When I wake up in the middle of a dream,
Even when I close my eyes again, I can’t go back to it
I enter tomorrow, searching for the future you were in before
Manatsu no Tooriame - Utada Hikaru
In one phase, he’s a tree. Tall, big, and strong. His roots are long, embracing the earth full of life, extending far, stretching toward forever. His leaves are green, dazzling emerald flecked with gold under the caress of sunlight.
Around him, all sort of life gathered, and he’s there, beside him, always. Small, dainty flower. His petals are white, pure like the heart he’d carry for centuries of life after. When the wind blows, they’d flutter, like wings of the doves.
Lucas was thankful he couldn’t fly like the birds, was grateful that this way, rooted to the same ground that he’s living from, he’d never leave him alone.
But he does because all life departs one cycle to another, and one day, those white crowns fell, one by one. The small kingdom of purity crumbled to ruin as he withered, returned to the earth, to one day, meet Lucas in another life.
Life, despite what everyone said, isn’t only one.
“You only live once,” is a saying created by people in power. Kings. Queens. Governor. Preacher. Philosopher. Pastor. Teacher. Anyone whose words are believed and revered, so humanity will not rot and ruin in shambles of laziness and indulgence.
Religion always associates death with the next life, one excerpt states that “we die but once, and therefore we live but once on Earth; the next life is either Heaven or Hell forever.”
In a sense, it’s close to accurate because Heaven or Hell can be taken as a new life, a new start after the curtain has fallen on the previous on earth. Something has to be broken before another can start. Human has to die on earth before the ascend to heaven or descend to hell. It’s true in concept but it’s not quite correct that human only live once on earth.
Human lives many, many times on earth.
Life stretches long and infinite, like space and time. Like universe expands. You live as much as you die, it’s one lifetime divided into phases. Each phase might differ from another, or it can be entirely the same. It can be the same start and a different ending, or different start with the same ending. It can be a brand new story from the beginning to the end. It doesn’t matter, it doesn’t change the fact that each phase is something you have to live, play, and experience.
Lucas knows this. It’s true, as true as that something cannot begin without the end of something else. As true as the sun rises from the east and sinks low in the west. As true as Lucas is there when the universe was born. He was there, along with myriads of other life forms that The Divine One, the one human called “God”, conceived from the transcendental womb.
He was there, watching, witnessing, the moment that dark, empty universe began to weave sound for the first time. The sound eventually turned into a song, and soon, the entire universe and all life forms sang along with it. From then on, the universe began, the song is a tiny ripple of a hum that turned into grand scale orchestra of the galaxy in the distant past that human referred to as ‘Very Early Universe’.
Lucas existed there, that first picosecond of cosmos. So was Mark. Mark was there, another ancient life form like Lucas. The universe sang, and Mark followed, his song was more beautiful than anything that Lucas ever heard before. Even more beautiful than the song of the universe itself.
Even before his life begins, Lucas has fallen for Mark. Maybe because it was at that point that gravity was born, the force of attraction came into being and Lucas was helpless in front of Mark’s beatific prowess. Mark might not be God but he is a presence omnipotent all the same for Lucas.
The one who sat at the throne of God might have heard, that tiny song that Lucas began to sing about how he wanted to spend the many, many phases he will have in the future with Mark. Along with Mark. By Mark’s side, no matter what and who they are in the many phases to come.
The song was heard, and God decided to grant it, for many other life forms seemed to have sung about similar desire along the way. Alone, it might be a small, insignificant sound, but together, it’s another beautiful song about life that God has come to cherish. A song about love and a dear wish to exist with and for the sake of someone else.
And so, it began. Lucas’ life. Mark’s life. The life of many other beings in the new garden of the universe that expands to eternity.
The end of one signals the beginning of another. In this one, Lucas doesn’t have any memory of his previous life, neither does Mark. The only thing he remembers is he spends almost his entire life with Mark, small, precious, and sickly Mark whose life alternates between home and hospital.
Mark’s father is a doctor and his mother a nurse, thanks to his parent’s profession, Mark can afford his medical bills. Yet, even at the age of 20, he’s nowhere as healthy as the other boys his age. The other boy his age being Lucas who’s only 7 months older than him and has been his neighbor since they were babies.
Lucas is tall, dark, and handsome, as the many ladies have described him to be. Unlike Mark, he’s born healthy, only falls sick once in a year. Mark’s mother, Rebecca, always praised Lucas for it, said in a wistful tone and a sad smile that he wished his son is half as healthy as Lucas is.
He knew she doesn’t mean anything bad by it, just mother’s good wish for her dearest son, but it made Lucas feel somewhat guilty at the same. Illogical, maybe, but at the time, he’s just a young boy, not an entirely helpless one, so he told her, in the most convincing tone a child can utter to an adult, that, “I will protect Mark! I will grow up big and strong so Mark will be okay!”
Rebecca had smiled, laced in what Lucas would learn later as an apology, and ruffled his hair. “Please take care of my baby,” was what she said, and Lucas carried her words like knight’s duty.
He and Mark have always been inseparable since then, Lucas’ entire life is circled around Mark. Half of the first pay he earned from working as newspaper delivery boy was spent on his family, the second one was spent for Mark, specifically to buy those books by Mark Twain that Mark has always wanted after his father gave him ‘The Adventure of Tom Sawyer’.
Unable to leave bed for too long, Mark loves to read. It is the only way he can learn about the world his body didn’t allow him to see. Lucas loves seeing Mark read, loves seeing his face lit up in elation whenever he tells Lucas about what he learned from the books. Lucas loves to hear about the world from Mark’s perspective, even if he has the chance to go and see them by himself, he’d rather know about it from Mark because he doesn’t want to live a world that Mark doesn’t.
He doesn’t want to live a world without Mark and people call him weird, stupid. Hendry, his friend, says Lucas is wasting his life away. He could go out, meet girls, boys. Learn about men and women, and the magic of their touches, but Lucas would rather learn about Mark, twenty years together, and he doesn’t seem to know enough. There’s always something new about Mark, something that always sparks something familiar yet foreign in Lucas.
He tells Mark sometimes, that, “I feel like I’ve known you forever.”
Mark only looks at him funny, smiling that endearing smile of his, giving Lucas that adorable nose scrunch of his, and hits him, weak, and playful, and effective all the same in making Lucas’ heart flips and flops in his chest, saying, “I basically spend my entire life with you, you fool.”
And yeah, Lucas is a fool. A fool who cannot say anything but, “I’m sorry,” after he’s called to join the war.
The year is 1942, Pearl Harbor was under attack barely a year before. The world needs as many soldiers as possible, that includes Lucas, Lucas who wishes for nothing but a world of peace where Mark could live, even if Mark is battling against death every day without war happening in almost every part of the world.
It was a chilly morning in January, Mark is drowning in his dark blue sweater, a color that makes his skin looks even paler than it actually is. Lucas wants to drown Mark in his hug, suffocate the smaller boy in his presence, that he cannot forget Lucas even if the war will rip them apart forever.
“Don’t be sorry, it’s not your fault,” Mark says, he’s not looking at Lucas for a while, just staring into his blanket covered lap. Lucas desperately needs to see Mark’s eyes on him because he feels like he doesn’t have much time left. God knows how long he can live until a vengeful bullet or an explosion set in the name of peace and ideology kiss the life away from him.
He doesn’t have much, and for as much as he has left, he wants to be with Mark. Needs to stay with Mark. He wants and needs so much, but none of he could utter. He merely asks, “will you write for me?”
Mark, finally, looks at him, and Lucas feels like it’s the first time he’s breathing again after his drafting letter came. “Write for you?”
“Letters, you know? I think mom will write one. Will you?” He fidgets nervously but still looking at Mark, not wanting any second go to waste. He wants to burn every single moment with Mark forever in his memory.
Mark says, “I will,” then tells Lucas about 1000 cranes and the ancient belief of people from the east that said whoever fold 1000 cranes will be granted a wish by God. “You should fold my letters and come back to me, they’ll make good decoration.”
“I don’t know how to fold one,” Lucas says, to which Mark replies with,
“I will teach you.”
So Mark teaches him, how to fold a paper crane. The hands touched, fingers met, it’s nothing new, but it always elicited new spark inside Lucas. Their hands are never on each other until Lucas’ fifth attempt finally produced a decent looking crane. “I made it!” He says, triumphant.
Then he looks at Mark who also happened to look at him, smile big and proud on his pretty face, and his eyes. Oh God, his eyes, they’re the most beautiful eyes Lucas has ever seen but right now, they’re looking at Lucas in a manner that Lucas has never seen before;
Mark is looking at Lucas as if Lucas holds the entire secret to the universe. And later, later as he stares into the unending expanse of blue sky that surely connects him to Mark, Lucas finally understands the meaning behind that look.
Memories come, knowledge floods him in the delighted rush of red and brilliant blue, in the swirl of colors he had forgotten to exist. The first moment of the universe. The first song. The time when everything came into being and Lucas was there with Mark by his side.
Surely, at the time, Mark’s memory had unlocked itself. And now, it’s Lucas’ turn to discover things he’s made to forget, like how in this phase he’s supposed to die not long after Mark remembers.
He only got to fold nine cranes.
“Everything is possible within my dreams,”
Is what he said. Say , is probably the correct verb, time and place considered.
It happened in far future, Lucas is sure of it. He doesn’t remember the exact era, the exact year. The exact phase they’re chosen to live in. What matters is he remembers, not the face of who said it but who ; Mark, Mark in the future whose appearance and voice he’s yet to know, but he’s unmistakably Mark, Lucas can never miss him for someone else.
Mark got a soul so radiant, so bright and pure. White, lustrous spots dancing behind your eyes after you gazed at the sun. It’s brilliant, his soul, resplendent light that chases away the darkness, illuminating everything around him, encasing them in his brilliant presence.
No matter what life Mark’s born into, his carries the same luminous soul. It was the soul that has attracted Lucas a long time ago, back when both he and Mark were watching the universe came into being in a magical orchestra of celestials. He’d recognize that soul anytime, anywhere. He knew those words, “everything is possible within my dreams,” are something that Mark uttered. Utters .
In this phase, Lucas remembers him, remembers about Mark and the many phases they’ve shared together before this one. None of them escaped him, or maybe; none of them let him escape. They seized him, rough and tender, cruel and merciful. Memories of old days, days they spent as different beings with the same soul.
The thoughts crushed him, ever so gentle as kind, as they played the myriads of the moment he spent with Mark. They’re beautiful, scintillating days that made his bones rattle with longing, flesh burning with desire. The way they tortured him was delicate, was a wonder, like the way rain would erode the rock. Like the way the ocean could destroy the reef given the time. Such beautiful thing the rain and the ocean are, such beautiful things their memories were.
And those beautiful things are killing him, almost every day, because in this phase when he’s allowed to remember, he’s not allowed to be with Mark. Not when he’s not a human and Mark is.
Mark is a human, a very beautiful human. Lucas has only seen him once, he’s as alluring as ever. As lovely as he could ever be. The light in his eyes are as bright as the soul he carries, warm bark of a tree gleaming sweet caramel under the sunlight. He’s dazzling, as dazzling as he was in his previous lives and the next one he’s yet to live.
Lucas would come to him, would tell him that he’s the one destined for Mark, since the day the world wondrously danced into being. Before Mark knew the next life he’s going to born into, Lucas has been the one for him.
Except maybe in this phase when Lucas is a tiger, four-legged beast with long, dangerous fangs made to maim and tear. He’s feared by animal and human alike. Most human who saw him tried to kill him, Mark family did, about three months ago when they first met, accidentally so.
Lucas was enjoying his morning walk in the forest when he stumbled into a human camp that belonged to Mark’s family. That’s when he saw Mark, Mark in this phase. He was small as always, as he had been in the many phases before. He supposed that’s how both of them are supposed to be; Lucas the bigger so he can protect Mark, so they fit together, made for each other.
Unfortunately, not in this phase. Not when the first thing Mark’s family did upon seeing him was taking their bows and arrows, swords and spears.
Even then, he wanted to see Mark, he longed for his touch, for his voice, for that smile as soft as blooming spring. Lively and bright, like his soul, like the gentle heart housed in that castle of his one-day brittle bones.
So here he is, prowling on his four feet, back to the place that used to be a small camp but is now a slowly growing human settlement.
Lucas has been curious, has been restless. He spent days counting; counting how much patience he had, how many days it took for them to run thin. Maybe the numbers will become significant in the next life, maybe it was already a number significant in their previous life.
He counted, it was 99 days.
He cannot wait any longer, he must make haste. He doesn’t think he can live any longer than this without seeing Mark again. He quickened his pace so his prowling blooms into a run. A run that probably alerts everything around him about his presence, wondering hunter maybe, or the camp’s people who wander to the forest for some herbs and branches.
Does Lucas care?
No, the tiger doesn’t. Not when he can finally see the one destined for him again. Not when he can finally see Mark, the one for him, the fleeting shadow he will keep on chasing. The water that always dances away from his grasp. The one he’s meant to find but never have.
Not when he can see him and Mark can see him, with that gaze golden gilded with foreign yet familiar longing. Surely Mark knew it too, surely Mark recognized him because when they met 99 days ago, his eyes, they shine. Brighter than thousand suns, Lucas knew for he had seen it, back before world comes into being, the most intense light in the universe, and the shimmer on Mark’s eyes had far exceeded that.
Mark must have known him, recognized him, even if Lucas’s form is different, even if Lucas isn’t a human like he is. Lucas wants to believe so even there’s no assurance to that. Maybe it was merely Lucas’ wishful thinking that made him see, maybe it was his foolish heart that put a filter on Mark’s eyes.
Maybe Mark never remember him but even then, meeting him is nothing vain for Lucas. Meeting him is all Lucas needs to breathe, to run, to live, to have enough courage to face the incoming death that will bring him to meet Mark again.
He’s here now, his legs have carried him to the camp’s entrance. He hears people scream, children yell in terror, adults come for help. Lucas doesn’t care, he keeps going on, ignoring the commotion around him. All he can think about, all he can sense and see is Mark. Mark, his end and beginning. The one he wished to spend the many phases they have with.
There he is, Mark. Lucas sees him, that soul dazzling, almost blinding. If he’s human, he’d be smiling. He’s a tiger, doesn’t know if his smile’s counted as an expression of happiness or hunger because when he stretches his mouth to gigantic compared to human’s, he’s showing his fangs. Whites made to tear and maim. Whites long and big and sharp and invites fear to the hearts of all living being.
Mark excluded. Except for Mark. Because Mark is his one and only, as he has said - will say in another lifetime, his be and end all. Mark isn’t supposed to fear him, Mark’s supposed to know him, to accept him, to have and love him at the end of it all before he even knows the end is coming. Before he even knows that the end is the end, last siren and curtain call.
And there’s Mark. Mark is there, right in front of Lucas. Just a couple more step and they shall be reunited again. He’s taller than before, not so much, but still a little bigger. His shoulder is broader, cheeks a little less full, accentuating his cheekbones. Long gone is his baby fat, but never fades is his innocence, the purity of his soul.
His eyes, gold shimmering with recognition at the sight of Lucas. Lucas whose legs begin to tremble, Lucas who parts through the ocean of people like knife slicing flesh open.
Lucas, who is shot by the arrow. Arrows. Rain of them. He barely registers the pain, intoxicated by the euphoria of seeing Mark again. Mark, whose opalescent eyes twinkle in horror, dawned with realization. With memories. With knowledge of the universe.
Another rain falls, this time Lucas is acutely aware of the pain. Stinging, sizzling, burning. A hail of fire. Torches are being thrown at him, Mark screams in horror as Lucas howls in agony. Unable to bear the pain any longer, he crumples to his feet, yet the rain doesn't stop. Yet the rain keeps on falling. Insistent. Persistent. So is the pain.
But Lucas refuses to let his three months of longing go down in vain. Even if this is the life he has to let go again, another death he has to gain, he's ready. He's prepared. As long as in his last moment, he got to see Mark again.
He does, sees Mark, who sees him back. Who runs to him, recognition bleeding, fast and free, and the rain, the rain eventually stopped. The memories that have seized him roughly has let him go, bids him farewell so gentle like the afternoon drizzle that makes the forest flagrant with the scent of earth.
The future he has with Mark comes to visit, whispering, teasing, Lucas’ blistered and battered body shivers with delight, the pain is long forgotten. Mark crouches down beside him, tears falling from his eyes, rain of crystal and all things beautiful. Dazzling, sunshine caught on morning dew. Transient. Lucas finds himself loving him even more at this moment, with Mark's hands hovering unsurely over his dying body.
At least I’m not alone , Lucas thinks. If he was human he'd tell Mark so the boy can stop crying; I’m happy like this, dying, with you. By your side .
Lucas vows then, as he feels the candle inside of him slowly grows faint and fainter. Next time, he will say his goodbye properly. Next time, he will tell Mark of this feeling of his that will never change.
Next time. Next phase. In which he’d be, yet again, the prisoner of his memories, he will.
“I will always finds you,” he hears Mark’s cry. Even if the sorrow is brilliant in his voice, it’s still as splendid as his soul.
His soul. He will never forget this beautiful soul, the same soul that illuminates his path towards him. Always back to him.
“Do I know you?”
Mark is pretty sure about a lot of things like how the queue is long, and woman two people in front of him is bitching on the phone about the rush hour, the baristas flying behind the counter cowering in shame and frustration at the woman’s shameless display of rudeness.
That he doesn't know this man too, whose lashes are long, fingers. Limbs. Heck, everything about this man who just asked him, “do I know you?” is long, is something he’s pretty sure about.
The complaining woman’s voice grows louder, the line finally moved. One person. Slow as a snail. The barista asks for order through a politely offered weary smile.
The man’s smiling down on Mark like this is the best moment in his life, and Mark won't lie; he's the best looking guy Mark has seen in forever, but alas, maybe he has to turn this down.
“I don't think so,” he replies, slow yet sure, sure as hell he doesn't know this man. Hasn't met him before because if he had, he'd never forget him. A man this pretty, this good looking, this tall, and this-
“You sure, cause I feel like I've known you,” this fucking flirt. Mark gapes, cheeks flushing like the color of seasonal cups stacked by the cashier. “Forever.”
The man in front of Mark, apparently unlucky enough to overhear, coughs. The line is yet to move, the woman still bitches to whoever's listening to her beyond the phone.
The man cocks his head aside, eyes opulent shade of dark brown. Rich and smooth and silky with warmth, affection and nostalgia swirled like caramel on hot chocolate. “I believe I do,” he adds.
And Mark, Mark feels fucking stupid because suddenly this feels serious. So intimate. And Mark Lee is a fucking dumbo who should have known better; the man is just flirting with him. Smoothly. He's either a damn playboy or dumb romantic, Mark can’t tell, too busy calming down the erratic beating of his flustered heart.
Nobody flirted with him since forever. Maybe it's an exaggeration, Mark loves to throw that word everywhere. Forever . Donghyuck, his cubicle mate said it's because he's a fucking romantic, Mark's history of dating said otherwise.
He just likes it. Forever . The word has a nice ring to it. Has a nice meaning. Endless. Everlast. Although he knows everything will cease to exist, the word gives Mark a tiny bit of drop. Forever. Nothing truly ends, maybe, just starting anew.
And this man said he’s known Mark, forever. Mark wishes, sincerely, that this man is the later of what Mark thought him to be, not the former. He hasn't got a steady partner for a while, he doesn't have a problem getting one now. Especially with a meeting like this, cute and cliche, the beginning of modern day fairy tail often started at the coffee shop, isn't it?
He'd tell Donghyuck about it, his mate will laugh, and said, “told you, you're a goddamn romantic. “ Mark will giggle, tell him, “maybe you're right,” and then maybe-
“Maybe you should blink, sweetheart,” the man says, voice low and sort of the right depths, and-
“Sweetheart?” Mark croaks. Weak and pathetic.
He who just called Mark ‘ Swe etheart’ giggles, the corner of his eyes are crinkling, smooth and silky like the crease of Mark’s favorite bedsheet. So much warmth is pouring out of his opalescent caramel of eyes. So much adoration, directed at Mark who suddenly finds this man familiar yet beyond recognition. “And maybe move, the nice lady's finally making her order.”
Mark looks around and sure, the bitching lady has finally made her order. A long one at that, probably enough for at least five people. Mark’s stomach plummets, more waiting and more-
“So, still can't remember me?”
-more of this handsome man who belongs on the cover of fashion magazine, or even fitness on, trying to coax something that doesn't exist in Mark’s memory.
He feels bad, feels sorry, looking at the man who looks like he will get on his knees if Mark said he remembers with a troubled expression, Mark hopes his message is delivered without too much damage.
“Sorry. I don't- I really can't remember. I don't think we've met before. Unless I'm mistaken and we knew each other back when we were babies or child-”
“I know you long before that,” he said, eyes twinkling with forlorn delight and blue-hued euphoria.
Inside of him, something shifts. The line moves. He tells Mark just that and Mark complies, silent. Mute. Searching for that something , misplaced, or maybe just slotting into place.
“Way long back,” the man continues, still staring into Mark like he's stargazing, no telescope just naked eyes. Embracing the beauty of nature, stars sparkly gold and silver, with his whole being without nothing to interfere. “I won’t be mistaken. I can't.”
His certainty, his conviction. Strong, tall, and unshakeable. Unbreakable. It makes Mark feel bad for forgetting, for not remembering. That something inside of Mark shivers, trembles. It tries to break free as if trying to tell him something but whatever that’s keeping it there won’t let it.
“Mark,” he says and Mark, Mark feels it. Waves. Surge, crest, and crash, but the reef stays. Unbothered. Unbreakable as the conviction glimmering in the man's eyes.
Glimmering then dies the instant Mark realizes none of that burst brings him anything. Nothing. No name, no face. No man. Not this man. “I’m-”
“Sorry, I must be troubling you, aren't I? Forget it,” the man says, ducking his head with a smile too sad to be sheepish.
Mark scrambles, for words, to say. Something. Anything. But just like his stubborn memory, he can only come out with nothing.
“Uhh, the line's moving again,” all sort of confidence is gone from his voice. Lost, wiped clean as if it was never there before. “Go ahead, make your order.”
Mark looks at him, look at the barista who's still wearing the same weary smile from before. The bitching woman is still bitching on the phone about God knows what but no longer about the line, and Mark is left losing the man he wished he knew.
“Can I have your order, Sir?” asked the barista, not through clenched teeth but forced smile nonetheless. With the man no longer looking at him, treating Mark like he's a stranger when he was treating him anything but that split second ago, Mark feels lost.
“I, yeah, latte, please. Hot.”
“Extra shot of caramel? Hazelnut?”
“No, just the usual one will be enough,” Mark answers, taking out his card and handing it to the barista.
The man's steady presence behind him, tall and warm encompassing, Mark desperately wishes for the memory of being in his arms, shrouded in his warmth.
His mind drew up blank. He turns around, “I-”
“Please wait until your name's called,” the barista says, handing the card back to his still outstretched hand. Mark stutters, thanking her, look again at the man,
he really, really wish he can feel like he's known him forever.
“Excuse me, Sir, but can you please give some space for the next customer?”
Startled, Mark finds himself looking at the barista. Again. Her annoyance is starting to become palpable through her smile, flushing Mark deep crimson in embarrassment. “Uhh. Sorry, so sorry about that.”
Mark wishes the man would say something. Anything.
He's not surprised when he hears nothing.
Mark walks away, feeling strangely empty, like something important has been taken away from him. Weird when all he came up with when he's trying to look for it was nothing.
He steals a glance- glances, toward the stranger. Watches with a sinking feeling, after he got his order and sits at the stool facing the street, how the tall, handsome man who has claimed to know him forever, has called him sweetheart, waits for his order without even looking at Mark.
He watches the man takes his order, a huge size of cafe mocha, gives the barista a sweet, charming smile, then waltzes out of the cafe with his long, long legs. Without looking at Mark.
Without even once setting his eyes on Mark.
Mark feels like he's losing something, funny when he didn't have it, to begin with.
No regrets tho, he tells himself, sipping on his latte, eyes still trailing after the man; one hand holding the coffee cup, another shoved into his pocket. He’s sure about many things like he doesn't know about the man, like the long line to counter is dwindling down with each ticking second. Like he knows he's a damn, hopeless romantic who's in love with word forever even if he never ended up with anyone as one.
Mark is pretty sure about a lot of things like he's probably growing a stupid crush at this man who just called him a sweetheart and is waiting for the light to turn green. Mark is pretty sure he's started wishing to meet this man again and kind of redo their meeting. Introduction. Turn a new leaf and start anew maybe?
This time they can do it, properly, with smiles and hands and names exchanged-
“ Mark ,”
but he knew his name.
The light turns red, the crowd still doesn't move, but the man. The man has been looking at the light for a while now, likely to realize its change of color before anyone else. He steps forward, he didn't look at Mark before but now, Mark is pretty damn sure, is looking at him,
he knew his name.
“Lucas!!” Mark screams, the wave is back, surging, cresting, crashing. And the light is red yet this car comes fast, rushing in, and crashes. Crashes hard, catching everyone but Lucas off guard, and Lucas,
“I don’t think I’m truly myself if I were to forget the days when I’m so in love with you .”
There was a smile there, on that face. In those eyes. Always there, stubborn and sure and persistent. In the many phases before, the one life they can share apart or together.
Memories come, twining themselves together, enriched in blood-smeared golden. Days sad and happy. Moments passed and treasured. Relieved, the many memories that played themselves cruelly, unfolding. Rough, relentless and unforgiving, seizing Mark in repeating despair that he's come to familiar with.
Mark is sure about many things. Many damn things, like even if in this life one's destined to live to remember and die after a meeting, and another one remembers just a split second before he lost the other, in the many, many phases that are about to come, there will be one when they can be together.
This just isn't one of them.
“Do I know you?”
“I don’t think so.”
“Huh,” the man purses his lips, frowning. “I’m sure you’re familiar.”
“And I’m sure you’re mistaken,” he says, rolling his eyes. “It doesn’t matter anyway, I’m going to die.”
“Well,” the hitman is still looking at him, still frowning.
Still looking at him like he really, really knew him.
“Perhaps you’re right, I’m mistaken, never set my feet in this area before until your Boss decided to mess up the arrangement, and here I am, hired and ready to bring some cash home.”
He rolls himself again, feeling tired. Exhausted. If this is the end for him, then just go ahead and do it. Claim his life. Don’t prolong this any longer. He doesn’t tell him exactly that, but he says, “just go ahead and kill me.”
“You’re awfully desperate to die, aren’t you? What is it, kid, suicidal?”
“I’m just being realistic,” he points out.
The hitman laughs, cocks his gun, and aims it to his head.
Mark totally thought the man would be the type of Hitmen who takes pleasure in killing his prey.
The man isn’t smiling, just staring at him, expression curious and intrigued.
“If I asked you to meet me in another life, will you come and find me?”
That’s the last thing Mark heard before the trigger is pulled.
Xuxi doesn’t dream big. He never dreams of conquering China, let alone Asia. He’s grateful enough if he could win a national competition or two before his high school year ends, but it seems like his career ends faster before any of his small ambition can be realized.
He injured his legs, surgery was done, and his legs were fixed but any hope of pursuing a career in athletic is gone. The doctor told him he can swim, but he can never do it like before. So here he is now, spending his holiday in his grandfather’s place instead of joining his friends in swimming camp.
His mother said it can help him heal; mentally and physically, Xuxi can tell she’s stressing the later part than the former, secretly agreed to it. He needs a distraction, as much as possible. If watering the plants and helping the elderly man can take his mind away from his crippled legs, so be it. Xuxi is not the one to dwell too long on something that upset him but he’s never dealt with something as huge as this injury either, he doesn’t have the confidence to face this the usual way.
He loves his grandfather, he’s nice, Xuxi remembers spending his entire childhood here, running around his huge garden, helping him to then the flowers. The plants. Reaching his hands out to the fluttering young leaves of a tree that small Xuxi cannot touch. Waking up to the sky, blue and everlasting. Planes occasionally flew by, leaving a streak of whites on the sky. Cotton candy-like contrail.
Years later, bigger and taller yet heart not any stronger, he’s back here. In his grandfather’s house, tending the garden. Tending the flowers. Waking up to the melody of rustling leaves. Today, too, Xuxi wakes up in his childhood bedroom; the one overlooking the garden. He always slept leaving the sliding door slightly open so the music of summer night could come trickling him to sleep. This time, it’s not different; he left the door opened.
But he doesn’t remember leaving it to be this wide. He also doesn’t remember ever having a boy coming to visit him.
“What the fuck,” he mutters, sleepy. Xuxi, still bleary from sleep, rubs his eyes, does a double take on the boy who’s currently sitting cozy with his back turned to Xuxi.
He’s still there. Xuxi rubs his eyes again, face. Rougher. Harder, maybe if he tries enough, the boy can go away.
He doesn’t. He’s still there. This time looking at Xuxi, with a pair of eyes as fresh and brown as the color of the new bough.
He has the best damn eyes Xuxi has ever seen.
“Umm,” Xuxi begins, his mouth faster than his brain. The boy doesn’t seem to react to his words, just continues staring at him.
To be honest; it’s unnerving. To be honest; it’s unnerving. To be honest; his eyes have become to resemble sea drenched in the color of sunset the more Xuxi stares at it.
To be honest, he feels nostalgic. The scent of coffee, wafting. Rolling clouds and pouring leaves. The trembling hands touching over the scattered papers. His thoughts run. Fast and free. Far, far to where he cannot see. Far, a train rushes to take him somewhere. Far,
“Do you know me?” The boy asks. His voice, sparkling embers, fireworks blooming on the sky. Stars spin and glint, curdling thick into milky way. A song. Far and foreign, so darling. So longed for and adored.
“We folded paper cranes together,” Xuxi found himself saying. Himself asking, “ did we ?”
“I was always too late,” the boy, Xuxi noticed, has a mole on his left cheek. A drop of black diamond on a pristine white sheet. “I was always, and I feel sorry, always.”
“Don’t be sorry, it’s not your fault.”
His expression turning forlorn, a smile slips into his face. Sad. Xuxi doesn’t know him but knows he’d do anything to stop his tears from falling. He’s sworn, promised to this boy’s mother that he’d protect him. “We never had the chance. I was always the one forgetting, but this time,”
“This time you remember,” the words come out again. Unbidden and free. A prisoner released, or maybe just a bird leaving its cage. The bird, it takes control of him, making him say all these things he doesn’t understand nor recognize. “This time, I’m the one with busted legs. You still had it worse, chained to the bed practically your whole life.”
The mysterious boy’s smile deepens, Xuxi’s heart trembles, and when he said, “I’ve missed you,” he shivers, bones rattle, and even if nothing comes into place in his head, the boy falls to his arms.
Or maybe it was him who runs to the boys, reaching out to him, getting him back into his bound and holds him. Safe and secure like they’re home, like this is where they belong and how they should be.
Held tight like this, complete puzzle pieces, they feel as free as ever, if not more so than before. Xuxi inhales him, in, allow him to fall deep and headlong into his blood, suffuses deep into his cells so he can never forget him. So he always remembers him. “I could have saved you,” the boy mumbles, his breath’s tickling the side of Xuxi’s neck.
“I was always happy to have you by my side,” he says, pressing a soft kiss to the boy’s hair, as dark as wet fallen leaves after the rain.
“Have you ever wished it’d be less painful?”
“Never, for there’s no answer, and I know I will always meet you after that.”
“This is a fight we can never win,” he says. Sobs, trembles, and breaks, in Xuxi’s arms. It’s okay, it’s okay, this time they’re together, Xuxi can catch him. Xuxi can keep him even if he’s still bewildered, not knowing exactly what the hell is happening.
Even then, he finds himself thinking that this is right. This is how this should be. The stranger, the boy who comes uninvited to tell him all these things he doesn’t remember, he belongs with him. “And that’s precisely why I will never forget you. I just, I want you to know that I will love you, still, long and far after this.”
“You will,” he says, voice shaking like petals kissed by the breeze.
“You were once a flower.”
“I was,” this time a giggle is freed, tinkering bell. Xuxi hears a song. Long way back but not forgotten. “And you were a tree.”
“You were,” Xuxi feels him nodding in his hold, his hair kissing Xuxi’s skin. “My tree, my thoughts always run to you. I love you, there’re so many things I wanted to tell you, but I was a flower, I could never speak.”
“But you’re free now, you’re human.”
“Not quite; I’m a fairy.”
Huh . “A fairy?” For the first time, he takes a closer look at the boy. The fairy, once his flower and once a boy crippled who sent Xuxi letters. It’s the same lovely face that Xuxi knows but doesn’t remember. Still the same heat that sears through him whenever he’s around, still the same soul that shines with heat guiding and beloved. The far away song of the universe in delight.
“Still yours,” the fairy says, affirming.
A voice at the back of Xuxi’s head tells him that this is all wrong, this is all fucked up. The beautiful boy claims himself to be a fairy, claims to know him when Xuxi’s 100% sure,
Except; no, he’s not sure he doesn’t know this boy. In fact, he does , how is he supposed to explain everything that has left his mouth? How is he supposed to explain the conversation that they had just had? How is he supposed to explain how everything feels so right, being with this boy, having him right here all snug and cozy like soldier’s coming home?
He supposes it’s like his legs; looking all right outside but wrong inside. Or maybe it’s the other way around for their current situation; his heart and everything inside of him is telling him that, yes, yes, this is it . While anyone else who see will probably find it odd that Xuxi is holding a total stranger, in his private bedroom no less.
If his grandfather saw this, he’d probably had a heart attack.
His grandfather, the thought of the elder man slightly sobers him up, Xuxi tries to distance himself from the boy. Still holding him though, not quite letting him go, keeping him in arms length, letting the boy leans most of his weight on him. “You’re a fairy?” He asks gingerly.
“A summer fairy,” he nods. The summer fairy says again, “ this summer fairy to be precise, once this summer ends, I will be gone. I can’t stay long.”
“Oh,” something sinks, down and plummets in his stomach. Crash and burn. A car crash, danced brief and cruel in his head. A flash that leaves him with pain, a phantom on his side where the car had hit him.
Xuxi swears he’s never been in a car crash.
At least not in this one , the bird chirps. The bird that has taken control of him before.
“It’s like, three days, I only got three days.”
“That’s fast,” disappointment, tumbles out of his mouth like leaves ripped from branches by storm. “I don’t- I don’t think I know you, not much. Not-”
“Not yet,” he cradles Xuxi’s face, small fingers sought after and dearly missed. Xuxi leans into the touch. “And I’m Mark, you haven’t called my name, maybe you don’t remember.”
“Not much,” he confesses, turns his head slightly to kiss that skin, tasting summer and burnt wood. Smoked with rain, his memories a jumbled and messy tangle of separation that he cannot call a tragedy. “I- you’re a fairy, and I knew you were not before, except I don’t. I don’t really know, or remember. I’m-who am I?”
Who am I ? That’s it, from the many things that run in his bewildered mind, this might be the most important thing; who am I? And,
“Who are we?”
“I’m Mark, you’re Lucas. We’re attracted to each other the moment gravity was born. We’re meant to be together.”
“In a lifetime?”
“Lifetime is only one, it’s merely divided into phases,” Mark, the fairy, says, slightly breathless, eyes wide in wonder. In marvel. And Xuxi - Lucas , finds himself in love, so deep, inexplicably so, it is as if he’s born to love this boy. This fairy, whose eyes now twinkle, spinning the songs planetary. “And the many others to come. You’ve chosen me, Lucas. I didn’t, but I’m more than happy to share them with you.”
“Sorry, I can’t remember,” he murmurs, dejected and disappointed at himself.
He still cannot remember anything that Mark has talked about, his mind is still in the state of disorientation, yet his mouth is always faster, his body is quicker. Before he can even come up with something, they move on their own. This time, his hands decided that the right thing to do is to circle Mark’s wrist, catching them softly in the cage of his flesh and bones.
“But I, I don’t think I’m sorry that I’ve chosen you,” when he speaks, he does it with pride, with sureness and certainty that came from a place unknown. “I wouldn’t trade this with anything else. I’ve chosen you, I love you.”
“I know you won’t,” is Mark’s answer, pride shining in his eyes like the rising sun. Golden and drenched with warmth, soft kiss of sunray on slumbering earth, waking up all the life within.
It doesn’t stir the memory inside of Xuxi awake but it coaxes something else.
That something else pushes him to do this; pulling Mark’s face closer, soft and careful. The boy’s practically sitting on his lap, his expression turns tender, lips pulled into a smile. Lips that Xuxi sought after, lips that in the previous lives he couldn’t even touch. Lips that in another life has uttered his name like a prayer. Lips that-
“I don’t think I’m truly myself if I were to forget the days when I’m so in love with you,”
“Do you remember me now?” Mark asks, his eyes are closed now. His lashes are long, so long, so missed and adored. Xuxi wants to kiss each of them, want to seal his vow on every strand.
“I don’t know. Not really, but I feel like I do. I knew you. This feels,”
“Yeah,” he admits with a sigh. Relief and regret mixing into one.
Mark kisses him.
And God, does it feel right .
It feels right, kissing Yukhei, like this. His body, so much bigger, so much taller, so much broader. So much more than Mark who’s born only 189 days after him. It’s on top of him, trapping him under its welcoming heat. The heat that sears, heat that kisses Mark’s skin, leaving a trail of the blaze as if to mark him, to remind Mark to whom he belongs.
It feels right, like this, having Yukhei on top of him, kissing him, cradling his face in a tenderness those large hands didn’t seem to possess. He treats Mark like he’s his King, his Queen, his God, and all sovereignty he has sworn to worship. Treats Mark like he’s born to love him and him alone, nothing and no one else. This citadel of flesh and bones have come into being just to adore him.
“I feel like I’ve known you forever,” Yukhei says in between their kisses, his words are gilded, sunshine gold with devotion.
“Do you?” Mark asks, a little bit breathless.
“I do. I do know you, I don’t think I’m truly myself if I were to forget the days when I’m so in love with you.”
Mark giggles, his eyes are getting misty, tears already pricking, begging to come out. Like rain, longing to fall down to meet the bountiful earth. “Why are your Korean suddenly so good?”
“I don’t know,” the taller boy huffs, frown.
The taller boy who just officially became his boyfriend for 5 days. They did fool around a bit before Yukhei decided to man up and confess. Their relationship is still a secret, at least from their managers. They’ll surely flip out if they knew Mark and Yukhei were not ‘working out and practicing together’ all these times, unless you can count making out as both.
The other members know, not all of them, just a couple who can see them through.
Which practically means almost all of them, really, both of them are horrible at keeping secrets.
They put so many things at stake, their career and reputation to name some, but they decided to go with it. Both of them will have separated schedules from now on, anyway, it’s both a curse and blessing in disguise.
“You’re supposed to practice more on your Chinese, babe,” he teases, giving his boyfriend a peck on the tip of his nose.
The frown melts, a giggle escapes, run free and merry. Danced in delight of loving and being loved in return. “Yet here I am, getting my Korean better, maybe so that I can tell you how much I love you?”
“Have I done enough?” Yukhei tilts his head aside, confused. Cute.
“Mm-hmm, not yet. I don’t think so.”
“Okay,” Yukhei smiles, kisses him again. Mark sighs, trembles in happiness at the softness of his touch. His lips.
They kiss some more, kisses that tickle, leaving Mark giggling. Kisses that intoxicates, leaving Mark reeling and dizzy, needing some, wanting some more.
“I will write you later,” Yukhei says then, half gasping.
Mark pulls him down for another kiss, murmuring against his lips in between, “letters?”
“Letters,” he feels Yukhei nodding, feel his hand reaching down to grab the hem of his shirt. “And I need this off,” he tugs, Mark complies, lets Yukhei manhandles him until he’s left in nothing but his underwear.
“Why would you write me letters?”
“So I can practice my writing, Korean,” Yukhei undresses, fast and casual, he throws his shirt at the direction where they’ve chucked Mark’s clothes before.
Mark feels his mouth water at the sight of his boyfriend’s naked body. Fucking adonis. “Xuxi, you’re supposed to practice your Mandarin.”
“But you don’t understand Mandarin,” he returns to his previous position, hovering above Mark, using his elbows as leverage. “I want to tell you how much I love you. I wanted to say so many but I can’t. Not yet.”
Mark wants to remind him that Korean isn’t his native language, English is, but Yukhei’s looking so earnest, so serious, Mark doesn’t have the heart to break it. “Okay, then I’ll be waiting for your letter.”
Mark says, “I will,” then tells Yukhei about 1000 cranes, tells him about the belief that said whoever fold 1000 cranes will be granted a wish by God. His boyfriend is visibly elated.
“Will you fold my letters then?”
Something feels right. Something feels wrong. Something feels like it should be the other way around; Mark writing the letters and Yukhei folding it. It’s like living with permanent injury, looking good outside but messed up inside. Mark cannot place two and two together to know what is exactly wrong, because it still feels right too; them writing letters, folding them into cranes.
And having Yukhei here, right by his side, around him, so huge and encompassing, it feels right.
“Maybe you should blink, sweetheart,” Yukhei says, voice low and sort of the right depths,
“I found you,” the words leave his mouth before he can fully comprehend them, Yukhei looks surprised. Mark’s reflection on his boyfriend’s eyes is looking equally taken aback.
“You found me?”
“I found- you asked me; If I asked you to meet me in another life, will you come and find me?”
At that, something in Yukhei’s eyes changed. Something breaks, redeemed yet not liberated. His eyes shimmered, he trembled. Something inside of Mark shifts, memories come, surges and crest and crash. Yet the coral stays, strong and persistent. Stubborn.
“Have you ever wished it’d be less painful?”
Yukhei’s answer tumbles out in a gasp, “Never, because I know I will always meet you after that.”
“What are we even talking about, Xuxi?” Mark asks, suddenly feeling terrified. He runs his hands over his boyfriend’s face, mapping it, memorizing, the contour and the slope of that face. Remembering, tracing his memory for an image of a familiar yet foreign face.
“I feel like I’ve known you forever,” he says, repeats what he had said. Then he frowns, saying, “I know you long before that, way long before that. I cannot be mistaken.”
“Oh God,” his hands, once in wander, stills. His mind spins, searching for the missing film reel, the one that’s supposed to explain whatever the fuck is happening.
He finds nothing. Yukhei is still looking at Mark, this time like he's never seen him before, like Mark is a stranger. And Mark, slowly engulfed by fear and befuddlement, is petrified. Pinned under his anchoring height that feels too much like home. Fastened in place by his eyes; bright and brown of fresh, young bough. Feels like this where he belongs.
Feels like even if he's someone new that Yukhei sees, in itself, there is nothing wrong.
Because that's how it’s supposed to be , said a small voice in his head. A voice that keeps urging him to say, all the things he can't revive in details but recognized. All the words drenched in blue shade of longing, edged bright golden with love. Blessed and elusive.
Because life stretches long and infinite, like space and time. Like universe expands. You live as much as you die. You’re always meant to be something new. Someone new. It doesn’t matter, it doesn’t change the fact that each phase is something you have to live, play, and experience.
It doesn’t matter, it doesn’t change the fact that he,
“I will always find you,” the words leave his mouth, birds taking flight. Depart. The sky is as blue as his foggy memory can remember. The sky they fly to was once pouring, tragedy and reunion full of misery. Of dying beast and lost human.
Yukhei blinks, Mark can tell that even if he can't summon the exact knowledge that will answer their questions, he knows . Knows Mark, knows what to say, knows what to ask. “Who are we?”
Who are we? Such a stupid question. They know the answer already; it’s there, on the tip of his tongue, ready to run and free themselves, seize that moment of liberation like memories have seized them roughly in long, forgotten past they cannot recall.
It’s such an obvious answer.
Even the meaning it carries is different altogether, far and so much deeper. Has traveled time and space so much longer.
So many phases. And here they are.
“I’m Mark, you’re Lucas.”
We’re attracted to each other the moment gravity was born.