. San wets his lips, swallowing visibly and resting his hands at Wooyoung’s hips, squeezing gently and watching over him with the same burning gaze as always. It’s been years, but it still feels too real. “Wooyoung,” San breathes, glancing over Wooyoung’s face and watching him carefully. “I missed you... I-”

 

Wooyoung moves forward, pressing his lips against San’s like he’s in a hurry to finally give in before he convinces himself otherwise, relief flooding through him when San responds with a strong grip around his waist, pulling him impossibly closer and leaning into the kiss. Wooyoung rests his hands at San’s jaw, whimpering softly when San nips lightly at his bottom lip, parting them to meld their tongues together. 

 

His blood sings, wrapping his arms around San’s shoulders and squeezing his thighs around his waist, intent on keeping as close as he can possibly manage, clinging when San moves to lay them down in the thick moss. With shaking breath, Wooyoung arches as San lifts the simple tunic with his own trembling hands, easing it off and leaving Wooyoung bare and glowing beneath him, pulling his own borrowed one up and off swiftly and reconnecting their lips, hasty and desperate as they taste each other for the first time, after far too long. 

 

“Sannie,” Wooyoung whispers, wrapping his legs around the backs of San’s thighs and waiting patiently, panting softly up at him. San looks about as surprised as Wooyoung feels, gasping softly when Wooyoung rolls his hips down slowly against him, kissing gently over his jaw and over his throat. “Don’t stop, please don’t stop. I want you so bad, I’ve missed you so much... I always wanted this, I wanted you…”

 

“I want you too, Youngie, I always did too,” San breathes like it’s opening the floodgates, shuddering and pressing more desperate kisses over Wooyoung’s collarbones, sucking and biting to leave gentle marks, fleeting reminders that this is happening , that they’re together again and finally, finally they’re as they should be. “Are you- can I? Please?”

 

“Of course,” Wooyoung nods, sucking in a shuddering breath as San moves a hand down to press slowly over him, gliding the pad of his middle finger between already slick folds and circling his hole, pushing so gently inside Wooyoung feels like he might cry from how his heart swells. He’s slow and careful to not to push Wooyoung over the edge, thrusting slowly and sinking a second finger inside when Wooyoung nods his encouragement, resting his thumb over his clit and rolling slowly until he mewls. “Please, Sannie, please…”

 

San takes his time, pressing slow kisses over Wooyoung’s sugar brown nipples, sucking lightly over each in turn until they stiffen to peaks from just his mouth, leaving him writhing weakly as San’s fingers work him open, carefully easing a third finger inside him when two can press inside him with ease. Wooyoung curls his fingers in San’s thick hair, rolling his hips down into the slow thrust of San’s fingers inside him and clenching around them, drawing them in slowly and hissing softly.

 

“I’m so sorry I waited so long,” San murmurs softly, leaning up to kiss Wooyoung again desperately, smiling softly against his lips when he mewls at the feeling of San’s fingers curling, stroking slowly over the warm velvet grip of his walls, massaging over his sweet spot and humming softly as he rolls down into the movement. “I was scared you deserved better than me, Youngie, you deserve the world... I wanna give that to you, everything I can.”

 

“I just want you,” Wooyoung promises, gasping when San’s fingers spread just a little to stretch him easier, rocking inside him slowly until he’s desperate for something more than just his fingers. “Please, Sannie, I want you so badly. I wanna feel you inside me, I’ve waiting so long. Don’t you want that?” he breathes, cheeks pooling with heat when San looks over like he’s ready to devour him. “Won’t you fuck me, my love?”

 

He’s rewarded for his efforts with a desperate groan, the fill of San’s fingers easing out of him for a moment as he wraps his hand around his cock, pumping slowly. Wooyoung can feel how wet he is without having to touch, transfixed as he watches San’s slow strokes, licking his lips as he stares for a moment at his cock, squirming in need when he acknowledges how empty he feels as he waits. 

 

When San leans back down, Wooyoung’s arms wrap instinctively around his shoulders, pulling him close until he’s pressed up close and heavy on top of him, dragging the head of his cock slowly over Wooyoung’s slick entrance, rubbing slowly over his labia and rocking slow and close to penetrating him. “I love you, Sannie,” Wooyoung whispers with bated breath, whimpering softly when San nips at his earlobe lightly. “I love you so much, with all my heart.”

 

“I love you too, Wooyoungie. You hold my soul,” San whispers back, pushing his hips forward slowly until he sinks inside Wooyoung’s warmth, gasping like the air is punched from his lungs as he rolls his hips forward, driving him cautiously deeper. Wooyoung grips, wrapping his legs around San’s waist to keep him pressing closer, moaning when the action drives San to thrust shallowly inside him. “So fucking beautiful under me, I’ve always wanted this. I dreamed of seeing you like this, my sunbeam.”

 

Wooyoung’s eyes widen at the name, clenching around San’s cock and whimpering when he bottoms out, buried deep inside him and still for a moment as they share a needy kiss, Wooyoung keeping him pulled close as San licks into his mouth desperately. “Starlight, please, I dreamt of it too... I couldn’t tell you, we were always so busy, but I-... Sannie, my star, I wanted you from the first night we made that promise.”

 

San seems to slowly gain confidence with each thrust, dipping to suck a slow bruise at Wooyoung’s neck as he presses closer, groaning softly as Wooyoung drops a hand to trace his fingers down San’s spine. “I’ve wanted you for as long as I can remember, fuck... you’re so beautiful, Wooyoung, please…” he says softly, still gazing over Wooyoung like he’s made of precious crystals and pressing softer, fluttering kisses to his jaw and throat. 

 

Wooyoung arches his back up and rests a hand at San’s waist as he angles his hips, a gasp leaving his lips as the tip of San’s cock glides over the rift within him, making him clench through the pooling need to tip over the edge before he’s even reached it. He shudders when San trails his fingers over Wooyoung’s waist, dipping to circle over his clit and sending shockwaves through his body, leaving him writhing and desperate under him.

 

“Please,” Wooyoung breathes, his breath hitching when San pauses to press Wooyoung’s legs further up his waist, letting him clench for support while still clinging to his shoulder, his other hand dropping to fist weakly at the thick moss. San’s thrusts quicken steadily, harder and steadier as his fingers rub over Wooyoung’s clit, firm then barely there, making his whines high and desperate. “I need to- please, Sannie, please!”

 

His eyes widen as San’s thrusting starts to falter, making him shake as he gets slower but heavier , keening high in his throat. “N-need to cum, baby, you want me to pull out?” San pants raggedly, catching Wooyoung’s lips in a bruising kiss when he shakes his head, squeezing his thighs lightly around San’s waist and clenching each time his hips ease back. “God, you’re so fucking perfect, baby, I love you,”

 

San’s confession comes as his orgasm draws him over the edge, releasing inside Wooyoung as he buries himself to the hilt inside his clenching warmth, moaning shakily as he rolls his hips slowly, fingers still moving over Wooyoung’s clit as he trembles. He stills as he pants, letting Wooyoung guide him into another slow kiss and groaning as he rocks down against his cock, relieved when it encourages San to rock into him again. 

 

“Let me- fuck, oh my god,” San pants, laughing breathily as he parts from Wooyoung’s lips, a string of spit connecting them as he dips for another quick kiss, then another, until they’re both giggling softly, still connected for a while. San rolls his hips back as he starts softening inside Wooyoung, pressing wet kisses down his throat and further down his sternum. He glances up as he gets to Wooyoung’s soft belly, eyes shining as he smiles. “Can I eat you out, angel?”

 

Wooyoung whimpers softly as he nods, eyes fluttering closed as San’s fingers stroke slowly over his entrance, pushing his own seed back inside Wooyoung as he licks slowly over his cunt, his eyes glowing warm and gold in the dark as he gazes up at Wooyoung. “Oh my god, Sannie,” he breathes as San mouths slowly over his labia, rolling his hips down against San’s lips, his breath fluttering through a moan as San’s tongue laps slowly between his folds. “Please, baby, please eat me out? I wanna cum for you, so bad…”

 

San parts his thighs a little as he settles fully between them, pressing them close to his cheeks as he flattens his tongue against Wooyoung’s pussy, dipping slowly to press inside him and humming softly before pulling back out again, lapping slowly over Wooyoung’s lips and dipping so slightly between them. Wooyoung gasps, biting his bottom lip and resting his head back against the earth as San teases him slowly, circling his tongue over his clit and sucking lightly, leaving barely there kitten lips just after. 

 

His peak starts approaching as San kisses slowly over his labia, sinking his tongue inside Wooyoung’s slick entrance and pressing his face close against Wooyoung’s cunt, his nose bumping against his clit. Wooyoung reaches a hand down against San’s hair, gripping lightly at his roots as he rolls his hips down against San’s face, whining as he gets too close too fast. 

 

The moss beneath him does little to cushion him when he writhes, panting shallowly when San fucks his tongue into Wooyoung’s hole for just a few moments, pulling away until just his breath ghosts against Wooyoung’s slick pussy and makes him twitch. “Oh, Sannie...”

 

“It’s okay, baby, I’ve got you,” San says softly, laying his tongue flat over Wooyoung’s lips once again and moving in slow strokes. Wooyoung sighs dreamily, grinding his hips down against San’s tongue and gasping as he presses closer, holding Wooyoung’s hips and mouthing over his clit until he’s shaking.

 

San groans smoothly, sucking lightly over Wooyoung’s labia and drawing him close, groaning when Wooyoung’s thighs press close against his face carefully. “Nngh, Sannie, fuck,” Wooyoung huffs, rolling his hips down so San’s nosing against his mess of dark curls, his tongue curling to press inside the hot, wet clutch of Wooyoung’s cunt. 

 

San’s eyes slide shut, letting Wooyoung grind slowly and steadily against his face, in bliss at the fingers tugging at his hair, the short, breathy noises spilling from Wooyoung lips. He wiggles his head a little, tonguing over Wooyoung’s swollen clit and sucking lightly, groaning when it leads to Wooyoung tugging at his hair in time with a sharp moan. 

 

Wooyoung parts his thighs for a moment, leaving San to pant shallowly as he presses his face up against Wooyoung’s cunt, lapping like a kitten to a bowl of cream. Wooyoung’s pussy is on another level of glory, wet and hot and sticky. “Come on, baby,” San begs when Wooyoung doesn’t roll into his actions immediately, opening his eyes to blink up at him, laughing breathlessly when he sees his face.

 

Wooyoung’s cheeks are flushed deep pink, his thighs are quivering along with the rest of his trembling limbs. “I’m close, Sannie, please,” he breathes, moaning when San circles his tongue against his clit, one hand moving from his thigh to finger him slowly, stroking between his labia and pressing the tips of his middle and ring fingers inside Wooyoung’s entrance.

 

It takes a few pumps of San’s fingers inside Wooyoung for him to come, moaning loud and trembling as he arches away from the soft earth. San curls his fingers slowly inside Wooyoung’s clenching wetness, licking and sucking at his clit until Wooyoung twitches with every lap. 

 

He feels boneless, whimpering as San doesn’t let up, rubbing his fingers firmly inside Wooyoung’s pussy and groaning as he yelps, moving his mouth from his clit to lap at his hole again, sinking his tongue back inside him and fucking it into him. Wooyoung writhes weakly, whimpering as San laps quickly, jolting through a second orgasm that leaves him quivering against every movement of San’s mouth. 

 

“Fuck,” San breathes when he moves away, kissing over Wooyoung’s thighs and groaning, laughing softly when Wooyoung falls limp in the moss. He stares at the sky for a while, watching the stars through the full branches above, smiling when San appears above him, warm and sweet, eyes glowing bright in the dark. “You’re so perfect.”

 

Wooyoung draws him close with a hand at his jaw, kissing him lazily and resting close when San settles to lay beside him. They’re surrounded by wildflowers that hadn’t been there when they laid down, it only dawns on Wooyoung when he really opens his eyes; thick patches of reds and purples and blues, full and blooming. He blushes, huffing softly when it’s apparent that San has noticed, too. “Don’t. Don’t even try it.”

 

“I’m just remembering sharing a room,” San hums, laughing smoothly and gasping when Wooyoung smacks his chest. “I missed it, I missed the flowers. I missed you.”

 

“I missed you too,” Wooyoung says softly, blinking slowly and stifling a yawn as he moves to settle atop San, straddling him comfortably and resting his head on San’s broad chest. “You know, I do need a familiar. If you’re planning on sticking around.”

 

San purses his lips like he’s really thinking about it, smiling when Wooyoung presses a kiss to them. “What was it that gave it away? The eyes or the tongue?”

 

“The fact you’re here at all.”