The thing about Minseok is that Jongdae can always feel him coming. There's a creeping sensation, like a chill that worms its way up your spine and makes your hair stand on end, as if his very being leaks out of his form and sends tendrils of power, dark and foreboding, searching every room, every corner, every person. He comes in with the wind and the breeze masks how his presence sends a shiver down everyone's spine, but Jongdae knows. It’s too familiar to him by now.
It’s important that he knows the feeling because it never appears to accompany the same person twice. Sometimes he’s young, sometimes he’s old. Sometimes he’s a short, portly fellow with a belly too big for his shirt and other times he’s a towering governess with severe features and immaculate dress. But when he comes in with the wind and orders the same things, it’s not hard to put two and two together.
There is one face he’s used more than once, a slight figure with slender legs and a round face that makes him look closer to Jongdae’s age than he probably is. His smile is bright and charming and his voice is soft yet energetic. He’s a pleasure to speak with and a pleasure to look at and Jongdae has definitely formed a personal preference to this particular appearance. He'd like to think this form is the closest to Minseok’s true self, that it is Jongdae's privilege to know it is him, but even he's not so naive.
No matter what form he takes, the eyes are always the same; large, round, imploring. Forever searching for something. Jongdae isn't sure he should even want to know what. (But he does want to know. He wants so badly to know.)
The night outside is calm as Jongdae tidies up the shop after closing. It’s been awhile since he’s given the shelves a proper dusting so he’s at it for far longer than usual. Chanyeol has already retired to their flat upstairs, having finished preparing the stores for the next morning’s potions, so Jongdae is alone in the store. He doesn’t mind it. The luminous crystal still ticks and clinks with plenty of life yet to light the store and the stars shine beyond the window without a care. The quiet feels good after another busy day, with Jongin insisting his body can handle a stronger vitality draught and Junmyeon ordering enough glamours to douse the entire theater and half the street besides. Busy but mundane. He supposes he should be grateful; the last time he’d seen Kyungsoo his face had been hard and determined, more so than usual. Something must be brewing past the outskirts of the city to make Kyungsoo prepare for his journey the way he had.
His thoughts are cut short by a heavy gust a wind that rattles the windows in their frames, the shop beset so suddenly that it makes Jongdae jump. The door, locked and bolted like clockwork after closing, suddenly bursts open with a howl of wind that feels like it’s brought a whole storm with it. In the doorway stands a lone figure, hunched and limping, shrouded in a swirling darkness that creeps across the floorboards, carried in by the wind that hadn’t been there a moment ago. The figure takes a shaky step into the shop, clutching at his side and trembling with the effort to stay upright. He looks up at Jongdae with large, round, familiar eyes.
“Do you have any… polyjuice…?” Minseok asks through grit teeth and labored breath. “My stock was… compromised.”
“Minseok?!” Jongdae exclaims as he clamors down from the ladder to rush to Minseok’s side. “What happened to you?”
When he gets closer he can see that the shadows he thought were the dark of the night are radiating from Minseok’s body, a hazy black smoke-like sheen that shifts and molds itself around Jongdae’s hands as he takes Minseok by his shoulders. Minseok tips forward like he wants nothing more than to collapse into Jongdae’s embrace but he stops himself with a grimace that seizes up his whole body. He stumbles to the side instead and Jongdae guides him carefully against the shelves of earthen herbs and helps Minseok sink down to the floor as his legs give out. Minseok’s chest heaves, panting for air as the darkness around him pulses and spreads, creeping across Jongdae’s hands and up his arms like it’s reaching for something. Minseok’s form blurs before his eyes, tries to shift into something larger, darker, before Minseok forces it back with a grunt. He can barely breath like this, much less tell Jongdae what happened. He doesn’t want to leave him and risk letting him collapse while Jongdae isn’t around to help him.
“It's causing you too much stress to maintain this form, let it go,” Jongdae says.
Minseok stares at him for a long moment, his eyes, ever the same, still bright and imploring.
“… You don't want that.”
“Drop this form or I'm not getting you anything,” Jongdae insists, his grip on Minseok’s shoulders tightening even as the darkness sends shivers through his veins.
He doesn’t, not right away, only looks up at Jongdae with a stubborn set to his jaw, an argument fighting its way up his throat. But Jongdae has what he needs and they both know it.
Minseok’s shoulders sag with a harsh sigh and with it his appearance begins to… melt away. The pallor of his skin and frailness of his frame fades into the haze that surrounds him, the dark mist shivering until there’s barely more than a shadow of him left. His shoulders feel as though they bubble and shift and Jongdae hastily releases him just in time for the darkness to burst with a cold wind that sends an awful shiver through Jongdae’s whole body. The black mist fades into something softer, just a faint aura around Minseok’s true shape.
Jongdae swallows as he takes him in. Minseok looks like something out of a nightmare, his limbs elongated and sharp, his skin a swirling mess of black and deep purple, like his very flesh and blood is made of dark magic. Swirling horns have replaced his ears and his eyes, downcast and shifting as if he’s ashamed to look up, glow red with an intensity that stands out against his otherwise dark form. But they are still large and round, still full of the same deep mystery that Jongdae gets lost in every time he sees him. It’s still Minseok.
They’re still for a moment. Jongdae feels… at a loss. Minseok’s breathing is already coming easier without the added stress of maintaining a mundane appearance but he’s still clutching at his side. Jongdae’s eyes stray downward in the quiet and he sees the dark tendrils of darkness seething and shifting around where Minseok’s hand still clutches at his middle, almost as if the darkness is leaking from that spot.
“You're hurt,” Jongdae finally says, concern overriding all else.
Minseok has the audacity to shrug even as his words come shakily.
“Wounds of the flesh are but passing annoyances,” he says.
But Jongdae is already not listening and his fingers move to Minseok’s jagged, boney hand to pull it away from the wound.
“Let me-” he starts, before Minseok snatches his wrist away with his free hand.
“Polyjuice,” he insists. This time his voice is hard, incessant. “That's all I need.”
Finally their eyes meet. The glowing red of Minseok’s eyes is nothing compared to the piercing intensity of his gaze. It doesn’t leave much room to argue.
“… Right,” Jongdae finally acquiences. He takes his hand back and slowly gets to his feet but he can’t shake the feeling that Minseok is… vulnerable. In need. Terrifying. Conflict rages in his chest, fear wrestling with fear that makes him want to hide away and forget, but also to never let Minseok out of his sight.
He keeps glancing back to where Minseok sits on the floor slouched heavily against his cabinets but Minseok doesn’t meet his gaze. He keeps his eyes downward, staring forlornly at the floor by his feet and that, perhaps, is the most disconcerting thing of all.
Grabbing the ingredients for polyjuice is like second nature by now; the faerie dust doesn’t keep well so Minseok is always buying more every time he comes in. Jongdae usually has a spring in his step when he gathers up the different herbs and reptile eyes but, while he’s certainly giddy this time too, the nerves come from such a different place this time. It weighs down his every movement the same way it weighs down his thoughts.
Polyjuice is a highly advanced brew, but luckily it’s not one that takes much time. Chanyeol makes it far more potent than Jongdae can, but Minseok gave the impression that he would like to alert as few people as possible. Thus the urgent request for a shapeshifting potion when there are so many other things Jongdae feels should be addressed.
Jongdae puts together a bag of bottled ingredients while the eye juices simmer, then stokes the flames as he mixes in the herbs (he can’t remember the name of every human bone in the body, but his chant is serviceable). He takes the small pot off the fire before adding the faerie dust as the last step. The brew shifts from a translucent yellow into a vibrant sky blue as the magic takes hold and with that the potion is done. He pours it into a mug, then brings it with the pack out to the store proper.
When he returns, Minseok is staring warily out the window. He nearly looks relaxed slouched against the wall on the floor, his breathing coming easier already after resting however briefly, but the stiff line of his mouth gives him away. Whatever put him in this state must still be out there somewhere, searching for him. It’s hard to imagine a being such as Minseok as the hunted.
He takes a few soft steps into the room, lets Minseok hear him coming before saying anything that could startle him. He kneels beside Minseok and holds out the mug.
“I brewed some for your journey home,” he tells him.
Minseok takes it with a sigh, the line of his shoulders sagging as if in relief. (At least Jongdae hopes it’s relief.)
“You have my thanks,” Minseok says looking into the light color of the potion with a faint smile on his face. It’s clearly not potent enough to last a whole day, but Jongdae knows it’s strong enough for one evening at least.
Minseok downs the potion in a single shot, as if the heat and the bitterness and the sparks of magic are nothing to him. At this point they probably are. He passes the mug back to Jongdae and the change begins immediately; his limbs shrink, his joints even out, and the aura of dark mist fades as his skin brightens and tints into something far more human, a shape far more familiar to Jongdae. The edges of his face smooth and round out and Minseok takes a deep, heavy breath through his nose as his appearance settles into one of a young man, a man Jongdae used to think of as his true self. (He had figured he was wrong about that all along, he just never knew how much.)
Now that he’s presentable once more, Minseok lumbers to his feet, his movements slow and stiff as if he’d aged twenty years since the last Jongdae had seen him. He looks himself over, inspecting his handiwork, then he finally turns to Jongdae properly and smiles like nothing was ever wrong.
“That did the trick,” he says. “I'll be back during business hours to replace the rest that was ruined.”
Jongdae understands that putting on a front is what Minseok does, that seeing his true form is only the beginning of what he doesn’t know about Minseok, but the fact that he can see the tight lines around his expression and the way he favors his left side like it’s made of glass tells him all he needs to know. That Minseok is so transparent in this moment says more than words ever could.
“… Let me walk you home!” Jongdae finally blurts out before Minseok can walk away from him and escape into the black night. Minseok turns to him in surprise, his eyes wide and his brows high. Jongdae starts to feel foolish.
“Or at least part of the way, please. You can't come to my shop after hours with a mortally fatal wound and expect me not to worry.”
“I…” Minseok starts, but the words fail him. He shuts his mouth and glances to the side. Maybe Jongdae is imagining things, but his face appears to flush.
“That is… a fair point,” Minseok admits. “And I doubt you’ll take my words at face value after… after such a display.”
Jongdae swallows. He doesn’t mean it like that, he can’t bring himself to distrust Minseok no matter how much he hides or how… horrific his true form may appear. Minseok’s eyes have never been able to lie to him, and don’t they say the eyes are the window to the soul?
“I’m sure you can take care of yourself, this is. It’s more for me, for my peace of mind.”
Minseok looks at him again, searching, always searching. It strikes Jongdae suddenly how much he wants to be what Minseok is searching for.
“Let us go to the edge of town, then,” Minseok finally says. “These streets are usually so busy, it’s lonely at this time of night.”
Jongdae nods eagerly and they walk together out of the store and into the night. Jongdae walks close to Minseok’s side and it doesn’t take long for Minseok to steady himself with a hand on Jongdae’s shoulder.
The streets are quiet. There’s a chill in the air that’s not wholly caused by the weather but it is not an unfamiliar sensation. Normally Jongdae would be eager at such an opportunity, he and Minseok always have such pleasant conversations when he comes to shop but now… What can he say after what he’s seen? Now that Minseok avoids his gaze at every turn? Neither of them can pretend nothing has changed as much as Jongdae wants to, as much as he wants to maintain what friendship they had managed to cultivate. He’s seen with his own eyes the ominous depths of Minseok’s secrets and yet. And yet, as much as it scares him, he has one foot in this rabbit hole already; he wants to throw caution to the wind and jump in.
Minseok watches their feet as they walk rather than the street around them or the stars above, his eyes trained downward and his expression forcibly blank and out of reach. Jongdae has never seen him so closed off, not even when they first met.
And yet he’s somehow so easy to read as a mortal man.
“You won’t tell me what happened?” Jongdae finally asks.
He knows the answer even before Minseok’s shoulders sag with a sigh, but he doesn’t expect the reason.
“… I don’t want you to be disappointed,” Minseok admits after a moment.
Jongdae almost wants to laugh.
“It’s too late,” Jongdae tells him. “I already… I’m already on your side.”
Minseok stops and finally, finally looks up at him, the surprise, the hope, so evident on his face. Jongdae matches his gaze, steady as he can. It’s really too late for him; looking at Minseok in this form always makes his heart swell.
Eventually Minseok’s eyes dart away again, but it is light hearted now. He keeps glancing back and forth with a red flush to his ears.
“I knew you were foolish, but I didn’t realize how much.”
“Only for you,” Jongdae assures him with a grin. “I’m quite sensible otherwise.”
“Maybe,” Minseok relents. “In time. I will consider it.”
The quiet between them is easier now. A soft smile plays at Minseok’s lips as they continue down the road, both of them stealing glances while they silently ruminate on secrets shared. Jongdae is used to the erie chill that accompanies Minseok’s presence but he’s also seen too much of the warmth of his heart. It’s hard to stay wary of him.
Minseok stops them under the last streetlamp before the road heads into the northern forest. Wordlessly he takes Jongdae’s hands to pull him closer, then looks up at him, considering. Jongdae waits for him to speak first.
But it’s not words he had in mind.
It’s a brief but sure press of lips. Minseok tilts his head to capture Jongdae’s mouth, then backs away the barest inch so that they are only a breath apart.
“Thank you,” he says again, his voice soft like the wind. “I’ve asked much of you tonight, but you're the only one I'd trust with it.”
Simple as it was, the kiss was everything to Jongdae, a glimmer of depth in what should have been a simple relationship. It’s all the opening Jongdae needs to take Minseok’s face with both hands as he holds him in close.
“Then trust me with more,” he says before kissing him again.
Minseok makes a soft sound into the kiss but goes pilant in Jongdae’s hold. Jongdae feels as though he’s let a floodgate open; feelings he’s always harbored but refused to name, desires he’s not dared to entertain, hopes he didn’t let himself dream of, they all come rushing forward after just one simple kiss. He’s a fool for trusting Minseok so much when he knows so little. He’s a fool for letting his emotions run wild at the first sign of affection. But Minseok kisses back with a reverence that is only encouraging, one hand pulling him in by his hip and the other sliding up his chest.
He’s already in so deep. Jongdae wants to know everything now, wants to be a part of it, he’s sure of it.
Somewhere in the heat of the kiss, the haze of his affection, Jongdae begins to feel dizzy. His legs shake beneath him and he can’t tell if he’s hungry or nauseous, suddenly sapped of energy. He lets his head drop to Minseok’s shoulder with a groan and Minseok catches him easily in his arms.
“What have you done…?” Minseok asks above him in wonder.
Jongdae is pretty sure he hasn’t done anything except make a fool of himself. But he forces himself upright and looks up to see Minseok smiling brightly at him.
“I am much recovered, but now I fear it is you who needs an escort home,” Minseok tells him with the lilt of a laugh on his voice. It’s a delightful sound. Jongdae doesn’t have the energy to question the words it comes with.
And so they head back through the empty streets to the shop, Jongdae leaning heavily against Minseok’s side in his exhaustion and Minseok holding far more steady than he had been on the way out. Perhaps the busy day had been harder on Jongdae than he’d realized.
“I like this face,” Jongdae says at one point, forgetting, after everything the night had brought, to be reserved with his thoughts.
Minseok flashes him a smile.
“I know,” he says. “I know it’s your favorite, that’s why I continue to come here in it. This is close to what I once looked like when I was a mortal. At least I think so. It’s been so long…”
“So I wasn’t completely wrong.”
“I thought this was your real face,” Jongdae explains. “It suits you best.”
“In a way, I suppose that’s true.”
That’s good enough for Jongdae for now.
Minseok walks him to the door of the store but insists he’s imposed enough. Jongdae doesn’t have the energy to argue. Before he takes his leave Minseok steps in close once more, brushing his knuckles softly against Jongdae’s temple. His skin feels cool to the touch, but it’s soothing in Jongdae’s drained state.
“I’ve decided,” Minseok says. “I’ll tell you soon. For now, get some rest.”
Jongdae simply nods. “Sorry to have troubled you like this.”
“I’m the one who was trouble,” Minseok insists. “But we can make it up to each other in the morning.”
Minseok steps back and finally turns to go.
Jongdae leans against the door, his mouth open but no words are forthcoming. He’s not sure what he wants to say. I trust you? Your true form wasn’t that scary? I want to kiss you again? Finally he closes his mouth and shakes his head.
“I’ll see you tomorrow.”