But if thou meanest not well, I do beseech thee … To cease thy strife, and leave me to my grief. To-morrow will I send.
So thrive my soul—
A thousand times good night!
It's mostly wishful thinking when Zen tells himself that he'd recognise that voice anywhere. And 'anywhere' should be just as inclusive of a tinny voice over the phone as it was the quiet bar to the side of a decent hotel's restaurant, where he'd ordered a whiskey to nurse, staring at the empty velvet sofa chair opposite his own and wishing someone, anyone, was sitting in it.
Luciel Choi plops himself down into the plush seat, kicking up one sneakered foot to rest on the other knee of his old jeans, looking completely out of place in the sleek ambiance of the bar. His eyes bright, his lips parted, leaning forward just the slightest bit as though he's about to tell Zen something he knows will make him laugh, whether or not he wants to.
Zen blinks himself back into reality. Except, for some reason, Luciel Choi is still there, only he's dressed in a proper shirt and snug trousers and shoes that match. A champagne flute sits between his fingers. His smile is the last thing that blends him into the room, suave and easy, easier than the ones Zen tries and tests in the mirror, but twice as practiced.
"What," Luciel Choi says, in a voice that seems to only get rougher with age. "You've forgotten my face already?"
"No, of course not," it's awfully hard to forget a face you see so often in your dreams , Zen doesn't say, doesn't breathe, "how could I ever forget that ugly mug." His throat is dry, so he reaches for his drink. And then his throat is still dry, but at least it's stinging as well.
"Ah, disappointing. If only I could do that to people. It'd make my job a lot easier." The mirror-smile, again. "Honestly. You look like you've seen a ghost, Zen- hyung ."
"A little hard for me to believe that I haven't," says Zen. If there's one thing he's good at, it's acting. He slips into the role of Zen, An Old Friend, and then the words flow smoother, and his breath comes easier. "Have you called Yoosung?"
Luciel swirls the liquid in his glass. "Maybe. Have you finally found a girlfriend?"
Alright, so he was wrong about the breath coming easier. "Maybe," he responds in kind. It's a test.
And if it's a test, then Luciel Choi, genius extraordinaire, reads through every question and deliberately leaves it blank. No widening of the eye, no tightening of the mouth. Zen should’ve know better, really. "And work?" he asks, as though he'd been asking about the weather, of if the services the hotel provided were any good, with no indication that he might as well have just stabbed Zen somewhere under the diaphragm.
"I'd have thought you've seen me on posters around, at least," Zen says. "Have you been abroad?"
"Maybe. And if you're on posters, shouldn't you be a bit more careful with your public appearances?"
"This hotel is discreet." All that's left of Zen's drink is the ice, and he tries not to bring too much attention to it as he keeps it in his hand to distract himself. "I'm pretty sure that's why you're here, aren't you?"
Luciel Choi laughs, once, quietly, and it's the most emotion he's shown since he'd appeared before Zen like a guardian spirit. Or an avenging angel. It's a little hard to tell which. "Busted," he carols, downs the rest of his champagne in one gulp, and stands up, abrupt. Abrupt enough for Zen to jerk one hand forward for a fraction of an inch, before he gets it under control.
"How about this?" Luciel says, smiling like he'd never laughed. Luciel Choi has seen Zen reaching out to hold him back. Luciel Choi doesn't miss a fucking thing. "I'm going to get us refills, and then when I come back, you can tell me all about what I've missed."
Zen stares at Luciel's back as he moves towards the bar, and he thinks, if a dead man can come back to life and look that good, then by God, tell me I'm not dreaming this time.
Luciel Choi doesn't feel like a dream when Zen presses him against the door of his hotel room, the buttons of his uncharacteristic shirt undone to his chest and his hands reaching for Zen's own. It's not the brush of something intangible when fingers trail down his back with intense purpose, but it's something close—real enough to be nothing but demanding, but too light to leave a trace. It's enraging.
Zen pulls away from warm lips he hasn’t tasted in years, and Luciel stares at him, cheeks flushed with alcohol and something more. Zen wonders if this is what it's like to walk in a dream, and if so, wonders if he ever wants to wake up.
"I have to unlock the door," he says.
"Okay, says Luciel.
In an awful rush of bad judgement, Zen grabs Luciel's hand.
Luciel's eyes go wide, and he lets out a tiny incredulous laugh. "I'm not going anywhere," he says, breathless, but curls his fingers around Zen's hand anyway.
"I know," Zen hears himself say, even as his mind blares i can't be sure i can't be sure i can't be sure i can't be sure and he stares at Luciel a little too long, afraid that the hand in his and the man before him will disappear if he looks away for just a second. He reaches for the key card in his pocket, and then he drags his eyes away.
The door beeps open, and the lights slowly flicker on. Luciel's hand is still there, warm and calloused and just the slightest bit smaller, just like he remembers. When he turns back, Luciel's eyes are trained on the carpet. And in the next moment he’s shoving Zen into the room with arms stronger than his frame should allow and pinning Zen to the closest wall, gasping, "So can we continue, or are we just going to take a nap?"
"Fuck," Zen says, with feeling.
The door slowly shuts and locks itself with a click as Luciel wraps both arms around the back of Zen's neck, licking deeper into his mouth. It's all Zen can do to bring his knee forward against the front of Luciel's pants, and Luciel presses down almost gratefully on it, breath stuttering. The last button of Zen's shirt comes undone first, and Luciel draws back to mutter an annoyed "off, get it off" before tugging at the shirt so hard Zen has to remove both of his hands from Luciel to let it be pulled off without tearing. It's abandoned by the door as they stumble over each other to the bed where Luciel trips him up so he falls onto his back, laughing.
Luciel's bent over him, fingers splayed over his jaw as he kisses him with fervor. Zen slides his hands down Luciel's back, resting them for a second on the curve of his ass through his trousers, then pulls his pelvis down towards him just as he jerks upwards. Luciel breaks away to hiss at him, and Zen laughs again, but in wonder instead of amusement. "You're real," Zen breathes. "You're actually real."
"Don't remind me," Luciel says, eyes flashing as his hands curl over Zen's shoulders with that same impossible strength. A cat's warning bite, a sharp pain with no blood, and maybe even some affection. You can't tell. Zen can't tell. He might have been able to, once, but fading recollections and muscle memory can only get someone so far.
Zen has his hands on Luciel's back again, digging his fingers in to keep himself grounded even as Luciel gyrates against him and bites at his jaw. It's hazy, but something’s different. He runs his hands along Luciel's arms, and he's right. This Luciel is different. This Luciel has a body made out of pure muscle. "Did dying treat you well?" he asks, because bad decisions are the only ones he's ever made, and he's not about to break the habit now.
Luciel pauses in his conquest of Zen's neck. "No, dying doesn't give you a hot bod if that's what you're asking, so don't bother trying it. Your workout routine works just fine," he says, right into Zen's ear. "I'm enjoying the fruits of your hard work quite thoroughly."
"Obviously," Zen says, though the word is interrupted with a hitched breath as Luciel changes tack and goes for his earlobe. "So you've been working out too? In heaven, or in hell?"
"Really, dude? No sinner like me would ever scrape by enough to make it into heaven." Luciel mutters a curse, then drags himself away and stares right into Zen's eyes. "Hyun. Shut up. Stop asking questions. I'm here now, alright?"
"I'm dreaming," Zen says, "and I haven't woken up."
"Jesus," snarls Luciel. "Do I have to fuck it into you until you'll believe me?"
"You mean that wasn't the point of this all along?" Zen replies.
"Fuck," says Luciel, with feeling.
When Zen wakes up, there's a warm body pressed next to him. He doesn't open his eyes. Dreamed about a dead man. Great. Twenty extra sit-ups for this one. Thirty if it's not a woman. Actually, make that forty, since you don't have a hangover even though you definitely deserve one for dreaming about Luciel Choi.
"I know you're awake," says Luciel Choi's voice. "Rise and shine."
"I'm going to have to call the police," Zen says, then opens his eyes to see Luciel Choi watching him curiously.
"Why?" Luciel asks, completely oblivious to how he looks with the early morning sun glinting off his fiery hair and tanned skin and with his glasses resting on the bedside table instead of on his nose. Zen's brain fries a bit. It's been frying since yesterday, but it fries just a bit more, at least. "Arresting me for being too hot?"
"I need to go to the hospital. To get my eyes checked. And my brain too, while I'm at it."
"Then you're supposed to call an ambulance, not the police?"
"I can't think," Zen says. "Shut up."
"Shutting up," Luciel says, then mimics zipping his mouth shut. He rolls his face further into his pillow and closer towards Zen, his nose pressing into the soft material so he's only looking up at Zen with one brilliant eye. It gets a little more difficult for Zen to focus. Really. Every little fucking thing he does.
"You're supposed to be dead." Zen wants to pull away from Luciel’s touch, but he can't. Warm skin is usually a good reminder of not dreaming, not a dream. Usually. "What happened?"
Luciel blinks his one visible eye up at him—is it a wink if you blink with one eye?—and stays silent. Zen notices that Luciel's chest rises and falls gently with his breathing, and that knowledge distracts Zen for a while until he realises what's up.
"Talk, please," Zen says.
"I think we should go for breakfast," says Luciel.
“Okay,” says Zen.
The main attraction of the hotel would be its excellent security and intolerance of any kind of journalist or recording device, so the quality of the restaurant's food comes as a surprise. Luciel shovels down his third helping of eggs with ravenous cheer, and Zen watches him over his empty plate and emptying coffee cup with amusement.
"Wha?" Luciel asks, with his mouth endearingly full.
Endearingly. What the fuck. Grow up, Zen. "Nothing."
"Then stop staring at me and get your own damn food."
"I'm already full." It's about nine a.m., and over three-quarters of the restaurant's tables are empty. He supposes this means Jumin was right about how difficult it'd be to find this hotel, and wonders for a second how it stays open with so little customers. Then he remembers the prices and mentally smacks himself.
Jumin. Right. He needs to call Jumin, to tell him about—
Luciel stares at him as he chews on the last of his breakfast, cocking his head like a curious bird when he notices Zen watching him again. He'd insisted on throwing on his own clothes again for breakfast, complaining about how big Zen's shirts are on him. And rationally, Zen knows Luciel just looks like he slept in those clothes, but his eyes pick up on the loosened shirt cuffs, the wrinkled collar, and his brain supplies, I did that , and everything goes down the metaphorical toilet.
In the span of under a second, Zen realises three things: one, he's not going to tell anyone else in the R.F.A. about the Luciel he's seen today. Two, he's being really fucking stupid by not doing so, and three: he's royally fucked. This Luciel has him royally fucked, and they've spent less than twelve hours together.
"Is this a coincidence?" Zen asks. "That you're here."
Luciel wipes his mouth with a napkin, and folds it into a dainty triangle as he talks. "I don't believe in coincidences, hyung. And I'm just on vacation."
"Vacation," Zen parrots, feeling sick. "You don't get vacations."
"I know. What a shocker, right?" Luciel kicks back in his chair, crossing his arms. "Big boss was probably feeling generous. It's a pretty novel feeling, you know, having nothing to do."
"Yeah, it's pretty nice, I guess."
"Two workaholics on a holiday. It's like we're in a sitcom!"
"I'm not on holiday," Zen protests.
"What, you're here for work? Why didn't you tell me? I'd have left you alone if I knew," Luciel says, without any change in tone. But he doesn't move, and Zen feels the tightening in his gut loosen a little.
"I'm not really doing anything. I mean, I was just gonna sit in this hotel for a bit, that's all." He tugs uncertainly at his shirt cuffs. "That's not much of a holiday, is it?"
"No, it's not. That sounds horrible ," Luciel says, almost vehemently. "So we should go on a vacation together."
"I brought only one of my babe cars with me, but it should be enough, right? It's a really nice one, I'll show you. Plenty of room in the backseat, even."
"Um," says Zen, feeling his face flush a little, "no, that's not the issue here. Wait, it's not an issue at all! Why do I need to get in your car anyway?"
"You like speed, I thought you'd appreciate it." Luciel purses his lips.
Zen stares for a bit, then catches himself staring and flushes some more. "I like wind in my face, not being in a moving room."
"It feels the same with the windows rolled down, I swear. And yes," Luciel says, raising a finger to quiet Zen, "I know the difference, trust me."
Past two a.m. in the morning. The stars are brightest out here, away from the city, with only the dim streetlamps to contest their light. There's the occasional tanker truck or graveyard shift taxi, but apart from that, the road is theirs to claim. He picks up speed.
Arms tighten around Zen's waist. He feels Luciel's delighted laugh more than he hears it, because the wind is in his ears and because Luciel has a deep belly laugh that makes him feel like he needs to take off his riding jacket, even though his cheeks are already chafing from the cold night air.
In this one moment, Zen feels an eternity.
"I trust you," Zen says.
Luciel's silent. "Well," he finally says, with a smile identical to the practised ones he'd displayed yesterday, "that's really—"
"—stupid of me, I know," Zen cuts in. Luciel's smile slips, becomes more surprise and less shield. "But I've never stopped trusting you, and I'm not gonna start now."
"Zen," says Luciel. "You haven't changed one bit."
You haven't, either. But you also have. "Thanks. Beauty like mine is timeless, after all."
Then Luciel snorts so hard he starts coughing, and they have to leave before someone calls security suspecting a toxin attack, or something. But Luciel's laughing, and that's enough.
"Ding dong," declares Luciel when Zen opens the door for him. He's freshly showered and dressed in clothes that are less Han Jumin and more 707, and it feels like the passing years haven't aged him at all. Luciel strides past him to dump a large rucksack beside the window, so he sneaks a quick look at himself in the mirror. He's still good-looking, a few little lines around the eyes and mouth, but nothing major. He doesn't look anywhere near thirty, yet. Luciel, who'd found how to unlock the door to the balcony and was leaning forward into the breeze, still has the same face from when Zen had seen him last—quick to smile, but just as quick to shift back into impassiveness.
"You keep staring at me," Luciel says, the wind whipping red strands across his face. He needs a haircut. But he's always needed a haircut.
"I think," says Zen, "you look very handsome."
A crooked smile twists Luciel's mouth. "Stupid sweet-talker. You tell me this once I've changed out of my nice clothes."
"Clothes don't make the man."
Luciel steps back from the balcony, and reaches to adjust the hem of Zen's coat, the collar of his turtleneck. His fingers trail perilously close to the skin of Zen's neck, but never touches it. Zen swallows. Luciel grins, devilish, and asks, "Then why're you always dressed so well?"
Zen catches Luciel's wandering hands in his and holds them there, and the grin just grows wider. "Clothes don't make the man, but first impressions always count."
"I've known you for six years."
It doesn't count if someone was dead for four of them. "Maybe I just feel like I need to impress you again."
"Hm," says Luciel, loosening one hand from Zen's grip so he can lightly tap the tip of Zen's nose. And then, a smile that crinkles the corners of his eyes. "I think I'm impressed enough."
Zen tugs Luciel forward by the hand and catches him by the waist, and smothers Luciel's surprised laugh with a kiss. His hands find their way under Luciel's hoodie, but Luciel's more preoccupied with working Zen's hair out of its ponytail. He inhales sharply with every tug, and feels Luciel's pleased smile against his mouth. "You," he breaks away to sigh, "you're so—"
"—oh! Gonna stop you there," Luciel says, slapping a hand over Zen's mouth. "Are you done packing?"
Zen rests his hands on Luciel's hips and tries to protest, but Luciel's hand is still firmly covering his mouth, so he slowly shakes his head.
"Then go do it." Luciel lifts his hand from Zen's mouth. Zen immediately tries to go for those lips again, but gets a hand smacked into his face for his efforts. "Nope. I said go!"
Zen pouts, holding his nose. "Oo hurt my dose."
"Cut the chit-chat, we have a vacation to be on," Luciel says, kicking off his sneakers, clambering onto the bed and pointing accusingly at Zen. "I have no affections for a tardy man!"
Zen waddles off to continue shoving his meagre belongings into the backpack Luciel had tossed at him half an hour prior. "You barely gave me twenty minutes before you showed up at my door. Also, why’re you bringing so much along when I’m only allowed this tiny backpack?"
"No more questions! No affections," repeats Luciel as he curls up atop the covers and grabs a pillow. "For a tardy man."
He's asleep by the time Zen's done packing everything into the backpack. Half of his face is buried into the pillow in his arms, and his glasses are poking into his face in a way that'd definitely leave a mark once he wakes up. He looks... small. Young, even though Zen knows perfectly well that Luciel Choi is the one member of the R.F.A. he won’t—can’t—call a child.
He reaches forward, and his fingers brush soft hair for just a second—and then Luciel's sitting up and there's an iron grip around his wrist and Luciel has his other hand frozen mid-jab at Zen's jaw. His eyes are unfocused. Zen feels a heavy dread settle in his gut.
"Luciel," Zen says.
Immediately his wrist is released, but it leaves stinging red marks. For a second Luciel looks utterly shattered, but then the tension in his face is gone, and his eyes are just tired, guilty. He runs a thumb gently over the reddened skin. "I fell asleep," he mumbles. It's not so much a statement as it is a lament.
Zen sits himself down on the bed beside Luciel. "It doesn't hurt."
"If it doesn't hurt," Luciel says quietly, "then I'm losing my touch."
"Then it hurts a lot." Zen rubs his cheek against Luciel's hair, and fashions his voice into a high-pitched whine. "It hurts, it hurts! Kiss my boo-boo, you terrible man."
Luciel chuckles under his breath, then lifts Zen's wrist and presses a chaste kiss to it. "There. Now will you forgive this terrible man?"
"Depends, depends," hums Zen, putting an arm around Luciel and leaning against him. Luciel Choi walks, speaks, laughs larger than life, but his head fits gently into the crook of Zen's shoulder, and his tiny sigh is louder than any word he's ever yelled. It makes Zen feel like kissing him, and so he does, a dozen soft pecks against his temple, his hair, his cheek.
Luciel makes a sound like a choked giggle. "Stop that," he says, slapping hands onto Zen's cheeks. Zen turns his head until he's kissing the palm of Luciel's hand, and Luciel snatches it away, so he uses the opening to go for his mouth, instead. Luciel hums contentedly for a second before pulling away. "Enough. We'll be late if we don't leave now."
For someone who's complaining, Luciel's pretty pliable, letting himself be pushed back onto the pillows as Zen kisses along his jaw. "Late for what?"
"I don't know. You're making me forget, stop." He makes a half-hearted attempt to get Zen away from his face, but doesn't object when Zen just twines his arms tighter around him. "Um, I remember now. For our vacation?"
"Mm, let's just stay here a little longer," Zen mumbles. "We have all the time in the world."
Luciel freezes up under him—and he stops. "No, we don't," Luciel says, slowly, like he's talking about a half-remembered dream. "We gotta go, now."
"... Alright." Zen untangles himself from Luciel's arms, and Luciel practically shoots out from under him, pulling on his sneakers and picking up his rucksack like it weighs nothing. He bounces on his the balls of his feet as he waits for Zen to get his backpack, with his hair still mussed and his cheeks still flushed.
"Think about what you look like for a second, will you?" mumbles Zen as he smooths away the evidence incriminating his hands from Luciel's hair and clothes. "People will talk."
"Why would they? Secret agent Seven-Zero-Seven doesn't exist. They'll forget about me by the time the sun sets today." He takes Zen's hand and places it into the thick curls of his own hair, grinning. "And I like how you make me look."
"You," Zen chokes out.
"Me," Luciel says, with a cackle. Then he's out the door in a flash, leaving Zen free to put his burning face in his hands in the privacy of his room.
"Isn't she beautiful," Luciel sighs.
The ‘she’ in question practically glimmers in the dim light of the parking lot, a pure shining white with red decals. Zen blinks as Luciel stands with his arms outstretched in the parking lot of the hotel, as though introducing his car to a crowd of admirers. Except the crowd consists of only Zen, who, unfortunately, only cares about his motorcycle.
"This is fancy and all, but dude," he says, dryly, "you know I only care about my motorcycle."
"Aw, but surely you can at least appreciate the sleek beauty of a Bugatti Veyron? Look at this engine! Look at this paint job," Luciel mock-cries, placing his hands onto the hood of the car and pressing his cheek against them. "It's gorgeous. I'm about to tear up."
"O, that I were a glove upon that hand," Zen mutters distractedly, then catches himself and shuts up.
Luciel's doing the curious bird head-tilt again. "Theatre nerd."
"I," says Zen, in the most offended tone he can muster up in front of Luciel Choi, "am not a theatre nerd."
"Pants on fire." Luciel unlocks the car door with a beep of a button, and flashes his teeth at Zen. "Wanna go for a ride?"
"I'm not even going to jump on that line, because I am a dignified man," Zen says, carefully opening the door to the passenger seat and gingerly putting his butt onto the leather.
Luciel sinks into the seat and runs his hands over the steering, grinning like a maniac. "But you'd jump my bones."
Zen groans and bonks the back of his head on the upholstery. "When will you stop ."
"For eight thousand dollars a month, I will—"
"Don't." Zen raises a warning finger. "Don't go there."
"Cool." The key goes into the ignition and turns with a quiet beep. Luciel lets his hand linger over the start button before he finally presses it, letting the car purr deliciously to life. Then he breathes out a long, drawn-out sigh, and for a second Zen lets his mind wander into areas unsuitable to talk about in polite company before sternly reclaiming control over his thoughts.
The Bugatti rolls smoothly out of the shadows of the lot and into the early afternoon sun. A pair of aviators are produced from somewhere in Luciel's hoodie in place of his spectacles, and he slides them forward on his nose to shoot a sly wink at Zen.
Zen can't help but laugh. "I'm glad you're enjoying every moment of this."
"But of course!" He pats the steering wheel with the same affection one would normally reserve for a beloved pet, or a very particular sort of lover. "Getting to drive one of my babies again is the one thing I was looking forward to on this vacation."
"And are you finally going to tell me where we're going, or is that another secret?"
"Aw, that's no secret." The Bugatti turns onto the main road with seemingly zero effort, and they pick up speed. "We're going to the beach! That's the best place for a vacation, right?"
"But I didn't pack any swim trunks," says Zen, dumbly.
Luciel makes a noise that sounds a lot like 'psshaw! '. "Swim trunks are for nerds."
"I'm not the nerd here!"
"—and I only date nerds," says Luciel, eyes bright and focused on the road. They're definitely not going at the maximum possible speed that the Bugatti's capable of, but the wind's still tousling his hair with rough fingers, and the sunlight glints off the aviators like it’s trying to shield his face.
Zen's a little lost for words. "Luciel, you—"
"And if you've done any research at all on the area, you'll know that, there are technically no public beaches anywhere near us, even though we're beside the ocean!" Luciel continues, as though Zen hadn't spoken. "But of course major movie star Zen and super secret agent Seven Zero Seven aren't going anywhere public! Some identities are to be kept secret, after all. And God Seven is nothing but resourceful!"
He gets it. Luciel doesn't want to talk. He's not stupid. "Okay," he says. "And what is your magnificent plan supposed to be?"
Luciel points a finger at Zen without looking at him. "I'm glad you asked! According to my information, there should be a small hidden stretch of natural beach."
"And you know how to get there."
"Yuh," he says, patting the steering again. "This baby wasn't built for dirt roads, but I believe in her. She'll get us there just fine."
"Guess I'll just have to believe you again," Zen says, stretching his arms up behind him and letting the wind drag his hair back. "This is pretty nice."
Luciel smiles to himself, just a little. "I knew you'd like it."
Having the top of the Bugatti down isn't exactly the same as having the wind all around him when he's on his motorcycle, but it comes pretty close, especially when Luciel reaches for the additional key that brings up the Bugatti’s horsepower to the maximum. They blow past buildings in seconds, and Luciel’s delighted laugh rings out loud as he closes his eyes against the draft. It reminds him of simpler times. When he was younger, and only just getting his name out in the industry, and when the R.F.A. was more than just a chat group to check in on once in a while.
But it's still family. He knows that's something that won't ever change. Even if they lose a member, or two. He won't let it.
"Thinking happy thoughts?" says Luciel's voice, closer this time, and Zen opens his eyes to see Luciel finally looking at him.
Zen shrugs. "Kinda."
"That makes me glad."
"Trying not to think," Luciel replies, and then smiles, and then that's the end of it.
Zen takes his phone out of his jacket pocket, snapping a few pictures of the distant ocean. Then he switches to front camera and snaps a few pictures of himself, against the distant ocean. Almost as an afterthought, he turns the camera towards Luciel, and takes a photo of the sun in his hair and the tiny exhilarated smile on his face.
"Are you my own personal paparazzi?" Luciel asks, without taking his eyes off the road. "You can't post any pictures of me online, you know."
"Doesn't matter, I'll just keep them for myself. You look good. Show me those teeth."
Luciel bares his teeth and widens his eyes in an exaggerated smile as Zen tries to get a selfie of them both, and it ends up as a blurry mess of vaguely Zen-and-Luciel-shaped colours because Zen's laughing too hard.
It's pretty novel to cruise along in a car that's broken world records for speed (as Luciel proudly informs him), on a highway that's mostly deserted partly due to the distance they are from the main cities and partly because of the fact that it's just a random, unremarkable Tuesday. Music that's very much Luciel's taste and not at all Zen's surrounds them on the stereo, and Luciel demonstrates his extensive knowledge of rap lyrics as well as his inability to actually rap. Then Luciel takes them onto a smaller side road, and onto an even smaller dirt road, and then they have to slow down.
Zen pokes his head out of the window. The ocean's right there in the distance, just past the rocky slope of the road they're travelling on. It's really a beautiful day, he realises, and somehow that leaves a strange taste in his mouth.
"Pretty cool, right?" Luciel asks. His hair is pushed back from his forehead with the aviators, and there's the smallest of smiles playing around his mouth as he glances at Zen.
Zen's own mouth runs dry. "Yeah. Yeah, it is."
"This is completely illegal," adds Luciel, all innocuous.
"You're, um," Zen tries, but falters, with a "no, never mind."
Luciel's smiling. "If you kiss me now, I might swerve us right off the hill."
Zen laughs, and it's a little fragile. "What a way to go, right?"
"I mean, you could totally give it a try." Luciel shrugs. "There's a ninety-nine point nine percent chance I won't lose control of the car."
"Alright," says Zen, placing one hand on the dashboard to steady himself as he leans across the gear shift and plants a kiss on Luciel's cheek. The car gives a sudden jerk, and he half-collapses into Luciel's lap with a loud screech.
Luciel's laughing his head off. "Aw, you wanted me that bad?" he cajoles between gasps.
"You're a piece of shit," Zen says, trying to keep his voice from shaking.
Still laughing, Luciel shakes his head. "Boy, do I know. But you're still as spontaneous as ever, aren't you?"
Zen sighs as exasperatedly as he can, but he can't hide his smile. He's honestly so, so screwed. "It's one of my best traits."
"One of my favourites, too." Luciel taps his fingers on the steering wheel. "How'd you know?"
Zen adjusts his coat. The road's basically empty, and it curves around the side of the hill in a manner that lets the Bugatti show off its excellent steering. He's starting to suspect Luciel's set up the whole trip just to show off his car, but the ocean's actually getting closer, so they probably are heading to a beach, after all.
It's a little longer before their route becomes more dirt than road, and Luciel slows the car to a stop. "Okay, we're here. Get outta my car."
The ocean looks like it's just below them, but there's no indication of a beach of any sort. "You sure?" Zen asks, peering out of the car. "I don't see anything."
Luciel's already out of the car, hefting his rucksack onto his shoulder. "Trust in my information even if you won't trust me. It's just a short walk from here."
There's dirt splattered along the side of the paint job Luciel was so proud of barely an hour ago, but all he does is mutely lock the car once it's empty. Zen picks up his own backpack and stomps his way around the car after Luciel, feeling sullen.
He can see Luciel regarding him curiously out of the corner of his eye. "Are you sulking?" Luciel asks.
Zen huffs. "I didn't say I didn't trust you."
Luciel seems to think this over as he leads them down a muddy path overgrown with tallish grass. The crashing of waves sounds like it's all around them. "Hyun," he says after a while, sounding like he's just figured something out. "Do you want to hold my hand?"
"It's weird hearing you say 'Hyun'," says Zen, taking Luciel's proffered hand and lacing their fingers together.
"And I think it's weird that you're calling me Luciel now, so we're even."
Zen huffs some more. "It's Jaehee's fault, probably. Wouldn't stop insisting on calling you Luciel." He gives Luciel's hand a light squeeze. "And I've always wanted to call you by your real name. Or your fake real name, whichever works."
"So I can call you Hyun-hyung as payback, right?"
"You're already calling me Hyun. I can't stop you."
"True, true," Luciel muses. "No one can stop God Seven."
"Not even your Hyun?" Zen asks.
Luciel turns sharply and shoots him a look. "You're my Hyun?"
I never stopped being your —"Yeah. Yes. If you'd want me to be."
"Fuck." Luciel's gaze swivels back to the muddy path. It's messing up their shoes, but Luciel's in his crummy old sneakers and Zen's wearing boots, so they'll be okay. His grip on Zen's hand almost hurts. "Why do you—fuck . Thank you."
"I'm sorry," says Zen. He doesn't know why he's apologising, but the fight goes right out of Luciel once the words leave his mouth, and he figures that was probably the right answer.
"It's okay." Luciel inhales, squeezing his eyes shut, and lets out the held breath with a loud 'ha!'. "It's not your fault. It's okay! I'm okay. And we're almost there!"
The soil under their feet gives way to gravel and sand, and sure enough, the ocean's lying before them, grey and blue and vast. It's late afternoon now, but the sky's still clear and bright, making the sand almost sparkle.
"Why the hell is there a beach here," Zen asks out loud to himself.
"Maybe Mother Nature knew we were coming, and put one here for us. You never know." Luciel tugs at Zen's hand, grinning. "Let's just go, okay?"
"Zen, you don't get it, do you?" Han Jumin says, without a trace of sympathy.
Why is he so easy to hate? It's not Zen's fault, really, that speaking to him is confusing on the best of days, and infuriating on the worst. And he figures, looking at the crumpled copy of a report in his hands, this has to be one of the not-so-good days.
"No. No, I don't." He's being irrational, and he knows it. But everything's irrational when you lose one of the only anchors you have left. "Seven... Luciel. He's supposed to be a constant. He'll come back."
Jumin watches him, brows furrowed like he's either confused, or pitying. Either option makes Zen's blood boil. "He never existed. The fact that I even managed to find this report is a miracle. I thought you'd be grateful, considering the nature of your relationship with him."
"My... oh, fuck you." Irrational. "Always talking like you know shit."
"Zen," Jaehee says, her voice dampening the anger for just a second. "You need to calm down."
"Did you want to stay in the dark forever, waiting for someone who will never return?" Jumin sounds... disappointed. "I didn't take you for that sort of man."
"Jumin." The piece of paper in his hand has been crushed beyond recognition. It's taking all of his willpower not to punch Jumin in front of Jaehee, whose eyes are already red-rimmed and puffy. "Get the fuck out of my apartment."
"Mr. Han." Jaehee's voice wavers, but doesn't falter. "Let's just go."
There's a soft tugging on his hand. "Hey," says Luciel. "What's up with you?"
Zen responds by cupping Luciel's cheek with his one free hand and kissing him until he squirms against him. "Nothing," he says, after they part. "We should go swim."
"Oh, but someone didn't bring swim trunks, right?"
He's already sweating in his coat, so he dumps his bag on the sand and strips it off. "Yeah, yeah. I brought an extra change of underwear, so I'll be okay."
"Damn," says Luciel as he puts his rucksack down beside Zen's backpack. The hoodie comes off too, and he stretches out muscled arms that he didn't have four years ago. "I don't get to see you skinny-dip?"
"Um," he says, feeling like a flustered teenager instead of a perfectly mature twenty-eight year-old. "It's nothing you haven't seen before, though?"
"Doesn't mean I don't wanna see it again." Luciel stifles a laugh. "And again, and again, and, oh, was that too forward?"
"I'm going to tape up your mouth so you can't say shit like that to me."
"Ooh, that's kin—hey! You got sand in my shoes, that's gross."
"Then take them off," Zen says, already in the middle of rolling up his pants and unlacing his boots, leaving them neatly beside their bags before stepping into the water. The waves splash and fizzle around his feet, dumping wet sand on his toes and washing it away right after. Fickle, the ocean.
"Hey, you!" yells Luciel, who runs over to him, kicking off his shoes with careless abandon and splashing knee-deep into the water. "Take that!"
He manages to turn his face away from the spray of seawater that Luciel kicks at him, but his jeans are basically soaked through, and his turtleneck isn't in any better condition. He glares at Luciel, who waggles his eyebrows at him.
"Told you you were overdressed," he gloats. "Looks like you'll just have to take those off, right?"
Zen stares at Luciel as he makes his way towards him, pulling off his turtleneck and tossing it onto the beach, where it'd probably make a dry-cleaner cry when he takes it back home. Luciel's shit-eating grin just grows wider as Zen looms as intimidatingly as he can over him.
"Nice," says Luciel, putting a hand on the hip of Zen's jeans. "But you forgot about these."
"I was thinking," Zen replies, resting his hands on the curve of Luciel's butt and sticking his thumbs under the waistband of his jeans, "that you might like to take them off, yourself?"
"Ooh. I like the way you think." His grin is decidedly wolfish as he pushes down on Zen's chest. "Down, boy."
Zen has long since realised self-control isn't something he'd have around this man, and so he sits himself down on the sand and lets Luciel clamber over him to kiss him as he tries to fumbles blindly for the button on the old, familiar jeans Luciel's wearing.
"We are going to regret this," warns Zen, but his heart isn't in it. "There is going to be sand everywhere, and it's going to be gross, and we are really gonna regret this."
"Whatever," Luciel says, already dragging Zen's jeans down to his knees. "A little sand never hurt anyone."
"Famous last words, dude." Then Luciel slips his hand under the waistband of his briefs and his mind blanks, and he figures it can't be that bad if it's with Luciel.
Zen groans into Luciel's lap. "This is awful."
Luciel glares at him, now dressed in a fresh t-shirt and cargo pants. "Sex with me is not awful."
"I'm gonna feel sand in my pants for weeks."
"You are such a big baby."
The sky's slowly darkening as the afternoon slowly fades to evening, and the clouds are tinted a light pink as the sun slowly descends. Luciel has his hand twined through Zen's hair, fingers slowly massaging his scalp, and Zen can feel his eyelids drooping. He reaches for Luciel's hand, and mumbles, "you need to stop that."
Luciel makes a curious sound. "Stop what?"
"Mm, that." Zen brings Luciel's hand to his chest instead, and sighs. "If I fall asleep I can't watch the sunset with you."
It's an almost minuscule change, but Zen can feel it when Luciel goes rigid under him. He holds Luciel's hand tighter to his chest, over his heart. It'd been hurt once, and now it hurts more, and the warmth of Luciel's hand does nothing to soothe it.
"There's something I wanted to do before the sun goes down, actually," says Luciel. "Could you help me with it?"
Luciel's rucksack lies empty, and its contents are piled up in a haphazard heap upon the sand. Clothes, books, the occasional thumb-drive or CD or floppy disk or computer hardware peeking out from between newly crumpled pages or tangled sleeves. Half a lifetime, an unfinished story told in children's fairytale books and encrypted data and the clothes of a man who'd never dressed in any way that wasn't as loud as he was.
Luciel pokes a piece of shattered disk here and rips apart a too-thick book there, while Zen tries to strike a match without the sea breeze blowing it out. "You couldn't have brought a lighter?" he asks.
"It wouldn't have had as much kick, would it?" Luciel says, shrugging like it doesn't matter to him.
"You and your theatrics." Zen huddles behind the pile to shield the tiny match from the wind, and the flame grows bright enough to lick across the torn-up pages at the top of the pile. Bits and pieces of colourful drawings overlap and blur into one another. A meaningless mosaic. She toiled from day to night, never complaining, never rising to anger , are the words still visible one of the pieces. Another reads: —wrong again!" declared the little man, cackling. "Never in an eternity will you learn my name."
Luciel's eyes reflect the flickering fire as it spreads slowly across each item in the pile. "Said the theatre nerd," he replies, tonelessly.
Zen tosses the spent match onto the pile, and moves to sit beside Luciel, resting his head on Luciel's shoulder and a hand over Luciel's fingers. He smells like sea salt and sugary-sweet soda. Zen asks, "Why are you setting yourself on fire?"
Luciel does a little one-shouldered shrug, so he doesn't jostle Zen. "Dunno. I gotta."
"It's not a completely illegal trip without a completely illegal bonfire," murmurs Zen. "I appreciate it."
"You are a terrible liar."
"No, excuse you, I'm a wonderful liar. I act for a living, Luciel Choi."
"Then," says Luciel, "you are terrible at lying to me."
They watch as more and more of the pile is consumed by the flames, until the fire stretches ambitiously up towards the sky and the heat beats down on their faces and the foul-smelling smoke curls higher and higher in a manner that should almost certainly get them noticed by the authorities.
"And you're very good at not telling the truth," says Zen.
Luciel's fingers twitch restlessly under his. "But you trust me."
Zen hums. "We all did."
"We're facing the wrong direction," says Luciel. "We're supposed to be watching the sunset."
"True," says Zen, and they commence a slow shuffle to face the swash and the sky without separating from each other. By the time they get there, the sun's halfway into the ocean, and the edges of the skies are tinted a dark, heavy blue. "I should take a photo of this," he says, peeling himself from Luciel's side.
"Ah," says Luciel, even though Zen's already retrieving the phone from his jacket. Pinks and oranges from the sunset hue Luciel's face with warmth, but his eyes look lost as his hand reaches almost absently for where Zen had been sitting.
"I'm not going anywhere," laughs Zen, leaning himself against Luciel's shoulder again with his phone in hand.
"I know," replies Luciel as he puts an around around Zen's waist, but doesn't laugh along with him.
He stays silent as Zen snaps photographs of the sky and the orange sea, and of the foliage surrounding the small stretch of beach. "Take a photo with me," Zen tries.
"What're you going to do with it?" Luciel stares blankly at his own image on the phone screen like he's not sure what to do with his face.
"I don't know. Set it as my wallpaper? So I can see your face whenever I want." Zen nudges him with an elbow. "Smile, c'mon. We're losing the good light."
"Like this?" Luciel plasters the smile from last night across his face.
It takes a little angling for the dim light of the sunset to work, but Zen manages to keep both their faces in the frame. "Yup, that'll do. Okay, keep it steady, one, two, three!" he says, then turns to kiss Luciel's cheek at the word three , just as he takes the photo.
"You are such a douche," Luciel says while Zen cackles and checks his photo reel.
"Aw, dude. It doesn't look that bad, look." He tilts the phone to show Luciel the miraculously un-blurry photo on the screen. Luciel's smile is still there, but the surprise in his expression is unmistakable, as is the glee in Zen's own grin. "We look nice."
"You always look nice, it's nothing special," Luciel responds immediately, but his eyes are softer now, and less empty.
Zen turns off his phone and tosses it at the small pile of dirty clothes and bags that they'd left, and it lands on soft fabric with no mishaps. The bonfire a little ways off has reached its peak, billowing a truly unwise amount of smoke into the sky. "We are single-handedly reopening the hole in the ozone layer," says Zen. "A terrible way to thank Mother Nature for opening up this private beach for us."
"The only way I'm gonna leave my mark on the world is through a carbon footprint," says Luciel. "Might as well."
"What is this, anyway?" Zen asks, still pressed against Luciel's side. "Some kind of last hurrah, or something?"
Luciel's arm tightens around him. "What?"
"You're very good at not telling the truth, but that doesn't make you a good actor. It's written all over your face." He flops one leg over Luciel's. "So, when're you leaving? Tomorrow morning? Before I wake up, without saying goodbye?"
"I was totally gonna say goodbye," Luciel protests, sounding petulant, but Zen knows what hurt sounds like. He's heard it in his own voice for four years.
"I'm sorry," he says, nuzzling his face into Luciel's neck. "Just kinda feeling like twenty-four hours doesn't make up for four years of lost time, you know?"
"I thought you were dead, you know? You let me think that. We all thought that."
"You can't die twice in one lifetime. There's gotta be a line to draw, somewhere." Zen stares down at the fingers laced through his, feeling exactly where once-smooth skin had turned calloused from scars and wear. "You don't deserve this."
"If Defender of Justice, Seven Zero Seven doesn't do it," Luciel says, quietly, "then there isn't anyone else left to do it."
Shaking his head, Zen grips Luciel's hand as tightly as he can. "No, there has to be."
"For four years, there hasn't been." Luciel turns his head so that his cheek is pressing into Zen's hair. "And there won't be."
The last rays of the sun's light glance off the surface of the ocean, and then they're surrounded entirely by dark blue night. There's still light to see by because of their slowly fading bonfire, though Zen knows that won't last, either. But for now there are stars, dozens upon dozens of them, far enough away from the light pollution of the city to shine freely.
"Are you going to take me home, Luciel?" asks Zen, feeling more than a little breathless.
"The night's still young," Luciel says. "We don't have to go back if you don't want to."
"I can think of a couple other things we could be doing instead." Zen pulls back to glare at him. "Neither of which are inclusive of sand."
Luciel raises his arms in surrender. "I didn't do anything! You were cool with it!"
"You always make me go against my better judgement," Zen complains, getting up and brushing sand off the butt of his second pair of jeans. "What about the fire?"
"High tide is in about half an hour."
"Half an hour, and you didn't think to tell me that?!" Zen pauses in the middle of stuffing his damp clothes into his backpack, horrified. "What if I insisted we stayed, were we just going to drown?"
"You work out. Use those leg muscles for something."
"We don't even have a flashlight, I'd be running into darkness!"
Luciel rifles around in the pockets of the rucksack, and pulls out two tiny flashlights. "A secret agent is always prepared," he says, flicking one on and shining the light up from under his chin. "Boo."
Zen snatches the other flashlight out of Luciel's hand. "Fuck you."
Luciel's eyes are shiny with glee. "Looking forward to it."
"Can we get out of here before you flirt like that with me, and before nature kills us for destroying ecosystems?"
"Sure," says Luciel. "But you have to hold my hand again."
It's a little more difficult to pick their way through the underbrush to find their way back to the path leading to Luciel's car, but Luciel's grip is firm, and it feels right to let him lead the way back up until the shining hood of the Bugatti comes into view.
"Treasure your last ride in this baby," Luciel tells Zen as he buckles himself in and as the car starts up, the lights on the dashboard blinking on. "It's not every day a mere commoner gets to ride in one of these twice, you know."
"I think I'll be fine, actually. I've been promised a better ride."
Luciel inhales dramatically. "You said you wouldn't take the bait!"
"That was hours ago."
"I'm going to ditch you here."
Zen smiles, the picture of innocence. "You wouldn't."
"You're right," says Luciel, expertly executing a turn that points them back in the direction of the city roads. "I wouldn't."
Zen watches the stars fade out bit by bit as the dirt road turns back into asphalt. His heartbeat thrums in his ears—a familiar sensation he welcomes as a distraction from the steel in Luciel's eyes. He figures it's because of the wind grazing his face at speeds this high, but sitting beside Luciel Choi, he's not sure he can pinpoint the exact cause anymore.
The security guards at the entrance to the hotel's parking lot check their IDs and poke around the car, while Luciel laughs and makes small talk all breezily until they let the Bugatti in. Then he falls silent, and that in itself is about as loud as he could possibly get, so the moment Luciel parks the car into one of the empty spaces in the deserted parking lot, Zen half-climbs over the gear switch to grab Luciel by the shoulders and kiss him.
"Christ," says Luciel, sounding a little dazed as Zen tries to get his leg over and onto Luciel's side of the car.
"You lied about the backseat." Zen manages to swing his other leg over, until he's got his knees on either side of Luciel and is practically seated onto his crotch due to the tilt of the seat. "I had to improvise."
Laughing and shaking his head, Luciel rests his hands on Zen's hips, and kisses his chin. "There are cameras."
"Like I fucking care," Zen growls, sitting heavily down on Luciel's thigh and trying to get his hands onto Luciel's skin. "You know I hate t-shirts. Don't ever wear t-shirts again."
"We were at the beach—okay, yup, yes, no more t-shirts. None. Ever," Luciel finishes, as Zen glares at him with as much malice as he can while in the middle of shoving said t-shirt halfway up Luciel's chest.
"Good," Zen says, then proceeds to claim Luciel's bottom lip as his own by biting it and then sucking on it like it's penny candy until he hears Luciel's muffled groan. The thigh he's sitting on presses upwards as the hands on his hips press down, and he grinds enthusiastically against the rough material, wishing there was less fabric between them. He's maybe a little too enthusiastic, though, because he slides too far backwards and slams himself into the steering wheel.
A sudden HONK echoes throughout the empty parking lot, and Luciel jerks his leg upwards in surprise. Zen yelps and shudders, his fingers curling into Luciel's shoulders as he tries to get his breath back. "That was me," he admits in a gasp.
"Yeah, um. We should probably move, because some people are starting to notice?" Luciel casts a meaningful glance towards the parking lot entrance, where there seems to be a small commotion and a couple of swinging flashlight beams. Zen utters a long string of curses that could potentially destroy his career in a second if anyone aside from Luciel had heard it, but Luciel just laughs and opens the door so Zen can climb off of his lap.
"Sorry, sorry," he calls to the security guards making their way into the parking lot, while still tugging his shirt down. "Accidentally hit the horn. Nothing's happening, everything's a-okay." Zen flashes them an encouraging smile, and eventually they trundle back towards their posts without investigating the car too closely.
Zen watches them go as he pulls his backpack out of the car. "They knew we were making out."
"They definitely knew we were making out," echoes Luciel, bringing up the roof and turning off the ignition, The car door clicks smoothly shut behind him, and he locks the car with an almost wistful look on his face.
"Hey," says Zen, leaning against the hood of the car and crossing his arms. "Stop. Stop looking at it like that."
Luciel tears his eyes away and pockets his keys. "Like what?"
"Like, y'know." Zen is honest-to-God jealous of a damn car , (though admittedly a million-dollar one). Will wonders never cease. "Like you wanna fuck it."
There are arms under his knee and supporting his back, but Zen realises a little too late, and Luciel's hoisting him up into the air and down onto the low hood of the Bugatti before he can even gather enough breath to protest. "Hi," Luciel says, leaning over Zen with his hands on either side of him. He's definitely— definitely not looking at the car, now.
"Um," responds Zen, very intelligently.
"All that field work has finally paid off," Luciel chirps. "Should I carry you back to the room, too?"
Yes. "No," says Zen, "because then we'd get weird looks, and I have a reputation to maintain."
"Cool. Guess you're still able to walk, then."
Zen gets up on his feet without a wobble. "Fuck you, Luciel Choi."
Luciel Choi lets out a maniacal giggle and takes his hand, leading them away from the car and out of the parking lot.
They stare up at the pristine white plaster of the ceiling, together. Zen has his head in the crook of Luciel's shoulder, which is generally a very nice place to be if his head wasn't whirling with too many questions and the dubious knowledge that none of them are going to be answered. It's still a very nice place to rest your head, though, especially while he's holding the hand of the arm Luciel has around him, so Zen's doing his best to enjoy it while he can.
"It's still kind of early, isn't it?" he asks.
Luciel turns his head away to check the clock on the bedside table, and then Zen's forehead is cold until he turns back. "It's one a.m., actually."
Zen sighs. "And my shitty sleep schedule comes to bite me in the butt."
"Hey, I can't sleep either." Luciel squeezes their hands. "We could just talk."
"We've done nothing but talk the entire day."
"We've done other things, too."
" Enough ."
"Happy. Definitely happy. He got his girl, after all," laughs Zen. "And he's doing well. He really is." Luciel's silent, so he continues, "I hope you've forgiven yourself, because he's forgiven you."
Luciel lets out a long, wavering breath. "And Jumin? Jaehee?"
"He's letting her have vacations."
"Are you sure you don't want to sleep?"
"No, I really don't," says Luciel, but it sounds like a half-truth.
If Zen concentrates, he can feel the quiet beating of Luciel's heart under his skin. "You should rest while you can. I don't think you've ever properly rested in your entire life."
Luciel chuckles lowly, and Zen can hear it deep in his chest. "That's probably true."
"Then sleep for once. I'm here."
"You are." Luciel pulls him closer. "You're actually here."
"Mm-hm. So sleep," Zen tells him, and presses a kiss on the underside of Luciel's jaw. "A thousand times, goodnight."
He hears the catch of Luciel's breath in his throat. It sounds a little bit like a sob, but maybe that's just Zen's heart drowning everything in a dark blue filter. "Yeah," Luciel whispers. "Goodnight, Hyun."
Morning brings cold empty arms and a duvet pulled up over Zen's shoulders. He sits up in bed, rubbing at his eyes. When he blinks them clear, he sees that Luciel's seated on the edge of the bed, smiling at him.
Zen doesn't smile back. "What's that you're holding?"
Luciel's smile goes rigid. "What's what?"
"There. In your hand. No, your other hand," he says when Luciel raises an empty right hand at him. "Give it to me."
The smartphone is reluctantly deposited into his hand. "I was going to leave a note," says Luciel, looking guilty. "I'm sorry."
Zen feels something inside him ice over as he unlocks his phone and goes through his photo gallery. Gone. Any and every trace of the time they'd spent together, deleted without a trace. No blurry selfie, no kiss by the sunset. Just some photos of the hotel's interior and a picture of his own unsmiling face that he'd taken to announce his arrival to Jumin.
"I'm a dangerous man, you know?" Luciel presses. He sounds desperate even to Zen's ears. "You can't associate with me. It's too... too dangerous. You can't—I can't have anyone harm you." A laugh, bordering on hysteria. "You weren't supposed to check until I left, actually! I figured I should piss you off while I'm gone, so you'll remember the kid who hacked into your phone and deleted your shit, you know?"
"It's fine," says Zen.
The laughter dies on Luciel's face. "What?"
"I said it's fine." Zen rubs a hand over his face. "It wasn't like I was expecting anything different. It's fine. You're leaving now, right? Let me wash up, and then I'll see you off."
"Okay," Luciel says, in a voice too small for his flaming hair, and his hideous glasses, and his flashy personality. He sits there on the bed, staring at the carpet as Zen brushes his teeth and pulls on a shirt.
"Can't you dress properly? You're twenty-six, for goodness' sakes," chides Zen, making Luciel stand so he can adjust the collar of his shirt and smooth a hand over wrinkles in the fabric.
"No one's going to see it," Luciel protests, quietly.
"You never know when you're going to have to make an impression, and so you should always strive to look your best. Listen to the blockbuster actor." Zen pats Luciel's hair down, and leans back to admire his handiwork. "There. All pretty, now."
Luciel grabs at the collar of Zen's own shirt and pulls him down to kiss. It feels too soon when they part, even though Zen's lips are still warm and wet. "See you around," says Luciel.
The door shuts behind the ghost calling himself Luciel Choi, and Zen has to blink his eyes clear all over again, like he's just woken up from a too-lucid dream. Next to him, his phone vibrates.
It's a multimedia message—who even sends those anymore?—from a number that lists itself as simply, 'Unknown'. Attached is a photo taken with a smartphone's 9:16 ratio, of a night sky filled with more stars than Zen has ever seen, outside of the city's lights. There is no caption.
A thousand times the worse, to want thy light.