The first time Wish falls, he is alone.
Wish stumbles in this new strange world, lost and confused. He is terrified, adrenaline rushing as he runs through the forest, unaware of who watches from the woods.
Seth stands by, watchful, but there are only so many things he can do to help this strange new guest. The tree he remains tied to is unbending, no matter how hard he struggles to free himself from this punishment he has been given. The copse of woods nearby taunts him, laughing cruelly at how he is secluded in the center of this clearing. Seth is truly, utterly alone, and he cannot help but feel the cloud of despair blooming in his chest as he watches the world’s new guest from afar.
Wish is blooming too, with the curse that robs him of all but his sight. His body is not his own, his mind is filled with thoughts of flowers and poisoned seeds. He cannot help as he wastes his time, his pocket watch ticking his time away at an alarming pace. The energy and allowance Another One has given him to escape seems to be whisked away like petals in a fresh spring wind. Wish feels sleep beckoning him, a warm rest to this pain that roots behind his eyelids and through his thoughts. Though he fights, he cannot help letting a dark curtain falls over his sepia tainted vision.
The first time Seth meets Wish, it is in the forest. Seth can feel the strings tugging him back towards the tree, like a marionette. Each step away from the tree is more and more difficult. His bones ache, his muscles are red hot with pain, and each footfall echoes with a harsh lash of liquid fire through his veins. Yet he walks towards the smaller form collapsed in the fairy ring in front of him nevertheless.
Seth swears Wish opens his eyes when he picks him up to cradle him in his arms.
When Wish truly does open his eyes, his hair surrounded by withering flower petals and twisted roots, Seth is startled by the stark difference in his two irises. For once, color returns to the forest.
Wish leaves, and Seth is sure that is the last time he will see the boy, despite his promises to return. The last he sees of this strange new guest is the image of his backside, tailcoats flying as he dashes off towards the kingdom.
Seth is only slightly remorseful. The boy couldn’t have freed him anyways, not with the amount of time he had. The curse of the forest ensured that, a second blow to Seth’s already painful punishment. Seth resigns himself to stretching into the tree, curling into one of the branches and relaxing in the sunshine he can’t feel.
He tries to ignore the emptiness Wish’s departure leaves in him.
The first time Wish returns, Seth can’t believe the boy standing stubbornly at the base of his tree. His face is upturned to the web of branches above him, odd eyes locked with Seth’s own. Seth climbs down from the branches, agile and cat-like until he is face to face with Wish.
He tries to tell him it won’t work, he tries to tell him that it is a waste of time, but Wish only steels himself and repeats the mantra given to him, wind whistling through his snowy white hair.
Seth can feel the moment that the bonds retreat, that his limbs loosen and relax into his flesh. Through Wish’s power, the curse has been lifted. For the first time since he can remember, Seth feels free.
Wish is unprepared for when Seth picks him up and spins him around, letting out a yelp before his feet land back in soft grass. Seth can’t tell if he is laughing or crying, but he does know that he is free, free, free. The world is full of color and the wind is winding through his hair.
He can’t help the warm smile that comes to his face when he turns to Wish and thanks him, again and again and again.
Seth can feel something inside of himself change, and he knows it is something far from a curse.
They transverse the other one, traveling over sunny fields and winding brick towns. With each new place Seth can see the guardedness drop away from Wish. His eyes become brighter, his smiles become bigger and Seth finds that Wish actually begins to laugh at his poorly made jokes, at his odd shenanigans and even replies to Seth’s banter.
Wish talks softly about himself sometimes. He speaks about his mother, about his village and the people there. He speaks with a quiet fearfulness of his father, and of the apparition that the world conjured for him back in the melting village. Seth can sense the loneliness in his voice. Wish holds somethings closer to him that he doesn’t speak about. Seth is just happy to listen.
Seth can feel a strange new emotion surfacing in his chest. He is short of breath, cheeks flushed with warmth whenever he catches Wish losing himself in laughter. The change is so sudden it sends him reeling, and he can’t help but notice how the Other one’s colors seem to flock to Wish’s figure.
The one thing that does not change, is how Wish is so completely oblivious when Seth leans close or smiles softly, this foreign but not unwelcome sensation wrapping its arms around him like a soft embrace. Seth isn’t sure if it is better this way or not, but part of decides he truly doesn’t care.
All he knows is that he is happy, and that’s all that matters.
It is only once they’ve explored every inch of this world that Wish finally turns to his friend with a gentle smile.
“Thank you.” He says, in that airy, feather light voice Seth has grown to love. “For bringing me here, for letting me see this. I…I don’t feel alone anymore.”
Seth isn’t sure how Wish ends up in his arms, but he hopes that he never leaves.
When they find the portal, Seth can feel a part of himself rip in two. He knows Wish has to leave, he knows that he can’t let him stay. This world is far too dangerous for him. It is better for him to go.
His heart tries to tell him otherwise, but he doesn’t care.
Wish looks up at him, eyes torn with indecision. Seth can hear the sound of his grief. But that isn’t enough to make him hesitate.
He wraps his arms around Wish’s smaller frame tightly, trying to memorize the shape of his figure and the color of his eyes, the smell of his hair, and the brief but bright smile on his face before he casts Wish from where he came from. He hears Wish’s despairing cry as he falls into the portal, one arm stretched out as its torn away from the figure of his friend.
If he has to be alone for Wish to be safe, then so beit.
The world inside our own, not unlike this one, will do anything to get what it wants.
And what it wants, are people.
Seth learns this the hard way.
The second time Seth meets Wish, he is puzzled by the perplexity of it.
He finds Wish in the forest once again, lost and confused but alive nonetheless. Seth’s heart cries with joy when he sees him, hoping beyond all hope that he isn’t dreaming, that it isn’t some trick of the light.
Wish shoves him away when Seth tries to embrace him. Seth can see the fear and confusion in his friend’s eyes as he stands guarded in front of him.
Seth’s mind races. Wish isn’t supposed to be here. His heart aches as he remembers the despair on Wish’s face as Seth cast him back into the true world. What’s more, Seth realizes with increasing misery, is that Wish has no idea who Seth is.
The second time Wish falls into Another One, he realizes just how cruel the world can be.
Seth tells him everything from the beginning. He spins tales of sunset beaches and crystal flowers, of winding brick paths and the road that leads out of the dark forest. Wish doesn’t believe him at first, he doesn’t trust this story he’s been told. But Seth insists, his heart shattering as Wish comes to realize the world he has become trapped in.
Seth leaves out the part where he betrayed his friend and cast Wish out of this realm they’re in.
He helps him in all the ways he can. The portal is not where he remembers it being. The world is more brutal this time, not hesitating to cast its curses and play its pranks on the two. Seth can see the effort taking a toll on Wish. He can see it in how his eyes dim, how his shoulders sag, and how hard he tries to hide it. But it doesn’t stop Wish from eventually smiling, turning to his friend with a whisper of thanks.
Seth tries to keep his emotions in check. He tries his best to not approach Wish with his feelings, to hold him in his arms and keep him safe from the horrors of the world.
It doesn’t help to love someone who has so little time.
Eventually he can’t help himself. Wish cries into his arms as the forest tries to hurt him, as the clocks tick down, as the world tries to wring whatever color Wish holds out of him. Seth hugs him tightly, reminding himself that Wish’s true life lives elsewhere.
It doesn’t stop him from reminding himself what Wish’s figure feels like in his embrace.
When they do find the portal, it is with little time to spare.
Wish is exhausted. Deep bags droop under his eyes; his limbs weigh heavily down upon him. Seth thinks Wish is more than ready to leave this place when Wish turns to him and smiles tiredly.
“I’m not sure I want to leave.” He says. “Even with all that’s happened, I still think that out of anywhere, I’d like to be with you.”
Seth manages to summon a smile despite the grief that rises inside him. “You know it’s too dangerous here.” He replies softly. “Your real life isn’t here.”
Wish tries to protest; he tries to argue. Seth can see how much it takes a toll on him, how much of the weight he has carried begins to pull him down.
He doesn’t hesitate this time when he pushes Wish out of sight and into his own realm.
He definitely doesn’t drop to his knees and sob loudly at the horrible truth of it all.
The third time Seth meets Wish, he is angry.
He finds Wish in a maze, trapped with no way out and very little time. The pocket watch he has on his waistcoat shows even less time than the last. Seth curses at the cruelty of it all. He explains things to Wish in a rush. Not for the first time, Wish is hesitant to believe him. Seth has to prevent himself from shaking the boy by the shoulders to make him understand.
“Your mother brought you here, right?”
That seems to be enough for Wish.
It is truly a race against time to find the portal. Seth knows it won’t be where it was before, so that makes things a little easier. The journey becomes a desperate hunt to find the place that will lead Wish away from Another One. Seth doesn’t have much time for jokes or for banter. He needs to make sure Wish is safe, that he can escape the tortures this world seems determined to place in their way.
He is almost killed more than once for his negligence. The forest is a dangerous place, after all. He nearly slips or crashes or tumbles into danger more than he can count. The only person to ensure he is safe is the odd-eyed guest next to him who seems to become increasingly concerned for his guide. Seth can see how Wish changes over the short period of time they are allowed together. He sees how Wish lights up at the sound of Seth calling his name, or how he smiles at Seth’s increasingly cynical humor.
Seth hates himself for enjoying it.
They almost don’t make it the third time. They find the portal purely on accident, after Seth slides down a gully and Wish tumbles down after him. They are both worse for wear, but they made it, and only with minutes to spare.
Seth doesn’t allow wish to give parting words this time. He tells him everything he knows. Don’t follow the woman in the forest, be careful where you wander, and whatever happens, don’t come back. He speaks the last instruction with cold eyes and a harsh voice, holding the horrible agony of loneliness out of sight.
The third time, Wish jumps into the portal himself, his sobs over Seth’s rejection lingering in the guide’s ears.
Something inside Seth breaks.
The fourth time Seth meets Wish, Seth tries to ignore the mounting despair inside him. He decides not to tell Wish about how this isn’t his first, second, even third time here, how the other times have been so much worse, and how the worst is yet to come.
Wish still doesn’t know who Seth is, and Seth isn’t sure whether to be relieved or hopeless. At least, he reminds himself, Wish doesn’t remember how much pain he has already been through.
Somehow, he notices, Wish has more time now. The pocket watch ticks slower, and Seth tries to block out the thought that it is probably because Wish doesn’t know what has already happened.
It seems Wish is not the only one. Their journey leads them to the kings, to the masters of time themselves. They don’t recognize Wish in the slightest. They do, however, seem suspicious of how Seth seems to already know so much about the guest. Seth makes a promise to himself to never let them know.
In the end, they have some extra time. The kings will probably hunt Seth down for making them reveal the location of the portal, but Seth hopes that he can get Wish home by then.
Part of him wonders if it’s useless. This is the fourth time, and so very little has changed. Wish is still saturated with color, his odd eyes sparkling when Seth mentions all of the wonderful things Wish doesn’t have time to see.
He wonders if it’s just easier to let Wish stay, to give into the Other One and let Wish run out of time. He wonders if maybe, Wish can live happily here.
They spend a little of the extra time simply talking in front of the portal. They sit in a grassy field surrounded by blue grass and blue flowers. Seth feels out of place, but it doesn’t stop him from watching Wish doze peacefully in the sun. His white hair softens in beautiful contrast to the vivid colors of the blooms around him, lips parted in easy, gentle sighs.
Seth’s heart still jumps at the sight of his friend’s soft, sleepy smile. It seems that even after all this time, Seth’s heart has never forgotten how easy it is to fall in love all over again.
He knows Wish doesn’t belong here, that his real world waits for him still. It pains Seth to think he will never return to that world he has long since forgotten to name. While he hopes Wish truly does escape this time, he can’t help but selfishly think about if Wish comes back again. He wonders if maybe, next time, Wish will have enough time to fall in love with him too.
When the time finally comes, Seth doesn’t stop himself from wrapping Wish in his arms for what will hopefully be the last time. He knows Wish is confused and startled, but he ignores it in exchange for the smell of Wish’s hair, the shape of his face, the touch of Wish’s shocked exhale against his chest.
It is his turn this time. The tears he promised he would never show spill out from his eyes as he says “Thank you, for coming back and giving me one last chance.”
Wish tries not to look back as he walks into the portal.
He doesn’t succeed.
The fifth time is the worst.
Wish has barely any time left when Seth finds him again. Seth doesn’t even have time to explain as he yanks Wish along with him to the palace. He has no choice now.
The unfairness of it all sends him into a fury, as he barges into the throne room with rage in his voice and fire in his eyes. The kings have no time to respond before Seth is upon them.
Seth can feel the flame of anger in his veins as he stands over the kings, bloody and bruised, yelling at them to give Wish more time. This new violence within himself terrifies him. Yet If this is what he has to do to ensure the safety of his friend, then so be it. He knows Wish can hear him, he only thanks whatever god is left that he can’t see the brutal spectacle before him.
Eventually the kings concede, and Wish’s clock ticks backwards. Seth makes sure that he isn’t lied to about the location of the portal before he absconds, guest in bloodied hand.
The portal is underneath his old tree, of all places. Seth wants to laugh at the irony of it all, if it weren’t for the rapidly ticking hands on Wish’s pocket watch.
He can hear the royal garrison behind them as they run, hunting them further into the forest as the race against all of the odds. Seth manages to wonder briefly if he’ll get out of all of this alive.
Wish is beyond bewildered. He is terrified and confused. Seth is mostly sure that the only reason Wish stays with him is because Seth knows the forest, knows where the portal is. Seth tries to ground himself with the feeling of Wish’s warm palm in his hand, shaking and afraid. He tries his best to quell the fear in his friend’s eyes, but there’s simply no time.
The garrison catches them, eventually. Seth’s veins pump with pure rage as he takes a dead soldier’s sword and uses it to cut down his comrades. His mind is racing, screaming, bursting at the seams with the implications of what horrible acts he is committing. He knows he is a dead man, but he has not come this far to watch Wish succumb to this world that is so determined to keep him. He will not let the world have his dearest friend, even if it costs Seth his life.
He only notices the soldier standing over Wish just in time.
Seth tries to ignore the steady drip from his side as he hurries deeper, deeper into the forest. The wound gushes with bright red, leaving a blood-soaked trail behind them. Wish is crying now, crying at the brutal spectacle he just witnessed, sobbing at the blood-soaked sword Seth clutches at his side, or simply out of the confusion of what has transpired. His wails fill the trees.
Seth’s heart screams at him to stop and hold Wish, to stroke his hair with his bloodied hands and to reassure him and comfort him.
He doesn’t have time.
“Why did you do it?!” Wish cries despairingly, his voice shrill with terror and confusion. “Why are you doing all of this for me? Why am I that important?!”
Finally, Seth stops. They stand at the edge of the clearing where Seth’s old tree lies. He can still feel the phantom strings that attach his body there. He is more aware of the gash in his side, and the wetness of his sleeve from Wish’s tears.
For the first time in a while, time seems to stop.
He kneels in front of Wish, looking up into the blood-spattered face of his friend. Seth realizes he isn’t truly sure where the story he is about to tell begins, or where it ends. All he knows is that he has to tell it.
He says everything. He tells Wish of the tree, of how they met for the first time, the second time, the third time. He tells Wish of blue flowered fields and beaches where time seems to stop. He tells Wish of the jokes he used to tell before this happened, or how he wanted more than anything to never let Wish go in a place where there was so very little time. He tells Wish everything Wish told him about his mother, his village, his father and everything in between. Seth doesn’t forget to tell him about the way color clings to Wish’s frame, how Wish freed him, how he will never be more thankful, how Wish is the only constant in a world that seems to change so much with every passing day.
He doesn’t forget to tell Wish how much he loves him.
Wish’s tears are endless as he stares in total shock at his guide, his protector, his guardian, and his friend. This Other One, drenched in sepia and muddied pastels and grays, now bursts with color, and it all draws back to the boy sitting in front of him.
“You did all of that…for me?” His voice seems not his own as he speaks. “You went through all of that...because…you love me?”
Seth’s eyes are so tired, but so hopeful as he nods. “Everything.” He repeats. “All of it, for you. I’ve done it so many times now, and I would do it again. Despite everything, you are the best thing that has ever happened to me, Wish.”
Wish’s eyes blaze with color at the words. In one step he rushes forward, launching himself into Seth’s arms.
“Thank you…!” He sobs, his voice like a summer breeze. “For being my friend, for helping me. Thank you for believing in me and never giving up. Thank you, Seth.”
Somewhere, Seth knows this time might truly be the last. He holds Wish together than ever before, wanting with all his heart to never ever let him go ever again.
“I’ll see you again, someday” he says softly, stroking his snowy white hair. “I know, somehow, we will meet again.”
He holds Wish away from him, at arm’s length, just enough to see his face. He has to catch his breath at the color in Wish’s eyes, at the light that seems to rival even the sun. He chooses instead to whisper a promise: “And then, when I finally see you again, I promise, no matter what, I will fall in love with you again.”
Wish gives him a nod, and open his mouth to speak when his clock begins to ring.
There’s no time left. Seth wants to say so much more, to hold him one more time, but there is no time. They race to the portal together, hoping against all hope that there’s just a few more seconds.
“Jump with me!” Wish yells
“You know I can’t!” Seth replies over the wind, over the ringing of the watch, over the shouts of the garrison behind them. The colors around them seem to fracture, like shards of glass that begin to shatter. Seth’s tree seems to splinter, its colors distorting in a horrific and beautiful fashion. The world is falling to pieces around them, and Seth’s heart is racing in time with the clock.
“Please!” Wish yells desperately.
Seth decides he will allow his love this one last favor.
“Okay! Ready? One, two, three-!”
Wish isn’t sure how he ended up in the forest.
The woods are calm. A gentle breeze winds its way through Wish’s hair. The birds twitter in the treetops. The sun spills through the drying leaves, casting a dappled pattern on the meadow below. Wish’s back leans up against the tree behind him, the bark pressing into his sweater.
Wish is also unsure of why he can’t stop the tears that are falling from his eyes.
There seems to be no stop to them, as they spill hotly over his cheeks and onto his clothes. He rubs at his eyes with frustration, cursing their betrayal. Some part of him aches with grief, but Wish cannot provide himself with as to why. The silence of the forest offers him no answers. There is no stopping his crying as hiccups bubble up inside his chest.
A glance at his pocket watch proves it is truly quite late. As much as he hates it, he should head back home to the village. He stands slowly from his tree, allowing himself a shaky exhale to slow his sobs.
This strange sadness does not retreat as he leaves the woods. It seems that his tears have dried themselves out, for which Wish is thankful. As he meets the path leading back to the village, he can’t help but stop and consider the tall trees surrounding him. There seems to be an unknown knowledge within the tall dark figures of the trees, reaching out with their branches that seem to look like arms. He shivers.
It is time to leave the woods now, he reminds himself. All the strange new things and the unknown should remain here where he cannot carry them back.
He swears he sees a movement in the corner of his eye, but when he turns to look, there’s nothing there.
It was probably a trick of the light.