jae’s clunky black fiesta clatters into death as soon as he drives onto wonpil’s yard. it’s during first snow, and it’s caught in the wipers, and slush is puddling in the little potholes.
the license plate falls off when jae kicks it.
“oh my god,” wonpil manages, and his head hurts and he’d moved out here for the peace and quiet so he could write his goddamn novel, “oh my god. oh my god. jae, jae, oh my god.”
“that’s my name,” beams park jaehyung.
actually, jae doesn’t make much of an impact on wonpil’s little winter retreat. the snow falls, slush at first and then it sits, covering the carcass of jae’s fiesta and of wonpil’s functional jeep, and they stay out of each other’s way. wonpil’s cottage is just big enough for the two of them to avoid one another, and he’s not trying to avoid jae, but jae definitely wants to avoid him.
(he hears music from the spare room. guitar strings. crooning. the beatles, nirvana. ballads. stuff like that, but jae never seems to be recording anymore, and wonpil is too cowardly to really ask what’s going on.)
“why don’t we have any milk?”
“i named him brian.”
“who?” the fridge door closes with a soft squish. wonpil looks annoyed. he’s got a cup of black coffee in his hands, and it’s too late at night to try venture through the country roads, even in the four-wheel drive the jeep has.
“jae, we have no milk.”
“yeah, duh. dowoon needs it,” jae frowns down at the spiderscrawl music in front of him, and tries not to bite the end of his pencil off.
“there’s hedgehogs outside that i feed-”
“-that’s where my milk is going-”
“-and he looks so small and cute-”
“-my house is not the woodland fucking food bank-”
“-and so i thought i’d give him milk and bread-”
“-my fucking bread too-”
“-and there’s the snow fox, too-”
“-the fucking fantastic mister fox, jae, oh my god-”
“-such cute little eyes,” jae picks up the pencil, staring at it hard. “such cute little-”
“-jae!” wonpil’s mug has little flower patterns on it, and a crack down the middle, and wonpil’s socks are holey. very country-boy. wonpil fits in well. “jae, stop feeding my milk to - to the creatures.”
“brian isn’t a creature,” jae protests. he’s lounging on the sofa, his feet near the boxy stove, wonpil’s cat curled up on the tiled fireplace, and all jae can think about is music and hedgehogs and being tired.
“he’s a snow fox.”
“and,” jae says, just to be himself, just because he can, “and he’s my friend.”
brian is jae’s friend.
this is news to younghyun, who kind of resents being called brian, even if it does make dowoon laugh at him. dowoon is cute when he laughs, all snuffly, clutching a piece of milk-soggy bread in his front paws, but it’s not him that’s got stuck in his form with no way of clambering out of it. dowoon is cute and sleepy as a hedgehog, and cute and energetic when he stretches out into humanity, and he mocks younghyun relentlessly.
younghyun snaps at dowoon’s feet half-heartedly, the bare toes in the snow.
i told you to shut up, younghyun growls. his paws are cold. his tail is cold. he can’t feel his fur. normally this wouldn’t be a problem, because he’d just stretch into having arms and legs and a smile, and then it’d all be okay - but no, not now. it’s the worst time of year to get stuck.
dowoon slumps down in the snow, staring at the cuffs of his jeans, at his bare feet. his sweater is holey, not as warm as it could be, but warmer than younghyun feels. “he’s not so bad. he gives me milk.”
he gives younghyun ham.
(the new one in the cottage.)
“i might go visit them someday,” dowoon hums, playing with grass, wrenching it up by the roots and letting soil drip all over younghyun’s forlorn frame. “oh, quit moping, stupid. it’ll wear off eventually.”
three weeks! younghyun whines.
“three weeks of free food.”
you get free food, and you still get to stretch, younghyun glowers at dowoon, beamy brighteyed dowoon, who’s getting plump on all the milk and bread and attention foisted upon him by the new one in the cottage and by sungjin, who’s constantly trying to feed him up. dowoon is living life to its fullest -
and younghyun is stuck as a stupid-stupid-stupid fox. he’s never been a fox for this long. dowoon gets stuck more than he does; sungjin doesn’t understand them, the only proper human living in their house. he thinks there’s something wrong with younghyun’s mind.
nothing wrong with his mind. he just can’t escape.
“sungjin said he was gonna bring the new one a housewarming gift,” and dowoon’s standing now, brushing snow off the seat of his sodden jeans, “do you wanna come? you can sit in my bag.”
no thanks, younghyun grumbles. it doesn’t stop him from leaping into dowoon’s arms, tail all swishy, and dowoon beams and starts trudging barefoot through the snow.
they make a pretty picture -
a barefoot beam of a boy, and a piercing red fox draped over his shoulders, the only splots of colour in a whitewhitewhite landscape. snow falls almost every night, most days now too, and the trees are wearing it merrily, and the hedges are full of it, and kids seem to spring out of the bushes, hastily construct snowmen, and then leave.
younghyun wishes he was stretched out again, so he could play in the snow too.
but no -
i’m not moping.
“you so are moping,” sungjin declares when the two of them reach the house. he tuts at dowoon’s feet; at dowoon’s sweater. “hey, go change. you’ll freeze.”
dowoon sticks his tongue out.
“i’m not joking.”
younghyun leaps out of the little domestic, going to curl up by the fireplace, his paws on his nose as he stares grumpily into the fire.
it’d all be bearable enough if it wasn’t for brian.
jae sits hunkered over, balanced on the tips of his toes, staring out into the gloomy evening. wonpil has long retreated to work on his novel, and though he ranted ‘til he was blue in the face about feeding the woodland creatures, he’s made no effort to hide the milk.
or the bread. or the ham.
so that’s why jae’s sitting in snow, rapidly melting to slush, freezing his ass off while a little hedgehog laps milk out of the dish by his foot.
(dowoon is surprisingly relaxed, as hedgehogs go - he doesn’t seem to be scared of jae at all.)
“brian,” he calls, dangling strips of ham from his fingers, “c’mon, man, we’re woodland buddies. that means you come and eat my - oi-” as dowoon shoves his whole body into the dish and lounges in milk, splashing little droplets everywhere, “you cheeky-”
brian slinks out of the shadows. if foxes could look annoyed, that’s what he’d look like, picking his paws daintily through the snow, turning his nose into the air, defiant in his avoidance of actually looking at jae.
dowoon is snorting into the milk. (if hedgehogs could laugh-)
“here,” jae lays the ham on the snow, and grins when brian starts nipping away at it. “man, if my producer wasn’t gonna kill me, i’d totally write a song about you. way cooler than love. lovelovelove, all the damn time.”
dowoon puddles about in the milk. brian eats ham.
(jae can’t very well complain to wonpil about creative control. wonpil ghostwrites autobiographies, for fucks’ sake, and jae’s slid into an emotional slump because he isn’t given the freedom to write exactly what he wants? it’d be a bit rich.)
(not that complaining to the wildlife is any less sad-)
“it would be great, right?” jae fumbles with another slice of ham and rips it into little mouthfuls for the fox next to him. “man. you two could be in the mv. like - like that christmas ad, with the jumping dog on that trampoline? but cooler. and all emotional. lyrics’d be like fuck the industry and then, like, a ten-minute guitar solo while i screech. something like that.”
brian barks, the foxyish bark, and if he wasn’t a fox jae would say he was smiling. laughing?
“i’ve proper lost it,” jae mumbles. when he reaches out to stroke the top of brian’s head, like he would a puppy, brian doesn’t run like a normal fox should - he turns his head, lets jae stroke his ears, his fluffy tail.
dowoon the hedgehog snorts into the dregs of his milk.
“the neighbours are here,” wonpil says sleepily, staggering into jae’s spare room in odd socks and clutching a mug of coffee. “go play house, jae, please. i gotta do this.”
“we have neighbours?” jae looks up, pencil shoved into his mouth. “since when?”
“theoretical neighbours. they live a halfamile that way,” wonpil waves his hand vaguely, and then spins on his heel. jae hears him staggering back to the office, steps creaking through the floorboards - and, yeah, fine. he can play house.
“hey,” he says, and then his jaw drops. the neighbours, the theoretical neighbours, are cute. not old people. not snotty farmers’ kids. cute people.
“i’m sungjin,” the one in front says, holding his free hand out to shake, his other occupied where it holds the hand of the second visitor -
who smiles and beams, crinkly eyes and soft mouth. “i’m dowoon. pleased to meet you!”
jae grins, waving his hand to get them to come in (and he doesn’t notice the fox that slinks under the kitchen table, although dowoon does). now this, he knows how to cope with. the whole, nat and chatter, tea and biscuits and introductions to the area. “dowoon? funny thing. i feed a hedgehog out in the garden, ‘n that’s what i call him.”
“betcha he’s a cute hedgehog,” sungjin says. he and dowoon have settled comfortably in the chairs around the kitchen table, like they own the place (for all jae knows, they might, after all.)
“shut up, sungjinnie,” dowoon mumbles into his hands.
which is, yeah, kind of weird, but jae is used to plenty of kind-of-weird. “tea?”
“can i just have a glass of milk?”
(jae swears he hears sungjin hiss “yeah, real subtle,” and a squeak like someone being elbowed in the ribs.)
(the new neighbours are weird as fuck.)
still, he pours it. sungjin has a pretty face, and a smile that looks like he knows more than he's letting on - but maybe that's just natural. and dowoon is small and cute and bashful - sipping his cup of milk and wiping the white moustache away with the sleeve of his wax jacket.
“i’m sorry we couldn’t be ‘round sooner,” sungjin says when jae sits down, “but - well, there’s three of us, and our friend younghyun’s been down. poor kid.”
“awh,” jae makes a sympathetic face. this tea is too weak. what the hell kinda teabags does wonpil buy? why’s that kid laughing?
“it’s unfortunate,” dowoon manages, milk bubbles in his glass. “very-”
there’s an angry bang under the table.
and then -
sungjin and dowoon exchange masked smiles as the new guy yells “it’s brian!” and younghyun tries to bite dowoon’s foot.
“the neighbours are weird.”
wonpil’s pen doesn’t even stop moving. “go away.”
“pillie, they’re super weird.”
“you’re super weird. fuck off.”
“d’you know one of them has the same name as my hedgehog?”
“i’ll fuck off in a moment,” jae adjusts his position where he’s leaning against the doorframe, scowling at nothing. his glasses keep fogging up; wonpil has the heat on far too high. “have you ever met the neighbours?”
“i met younghyun,” wonpil sighs and sets down his pen, staring at the novel he’s carving out of paper and ink, strewn over his desk. “not the other two.”
“ohh. he’s the one that’s sick, i think.”
“they said he’s been down.”
been down, younghyun whines, paddling his paws into dowoon’s thigh with way more violence than needed, been down. you motherfucker!
dowoon laughs and swats him away. “hyung!” he yells. “hyung, brian is being mean to me!”
“tell brian to shut the-”
you’re both horrible, younghyun says sulkily. i hate both of you.
he sneaks out the open window before dowoon can shift downward, and slinks away to the neighbours.
the neighbour. wonpil had been fine - younghyun met him once, had a pleasantish conversation over tea and chocolate buns, and it was fine, all fine. wonpil’s writing a novel, apparently, and needs to be as far away from people as he possibly can just to do it. jae, however, seems to be -
man, if my producer wasn’t gonna kill me…
a singer? a songwriter? lyrics about love. younghyun squeezes through the snowy hedges and brambly bushes, heading for the little lantern of light that their cottage brings. it’s too early for him to be out, really, and he’d wait for dowoon on a normal day, but he’s annoyed.
he’s allowed to be annoyed. he’s been stuck as a fox for three weeks.
three weeks, dowoon.
lucky for him, jae’s already sitting on the porch when he pads up. jae - park jaehyung? - with huge round specs that should make him look stupid, but don’t, and jeans all ripped and sliced, and a baggy white sweater that looks way too holey to be warm. hair all mussed and fluffed. lips all big and puffed. eyes all soft and warm.
you’re a fox, younghyun, chill the fuck out -
and there’s the other thing.
hello, brian says, although jae can’t understand him. he smells pork, probably leftover from dinner, but weirdly enough he’s not that excited about the food. ‘course he loves meat, especially when he’s got a fox-tongue and not a human-tongue, but he kind of likes the patter jae gives him, too.
(even if he does call him brian. even if he is stupid.)
“y’know, i think wonpillie is mad at me,” jae begins, pulled pork hanging from his fingers. “he moved here to do his novel, yeah? and then i showed up. i’d leave, but my car is fucked up, and i got like… zero funds. plus i’m having a mental breakdown, i reckon, and if i go back to work i’d probably stab my boss with a pen and then throw my computer out the window. total anarchy. cool, right? you and dowoon could come along.”
you sound stupid, younghyun says, licking his nose. just tell your boss you’re overworked.
of course, jae can’t hear him.
“but i dunno where else to go, y’know? i would live with jimin for a bit - that’s my friend, she’s really cute - but her boyfriend might get the wrong idea, y’know? and me and wonpillie have been friends for like, practically forever. sucks, though, right? man. it’s probably way easier being a fox, right?”
younghyun barks a laugh at that. yeah, fuckin’ right it is. idiot. stupid idiot. talk to your boss!
“i don’t think i could be a fox,” jae continues, scratching behind younghyun’s ears in the nicest way. “i’d miss talking too much. y’think i talk too much? i know kevin does - he’s my friend from work - but wonpillie doesn’t usually. he’s in a weird mood cos of this novel. novels are fuckin’ weird.”
you’re not wrong there.
“where’s dowoonie tonight?”
being a stupid fuck with his boyfriend.
“wonpil’s mad cuz i keep feeding you two. but if i’m going mental, i might as well have friends. like alice in wonderland, yeah? you can be the white rabbit.” jae’s knees look nice, younghyun notices. just, like, like normal knees, but they look nice, all dark and honeyish through the rips in his jeans. he wonders if jae is one of those people that buys pre-ripped jeans, or if he cuts them himself, or if he just trips and falls normally.
his money is on the latter. jae seems like the sort of person that isn’t quite used to how much of him there is, all gangly and too-long.
not pretty -
“and one of the neighbours is sick, apparently,” jae says. “younghyun. hope he’s ok. i might call ‘round and try see him, y’know? be a good neighbour. would that be a good idea?”
no, says younghyun. no, it really wouldn’t.
dowoon cackles. “hyung’s got a crush!”
hyung does not.
“hyung’s got a crush!”
“hyung likes the ham guy!”
hyung does not!
“stop teasing him,” sungjin ruffles dowoon’s hair on his way past. “it’s not his fault he’s like a big child in love.”
i am not!
dowoon laughs. little shit. younghyun’s given up on even trying to stretch back into being himself and is now in full huff mode, curled up in front of the fire, glaring at dowoon’s every move. the stupid kid has stopped showing up in the evenings to give younghyun ‘more time to bond’ with jae, which is kind of good because younghyun gets more attention, but also terrible because younghyun has to listen to jae whine about how he misses dowoon.
younghyun is way cooler than a hedgehog. jae’s an idiot.
“hey, hyung, i know what might fix you.”
“true love’s first kiss!” dowoon bursts into a fit of laughter so intense he starts gasping for breath and clutching his stomach, heaving breath into his lungs, and when sungjin wants to know what the joke is, he starts laughing too.
“true--true love’s first--” tears are pouring down dowoon’s cheeks. “imagine it, hyung, oh my god-”
affronted, younghyun leaps out the window again and starts padding with as much dignity as he can towards the cottage in the snow, the gleaming glow, the smell of woodsmoke. he hates his friends. (no he doesn’t.)
true love. what is he, cinderella?
the frog prince?
hold on --
have i been cursed by a witch, younghyun asks jae. are you a witch? did you curse me?
naturally, jae can’t understand. he keeps talking about his work, younghyun sitting by his knee, as though there isn’t a potentially-enchanted foxboy beside him.
the frog prince?
younghyun is having an identity crisis.
and another crisis of a different sort, based on how cute jae looks, but that’s - that’s beside the point, oh my god, he’s been cursed or enchanted or frozen or something. oh my god. oh my god. his life is going to end because he’s got jammed into the body of a fox, and nobody will remember who he is.
“true love’s kiss,” sungjin says diplomatically, nibbling a piece of scottish shortbread.
“true love,” dowoon laughs himself silly, honking and snorting and clutching his stomach.
as it turns out, it doesn’t even take anything as dramatic as that.
the snow has fallen again, heavy clumps of it. “i’ve been kicked out of the house,” says jae mournfully, scooping younghyun into his lap to pet behind his ears and feed him cold roast beef. “wonpillie says he needs absolute total silence to write the next chapter, and he’s taken my guitar. what a dick. what a dick, right, brian?”
bring your guitar out here, younghyun says, irritated. just play it out here. duh.
“i swear, wonpillie drives me mad. but then i drive him mad, so… evens.”
i wanna hear you play the guitar.
jae keeps petting, his long fingers brushing out the fur. “y’know, i saw a fox once, in the city. but it stunk of, like, trash, so i thought all foxes were gross. you’re cleaner than a li’l housekitty, y’know that?”
younghyun preens. i like to take care of my body.
(he does, too. dowoon gets himself all gross and then he stretches back into humanity and he’s all grubby and covered in dirt, and sungjin has to turn the water heater on so he can wash all the gross hedgehog bits off. gross.)
“if you were a person, we’d get on,” jae continues. he lies back against the ground, all snowy and dewy and pink and pretty, his eyes turned to the sky, his hands smooth and soothing against younghyun’s tail. “yeah, we’d be friends. hey, if you were a person, you could sing. me ‘n you could totally… like, leave my label. start up our own thing. jae records. wait… no… i dunno. brian and jae. parkjaehyung-ian. jaehyungpark-ian.”
that’s an unfair bias to your name, younghyun says sleepily. if he were a person, he’d be smiling right now, dozy and dopey.
“jaehyungparkian,” jae repeats happily.
that’s dumb. it should be jaian. wait, no - youngjae -
“ahhh, brian. you’re the best. sorry i got no more beef.”
younghyun peddles his paws into jae’s chest. just keep petting me and i won’t leave, okay?
“maaan. you’re the best friend. totally love you, brian.”
and jae ends up with a lapful of grubby, disgruntled, naked kang younghyun, and he’s not sure which of them screams the loudest.
“i can never show my face there again,” younghyun yells through the door. “fuck off. brush your teeth in the other bathroom.”
“it wasn’t so bad!” dowoon shouts, lips pressed to the keyhole. “c’mon, please, my breath is so bad-”
“no!” younghyun splashes at the bubbly water, watching the scum float to the top, a whole month of getting suck as a fox finally catching up to him. he sort of wants to cry, and also sort of wants to just plunge himself into a barrel of moisturiser. he also just wants to live in the bath.
another knock comes at the bathroom door. “younghyun,” sungjin calls, all wheedling, “come on. you’re being ridiculous. just go… explain to him-”
dowoon’s laughter sounds faint and echoey through their house.
god fucking dammit.
younghyun pours a desolate handful of soap into his hand, and dunks his head.
“-i swear, i swear - okay, what did the other neighbour look like?”
“like a - i dunno, he had arms. a head. feet,” wonpil sighs. he’s got words printed back-to-front on his forehead, but jae doesn’t really feel like pointing them out right now. “jae, c’mon, are you sure you didn’t dream it?”
“no! i said something like man, i love you, bro, and then brian turned into a human and ran away!”
“sounds a bit - dreamy.”
“he was dreamy. the actual happening wasn’t dreamy,” jae frowns, stirring milk into their coffees, arranging biscuits on a little plate and sliding them onto the table. “seriously, i’m about to lose my mind. what did the neighbour look like? did he have, like, a pointy nose? cute eyes?”
“now you’re just describing the fox.”
wonpil shrugs. he’s smiling, though, and maybe jae hasn’t driven him totally round the bend, not yet. “he was… i dunno. tannish. he did have kinda cute eyes. like, glimmery? and a pointy nose. and pointy lips. and a pointy - he was just kind of a pointy face, really. and arms and legs, all the usual amounts - what’s wrong?”
because jae has slammed his head onto the table, although not before carefully setting his glasses to one side. “i can’t believe i’ve been hand-feeding him ham,” he says, tortured, “wonpillie, he’s so pretty. how could i have been such a fool? i let him lick my fingers. oh my god. oh my god, our pretty neighbour has licked my fingers. wonpillie. i’m dead.”
“you’re not - okay, it’s not that bad,” wonpil pats jae’s head, holding the coffee to his mouth and sighing in relief when he sips, “just go ‘round to their house with some cake or something, and say hi! i’m your cool neighbour. they’ll be totally okay with it.”
jae is silent for a few seconds. wonpil turns around, rolls his sleeves up, prepares to tackle into the biscuit tin with more than his usual determination.
“oh my god, does that mean dowoon-the-hedgehog is our neighbour too?!”
the sensible thing, younghyun thinks, would be to go over there and apologise, and get to know jae properly, and then… like, ask him around for a cup of coffee. privately. private coffee.
that would be the sensible thing.
younghyun is sensible, usually.
so when jae looks out of the kitchen window and sees the fox - brian, younghyun, dreamy-boy-licking-his-fingers - he almost has a heart attack, and after he’s finished clutching at his chest, he realises wonpil has left the room, and is laughing at him from somewhere distant and faraway.
so jae opens the door, of course he does. he covers his eyes. “are you naked? i don’t think i can deal with a naked person in the kitchen.”
the fox barks. sounds something like i’m a fox, you dumbass. or, possibly, you dickhead.
“you’re a naked fox, though,” jae replies. he shuffles blind towards the door. “hey, how about i give you my - here,” and he flings his biggest hoodie in the general direction brian is sitting at, “how about you put that on, and i don’t have to embarrass myself anymore, and we’re all happy and good? grand? yeah?”
a few seconds pass. jae wants too peek, kind of really wants to peek, but he just about manages to restrain himself. that would be rude.
“you can uncover your eyes now,” says an unfamiliar voice. a pretty unfamiliar voice. “hey, jae, really.”
(oh yeah. jae has spilled his heart and life and soul to brian - to younghyun - to this fox-boy, and now he’s gonna reap some serious consequences.)
“hi?” he tries, hands still clapped to his cheeks, drinking in brian with all the luxury in the world. “oh - wow.”
brian shifts a little uncomfortably. jae only got to see him for a fraction of a second before he ran, the other night, but now he’s got all the light of day and the time of day, too and - and wonpil was right. he does just look like a fox. his eyes are pretty and brown and shimmery, and his nose is pretty and pointy, and his lips are pretty and pointy, and his hair is pretty and brown and parted in the centre, folding down into little heart-shaped loops over his forehead. and he’s wearing jae’s hoodie.
jae’s hoodie, and nothing else.
jae is kind of skinny. like, gangly. and he buys all his clothes way too big (all his tops, anyway) so he can fit into them and flop about and feel a little more like he fits into the body he’s got. brian is different. brian is -
“stop staring at me, jesus christ,” brian says. he crosses his arms over his chest. he looks like he’s wearing a pretty brown jae-shaped dress.
he has pretty legs.
“you have pretty legs,” jae says stupidly, and then: “wait! fuck! i didn’t say that. nope. nothing. i said nothing.”
“you said… nothing,” brian repeats. “um. yeah, okay. can i - can i apo-”
“i’m just so sorry oh my god i can’t believe what i did i can move out if you want or give you money or like i can give you my hoodie if you like it or i can give you wonpil i’m sure he wouldn’t mind just don’t kill me you’re way too pretty and i -”
“-logise for how - what?”
jae stares at brian.
brian stares at jae.
in the bushes, a tiny little hedgehog is laughing so hard he can’t stand up.
jae gets brian - younghyun - a pair of his pyjama pants to wear, because none of his jeans will fit. and brian looks small and soft and cute, sitting on the kitchen table nursing a mug of hot chocolate, looking red and pink and foxy. fox-like. fox. whatever.
“seriously,” jae says, “i won’t mind if you sue me. i mean - yeah, i will mind, but i’ll understand.”
“why’d i do that?”
“i like, non-consensually fed you beef.”
brian splutters into the hot chocolate, and it takes jae an embarrassingly long time to realise he’s laughing. “you didn’t know i was a person, though! you were just being nice to the fox!”
“i always thought foxes were cute,” is jae’s response, followed swiftly by total regret of ever having a mouth and the ability to open it. “uh-”
“we’re an underappreciated bunch,” brian nods. he’s smiling, now, all soft in pyjamas and a hoodie. brian-the-fox.
“so, uh… younghyun-”
brian wrinkles his nose up, and it’s so adorable jae wants to kick something and yell. “that sounds so weird now you’re saying it.”
“i can’t believe i’m agreeing to that. but-”
jae beams. “brian it is, then. hey, how funny is that? i got your hedgehoggy friend right, but not you.”
“oh, dowoonie?” brian scoops the pink marshmallows onto his fingertip and nibbles them one by one. “yeah, he loves you. says to thank him very much for all the milk. sungjin says fuck you, because dowoon’s… he’s a li’l pudgier, now.”
“that’s cute!” jae notices something brown and prickly in the bushes, and he’s not taking his chances.
brian smiles. “i think so too. sungjin’s just mad because now dowoonie keeps stealing our jeans.”
- that reminds jae of the Secondary Elephant In The Room. “so… you and sungjin and dowoon live up there? the three of you, on your own?”
“oh, yeah,” brian nods happily, and he’s so pretty, “yeah, sungjin’s grandmother gave it to him in her will, and me and dowoon were already kind of hanging around the country, being ourselves. y’know… the other selves. fox and stuff. i was born in the village down there-” he waves his arm- “but sungjinnie was good enough to let us stay with him. that was - oh, years ago. these days, we mostly make a living on this youtube channel? sungjinnie films the outdoor creatures, me ‘n dowoonie, doing stupid shit, and youtube pays us.”
“sweeeeet,” jae says. he’s thinking about youtube, and memes, and brian. “uh… so… are you three..?”
“oh! oh, no-” brian grins. “no, no, dowoonie and sungjin have that covered. i’m the loner bean.”
they both laugh awkwardly at the exact same time, and jae knows for certain there’s a hedgehog in the bushes laughing himself silly.
but that’s okay.
he got to have a conversation with the prettiest man in the entire world, so he’s happy.
“invite him over for tea.”
“what, are you trying to play casual? he’s seen you naked.”
“invite him over for tea,” sungjin says again, smiling.
“or i will.”
“what do you think i’d be, if i could do what you can?” jae asks, one cold winter night after christmas. he and brian are sitting on the veranda, holding mugs of tea and smiles, talking about nothing in particular.
brian hums. “maybe… a little chick? your hair is sort of fluffy. chicky-jae. that’d be you.”
“how did you get to be a fox?”
“i’ve always been able to do it,” brian splays out his hand, flexing the skin against the snow. “my grandmother could do it, and dowoon’s grandfather could turn into a hedgehog. sungjin’s mother could turn into a badger, but - see, it skips every other generation. right?”
“right,” jae mumbles. “so you… lived here your whole life?”
“you enjoy it?”
“yeah. i don’t think i could…. live anyplace else,” brian mumbles. “you… music, right?”
“yeah, i write stuff for a - company, and other people sing it.”
“you enjoy it?”
jae swills the tea around in the mug. “um.”
brian kisses him one spring morning. jae’s out for a walk and he sees the fox streaking through the greensplit snowmelting landscape, and he stops and calls yaho--ooo, briaaaaaan, until brian arrives. he’s started carrying an extra coat in his bag just in case brian shows up.
“thanks,” brian says, all draped in puffy fluff and smiling. “i’ve had lots less embarrassing encounters now you’re around.”
jae says something. it’s probably stupid.
and brian kisses him.
(short and sweet, on the lips, as gentle as the snow that’s melting all around them.)
wonpil is the one that leaves, in the end. jae’s clunky old black fiesta is still broken, and it’s the height of summer, and wonpil’s driving away with his novel complete and a book deal almost-but-not-quite hashed out in the emails on his computer.
“you’re impossible,” he tells jae, as he settles behind the wheel of his jeep. “impossible.”
jae crooks his chin against brian’s shoulder. “i’ll take care of the house for you.”
“sure you will.”
brian grins a foxy grin. “and i’ll take care of jae for you.”
“sure you will,” wonpil says, with little enthusiasm. “ugh. jae, you’re like a damn cat. always landing on your feet.”
and they kiss again, for the second-third-fourth-fifth countless time, there in the summer sunshine on the veranda.
(“want some milk?”
“is that a no?”