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ain't nobody shine like you

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There’s a beautiful boy standing at Hendery’s front door.

“Hello,” Dejun says. “Is this your cat?”

It takes a second for the words to register, Hendery too busy gaping at the fact that his cute ‒ no, gorgeous, ethereal, celestial ‒ neighbour is standing on his doorstep. But eventually he manages to lower his eyes to the bundle in Dejun’s arms, and sees a grouchy face glaring back.

Leon,” Hendery cries, reaching out to take the cat. “I was wondering where you got to!”

“I found him rooting around Renjun’s garden again, but don’t worry. I won’t tell.”

“Thanks,” Hendery sighs. Renjun would murder him if he found out his prized plants were the subject of yet another attack. “I owe you one!”

His heart can’t help but skip a beat when the corner of Dejun’s mouth quirks up, amused. “I’ll hold you to that.”

He waves Dejun goodbye, and once they’re alone, Hendery frowns down at Leon, taking in his dishevelled state. “Leon. You know not to go near the neighbours’ garden. Honestly, what were you thinking?”

Hendery had just been speaking aloud, the way his housemates did, cooing over or scolding their cat. He expects Leon to ignore him, as per normal, or maybe swipe a paw at him indignantly. He certainly doesn’t expect an answer back.

But then Leon opens his mouth and whines, “He shouldn’t have planted catnip if he didn’t want cats around!”, and Hendery drops him in surprise.

☾.✰˚˖⁺✦˙♡˙✦˙⊹˚✰☽

Thirty minutes later, the shock still hasn’t worn off.

“Oh my god,” Hendery says faintly. “You can actually talk.”

Leon still looks annoyed. It’s not Hendery’s fault he dropped him ‒ he had a scare, okay, and anyway, didn’t cats have nine lives? The ability to always land on their feet? Leon is totally fine, which is more than Hendery can say for himself.

“Excuse you, I’ve always been able to talk. You just haven’t been able to understand me.”

“But ‒ how?”

Leon shrugs. Wait ‒ can cats shrug? “Use your brain.”

Hendery thinks back to what he’d done in the last day or so. He and Yangyang had run into Renjun, who asked whether they had a spell to protect his plants for the coming monsoons. Hendery had been about to explain the ‘no-magic’ rule while Ten was away, but Yangyang had jumped in and said of course they could help, and why doesn’t he come over right now?

As luck would have it, the spell had been too advanced for Yangyang, and Hendery had to step in and take over so Yangyang wouldn’t embarrass himself in front of his crush. Except the words were written in the traditional script, so he wasn’t completely sure of the correct intonation, but he had winged it, so ‒

“Oh no.” Hendery’s mouth falls open. “I mispronounced the words, didn’t I?”

“It appears so.” Leon leaps onto his lap and snaps Hendery’s mouth closed with a paw. “Now, how about you be a good human and fetch my dinner?”

☾.✰˚˖⁺✦˙♡˙✦˙⊹˚✰☽

This newfound ability to talk to Leon takes some adjusting to. Hendery still jumps when Leon starts speaking in a language he can understand, and there are a few close calls when Hendery nearly talks back while Yangyang is in the room, only managing to catch himself at the last minute. Still, when Hendery thinks about it, the consequences of the spell backfiring could have been worse.

Except now that he knows Hendery can understand him, Leon seems to be determined to take full advantage of it, and he is relentless.

“I want a snack,” Leon whines barely five minutes after he’s had his kibble.

“Help me open the door!” he calls from downstairs, when Hendery is on the second floor of their manor.

“Hey! Pay attention to me!” he yowls, landing on Hendery’s keyboard right in the middle of a game and causing his computer to go on the fritz.

It’s enough to make any warlock-in-training go insane. Once Leon goes down for his afternoon nap, Hendery escapes to the garden, taking care to shut all the ground floor windows and doors. He lays a blanket beneath the gnarled willow tree and settles back, closing his eyes to enjoy the pure, unfiltered silence, until ‒

“Hey there, neighbour ‒ oh my god, are you okay?”

Hendery is not okay. At the sound of Dejun’s voice, he had jerked up so fast his head collided with a low-hanging branch. A stinging pain pulses across his forehead, and he has to clench his teeth to stop himself from yelling, or crying. (Crying. It’s definitely crying.)

“Hey, Dejun,” he says, hoping his voice doesn’t waver, because he is a man. He blinks back the tears in his eyes and finds Dejun peering worriedly through the branches.

“I’m so sorry, I didn’t meant to surprise you ‒ ”

“Don’t worry about it!” Hendery pastes on his brightest smile. “I’m fine.”

“You don’t look fine.” Dejun moves closer, kneeling beside him, and then Hendery’s mind blanks because all of a sudden Dejun’s nimble fingers are prodding the tenderness at his forehead and holy crap he’s touching me.

Dejun winces. Hendery’s heart sings. “You have a nasty bruise.”

Does he? Hendery would break all of his bones if it meant he got to feel Dejun’s touch again. “It’s okay. It’s my fault anyway, I’m so clumsy ‒ ”

“It wasn’t.” Dejun frowns, and Hendery thinks it’s criminal that he still looks so pretty. “Gosh, the knock must have been worse than I thought. Stay here, alright? Let me go get my supplies.”

He dashes off, leaving Hendery dazed and blinking beneath the softly swaying leaves of the willow. What just happened? Was that the longest conversation they’d ever had? Oh God, it was

“Wow,” Leon says. “You have it bad, don’t you?”

Hendery jumps, nearly knocks his head on another branch, and curses. “How ‒ what ‒ ”

Leon eyes him, unimpressed. “I learned how to open the doors a long time ago.” He tilts his head, eyes narrowing. “Hey, is it me, or do you look… uglier than usual?”

Hendery is offended. Very offended. He’s about to defend himself (he’s more than just his looks, he knows, but he’s not going to get bullied by his cat) when Dejun slides back next to him, a jar in his hand.

“It’s a good thing we replenished our stock the other day,” he says, unscrewing the lid and dipping his finger inside. “This will help your bruise heal faster ‒ you don’t mind, do you?”

Hendery’s heart melts at the sight of Dejun looking up at him expectantly, a blob of moss-coloured paste sitting on his finger. He’s so good, so kind to even think of using some of his precious salves on him. Words fail him, so Hendery just nods, and Dejun smiles.

“Okay. Hold still, I’m gonna…”

Hendery holds his breath as Dejun leans forward, eyebrows furrowed in concentration. Soon, there’s a finger against his forehead, moving in featherlight circular motions around the swelling. The minty coolness of the balm and the heat of having Dejun so close spread across Hendery’s face, warring with each other, and when Dejun leans back, Hendery has to pretend he’s had his eyes closed all this while so Dejun doesn’t catch him staring.

“Done!” Dejun chirps. “Here, take this.”

Hendery shakes his head at the offered jar. “I couldn’t, you sell these ‒ ”

Please.” Dejun’s eyes shine, earnest. “Let me make it up to you. You wouldn’t have hurt yourself if not for me.”

He lays a hand on Hendery’s arm, and Hendery makes the mistake of looking down. Dejun’s hand is smaller than his. Warm, too, with perfectly manicured nails. He kind of (desperately) wonders what it’d be like to hold it.

A paw on his thigh snaps him out of his thoughts. When Hendery’s gaze travels further down, he realises Leon has slunk up beside him.

“Ask him to tea!” he hisses.

Hendery blinks. What? he mouths.

“Oh, hello,” Dejun laughs, noticing Leon and extending a hand for him to sniff. Hendery’s impressed that he knows cat etiquette. “Sorry, I didn’t see you there!”

“It’s quite alright.” It comes out as a meow to Dejun, probably. Leon deigns to bat at Dejun’s finger with his nose, then slinks behind Dejun’s back, fixing Hendery with a glare. “Hurry up. Ask. Him. To tea!”

Hendery’s not sure why he would take advice on his love life from his cat, but he obediently asks, “Why don’t you come over for tea instead? Say, tomorrow at three?”

Dejun blinks, surprised. A flush spreads across his cheeks, but he looks pleased. “Sure. I’d like that.”

He makes Hendery take the jar of salve anyway, promising to help him reapply it tomorrow, and then hops over the fence back to his own garden. Leon waits until Dejun’s front door shuts before turning to Hendery, looking rather smug.

“I was right. You do have it bad.” Leon flicks his tail in his face, making Hendery sputter. “And you can thank me later.”

☾.✰˚˖⁺✦˙♡˙✦˙⊹˚✰☽

Thanks comes in the form of an extra serving of dinner for Leon. But Hendery starts to regret it the next day, when he’s staring into the depths of his kitchen cupboards and realising that all he can offer the love of his life is instant ramen.

“Isn’t Dejun coming over this afternoon?” Leon asks.

Like he needs reminding. Hendery tugs on a clump of hair in despair. “Yes.”

“And you haven’t cooked anything yet?”

“I don’t know what he likes,” Hendery wails, stressed. “I can’t even cook.”

“You’re a warlock! Use your magic!”

Hendery gives him a Look.

“Oh,” Leon says, remembering what happened the last time Hendery used magic unsupervised. “Yeah. Maybe not.”

Hendery groans, sliding down to spread-eagle on the floor. Why did he think inviting Dejun over was a good idea? Is it too late to cancel? Would it be rude to cancel? And what kind of excuse could he give? Oh, sorry, he imagines himself saying, I forgot I possess the culinary skill of a teaspoon. Can we postpone? How does the turn of the next century sound ‒

A heavy weight lands on his chest, interrupting his spiral and quite literally leaving him breathless. Leon’s head pops up in Hendery’s field of vision.

“Stop panicking,” Leon orders imperiously. “I think I have a solution.”

Hendery’s voice comes out as a wheeze. “You do?”

“Dejun likes mint chocolate ‒ ”

“Wait, how do you know this?”

Now it’s Leon who gives Hendery a Look. “I don’t just spend my time in the gardens rolling around.”

“Leon Lee, are you spying ‒ !”

“Do you want my help, or not?”

He does. Hendery shuts up.

Leon, satisfied, continues, “As I was saying: mint chocolate. He loves that stuff. And if I remember correctly, the bakery down the street sells mint chocolate-flavoured cookies.”

Leon remembers correctly. Hendery buys it all just for Dejun, and silently promises to buy Leon whatever gimmicky toy he wants the next time they’re in town. He gets back ten to the hour, and is neatly arranging all the food on a tray just as the doorbell rings.

When Hendery swings the door open, he’s surprised to find not just one guest, but two.

“I hope you don’t mind,” Dejun says apologetically. There’s a leash wound around his wrist. “Renjun’s out gathering mushrooms, and Bella gets antsy when she’s home alone…”

He tugs the leash. A beagle peeks out from behind his legs and ‒ oh. Hendery’s heart melts at her sweet little face. “Of course! Come in, and make yourself at home.”

Dejun trails him into the living room, setting Bella on the sofa next to him. He starts talking about the new products he and Renjun are going to try to brew with the mushrooms, and Hendery listens with keen interest as he waits for the kettle to boil. Potions aren’t really his thing, but Dejun is talking so animatedly and passionately about his job that it’s easy to keep up.

What isn’t so easy to keep up with is when another participant joins the conversation.

“So this is the guy who likes my human?” Bella asks, and Hendery’s grip on the tray slips.

“Oh!” Dejun jumps up to help set the tray on the coffee table. “Careful!”

“Not very graceful,” Bella comments.

“No,” Leon agrees. “See the bruise on his forehead? Hit himself yesterday.”

Ouch.”

Hendery’s eye twitches.

Dejun notices. “You okay?”

“Fine!” Hendery says loudly, causing both Bella and Leon’s heads to turn. “I’m fine!”

It’s not exactly the most relaxing hangout (date? They didn’t specify) he’s had. Dejun is lovely as always, his cheeks puffing up from smiling so hard when he finds out that all the treats are in his favourite flavour, and Hendery feels like he’s on cloud nine. It’s just that Bella and Leon clearly understand everything they’re saying, even if Dejun is blithely unaware of it, and it feels like he’s on a chaperoned date (hangout?).

“I don’t know,” Bella hums. “Do you really think he can make my Dejun happy?”

“He’s liked him for ages. And Hendery’s the best!” Hendery feels a wave of affection for Leon. “Even if he can be kinda goofy sometimes.”

The wave dwindles to a trickle.

Bella looks skeptical. “We’ll see.”

She watches him for the remainder of their tea, eyes sharpening when Dejun insists on rubbing the salve onto the bruise blooming on Hendery’s forehead. Time passes quickly, and before he knows it, Dejun mentions that Renjun has probably returned, and they should be getting back.

Hendery catches him looking longingly at the remaining cookies on the tray. “Shall I pack those for you?”

Dejun blushes adorably. “If it’s not too much trouble.”

“Nothing is, for you,” Hendery beams. It might be a trick of the light, but when he heads back into the kitchen, he thinks he catches a gleam of approval in Bella’s eye.

☾.✰˚˖⁺✦˙♡˙✦˙⊹˚✰☽

Hendery makes good progress over the next few weeks. Judging by all the furtive glances and shy touches, he’s fairly sure that Dejun likes him back. This will be their fifth hangout, and he plans on asking Dejun to go on a proper date at the end of it, with floating candles and the whole shebang.

Now, if only it would stop raining.

“Maybe we should postpone,” Dejun sighs, face pressed up against the window.

Hendery frowns. “Don’t give up hope just yet!”

Dejun gestures at the weather outside. “I just don’t think it’s going to let up.”

Hendery feels his heart sink at the defeat in Dejun’s voice. He’s been looking forward to the meteor shower for weeks. A picnic basket filled with their favourite food sits by the front door, and Hendery thinks of how Dejun had slaved away the entire day just to make it.

It really is pouring, wind howling and sheets of rain hammering against the windows. Dejun’s right ‒ they’d never be able to see the comets in these conditions. Hendery scowls at the sky. What bad luck. If only there was a way he could dispel the storm ‒

Wait.

He must have said that out loud ‒ Dejun is looking at him curiously. “Hendery?”

A familiar spell niggles at the back of his head. “Just ‒ hang on,” he says, excited. “I may be able to…”

Hendery thinks Dejun shouts after him, but he’s too busy running up to the library, flinging the doors open, running his fingers across spines of dusty tomes until ‒ aha. He finds the book, flipping it open to a familiar page, and speeds back downstairs.

Dejun is waiting for him, anxious. “What’s going on?”

“I think I know how to stop the rain!” Hendery sets the book on the table. “Look, here ‒ ”

Dejun reads the text over his shoulder. “It looks complex,” he concludes, biting his lip. “You shouldn’t ‒ ”

He’s right. Ten would kill him if this went wrong. But ‒

“I want to,” Hendery interrupts. “I want to try. Will you let me?”

Dejun hesitates. Something in Hendery’s expression must convince him, though, because after a few seconds, he simply nods and steps back. Heart pounding, Hendery turns back to the book and rolls up his sleeves.

Please don’t screw this up, he thinks desperately, and then he starts the incantation.

It’s a powerful spell. Somewhere to his left, Dejun gasps at the sudden pulse of magic. Hendery focuses on the words, praying he doesn’t mispronounce anything, and feels the magic course through him. It shakes him with the force of a thunderstorm, escalating and wild. Hendery concentrates, channelling all that energy to where it won’t disturb them. He thinks of comets streaking past in the night sky, happiness blooming on Dejun’s face, and then ‒

Hendery opens his eyes.

Outside, the grass is damp. Everything is quiet. The sky is clear.

That is, except for the comets streaking past, lighting up the sky in hues of blue.

They run outside, and Dejun tilts his head up, staring in unabashed wonder. Somehow, the cosmos look even more beautiful, reflected in Dejun’s eyes.

Wow. Hendery has to laugh. Leon was right ‒ he has it bad.

So what on earth is he waiting for?

“Be mine,” Hendery says without thinking, and Dejun wrenches his gaze away from the meteor shower, surprised. “I don’t know why I waited so long to ask, but… well, better late than never, right?”

Hendery.” Dejun’s blushing so hard, he’s practically glowing. “What ‒ ”

“You’re beautiful. Kind, talented, funny, amazing ‒ ”

Dejun squeaks and buries his face in his hands. “How can you say that! I’m just your neighbour ‒ you don’t really know me.”

“But that’s the thing. I’d like to. I want to.” Hendery takes Dejun’s hands in his, forces him to pry them away from his face. “So… will you let me?”

Meteors streak past above them, burning briefly before fizzling out of existence. But Hendery only has eyes for Dejun and the smile slowly spreading across his face, shining brighter than anything else in the night sky.

“Yes,” Dejun breathes, and when they finally kiss, Hendery swears he sees stars.